First off, this is my first official blog entry. Thanks to everyone that takes the time to read it. I thought I would get more involved in the online universe and try to do a semi-regular column giving my take on the news coming out of the crazy hobby of collecting sports cards and memorabilia from a dealer's perspective. This first blog will serve as an introduction of sorts. I will attempt to take you on the journey that I have had over the years that brought me to this point as a person, a collector, and a sports card dealer. Future blogs will focus more on industry news and tidbits from behind the counter. My next blog will focus on the top 10 things that have changed our hobby in the last 20 years. Now on to my first blog.........
I have been a collector and dealer since 1988. I got my first taste of cardboard crack when I was 11 years old. I had gotten more interested in sports as I grew older and had somehow fallen in love with the game of baseball. Some of my friends had some cards. They talked about them all the time. I guess I felt left out. Being the odd man out is a bad place to be if you are a fragile 11 year old kid looking for acceptance and looking to be part of the cool crowd. So, I did what any self respecting 11 year old would do. I started to collect baseball cards like many of my friends. I got my first card via a trade. I traded my best friend at the time a Nintendo game for my choice of 50 of his cards. I don't even remember what game it was. I do remember going out and buying a magazine called a Beckett and looking at all the tiny print, going down each column of values, looking for the best cards of the day. Jose Canseco, Mark Grace, Chris Sabo, Walt Weiss, Don Mattingly, Gregg Jefferies, Dwight Gooden, Roger Clemens, Nolan Ryan, Ozzie Smith, Roberto Alomar, Orel Hershisher, Eric Davis, Ron Gant, Kevin Seitzer, and my favorite player Darryl Strawberry were just a few of the gems I acquired in that faithful trade. I can still see those red and blue borders on those 1988 Donruss cards. I still remember going to the grocery store and getting my first pack. I peeled back that waxy wrapper and looked at all the contents inside. My favorite card from that first pack, a Ron Darling Diamond King. Funny how some things stay in our minds even two decades later.
Not long after I started with my collection, I began to see the potential for profit involved in the hobby. There were three hobby shops in my home town. There were shows at the local mall at least once a month. The Holiday Inn had a regular show too. Cards were everywhere. It seemed as though everyone was a collector. I soon became a regular at the local shops. I would have my mom drive me to the local flea market every weekend where no less than five or six guys would have tables set up selling cards. I didn't care about any of the old cards of guys I never saw play like Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Bob Clemente, or Sandy Koufax. Looking back now that was a bad decision. Live and learn I guess.
I did begin to accumulate multiples of all the star players of the day. I was the proud owner of two full nine pocket album pages filled with 1988 Donruss Gregg Jefferies rookie cards. I also had a stack of 1988 Donruss Mark Grace rookie cards. I was sitting on a proverbial gold mine. 6th grade recess began to revolve around me and my mini card shop. I would sell cards to my classmates, broker a few trades, and go home with pockets full of cash seemingly every day. This was my first taste of the business world. I actually set up a table at my first show when I was 12 years old. I loved it. It was then that I began to dream of having my own real card shop when I grew up. My plan was to go to college, major in business, and open a card shop. Pretty simple.
Life plans at age 11 often times change by age 12 much less by the time college rolls around. I must say that there were bumps in the road along the way. My father passed away after battling cancer when I was 13. I had to get a part time job at age 14 to help my mom with bills. I finally saved up and bought my first car the summer before my senior year of high school. Cards didn't seem all that important. I had continued to buy a Beckett magazine every month since August 1988 but when I graduated from high school in 1995, I hadn't bought any cards in 3 or 4 years.
I went off to college to major in business, just as planned, in the fall of 1995. I still remember standing in the lobby of the Student University Center looking at all the items posted for sale on the bulletin board. There were vehicles, used textbooks, roommates wanted, then I saw it.....Baseball Card Collection For Sale $150. At that moment I knew it was time to jump back into the world of sports cards. A hobby that had brought me so much fun and cash just a few years earlier, had been put on the back burner for what seemed like forever. Now there it was again, ready to take me back no questions asked. I contacted the guy with the cards for sale. We met in the library so I could take a look at what he had. He walked in carrying one of those 3 ring binders that I had become so familiar with in my early days of collecting. I opened that dusty binder and my jaw dropped. This guy had quite the stash: 1986 Topps Jerry Rice rookie card, 1986 Topps Reggie White rookie card, 1975 Topps Lou Brock that looked dead mint to me, 1978 Nolan Ryan that looked almost as good, 1985 Topps Mark McGwire rookie card, not to mention countless rookie cards of Greg Maddux, Barry Bonds, Grant Hill, Shaq, and many other stars of that mid 90s era. I bought the collection without hesitation. I also bought at least two wax boxes of every baseball product that I had missed out on during my hiatus from the local shop. I was back in the game full speed ahead.
In the spring semester of 1996 I was headed to work one morning in early February. The roads were icy from the recent winter storms that had slammed our area. I was running a little late and driving a little too fast. I took a sharp curve and ended up meeting a telephone pole head on. That first car I had saved up to buy before my senior year of high school had been reduced to a pile of smoking scrap metal in an instant. Luckily I wasn't injured. The telephone pole however had to be hurting.
