He didn’t have a want list nor was he wearing a dealer badge but he was one of the guys spending a lot of money at the National Sports Collectors Convention in Chicago this summer. He had no booth space but worked the room, snaring large boxes of cards that other dealers were more than willing to sell. He was purchasing to re-sell later via his southern California shop or more likely, the huge mail order operation that’s attached to it. For Rob Veres, the National is a buying trip and cardboard is the product.
“It’s like the raw material for my business,” the affable, energetic owner of Burbank Sports Cards explained during a quick stop as he walked the floor of the Stephens Convention Center. “We go out and purchase tens of thousands of cards at a show like this. The types of cards that collectors are looking for but can’t dig through bins at a show for and don’t want to be paying a price on eBay with three or four dollar shipping attached to each one.”
Despite an inventory of more than 38 million cards (yes, 38 million), Veres is always on the hunt for more of what sells. And he sells a lot, rescuing dead or dormant inventory from other sellers and dropping it into a massive storage facility back home.
“We want to bring it back to one place where there’s free shipping and get everything organized where you can find it in a database quickly.”
His specialty is single cards. Vintage. Modern. Inserts. Oddball.
Veres’ model is built on having what a collector needs, no matter who the player is and no matter how obscure the request. He and his staff of 17 cater to those hungry to cross more cards off their want lists without having to spend hours searching at shows or prowling around other websites. Burbank accounts for more than half of all cards sold in the Beckett Marketplace and business, Veres says, is booming both there and via his other sales channels.
“We sold 90,000 individual cards on the Beckett Marketplace in June or an average of 3,000 cards a day. By far, biggest month in the history of our company on there and we don’t sell $500 cards. That’s not our business model. Our business model is the sub-$5 card in large quantities. We have those 38 million cards online in our warehouse organized and data-based. We actually have kiosks in our store up front, where someone can walk in the store, plug in what they are looking for, pay for it and we pull it for them while they wait and we also have the service locally where you can order on our website, choose local store pick-up and we send an email when it’s ready. They come in and pick it up. So we are trying our best to service our clientele.”
Player and team collectors, set builders and their kin are the business’ core. The stock includes vintage, oddball, regional, current players and everything in between. Single cards are his bread and butter and the company’s 7,500-foot facility houses it all. Burbank Sports Cards couldn’t really care less about what may be ‘hot’ at any one particular moment.
“What’s hot to me could be Julio Franco one day, it could be Mark Grace the next,” he said. “We get orders up to two or three thousand cards at a time and it’s all player based from collectors who want guys who went to a certain college or are from a certain area.”
While some may believe there’s no interest in players who quit 20 years ago and may not make the Hall of Fame, Burbank thrives on that segment of the hobby: hardcore collectors who know exactly what they’re looking for. His business is based more on volume than probably any other dealer in the hobby.
“I think it’s the most stable part of the market,” Veres explained. “I think it’s the part that has the least amount of risks. I think the modern what’s hot market just has so much risk in it. In my opinion in a lot of ways dealers don’t want to do the work. They want to deal with the $600 that they can float for $800 or $900. We want the card that we can buy for 25 cents and sell for $1. It’s a better part of the market for me.”
Some complain online about the store’s pricing on what might be considered common cards but when you have that much inventory to keep track of, not to mention overhead, it’s logical that to find exactly what you want might sometimes be a little more expensive.
“We want that customer who can depend on our service because you just can’t go to a local shop anymore with a want list,” said Veres. “Ninety- five percent of the collectors out there can walk up to a table at this show, the biggest show in the country, ask for the player that they collect and get the dumb look on someone’s face that either they don’t have anything or if they did it was in a random dollar box that they’d have to dig through to find it. And that to me is the biggest problem in the industry. It’s very, very hard for the collector to get what they are looking for in this day and age.”
Burbank has been in business since 1984 but has evolved from a strictly brick-and-mortar concept to one that Veres says embraces the internet’s vast possibilities. Burbank has pushed more than 1.7 million cards to its Amazon.com portal and others to its eBay store.
Veres’ business acumen tells him that while things are good, he may not have scratched the surface of what could be. Having purchased five advanced scanning machines, the company plans to eventually push its entire inventory with front and back scans to eBay in 2014 while continuing to work with Beckett to increase traffic and sales.
“Jim Beckett once told me ‘Do what’s difficult and do it better than anyone else’ and we’ve taken that to heart. No matter how you collect cards, we want you to search our website and find the best selection of that set anywhere online.”