Through the Mail-Bag – 5/17/17

mailbag

We’re bringing back the mail bag!  A few times a year we’ll look for some questions from our social media followers, and do our best to answer them.  We’ll talk about autographs, the Red Sox, running a small business, signings, whatever you guys really want to know.  Have a question for our next mailbag?  Shoot an email to Brian@SoxSignatures.com, and if we use your question, we’ll send you an autographed Red Sox card from our collection!  This edition we talk about how we get game used memorabilia, tips for starting your own autograph business, favorite minor league stadium and much more!  Be sure to comment on whether you agree or disagree or have your own insights on a topic.  Let’s begin:

Out of all of the autographs that you have collected to sell through Sox Signatures, which are you proudest of? This could be one that was hard to get, one from a player you've been a big fan of for a while or otherwise. For a bonus, you can also include your favorite one that you've obtained personally! 

-Brandon S.

It’s always tough to sell some of the more unique items we’ve come across over the past few years doing this business. Cleats from player’s MLB Debut, game used gloves, catchers gear, stuff you just don’t normally see for sale (at least not for reasonable prices).  You want to keep all of it for your own personal collection, but you’re also running a business and can’t keep everything you’re supposed to sell.  I’m probably most proud of the game used fielding gloves we have sold over the past few years.  They are such a unique item in that players only usually use 1 or 2 per season unlike the dozens of hats, bats, batting gloves or cleats they use.  Gloves are something a player uses almost every day and they are such an integral part of the game.  A glove is more personal than most other equipment, and they are usually carefully chosen by a player so it’s nice to have that personal connection to a player you really like.  For my personal collection, the first game used glove I ever have signed was of former Red Sox prospect Lars Anderson.  He didn’t turn out to be as big as advertised, but I’m still keeping the glove as it was the first one I ever got, so it holds plenty of sentimental value.


My question for you is how are you able to get all of your game used memorabilia? I have always wondered how you get so many cleats, bats, hats, uniforms, and gloves.  Thanks, 

-Peter
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All the game used memorabilia we got on the last day of the 2016 season from Portland/Pawtucket

I was actually surprised how often we get this question, and even more surprised how many people think players just give us stuff for free.  The answer unfortunately isn’t really that interesting or noteworthy, but we basically just plan a day to visit a team (mostly Portland or Pawtucket), contact the players we know on that team, and see what gear they have that they want to sell.  Any players we don’t have direct contact with, we either try to reach out to or see if another player can make an introduction for us.  The next step is negotiating with the players on how much we want to buy from them and prices for each item.  Then it’s as simple as showing up that day with some envelopes of cash, meeting the players, having them sign the gear they bring out for us, take a couple photos, and then be on our way.  I will say that while it’s a simple process, the reason most people can’t do this is that we buy a larger amount of items at once, so you can’t just buy one hat or one glove from a player as you need to make it worth their time as well.  Luckily for us, players get a surprising amount of gear during the season, so there’s almost always a few things a player has that he wore out or won’t use anymore.

Love that you're doing a mailbag! Can you talk about what it's like building up your inventory of products? And also, what's the strangest thing you've had a player sign? Best,

-Pat N.

Building inventory for us is a combination of luck, hard work, and long boring hours scouring websites for deals.  Hopefully you’ve noticed that our prices are among the lowest you can find for reliable Red Sox autographs, and the number one reason for that is we search a lot of different (and sometimes unconventional) places to find items that fit our pricing structure.  While a good majority of items are stuff we get signed in person at Spring Training, games, events, or signings, most of the higher end items and items of guys on the MLB team are purchased already signed.  The trick is to find reputable dealers that are having sales, and to have very good attention to detail when inspecting autographs you want to buy that don’t come with that trusted COA like PSA/DNA.  If you spend as much time with autographs as we do, you start to pick up “tricks of the trade” to see if an autograph is fake or reprinted.  And since we only specialize in one team, it narrows down the amount of signatures we need to be familiar with.  But just like the question on how we get game used memorabilia, it’s not so much a matter of knowing the right people or having resources no one else does.  It’s just putting in the time and effort (and getting a little luck) to find authentic items at reasonable prices.  You’ll notice we don’t really have any Andrew Benintendi or David Ortiz items on the store and that’s because those player’s values have sky rocketed recently.  We can’t find anything reasonably priced to turn around and list on our store that wouldn’t feel like we were overcharging our customers.