After the accident I did what any red-blooded 19 year old American male would do, I bought a brand new sports car! With my new shiny red car came 5 years of car payments! 5 years! Again my card collecting took a back seat as I began to work full time while taking a full class load. Those next few years are a blur now. I just remember making those monthly payments, learning the meaning of responsibility, and hoping that someday I could get back to the hobby I had once again left behind. College graduation was one semester away. The job market was in the pits. I had been working part time for a growing trucking company while still holding on to the dream of having a card shop in the future. I began to buy a few cards here and there. There were these new cards that had swatches of player's jerseys, hats, bats, and other material. Some cards were even autographed and came right from the pack that way. I remembered the Reggie Jackson 1990 Upper Deck AUTO that was impossible to pull but these new cards were on a whole different level. December 2000 brought about my graduation and uncertainty for the future.
I kept on working at the same job after graduation, no other options were really out there. I continued to buy cards here and there and I was beginning to assemble quite the high end collection. I would go to shows on occasion and no dealers had the type stuff that I had. In my mind, I was putting together quite the impressive inventory of singles for my future shop. With my limited income not allowing me to really jump into the retail business world, I decided to go another route.
In April 2002, I made the decision to put the retail shop on hold and try a different approach to having a shop. After all, every shop in a 100 mile radius had gone under except for a couple. The time just didn't seem right. I purchased 5 nice heavy locking glass display cases from the Service Merchandise store which was closing at our local mall. I then made some signs. I headed down to the local Mini Mall/Flea Market and set up a retail shop inside the mini mall. I could work throughout the week and have my "shop" open every weekend. This way I would get the best of both worlds.
I soon learned that selling singles did not a living make. I had 3 of the 4 P's of successful marketing in check: Product, Price, and Promotion. The 4th "P" was Place. Even though my location was less than ideal I felt that with time and work I could establish myself. I stuck it out sometimes barely breaking even for the whole weekend. After a couple of years, I had established a few regular customers that stopped by every weekend. I started to branch out my inventory to include action figures, Nascar die-cast, and autographed memorabilia. In 2005 I decided to buy a couple of hobby boxes online and try to sell the packs at my shop. That is the single best business decision I have ever made. Soon I started seeing new faces every weekend. Packs were selling as fast as I could get them. Business was good and sales were at an all time high.
In early 2006 I decided to double the size of my space in the mini mall. I also decided to start carrying an even larger selection of packs. The super hyped football rookie class of 2006 led to a huge boom in sales again. I had worked my way up to an Operations Supervisor position with the company I had been working for. I had a good job and a good side business venture to supplement my income. Things were looking good.
In early 2007, I decided to double the size of my space in the mini mall yet again. I had acquired 3 more display cases from the Service Merchandise auction and my ever growing inventory was as good or better as any I had seen in all my years of collecting. 2007 was an even better year than 2006. Then came 2008. The economy took a sharp downturn. Gas prices rose to all time highs. Unemployment was on the rise. Discretionary income wasn't being spent on sports cards anymore. I continued to hang in there. My sales dropped for the first time in 6 years.
In late summer 2007 I chose to relocate. My girlfriend is from the Nashville area. She is in management with one of the nation's largest pharmacy chains. She had accepted a position near her hometown. I chose to move to be near her and also to explore more exciting possibilities for my career in a bigger stronger market. I transferred to my company's Nashville facility in August 2008. I gave up my position as Operations Supervisor and took the only position available in Nashville as a dock worker. The money was very good as I was being paid hourly rather than being on salary and working 50+ hours per week. My shop was now an hour away. The cost of doing business had increased while sales were decreasing with the bad economy.
Business levels began to fall within the company I worked for as well. In November I was moved to casual status and essentially laid off from my job. Just like that. Never mind the 8 1/2 years I had worked for the company. Never mind the fact that I had the experience and knowledge to perform any job at the entire terminal. The terminal manager chose to do what was easiest instead of what was best for the company. I was the newest guy there so I was the first to go. That way no other one dimensional employees on the dock could complain. I have worked since age 14. I haven't been in this position in my entire adult life.
Now all I have is my shop. Even though I am in a unique situation with my location and only being open on weekends, I treat it as a brick and mortar retail store. I run my shop as a business. I operate in a very professional manner. I have looked for similar locations within the Nashville market to relocate. I have been unable to find anything as of yet. I still drive one hour to my shop every Saturday and Sunday. Business is showing signs of a slight improvement over 2008. Times are hard for everyone. I can attest to that. I know that things will get better. Everything in life is cyclical. It is still a very exciting time to be in our hobby. We are living in an age where athletes are accomplishing feats that have never before been seen. Card companies are trying to be innovative and one up each other for the all important customer dollar. Our hobbies afford us an escape from the problems of everyday life. This hobby has provided me with many great friends, memories, and a decent living.
My journey in this hobby has been a long one. I think of the friends I've made and the fun I've had and I wouldn't change a thing. Except I would gladly go back in time and buy up all those old cards of the guys I never saw play.
Although things are down right now, I know they will once again improve. Perhaps the industry will rise to greater heights than we have ever seen. I find myself wondering where the industry will go. The proliferation of game-used and autographs into the market will only lower long term values. Does anyone remember the mass produced 80s and 90s. Those that do not learn from history's mistakes are doomed to repeat them. If you don't believe that, I've got an album full of Gregg Jefferies rookie cards that I will gladly sell you.