A September (Not) to Remember

For most hobby retailers, September is usually one of the slower months of the year, as kids get back to school and parents of those kids find themselves spending on back-to-school expenses. This year, however, September was even slower than normal in many hobby shops.

Not surprisingly, economic-related issues are a big contributor to the declines.

“The slowdown really started in August,” said Rob Vandorick of All-Star Baseball in Las Vegas. “Last year, we had our best August ever. This year, it was our worst. And the first few weeks of September were just as rough. Las Vegas is really hurting from the decline in tourism. The local unemployment rate is the worst it’s been in 25 years.”

Steve James, owner of The Bullpen in Hendersonville, N.C., described his September in one word.

“Terrible,” he said. “And the thing is, some days have been huge, but other days have been almost nothing.”

James said one of the factors hurting his sales was having multiple high-end products release in the same week. “The high-end product guys want this stuff right away, but if there’s two or three products hitting at the same time, they pick and choose,” James said. “Plus, there’s some content issues happening again. Some of the solicited ‘hit’ ratios are not being met.”

For James, however, the bigger issue has been a lingering gasoline shortage in the Southeast, caused by Hurricane Ike.

“There are gas stations in this region that are literally out of gas,” he said. “When a station gets a shipment, everyone gets in line to buy it, and that’s where all our customers are spending their time.”

Scott Pierce, owner of SMP Sportscards near Dallas, was encouraged that his sales were only down an estimated 10 percent. He said interest in the Cowboys, and football in general, has been the bright spot for the past six weeks.

“Football keeps us going from August-October,” Pierce said. “Fortunately, many of the rookies this year have been hot.”

John Dunphy, owner of Cards R Fun in Nashville, described his September sales as “ugly,” noting that his sales of unopened boxes of new products have been lower throughout the entire summer.

Jim Bernardini, co-owner of Lefty’s Sportscards in Burlingame, Calif., said his September sales were helped along by four in-store autograph appearances. But in terms of card sales, “it was nothing spectacular. The local teams (Giants, A’s) not doing very well hasn’t helped our 2008 baseball sales.”

And with the economic uncertainties persisting, many retailers are now being very conservative when it comes time to order upcoming products. “We’ve really trimmed down our preorders, and we don’t like to order most products direct if we don’t want to tie up cash,” Vandorick said.

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