Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Card Shops- Best Practices and Ideas For Success

A card shop owner contacted me after reading my post about Bob Brill and KC Kings card shop yesterday. He asked my opinion about the industry and my overall take on the viability and future of the traditional brick and mortar card shop.

This is something I have commented on many times in the past while providing several ideas that would contribute to making for a successful Hobby shop. First and foremost being that you have to possess more than just a little business acumen and not just a passion and/or knowledge of The Hobby. Those days are over as evidenced by Mr. Brill's lengthy diatribe.

Operating a small business, any business, takes an understanding of marketing, accounting, sales, and inventory management to name a few non sports card related necessities. All of which are infinitely more important then knowing such trivialities as whose included in the Hi Number series of 1964 Topps baseball or the book value of a 2001 Albert Pujols Bowman Chrome Auto RC

Trading cards are fun, and nostalgic but perhaps most importantly (from the standpoint of a Hobby shop owner) sports cards are addicting. It's sad but true and I am obviously not alone in this sentiment as evidenced by the monikers employed by some of my fellow bloggers.

Hobby retailers need to harness and feed this addiction by providing instant gratification, at the best possible price, all while being easy, user friendly, and fun. So, how does one do this? Well I have some ideas and I am sure many of you, have others.

For example, every card shop should have a Buyer's Club of some sort. An example of benefits might include; a customer's initial purchase would be discounted by 10% and include a decent free pack, a box of top-loaders and subscription to a monthly if not weekly newsletter, each of which, would then include a coupon, redeemable that week or month. However, the captured demographics, shouldn't stop with their email address. Customer lists should include cell #'s and Twitter accounts. They don't have a Twitter account? Give them a free mid-range pack to get one. Tweet and text things such as- am and pm specials, weekend promos, who just pulled what (with photos), remaining inventory (Only 2 boxes left of Ultimate Collection!), and "First person to _____" contests.

Why? It's all about engagement. You aren't selling sports cards. You are cultivating relationships by providing an addictive commodity in a fun, interactive environment.

Other ideas.

Reward customers for completing base sets when at least 75% of their set was bought at your store. Logistical nightmare? Not really. Each product has a base set, with x number of cards. If a customer buys 2 boxes of Topps 2010 Series 1 baseball you know they are going to be about that close to completion. Ask them, "Are you going to try and complete the set?" If they answer affirmatively, record their name on an Excel sheet titled simply Set Collectors. Let them know when they complete the set to bring it in for verification, take their picture and put it on a Set Collectors Wall with their first name, date, and set completed and give them something; a discount, a pack, a store credit. It doesn't matter how they finish the set- eBay, trading, online stores. However, what you should do is offer a Set Collector's Service. What that looks like can vary greatly, from Want List fulfillment services, to your own online inventory (which is a no-brainer), to a designated Set Collector's ONLY Trade Night.

If a card shop is to thrive, you need to provide a reason for people to come in the first place. However, even more importantly, you need to find a reason for them to stay, just a little bit longer than they were planning.

How about a 5% discount if they open the box or packs purchased in the store? Why? Because when they don't get what they want x% of the time they will spend more to try again. If they open them at home, you have almost a 0% chance of them getting in the car and coming back until their next "planned" trip.

I've never owned a shop, and probably never will, but I have worked at a one and I have patroned approximately 60 shops in the last decade and I have learned enough to know what best practices would and should be replicated, what I'd do differently and what's at least worth trying.

What are some of your ideas? What does your LCS do or not do that you think works from a business and customer satisfaction standpoint? What are some of the things you'd do if you owned a shop? What wouldn't you do?


James said...

Great post.
You nailed it with customer loyalty and incentives.

I think it's all about being social and making it a gathering place. You can't compete $ for $ with the big boys, but you can make it a gathering place to do box breaks, run contests, have guests, and embrace all the local, social components to share via web.

Do a facebook fan page (at least) to share photos of big in-store pulls and video box breaks.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, you really have to give people a reason to stop in and spend money. Discounts, contests, pack wars, incentives, signings, release party nights, clubs, gaming nights, etc. And as you said, you have to embrace the digital as well. Find a forum and make it home - share tales from your shop. Sell some stuff on eBay/COMC/etc (necessity these days), do video box breaks (even if it's just yourself opening one box of a new product), and sell some boxes (as you grow larger) in an online store. I mean, do you think Chris at Cards Infinity would still be in business if not for his video box breaks? He made it work with just hobby boxes.

Unknown said...