As far as odd items to sign, I think the most awkward ones we have had to personally ask for have had to be the game used pants.  I’m not 100% sure why, but while a hat, or jersey is perfectly normal, asking a player to sign a pair of pants he wore always feels odd.  They usually give you a weird look too, which does’t help, and they are always curious how we found a pair of game used pants, but they’ll sign anyways.

Where do you store all your memorabilia?  How do you keep track of it all?

-Peter H.

Storage is always an important part of any business, because you need to make sure everything stays protected!  Luckily for me, I am very OCD when it comes to organization, and luckily for space allocation, a majority of our items are 8×10’s so those don’t take up too much room.  We’ve acquired a couple storage racks to help out with baseballs, cleats, and gloves that make them pretty easy to organize.  The number one way we stay organized and keep track of everything is just by doing regular inventory checks.  Someday we’ll have to post a fast-motion video of it, but it basically means printing out the inventory from the store, and manually checking all the baseballs, photos, game used gear, etc against that list to make sure all the quantities line up.  We’ve had a few hiccups over the years, and occasionally items still slip through the cracks, but that’s when we just have to bite the bullet, send a refund and hope we can bring the customer back in the future.

My question is what are the biggest struggles of owning your own business especially in a field that is very competitive like sports memorabilia? Thanks so much 

-Gerard M.

The biggest struggle is just finding the time and keeping up!  This is a full time job, but it’s on top of my regular 9-5 as a software developer. So right now this is only a nights and weekends thing!  (PS, if you see me tweeting during work hours, uhhhhh, I’m on a break).  Anyways, for this specific business we have to follow all the Red Sox affiliates for who’s hot and who’s not, watching for when other stores have sales that allow us to beef up our inventory, planning sales, Tweeting, Facebooking and Instagraming everything so people even know who we are, and then we have to fill orders and provide customer service or we’ll never keep the customers we already got.  We’re building a brand from the ground up, and even the slightest misstep (ie angering a big competitor or selling fake autographs) and everything goes down the tubes!  That all being said, nothing is more rewarding than knowing that it’s been 4 years and every year has been better than the last.  I’m still not even remotely close to quitting my day job, but it’s nice to know that all the time, effort, and glares from my wife for being on my phone during dinner are resulting in a growing business.

What one piece of advice do you know now, would have been the most valuable when you started your business, and what would it have changed if you started all over?

-James S.

There’s been plenty of players we missed on because we just weren’t established enough to approach yet.  No guarantees obviously, but we’re pretty sure we could have worked out deals with guys like Daniel Nava, Ryan Lavarnway, and Mookie if A) we knew they would be major leaguers and B) we had the confidence in ourselves to approach them early in their careers.   But as far as a something more general to tell myself, I would say take a few more chances.  The progression as been slow and steady and that’s great.  But it’s the riskier moves like sponsoring the Section 10 Podcast, doing private signings and buying more and more game used gear that have led to more exposure and more business.  Keep trying to find that “New Thing” that you can attach the business to that will hopefully take off.

I actually do have a question. I've always wanted to do something with a memorabilia store or shop of some kind. But I wouldn't even know where to start. How did you get started? What is the hardest part?

-Jason 

As long as it’s not Red Sox related, go for it!  But in all seriousness, the memorabilia business is always hard to break into.  There’s always someone bigger with more money and better connections that can beat you into submission.  I feel that one way Sox Signatures stood out from other New England based companies is that we focused on the minor leagues.  Any store can sell David Ortiz or Dustin Pedroia autographs for big money, and there’s no way we could compete with that.  But, what we can do is get guys like Steven Wright, Travis Shaw and Brian Johnson while they are still in Single or Double-A, and hope they make it to the major leagues.  We sell our customers on investing a smaller amount of money in the “next big thing” rather than have them pay full price for the current superstars.  Now the problem is we assume more of a risk that all ties into these players making the big leagues.  On top of that something as simple as a trade to another team drops the value significantly for us(miss you Pat Light and Maurcio Dubon!).  So it really just means we have to be careful who we go after and do our own scouting (shout out to SoxProspects.com for being an AMAZING resource!) so that we take as few risks as possible on players.

