Pandemics can cause some unusual supply shortages: toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and apparently…Card Savers.
While not an essential item for living, they’re among the collector necessities for grading and authentication, another industry that saw a drastic increase in sales volume during Covid-19. Prior to the shortage, card submissions were typically sleeved in “Card Saver I” holders.
Thanks to an unprecedented volume of orders, PSA recently started allowing submissions to be shipped in top loaders but notes that they will restore the traditional protocol once the shortage is remedied—which industry experts originally predicted to be October—but here we are in November.
PSA was already setting revenue records prior to the pandemic but the environment that was created by Covid-19 added fuel to a fire that was already raging. SGC and Beckett Grading have also seen a massive increase in submissions.
Southern California-based Cardboard Gold has the Card Saver branded holders since 1987. Since then, they’ve sold over 400 million of them. Founder and President Jack Mayes is the first to admit he didn’t fully anticipate the sudden increase in demand, but he’s adapted quickly.
“We sold tons in the late 1980s and early 1990s,” said Mayes, “but who could have predicted that our biggest demand is during a worldwide pandemic? Not me.”
Mayes receives shipments from a factory in China where the Card Savers are manufactured. “When China went into lockdown in February, our factory (and all others) had to close. I had no idea how long our supply would be disrupted,” Mayes said.
“Then, in March the U.S. started the ‘stay at home’ orders and the economy tanked. It seemed reasonable at the time to predict that demand for our products would also decrease. Now we know that the exact opposite occurred, and I moved as fast as possible to put in orders at our factories.”
Cardboard Gold sells direct to hobby shops, dealers and online outlets, all of whom have been scrambling to satisfy those who are needing more of them than ever before. Mayes’ last shipment sold out almost immediately. You can find them online through eBay and Amazon but prices have been volatile at times, especially in mid-summer when the shortage was at its worst. He’s expecting another shipment to arrive this week.
When will things normalize? It’s an answer most card collectors would like an answer to, but Mayes is in the same boat of uncertainty. “Everyone asks me that question—I don’t have a clue. I’m not sure if we are at the beginning, middle, or end of this extreme demand.”
It’s a good problem to have if you are Mayes, one that has helped him realize the return of a hobby that was once earmarked as dying. “The excitement of the sports card industry is great to see,” Mayes said, “It reminds me of the early 1990s.”
We’ve all heard the story of the concept of Apple starting in Steve Jobs parent’s garage. While parts of this are true, some of the details have been subject to an urban legend game of telephone.
Cardboard Gold on the other hand, didn’t even have the square footage of a garage—Mayes started the business in his dorm room.
“I started selling baseball cards in July of 1985 when I was 19 years old and a sophomore at UC Irvine. I had a very small collection that I got from my grandfather,” Mayes said.
“My first sales were at Randy Thyberg’s show at the Los Angeles Airport Hilton with Pete Rose just after he broke Ty Cobb’s hit record. My mom was a ticket agent for American Airlines and flew into LA from Bakersfield just to help me at the show. After the show, she loaned me $20,000 to get Cardboard Gold going. That was pretty much her entire life savings.”
A hard-working mother, a dedicated son, teaming up to create the origins of what is now an industry leader. It sounds like a Hollywood script, but Cardboard Gold wasn’t initially funded by wealthy investors, benefactors or large bank loans—it evolved out of one family’s dream.
While many moms were throwing their son’s baseball card collections out, Mayes’ mom saw her son’s passion and despite a limited inventory, made the investment. She passed away 13 years ago. “Without my mom, Cardboard Gold would have never gotten off the ground. She was Cardboard Gold’s biggest fan.”
Strikingly humble and organic beginnings for a two-time Inc. 500 company (1991 & 1992). The company also sells protective holders and sleeves for dozens of other collectible products.
Can Supply Catch Demand?
Are Card Savers an endangered species? Mayes sees the current trend as more of a short-term trend than a long-term reality.
“We have plenty on order. It will just take some time to catch up. Right now, this is a demand issue, not supply. Demand is just overwhelming.”
Mayes can find solace in the fact that most of these orders will come via the shipload, so he won’t have to revert to his business processes from 1986 when Cardboard Gold was still in its infancy.
“At the time a case of Rotman nine-pocket sheets weighed 54 pounds. I would buy 200 cases at a time and lug them into my little warehouse using a pallet jack only. It’s a miracle that my back is not ruined 35 years later.”