The Secret to the FUN Show's SuccessMichael Garofalo · Jan 4, 2020
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The annual F.U.N. show is a seminal event on the rare coin show calendar. Held the first week of the new year, the show -- now in its 65th year -- sets the tone for the year to follow with over 1500 coin dealers and 10,000 collectors in attendance.
This article appears in print in the January 2020 issue of The Greysheet. Click here for more information on this publication.
By January 9th, 2020, more than 1,500 coin dealers and at least 10,000 collectors, investors, and vest pocket dealers will be making their way to the Florida United Numismatists annual coin convention, to be held this year in Orlando.
The FUN show has been held at various locations across the state of Florida for 65 years. Not many shows can last through that many generations of coin dealers and collectors. Even fewer shows can continue to grow in size and importance to the numismatic world as the FUN show has continued to do. So why is the FUN show so important to dealers and collectors?
There are a number of reasons why FUN has grown in importance. Personally, I got my first table at Fun in the early 1980s. Back then, FUN was an important show to attend but other shows were equally as important—Central States Numismatic Society convention was a “must do”, Long Beach Coin Expo was a “must do”, and the American Numismatic Association’s (ANA) Summer convention was THE critical show to attend. That was even before that summer show was known as the “World’s Fair of Money.” Additionally, Whitman’s Baltimore Coin Expo replaced the Lanham, Maryland show and it, too, is important to dealers and collectors. But as many shows became less important or began to shrink in size, one show continued to shine and to grow.
A Brief History of the ANA and FUN Coin Shows
The ANA began their coin conventions in the summer of 1891. They have almost always held a show at least once a year, with a few exceptions, around the turn of the 20th century. It was for me, growing up in the 1960s, the show I always wanted to attend. People planned their vacations around the show and brought their families to the show in the host city on a combined family vacation and buying and selling trip. But the ANA, like most other coin shows, has experienced a small diminishment of public attendance. It has suffered much less than many shows because it is the ANA-sponsored show.
In 1988, the ANA Summer convention had an attendance of over 15,153 collectors and investors. In the 1990’s attendance averaged over 10,000. In the early 2000s attendance approximated 12,000 visitors. In the last five years attendance has hovered around the 8,500 mark. The reality is that the ANA summer convention attendance is not down significantly, but is affected by the location of a particular show and the conditions of the coin and bullion markets.
The Florida United Numismatists (FUN) organization was founded in 1955. A group of local collectors and dealers met at the Fort Harrison Hotel in Clearwater, under the direction of a well-known collector, Herb Brand, to attempt to organize a statewide organization of numismatists. He also suggested that a coin show should be held in Clearwater in conjunction with their meeting. Another well-known collector, Bob Hendershott, issued a call for a meeting to be held to organize a statewide numismatic association. That first meeting was attended by prominent dealers and collectors not only from Florida and some surrounding states, but also from some northern states as well. They wanted to escape the snow and winter weather of the North and this would be an ideal reason to come to Florida in January. The organization needed a name and a number of good suggestions were made, but none were better than the Florida United Numismatists, Incorporated (FUN). It was only natural that the “FUN in the Sun” slogan evolved to entice collectors and dealers to attend. Bob Hendershott was the first elected President of FUN and Herb Brand who organized the initial meeting had the honor of holding Charter Membership #1 in the FUN organization.
The weekend of December 3–4, 1955, the FUN show officially opened with ten dealers taking bourse tables and an attendance of just under 400 visitors. As also happens today, a coin auction was one of the major events of the show but in this instance the auctioneer called the auction while standing on a chair in the middle of the bourse floor. The 1956 meeting was held in Orlando and the organization and the show started to become very popular. Going forward, shows were held in Clearwater, Orlando, Miami Beach, St. Petersburg, Fort Lauderdale and Tampa among other Florida locations. Growth and stability have been the hallmark of the FUN organization and their annual winter convention held in January. From those humble origins of 400 attendees in 1955 to a 1989 rare coin market-fueled high of approximately 16,000 attendees, to the last few years when the attendance has hovered around 15,000, the FUN show has continued to grow when other competing shows have not.
