Monday, February 8, 2010

Bob Brill- A Not So Hypothetical Story of a Bitter Sports Card Dealer

Before sports card related blogging exploded in the last couple of years, Bob Brill, owner of KC Kings, published a weekly newsletter called the Brill Report. One of his most popular pieces was called the $10k Experiment. This experiment involved taking $10 and tracking the amount of time it took to turn it into $10,000. Mr Brill was able to accomplish this through buying and selling, including using his store as a means of low-balling walk in traffic for items people were looking to sell.

Today I came across an article he authored last month titled, "The death of the successful card shop, it's over."

Read it and come back and share your thoughts.


Unknown said...


I read the whole thing. And pretty much he blames everybody else for being the cause of his failure, and accepts none of the blame himself.

It's the nature of business. It's the real evolution.

People tastes changed. Instead of getting the hot RC - which people had no idea how many were produced - people wanted the short print RC, numbered to /299. It's proof of the rarity.

People wanted memorabilia and autos. They wanted case hits.

And the LCS owner didn't budge. I'm into gaming cards too, and so many owners got left in the dark because they refused to change their business model.

My (recently) former LCS is a great case in point. Overpriced boxes, stale singles in glass cases and a bad attitude. I actually overheard him tell an associate that he was working in a museum and that he should charge admission for coming into the store.

And what the guy didn't point out is the shortcomings of Beckett. Beckett became the enemy once we entered the information age. People could dictate the market based on their spending habits. Actual currency dictated worth. Funny concept in America I know.

Ebay doesn't suck. People who didn't plan for a free market really took it in the pants.

Dave said...

Great article, thanks for sharing it Rob.

The sports card hobby sure has changed a ton over the last 20 years, and he's right - owning a brick & mortar card shop isn't a viable business anymore. That's sad for people who are nostalgic about the way things used to be, but it's reality.

Big web site dealers like Blowout Cards and Dave & Adam's are the current state of the hobby. They've figured out how to be successful in this day and age. Just like in any other business, you have to innovate to survive.

Joe S. said...

It's a sad story, to be sure, but I don't think I can empathize with the guy.

The world has changed. Ebay doesn't suck - instead, it now gives the store owners a GLOBAL market and customer base! How can this possibly be bad? So now the stores can't gouge their customers... no skin off my back. He says he can't afford a website, but he can whip out the credit card for boxes?? Why are people generally unwilling to take less profit and more product than more profit on less product?


The coming of the information age brought about great change, swallowing those who refused to adapt but providing plenty of opportunity for those who did.

There are two seemingly successful card shops within 15 miles of me, what do those owners know that so many others do not?

Rob- AKA "VOTC" said...

I remeber when I re-entered the hobby. A trip to my inlaws, outside Canton,OH resulted in a trip to the LCS. I spoke with the owner and told him I was looking for game-used and autograph cards of my wife's favorite player (Omar Vizquel). The guy had the nerve to look me right in the face and say, " I'd really love to help you sort through boxes looking for those card but I am keeping an eye on some eBay auctions right now. Could you come back tomorrow?" Needless to say I didn't and no surprise upon a return trip 6-months later, the store was out of business. Some shop owners have no business being in business.

cynicalbuddha said...

I have to say it's sad but dinosaurs will die. Back when I started collecting in the mid 80's there was no internet and only 3 sets. And to get cards you went to the card shop or to weekend shows. Now I can go to the card shop, order online from mega wholesalers, buy off of ebay, get singles from all sorts of places. What killed a lot of card shops is not taking advantage of all the new possiblities, and living for the good old days. The card shop in my home town, which has 3500 people, has been there for over 20 years and is still there. I wish I was somewhere near to ask him what his secret is.

dogfacedgremlin said...

You know, I used to always read the Brill Report wondering when he was going to get his $10,000.

While he is pretty good at the recap, I don't think it is as cynical as he makes it out to be. I've never been a shop owner so I can't speak from experience but as a collector, if my shop didn't adapt to the changes in market and demand, then I would wholeheartedly expect it to fail. And fail, many of them have.

He isn't kidding that it's a bitter story.

mfw13 said...

I think a lot of it is the fact that many card shop owners have minimal business skills. Many are collectors who at some point in the past thought it would be fun to open a store, but wanting to run a store and being able to do so profitably are two very different things.

Retailers have sales all the time in order to clear out unwanted inventory, for example. When was the last you saw a LCS have a 50% off sale?

Jason Presley said...

I was with him until the last paragraph:

"Major league baseball and the other leagues are selling cards on their web sites"

Who the hell is actually paying the double retail prices + 7.95 minimum s&h for the garbage MLB is selling on their web store?

Anonymous said...

Negativity will never help a businessman of any sort. Card shops will always exist. People will want to go to them and peruse showcases, buy packs, and talk face-to-face with dealers. They'll do the same to play gaming cards/miniatures. Antique shops/malls still exist with eBay as big as ever. Book shops still exist. Comic shops exist with the internet full of stores/eBay/etc. People want a tactile experience. People like having instant gratification of opening packs (any packs - look at the retail buyers) and going through monster boxes (or long boxes of comic back issues).

That all said, it really depends on location. Where I live there are FIVE colleges within 10 miles and NO card shops. The comic shop, which has been going strong for 30 years, does a helluva business. If I had the guts, I would do a card/collectible shop (but I wouldn't ignore online sales) because I know I would have foot traffic and 40,000 students as potential customers.

Alex said...

There is no doubt his article provides some great insights into how the retail card business has operate over the last 30 odd years.

That being said he laments too much on the "good old days". There is always going to be change in any business. Essentially you can do one of 2 things - embrace it go under. In his "story" the dealer makes a half-hearted attempt to embrace it, all the while lamenting the good old days. In those circumstances it is only a matter of time.

Anonymous said...

That piece made me sick to my stomach ... mainly because he speaks truth. I don't care if he is bitter or not, there is lots of truth there.

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