The other idea I would offer - ADMIT that buyers have other buying options.

They should have a list on say, the bottom of 09 Ultimate that lists blowoutcards, DA cardworld etc prices on cards.

And then show with real numbers that your box is competitive - slightly higher in price granted - but that there is no wait for box. It's always an awkward moment when you look at a box and know that you can get it 30 bucks cheaper online. They know it and you know it. But if he'd cut that margin to 15 bucks over online value, and just admitted it, I'd buy it.

Also, buy by the case. When a person buys online, you have no idea where the case hit is. A person will buy more in store if they see that a sealed case is sitting in the store - and that elusive case hit is staring you in the face.

Oh yeah - don't be a bitter old man.

Dave said...

Good topic for discussion. The main thing that keeps me from buying from my LCS is the prices. They simply charge way too much for hobby boxes. Many times, they'll be selling a box that I can buy for $70 at Blowout or D&A for $120 PLUS tax. And then when I try to negotiate, they act like they're doing me a huge favor by knocking it down to $115.

Hey, I don't mind spending $5 or $10 more to buy from my local shop and get instant gratification, but there's no way that I'm spending more than $30 - $50 above market value.

Local card shops simply need to find a way to sell their boxes for better prices. If they're paying too much to their distributor, then find a new distributor. Obviously, Blowout, D&A, and many others have found a way to charge lower prices, and the shops should too. If they can't find a way to do that, then they deserve to go out of business.

If I bring up Blowout or D&A to the local card shop guys, they go on and on about how much they have to pay for rent, electric bill, how great they are for the local community etc. I'm sorry but that's BS. Why should I have to worry about their costs of doing business? That's for them to worry about. As a consumer, I just try to find the best value for my money. Local card shops are NOT a charity even though the owners and many collectors act like they are.

Unknown said...

I don't know about the shops the rest of you guys frequent. I know that here in Austin I have two.

Both are long, narrow shops, crammed full of as much stuff as possible. Neither are conducive to having a large number of people in, or /trading/ between collectors. This is depressing, of course, because I only collect certain cards, and I'd love to trade the rest for those. Instead, they pile up in boxes in my house. Not conducive to good practices, in my mind.

Anonymous said...

As a new card store owner, I feel what you say is true, and in place at our shop. We strive to create an atmosphere that brings customers and people in. We have big screen TVs, all the sports packages, and host game parties, etc. for our regulars. Customer service is a key. We will often deliver product to customers who can't get out to the shop. Every purchase comes with magnet holders, penny sleeves, top loaders and a storage box. Be honest about your prices, and your costs. Remind your customers that not all ebay and show vendors are honest, and earn their trust. We embrace the internet, and sell there as well. And in this market, one can NEVER discount the gamers. Yu Gi Oh and Magic tournaments are run on multiple days and nights. It brings in new customers, and long time customers can be developed as well.
Much more to say, but I gotta get back to work.

Rob- AKA "VOTC" said...

Thanks for weighing in Mike. Best of luck to you. Feel free to plug your store.

Rob- AKA "VOTC" said...


Doug Cataldo Love this. But the manufacturers also play an intricate role to assure customer satisfaction from the store owner and the consumer and make products that are worthy of being paid for. Many store owners are at the mercy of the manufacturer because they are forced to buy some much of product A just to even be eligible to purchase product B... When a ... See Morehobby smart dealer KNOWS what will sell, why should he have to waste money on crapola to be able to sell what he/she knows will sell? That's a shitty racket if you ask me...

Pablo said...

Sorry, but your ideas for a successful card shop are not going to work! Here's why: the economy is the main reason for card shops and many other types of businesses goinging out of business. Until the economy improves significantly, and the card manufacturers greatly reduce the amount of cards they make and find a way to better promote their products, we will be seeing many card shops and other businesses disappear! Don't let the government or complient media fool you into thinking that the economy is good or is improving. They lie! And the media is more complient than Beckett!

I used to shop at two card shops. Now I only shop at one. Card shop #1 only sold product, and had no discounts, memberships, or public or private signings. Card shop #1 is also disorganized with product all over the place, and no televisons to watch sports. Card shop #2 gave loyal customers a 15% discount card, sale discounts, and public and private signings. Card shop #2 also had televisions and is clean and organized. Guess which shop is now out of business? If you guessed shop #1, you'd be wrong! Card shop #2 did everything right in eyes of collectors, and still went out of business! What did card shop #2 do wrong? Nothing! It's the economy, stupid! They just could no longer afford to stay in business. Nice try, guys!

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