If you’ve run a hobby business for a significant length of time, chances are you’ve crossed paths with Daryl McKay. For more than four decades, he’s worked with various manufacturers, sports leagues, teams, licenses and hobby shop owners in a wide range and seemingly endless number of categories and products.
What started with a multi layered paper route, selling doubles of his baseball cards at flea markets and selling goods from a farm stand as a youngster turned into a lifetime in business and entrepreneurship. McKay is known for creating and building a wide variety of brands and an ability to bring a wide range of people together while doing it.
The Stow, Massachusetts resident spent two decades as the president of Sports Images, a distributor in the Northeast. More recently, he was president of sales for OYO Sports, a licensed sports mini figure, and building block line, as Chief Revenue Officer of Baseball Treasures, a licensed coin company and as VP of Sales for Sequoia Games, Inc., the creator of FLEX NBA.
Among other titles, he’s currently Chief Revenue Officer for Authentic Street Signs, Head of Global Sales Marketing for Para Bellum Wargames, the Director of Business Development for Sportscards.com and is the founder and producer of WE are LLC, a networking agency.
And you thought you were busy.
In this recent interview with SC Daily, McKay talks about his earliest influences in sports and sports cards, a career in merchandising and what gets the needle moving for him after decades in the industry.
TR-In 1979 you were selling baseball card doubles at flea markets as an 11-year-old kid. Was that the fire that ignited it all for you in the hobby?
DM-I loved card collecting. The fire definitively started in the mid-70s, which gives you an idea, yes I am that old. Like so many kids, I traded my Orioles to my neighbor who loved the Orioles for the Red Sox. We lived in the Boston area. He had moved up from Baltimore. It was a fantastic opportunity. The Orioles were really good then, like they are now. Whenever we would open packs, we had a built in market for each other. It was awesome. It was literally that simple and that fun. We are talking 1973 through 1977. Trading my Orioles stuff off was easy. This is going to sound weird but I always had a love for the 1970 Seattle Pilots cards. I loved that they weren’t a team anymore. I loved the uniforms, so I would always take everyone’s Seattle Pilots cards which also made me kind of weird. I still can’t name anyone on the Seattle Pilots because they were nobodies. I loved the cards. For me, it was always also about the aesthetic. I wanted the entire 1975 Topps set, the regulars and minis.
In 1979, my dad and I went to a flea market and I took my doubles to see if anyone would buy them. It was almost like a challenge. In hindsight, my father would say he was almost setting me up. I don’t know how truthful that is or not. He said nobody would buy baseball cards. Why are you wasting your time? Like every kid in that 13ish age range, I told him people would buy baseball cards. I told him he didn’t know what he was talking about. Full of sass and cockiness, I took my doubles and sold more than my father did at the flea market of selling off a bunch of stuff from the house that we no longer wanted. 44 years later, I am still blessed to be able to call this my career. That is truly how it started. I am pretty proud and humbled by it at the same time.
TR–What is your fondest memory of those times selling vintage with your dad?
DM-After that my dad got into it, doing it together. I wasn’t even driving at that point. The number one thing was traveling the northeast with my dad driving and him getting into it as well. He started a vintage card business alongside what I would call my ‘newer’ card business. When I got to college and wasn’t doing quite as much of it during that period, he kept it going and it was amazing. It was really just windshield time and behind the table time with my dad. Those moments and memories will never be repeated.
We have seen some amazing cards. We’ve had 1951 Bowman and 1952 Topps Mantles. We’ve had every Ted Williams card and all of the Yaz’s. None of those compare to the time with my father. That is the easiest answer.
TR–The entrepreneurial spirit from selling items in your front yard to the flea markets to the traveling up and down the northeast, how was that entrepreneurial spirit birthed and how is it still going strong decades later?
DM– For me, it was always about how do we find joy for people in the collecting experience? It isn’t always about cards. Its the collecting in general that I love. Cards were certainly the focal point in the beginning. I have come to see there are so many things that people can find joy in. That is what hobby has to be, right? If it’s not joyful and it’s not bringing some fulfillment in your life then why are you doing it? I know there is the investment side and I’m not dismissive of that. I always had the motto of buy what you like and the money will take care of itself. I will say, after 44 years, that if I would have listened to my own advice and kept some of those things… but I was in business. One doesn’t stay in business by keeping all of the inventory. That’s not how that works. I used to have what I called museum pieces that I didn’t care if I sold them right away but like the majority of people, I needed to fund family activities and a mortgage and food and all of those basic things. Fortunately it has provided a great career and lifestyle.
I exited the distribution business in 2013. That gives you some idea that I missed and incredible run there because I went into some other types of collectibles. I have been very blessed and I love the card business. I think of it as a hobby business. If you love your hobbies and they bring you joy, then that is the primary thing. Hopefully the money does take care of itself. I think the money does take care of itself when you find other people with similar joy or instill that joy in others.
TR–One particular card I wanted to ask you about are the 1982 Red Sox Coke cards that hold a special place in your heart.
DM– First of all, it was done by Brigham’s which is a local ice cream parlor here. It was given away at the Brigham’s store. If there is a place in my heart for something other than my family and cards, it would be ice cream. Ice cream was a big part of my childhood and my adulthood. Getting the Coke cards at a Brigham’s was a no brainer. I was precocious and thought I would start putting an ad in the old Sports Collectors Digest, in the old actual mail order scenario where people sent you checks by mail and you went to the post office and you would send them something back by mail. Occasionally they would call. There was no credit card over the phone. It was true snail mail.
