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Card shops turn to online business and ‘breaking’ during pandemic

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It was a typical busy Saturday afternoon at Hoody’s Collectibles in Beaverton, Ore.

Customers were purchasing wax boxes and rapidly ripping them open, while others were thumbing through discount bins. Life was as close to normal as possible for collectors and the card shop founder and owner, Tait Hoodenpyl.

Two days later, on March 23, everything abruptly changed. The shop’s foot traffic dropped by about 80 percent. That’s when the Oregon governor – following leads from other governors around the country – ordered residents to “shelter in place.”

“There were a lot of people coming in for their last hurrah, so to speak,” said Hoodenpyl about the hectic Saturday before lockdown. “But we didn’t know. Everyone was pretty sure it was going to be put in place, but we didn’t know what the affect was going to be.”

The “Open” sign in the window of Sports Card Junction in Pittsburgh is dark, as many card shops around the country are forced to close.

The “Open” sign in the window of Sports Card Junction in Pittsburgh is dark, as many card shops around the country are forced to close.

Hoodenpyl didn’t have to close his shop, but he had to enact strict guidelines: one or two people in the store at a time, five maximum; customers have to stand six feet apart at all times; if purchasing items and using the credit card machine, it has to be wiped down before and after the transaction.

“I have tape set up in the store so people know where to stand if they’re next in line,” Hoodenpyl said. “If there’s someone hovering over each other, I just try to gently say, ‘Try to give each other space.’ For the most part, for me on my end and my employees, it’s just handling everything as far as sanitizing things go. If someone uses the credit card machine, they have to sanitize their hands and once they’re done reapply that again. Then I’m just wiping everything down that they’ve touched, even been close to.”

The COVID-19 pandemic is affecting everyone, and card shops and card companies are no different.

“The store has slowed down a lot,” Hoodenpyl said. “We have a safe at home, stay safe here in Oregon. So, people are staying home and no one is really working and the people that do come by are just bored out of their minds because they’ve been quarantined all day. They need to get out of the house.”

Hoodenpyl has been seeing some of his regular clients stop into the shop. However, it’s been the older crowd.

“The one thing I have noticed immensely is that there’s no parents and kids coming in anymore, which is a good thing, don’t get me wrong,” Hoodenpyl said. “The parents have their kids inside and making sure they stay indoors and everything.”

Card shops around the United States are facing similar fates to Hoody’s Collectibles. If card shops are still open, they are taking drastic measures to ensure their customers and employees are staying healthy and safe.

Getty Images

Getty Images

RbiCru7 Sports Cards & Collectibles owner Ryan Bannister, whose shop is located in St. Peters, Mo., is also having his customers practice social distancing.

A popular hangout area in the store where collectors can rip through packs together is closed. The chairs are all on top of the table.

“As much as we want you to rip your boxes and spend time with you, you take it to your home just to be safe,” Bannister said.

On March 20, Bannister placed a sign on his shop door along with signs on the walls inside stating: 10 people max capacity, limit your visit to 15-20 minutes and observe social distancing.

“We’re disinfecting every day; we’re cleaning every day,” Bannister said.

A couple other card shops around the country aren’t as fortunate to be able to be open.

Chad Weldon, who manages Sports Card Junction in Pittsburgh, had to do the unthinkable on March 16. He put a sign on the shop door that said the company wasn’t going out of business, but it was shutting down for the foreseeable future due to COVID-19. Pennsylvania wasn’t on lockdown yet as of that date, so Weldon and his dad, Chuck, who owns the shop, could have stayed open for another week.

“I just didn’t think it was a good PR move to stay open,” Chad Weldon said. “A lot of the other businesses around us stayed open, but I think it was a good option. I’d rather us struggle a little financially and make sure that our area’s not affected by it. It’s a tough call, because we’re not a huge company. It’s not like we have millions of dollars in the bank to help us stay afloat. We’re more of a shop that needs the sales, but it just wasn’t something we wanted to do.”

