Know Your Audience, Plan Accordingly

Down the “hall” from a popular family restaurant in the town I live in is a sports memorabilia store. It’s small, but caters to the local crowd by stocking almost exclusively Green Bay Packers, Milwaukee Brewers and Wisconsin Badgers items. For me, the shop is one of the few reasons to enter the strip mall.

On one of my recent visits to the store, I was able to speak with the man who runs the place. He had a selection of programs, yearbooks and magazines with cover subjects related to the three organizations I mentioned above. I used those as a starting point for our conversation, mentioning a few sources if he ever wanted to expand the selection. (I was being selfish, as I had most of what he offered.)

As background, I do not know if this shop is truly a full-blown business where he’s looking to make the most money possible, or if it’s just an on-the-side gig since he has interest in the teams. Perhaps the framed Green Bay Packers items and the like serve as props to showcase the custom framing and canvas-stretching techniques the shop also offers. Like I said, it is a small shop, with limited selection of teams and plenty of room to walk around, if you know what I mean.

Part of me thinks the business is a side project, since there didn’t seem to be a lot of motivation on his part once I got him talking about the hobby. I asked where he got some of the signatures and if he had been to any of the sports shows in Chicago, such as the former Sun-Times shows or The National. Everything was in the past tense in terms of his participation, stating more than a few times he didn’t have time to stand in line or make the trek. He said most of his acquisitions now came in bulk orders from stores or distributors doing private signings with athletes.

The store was clean, the dealer was knowledgeable and he knew what items would be the best sellers, even if his shop did resemble a Wisconsin airport (think cheeseheads and cheese-shaped can cozies).

However, the comments about where the autographed items were coming from got me thinking about the hobby in general. I think a lot of dealers are like this gentleman. They have standing agreements with autograph distributors to buy in bulk and then turn it into their own inventory. It costs a lot to bring in athletes for private signings on your own, so this is a smart way to go for current athletes, or those more recently retired. Certainly, it’s a better method financially than standing in line at a show to get multiple autographs from a single player.

This shop had no trading cards, and to be frank, he wouldn’t get that type of collector in that location anyway. My town is a tourist town in the summer, so the wall and home decor items would do best, which made up the bulk of the inventory.

Knowing your probable customer base and adjusting your inventory accordingly is what every dealer must do. If you want to diversify, do so through your website. But don’t take up valuable square feet in your store on items that will gather dust.

For the record, my son loved the cheesehead top hat in the store. But I told him it wasn’t Halloween yet, so we’d pass on it. Perhaps it would be better suited for my newborn daughter’s wedding some day?

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