Business Lessons from the Barbie Convention

JACKSONVILLE, Fla.— My wife likes Barbie. Like millions of women her age (I can’t tell you), she grew up with the Mattel doll and has been fascinated by her for longer than she can remember. So, after ICAST wrapped up, we made our way to Jacksonville, Florida, site of the 2016 Barbie Convention — her first (and I hope it goes without saying, my first, too).

I’ve actually been pretty excited about coming here and checking things out. Those of you who know me realize I’m a fishing guy 24/7, but I enjoy being around people who are passionate about things, and the Barbie folks are passionate with a capital “P.” Most come wearing Barbie pink, many with traditional Barbie hairstyles and all with more Barbie merchandise (T-shirts, laptop bags, handbags, sunglasses and more) than you can shake a Flippin’ Stik at. They’re friendly, over-the-top, knowledgeable and passionate like you wouldn’t believe.

The Barbie Convention moves around more than ICAST. This year it’s Jacksonville. Next year it’s Houston. It was in Orlando recently. Apparently they’re on some sort of “humidity tour.” Luckily, it all takes place in a nice hotel, so you don’t have to go outside (unless you’re the husband of a conventioneer and you want to eat, like me).

Rolling into town late on Tuesday night, we didn’t get checked in until nearly 11 so I was surprised to find so much “room trading” and “room selling” still going on as it approached midnight. Between the elevator and our room, we passed at least five rooms occupied by conventioneers proudly showing their wares. These ranged from vintage Barbie dolls to custom-made dresses, furniture, playhouses and much, much more. It reminded me of the room trading that goes on at antique tackle shows, where collectors show off their stuff and make deals with other collectors before everyone puts their items on display at the show proper.

Prices on these items range from $1 for a Barbie-sized hair clip to more than $12,000 for an artistically-enhanced Barbie in a one-of-a-kind gown. There are also lots of Barbie reproductions to be had, and you’d have to be an expert with a good eye to tell them apart from the real thing.

Today, sellers and exhibitors will take their creations and collections to the floor to enter them in competition, sell them to other conventioneers or just show them off. Room selling and trading will still be happening on the guest room floors. Live and silent auctions apparently pop up at every cocktail party.

It’s enough to make this Barbie outsider wish he could see it all more closely. I have no interest in Barbie per se — and wasn’t willing to pay the attendance fee for myself — but it’s fascinating to watch, and I know there’s plenty to learn. I have to imagine that a Star Trek convention is somewhat similar, though I have no more interest in that than in plastic dolls.

I’ll leave the Barbie Convention in a couple of days wishing we could have the same passion and fraternity at ICAST that I see here — the same wide-eyed wonder at what people are doing and making. The same camaraderie.

Before you tell me that the Barbie Convention is just that —a “convention” rather than a trade show — know that the “C” in ICAST stands for “Convention.” And know that ICAST is what we make of it.

I wish that ICAST was more inclusive in some ways. Right now it’s all about the new stuff, but there should be room for history. It happens once in a while. In 2015, Zebco/Quantum’s John Kushnerick brought in the foremost Zebco collector (Dick Braun) and made his collection part of the show. It was a real drawing card. I wish more exhibitors would do that.

And I wish there was a dedicated area for the NFLCC (National Fishing Lure Collectors Club), ORCA (Old Reel Collectors Association) and FATC (Florida Antique Tackle Collectors). It would add to the experience and appreciation of the event.

These organizations and the people involved with them are part of what makes our sport great. We need to include them, help them and give them the opportunity to help us.

Those are just a few of the things this Ken is learning from Barbie.