Weldon implemented curbside pickup the first week of lockdown. He averaged about six orders per day.

“I’m willing to do whatever we have to do to keep our store open,” Weldon said. “I think I’ve been working 16 to 18 hours a day since all this happened. I’ve been still trying to make some deliveries to people.”

Prior to the doors shutting, Sports Card Junction didn’t have much online presence. Weldon had a website built – sportscardjunction.com – just six months earlier. There had only been 12 orders placed in that half a year before the shop closed. During the first week since lockdown, 100 transactions went through. Sports Card Junction has had an eBay store for over 20 years, which helps with revenue.

“We’re definitely doing more online,” Weldon said. “It still doesn’t match what we normally would be bringing in. We basically were 0 percent online prior to this. We had to fully transition from 100 percent retail to 100 percent online in a very short span.”

Ryan Johnson, who owns CardCollector2 Sports Cards in Grove City, Ohio, has had to go almost entirely online after his shop had to shut its doors effective March 24.

Before buying the card store in May 2019, Johnson ran his business through Instagram.

“I have 22,000 Instagram followers,” Johnson said. “My online presence is really, really big, so I was used to running breaks and like selling singles and that kind of thing online. It wasn’t really a difficult transition for me, because that is what I was used to. Now that I can’t have any of the retail, the foot track in, we offer different things for local customers, like the curbside pickup. But 95 percent of my business has been online.”

Johnson is trying to generate revenue through different channels. It’s all an experiment during these rocky times.

“Because I have so many followers on one of the social media platforms, what we did is tried to move people to other platforms, another Instagram account we created, just like a sub account of mine, per se,” Johnson said. “What we did is create hot packs, so we did a football run, a basketball run and a baseball run and it ran somewhere between $15 and $20. We sold about 500 of those packs in about nine days. So that was a good way to generate some money. We’ve done the curbside pickup; we’ve done breaks: group breaks and personal breaks. We’ve posted cards on social media accounts. We’ve posted cards on two different eBay accounts. I also generate content for YouTube typically once every three days or so, and that creates an AD revenue and that’s another source of income.”

Hoodenpyl said even though his shop is still open in the Pacific Northwest, a lot of his business has shifted to online.

“We have hoodys.us, which is our website, which is integrated to eBay, so it’s like a consignment platform,” Hoodenpyl said. “But we also have hobby boxes and things like that there. So, we’re just pushing more people to that and getting some revenue generated that way.”

If the doors at RbiCru7 Sports Cards end up getting shut, Bannister is prepared to operate online.

“I have such an online presence just from eBay, social media, breaking,” Bannister said. “We’re going to keep going. We’ve already spoken with our postman, our FedEx, our UPS. We’re here every day but Sunday. We’ll be here, even if we’re forced to close.”

Breaking the boredom

As the United States continues to shut down, one area of the hobby that card shop owners have noticed a spike is breaking.

“Our sales breaking online have always been good, now they’re just insane,” Bannister said. “We’re doing a lot of restocks right now. We’re doing tremendous as far as online sales go, everything like that.”

Bannister and his co-workers used to conduct breaks on Wednesdays and Fridays. But since the pandemic hit, RbiCru7 added Thursdays as well.

Home Team Sports Collectibles follows non-essential business closure in Reno, Nev., with a sign in the window sending customers to its Facebook and Instagram accounts. The shop conducts online breaks and sells on eBay.

Home Team Sports Collectibles follows non-essential business closure in Reno, Nev., with a sign in the window sending customers to its Facebook and Instagram accounts. The shop conducts online breaks and sells on eBay.

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“If you’re operating online right now, what we’re realizing is there’s no sports, there’s no betting,” Bannister said. “People are confined to their house, guys are losing their minds. If I’m watching online breaks, let alone buying boxes to break or going in group breaks, (it) is a release for guys right now.”

Bannister said with so many companies having their offices closed and guys are working from home, they’re not being supervised during working hours. RbiCru7 has always held its breaks from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Central Time, which coincides with the normal work shift.

