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The Dealer's Deal.......
Thoughts from the other side of the counter.
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entry Feb 3 2009, 05:19 PM
This is the second installment of my blog, The Dealer's Deal, a look inside our hobby from the other side of the counter. Thanks to everyone that took the time to read my first blog. I wanted to use that first blog to introduce myself and tell my story. From here on out I will focus on various topics throughout the world of sports card collecting. This blog will examine "20 Things That Have Changed Our Hobby n the Last 20 Years". This list will feature items #20-15.To say that one item on the list is somehow more or less important than another would not only be a matter of opinion but would also be unfair as each item has had a significant impact on the hobby that we love. This industry is very much a, "Follow the Leader" business. When one company comes up with a concept, the other companies must also follow suit to keep up. Losing market share is not an option. I hope my list of 20 items reminds us of how far this hobby has evolved and hopefully the list gives everyone some food for thought. Let's get to it.....

#20 - Upper Deck Introduces the First Premium Trading Card Product - In 1989 a new card company broke through into the mainstream with quite a splash. The company, Upper Deck, was advertising their product as the first premium sports card product. The price per pack/box was much higher than their counterparts: Topps, Donruss, Fleer, and Score. The card stock felt different. The wrappers of the packs were foil, not wax paper. Sticks of chewing gum were replaced with team logo holograms. Even each card featured a small hologram on the back to prevent the card from being counterfeited. In 1991 Topps followed suit with their "Premium" Stadium Club product and Fleer also introduced Ultra. The next year Score went premium with their 1992 Pinnacle product. This year, Upper Deck, is celebrating their 20th Anniversary. Some folks thought they would never last. As you read this list, think about how many of these 20 items were brought to us by Upper Deck. Did they change the industry? Without a doubt! Who is to say that some of these innovations may never have come about if it were up to the other companies. Would the industry even exist today? Regardless of what happens in the next 20 years, there is no mistaking that Upper Deck changed how the game was played when it came to producing sports cards.

#19 - Certified Autographs - In 1990 Upper Deck introduced the "Find the Reggie" campaign with randomly inserted autographed cards of "Mr. October" Reggie Jackson in their baseball product. Collectors everywhere were ripping those foil wrappers off trying to be the lucky one to receive an autograph of the noted slugger. Jackson signed far more cards than most players would sign today for a card release, but that was just an indication of the mass production of that era. Still these autographed cards were rare finds and valuable. Upper Deck has always been very innovative with the concepts that they incorporate into their products. Whether or not they understood the long term impact this would have on the hobby isn't known, however there is no denying that this autograph program was the first mainstream major trading card product to feature such a concept. It also paved the way for the autograph frenzy that followed.

#18 - Serial-Numbered Cards - I still remember opening packs of Donruss baseball in the mid 90s hoping for an Elite Series insert. It didn't matter who the card was of, all the Elite Series were valuable. Flip one of those cards over and you'd see exactly how many of each card had been printed. Better yet, you knew exactly which card in that print run you were holding. The serial-numbering on these rare inserts were something that sparked an idea in the mind of most collectors. It made those cards seem even more rare, even more special, more sought after, which equates to more valuable. Looking back I believe these cards were numbered to 10,000. The fact that these were so hard to pull coupled with the 10,000 card print run should have been a clue as to just how much of these products were printed. However, it was a simpler time. A time when collectors wanted something new. Serial numbering was definitely something new that gave chase cards more appeal. It also paved the way for more serial numbered cards that followed in quantities from 10,000 to just 1 copy each.

#17 - Minor Leaguers Included in Major League Products - In 1989 Topps who had acquired the intellectual property of their rival from the late 1940s-early 1950s, Bowman, began to produce cards under the Bowman name. That first 1989 set was a throwback of sorts as it was oversized compared to modern cards. That was a tip of the cap to the cards produced from 1952-1956. The cards were simple in design. Contained mostly posed photos with only a few action shots. Another interesting concept that Bowman introduced was the inclusion of Minor Leaguers and recent Draft Picks in their Major League uniforms. This had been done here and there with some blue chip top prospects in other products, but not to this extent. In 1990 Bowman returned to "normal" sized cards and included even more players no one had ever heard of. This trend continued throughout the 90s. Bowman became known as "The Home of the Rookie Card" and now their Draft Picks and Prospect cards dominate the hot list in the baseball market.

