There may not be as many sports card shops as there were in the “boom” period of the late 1980s and early 90s but as a recent Facebook thread revealed, there are still plenty of successful stores and collectors who spend time in them.
As part of our ongoing series of Q&A sessions with card shops around the country, we connected with Tony Kirby of The Rookie, a long-running business in Clive, IA near Des Moines.
SCDaily: Tell us a little about the history of your store.
TK: The Rookie was originally opened in the mid 1980’s and has been owned by Anders Olson since fall of 2005. The store moved to its current location two years ago. The new location is double the size of the old location and is doing well.
If I visited your shop, what type of inventory would I find?
You would find a wide variety of single cards that are affordable in all sports. A full wall of collector supplies, plenty of signed memorabilia, and plenty of wax to open. One nice addition to the new store is that we have plenty of seating for customers that want to sit down and rip, or go through boxes to build a set.
It’s a challenge for sports card shops to remain profitable and successful. Tell us a little about your business philosophy and some of the things you do that you feel any store owner can and should do to acquire and retain customers.
We have a weekly silent auction bid board that ends every Saturday at 2:30. This gives the customers a chance to sell cards and build a collection at an affordable price. The store also features something for all ages. For the young collector we have a lot of cards that are affordable. We create grab bags that have a signed card or relic card in each bag that have become very popular. We have a strong connection with many customers and are able to order product for that customer that has a limited budget and those that open high-end products.
You get back what you put in meaning the store is constantly using social media, getting to know people who come in and what they like. You must build a solid relationship with those who walk through the door. You will have those customers that pull their phone out and tell you wax is cheaper online and most of the time they are correct. But by forming a bond you may start to see people want to shop locally come around more often.
What are the card manufacturers doing right to help shops succeed and what needs to be fixed?
This year it seems fewer cards are being produced or the case breaking side of things is booming. For the store it allows less overstock which is nice, but on the flip side, restocking can be a challenge because the price increases quickly.
With the NFL rookie craze last year and with (the popularity of someone like) Aaron Judge it can be difficult to pre-order. A lot of products you have to order months in advance. When someone explodes like that it’s great to sell but we may run out quickly. We didn’t plan on football cards to sell that well (last season). Prizm was extremely popular for football and basketball.
What’s the best thing about running a card shop?
Meeting and helping people new to the hobby and those who share my passion. I love hearing about a big pull from a young person and families talking about attending the National Sports Collectors Convention for the first time. This hobby has something for everyone and you should have fun with it. It’s always nice to see the regular customers that are older meet new people and share stories of past collecting.
What are some of the challenges you face?
We get many calls and people stopping in daily with cards from the “junk wax era” that believe they have it the jackpot. Most of the time you can explain to people who it may have been fun collecting teams and favorite players, but once in a while you get people who think you are out to get them.
Tell us about a couple of the best (or most interesting) purchases you have made since you have opened the store.
Personally I have started to collect vintage basketball cards. I have seen some great vintage cards come through that I can’t find on eBay. The store sent a second year Michael Jordan into PSA and received a grade of 10 which was a surprise.
Any interesting or humorous moments you have encountered since you opened the store?
A year or two ago it was Presidents Day. A father brought his son in because school was out. They thought about collecting and I suggested a pack of Panini Contenders. They opened one pack and said they didn’t hit anything. A few minutes later they came back in because the son missed a card that was flipped over. It was a Marcus Mariota auto and at the time it was #2 in the Beckett Price Guide top 25. It was awesome to see a kid around nine years old hit a big card like that.
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 enjoy the hobby
- Have some money saved up. You never know what products may not sell
- Build a relationship with the community
- You can’t sell what’s in the back or hidden… Make sure the shop is clean and people can easily access your inventory and you know what you have.
If you operate a shop and would like some exposure through our Q&A sessions, drop a note to [email protected]