Top 5 Reasons I Failed at Running a Sports Store
Failing sucks. Email me if you ever want to know more about how not to run a store.
Store Opened 2006 – Closed 2008
1) I thought I was smarter than I was
In 2006 I was 24 years old and I convinced my brother it was a good idea to partner up and open a sports store. In it we would sell baseball cards, hats, fan apparel and other sports items everyone had to have. My brother had reservations about the plan but I can make a compelling case at times.
The plan – loosely configured in my own mind – would be an ‘on the cheap’ operation. We had both worked at a local card shop through the 1990’s, I had worked some retail management jobs, it shouldn’t be that difficult I thought. Going cheap in reality turned out to be a blessing, as it saved us from a mountain of debt after the store closed in 2008. But I didn’t know how to run a business. I had no clue how to control inventory. I didn’t stay firm on the margins I had to make. When things got tight financially, I had a hard time adapting, and maybe if I was a smarter retail business man, I could have got some product in the store that sold.
The store was 990 sq. ft in a 6000 sq ft retail building that had other stores. In Turlock, CA they called it the ‘Mini Mall’. Rent + utilities was around $1,150 a month. My brother and I shared a 2 bedroom ‘cottage’ that ran $750 a month. Neither of us had a car. We didn’t live a baller lifestyle….. at all….. Initially things went very well. There were days when I had over $1,000 cash in my pocket from the sales of the day.
Starting in late 2007 and into 2008 the United States experienced one of the biggest economic downturns in decades. But that is a side story and a poor excuse as to why the sports store failed. Many other businesses and even card stores were able to weather that crisis and are still in business today. When adversity struck and instead of $1,000 in my pocket I had $0 after a days work I wasn’t quick to make changes and react to the poor economic environment.
2) Couldn’t handle the stress
After about 6 months of success when the business opened, things started to get rough. Some days I would barely sell anything and at times, there would be no sales at all. Working for 8 hours and have nothing to show for it can make the walk home a humbling experience. It gives you a sick feeling in your gut. Most normal people probably don’t choke back tears when they leave work. Failing at something wears on your soul. At least it did for me. It’s difficult to think about those times now, it’s a place in time I never want to revisit.
3) I didn’t understand work ethic
My 24 year old ego didn’t understand that in order to succeed at something, it usually takes a good deal of planning, research and relentless drive to get the job done. I thought I could open a store and on the basis of my past limited experience I would win at business. Dead wrong. I needed to grind each and everyday to scratch out a living.
When sales slowed I felt defeated. I didn’t motivate myself to come up with unique ideas to bring money in. Yes I sold on eBay, but as most know, your margins on there are razor thin, even back in those days.
I didn’t take advantage of selling Magic, Yu-Gi-Oh or other non-sport type items because it just wasn’t something I knew that much about. I know card shop owners that make their living on gaming cards and the sports items are just a side gig. I should have been more motivated to find ways to make my business a success instead of feeling sorry for myself and the situation I had created.
I really didn’t understand work ethic until after my card store closed in 2008. Desperate for money I went to work for a health care office, with two other guys around my age. When I got employed I knew nothing about health care. Nothing. They were making about $2,000 a week profit when I got hired. Thrown into the job, and a fire lit under my butt, I was working 15 hour days, on-call 24/7, talking constantly to nurses, patients, and insurance companies…. Two months into me being hired the office was raking in $20,000 a week in straight cash profit. Corporate headquarters called me the “Golden Child”. My ego re-inflated.
I didn’t stay at that job for very long. I’m not cut out for 15 hour days. But I learned that I had to step up my game in my next venture, and not have the lackluster work ethic I had during my card shop days.
4) Didn’t have a clear vision on what to sell
Getting un-opened boxes of sports cards is easy. Sports card wholesalers are straight forward and simple to deal with and your minimum orders are usually cheap. But what about selling New Era Hats? I did that. Called New Era, paid the $10,000 minimum to become a licensed dealer and ordered a ton of hats. It ended up being a bad idea.
The New Era sales rep that I was dealing with had an ego twice the size of mine. Which is okay. I learned that employees of most companies care about their pay check #1, their job security #2, their big clients #3, what was for lunch #4, and small fish like myself were far down the line.
The hats would sell, but the $10,000 initial order left me strapped when I should have held some cash back in case times got rough. I needed inventory that I could turnover quickly, and hats would stay on the shelf for months waiting for the right head size to walk in the door.
5) Not built to clock in and clock out
Owning your own retail store is a full time gig. You don’t get to make your own schedule. You don’t have much free time. It’s not the glorious thing it’s made out to be at times. I remember the store got robbed on Thanksgiving Day when I was away with family. I had to open on ‘Black Friday’ cleaning up broken glass and talking to cops.
I’m not cut out to clock in at 8 a.m. and when the work is done you can go home. I know now that I enjoy my freedom. Sitting behind a counter of a sports store 6 days a week is not how I’m going to make it in this world. It would have been nice to have known that back in 2006. In reality the sports store in Turlock, CA was a semi-expensive learning experience.
Best people to work with while owning sports store (2006-2008):
Beckett Magazines – easy to become a retailer. Great business sales representatives worked there. Could get magazines at wholesale cost and the ones that didn’t sell just ship back via USPS media mail (cheap) and get a refund. The magazines would sell very well, especially the baseball and football ones.
WinCraft – I should have bought more product from them. Check them out if you are in retail. I loved dealing with them and their products can be cheap and high margin. Very low minimum order.
Global Sales Wholesale – whenever I needed cards using the wholesale license – I went to Global Sales first. Back in the day I toured their card store and warehouse when I was visiting their neighborhood. There was a guy named Jeff who took care of every case I needed of 1996/97 Topps Finest Basketball.
Good eBay Sellers – takes some time and research but there are retailers on eBay that sell bulk lots of sports items that can easily be re-sold for big profits.