George H.W. Bush was president. Tiger Woods was playing in his first PGA Tour event–at age 16. Joe Gibbs and Marv Levy were your opposing Super Bowl coaches.
It was 1992 and a young collector named Mark Rubin decided to open his own sports card and memorabilia shop. The name has changed since then, but Mark and his wife Donna are still buying and selling vintage and modern cards, autographs and other memorabilia inside their busy shop in Scarsdale, N.Y.
In the latest from a series of Q&A sessions with shop owners, Mark talked about the store’s history, business philosophy, the challenges of running a shop today, some of the great finds he’s uncovered and more.
SC Daily: Tell us a little about the history of your store.
If I visited your shop, what type of inventory would I find?
Single sports cards from 1909 to present including over 2,000 graded vintage cards. We also carry complete sets from the 60s (and sometimes 50s) up as well as four walls of memorabilia, collecting supplies and current comic books.
It’s a challenge to remain profitable and successful. Tell us a little about your business philosophy and some of the things you do that you feel any shop owner can and should do to acquire and retain customers.
We try to purchase as much material as possible so that we are “the go to” source for people selling their sports cards. If you want to retain customers, respond to phone calls and emails as soon as possible.
What are the card manufacturers doing right to help shops succeed and what needs to be fixed?
I think multiple licenses in each sport would be a huge improvement. The National Card Days are programs that I like.
What are the specific products your customers love the most?
Vintage baseball cards. Topps Series One Baseball. Upper Deck Series One Hockey.
What’s the best thing about owning a shop?
Being your own boss. You’re responsible for the success or failure of your enterprise.
What are some of the challenges you face?
I feel like we’re in the middle almost all of the time, being squeezed by customers and the myriad choices that compete for their dollars and the manufacturers and sellers on the other side.
Tell us about a couple of the best (or most interesting) purchases you have made since you have opened the store.
Last year we purchased a complete run of Mantle cards from 1951 to 1969 and a 1952 Topps Set from a local gentleman. He actually had two 1952 Topps Mantles. One was high-grade and one was low-grade. We bought everything outright but I told him that I wanted to get the high-grade one graded first because I didn’t want to grossly underpay him. We flew out to California and had PSA grade the card. It graded as a 7. We wound up selling the card to one of our best mail order customers for $195,000.
About seven years ago, we purchased a collection from a store owner who closed in the early 90s. He had over 200 Old Judge cards, 500 T206s, most of the 1933 & 1934 Goudeys and just about every modern card. A truly spectacular collection.
Any interesting or humorous moments you have encountered since you opened the store?
Some interesting customers such as the one who tried to sell us cards that he fished out of our trash minutes after we threw them out.
Owning a hobby shop is a dream for a lot of collectors. If someone were to ask you about starting one, what advice would you offer?
Make sure you have a clear understanding of the business risks and the time commitment that’s involved. If not, you’re going to work long hours and lose a lot of money.
If your shop would like to be featured in our next Q&A, drop us a note ([email protected]).