#16 - Topps Introduces the Industry to Refractor Parallels - In 1993 Topps had introduced another "premium" product called Finest. These Finest cards were the coolest looking cards ever made up to that point. They also had different versions of each card. Some of them were called refractors and when you tilted them in the light the card surface would exhibit a rainbow appearance. Collectors went wild for these new inserts. Some wondered if they were inserts at all? Had Topps made a mistake and printed some cards with a different front? The truth is that Topps knew exactly what they were doing. The had actually introduced the hobby to parallels the previous year in 1992 with the gold parallels in their products. Finest refractors incited a craze that still rages today. Those 1993 Finest Refractors are still sought by collectors. Today parallels are a staple of almost every card product. No matter what nothing will ever be as cool or have the impact that refractors have had. We have Topps to thank or blame (depending on your position on the issue of parallels) for this hobby innovation.

#15 - One Hit Per Pack Concept Shakes the Hobby - In 1990 Upper Deck introduced the mainstream hobby world to pack inserted autographed cards. In 1996 Donruss took this concept to another level with 1996 Leaf Signature Series. This product featured one or more autographs per pack and could be considered the first high end card product. Collectors loved the fact that each pack had an autograph in it and they didn't mind shelling out big bucks for packs of this product. Looking back over the checklist, there were far more commons than big names. That is still the case today with these type products. The idea of perceived value on the part of the consumer made this one a winner. This concept as we now know has been taken to yet another level with products like Exquisite, National Treasures, and Topps Sterling but it all started with this landmark release in 1996.

#14 - Upper Deck Bases a Product Around Legends and Retired Players - Upper Deck had introduced certified autographs in 1990. In 1997 they took that concept and applied it to elite veteran players and retired greats. 1997 Upper Deck Legends Football was born. Upper Deck had shown it's appreciation of sports history with various insert sets over the years that payed homage to some of sports biggest names. However, this was the first product made up entirely of retired greats. Could these guys that had been out of the spotlight for years carry a product on their name value alone? The result was a resounding yes! Although this product didn't sell well right away it slowly found its niche and set the standard for all Legends based products that followed including the very popular Fleer Greats of the Game releases. Card companies realized that collectors enjoyed pulling autographs of retired legends and Hall of Famers. Once that light bulb came on, it has burned brightly since!

#13 - Game Used Memorabilia Cards - No list of hobby innovations would be complete without the mention of this landmark concept. The idea had been around in the racing card market on a small scale for a couple of years but Upper Deck took the concept to the next level with their 1996 Football product. Ten players had jersey cards in this product. Many of those players are now Hall of Famers. The beauty of these first game used gems is still evident today. The following year, Donruss tried the game use concept with a special Frank Thomas Collection insert series in their Leaf product. Also that year Upper Deck brought the concept to their baseball product. Just like the first pack inserted autograph card, these cards featuring a little square swatch of fabric cut from the player's game worn jersey were very hard to pull, 1:800 packs. Upper Deck used this idea as a test concept. It was a bonus of sorts in the 1997 Upper Deck baseball product. There were only three players that had these type cards produced, Ken Griffey Jr, Tony Gwynn, and Rey Ordonez. When the company saw how popular this idea was amongst collectors, another great idea was born. It was another 2-3 years before these cards returned in a big way and became a staple of every card product produced. Now GU cards are everywhere. They are so common that we don't even get excited when we pull one from a pack anymore. Perhaps the card companies gave us too much of what we wanted too fast. This concept forever changed the trading card industry. Some say that change was for the better, others argue that it was for the worse. This concept helped facilitate some of the more unpleasant things in our hobby like pack searching. However, on the whole, game used memorabilia cards are the very reason many of us collect today. What will the next game changing innovation be? Only time will tell.......

Join me next time for items #12-6.

entry Jan 15 2009, 09:24 PM
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. wink.gif 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.

 
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