So often you hear collectors say “I won’t go into a store because I can always buy everything cheaper online.” Heck, we even had a couple at our last show not pay the meager $1 admission fee because the husband muttered: “I can buy everything cheaper online”. Well, first I can guarantee you that with show dealers there are usually bargains to be had, and second, the ability to actually see the cards and not having to worry about shipping or bad packing is usually worth something to a collector.
Shop dealers, like all business owners, have a significant expense up front just to open their doors each day. And while no one owes them a living, they provide valuable places for collectors to connect and compare notes on those products. A good shop owner also carries singles for sets. Most are happy to provide information to customers that might take a while to find online, if at all. Visiting a good shop is an experience for the senses that can’t be duplicated online.
When I dropped by Triple Cards in Plano TX the other day we had one of our serious discussions about some of the very legitimate issues store owners have as compared to show dealers or online sellers.
RETAIL vs HOBBY
One of my local shop owners has not been as aggressive as he thinks he could have been with working out an arrangement to get “blaster” boxes into his store. One of his distributors changed quite a bit of personnel and thus his original contacts for doing that are now longer working there. But that whole concept of getting blaster boxes is one which, if possible. is a great idea for store owners. I know as a consumer, I’d feel more comfortable buying those boxes from my LCS then I would from a Walmart or Target.
One advantage of buying them at an LCS is the store owner/manager is able to prevent pack searching. Most retail outlets do not have enough personnel or don’t pay their employees well enough to really care about such a thing. The other big issue is the retail stores do have the right to return those boxes because they have the firepower of hundreds, if not thousands of stores behind them. For card store owners, there has not been a successfully completed dealer organization that could offer more buying power. In the early 1990’s we had SCAI and NASDAM. A quick Google search did bring up this interesting article about John Broggi’s attempt at a dealer organization. Nowadays we know John better as one of the National’s promoters.
But all of this does bring up an interesting dichotomy for dealer. That is, the independent streak which enables them to run a successful shop does not always work well for playing along with others. Most store owners have their own ways of running things and they do not want other people telling them how to run them. That is one of the reasons why Rob Veres was not successful at getting his Beckett Business Solutions project completed earlier this year. The last time I spoke to Rob, I mentioned that perhaps a better way was for him (or in retrospect should have said Beckett) to let shop owners or individual affiliates to tap into the power of a Beckett Marketplace (with the nearly 40 million listings of Burbank Sports Cards inside it) and pay a referral fee for the effort. The problem with that probably has to do with logistics but there has to be some way in today’s world to work that out.
We mentioned at the very beginning of the story the monthly bills needed to keep a store in business. But they have another major disadvantage versus most online retailers. Online businesses are sometimes not as well-regulated and many times, dealers avoid tax issues. Hey life is tough enough for most store owners but how many of you would like to enter a venue in which you have an automatic 8 1/2 percent (or whatever sales tax is where you are) disadvantage before you sell an item?
RETURNS VERSUS YOU OWN IT
We talked about the firepower of major retailers like Target and Walmart. But one other advantage they have is the freedom to return their goods. This December (and frankly the past couple of months) have been disastrous for the new box market. As you have read from our reviews, there are times the box price drop is perfectly understandable based on the box content but other times, the secondary market price reaction made no sense at all. Unlike retailers, sports card shop owners own these boxes and can either hope their clients will buy them at some price so they get a return of capital or find other dealers willing to purchase them. Either way. this is not the most tenable situations for any retailer.
I’m reminded of the time circa 2005, just before the baseball card market moved to two major manufacturers effective in 2006. We’d get a box at Beckett and then sure enough a few months later these boxes would be cheaper at the shows. The one that I always remember was Upper Deck Origins which was actually a cool idea for a product way back when. But many of those boxes around that time all settled quite a bit lower than the original issue price.
However, if you are a hobby store owner, once that box comes in the door, you own it I’ve been firmly convinced for more than 25 years to not lay about any money in advance and just wait to see what happens with these boxes on the secondary market. I would tell my customers that we don’t need to be first but we do need to be competitive on pricing and if that requires a wait, so be it.
Yes there are some solutions to all of this. The first is to set up your store as a place to do more than just buy the newest boxes. Triple Cards has a ‘wall of singles’ (he told me one of his customers spent $170 there this week although the price look up is time-consuming for him) while Nick’s Sportscards has cards on the counter customers can handle and also sells a wide variety of sports-related merchandise. They are looking for ways to sell more than just boxes.
There are also promotions such as old hobby chestnuts such as Pack Wars (and if you buried in product why not do Pack Wars as a way to move packs and get them out of the store), bringing in autograph guests or even creating frequent customer programs. Many of you read Mike Fruitman’s column and if you subscribe to his email newsletter or follow him on Facebook or Twitter you know he is always looking for ways to bring people into his store. Case breaking has become a modern way and why not sell spots in your stores and make them into events? There are always ways to bring people in, so take advantage of them and think of some of your own.
Yes, we’re big fans of stores in DFW and other areas. The two stores nearest us have been very supportive of our shows and we’ve been very appreciative of their support The owners do understand that if we bring new people into the local hobby, they will probably end up going to the local stores as customers and that only helps them as well. But more importantly, to make blanket statements about store prices is not fair to them. Sometimes they have to be more expensive for the legitimate business reasons described above and that puts them into a tough position indeed. But if you are fortunate to have a local store near to you go visit and help keep the hobby alive.