We recently received an email from Dave Henry who wrote:
I want to start selling cards. I’m thinking about a store here in Rochester NY as we really don’t have a true hobby shop anymore. Do you have some advice for an inexperienced seller/dealer?
Dave, first of all I want to thank you for writing us and I’m glad you value my opinion. A few ideas are below but it’s far from a complete list. Since this is your business, the decisions are ultimately up to you.
The first topic I would like to touch on is that old real estate axiom” Location, Location, Location. About 20-25 years ago, it wasn’t a bad idea to open a shop near a school as the younger population was still actively purchasing cards. Since you figured the adults would later find you, getting the kids to come in every day would provide you with some revenue as they would constantly be opening packs. Those days are long gone and are probably not coming back so your location preferences need to be different as well.
To me, the two best types of locations today are those within a nice strip mall which is anchored by a popular store or those situated in an “art and antique” type of district. The first location would be designed to draw the average person in thanks to what is (hopefully) good traffic at that shopping center. The second location is going to attract the type of people who would normally be attracted to collector-oriented stores.
You’ll want to talk to someone who already runs a small business to get a feel for the type of capital you’ll need. Don’t expect to make a profit right out of the box and be sure you understand all of the regulations and tax responsibilities that come with opening a business, including those that may be unique to your area. If you know a good small business bookkeeper, set up an appointment to discuss it all and find one that will work for you within your budget.
The next step is to purchase the items you need for your store. You will definitely need some display cases and probably have to build shelves as well. That does not count ensuring the light fixtures are working and all the other issues which come up when you take over a new building. This is something most people do not think about when you start a business but it’s part of the process.
You’ll have to decide what hours you want to keep and what you want to draw out of the store. Hopefully you are able to get into a place where you can choose your hours but you want to understand that there will be down times to go with the times you are busy. And don’t forget all that paperwork. The most important hire you make might be your bookkeeper.
Notice we have gotten this far and not even discussed product yet. You will find that you don’t need as many single cards as you would think as many of those will wander into the store and your biggest problem will be learning to say no to when something you don’t want walks in. After all, at some point you will probably get sick of the phone calls and the visits of people with those cards issued between 1985 and 1995. Don’t dismiss those people, though. Some will unload at any price and you might find a gradeable rookie card or two. One conversation can often lead to another, more worthwhile collection. Be sure to have money available for the better material that walks in, although you may have to wait for it.
Keep in mind your selling prices need to be competitive with online sources. You do not have to match eBay or the major online wax dealers on every card you sell but the days of selling singles at full book are just about over and for the most part even if Beckett says $4 you will be lucky to sell for $2.
I will also caution you that show selling and store selling are two very different parts of the business. At the last few shows, I have told several different dealers that their “commons” are not going to sell and just about everyone ends up agreeing with me. The biggest issue they have is trying to say” “Well there are cards worth “x” in these boxes and you are telling me just to say a quarter each to the public”. I laugh and tell them if they don’t drop their prices, they won’t sell any cards from those boxes. Sure enough those cards do not sell and these dealers lament how the world has changed. In a store situation, you will have a better chance to sell those cards. Show attendees are usually more attuned to the business and even more active but their roles are different as well.
And the last aspect for us to discuss is promotion. Not everyone does promotion well but you definitely want to get the word out about the store and have contests which make sense for you, your clientele and your personality. Consider pack wars or frequent customer discount cards. Build a strong social media presence and reach out to other collectors in your area that way.
Make sure you’re willing to talk sports and maybe even have either a TV or a radio going all day so avid fans know they can come into your shop and stay up on what’s happening and maybe talk a little sports while they’re shopping. You want to be a welcoming place for all.
If you want more tips, this website has carried a few articles on owning a shop like this one (and there is plenty of other information—just search for related terms).
Those are some of my ideas. We’d love to hear yours.