Let’s face it. We’ve all been “rookies” at some point in time when it comes to collecting sports memorabilia. None of us had a clue what we were doing when we got started, but someone, or something, enticed us into buying that first pack of cards, and then another pack, and then another.
Was it peer pressure? Maybe. Was it boredom? I doubt it. Was it hoping that you would find your favorite player in that pack? Probably. Or could it have been for a more serious reason, such as an investment for the future, or your children? That’s a possibility, also. Regardless of the answer, we all have had the tendency to make the same mistakes initially when we ventured into the sports collectibles industry.
Let me share some of my experiences with you before I get into the meat of this series. Since the early 1970’s, which to me was the decade when card collecting swung into high gear, I’ve been on both sides of the counter, as a collector, as a retailer, and even as a card show participant to earn a fairly modest income over that period. For me, peer pressure propelled me into collecting for about the first ten years.
Then things took a more serious turn in 1981, thanks to a close friend of mine who was about to get involved in a partnership and open a small card shop. Now my plate was really full. Not only was I managing a grocery store on a full time basis, my free time vanished overnight once I became a partner in that small shop.
About four years into that endeavor, card shows reared there profitable heads everywhere. It was another major turning point for me and a decision had to be made. Should I continue being a 50 hour a week manager, or should I bust my butt doing what I had become very passionate about?
It took me all of five minutes (if that) to make that critical decision. So the next morning, I was on the phone to my District Manager letting him know he had two weeks to replace me, since I was stepping down to a 20 – 30 hour per week part time position. I was scared to death because I basically walked away from about 60% of guaranteed weekly income.
Then something remarkable happened. After struggling a bit that first year as a part time grocery associate, full time partner in a card shop, and doing midweek and weekend card shows, I was making more money then when I was a store manager, and I was happy for the first time in nearly 15 years. Go figure.
Over the next nine to ten years, the market here in this state took a turn for the worse. The State Board of Equalization (should be called Chastization) got their fangs and claws into the industry, as all vendors new they eventually would. We hated it, but we got over it. After all, we were operating a business, even if we no longer had the store front. My friend and I had sold our share of the card shop partnership to do card shows exclusively. And in some cases, we traveled out of state.
In addition to that, we noticed that the market got tainted because of younger, cutthroat vendors thinking they could make a fast buck, when all they were doing was driving the value of tons of good cards into the toilet. It took its toll with my friend and me, and in 1993, my friend went back to owning a card shop, and I moved out of the area. Basically, now I devote all my efforts into my collection.
As a result, my whole focus shifted radically from having everything imaginable (in the four major sports) as a retailer, to being a very passionate collector of only a dozen of my all time favorite baseball stars.
So, enough about me already. What does all of this have to do with the focus of these articles? Everything when it comes to avoiding some of the mistakes that I made along the way. Understand something, I’ve never been the sharpest stick in the pile, but I have learned a lot from my mistakes. And hopefully, as a beginning collector, this will help you avoid making the same ones I did.
What defines a “beginning” collector? If you’ve been accumulating cards for a year or less, then I would consider calling you a beginning collector. Please don’t be offended by the term. We all start off as beginners, so no insult intended. Since collecting can oftentimes become a bottomless pit of choices, you need to take a little time and answer four critical “What” questions.
Question #1 — First and foremost, ask yourself, “What’s the real reason behind purchasing all those packs of cards?” This is not a dumb question, believe me. And I can’t answer it for you. But I can tell you that in the 35 plus years I’ve been collecting sports cards, I have spent tens of thousands of dollars foolishly. So be careful.
Question #2 — “What are my goals? What am I hoping to achieve by building a collection?” Even though this is similar to the first question, this requires 100% common sense when you formulate your answer. Please try to consider all the following reasons for collecting before you decide how to answer this:
· Only for enjoyment or entertainment purposes
· Short-term investment to profit on a year or two down the road
· Long-term investment to profit from, or for your children’s future
· Business reasons to earn retail profits
Question #3 — “What am I going to collect?” Again, this one requires a lot of thought. Remember that there are literally millions of cards out there on the market to choose from. This was an easier decision 20-30 years ago. Now you’re bombarded with lots of manufacturers, insert sets, parallel sets, and so on.
Question #4 — “What am I willing to spend (or can I afford to spend) in order to achieve my goals?” This is the tough one because there’s no such thing as a free lunch. Collecting costs money. Not to discourage you, but you need to be able to budget into your finances what you decide to spend weekly or monthly on your collection.
In the next five articles, I’m going to cover each of these questions in depth, with my tips and suggestions to help you, the beginning collector, get a leg up on all the pitfalls of collecting, and how to avoid them. Until then, see you next time and happy collecting.