Tony Reid’s weekly Shop Talk segment focuses on the goings-on at the hobby shop he helps manage in Central PA.
In recent installments of Shop Talk I have touched, albeit very briefly, on the constant, ongoing battle of supply and demand from the card shop’s perspective.
Well, that all changes this week as that has become my focus of this latest installment in our weekly series.
In retrospect, the word “battle” may be too strong. Maybe cat and mouse game is more fitting. Speaking from the perspective of a small to mid-level brick and mortar card shop, there are a few frustrations in that ongoing game with some of our distributors and vendors in relation to supplying us, and in turn our customers, with a reasonable amount of new sports card product.
Before we even get into the nuts and bolts, the market has changed drastically over the past few months as have the details of the topics we are about to cover in this piece. Some are becoming more clear and workable and some are just becoming more exacerbated.
From the way it’s framed by some of the distributors we work with, we must purchase lower end, lesser quality product in order to build our allocations and have the opportunity to purchase the hotter, higher end products when they hit the market.
This, in theory, sounds like a great idea. The more we purchase, the more we show we’re in this together with the vendors and not just looking to snipe the hot products and blow off everything else they have to offer. The more business we give the vendors the more business they give us. We scratch their back and they scratch ours. Its a sports card give and take, of sorts.
The main, glaring problem with this arrangement is that some of the vendors and distributors change the rules mid-game. There have been multiple times where we’ve ordered (and maybe over ordered) lower end products in hopes of building our allocations for potentially acquiring popular higher end releases but when it comes time to order those products the opportunity all but vanishes. As one might imagine, this doesn’t make for a very trusting relationship.
This is an ongoing issue that we’re dealing with and we’re hoping to make inroads to make it more transparent for everyone involved.
If we are lucky enough to secure the products we are requesting, great. Restocking after they’re gone becomes an entirely new hurdle in its own right.
As I’ve mentioned in past pieces, we do our very best to keep our in-store prices on virtually all of our products competitive with the online market. There have been a few occasions where we would be offered a certain product from one of our vendors only to be able to go and find it cheaper online ourselves. We could literally buy the product for less money on eBay or even on a large retail website like Dave and Adam’s. You can draw your own conclusions there.
That’s not to say that it’s all negative news and I’m far from a Debbie Downer. We have distributors and vendors with whom we have phenomenal relationships. We consider some of them friends. We have great conversations with them almost daily and feel a pretty strong bond. We deal with a number of vendors across the board. Not only do we sell sports cards, we sell memorabilia including jerseys and helmets, Fatheads, bobble heads, RC cars, a wide array of WWE figures and merch, supplies and various other lines and items.
Let me give you a somewhat recent, more positive story.
As we all well know, 2019-20 Prizm Basketball was as hot of a product as we’ve seen in recent memory.
Many of our vendors and distributors came through in a big way, as we received case upon case of blasters, hobby boxes and every version of the product you could imagine.
We had so much Prizm it was to the point where certain distributors were calling to buy the product back from us.
I joke that we should have put a few cases up in our upper storage area and forget about them for a year and then sell them and pay off our houses (to answer the question, no we did not put cases back. Hey it’s not ultimately my decision!).
When we don’t get the supply we’re looking for we have no other recourse than to do what everyone else does. Buy the product online and try to still make a small profit for our business.
As you could imagine in the current market, once we sell through the product and we have to reorder, costs have often skyrocketed. It doesn’t take long. If our cost goes up, it usually means we have to raise the price of the product in the store, which isn’t a positive for collectors who now have to decide whether they want to pay more than they did a day or two earlier.
I just had it happen a few days ago. We sold out of 2021 Topps Jumbo Baseball. A customer wanted to know when we were getting it back in. Well, that can sometimes be a complicated question to answer. It totally depends on whether our distributor still has the product in stock. If they do, has the price gone up? If they don’t have any to offer us, we’re going hunting online, trying to find it ourselves to bring in and sell to our customers–hopefully at a reasonable price.
We also work with a larger supplier in the state that aids in getting us cases and boxes of cards, some memorabilia, various supplies and things of that nature. That is a great resource to lean on and a relationship we have built over the past decade plus.
Its not all doom and gloom but its also not all sunshine and rainbows, either. We will do absolutely everything we can to offer all products to our customers at the lowest possible price point but sometimes it’s easier said than done. There can be moving parts behind the scenes that many may not know about and some may not even care about. I just wanted to take a moment and pull the curtain back a little to show that your local hobby shop is usually working hard to keep its customers happy but it’s often a juggling act with a lot of balls in the air almost every day.