Ruben Nunez wasn’t really expecting to become one of the hobby's most prolific online sellers when he launched FootballCardShop.com in October of 2001.
“It started out as just a way to learn how to do some web programming,” he recalled. “Plus I was curious since I owned a retail sports card store in the early 90's while I was in college."
Running an online mail order card business wasn’t stepping into unknown territory, but there weren’t a lot of successful business models either.
“At the time there weren't that many around, especially ones that were dedicated to just singles and team sets for one sport,” he said of his decision to start online.
Since then, the Miami-based website has sold over 500,000 cards and handled over 35,000 orders from over 15,000 different customers. Over 500,000 single cards have sold through the site, all stored in a huge, but neatly organized stash of monster boxes. Not bad for a part-time venture.
Nunez is the IT director for a national corporate aviation company when he’s not breaking cases, sorting, listing and packaging orders that come in by the dozens each week. Even coming up on his tenth anniversary in business, Football Card Shop is still a one man operation.
The site specializes in singles, rookie cards and team sets and he says his sales are “99% modern” despite an inventory that does include some vintage graded and ungraded cards.
His goal is to maintain the most organized modern era football card inventory on the web. Fully searchable, the site attracts buyers who have a favorite team, player, manufacturer or set. Nunez tries to keep his selling prices well below their current values to attract and keep customers. Most stars and rookies are listed at 25%-50% off the listed book price.
The nature of the card business has shifted in recent years, making the challenge even greater for an online business that must compete with the likes of eBay.
“There has been a shift to more high-end products that basically makes it gambling,” Nunez told Sports Collectors Daily. “As time has passed and the prices of packs and boxes have increased the value of the autographs and memorabilia cards has decreased. This makes it extremely difficult to come out ahead when you break product. I stay away from Ultimate, Topps Supreme, National Treasures, Five Star and the other ultra high-end products. It makes more sense to pick up singles on the secondary market for sale to my customers.”
Football Card Shop is successful by having a selection that caters to collectors of all types.
“I have customers who collect a certain player, a certain college team, a pro team or (they collect in) other distinctive ways. I have some who collect one card of each rookie every year and some that might even collect one of every card that is numbered 24, for example.”
From his first online order in October of 2001 until now, Nunez has seen a lot of projected stars flop and a lot of unheralded rookies suddenly become stars. It's the established players, though, who sell best.
Here are Football Card Shop’s list of top selling cards over the last ten years:
By Dollar Value
1. Brett Favre
2. Ben Roethlisberger
3. Reggie Bush
4. Peyton Manning
5. Michael Vick
By Number of Cards Sold:
1. Brett Favre
2. Peyton Manning
3. LaDainian Tomlinson
4. Tom Brady
5. Ben Roethlisberger
The top selling cards of all time:
1. 1991 Upper Deck Brett Favre
2. 1990 Pro Set Emmitt Smith
3. 1989 Topps Traded Barry Sanders
4. 2004 Sage Hit Ben Roethlisberger
5. 1987 Walter Payton Topps - 1000 Yard Club