Tony Reid offers his weekly dose of happenings inside Sports Zone, the Central Pennsylvania shop where he works.
The weather is blistering cold here in Central Pennsylvania this time of year. I think I’m still trying to scrape ice off of my car from last week. I did my best Nancy Kerrigan and ice skated through the parking lot at least a few mornings while heading for the door.
You might think bad weather affects our traffic but for the most part, it really doesn’t have a huge impact. We are right in the downtown area of our city with plenty of parking in the front and back. There are a couple of our regular customers who are a little bit older and usually walk to see us might not step out for a few days but for the most part, our store traffic doesn’t suffer much. With less to do outside this time of year, people look to their hobbies.
No matter the weather we pretty much have to avoid falling behind too much on shipping our online orders, so we’re going to try to be there as often as possible, come hell or high water. Fortunately, shop owner Jason lives about five minutes away in one direction. I live about five minutes away in the other direction. Maybe once or twice each winter we’ll close the storefront for weather but our online sales never waiver because the weather is always nice when shopping on your phone or computer.
I was recently asked about what a typical week is like in a hobby shop. Like many of them, we’re closed Sunday, so the online orders pretty much just rack up from Saturday night through Monday morning which is our busiest day by far. We bring our good buddy Zack in to help with shipping for a few hours but that’s about the only difference in staffing and preparation.
To be completely honest, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday are all like Groundhog Day… most of the time. We ship, ship, ship from our online store until we’re through our initial orders. That’s about the time of day that we start receiving our deliveries and then we process whatever that may entail. Customers trickle in throughout the day.
Our Saturdays are basically half days as we are in the shop by 8:00 AM (we open at 10:30) and out by 2:00 PM. On some Saturdays, we have people waiting at the door and we’re pretty steady all day, but that’s not always the case.
Some sports card release days bring in a lot of traffic but in this hot market, our allocations are such that we don’t always get them, at least not directly from distributors. We can get all of the lower end products we could ever sell but when it comes to getting higher end releases or products that quickly become hot commodities, it doesn’t materialize. We might get a case or two but they don’t last long and most of the time we could have used more. Often, we will buy on eBay or somewhere else on the secondary market so we have a variety of products available for people who prefer to buy in person.
I feel like that invisible carrot still dangles in front of us when it comes to allocations and how that is formulated by the card distributors. They tell us to buy more current (and generally the less popular low end) product to build our future allocations (read: more valuable and more anticipated) releases… but nothing really changes. Our Panini Direct account and representatives work pretty well with us, so that’s a nice plus. They have been more helpful as of late. At this point it’s almost a joke dealing with distributors.
Speaking of planning based on what the day’s incoming deliveries look like, we recently (and finally) received a shipment of the new Imports Dragon NFL figures. This is the first series that the company has done in the football market. They have had a number of figures released in various series for the MLB and NHL, with mixed results. We started pre-selling these about three months ago as they were eagerly awaited and they’ve been delayed about four times since. We got an upwards of 50 cases of the Tom Brady figure, nearly 30 cases of the Patrick Mahomes figure and probably 20 cases each of TJ Watt, Baker Mayfield and Aaron Jones. We had to rearrange our upstairs storage area to accommodate them.
They are absolutely gorgeous figures and I was beyond happy that we could finally see them in person. The Bradys have been selling incredibly well online, which is no surprise. Mahomes sells well and so does T.J., but Baker and Aaron Jones are lagging out of the gate.
It’s really hard to explain how busy each day is because it totally varies and with the wide variety of products we carry, there’s always something coming in. There are very few days where we’re not hammered with freight. If anyone reading this is local, by all means, swing by and we can put you to work! It’s tough to just be a sports card shop these days, especially in a smaller community and that’s why our inventory includes items related to hobbies other than sports.
Farewell to (Most) Flippers
Going from a list of things that doesn’t change very often on to a topic that has changed drastically over the last few months is our customer base. Long gone are the flippers, as we used to have multiple people almost waiting in line to go through our singles stacks and we had plenty of people standing there playing on their phone seeing what they could buy and flip for a profit. That’s almost completely disintegrated. We have, I would say, one and a half of our flippers left. One gentleman still does it full time and one of our other regulars does it now but more sporadically than he did in the past.
Many of our customers are people that come in to open packs or buy singles of what, I presume, they are actually interested in and collect, which I must admit is quite refreshing. Don’t get me wrong I have nothing against selling product to anyone who is looking to buy it from us no matter their ultimate intention, but as a collector myself I can appreciate people who buy because they actually want to keep the card.
We are looking forward to another great week at the shop ahead of Super Bowl LVI. Hopefully the weather breaks soon and we can all thaw out.