After collecting sports cards from a young age and spending many of his adult years pursuing other professions and interests, Nathaniel Smith found divine inspiration amid the pandemic to make his way back to the hobby and pursue his passion of opening a brick and mortar sports card and collectibles shop.
“My previous job got shut down due to COVID.” Smith said. “We switched to buying buildings and renting them out. We bought a building in Stanton (Michigan) that had a little retail spot in it. I thought it would be fun to open it and see if we could make it work as a sports card shop. I had been collecting for the past five years, buying stuff and opening it and putting the good stuff in a gun safe. I slowly opened the shop.”
Smith, who owns and operates a hotel right across the street, made it work. Shortly after opening Man Cave Sports Cards and Collectibles in the town of about 1,500 people northeast of Grand Rapids, the trajectory and future of the company changed with one important customer. Dan Basom, an American history teacher at a local high school, had a legitimate side hustle in sports cards but once he and Smith teamed up, the man cave leveled up.
“My second customer was Dan (Basom) who came in and low balled me on everything.” Smith jokes. “He became a regular at the shop. That is how that friendship started. I was in the shop and Dan kept coming in. He would have a yard sale about 300 yards from the shop. He would send people to me and I would send people to him. I asked if it would make sense if he just put his stuff in the shop and I paid me a little commission and the days he could work he would work and the days I could work I would work. I think he paid commission for a week. He was so valuable. He would go through my stuff and help me price it. I would go buy collections and he would go through it. I told him to leave his stuff in here for free and we would trade off his knowledge of pricing. That was about two months after I opened. We are really good friends but we are two different people. He is super organized and I just had stuff in display cases and fire boxes and he went through and organized everything I had. I knew it was going to be a good partnership. He had what I didn’t have.”
Both collectors turned business owners knew their way around the basketball card market, with Nate adding immense football knowledge and Dan being the baseball card expert. That covers most of the bases and that got the new tag team off and running.
If the shop failed Smith told his wife he had a solid backup plan for the establishment. “That’s how I came up with the name Man Cave.” Smith said. “My wife asked what I was going to call it and I said, well, it is going to be my man cave, so I will just call it that. The worst case scenario it would be a place where I could go watch TV and have my stuff displayed.”
As with any business, its all about the people, on both sides of the counter and Man Cave is no different. “The biggest thing was just having the right people for employees.” Smith said. “Having Dan has been huge. We have another guy, Trenton, who does all of our online stuff. It was about having the right people I can trust. It wasn’t my full time job so I needed someone there and to have the guys I have now has been the biggest blessing and that is what has made us successful. I love taking the credit when they do all the work,” he laughed.
In addition to the shop, Man Cave also opened an eBay store with vintage and modern cards.
Adding a New Teammate
The team added a legitimate All-Star when retired NBA veteran Chris Kaman started frequenting the shop and ripping packs with his kids. Not only were the Kamans customers of the shop, they became fast friends with the owners and decided to partner up to open the second man cave location in Greenville, Michigan. The ribbon cutting on the second Man Cave location in Greenville took place on November 11.
“That Friday was our grand opening.” Smith states. “It was crazy. There were people everywhere. We had a lot of fun.”
The former first round draft pick is an accomplished businessman and adding a sports card shop to the portfolio made sense. This shop isn’t all business, though. Maybe more importantly, it’s a way for father and son to connect and share in a mutual love for the hobby of card collecting.
“The second location wouldn’t have opened if Mr. Kaman hadn’t been a part of the team.” Nate continues. “He came in the Stanton shop and brought his son in and started to shop and bought a few things. We got him hooked on opening packs. He came back the next day and opened some more. Three days later he bought a case of Optic Football. He really liked opening product. We built a friendship where we just get along really well. He started ripping and buying stuff and through conversation of his interest in wanting to do a card shop. He brought a lot of stuff he got from teammates in the NBA. We are displaying it.”
“I played for 13 years,” Kaman told SC Daily. “I got a lot of people to sign stuff. There is a lot of my PC stuff in the store that is interesting to see. There are a lot of avenues that the game of basketball that brought me to this point.”
Collectors can appreciate when the athletes we watch on TV or collect show an interest in the hobby. Not only does Kaman enjoy it, he’s taken a very active role. Like the rest of us, it all started when he was a youngster growing up in the Grand Rapids area.
“I collected when I was little and Michael Jordan was my favorite.” Kaman shares. “That was my era. The Pistons and Bad Boys versus the Bulls. Being from Michigan, my family disowned me for it but I always liked Jordan and the Bulls. I collected back in the day. I saved them all up and put them in a box. I left home at 17 and never came back, as far as living at home. My mom kept everything in a box.”
Who’s That Guy?
Recently Kaman shared a special moment with his young son, who stumbled upon a few of dads old relics. “I had a stack of them in my car.” Kaman shares. “My seven year old son, Barrett, was digging through my glovebox, found them and asked me who it was. I told him it was me. He took two or three, took them to school and traded them all away. He was trading them for some hockey and soccer cards. I told him to get some basketball cards if he’s trading my stuff away. He asked me to sign some cards and then he took those and traded them away. I told him to get Jordan, LeBron or Kobe if he is trading my stuff away. Don’t trade my cards for anything else,” he joked.
Barrett was a sports card collector but his focus shifted toward the Pokémon category, which led the Kamans to the local card shop. The rest, as they say, is history. “He got into Pokémon and we were looking for a place to get more cards.” Kaman says. “I own a car dealership near Nate’s place in Stanton. I was up there and drove by. I did a little research and then took my son there. That’s how Nate and I met. I started to open some stuff but I never really thought about being an owner or investor. I played in the NBA but I don’t think about it like that anymore. I am just a dad, a friend and a businessman. I think of myself as a guy who has kids and likes cards. I have nieces and nephews who like cards.”
After traveling North America during his long tenure in the NBA, Kama loves being back in his home state and being involved in a small town card shop that serves as a positive place for local kids to spend time.
“It’s an honest living. You aren’t selling sex, drugs or alcohol. I am all about a safer world for my kids to grow up in. It’s a good environment and a good atmosphere. It teaches them how to do business and buy, sell and trade. It teaches them a lot of different things that are healthy. The collecting side is cool.”
With one shop thriving and a second one up and running the future looks bright. If it means more expansion or just enhancing the current shops, the ownership group says it will do it with customer service and being the focal point for collectors in the area.
“We enjoy the hobby and the community piece a ton.” Nate states. “We have built up a customer base especially in the Stanton store and it’s an outlet for people. It’s a way to relax. I have seen everything from Chris and his son bonding over cards to others overcoming social anxiety. It’s been a fun ride and we are excited to see where this takes us in the future.”