For the last three years I’ve been running a physical card shop as a side hustle.
When I made the decision to buy out my friend’s shop during the summer of 2020, I had no idea what would be in store for me. Well, that’s not entirely true. He was pretty open with me about his experience and financial results for the several years he ran the business. I already knew the owner of the main LCS I was renting my dedicated space from. I was also walking in with an existing customer base who knew me and the type of cards I’d be selling from doing our local monthly show for several years.
But spending one Saturday a month at the show was different than spending each and every Saturday and Sunday at the shop. I wasn’t sure how I’d feel after working my day job Monday - Friday and then working the weekends at the shop. I wasn’t sure how that time would impact family commitments, and I wasn’t sure what the impact would be to my content creation efforts on the blog and podcast.
So What Did I Learn?
Hopefully some of these lessons will be helpful to you as well.
Running the shop over these last few years provided me opportunities to develop in several areas.
First was customer service. Every customer who walks in the door is different. Some come right out and tell me what they’re looking for, but I’ve had to develop the ability to draw it out of others through conversation. Some come to have conversations and they stay for hours to talk with me and other customers. Others are in and out in five minutes. Others want to come dig through boxes by themselves and don’t really want to be bothered. I’ve had to learn these preferences for my regulars, but also learn how to quickly pick up on the preferences of the collectors who walk through the door.
I’ve also had weekly opportunities to refine my negotiating skills. Whether it is on the buy side or the sell side, I’ve been able to work on my ability to negotiate prices that work for both me and my customers. In my opinion, the art of negotiation is one of the biggest life skills someone can gain, and buying and selling cards is a fantastic way to develop it. My confidence in negotiation has definitely grown.
I’ve also had to learn to be resourceful when it comes to acquiring inventory.
There were a couple hundred thousand cards already out for sale plus close to a million more in back inventory that I picked up with my buy out. This meant for the first year, I didn’t really have to worry about access to fresh inventory.
However, that changed in year two. I worked my way through the back inventory and while customers were bringing in a couple small collections a month, my sales were outpacing the flow of new inventory coming in. In the past, the LCS I was renting from would regularly send low end collections my way, but that wasn’t happening at the same pace as before, so I needed to be more creative in finding new inventory.
I began being more proactive in asking customers to reach out if they had collections they were looking to sell. I encouraged them to tell friends and family I was buying. I made sure the other dealers who set up at our local show knew I was looking for fresh inventory and I also started making bulk purchases from another LCS in a neighboring town.
I definitely grew in my ability to source, but this is still one area where I have a lot of room to improve. I believe there were a lot of collections I missed out on and instead went to others in our area.
The importance of having the ability to identify the best selling channel for different products really stood out. Knowing what I could sell in the shop, what I could sell on Sportlots, and what I could move on eBay or COMC allowed me to buy more collections and ultimately make more profit. I was able to pick up cards other dealers were passing on because I knew I could get them in the hands of collectors who would want them. There is something to be said for the efficiency that comes from selling via a single channel, but in my experience, having a multi-channel strategy led to stronger results.
Finally, I learned I could do it.
One of my biggest takeaways from this adventure is that I learned I could do this profitably.
Over these last few years, I ran into several individuals who were skeptical about my ability to make any money by focusing on low to mid end cards and older wax. I did not stock any wax released in the last 5 years, and I only have a handful of cards priced over $100 in my cases. But buying right, selling to the allure of nostalgia, and selling low end cards at scale allowed me to be profitable and grow my business each year.
What started as a couple hundred bucks and some childhood junk wax era cards in 2016 grew to the point where I could buy the shop in 2020. Now a few years later, it’s grown to over six figures worth of inventory all paid for with profits.
Do you have to run a shop to learn these lessons? Probably not. Setting up at shows or even just attending trade nights can expose you to the same situations. But for me, there is something about being in these situations week after week that helps the learnings sink in.
Have you ever run a shop? Do you ever set up at shows?
If so, I’d love to know what you’ve learned along the way!
Leave a comment below and let me know.