A Conversation with Norman Schaut

Gail Evans and Norman Schaut
Gail Evans and Norman Schaut

Advertising man and legendary antique show promoter Norman Schaut took some time out today to talk with Urabn Art & Antiques about his first show in Atlantic City and the return of his Antique City, Fun Fair for Collectors outside of Philadelphia.

I started by asking Schaut why he was willing to give away some 47,000 tickets to help promote the show. The following is largely a transcript of our conversation.

“I believe in getting the ‘wow’ reaction which indeed has happened. Although at this point although it appears we are in a recovering economy, I just think it would be very exciting to have people hanging from the rafters and the floor of this huge building just jammed with the right shoppers.

I started Atlantique City in 1986. Typically we would attract between 35,000 and 45,000 people every March and October with October being somewhat lighter than March. I attribute that to cabin fever time. We gave them a place to scratch the itch.

The first Morning I was walking up the boardwalk from my summer home. The Atlantic City Convention Center consisted of two buildings and the larger building was filled—there was just no more room. Booths were defined by painting corners on the floor. All of a sudden I git this weird chill. Suppose nobody comes? Because nobody lives around Atlantic City in the off-season. I started to get butterflies, which I am not used to having spent most of my career on Madison Avenue with a couple of the top five ad agencies. I wasn’t used to this anxiety attack. As I got closer, about eight blocks away from the convention center, I saw a little group of four or five people, I figured they were just friends schmoozing on the boardwalk. A few feet away there was another little group and then I looked up ahead and the line went all the way to the convention center. So I walked up there, and this I’ll never forget. When I got in front of the building, I heard this voice say ‘hey Norman, get over here.’ It was Howard Persina, who was the executive director of the Atlantic City Convention and Visitors Bureau and he said ‘what are you doing? Giving away free Bruce Springsteen Tickets?’ That’s how it all started.

It continued to grow, then in 2001 DMG, which had been buying up shows in the U.S., got into a bidding war with the Antique Trader, which by then was a division of F & W Publishing. I said ‘this is unlikely to happen again—to have two people who are interested in owning it and able to afford it.’ The Brits took me to lunch a couple of times and I guess my basic loyalty was to this country and I thought it would be kind of nice to have it be owned by an American company.

Just recently I bought a plastic funnel for my 1911 Stanley Steamer, which is 100 years old this year. As a matter of fact I plan to drive it from where I live in Ocean City about 80 miles to the show on the first day of setup. On the side of it will say ‘Antique City or Bust’ and I’ll notify the television stations and newspapers along the way that this is happening. And hopefully we’ll make it, and we should.

Anyway, I couldn’t stand retirement, but there was a non-compete clause, which is very common in a contract, so I had to stay out for a number of years. The contract expired, so I figured it’s time to jump in again.

The population of greater Atlantic City off-season is about 39,000 as compared to the population of the greater Delaware Valley, which is about six million– that’s an increase of about 600 percent. The building has 15,000 free parking spaces and we can get affordable accommodations. Booths start at $195, so it’s affordable. That’s one of the reasons we had 512 dealers last October.

After that show we sent out a survey to all the dealers with a myriad of questions and asked them to rate everything as excellent, good, fair or poor. With no more than a half a dozen checking off ‘good,’ every other one for quality of merchandise checked excellent. It blew me away, they (the dealers) were the best there were.

The date was originally set for the second week in April, but we moved it up to the first, so it’s become part of Antique Week in Philadelphia [April 8-13].

I hear nothing but positive comments relative to almost every phase of the economy. There are no dramatic turns, but everything seems to be improving across the board. I think that’s really what we need. I just didn’t want to take a chance, we’re going to fill this building up. The first time around it was a novelty. A lot of the dealers signed up because they remembered Atlantique City during its glory days. They figured ‘if Norm Schaut’s doing it, we better give it a try.’ And they did. To gather 512 good dealers in one place last October, given that the October show was never as strong as the spring show, was a rather remarkable accomplishment, and I just think it was based on our reputation. You need a heck of a lot of shoppers to satisfy 512 dealers. We had 20 foot aisles anticipating a crowd larger than the 35,000 to 45,000 in Atlantic City. Over that ten year period, this market had changed dramatically and I didn’t really keep up with it. I realize that particularly with 20 foot aisles, you need a lot of people to fill a building five and a half acres in size-that’s a huge structure. This time we’re going to pack the aisles and we’re gonna give the tickets away. So, we’re basically going to give the box office away, plus for the first time we’re going beyond the trade papers and we’re using Pawn Stars, American Pickers, we’re buying adjacencies to the Antiques Road Show, Home & Garden Television, radio during morning drive time, we’re just pulling out all the stops. If we end up with the 500 or so dealers we had before, we’re going to need a lot of people so the dealers will check off business as excellent, excellent, excellent.

The Atlantic City Mega Show will take place April 9-10 at 1601 Egypt Road, Phoenixville, PA. Near the Valley Forge Exit of the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

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