After three intense weeks of turning a 100 year-old fixer-upper into a beautiful new sports card and memorabilia shop, it’s time to stock the shelves and open the doors.
This is the second part of a series of stories chronicling what’s become a rarity in the hobby–a new card shop. In part one, we met Dan Fox, who bought an old building in downtown Marion, Illinois and turned it into a first-class hobby shop. Weeks of physical labor and preparation were about to end as the store neared it’s target date of mid-December. He had no idea whether anyone would show up.
The investment Dan Fox made had been somewhere between $150,000 and $200,000, a good chunk of it borrowed. $65K for the building; fixtures and inventory took care of a large chunk of the rest. Like any new business, it was a risk. Especially in a small town. Still, he knew the need was there and despite all of the concerns about financing, all of the paperwork and all of the sweat he’d poured into the place–not to mention the delapidated parts of it he’d carted out– it still sounded like fun.
This part of Illinois sits nearly two hours from the nearest big city, St. Louis. There are dozens of towns and small cities, lots of farms. Southern Illinois University–home of the Salukis– is nearby. It’s Cardinals, Cubs and White Sox territory. Bears too. Following sports is a popular pasttime.
He knew from the start it wouldn’t be cheap. He also knew he didn’t have to do it. Fox had a good job working with computers. He had a family and all of the obligations that go with it. But even after nearly working himself to death for five weeks and taking a few friends and family members along, it still felt right. The old, abandoned building they had fixed up looked great. Hardwood floors, new lighting and sparkling new showcases made the place look like a boutique. Some card stores are nice. This one was nice.
Opening in time for the end of the Christmas shopping season would be a pro-active way to start. The grand opening was set for December 18. They advertised in the local media, posted flyers and spread the word around the internet about their new sports memorabilia business.
"As the opening got closer and closer we began to question everything," Fox told Sports CollectorsDaily.com. "Did we really know what we were doing? Does anybody else really want a store like this? Will kids respond the way we hope? Does Dan really ever need to sleep?"
Fox and his close friend, collector Chris Ahart, decided the store should carry a mix of vintage and new cards, unopened material and some memorabilia like programs and autographed items. They stocked up on Cardinals and Bears but kept a bigger picture in mind, too. They had never collected for monetary value and they didn’t want their young customers to do so either.
"The focus was to allow kids who came into the store the chance to see some products that they would probably not ever see if we didn’t carry them," Fox explained. "I don’t know any kid or even adult in our area that will purchase a PSA/DNA certified signed Mantle 1964 Topps Giant, but I thought the kids around here should be able to see and touch one."
December 18th was a Monday but by early afternoon on the 16th, they had the store ready. They decided to nonchalantly open the doors for a little first-time shop owner practice.
"We plugged in the ‘Open’ sign and waited, and waited, and waited. Nothing. My two kids were trying to give us perfectly good reasons why nobody was coming in. ‘They are probably still eating their lunches’ and ‘maybe they are out at the mall doing their last minute Christmas shopping’, were both offered up. Finally a couple who are friends of ours and their kids appeared sheepishly at the door and asked ‘can we come in and shop’?"
After making their first official sales, the new store owners asked why their first customers were apprehensive about coming in. It turned out the sign had been plugged in–but not quite far enough to actually make it light up. "Needless to say, we breathed a very heavy sigh of relief," said Dan.
Finally the official opening arrived. Marion is small enough that the Mayor came by to cut the ribbon. Fox Sports Cards was a nice little piece in the city’s downtown redevelopment. This time, customers came streaming in. A collecting couple from Benton, Illinois, some twenty miles away, were the first. The local newspaper ran a story and photo. Day one was a success and as the week progressed, there was nothing to be discouraged about.
Sales of newer cards seemed to validate recent statistics that showed more kids collecting again. "Our big sellers so far have been Topps baseball boxes of varying brand, some Upper Deck, some Playoff," Fox reported. "Football has been more of a split between Topps and Upper Deck with some Playoff products as well. The autographed memorabilia has not sold as much as I thought it might, but it is beginning to pick up. I feel that many customers aren’t used to seeing these types of products locally, and it may take some time to get them to check us first."
Vintage card sales, especially the pre-War material was slower than expected but Fox was doing his part to educate the collecting populace. "I still think that every kid ought to have a card store with some B18 blankets and T206’s in it, so he knows he grew up in a town worth living in."
His first walk-in buy occurred four days after the opening when an older gentleman produced a stack of over 800 mid to lower grade 1950s and 60s cards. Fox’s buy price of $300 was more than three times what the man had been offered at another shop and a deal was consummated. He now had more inventory.
Fox knew he needed some kind of promotion to create an atmosphere that young and old collectors would appreciate so he set up a ‘trade night’, a chance for them to get together and swap cards, answer trivia for free packs, and have access to price guides they might need to set value levels for their trades.
"We gave away about several boxes of free packs and one box as the grand prize giveaway. Every kid that was there that night ended up leaving with a free autographed card they got in the trivia contest. I chose Upper Deck 2005 Pastime Pennants for the giveaway for the autographs and memorabilia opportunities it provided, and it did not disappoint. We ended up giving away a Mantle throwback jersey redemption card, a Lou Brock autograph card to a huge Cardinal fan and a signed Paul Molitor pennant, as well as many other Hall Of Famer autographs. A great night."
Fox plans to continue the trade nights and he’ll also bring that focus to local schools. "We want to provide free packs and boxes as incentives for the Advanced Reader programs. We would like to help by offering some product free to certain benchmarks being reached by the kids."
Other plans include an autograph signing session with a popular current or retired St. Louis Cardinals player, a card show sponsorship.
Fox indicated store traffic has been fairly good but with such specialized material in a smaller community it’s a fine line. "We’ve averaged a couple of dozen customers a day but now and again we get a very quiet day where maybe only ten people come through, you take in $100-$150 for the day and start to get a little nervous but the next day comes, and we are busy again."
The store isn’t his primary income source but Fox believes he can and will turn a profit. "We need to cover our expenses every month to keep open, which I believe we’ll handle with no problems. One of the reasons that we set up our business as a sole proprietorship instead of an LLC or corporation was so that if we came up shy at the end of the month, we could simply pay my wife less or nothing if the need arose. I really don’t think that those scenarios are as likely. As long as we cover our debt load, anything after that is fine with us, whether we make a great living off of the business, or, if it remains just a side bar to our income."
He has one important recommendation for anyone who wants to open a sports card shop. "Figure out how much money to have to make each day in order to make it go." It may sound simple, but the act of calculating debt, utilities, insurance, property taxes and inventory expense in relation to profit margin is vital. With winter in full swing, difficult days may lie ahead but the satisfying feeling of doing what he set out to do has been worth it.
"The public’s reaction has been pretty much the same. They all feel that the store is quite beautiful and doesn’t resemble any card store that they have ever been in before. Most of the local people are struck by how different the space looks compared to the old haggard building that had been in this same spot for many years."