Selling at Chess Tournaments

Posted by Shelby Lohrman on 10/26/2016

Why sell at chess tournaments?!??? 

By Shelby J Lohrman

Are you selling at your local and state chess tournaments?  Why not?  If you are running tournaments and not selling equipment at them, you are leaving a LOT of money on the table!  Who better than you to know what your players want and need?

Let me introduce myself, I am Shelby Lohrman from American Chess Equipment.  Before I bought ACE, I was part of one of the top tournament equipment sellers in the United States.  We were so good that the second year they ran the London Chess Classic they flew me over to help run their store.  We did the USCF National tournaments for close to 10 years and we crushed it.  

Selling at chess tournaments is NOT an easy task.  Most people get in WAY over their heads and lose their shirt.  The thing is you can make a chunk of change without a lot of additional work if you know what you are doing.  What you need is a teacher who has made most of the mistakes and can guide you through the minefield.

If you are running your own tournaments you should be selling chess equipment.  You have a captive market of enthusiastic chess players that want to get better.  What you need to do is start out small and slowly expand your selection over time.

A starter chess store only needs a couple of things:

Basic Starter chess combos in a selection of colors.  They have the basic chess board Keys to selling chess equipment at your tournaments.

with notation, a vinyl chess bag with loop, and unweighted chess pieces.  You should be able to pick these up for around $11-12/each.  They easily sell for $20

Checkbook Magnetic Chess Sets are a huge seller at the tournaments.  Buy them in bulk for $2.95 and sell them at $7/unit.  These are small and fit in a student’s pocket so they can use them to play anywhere.

Large Magnetic Chess Sets sell better for the kids that need a 3-dimentsional look for their pieces or just want a larger set to do analysis on.  These easily sell for $15/unit.

Chess Notation Pads are essential for any student that wants to improve their game.  They are an easy sell at $5/unit.  If you buy them in bulk, you can get them as low as $1.29 each.  I push these on all the students.  My thought process is for them to write the games down as much as they can.  After they finish their game, they should go through their scoresheet on their own.  Only after they do this should they take it and have a coach go through it for them.  It is easier for them to catch any problems with their thought process this way.  I always tell the kids if they buy a scorebook I will try to go through one of their games for them.  EASY sales technique.

You have to sell Keychain sides. Kids go nuts over these.  You can buy a typical side of keychains for $5.25/side of 17 pieces.  Most people make the mistake of selling the pieces for all the same price.  If you do this, you will be stuck with tons of pawns and bishops.  I stagger the prices according to the demand.  Kings and Queens go for $3.00, Knights go for $2, Bishops and rooks go for $1/each, and the pawns go for 25 cents.  If you do this right you can get $19 for a $5.25 set of keychains.

Pencils and Pens to keep notation.  Go to your local Sam’s Club or Costco and buy them in bulk for 25 cents each.  I sold them 2 for$1.  Try to sell the mechanical pencils before the pens.  Scholastic players have a tendency to need to erase a lot.

Color Chess Sets and boards are great sellers.  Kids love to be able to personalize their gear.  The more colors you offer, the more kids you will appeal to.  Make sure to have Pink and Purple for the girls.  The boys love the Silver, Blue, and Red.

I ALWAYS being a bunch of items that can be bought for under $2.  Most parents don’t bat an eyelash and just hand the kids the money. 

You will need books and DVD’s.  I will get you the hook-up with the top book sales person in the USA.  Greg at Chess4Less has a complete line of book from absolute beginner to Expert.  He knows books and DVD’s like I know equipment and is almost as helpful.

The first time you sell at a particular tournament you might not sell a bunch of items.  You will get people coming up and saying “I wish I knew you were selling equipment, I would have brought more cash!”  Make sure to sign up for PayPal or Square and get a couple of their units that you can plug into your phone to accept credit cards.  Make sure people know you accept credit.  Place an advertisement that you will be selling equipment in your fliers for the tournament.

Location is key when setting up the store.  Make sure you can lay out all your goods.  If you are offering combos make sure to have some made up so customers can see what they are getting.  If you are offering books make sure they are laid out so customers can see the complete front cover.

In your downtime, make sure to talk to the players coming up to your tables.  See how they are looking.  Ask them about their games.  If they won, ask them to show you their brilliance.  If they lost, offer to go through their game for them.    You’d be surprised how many private coach opportunities are out there.  I even go as far as to bring a demonstration board and set up puzzles to solve.  The longer they spend near the tables with your products, the more likely they are to buy something from you.  Key is to have them make that personal connection with you.

There are many things that even experienced sellers do wrong when selling.  Do not overload your buyers with product they don’t need.  When they get home and realize they will never play or understand the Sicilian book you sold to the 300 rated player they will probably not buy from you again.  I have found if you get them what they need at that specific time and do not take advantage of them you will have a customer for life.   Do not keep your books so only the spines show.  Customers will be less likely to buy them.  I find it best of we did not stick all the product out at once.  This way when the customers see only a few items there is a sense of urgency for them to buy product. 

One of the things I have been guilty of was stereotyping.  You need to get to know your customers before you can know what is right for them.  I remember one time at a US Open there was one customer who I mis-read horribly.  He had a 10 year old track suit, 5 days of beard growth, and his English was spotty at best.  He was stacking tons of books up on the check-out area.  I kept on thinking to myself “this guy is spending his life savings…” so I was going through the books picking out ones with repeat info.  He kept on telling me “it’s ok.”  I was pleasantly surprised when he broke out an American Express “Black Card.”  Turns out the guy was a billionaire from South America.  OOPS!  He was very happy I was trying to save him money but he was just buying books for his chess library of over 23K books.  He’s now one of my best customers.  I may have had his best interests in mind, but I should have talked to him first before making an assumption.

You need to be the good tournament seller.  A good seller talks to the buyer and figures out the level of the player.  You then make recommendations on what they need for that level.  Don’t let them buy much over their level.  If they think you oversold them they will not feel comfortable buying from you again.  If you do it right and they start advancing you will have a customer for life!

Tournament organizers that don’t sell at tournaments always want a bookseller.  Always remember that they need you more that you need them.  There was a period of time before Amazon and Ebay where tournament selling was VERY lucrative.  Those days are long gone.  You can still make money at the right tournaments but don’t let the organizers bully you into paying too much.  The first couple of times you sell at a tournament this is what I propose you offer the organizer: 

1)       Figure out what you need to break even for showing up and selling at the tournament.  Offer the organizer a percentage of sales over that number.  This gives them incentive to put you in a good spot and push the players to go buy from you.

2)      NEVER pay a flat rate per player.  Once you agree to this there is no incentive for the organizer to help you out or push sales.

3)      Make sure you pick where you want to set up.  Many tournament directors want a book seller, but don’t want to give up the primo spots.  You need a spot to plug in your electricity. 

I am more than willing to help wherever I can.  You can always call me on the cell at 585-414-8051 with any questions or comments.  My thought process is the better you do at selling, the more product you will buy from me.  My goal is to get at least 2 booksellers in each state.  Booksellers are something that has gone by the wayside in the last 15 years or so.  A good bookseller is an essential part of a good tournament.  I can even recommend you to tournament organizers I know in the area.