Friday, May 7, 2010

Finding a Good Shop

Shops do serve a unique purpose in our hobby, mainly because of the assumed retail expertise that they are supposed to carry with them. People like to go to their local shop, hang out, open some packs, and really just take it all in. The problem is, not everyone has the luxury of knowing how to find a shop that is worthy of spending your time in. I have gotten many emails over the years of people asking me what shops they should check out. I think its about time that I list my criteria that I look for, especially when I just want to spend some time around people with similar interests.

Find a Shop In a Good Area

For a lot of people out there, there arent many choices in terms of what local shop you can frequent, even more so now that so many of them are closing their doors. If you live in a big city, there should be more than one, so I would not venture into "that part of town" just to buy a few packs of cards. When I got to California, I searched on google for shops in the area, and boy did I find some that were not in great areas. I drove by a few of them, but I didn’t stop. Why even waste your time? At that point, waiting the few days for your stuff to arrive from eBay or the internet is well worth the inconvenience.

Find a Shop That Takes Care of the Storefront

If the shop owner doesn’t care about his store, why should you? I went to a shop in Minnesota a few years back where I had to step over trash to get into the store. That is unacceptable. Then, the guy had old empty boxes strewn across the store, with his display cases in shambles. I didn’t even say hello before I walked out. Seriously, if I am going to spend more than five minutes in your store, its got to be clean and in tip top shape.

Find a Shop With A Nice Staff

This is almost the most important thing on the list, because without a nice staff, its almost impossible to have a good time. I have said before that shop owners fall into two categories. Old curmudgeons and nice people who will bend over backwards for you. There is no in between. I frequently stop by the Baseball Card Company in Chatsworth here in California, and the guys there are awesome. They know the ins and outs of the business and have really made an effort with each person that comes into the store. They will not hesitate to shoot the shit with you, and they are surprisingly good at remembering repeat customers. On the other hand, I worked a summer at a store in Minnesota that I thought would give me access to good prices on the stuff I liked, but the people who worked there with me were such jerks that I couldn’t stand it. Another store near where I used to live was owned by a guy who was infamous for being an asshole. I didn’t want to give him business because he sucked so much ass. If you are a shop owner reading this, be nice to your customers, even if it seems to be without benefit.

Find a Shop With Current Product

If the shop cant stock the latest releases for whatever reason, its tough to find justification not to go to another store that does. There is a shop in Woodland Hills here who only had wax from two years ago, and it was all way overpriced (ill get to that in a second). If you are going to force me into deciding between 2006 Triple Threads at 300 bucks a box or 2007 Topps Jumbo at 30 bucks a pack, im leaving. If you cant sell what you bought for your store, it’s a you problem, not a me problem. Slash the price, get some money out of it, and stock new stuff. Bottom line.

Find a Shop That Doesn’t Jack Up Prices

There is a difference between a premium retail price and charging way too much. Ill pay a 10-20% premium for retail shop wax because I know people gotta pay rent. But I am not paying 50% more than I would normally spend just because the shop owner thinks he can take me for an idiot. There is no reason for me to be punished for shopping at your store, especially when I can go a plethora of other places that don’t do it. Blowout cards is one click away, and I can order on my cell phone. You may cite that Panini is instituting a minimum retail price point, but I don’t think that will happen for the same reason why I wont pay a ridiculous price for wax or packs that shouldn’t be sold at that price. People hate high prices, so figure out other ways to make money elsewhere.

Find a Shop That Doesn’t Go By Book Value

I hate book value because many of the prices are drawn out of a hat by a disconnected person in texas. That person also answers to a bunch of other factors, like their advertisers, so BV becomes completely irrelevant. A card is worth ONLY what someone will pay for it, so don’t thump your price bible when you want to sell me something. I have gotten emails from numerous shops that have stopped carrying Beckett for that very reason, and they are much happier because of it. Customers are much more willing to barter on sell value than they would be on book value, and most of them think poorly of Beckett these days anyways.

Find a Shop That Treats Its Regulars Like Royalty

Its nice when you find a shop that understands that repeat business is the key to success. I have come across a lot of different people in my quest for a home shop, and I always go back to the ones that help out its repeat customers. A soft price on wax here, free supplies there, etc, etc. All of that is important with building a customer base, because people like feeling important, and people LOVE good prices. I was talking with an owner here in LA that actually would drive cases out to his "whales" when they couldn’t make it out to the store. THAT is customer service.

Find a Shop That Keeps Its Packs OUT OF REACH

This goes double for stores that sell more than cards. People like to search packs, find the thick ones, really get down and dirty in the box. If the boxes of packs are behind the counter, its much better. I think its also important to make sure that the shop doesn’t search the packs itself, as that is always a concern of those tiny shops in shadyville.

