Welcome to Part 2 of our ongoing series “Sox Signatures: Behind the Scenes”. Today’s topic is our first private autograph signing, and how a simple email sent Sox Signatures down the path to what would make us stand out in the memorabilia market.
One of the best parts about having your own business email accounts, is that every email is an opportunity to move your business forward. Of course, just like a normal email account, you’re going to get plenty of spam and advertising. But when you see those private email addresses, or personal business accounts in your inbox, there’s some excitement that maybe this email will actually impact my business. I received one of those emails in early 2013.
Sox Signatures was just getting off the ground and a few small orders were trickling in, but only selling some signed cards and 8×10’s I hadn’t found a niche that separated me from an eBayer who knew how to build a website. Checking my inbox I saw an email from an unfamiliar name, but what came after the ‘@’ symbol was a small sports agency. As it turns out, this agent had stumbled across my website as he was looking for ways find opportunities for his clients. He had a couple of players in the Red Sox system, and was curious if he could set up a signing or game used deal for any of them. One of the players was Shannon Wilkerson, who was in Double-A Portland at the time, which was only about an hour and a half drive away. The others were in the lower minors (Greenville, SC and Salem, VA), so meeting them was not possible. We quickly set up a date, and agreed that in addition to doing a private signing, Shannon would also provide some game used equipment for me to buy. The immediate issue was finding enough items for me to have Shannon sign. Luckily Shannon had a few cards released in Bowman and TriStar, and I found a few nice images of him that I could print up as 8×10’s. After deciding what to have him sign, the next step was seeing if anyone was interested in sending any items in or reserving items before the signing. A few spots got sold, but because Shannon wasn’t a top rated prospect and was a good signer for fans in general, the demand wasn’t very high for his signature. Rather than focusing on the disappointing pre-sale numbers, I focused on the fact that this signing was my “foot-in-the-door” moment.
Every business has that moment in their history when they finally figured out what separates them from the competition. Sometimes it’s with some big flashy (and risky) move, sometimes it’s with small calculated steps. Shannon Wilkerson wasn’t a big risk move, but what he represented was the first step to making Sox Signatures a name in the market. Now I had a player (and agent) in the Red Sox organization that could get me access to more players. The most important thing in the autograph/memorabilia business is your reputation; both with your customers and the players themselves. If I played this signing right, I could have a voice in the clubhouse that could help build a reputation with players. Someone that could say this guy could be trusted and was worth their time. The signing went perfect, and Shannon provided some great game used bats and batting gloves. Since it was my first signing with a professional athlete, I was nervous. I didn’t know what the protocol was as far as whether I should let him concentrate on signing or try to have a quick conversation with him. I had never really met Shannon before, and it’s always an odd setup when two people are brought together only because of a business deal. Shannon was very polite and friendly, and very accomodating to my requests for which items to sign where, and which type of pen to use. Collectors are always very specific about these types of things, so I wanted to make sure I followed the “standards” such as using a blue sharpie on cards and 8×10’s, blue ball point pens on baseballs, and silver paint pens on the bats. Shannon also posed for a few pictures that I could use in future promos and advertisements, and also didn’t seem bothered as I snapped a few photos of him signing items. As I said, I was a little nervous, and tried to chat Shannon up a little as he signed. There weren’t any great stories or insights, but we talked about Twitter, and how his agent proposed this deal to him. I mentioned that I was looking to set up more signings like this as I knew that minor leaguers were not exactly flush with cash, especially the players who didn’t get huge signing bonuses on draft day. Shannon even offered to help set me up with a couple other players, which made me very optimistic about the future of Sox Signatures, as he had no obligation to help me in that regard. Though I would have loved to chat him up for hours, in just about 30 whirlwind minutes my first official signing was over. It wasn’t the most successful signing, it wasn’t with the biggest name, and it didn’t propel the business to the forefront of the memorabilia game, but it was another step forward, and as long as every step is forward, there’s no telling how far you can go. Shannon was able to pass my information on to other players, and I had another signing ready to go in a couple months with pitcher Keith Couch and infielder Travis Shaw.
From there my name was getting more well known, and since I have had signings and/or memorabilia deals with players who have seen the majors (Ryan Lavarnway, Dan Butler, Steven Wright), first round draft picks (Deven Marrero, Brian Johnson, Michael Chavis), and many other minor leaguers in the Red Sox organization. Now I have a reputation in the organization, and I’m slowly expanding my roster so that if you have a favorite player in Pawtucket, Portland, Salem, Greenville, Lowell, and even Boston, I can try to get you an item directly from that player’s locker. It may be a while before I’m visiting Fenway often, but the focus is just on that next step forward.
Now that you’ve heard the origin story, and gotten a glimpse of how Sox Signatures first “big break” came along, Part 3 of the series will give you a look into how a no name company built a customer base 140 characters at a time.