In the latest of an ongoing series of Q&A sessions with sports card shop owners, we catch up with Sean O’Rourke of Dugout Dreams at 45 Padanaram Road in Danbury, CT.
Tell us a little about the history of your store.
I have been here since 1996 over 21 years at a brick and mortar location. We’re on a main road in a small strip mall with ten other stores.
I have had several Yankees come thru my place over the years for autograph signings including Ron Guidry and Catfish Hunter as well as Goose Gossage and Whitey Ford.
If I visited your shop, what type of inventory would I find?
You would find a lot of vintage from pre-war all the way up towards the 70’s with singles and sets and graded material. You would also find a lot of modern cards and singles with over a 100 wax boxes of all different sports. Then you would find a nice inventory of autographed memorabilia that included hundreds of signed baseballs and bats, along with full size jerseys and helmets and framed photos that cover the wall from Mantle to Steph Curry to Odell Beckham Jr. We are also trying to get involved with vintage comics as well.
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.
My business philosophy has been about buying collections, whether they are small or large deals that include buying other stores out to buying large personal collections. That is always consistent throughout the years. You can’t just do modern or just vintage or just autograph memorabilia. You have to do everything. That includes eBay (we’ve set up an online store), website, trade shows and even now social media. I would suggest mailing lists early on in the business. An understanding of sports always helps, with all the hot players throughout the years, helping you keep up with what’s hot in the hobby.
What are the card manufacturers doing right to help shops succeed and what needs to be fixed?
Back In the day there were just too many releases for all sports with wax boxes. They have done a better job in that aspect. Topps only makes baseball now and is very consistent with their products which have done very well over time. Less redemptions have done well for the hobby.
As far as what needs to fixed, there will be always dumping of product by distributors or people working for them. Unfortunately it is hard to keep up with selling product on the retail level when that happens. It’s also tough to order product from the manufacturers direct without spending a certain amount of money. Now most stores go thru distributors and pay a little more for product. I also think Topps losing their license for basketball and football has hurt the hobby because they put out some nice products.
What are the specific products your customers love the most?
My customers always love the big hits and the big products, like Topps Triple Threads baseball and the one hit boxes. Also a lot of them like to chase the hottest rookies from all different companies. Bowman and Bowman Chrome have been sellers over the years as well as National Treasures basketball and football.
I have had several customers pull Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig autos out of my shop throughout the years from different baseball products.
What’s the best thing about running a hobby shop?
I can to work in shorts and flip-flops and talk about sports all day or I have the flexibility to leave and coach my kids and attend events with them throughout the years.
What are some of the challenges you face?
The challenges that I face are losing customers all the time and not replacing them. They could be losing their jobs in this economy, spending too much or just getting out of the hobby entirely. Also sometimes their wife or girlfriend finds out (LOL).
It is a battle to find material and collections all the time. Everyone has 1980s and 90s cards, but it is getting harder and harder to find the older material.
Tell us about a couple of the best (or most interesting) purchases you have made since you have opened the store.
I purchased a few Babe Ruth balls that were autographed as well as pre-war sets . I have had runs of sets from the 50’s throughout the 90’s on occasion. We have Jordan autographs on cards from back in the 90s that are seeing staggering prices now as well as several ‘86 Fleer basketball sets. We’ve purchased PSA graded 10 vintage cards, Babe Ruth Goudeys and Cobb autographs as well.
Any interesting or humorous moments you have encountered since you opened the store?
Humorous moments have been thru out the years have been young kids that have visited my shop and now they are married with their own kids (and still coming in). Among the interesting moments: I have had floods in my shop as well as small fires in the complex over the years. I have hit and run incidents in my parking lot all the way to blackouts back in the day.
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?
My advice would be which I should not say is to find another profession. LOL. With probably just over 500 stores around now compared to 1000’s back in the day, it is very hard to keep customers with eBay and the internet. You have to have deep pockets and a lot of knowledge or you will be closing soon.
I think the best thing to do would be to do this on the side for income and see where it takes you. Remember you are selling things that are not a need. You have to be very creative on buying and selling and keeping your customer base. Also I would not just key on one thing to sell, I would try to educate myself on all facets of the hobby and go from there. Remember buying is the key to making money and if you are in it right that is a good a start.
If you’re a shop owner and would like to participate in our Q&A, drop us a note. You can read some of the others here.