“What we’re getting is people who are at work or working from home right now that are literally bored and no real boss is watching them,” Bannister said.

Just a couple days after his shop closed, Weldon got into breaks. He’s big into personal and group breaks.

“We’re just trying to do some hobby talk to keep peoples’ minds off of all the news,” Weldon said.

Leighton Sheldon, who owns Vintage Breaks as well as Just Collect in Somerset, N.J., has been staying busy running breaks.

“It’s not really missing a beat, and, if anything, maybe is slightly increasing and that’s just because what’s going on in the world,” Sheldon said. “Of course, not everyone who tunes into Vintage Breaks is actually buying. We’re certainly OK with that -- we love our community. But the folks that are just watching and hanging out and the reason being is you had 90 minutes of free time a week and now you’re working at home and you’re saving two hours a day of not commuting and maybe even your job is closed. Just do the math, there’s a lot more people out there that have a lot more time on their hands. Let’s be honest, you can watch Netflix and live TV, but eventually with no live sports, if you’re craving something with a little bit of engagement whether it be it’s breaking, whether it be it’s going online and listening to a podcast, I just think you’re going to see an increased demand for online entertainment, if you will.”

With so much uncertainly in the world and people losing their jobs, Sheldon has watched it have a direct impact on cards.

Sheldon is happy to offer a little advice to card collectors about vintage vs. modern cards.

“Modern cards, singles, are absolutely more susceptible to price swings than vintage, and people are seeing it for real right now,” Sheldon said. “Acuna (2018) Topps Update (PSA) 10s several weeks ago were $300, now they’re $100 and change. However, there’s not really, at least yet, any instance of fact that you can look at vintage and say, ‘Oh wow, a Mantle ’57 Topps is now a third less than it was or Clemente rookies have gone down.’

“What I’m seeing on vintage is really interesting. The high end maybe, let’s just say it’s not flying out the door. But for the low to mid-graded, I’ve actually seen some appreciation. A perfect case to mention: Hank Aaron rookie. So, maybe right now it’s quite difficult to sell in a 6-8 (grade), but I’ve seen like 2s, which used to be a $500 card, it’s like $1,000. I see folks that don’t want their hobby to die. They’re still willing to collect and they don’t need as nice a grade.”

Product release dates could change

When card companies are planning to release a product, a release date is usually set far in advance.

But with the uncertainly happening these days, card companies might have to push back products.

“Upper Deck is still releasing products on time, but O-Pee-Chee Platinum could be affected if there is a border shutdown,” Upper Deck Head of Customer Experience Chris Carlin told Sports Collectors Digest on March 23. “Obviously, that situation is changing hour by hour, so we cannot say for certain right now.”

In an email four days later, Carlin said: “Upper Deck’s 2019-20 NHL O-Pee-Chee Platinum product is now scheduled for 4/15/2020.”

Topps and Panini representatives had not responded to emails by Sports Collectors Digest as of press time about their product releases.

“I haven’t seen much change from card companies yet, but I think we will,” Sheldon said. “Certain releases either may be delayed or who knows, maybe they’ll come up with a lower price point release because of what’s going on in the world.”

As long as there are cards coming out and customers either walking into the stores or ordering online, shop owners are optimistic they’ll work through this tough time.

Hoodenpyl is thankful he’s able to keep his card store open. His customers have been really appreciative, too.

“The people that have come in they just thank me profusely, just saying thank you so much for being open because not much is open,” Hoodenpyl said. “People can come in, grab a box and we’re encouraging people to grab a box and head on out so we don’t get so many people in here at once. It gives them something to do when they’re having a beer at night.”

Bannister is a little wary of what could happen with the hobby if COVID-19 continues its rapid pace.

“My fear is the longer this drags out, the less people are going to spend if they’re losing their jobs,” Bannister said. “Then obviously if there was a chance that the post office or any of these delivery companies would be forced to close, which I don’t think is going to happen, that would definitely not be good if that were to happen.”