By Greg Bates
Kendall Loyd has been getting into his card shop some mornings around 7 a.m., and not leaving until nearly 10 p.m.
The owner of Orlando Sports Cards South is putting in crazy hours to meet the needs of customers who come to his store during MLB spring training.
“It’s already started,” Loyd said on Feb. 24. “It’s been here for probably at least two weeks. They’re getting here earlier and earlier. I think they understand it’s easier to get autographs and meet these guys before the games actually start. It’s been busy every day.”
Card shop owners in Florida and Arizona who have their businesses located near spring training facilities love this time of year.
George Johnson, who owns Cactus League Sports in Scottsdale, Ariz., is seeing the same type of craziness at his store.
“It started when pitchers and catchers reported,” Johnson said. “They’re coming in from all over. There’s a lot of chasers, meaning they’re chasing autographs from all over the country.”
The added foot traffic in the store means more money in the cash register at the end of each day. Johnson figures from Christmas all the way until spring training his shop will double or even triple its sales.
“Middle of February until April 5 or so, because a lot of the guys will hang around for the first games,” said Mike Slusarek, owner of the Batter’s Box in Phoenix. “New clientele, it’s a good amount.”
“Compared to every other month, it’s at least 25 percent more business,” Loyd said. “If I’m getting, I don’t know, 15 people a day, now I’m getting 20 people a day.”
At the Batter’s Box, Slusarek has a good customer base that returns every year.
“It’s a tremendous amount of people,” Slusarek said. “They come and they come over and over and over, not just in their stay, but year in and year out.”
What they’re stocking
To prepare for the influx of customers who come to his store during spring training, Loyd stocks up on supplies and cards starting in December. It’s not uncommon for him to triple up on items.
“Being here 25 years, the supplier I deal with always during this time runs out of bat tubes, ball cubes and all these things,” Loyd said. “I make sure I am not running out.”
The young fans and adults who head to Loyd’s store are looking to buy items that they can get autographed by their favorite players.
“They’re buying the sheets, they’re buying the baseballs, they’re buying the bat tubes, they’re buying the helmet cubes, ball cubes,” Loyd said. “All the supplies and stuff, I get all that for spring training, too. Spring training is really important. I sell a lot of 8-by-10 photos – they get them autographed.”
“We do get more of the baseballs and the baseball holders,” Slusarek said. “We don’t go out of our way to get the guys that train here.”
The bread-and-butter of Loyd’s spring training business is still cards. He’ll buy product of the teams and players who are located the nearest to his shop, including the Atlanta Braves, Washington Nationals, Houston Astros and Detroit Tigers.
“When I’m stocking up, I’ve got 3,000 or 4,000 of each,” Loyd said. “I make sure I have a lot.”
Johnson, who has been in business for 2½ years, always amasses a wide variety of items for his store.
“The one thing about Arizona, it’s different from maybe Chicago or New York or whatever because you’ve got to supply all different teams here,” Johnson said. “Everyone’s transplanted here, so basically my store is loaded with all different teams and all the different spring training teams. We get customers from all over the country that come in here. I have to have balls, pictures, helmets of all the different spring training teams and Florida teams.”
The first spring training Johnson had his shop, he focused on acquiring plenty of Arizona Diamondbacks cards and memorabilia, since the team trains right down the street. However, he quickly realized the Diamondbacks’ fan base wasn’t huge in that area.
“We had to totally switch over to the teams that were hot and the fans that were here,” Johnson said. “We didn’t know what fans were here. The Giants and Cubs are by far Nos. 1 and 2 – the Cubs being No. 1.”
People are stopping into Johnson’s shop searching for Cubs items. As the odds-on favorites to win the World Series with a ton of young talent, the Cubs are a popular choice. To keep up with the Cubs phenomenon, Johnson brought in first baseman Anthony Rizzo to sign autographs on March 1. A week-and-a-half earlier, Baltimore Orioles legend Cal Ripken Jr. had a signing at Cactus League Sports.
Grand Slam Sports Cards & Memorabilia, located in Jensen Beach, Fla., tailors to Mets fans since the team facility is only about five miles away.
“We always look before spring training starts and see what’s going good online and what players are hot,” said John Murphy, who owns the shop with his dad, Dillon. “We just really stock up on them. I know we just stocked up on (Noah) Syndergaard, (Jacob) deGrom. (Yoenis) Cespedes is a big seller over here already. We have five of his bats up for sale that are autographed.”
Murphy tends to see a lot of young fans come into his shop who buy cheap base cards for autographs. It’s the veteran players’ items that attract the most interest at Grand Slam Sports Cards & Memorabilia.
“A lot of my customers tend to stay away from prospects,” Murphy said. “They’re all more about them proving themselves.”
That’s not the case at Loyd’s shop. He does his research before spring training and purchases cards of young players – Loyd carries plenty of the Astros’ Carlos Correa and George Springer – because he knows prospectors are hunting for the next big thing.
“The younger guys, I get a little bit more,” Loyd said. “A lot of them are a little bit easier to get card-wise because they’re the new guys, they make a lot of them.”
Loyd said prospectors are getting smarter and realizing that snagging players before the spring training games even start is their best bet.
“That and before they get too good,” Loyd said. “If they get too good, they start getting a little tougher.”
Some popular young players who Loyd has stocked up on include the Cubs’ Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber and the Braves’ Dansby Swanson, who was the top overall pick in the 2015 draft.
As Loyd continues to reap the benefits of his shop being located so close to some great MLB facilities, he knows how important spring training is every year for his business.
“For two months it is big time,” Loyd said. “Spring training hasn’t even started yet and it’s been busy every single day. When I mean busy, there are people here the whole day.”
Loyd has become concerned lately because there has been talk the Astros might be moving to a different area. He’s also heard the Nationals and Braves are possibly shopping for new spring training locations, too.
“That would be a devastating blow to me,” Loyd said.
Greg Bates is a freelance contributor to SCD. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.