Imagine surrounding yourself with baseball cards all day. Tons of cards. Hundreds upon thousands.
That’s the life of Dean Hanley.
|Dean Hanley has more than 850,000|
baseball cards available through his online store.
He left his job in 2000 after 10 years in the software industry. Tech firms were cutting like crazy, and he had to find something else.
A collector since childhood, Hanley was searching online for cards to fill out a season’s set. Not finding many, he started Dean’s Cards
– just him and his dog in his basement.
His company, which now has seven employees, has moved twice and operates out of a 3,000-square-foot space in Oakley. But it isn’t a typical baseball card shop.
There’s no walk-in retail business. The office, in a light industrial area, has no real card displays, just a few cards on the walls.
But behind the facade is a treasure trove. Hanley has more than 850,000 cards indexed and for sale at www.DeansCards.com
Being a tech guy, using a Web site to sell was a natural. Hanley figures he has the largest vintage-card inventory online. “The Internet is the great middleman,” he said.
Taking an actual middleman out of the equation and avoiding the costs of a retail shop allow him to save money so he can buy and sell at better prices than others can.
Starting a business is a daunting task
“You have to have a product that’s better, faster or cheaper than the next guy,” Hanley said. “I knew marketing, and I knew baseball cards.”
At first, friends were skeptical.
“I was the laughingstock of our little village,” the Mariemont resident said. “People would say, ‘He’s selling baseball cards, for God’s sake.’”
It didn’t seem like much at first for a guy with an MBA. His wife, who also has an MBA, gave him two years to be able to support the family. They had small children, and she planned to stay home after that.
Hanley made it by first taking a modest income out of the business. Sales have surged 40 percent a year until this year.
Revenue is down about 25 percent this year, but he’s not disheartened. “Hopefully, this is a little bump in the road,” he said.
Industry insiders: probably is just a bump
Baseball card collecting has slowed overall. But the vintage part of the market – mainly pre-1980s cards – in which Hanley does most of his business is holding up, said T.S. O’Connell, editor of Iola, Wis.-based trade publication Sports Collectors Digest
“The vintage end appears to have withstood a slowdown in the economy,” O’Connell said. “The last 18 months, we haven’t noticed the huge softness you would have expected.”
Hanley focuses on the customer, who mainly wants orders shipped correctly and quickly. He ships them out the same day the orders come in, tens of thousands of cards a month.
The cards in his shop are almost unfathomable. The oldest is an 1887 tobacco card, which is how baseball cards were delivered back then. The most valuable is a 1909 Ty Cobb card worth $5,000. He has 1933 Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig cards.
Then there are the other memorabilia. Cards make up about 85 percent of sales. But Hanley also has every issue, ever, of Sports Illustrated
. He has a batch of old issues of The Sporting News
. Stacks of “Who’s Who in Baseball” guides. He has media guides, yearbooks and old sports magazines.