As hobby shops throughout the country headed into the final weeks of the year, many hoped for strong holiday sales.
Some expected sales to follow the trend of the previous year, when many retailers saw the bulk of their sales the week prior to Christmas instead of spread out during the month leading up to the holiday.
Strong holiday sales would be a welcome blessing for just about everyone in the sports collectibles industry, as many retailers have felt the impact of the sluggish economy. That impact has forced them to make some hard decisions as they look for every way possible to protect their profitability.
Many retailers said the biggest adjustment they’ve made due to the economy had to do with inventory.
“I’m definitely buying less product direct from the companies. I will continue to buy less – straight across the board,” said John Merkel, who has owned Elite Sports Cards in Chicago for the past 15 years.
Merkel said he began buying less product direct within the last two to three months “based on the way things have been going.”
Don Guilbert has been in the business since 1980 – first doing card shows before opening a shop in Rhode Island in 1987. Ten years ago, he and his wife moved to Melbourne, Fla., where he owns Card Collectors Heaven. Guilbert said inventory is one of the few areas where he can cut costs.
“I’ve reduced my amount of inventory,” he said. “I’m the only employee here. I can’t lay myself off.”
Guilbert said that one thing he did to generate more business was to open an eBay store about five months ago. “It’s doing decent,” he said of the store. “It gives you an outlet to sell a bit more.”
Donny Canto owns Baseball 17 in Surfside, S.C., and he, too, said he is ordering less product.
“Definitely, in the last couple of months, I’ve ordered less wax, less direct product. I’m using distributors more,” he said. “I’m definitely ordering stuff that has been out before. I’ve hardly ordered anything new. I’m sticking with stuff that sold in the past. It’s very slow right now.”
Other side of the coin
Surprisingly, other hobby shop owners said they have not been affected as much by the economic downturn.
“I have not been affected as far as I can tell from the economy,” said Chip Wukitsch, who owns Chip’s Baseball Cards in Slatington, Pa. “It’s been steady, although not increasing. We’re just doing a steady business and hoping sales will improve with the Christmas season, it will improve. It’s too early to tell.”
Located in eastern Pennsylvania, Wukitsch said the economy there is holding its own. “We’re not seeing a high unemployment rate,” he said. “We are not being affected by the car industry.”
Also helping the local economy there is the fact that casinos have been brought into the state, and many from area states are choosing to drive to Pennsylvania instead of Atlantic City, he said.
And, of course, Chip’s Baseball Cards got a big boost in the fall when the Phillies won the World Series. Having fans of three NFL teams – the Eagles, Jets and Giants – in his market also helps his business.
Mark Rubin, owner of American Legends in Scarsdale, N.Y., said he is fortunate that he hasn’t had to make any cutbacks because of the economy.
“We’re working as hard as we can,” he said. “I’m hoping the economic conditions will create more favorable buying opportunities.”