They’re a familiar name in the hobby, especially to anyone who transacts business in the unopened box and case market. Steel City Collectibles is one of the largest volume dealers in that arena. Some collectors around the country may not realize it, but they also operate a retail shop. Living within driving distance and in the same state, I’d been meaning to visit. After a family vacation to the Pittsburgh area earlier this summer, I stopped in.
I’ve been in contact with Scott Nemeth, the sales account manager at SCC, pretty regularly over the past year and floated the idea out there about spending some time with the guys at The National Sports Collectors Convention where they always maintain a large and very busy booth. I thought it would be a good story–and educational, too, for someone who works in a hobby shop as I do during the week.
Scott as he said ran it up the flagpole and the owners Sean Bennett and Ken Amoroso were on board with the idea.
On day two of The NSCC and before things got really crazy, I wanted to hop behind the counter and be a fly on the preverbal wall to give our readers some insight as to exactly what the experience is like from the other side of the showcase for one of the biggest companies in the hobby at the biggest and best show of the year.
As I made my way through the growing crowd to booth #2220, the 50 by 50 mammoth Steel City Collectibles spot, nestled right next to Goldin Auctions; swanky green shrubbery, I spied Scott, then put my hardhat on and got to work.
Now, the first impression of the booth is that these guys have as much or more sealed product in cases, boxes and packs than just about anyone in the industry. It’s jaw dropping to see the amount of product–both sports and non sports– that they have in inventory at any given time. The entire center of their 50×50 foot space was made up of sealed cases stacked like an expensive cardboard mountain.
Whether it was done on purpose or out of necessity, it set the tone that these guys have product. Plain and simple.
While boxes seemed to be everywhere, the space itself was actually very well organized. There were high end sealed sports boxes and packs lining the one line of tables and wrapping around the corner along with lower end retail style boxes and packs. The third corner of tables was a line that included a non-stop area of action reserved for NSCC exclusive redemptions. The fourth side of the square housed a lot of the lesser known/collected sports and all of the non-sports products that led back to the front tables of wax.
I hopped right in with Scott and we hit it off right off the bat. He was fielding questions about 2018-19 Prizm Basketball, modern football products, an array of the Flawless product inquires as well as some other general sports card questions. I helped with greeting people and keeping them engaged with some sports talk but when it came time to get a deal done, that was Scott’s territory. He was staying alert and involved in all aspects of the table, whether there were two customers looking or 10 with questions.
He gave me the quick tour around the tables and introduced me to many of the great people on staff (and my temporary co-workers). It’s old hat to some members of the team that have been to multiple NSCCs over the years, but every year they know the card companies will be bringing them plenty of business with their wrapper redemption programs. For the uninitiated, the redemption program involves SCC and other authorized retailers selling unopened boxes of product from Panini, Topps, Upper Deck, Leaf and others. Buyers can then walk those purchased boxes to the appropriate company where they receive National exclusive redemption cards and packs.
At one point early in my shift, owner Sean Bennett pulled me aside to show me how busy the redemption section can get. SCC had three to four guys manning that side of the table and it was literally nonstop traffic the entire time I was there. Most of the time there were multiple people being helped. Having enough product to sell is vital or customers will go elsewhere.
As I stood there taking it all in, there were also number of people coming up offering to sell their boxes, singles and any other product you can imagine. Not only do these guys have to be well informed about the products they have, they also have to be informed about pretty much any product on the market if they are looking to buy in order to see what makes sense for their store. Many of the unanswered questions and inquiries come back to Sean for answers. There was little time to breathe. He even noted that a customer came to SCC early in the week for Certified Football and he quickly realized it never made it on the transport trucks that hauled the inventory to Atlantic City but he knew exactly were it was in the warehouse. That’s rather impressive.
The more people I talked to the more I realized that to do what these guys do, you really have to have a passion for what you’re doing there. There were experts in non-sports on staff who were manning that area. The employees that were well versed on the releases for certain sports manned that area of the table. Everyone knew what they knew and where they needed to be to keep the well oiled machine running, especially at the biggest show of the year. There were 11 total SCC employees at The National, all specializing in certain areas of the business. I was told the company employs about 30 people in all.
Another point that was mentioned that really struck a chord was when I spoke to Billy Lesnak, the Marketing Coordinator for SCC. In our conversation he mentioned that Steel City is “run by collectors for collectors.” In a time when some are in the hobby for a quick buck or strictly a money making business venture, the folks at SCC really do have a love for what they do and the area they cover. There’s a pride in knowing your stuff and using it to help collectors. That fact was clear when I was behind the glass.
Another area of the business that has by grown leaps and bounds over the past few years, not only for the industry in general but for Steel City, is the box breaking space. And speaking to one of the team members, they are only a few shifts away from being a 24/7 breaking company, which is the ultimate goal. Yes, you read that right. They will have someone on staff breaking 24 hours a day, seven days a week in the very near future. I have no idea who wants to buy into a break at 4 AM on a Monday morning but they’re out there and soon SCC will be ready for them.
For an incredibly packed week that started on Sunday with the team driving two trucks to Atlantic City, it was important to put themselves in the position to have a great week at the show. People, product and preparation were equally important to be ready for whatever the heck came their way. Some boxes came in, a lot went out. Luckily, I wasn’t in charge of anything but it was fascinating to see how one of the hobby’s stalwarts tackles the year’s biggest week.
For full coverage of the 2022 National, check out our special section.