As with any hobby dependent on disposable income, now that they economy is starting to turn around, the hobby seems to be rebounding as well. This week, many of the people who make their living in the industry will be attending the Summit in Las Vegas, a yearly event to provide information to all interested parties. In the past, this event has done a lot to provide lip service to many of the hot topics of the time, but it rarely leads to anything other than disseminating further information to people who don’t always use it correctly.
I have always thought that Card Shop owners were a breed that selective evolution would weed out. The ones that adapt to a more modern marketplace will survive and usually do quite well, others will go down with the old guard, trying to reclaim what “used to be.” I still believe that there are a lot of shop owners that have no clue how to operate in this new market, and going to the industry summit probably wont help them – “probably” being the key word in that sentence. Then there are other shop owners who embrace the changes, and will use this week to build networks that will improve their business to the point where they can make a good living.
Here is the underlying theme that everyone needs to understand – the internet drives the business. Either directly or indirectly – as more collectors are using the web to congregate, buy, sell and get their information. Without a presence to drive traffic to your site or your store through the net, success will be fleeting. Ill brag on a shop owner that I have come to know personally, and I think he will read this – so hopefully I wont get this wrong.
When I first moved to San Antonio, I needed a shop to get my fix as a collector. Not necessarily one that I would do all my collecting in, but one that would service the needs I had when I wanted to get a box or two on occasion. I surveyed a number of stores in the area, but Charlie DiPietro’s store, Sports Cards Plus, was easily the best. Charlie had a knack for understanding his customers, and was very proud of the establishment he had built. The issue was that the economy was in the dumps, and it was easy to see that the industry was getting harder to operate within, instead of easier.
I worked with Charlie a little bit to set up a store site that he could use to drive traffic to his store, and promote big pulls and events, and for the most part it looked as if there was a lot Charlie had going for him. What I didn’t see was just how hard Charlie worked every day to keep his customers coming back, and that was the true driver of his business. I have met more shop owners through the site than I could ever have imagined, but there just aren’t many who really get it the way Charlie does. He keeps up to date – through the internet – on upcoming trends, reads a bunch of sites, and participates the way EVERY shop owner should. As a result of his hard work, he has been able to move into a bigger store, keep his business going strong, and establish himself as one of the top stores in the south, if not the nation. But its all because Charlie uses his intelligence to build a better wheel. He has gone to the industry summit most of the last few years, and was a speaker at one as well. He is the guy who can benefit most from this summit, not the guy who just wants to work the 40 hours a week, sell cards by book value, and only get in wax that is cheap enough to put on the shelves.
You know what the best part is? Charlie doesn’t really complain about the new landscape of the hobby, but rather adjusts his business to survive and excel within it. Instead of saying, “Oh man, this isn’t the way it used to be, I don’t like it!” he goes and finds the best way for a shop owner to make the most of his store. I have consistently encouraged him to get on Twitter to promote things further, but he is active enough on Facebook that its not that big of a deal. His store website is updated frequently, and he hosts all sorts of events and parties to get his customers to keep coming back. He is someone for which the hobby is both personal and professional, and that is why I don’t see things ever changing for him. He is nice, courteous, and informed, and there is rarely a time where I go into an empty store. Its not a coincidence.
What does all of this have to do with the Summit? More retailers need lessons on being Charlie, instead of going and getting lip service from card companies about products and services that will do the work for them. That is a pipedream that will never happen. If you think you can own any business and not work your ass off, good luck being successful. As long as we create more resources that can be easily digested by both professional and collector minds alike, we will never have the opportunity to see a hobby where the shop will ever compete with the ever growing internet storefront.
Charlie often says that the LCS is the face of the hobby, but I disagree. They are the physical presence that may be visible to some parts of the hobby, but the internet collective is the brain and body. A recent survey was conducted by Mosaiq on the buying and collecting habits of people in cards, and when the results become more publically presented, I doubt they will reveal anything you don’t already know. The LCS is a dying water cooler opportunity for us because they rarely figure out what to do to be successful in the technologically advanced world. It has as much to do with that as it does with the rebounding economy, although more disposable income will encourage more openings. The only hope is that there will be more people dedicated to driving success through hard work the way Charlie does, instead of those just expecting to open doors and wait for the money to walk in.
The Industry summit has become to shop owners what the National Convention is to collectors, and that isnt a bad thing. The bad thing is that I see more corporate product pimping (which is readily available elsewhere) than more focus on educating the people who need it. One year I will definitely attend the show to form a more accurate perception, but for now, this is what it is to me. The reason is that I see the people who go, and see the results in their establishments, and most of the time its either poor results or marginal at best. There are good apples in every bunch, no doubt – but that fails to recognize just how many lives are dependent on card income without a true understanding of it.