Rich Klein’s Ramblings: Sorting to a Science

There is one aspect of the baseball card hobby/business which looms over us but yet we would all truly prefer to avoid. That is, the sheer amount of work we need to do in this hobby for what is often a limited return.  It’s why some companies have carved a niche based on their ability to organize and process huge quantities of cards.

Burbank Sports Cards storage facilityThe first example has to do with sorting cards and processing them for sale. It’s an extremely labor intensive element of collecting. If you look at what Rob and Steve Veres have done with Burbank Sports Cards, that is a prime example of what I mean.  They now indicate a total of 40 million cards reside in their inventory. And not only are those cards in stock, but they are meticulously filed and easy to access for the nearly 20 employees currently at Burbank.  In short, if you want a card—just about any card—there’s a good chance they have it and not many dealers can say that.

Their buy prices may be lower than some and their selling prices a bit higher but one must remember they need to make a significant profit per card to continue to provide the service they do. Last year, when we caught up with Rob at the National, he had already purchased 12 “shoe boxes” of cards, none of which cost more than 35 cents each. And I would wager within the month those cards were purchased, every one of them was already sorted and placed into the Burbank database. Think about that: 39 million different items all sorted out. That speaks volumes about the systems the company has in place.

COMC shippingAnother example of how labor intensive this hobby can be is what COMC does. I recently ordered a small grouping of very fairly priced Topps Heritage Buyback cards and used my store credit to purchase those cards. While there was no rush to me, think about the steps involved in the process.  The cards I’d ordered were sent in by different sellers, verified by COMC and scanned into their system, then sorted into appropriate boxes in their storage facility.  I ordered, the cards were pulled by a fulfillment representative, and then an email was generated to me on two separate occasions to verify the order was in process.  A tracking number was generated so I could keep up with the progress of the cards being shipped.  Within a week after the cards were ordered, the package, prepared very securely, was received at my residence in plenty of time to bring to my next show.

All of those elements for all of 25 cents per card which if you think about this is almost a miracle in terms of how efficiently items get from point A to point B.

I now mention COMC because someone in on online thread complained about hobby businesses being slow to incorporate the checklists he provides into their data bases. One of the key reasons is no matter how checklists are prepared there is still a time element as to how to process the checklists into a data base, make sure the information is correct and then do the other front and back end work needed. Just remember this needs to be done not just for oddball type sets but also for any and all sets from major manufacturers. And to be honest, 2014 Topps 1 baseball basic and insert set checklist trumps any 1980’s Dominican League sticker checklist because there are probably 100 people who are interested in those lists compared to the one who is interested in Baseball card lot mixed yearsthe Dominican League checklist.

If I were COMC, Beckett or F&W, I would not just “open up” my data base to all concerned but for proprietary reasons I would want to keep track of who had what access. In addition, one must always remember that the people who process checklist usually have other job responsibilities and they also have to prioritize their work.  And thus the latest products may take priority because of the collector interest.

I always think back to the 1980s when it seemed every other person advertising in hobby publications was buying cases and selling large quantities of modern single cards by player. I was reminded of that when I recently received an old Sports Collectors Digest (SCD) from 1987. One advantage of the 1980’s player sort was because this was player driven, one could do a “front sort” instead of having to read those old backs. The only ad about large modern lots I saw I really wanted to buy 25 years later was the 100 1988 Score Tom Glavine rookie cards at 15 cents each. An upcoming Rich’s Ramblings will have a more detailed breakdown of the interesting stuff I found in looking back at the pre-internet hobby 27 years ago.

But for now, remember the reason in today’s world many collectors want only the “hits” is those are far easier to deal with those than the massive number of nuts and bolts base cards that are in the market now because of the number of different issues produced for each sport. Face it, the number of set collectors is nowhere near what it once was and even at today’s higher price points, it’s hard to sell a base single for more than 25 cents or so.  Does that return justify the amount of time you put into marketing them?  For the average guy, the answer is often no but the cards are too nice to just throw away.

That was one reason why the Bowman Sterling product was so much fun with one “more basic” card and three autographs in every pack. That way, we only saw what autograph was more in demand but every one of those autograph cards may have a present or a future.  Just remember, the more time you are able to spend front end on your cards, the easier the back end process becomes as well.

Rich Klein can be reached at [email protected]