What the Industry Summit SHOULD Mean to Hobby Businesses

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.

5 thoughts on “What the Industry Summit SHOULD Mean to Hobby Businesses

  1. All true. But at a macro level, retailing is about value…providing quality products at a good price. The problem the hobby faces right now is that manufacturers are not doing this. Most products are derivative, repetitive, and overpriced.

    The other thing the hobby needs to focus on is customer segmentation. Right now, every product tries to be everything to everyone, which has resulted in products that end up being a jumbled mess. Manufacturers need to spend more time understanding their customers, not trying to shove crap down their throats.

  2. Charlie @ Sports Cards Plus also makes a strong attempt to maintain competitive pricing for all new products with internet prices. As collectors we understand we may need to shell out a few bucks, or an extra 10% for instant gratification, but there are too many hobby shops with insane markup and unconscionable prices. Charlie keeps customers coming back by understanding how the internet drives the hobby. Well written op-piece.

  3. My main LCS in MI does not have a facebook, twitter or any kind of internet presence or set up at shows, they dont even take credit cards but in this day and age it is impressive that he is still in business and thriving after almost 30 years.

    He buys nearly every product direct and the max allotment he can get except for things that dont justify buying an entire case(sage, press pass, racing, most Panini)…

    He doesnt price boxes based on internet prices.. because whats the point of pricing at a point it doesnt sell at or selling for less on ebay or internet store…. He also doesnt have a competitor within in an hours drive because they are all out of business….

    Its a double edge sword because there are always the BO or DA price spouting goofs that will parrot back a price that is lower on a product that they dont even intend to buy, but those same goofs will buy a box from him that is significantly lower than the “big” boys posted prices…

    The biggest thing is he is honest, direct and consistent which I find is a rarity in the LCS.

    One of the things that should be asked at the Summit is why are the companies producing retail that is a better value than the hobby boxes and often releasing them before hobby… and why do they make the supposed premium brands in a retail version at all…

    I shouldnt be able to buy Contenders, SP and the like at retail regardless of insertion odds and content…

    On the days they are released and thereafter, Chrome and Platinum are a better value at retail and blaster than hobby boxes… and become even more so after the boom drives up hobby boxes to ridiculous prices…

  4. Hello Gellman,

    I wish you could take the time to attend the Industry Summit. I just got back this evening and while I got somewhere around 3 hours of sleep each night, I can’t wait to get back into my store to make it even more exciting for my collectors.

    For the most part, I would agree the we have seen a washing out of some stores. At this point, I would say that most remaining stores are doing more for their collectors than ever before.

    When it comes to newer wax, it is easier than ever to compete against BO and DA than ever. We enjoyed one of our best years in 2012 and will do what it takes to make 2013 kick arse as well.

    Not every store (including many great owners that I have got to know over the years) were able to attend, but those who did, should be recharged with energy and ideas to grow their businesses and to support their collectors.

    If you are a collector and your LCS isn’t gettting it, I would offer them support with either ideas or a push like Gellman did to show them how easy it really is.

    I’m not simply saying this because my store offers weekly drawings, monthly drawings, case crackers, a strong presence on social media, we actually give away ALL of our Las Vegas gifts and so much more. Many other shops actually do the same if not more.

    The death of the LCS is far from true as long as they continue to evolve and grow.

  5. Mike, because my budget and time is limited, I have chosen to attend the collector centric show in Chicago this year, instead. I think that you make some good points, but even you mention that there needs to be more open minded shop owners, and more resources available to help them implement these ideas. People may be jazzed up at that show, but many of them dont seem to take that fire and apply it to make their place a better outlet for collectors.

    Each time the summit happens, you and I have this discussion, and I love your optimism about your kin. Me, on the other hand, take you as one of the best of the best, someone who has embraced the new marketplace with open arms, where others have been MUUUUCH less likely to catch on.

    Next year, I would love to attend, however the money aspect will always be an issue. You never know, 2013 might be a great year for me that I can afford to spend the money.

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