In an era where even dog food can be ordered today and delivered
tomorrow by simply talking to a smart device, antique shows are struggling like
brick-and-mortar stores to get people through the doors.
The Internet and online auctions have contributed to shoppers skipping
traditional antique shows, and while general events often attract masses, shows
that focus on a more niche interest like vintage glassware are struggling to
maintain attendance, let alone grow their audiences.
But recently the 200-member Michigan Depression Glass Society (MDGS)
based in the Metro Detroit area, seems to be defying the odds of drawing
attendees by growing interest in their annual show and sale in leaps and
The MDGS hosts an all vintage glass show in Dearborn the first full
weekend of November in a 15,000 sq. ft. space, and this year celebrated a huge
success at their 47th annual show with record attendance that hasn’t
been reached in decades.
“We excitedly drew 1,449 paid attendees,” said MDGS President Susan
Muldowney. “Over 300 more than last year when we welcomed 1,115 shoppers.”
The 23 glass dealers at the event certainly were pleased with not only
the attendance, but their full cash boxes and dwindling supply of wrapping
paper and bags. Several reported at the end of Saturday that they had already
had the best sales out of any show they did all year. Sunday made them even
So, what’s happening?
“Marketing!” Muldowney exclaimed. “Our club is very fortunate to have
two marketing professionals, Jonathan Fuhrman and Jennifer Ganem, who volunteer
their time and talents to help us succeed.”
The results include attendees from 11 states and two Canadian
provinces, with one show goer boasting how “well-worth the 740 mile drive from
Quebec City” this show is, having attended for several years and picking up
friends along the route through Montreal and Toronto.
As one of the few (if only) glass clubs to still develop a themed-display each
year, the first major turn happened in 2015 when the MDGS joined in the 100th
anniversary celebration of Pyrex. A massive club display at the show, combined
with an author’s book signing, drew great publicity, as Pyrex was already
getting national media attention. The doors welcomed 1,244 excited shoppers
that year and the push has been on ever since to grow even more.
“During the early 2000’s, attendance was in the 700s,” Muldowney
explained. “We were able to engage long-time collectors, but knew we needed to
begin building a younger audience of new collectors, too. We knew this and our
dealers did, as well.”
The recipe-for-success has been in a combination of PR, paid
advertising and a highly strategic use of digital media. The show’s
display-theme plays a role each year in making the event “news worthy,” and in
2019 highlighted over a dozen iconic Michigan cities, destinations and brands,
creating an opportunity to expand statewide news coverage of the event.
Looking for tips on how to better promote a niche or specialty show like the MDGS has done? Here’s what the pros say:
Q: To what do you attribute the MDGS’s record show attendance?
Jonathan: A lot of little things add up. We do the typical stuff – send postcards to people who attended previously and leave flyers at antique malls across the state, but a lot of our focus is on digital media.
Q. How do you get your press releases printed in publications?
Jennifer: Two ways. Persistence and relationships. We never send mass press releases but personalize each communication and make the information ‘news worthy’ for the publication’s readership. We keep a detailed database of our contacts and always try to provide photos. We start early and do a lot of follow-up work.
Q: What type of online advertising do you use?
Jonathan: The most impactful seems to be our Facebook event page. In addition to creating this page and posting pictures and information about the event, we back it with a paid advertising campaign targeted at not just glass collectors, but people with similar interests in vintage items. We also leverage e-mail event reminders and the Google Display network, so our ads appear on websites people visit.
Q: What do your ads look like?
Jonathan: We make the ads look very different from one another. Media these days really allows some niche targeting, and that means the message and images need to be tailored to each audience. Major companies are doing this, so consumers have come to expect it. We think like a big company, while acting small with a shoestring budget.
Q: It seems like glass collecting is already a niche; how do you target that further?
Jonathan: We began noticing a good percentage of Japanese collectors were attending our show each year, so we set out to expand our reach to that audience. Simply worded ads with images of Pyrex, Jadeite and Candlewick placed in a local Japanese newspaper has been successful. We have also created ad campaigns for the LGBT community, for decorators, wine lovers and more.
Q: Do you try new things?
Jennifer and Jonathan: Yes, we do every year! That is how to succeed in marketing – take small risks, see if they pay off, then double down on them next year if they do.
This year Jonathan found the 30-something crowd on Instagram and hashed-tagged
away, posting engaging content and putting money behind posts to reach those
who have abandoned Facebook now that their parents and grandparents are using
it. Another gamble. Digital outdoor signage was an affordable investment, with
three high-traffic billboards that used bold graphics, minimal text and a
trackable URL to gauge the impact.
Last year Jennifer connected with the State of Michigan’s Welcome
Centers, which has criteria for permitting distribution of tourist literature.
They even allowed MDGS to host an event at a high-traffic facility not far from
the show to talk to the public about Depression Glass.
Q: How else do you promote the show on a tight budget?
Jennifer: Even though Detroit is a competitive television market, we have been highly successful with morning news show coverage over the years. The FOX, CBS and ABC affiliates have all covered the event with live-crews or hosting us in-studio. The trick is sharing a relevant story that will be compelling for their viewers. This year Jonathan went on-air to show how to decorate for Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s with Depression Era glass. It looked amazing. Once we scored an NPR interview, and even without showing glass, it turned out great. Always be ready to tell a story!
Q: How can other show promoters and clubs make their events as successful as yours?
Jonathan and Jennifer: Don’t copy and paste from year-to-year. We pay attention to trends and act accordingly. The biggest piece of advice is to post engaging content, not just a simple screen shot of your show flyer on Facebook. We develop short videos that are vital to telling our story and we do it in different ways over time.
About the Michigan Depression
Founded in 1972, the Michigan Depression Glass Society is a collector
club that share a passion for the collecting and preservation of vintage
American-made glassware. The club hosts monthly educational meetings in
Livonia, Michigan along with an annual show the first full weekend of November
in Dearborn. For more information, visit MichiganDepressionGlass.com or follow