I did an ad for Coke packs and Coke sets because, well, you like ice cream enough and go to Brigham’s enough. (Back then) most people didn’t care a rat about baseball cards. They were saying they had boxes and boxes of these cards and nobody was taking them. Do you want them? Sure! You are a regular at Brigham’s and the manager doesn’t care about them and he knows who he wants to give them to.
I would buy boxes of 1981 and 1982 Red Sox Coca Cola cards and I would trade them with people around the country. That is how the national mail order, and that is very much overstating it, but that how it started. It was true mail order and it was amazing it was fun. I was 14. How many businesses can a 14 year old run? I was not the only one. There are many of us still in the business from similar eras that came up through the business and treated it like a business. It was still a business but we are so lucky we get to do something we love for business. That is not a given.
TR–You wear so many hats and are so many things to so many different people. What is an average day like for you?
DM-It has changed over the years, for sure. Professionally, in a significant way, it started in distribution. Wearing many hats in distribution is just what you do. We had 100- plus lines that we represented and sold. I was very comfortable and used to wearing many hats. I love the variety of that and that is still true to this day. What I view my self today is a network agent. ‘How do I help people come together who don’t know each other and help each of them grow their business a little bit more than they did before they knew each other?’
It sounds bigger than it is. ‘Oh, you can do this. I know somebody that can use this. Let’s put you together.’ That is what I have always loved about every role I have had. It’s a digital rolodex. It used to be a physical rolodex. I’m old enough to even use the term Rolodex. I try not to lose people who are still engaged and I try to figure out way to continue to engage and work together with people that I really enjoy. It goes back to that joy thing. If you can find a way to make someone smile in a professional sense or a personal collecting sense, it’s the same feeling. If I can help being a new product to retailers or help a new product find retailers or help a company find a better way to promote their products so that it is more appealing to this market or help this market find ways to diversify and grow in a non-traditional way of thinking, every day I feel really good putting my head on the pillow at night. I helped people today. I am helping people with cards and collectibles.
I am no way near somebody who is doing good by helping people cure cancer or anything like that but joy is missing in people’s lives as much as ever. I do feel some pride in bringing joy to people even if it is a medium based in cardboard in many cases.
TR–In brick and mortar card shops and sports cards in general, evolution isn’t exactly top of mind and can in fact be slow moving. How have you continued to evolve in tech and different markets? Can you speak to that mindset of embracing change and continuing to evolve?
DM-There is a level of survival to it. You have a mortgage and kids that want to go to college and have new shoes and eat. The card market wasn’t what it is 10-20 years ago. It was small. You had to scramble. We had booms and we had busts. That is very common. It’s in my LinkedIn profile that I think of myself as an entrepreneur first. That is the entrepreneurial spirit. You say to yourself, ‘what else can I do? What is cool and what is new?’
I love that. It’s not that I don’t appreciate tradition at all. I do. How can we create something new is fun and exciting.
TR–You are quoted in a previous interview as saying ‘No is just a pathway to yes.’ Can you speak to that belief?
DM– In some respects no is better than silence. From no, you can start to understand why someone feels that way. If there is an opportunity to address one’s concerns, if valid, you can. It may not work and you still may get a no. Apathy is very hard to address. No is a definitive emotion. It doesn’t make you any money necessarily but it gives you a message and an opportunity to learn from it. Apathy and no response you don’t learn anything. I mean that sincerely. People say no, I get it. I have to work harder and do a better job to turn that to a yes. Maybe that is not possible on this but maybe I find something else where yes is possible. If you are in business you need to do more business.
I’m not unique in the regard to survival being a thing. Every person on the other end of the phone, with the exception of one or two percent, are probably having the same concerns and problems when we hang up the phone as I do. How are we getting this bill paid or is there enough money in the checking account for college when it comes up? The more I travel and the more I have done this the more I realize we are all very similar just trying to make our way in the world in a positive way. I think that has served me well believing that.
TR–What are you working on right now that gets the juices flowing and gets you out of bed in the morning? What moves your needle?
DM– First and foremost it’s bringing people together over different things. I try to make sure they are varied and not stepping on each other toes. It’s bringing people to the table for different things. It could be Conquest, which is Para Bellum’s miniature game that has brought a whole new level of gaming opportunity to the table. It has opened me up for entertainment cards, which I love. No, I will not call them non-sports cards. I hate that term. That is such a negative term. They are entertainment cards. We showed off with Cardsmiths at The National for the first time in a major way with the Currency cards. What a phenomenon that has been through Game Stop and other retailers and what the currency and crypto currency markets have taken into card collecting and bringing new customers into card collecting through something near and dear to them which is currency and crypto currency and redemption cards. To see people enjoying them and trading them actively. They trade an Elon Musk card like fans trade a Patrick Mahomes card. They have the same passion and feel for each other and for those audiences. The Bob Ross cards, it was fascinating to see people go crazy over those. People were like I can’t believe they made Bob Ross cards…but I’m glad they did.
Jersey Fusion for us at The National was just amazing. The bounty for the Mantle I kind of put out of my mind. I thought it hadn’t been pulled, it was kept by the person who pulled it or the person didn’t know what they had. To see that get pulled at The National was beyond exciting. The fan that got a jersey swatch of Mickey Mantle’s World Series uniform and an authentic 1960 Topps Mickey Mantle vintage card as a 1 of 1 Ultimate Jersey Fusion card was super exciting. That was cool.
For me, to see that light bulb moment and to see people’s reactions was really fun in person. Our Conquest game was an enormous hit at GenCon. It was back to back collecting experiences that showed hobbying is alive and well and that makes my heart feel good.