In an era of eBay and big box stores, what's a lone card shop proprietor supposed to do? For one thing, figure out ways to adapt quickly. When asked why he gave up selling on eBay, the owner of Derek's Dugout in Albuquerque, New Mexico responded, "It's more like eBay gave up on me," because the online auction giant made it clear to him that its priority lies in protecting buyers. Fees have risen, feedback rules have changed, and seller protections seem minimal. So Derek relies solely on sales at his brick and mortar store. "The competition with eBay is in my attitude," he says.
He tries to come up with fresh approaches to presenting cards.
For example, soon the store will have cases for specific price ranges. "If you come in with ten dollars in your pocket, I'll have everything that's ten dollars in one display case," and that will be true for higher amounts too. Derek is also "not afraid of sales" and holds them frequently.
The 2000 square foot shop is located in a pleasant small shopping center, and the premises have a spacious, airy feel. He's aware that from the customer's perspective, nothing quite compares to the combination of in-person inspection and instant gratification, and he believes the shop's professional appearance is important.
Another aspect of being competitive, he says, is that "I don't go on trends alone" as he tries to stay separate from the frenzy of cards' fluctuations in value. You can buy high-end materials at the shop, from the framed jerseys to cards autographed by major stars to vintage and offbeat items,
but you can also find a deal if you have some time and the patience to look through thousands of cards that cost anywhere from ten cents to a dollar. In our experience, that is what Lucy finds the most fun.
An item--say, a jersey--may cost more at his shop than on eBay, but Derek thinks he provides an important service by offering a tidy, friendly environment where potential buyers can see the jersey up close, have him frame it and know that, for instance, the glass won't end up broken in the mail. But Derek says that when customers find a bargain, that experience makes them want to come back. When asked what buyers seek, he said new products are probably at the top of the list, but many also look to complete sets or find older cards.
There are now team sets available at the back of the store--for example, if you're seeking the 1983 Topps team set of the Braves, on the tables at the back is where you'll find it. Another browsing area: boxes filled with random cards of your chosen team. This is my favorite stop.
When our family visits card or comic stores (the latter for our older daughter, who is always seeking an angle on manga) there is often a less than streamlined element apparent in the place. Small shop owners might increase traffic if they kept stores organized. Sure enough, we have often seen women, couples, and girls--a customer base we rarely meet when visiting comic stores and other card shops--looking comfortable at Derek's.
Where does his propensity for neatness stem from? "When I was a kid I used to go to a card shop that was owned by a Type A personality, and that always stuck with me," he says. He also finds it easier to find specific items quickly.
He doesn't understand when card shop owners don't aim to please and is also appalled when clerks at large outlets are not trained to treat customers in a friendly and welcoming manner. One instance where this made a positive difference: Lucy appreciated how upbeat he was about looking at her smile card collection binder.
He started selling cards at shows along with a friend when he was eleven. Derek has extensive experience in retail but became disillusioned with the corporate milieu and with the necessary sameness built into the chain store approach to sales. He decided to take the plunge with his own card shop so he can be independent and put some of his own ideas into action. But it's a profoundly different world than selling in the corporate retail environment. "When you walk into a grocery store to buy a loaf of bread, you don't say, 'can you give me a deal on two?'," Derek says. "There are people who think I'm going to be here forever. And I've noticed that the same person asking for a fifty percent discount is often the one complaining because there aren't enough card shops."
What are some of the recent memorable pulls that your customers have enjoyed? A Jim Thorpe jersey, a Bo Jackson Triple Threads triple multi-colored jersey 1/1 auto printing plate.
How do you contend with pack searchers? "I throw them out."
What are your favorite baseball card sets, past and present?
and 2008 Topps Chrome.
"I do like refractors," he says. Based on what Derek has seen come out of boxes in his shop this year, what he calls bang for the buck, he also likes 2008 Topps Triple Threads.
If there are any questions you'd like to pose to Derek, let us know and we'll ask the next time we visit Derek's Dugout. Or perhaps you might pay a visit yourself: the address is 5842 Osuna Rd NE in Albuquerque.