Find a Shop With a Communal Area

I have seen shops with leather couches, shops with HDTVs, shops that hold super bowl parties. All of these things are awesome. Couches cost nothing when you have the space, and makes everything seem like that much better of a place to hang out. Plus, with customers hanging around the store, they usually buy stuff, too. Win win situation.

Find a Shop With Food and Drinks

This is playing off the communal area thing, because having a fridge of soda and snacks can be really handy when hanging out. It prolongs my visit, and when you prolong my visit, my credit card takes a few extra punches. This isnt essential, but its nice.

Find a Shop With Events

Events are fun for everyone. Player signings, parties, pack wars, release events, all of these are fun to go to because there are usually a lot of people all there for the same thing. Here in LA, there are shops that have entire weekends built around the rookie premiere, and it is fucking sweet. Last year I met Beanie Wells, the year before, DeSean Jackson. This year should be no different, and I hope I will still be around when it happens again.

That’s what I have for now, but Im sure there are more reasons to go to your local shop. In all honesty, places like Blowout have made retail shops look silly with their prices, especially because they do so well with advertising. I will never hestitate to buy my big orders online, but when I just want a few packs and a place to hang out, the LCS is a much better solution. Im not going to go and spend hundreds of dollars there, but Ill spend enough to make it worth MY while. Plus, its torture to not walk out of the store with a few packs when you have to stock up on snap cases or something similar.


  1. Totally agree with your post. I've only recently been testing out the LCS waters here in Portland with the two shops closest to me and they are night and day with how the operate. Cleanliness and organization is at the top of my list. If you don't have what I'm looking for when I walk in, at least make it easy for me to find something else. Also, customers aren't stupid (most of us at least), we spend time researching the things we want and we know what they are worth. Don't treat us like we are uninformed.

  2. I have to say I'm pretty lucky having just moved back to the big city in Alaska the 2 main card shops here are great. One's a one man operation but he's great and the other is a comic book/baseball card store that's huge. Both have different things to offer and different reasons to visit so I split my time between the two. But all your points are good and I'd even say almost a how too to open a shop.

  3. My shop meets all of these except for the food and drinks, which is fine. I spend enough there as it is!

    It's relatively cheap (especially with individual packs, which ARE kept behind counters and are not searched - I've pulled lots of crazy hits from individual pack purchases), they laugh at book value (my dad buys 1962 Topps commons for roughly a buck a piece). I love it!

  4. Food, really? I'm not sure if I've heard of this as a desired attribute from the hobby community, ha!

  5. I still miss Cloud 9 Sport Cards in Odessa, TX. The atmosphere was great with great owners and employees. You can sit there and spend the day there having a good time. Too bad it closed down. The nearest good shop is two hours away.

    One of best card shops I been to is Steven Creek Sport Cards in San Jose, CA. Friendly staff and loads of items. I always stopped there when I'm in vacation.

  6. so you know that all you did was just make every single reader ridiculously jealous that their lcs doesnt hold water to the dream one!

    Wish I had one like that nearby!

  7. Excellent post! I agree pretty much on everything you stated.

    An additional point is to make sure that there's a price tag on everything that is for sale, even down to the furnishings, if that's what it takes. I hate hate hate hate hate it the most when there's a card in the case I might be interested in, and then the guy has to fetch a Beckett to estimate its value, and then give me the "latest" price. That loud, wet, smacking sounds you hear are my eyes suddenly staring at my brain, since they rolled so hard. It's also difficult to see into my wallet when I'm in that condition.

    The shop(s) I love here in the Bay Area give super friendly breaks for familiar faces that come in: usually 10% off any older (but not pre-1981) wax, discount on multiple purchases of vintage loose cards in the cases, and piles of freebie shop exclusives like the Turn Back the Clock sets.

    Shopping for loose vintage cards around here is the best. Every card is priced, and has the rationally graded "book value" at the top, and then their often much lower "sell it to you" price underneath. If I buy three or four (or more), they usually give me another 10% off or so. I never escape the shop without dropping at least a low three figures, and that's even if I originally just came in for supplies.

  8. First you have to find a shop. When I moved back to San Antonio about 15 years ago there were about 12 sports card shops in town. Now there are three. When I travel I try to look up card shops where I am going. Earlier this year I went to Wichita Falls, TX and I checked yahoo yellow pages and the store locators of a couple of the card companies. Of the four stores listed, all had gone out of business, some as long ago as five years ago. I finally found a card/comic shop by the Air Force base, but he only sold JSY & AU cards. It is getting more difficult to even find a card store these days.