Depending on which of the numerous dealers I spoke with, the winter FUN coin convention either rivals or exceeds the importance of even the ANA’s World’s Fair of Money. Kevin Lipton, President of Kevin Lipton Rare Coins in Beverly Hills, has been attending the FUN winter convention for 40 years and he rates the FUN winter show “on a par with the ANA’s World’s Fair of Money. Both shows are bell whether shows determining the overall strength of the rare coin market. They do a great job of advertising the show to dealers and collectors alike. The location and the timing of the show so early in the year always make it an important show.”
Likewise, Tom Caldwell, President of Northeast Numismatics of Concord, Massachusetts, also stated that the winter FUN show was one of the most “dominant coin shows of the year. Because it is the first major coin show each year we look to it to help us gauge the coin market for the coming year. The timing of this show and the ideal weather ensure strong attendance and a good show every year. We won’t miss it!” Jim Robinson, Senior Numismatist at APMEX, of Oklahoma City put it this way. “As an online retailer, our fourth quarter is our busiest season of the year. We go to FUN in January to replenish our inventory, knowing that many dealers bring lots of new coins for us to view and to purchase. Our purchases have continued to grow over the last few years at each winter FUN show that we attend,” Robinson concluded.
Location and Timing
As the Founders of FUN correctly surmised, the timing of a coin show held in Florida in early January is a strong draw for northern collectors and dealers. The average national temperature in the northern United States in January is a high of 39 degrees. The average temperature of Orlando, FL in January is 71 degrees. Many northern states average 12” to 18” of snow during the month of January while Florida averages none. While the weather is not the deciding factor in the FUN show’s success, it certainly is no detriment! And, indeed, who doesn’t enjoy a few days in the sun before returning to the drudgery of winter.
But it is not only the weather that contributes to collectors’ and dealers’ enjoyment of Florida. It is that central Florida and Orlando in particular, provide coin dealers’ families with wonderful amenities and fantastic amusement parks to enjoy. Most Florida locales are near the coast or near a great historical or amusement attraction. Sometimes these are enjoyed before or after a FUN show and some families enjoy them during the show while the hobbyist Mom or Dad enjoys the coin show. Additionally, the timing of the show is tremendously important. A new year has dawned and many people look to the FUN winter show to demonstrate the strength of the coming year’s coin market. As the first major coin show of the year, most collectors and dealers have renewed hopes for a strong coin market. Many dealers save inventory items specifically for the FUN show and collectors are excited to see the new additions to their favorite dealers’ inventories. Many collectors bring their duplicates or coins that they hope to trade up for nicer specimens. In short, both dealers and collectors come ready to do business.
Heritage Auctions of Dallas agrees that the winter FUN show is a “very important auction venue each year.” They often encourage dealers and collectors to consign some of the nicest and rarest items that they own to a FUN show coin auction. Heritage has been the Official Auctioneer for the FUN show since 1997. In Heritage’s opinion the winter FUN show is the first major test each year of the rare coin market and the auction market as well. Recent auction results consistently exceed expectations and generate tens of millions of dollars in auction proceeds.
The FUN show does not charge an admission fee so attendees can save their money for coin or currency purchases. The show staff negotiates reduced parking fees for attendees to save them money. Likewise free promotional items are offered at the FUN show. To attract collectors to the show a full slate of free educational seminars are offered to the public. In addition, having multiple programs and events for Young Numismatists and Scouts draws many families to the show.
Exhibits are an important aspect of each FUN show. Whether it is the display of a specific area of a member’s collection or the Bureau of Printing and Engraving’s One Billion Dollar currency display, all of these free exhibits are designed to educate, inform and to be enjoyed by the collectors in attendance. The U.S. Mint also provides much information for collectors and often displays great rarities from the Mint’s collection. The American Numismatic Association attends the FUN show to bring new collectors into the hobby.
