The other day, I was chatting with the owner/operator of my local sports card shop, Triple Cards in Plano, TX. The owner is a good honest man who really wants to both make a decent living and have his collectors enjoy their time in the shop. Keeping things fresh and dynamic to attract repeat customers, however, is a challenge for him. It’s true in any business but especially in one that involves discretionary income. I was going to write about things I would improve in his store but the more I thought about it, the more these ideas can be applied to many stores around the country.
While there are significantly less stores than during the hobby boom of the early 1990’s there are still a decent number of them out there. I once heard a number of about 30,000 stores around 1991 while today I would guess there might about 2,000 stores in one form or another. That’s still a decent amount but far from the glory days where even a town like Minot, North Dakota had seven stores. With that in mind let’s talk about how to improve hobby shops with the understanding these suggestions are not for everyone.
My good friends Donna and Mark Rubin who operate American Legends in Scarsdale, N.Y. send out regular coupons good for discounts at their store. I always wonder why more store owners do not do this. There is nothing wrong with automatic givebacks to your customers. I’m sure their email list is very impressive and I’d be interested to see how much extra business is generated by those coupons. Most collectors will be glad to turn over their email address if they know they can save money.
Two, one thing the owner of Triple Cards does believe would work in his store would be to have another Pack Wars event. I think it’s been 5-6 years since Al had pack wars and his biggest concern is getting enough merchandise to sell. My instinct would be instead of seeing what boxes to wholesale to other dealers to try to use those in pack wars. What’s wrong with using mainly dead merchandise in a mix with a few issues doing well to create excitement? Yes, you might have been able to sell a couple of those popular boxes but you probably would have had difficulty moving the other 14. Collectors will remember what you gave back to them and many will give that loyalty back many times over.
During Black Friday week, Al was having a box sale in his store. I will discuss with him when he returns how well the sale went. To me, one of the strengths of a box sale would be to take those slower moving boxes and look at sites such as Blowout Cards or Dave and Adams and see what people can buy those boxes for on-line. To me, if I had not sold a specific box in several months I would research to see what other people are selling them for and be competitive. However, Al also showed me an ad on the Back Cover of a Beckett magazine where Blowout was selling (IIRC) 2014 Topps 1 boxes for $47.95 and 2014 Bowman 1 boxes on a pre-sale for $51.95. These prices are barely above cost and are very difficult for any store owner to compete against. He did have his box sale over the Black Friday period and even tried it “my way” with pricing each box separately, He will go back to his normal promotion of buy one get one at 1/2 off for his next box sale. We agreed to be curious as to which one will give better results.
Not every store has room to do this, but Al had a very nice small card show in his store a few years back. I remember doing very well there and he does have a nice mailing list to send to as well as the email list. While the show did not bring him as much supplies or box business as he would have wanted on that day, I think a show like that, especially with free admission is a way to bring new people into a store and keep them there as they browse the tables. It also provides some networking opportunities.
I know the logistics can be a nightmare but I’d suggest an autograph signing in store. Logistics and cost can be a headache, but it can be profitable, great for publicity, give your store some credibility with autograph collectors and bring in some people who might become customers after they are treated well at the autograph signing. Even a couple of steady, loyal new customers is always a good turn after an event such as this.
I’d also look into an holiday event for my best customers and even offer them a chance to have a secret Santa exchange. This is not going to be a pure money maker except you might be able to sell your own wares to the collector before the event and then sell them supplies during their time in the store.
If your prices are low on certain things, don’t be afraid to spread the word. I always thought Al worked close to book value on his sorted out 1981-present commons. I was shocked to find out that he was half book on almost every card except for some rookies. Why he never advertises the lower prices on commons and supplies I don’t know. To me, if you have something you are lower priced on, make sure you publicize that. One aspect of a store is many collectors assume you are high priced on everything, but if not that might change their perspective of you as being high on everything.
And, perhaps in the place of a collector’s showcase, you have some auctions in which your clients put up cards for sale on a bid board. This concept has been around since the late 1980’s and what is wrong with giving some collectors some new ways of raising money? Again, it’s more foot traffic by collectors who often can’t resist buying something even if they’re just checking the board.
Creating promotions using social media like Facebook and Twitter can also give your shop some life. If you don’t have much of a presence or don’t spend any time on it, you’re missing out on a huge (and free) opportunity. Get collectors to like and follow your pages by posting signs in the store an word of mouth.
Sports Collectors Daily offered a list of tips for running a great sports card shop a couple of years ago and you can read those here.
What are some of your ideas to improve your LCS if you are fortunate enough to be near one?
Rich Klein can be reached at [email protected]