February Marks 20th Anniversary of Central Texas Hobby Shop “Card Traders of Austin”
Not long after Walt Case retired from IBM in the late 1980s, he returned to the childhood closet of his Texas home to find that the treasure trove of sports cards he’d amassed in his youth had appreciated quite nicely. And just like that, the next chapter in Case’s life — and a proud chapter in the history of card collecting in Central Texas — began.
Case started selling cards on the side at first, through listings in trade publications, phone auctions and at weekend shows. That led to a stint covering weekends at a local card shop, where he met eventual business partner Craig Vernier. Twenty years later, the two men have transformed Card Traders of Austin into a second home for the area’s most passionate collectors.
In honor of the shop’s milestone 20th anniversary this month, we caught up with Case to get his thoughts on his whirlwind last two decades. (And stay tuned to the end of the interview for a special offer from Case for readers of The Knight’s Lance.)
What have been the secrets of your prolonged success?
“The shop is run with honesty and integrity. We value the customers that come in and some of them have been doing so for years. We get new people from time to time with the ever-growing economy here in Austin because of the burgeoning music and technological industries. This influx of new people, and our ‘lifetime customers’ have made for a wonderful mix of clientele. We pride ourselves on customer service. If a customer takes the time to come by or call the shop to request something, we take the time to find it. It is our hope that by being honest and providing customer service that we can stand out with the best shops in the country.
“In an effort to keep up with the changing avenues by which collectors receive information, we launched our website a few years back and have, in the last couple of years, become active on Facebook. We carry all sorts of products from sports cards and sports collectibles to gaming products to non-sports trading card products to memorabilia to supplies and much, much more.”
How has the business changed for you in your 20 years?
“The number of people interested, and their reasoning behind the interest, has changed. There seem to be fewer collectors and more investors in the marketplace. It used to be that we sold more single cards than packs and boxes. Now, it is the complete opposite. More folks want to pull that special card and sell it, as opposed to place it in their collection. I miss the days of set building being so active. I enjoyed building sets as a kid, and would love to see more of that. In fact, there have been a few folks of late coming in and looking to finish up some sets. I welcome more.”
What have been some of your biggest highlights?
“I would say the biggest highlight is knowing I have been able to help the hobbyists in Central Texas for 20 years now. I have been given the pleasure of remaining in a hobby I so thoroughly enjoyed as a kid for all these years. I still enjoy the interaction with the people that come in. I get a kick out of it.”
What are some tips that you would pass on to other store owners?
“Never turn away a sale. Treat every person as the best customer. And answer the question, ‘Are you buying?’ with the same answer every time. ‘Yes.’ Every shop should be buying every day. Make an offer you feel comfortable with and be honest about how you came about that offer. If the person declines, then wish them the very best. Ultimately, you must be open to receiving offers to continue to breathe new life into your inventory.”
What specific promotion have you found to be most successful with your customers?
“Midnight Madness is held twice annually, usually once in the spring and once in the fall. All goods in the shop are on sale from 10 percent to 50 percent off. We offer a program whereby students can earn up to $10 in store credit by bringing in their most current report card. We offer $2 for each ‘A’ in a core course. Being as teachers help those students, we reward them with 10 percent off any purchase any time. They simply need to show their teacher credentials. We support our armed forces and police by offering them 10 percent discounts, again with proper identification.
“And the most famous promotion we have, and one that is present every day that we’re open, is ‘The Wheel.’ The wheel is famous in Austin. The cost of a spin is $1, and each and every item on the wheel is valued at $1 or more, so it is not gambling. The highest-value prize on the wheel is $10 in single cards, but I would say the most popular prizes are the grab bags. Wheel spinners of all ages have enjoyed the wheel, and some folks come by and ask, ‘Yeah, a friend of mine told me about some wheel? Where is that?’ Like I said, it’s famous around these parts.”
How do you feel out the future of your business?
“I would have thought the downturn in the economy would have been more than what this hobby could support. Fortunately for us, there is still enough interest in the hobby for us to remain open and thrive. We’ve been here for 20 years, and have had so much fun at it. We want to be here another 20 at least.
“To your readers, if you want to come by and have a spin on the Wheel? Bring in a copy of this article, and you get one spin on the house, compliments of the fine folks at Card Traders of Austin.”