One of the hidden joys of my life is when my wife instructs me to go to Cindy’s Deli at Coit and Campbell in Richardson to pick up Challah. While it is not that far to drive there, gong next door is even better as Nick’s Sports Cards, which has been a neighborhood fixture for 25 years, becomes part of the trip. Whenever I go in and see Nick and Debbie Redwine and how they interact with customers I also understand they have their fingers on the pulse of the organized hobby. They are just past their 25th anniversary but will be celebrating in the shop soon.
We thought this would be a good time to celebrate their anniversary and get some ideas on how they have managed to remain a thriving business throughout the ups and downs of the hobby over the last quarter century.
For Nick, it all began in the late 1950s, buying packs of cards in the small town grocery store where he grew up. Luckily, he had a mother who didn’t throw them out and after graduating from college, he pulled the collection out of shoe boxes and resumed collecting. When he and his wife Debbie went to a card show in late 1985, their lives changed, jumping in head first to a hobby they both loved.
“We started setting up at shows in Oklahoma and after being transferred to South Carolina with my corporate job we started promoting shows there,” he recalled.
Soon burned out with running a manufacturing plant, they changed course and with the hobby getting hotter, opted to give up the corporate world and move halfway across the country.
“In 1989 we moved to Dallas and opened our store just two weeks after arriving,” Nick said. “We have been in the same location since July 15, 1989.”
Interestingly, Oklahoma seems to be a common theme among many long-time dealers who are still active today. Roger Neufeldt and Wayne Grove grew up there during the 1950’s. Whenever you talk to these three men as well as other dealers from that area such as Clint Adler, you realize just how much collecting cards during their childhood really helped shape them into being the customer-service interpersonal dealers they all remain to this day.
Nick’s Sports Cards began on a shoestring budget just as many stores did during that era and times have not always been good for Nick and Debbie. The two baseball labor disputes, especially the 1994 strike, and the hockey lockout of 1994-95 changed the sports collecting business permanently. For Nick and Debbie these were hard times indeed.
“It was so bad during the baseball strike that Debbie and I both had second jobs just to keep the door open, but we always looked for other avenues such as non-sports to help generate revenue.”
While the hobby never returned to the boom period, their efforts to find alternative revenue during the “hungry years” paid off and their store survived when many stores did not.
Today, the shop looks much the same as it has for 25 years but with some alterations as to the general set up. One aspect which comes and goes is a table in the middle of the floor. If Nick’s purchases a “junk wax” era deal at a good price, out comes the table to place all the new boxes they have in stock. When I was in the store recently, the back wall featured star player cards, all in plastic sleeves with book values up to $3. All of those cards were 50 cents each, clearly marked.
The store is open seven days a week and the Redwines say the goal is to be customer friendly, not just from a personal standpoint but by how the shop is designed and items are displayed. Nick and Debbie keep the shelves stocked with products and maintain a warm atmosphere where no question is a dumb question, but they also try to make their inventory enticing. Thousands of single cards are sorted and displayed neatly in boxes for customers to examine.
“Impulse sales are a very large part of our business,” Nick said. “I had someone say to me ‘when I come in the store the atmosphere just makes you want to buy something’.
Keeping up with trends in the hobby is also important. Nick has a web site, produces an email newsletter and even has a small section in his store where you can create a YouTube video to discuss a box break. One of his customers broke a National Treasures NHL box on video and was offered and accepted more than $8000 for a Nathan McKinnon rookie card. Offers for that card started coming in before the customer even left Nick’s.
The generation of 1980s and early 90s kids who grew up in an era when there were sports card stores everywhere has begun to get back into the hobby, something Nick has noticed. However, the make-up of products and evolution of high-end material has changed greatly since those days, which means they are coming back to a hobby much different from the one they once knew.
“I’m not sure if it is a renaissance because of how expensive a lot of the products are but it’s great to see people coming back in the hobby, bringing in their kids,” he observed. “We have so many new customers that grew up in our store and now they are bringing in their kids. One thing I really like about our business is the quality of kids in the hobby, good kids, who are very well-mannered. I have always said that you can leave the hobby but it never really leaves your blood.”
I will state here that one of my favorite customers at shows is a very sweet young lady who goes with her dad to Nick’s often. She is a perfect example of what Nick means by well-mannered young people.
Of course there have been changes in recent years. Nick’s Sports Cards has seen the rise of eBay, popularity of grading, box breaks, online stores, hobby message boards, social media and the dumping of new products online that have impacted his shop—and many others. Like any small business owner, Nick keeps a close eye on recent developments that could affect his bottom line.
“I am very concerned about having only one manufacturer for each sport,” he said. “Without competition there is a tendency to become complacent, and lose the motivation to continuously improve the quality of their products. On the flip side, I think the future looks bright with new people coming into or back into the hobby, but you must be willing to adapt and change.”
Together for 28 years now, Nick and Debbie have a son and daughter-in-law and four grandchildren. Through the years, it’s been a family affair.
“Our son worked in the store when he was 13 years old,” Nick recalled. “This summer one of his daughters, who is our 12-year-old granddaughter, worked in the store for the first time. I really like to tell that story because it represents three generations of our family having worked in the same store.”