FUN member coin clubs across Florida as well as numerous national clubs receive FUN show support in the form of tables at the show to generate enthusiasm and to recruit new members. For local member clubs, the FUN organization pays for busses to bring coin club members from across the state of Florida to attend the show.
The FUN organization very actively and aggressively promotes the show on a nation-wide basis. Because all of the members of the Board of FUN are unpaid volunteers, FUN directs a considerable portion of their revenue from bourse fees, memberships and auction revenue to be spent on promoting the show across the country. They pour money into advertising which helps them generate a successful and well-attended coin show. Supporting that type of expense is critical to the success of any coin show and the FUN Board spends more on advertising than do most other coin show managements.
The dealers attending FUN coin convention have the total respect and gratitude of the FUN Board. As Cindy Wibker, the Convention Coordinator explained, “I learned that the dealers pay the bills, so they should all be treated with respect and gratitude at all times. The collectors and public must attend and support the dealers so they also need to be treated with respect and gratitude at all times.”
That type of respect and support has allowed the dealers to see no table fee increases in over 20 years, even while FUN’s costs for convention center rental, decorating companies and security have all increased. In 2019, it was announced that the FUN show will continue to be held in Orlando at the convention center through 2024, and there will not be any bourse fee increases while they are still in Orlando.
That type of consistency and cost savings is very important to dealers who have to deal with rising air and travel costs, rising accommodations costs and the expenses of traveling with their inventory to another coin show location.
Cindy Wibker also commented on the growth of the Fun show over her term on the Board and as Convention Coordinator. Wibker said, “In 1994 we had 408 tables at the show… by 1999, we hit 455 tables… in 2005 we celebrated our 50th anniversary and our convention moved from Orlando to Fort Lauderdale and we had 468 tables which was a sell-out and filled the room to capacity. The next year (2006) we moved back to Orlando and the show exploded to 539 tables… We jumped to 597 tables in 2012. Two years later in 2014 we had an incredible 620 tables… Last year (2019) we moved back to Orlando and again broke the 600 mark with 606 tables.“
The Secrets to Success
I made a point to contact not only Cindy Wibker, the Convention Coordinator, but FUN President Bob Hurst, FUN Treasurer Tony Bonaro, and FUN-Topics Editor Josh McMorrow-Hernandez to understand the Secrets of the FUN Organization’s Success.
President Hurst said, “We do everything in our power to make every dealer feel comfortable and appreciated. We won’t play games with dealers and we charge everyone the same per type of arrangement that they need. There is no tier system that requires different prices. Faithful attendance is the reward for table locations, not how much you pay.”
Treasurer Bonaro explained it simply as “It all comes down to two words—CUSTOMER SERVICE. As a FUN Board we feel that it is our responsibility to make sure each dealer and collector who comes to the show has an uplifting and memorable experience. Every person who walks onto the show floor is our CUSTOMER.” Editor McMorrow-Hernandez sees it in this way. “FUN’s success is more than just the economics of buying and selling. The FUN show has an exciting panel of speakers each year, including many of the hobby’s heavyweights. There’s the headlining Heritage Auctions event where tens of millions of dollars in rare coins are traded too. The FUN show is also an annual meeting destination for many geographically at-large coin clubs. And then there’s a growing number of educational initiatives being unrolled at the show. The FUN show exemplifies year in and year out that there is still plenty of good news in the coin show arena.”
But I think the secret to the FUN show’s success is simpler than you can imagine! It all boils down to RESPECT—respect for the dealers and for the collectors attending the show. The 65th Anniversary FUN show will be held at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando on January 9th through 12th.
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Mike Garofalo has been a coin dealer for over 40 years and recently retired as Director of Numismatics from APMEX. He has been both a wholesale dealer and a retailer. A prolific writer, he enjoys bringing to light previously unknown numismatic facts. He can be reached at Mike@NumismaticAuthor.commore from Michael Garofalo