Who knew that entering the 2020s would lead into a world wide pandemic, who knew that life as we knew it would be changed and who knew that retail shopping would look entirely different than it had in the past.
It definitely has been an interesting year being in retail. We have had to adjust, rearrange, and pivot on more than one occasion. Last March, we didn’t know if we would even still exist after being in business for 16 years. Luckily for us, the sports card industry has boomed this past year and we continue to grow and build for the future. But what a year it has been.
When covid started to affect business last Spring, Jason, the store owner and my partner, was in LA with my son on a much deserved trip. They were excited to be going to their first NBA games and were going to see LeBron, Zion Williamson, Russell Westbrook and more in action. They did make it to the very last NHL game of the season and then suddenly the NBA cancelled all games due to covid. All events were cancelled, the amusement parks were shut down and people were told to stay home; they said the LA streets became eerily quite until they could get home. I was running the store on my own and had to navigate changing store hours, limiting people in the store and wondering what was going to happen next. We decided to shut down the store for the rest of March as the boys came home to self-isolate and we made plans to adjust. We were in the middle of preparing for the WHL Memorial Cup coming to town and had to pivot our plans – cancelling guests, events and even product orders.
If you haven’t been in a sportscard shop, you wouldn’t know that the experience is as much fun as the product you buy. A dad and his kids would come in for a few hour on Saturday afternoon, going through cards to find that one they were missing for their collection, and give their mom a much needed break. We would host birthday parties and event nights, where groups would come in and open cards, watch a hockey game and enjoy a few hours of fun. In the summer, families would stop by the store and just look around for an hour or two, as part of their tradition, as if we were a hockey museum with all the uniques pieces they could find. When covid began we had many questions…how does a store who focuses on experience keep going? How does a store that sells “extras” keep going when people are losing their jobs?
We had been working on integrating our inventory with a new website with a local company, Okanac. With everyone encouraging local shopping and supporting small businesses, we hoped to bring people to our store online and continue to add new products. A friend gave us the idea of hosting online auctions to sell single cards. We thought it was a great plan to encourage community and fun in the hobby; we have people tuning in regularly from Ontario, Manitoba, Alberta, BC, Utah, California and even China! We have done over 100 auctions, including two charity auctions raising almost $10,000, and two memorabilia auctions. We run auctions Wednesday and Friday nights on Facebook and YouTube. We started our YouTube channel for this and expanded to include our “FLEX SHOW” – where we highlight some BIG cards, unique memorabilia and current happenings in the sports cards industry. We’ve had a NHL player as a guest and plan to expand our guest list in the next few months to share more stories.
We adjusted to pickup, rearranged the store so people can’t walk around touching items, have had to limit people in the store, and on some occasions have had to tell people we aren’t open for browsing. Have we lost sales? Yes. Have we had people frustrated they can’t come in and look around? Yes. Have we lost customers? Yes. But at the same time, most have understood that we had to adjust to covid regulations and check us out online. As people stayed home, they started going through their old cards and wanting to find out value and start collecting again. People wanted a hobby they could enjoy at home and with kids or friends. As professional sports teams adjusted to bubbles or shortened seasons, people are home watching more games than before cheering on their teams. Stars have emerged, the Game has gone on, so to speak, and the interest has peeked.
Personally, this year has taken a toll. Everyday I am thankful we can stay open when so many can’t, but I know my anxiety and tiredness show through on some days more than others. I get teased that this past summer, I wouldn’t let a Hall of Famer NHL player into the store, but to be honest, I was just making sure we didn’t have too many in the shop. Luckily he was a good sport and waited his turn.
We are thankful for the Downtown Kelowna Association, who has done a great job of promoting so many downtown businesses. While many get shoutouts from local influencers & media sources, we continue to expand our reach through our own social media outlets and come up with new ideas to promote our store and partner with others. Stay tuned for some great projects in the coming months!
As we move into 2021, we continue to enter the unknown. Our days are full of phone calls and emails from new and old collectors, excited about what’s happening in the hobby and wondering the value of their collections. Half the store looks like a shipping depot, as we ship cards around the world and we do our best to continue to fulfil our purpose of helping multi-generations build their collections of sports cards and memorabilia. In the past we’ve tried to figure out how to work smarter and not harder, but these days it seems we just have to keep working harder, smarter and longer because we don’t know what’s around the next corner. As we navigate the retail world tinged by covid protocols and an unknown future, we are thankful for our customers who have stuck with us and help to promote us to others.