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Growing C.O.C.A.

Recruiting New Blood

By: Sandy Lechtick

Collecting organizations today moan and groan about their lack of new members - especially those under 50!  I am either a member of, or have attended at least a dozen different collecting organizations: Classic automobiles; automatic mechanical music, vintage clocks, music boxes, coin-operated machines, wooden carrousels, Disneyland memorabilia, etc.  In fact, me and my wife recently returned from the National Automatic Music Instrument Collectors Association Convention in Fresno, California.


It may come as a surprise that all whistle the same tune.  Collectors are getting older and organizations are as a rule shrinking. There seems to be a precipitous falloff of new blood.  While TV shows such as "The Pickers", "Pawnshop Star" and "Hollywood Treasure" have added some pizzazz and enhanced the world of cool, old stuff - most organizations are a bit stale, and shrinking.  


OK. C.O.C.A. has added a few here and there, but 800 members spread out all over the U.S. and a couple in England, Australia and Europe seems a bit dinky.  


The fact of the matter is that there are fewer new young collectors and most others seem to be preoccupied with the newest and latest I-phone; I-pad; Facebook; Twitter; Tumblr and Google smart phone watches.


Perhaps the various recessions have impacted the amount of (or lack) of discretionary income to buy "toys".  Perhaps the "minimalist" mindset or lack of space is a factor.  One thing for sure, there sure are a lot of antique stores that have gone out of existence.  Clearly, supply and demand effects the prices, ability to buy stuff at reasonable prices and excitement in finding cool collectibles and antiques.  Whatever flavor of the month or trend at hand, Coin-op Collectors Association  or any organization can do more in growing our organization.


Growth, prosperity and ultimate survival of any organization is contingent on adding new blood.  All businesses, social clubs, churches, corporations or collector groups - large or small, must add new members to supplement those who quit, drop out or pass on. So what else is new?  


Organizations either grow or die.  None can survive by maintaining the status quo without new blood and energetic new members.  The entity will in time lose its zest, become complacent, sluggish and boring.  Complacency and resting on ones laurels is the kiss of death.  Over time, those who kind of limp along, get stale and eventually disintegrate - some quicker than others.  


At many C.O.C.A meetings, there is some discussion on how to add new blood.  The annual C.O.C.A. conventions in different States where members open their homes to other members are exciting, eye opening and fun events.  Members that have smaller local events are also fun and enhance interest and excitement.  Many C.O.C.A. members have opened their homes to regional or national C.O.C.A. events.


Craig Bierman may be the most successful C.O.C.A. recruiter of new members in the Nation in the last few years and has single handedly added 20 or 30 new members.  This guy does not wait for the phone to ring.


Here in California, we have an organization called Antique Coin Machine Collectors Association (ACMCA) which at 70 members is the largest state wide coin-op club in the Nation. We do not aggressively recruit new members, but we have four events per year which adds a bit of excitement, fun and interest.  But there are cracks in our dam too.


Every three months, a member opens his or her home to members and guests.  Long time California coin-op collectors such as Barry Goldfarb, Larry Griffin, Les Aaron, Ray Dier, Dan Davids  and a couple of others have hosted parties - some several times.  Several months ago, my wife Sumi and I hosted an event and almost 70 people showed up.  Rather than word of mouth or a two line announcement in the newsletter written by Billie Dier, I wrote a promo piece and description of my collection, called several non-members, then reached out again to remind them, sent emails and a party flyer to potential members.  Potential new members included a location finder for the Playboy Magazine, an owner of a major prop house, a well-known collector of vintage advertising, a coin-op collector with a 10,000 sq. ft. building who many don't know, a high-end collector of orchestrions and music boxes, a well known collector of clocks, a top restorer of vintage coin-op machines and others come.  At each event we have a "sellathon: and there are a lot of coin-op machines that are bought, sold and traded!  Barry Goldfarb had a terrific "sellathon" at one of his wineries last year.  In a couple of months Sumi and I will host about 25 collectors of exotic automobiles.  Five months ago we hosted about 40 members from the Automated Musical Instruments Collectors Association (AMICA).


California weather certainly helps.  But, as anyone knows who hosts these events, they are a bit of a hassle - buying, pick-up and preparing food, setting everything up, the clean-up, being the gracious host - you name it.  Yet, I figure a few times a year and introducing new people to this world is worth it - and showing off a bit, fun.  I mean, why have a collection if you can't share it with others who share the passion?  


The moral of the story is that we as members have to reach out and "recruit" new potentials and take a more pro-active stance.  There is no reason that we can not double or triple the size of the organization.  While quantity does not necessarily equal quality, new blood is an  organization lifeline.  We can pat ourselves on the back and say our organization has grown, but it is through osmosis or guys like Bierman.  If there were more guys like him, we'd bust through the seams.  Those who spearheaded, designed and fine-tuned the COCA website have a done a spectacular job and adds pizzazz.  Those who worked on this did a great job.


I have found it is much easier soliciting collectors than non-collectors.  Collectors have that special loose screw, that genetic malfunction that only collectors understand.  Many have eclectic tastes and once they are exposed to a new world of "cool stuff" get excited and start the journey.  As most collectors know, the hunt is often more fun than the conquest.  In our hobby (gambling, trade stimulators, arcade, gumball, vending machines, neon's, circus posters, etc., many may get hooked.  Therefore, rather than focus on "turning" non-collectors into collectors, it seems that approaching other collectors, or those in other venues makes sense.  In many cases, none even knows the other exist.  At the recent All American Toy Show in Glendale, there were collectors of toy robots, advertising, badges, political paraphernalia, posters, trains and yes, coin-op.  I'm getting to know some.


Sometimes many of these collectors live 3 or 4 miles away.  The potential targets are large.  Car clubs, pinball enthusiasts, collectors of early computers or video games; Toy Robots - collectors of books, Hollywood manuscripts, 45 and 78 RPM records, vintage clothing and posters, Wizard of Oz memorabilia are but a few of many relevant collections.  Maybe now is the time to spread our wings.


Sandy Lechtick, a "headhunter" by profession, hunts 1920-1950 coin-op machines, mechanical music, barangers motions and other mechanical advertising window displays and automations.   He can be reached at or (818) 712-9700.

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