The Writing on the Wall
From the start of my comic store, I always carried two main product lines.  Comic books was the one that remained the entire history of the store.  The other was sports cards.  I was a collector of cards as a kid and knew that the two went together well.  But in the 1990's, I saw the writing on the wall.  I saw a crash of the sports card industry getting ready to happen.  I knew it was time to get out.

For years the sports card industry was a growing but not a mainstream hobby.  Most kids bought some baseball or football cards as a kid but the serious collectors were a small and loyal group.  But then something happened that send it into the next big investment and in the process destroyed the industry for good.  Sure it is doing fine now, but it will never be the same again.  The simple joy of collecting your favorite players or teams is gone, for most people.  And you can trace it back to 1989, the year that Upper Deck hit the industry. 

Prior to 1989, sports cards were an affordable impulse purchase.  Most parents would grab a few packs of cards that usually sold for about 50 a pack.  Then Upper Deck came out with high quality cards that sold for I think $1.50 a pack (it has been 15 years so my memory isn't exact. ).  They were on higher quality stock and featured holograms to prevent counterfeiting (what I don't understand is how hard is it to get someone to create counterfeit holograms?  If Upper Deck could make them so could someone else, but I digress).  They were a huge hit and soon sports cards went from a hobby to an investment. 

With Upper Deck's popularity also came more sets.  Score created cards, Topps made Topps Finest, Donruss and Fleer also had high quality sets to counter it.  Soon there were close to a dozen different sets for baseball each year.  This also led to lots of confusion.  In the past if you wanted to buy a player's rookie card, it was easy.  Wanted a George Brett rookie, get the 1975 Topps rookie card, if you wanted a Roger Clemens, you bought the 1985 Topps, Fleer or Donruss.  But now you ask for Frank Thomas rookie card and they would say which one?  You would say Topps and they would say which one? 

Then it got even worse.  Card companies decided to make subsets that were randomly placed in the packs.  These cards were even more limited and made things even more confusing.  I started to see kids buy packs to get the subsets and just throw the rest of the cards away.  I also saw as more and more companies started to do this that sets would not keep their value as long.  This month's hot subset would soon become yesterday's news as the next hot one reached the market.

With this happening, I saw more and more people getting tired of sports cards.  They would see their investments go up in price and then come back down in a few months.  They got tired of buying pack after pack of cards in search of some rare subset.  That and the price of packs of cards were going up and becoming more plentiful.  I decided it was time to get out.

There was a show that was close to the store and I decided that I would dump as much of my stock as possible.  So I went in and put stuff at half price.  Those $25.00 Upper Deck high number sets were going for $12.50.  The Pro-Set football sets that were in the Beckett for $30.00 went for $15.00.  The funny thing is that I was still making a profit on most items that I sold.  Granted it wasn't much, but it was better than getting practically nothing.  The show was a huge success for me as  sold a ton of cards.  I had the dealers buying up the bulk of it.

I then used the money to move into some new items.  I began carrying the relatively new Magic the Gathering cards (Antiquities just came out).  I moved into carrying action figures and comic t-shirts.  I started renting and selling Japanimation, which was one of the most profitable new lines I carried. 

Sure enough, about six months later the card market started to fall.  Prices drop and most of the new cards dropped in value.  Some became almost worthless.  While the other dealers in the area were closing or trying hard to liquidate their excess inventory, I was able to build my new product lines and stay in business.



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Tom Zjaba 1997 - 2015      

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