What’s the best way for kids to get autographs at the game or before a game? I know you have your contacts and get many autographs but i was wondering about the average kid coming to a ballpark and hoping to get something signed by one of the players?  Cheers.

-Tom P.

I’m really glad we got a question like this, because we have already went in depth in how to get an autograph in Pawtucket here and we’ll be doing Portland, Lowell, Boston, and Spring Training in future posts.  As far as general tips, patience is the number one thing when it comes to getting autographs.  Sometimes you have to stand around for hours in the hopes of catching a player you really want.  Also you want to get very good at recognizing players in street clothes.  You get much better results calling out for a player when he doesn’t have a name or number on his back rather than just calling out “hey you”.  I know you were probably looking for more specifics at each stadium, but we’ll dive much deeper into those stadiums in future posts!

What is your favorite Red Sox affiliate stadium to visit and why? 

-Nathan F.
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Nothing like Hadlock Field in August with a Shipyard Summer in your hand

I assume you mean minors, and not majors, because there is nothing that beats Fenway Park.  So choosing from the Sox minor league affiliates, I have to go with Portland.  Hands down I always enjoy a game at Portland.  Now full disclosure I have never been to Greenville (Low A) or Salem (High A), and only been to one Lowell game, which means I only had to choose between Pawtucket (AAA), Portland (AA) and Jet Blue Park in Ft Myers (GCL).  But sitting down on a cool Portland summer night, drinking a Shipyard Summer and watching Sea Dogs baseball is an amazing experience.  The Sox usually keep their best prospects in AA for a while (AAA to majors jumps usually happen quickly), and even the fringe guys are all still trying to make the dream come true.  With AAA, you can get some of the former big leaguers that are disillusioned with being back in the minors.  Plus the city of Portland just has so much more to offer than Pawtucket, especially when you are a craft beer nut like I am!  I do hope to visit the others some day, so hopefully I’ll be able to give a much better answer to this in the future.

Is there one player who you're absolutely dying to get an autograph from? If yes, who and why? Thanks! 

-Alex B.

This one is easy, and I’m really hoping I can make this happen someday, but I am a huge Daniel Nava fan.  I was selfishly disappointed when Daniel made the Phillies big league roster when the season opened, because if he was in AAA he would have been in Pawtucket in the first month in the season and I was hoping to see if I could set a signing up.  I’m slowly building up a nice collection of Nava items, and still have a game used Paw Sox jersey and a game used bat that I’m hoping to get signed at some point.  Luckily I still have time, and there’s a good chance that as a member of the 2013 Championship team, Daniel will be back around Boston a few times even when his career is over.  So if you happen to have a relationship with Daniel, please reach out, I’d love to set something up!

When do you get the most autographs? Spring training, before games, after games, etc. Thanks! 

-David H.
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This is what I came home with from my Spring Training trip in 2017

If you follow my Twitter feed around mid-late March, you’ll probably see that I come back from a week in Fort Myers with around 250-350 autographs.  As far as a per-day basis I far and away get the most autographs at Spring Training.  Because it’s a set week, and there’s so many players, I put a lot of planning into all of the items I bring.  In total I’m hauling about 500 8×10’s, 2-3 dozen baseballs, and a bunch of hats, jerseys and anything else I can fit into my suitcase, so I’m expecting to come home with a majority of those signed.  As far as other autographs throughout the year, I’m maybe getting 5-10 things signed when I visit a stadium or event in the area.

Who have been the most enjoyable people you have interacted throughout your time getting autographs? Top 5 with 1 being the best.

-Cameron H.

I liked the idea of a list, so I saved this question for last.  I’m assuming you’re asking about players, managers, or other baseball people, because I’m not sure anyone cares about a random dealer or memorabilia company employee.  Here’s my list:

  1. Dan Butler – If you have followed this site at all over the past 4 years, you have probably seen this name pop up a lot.  Dan is one of the few times a business relationship actually turned into a friendship.  Yes I have bought all kinds of catchers gear, batting gloves, bats, hats, cleats, etc from Dan over the years, but it’s the interactions outside of signing autographs that makes Dan my favorite player to work with.  He’s one of the few players that will actually stick around after signing and ask how things are going with the business and in my personal life.  We’ve had some beers together and talked baseball, swapped stories about family, players we know and all kinds of topics.  I was pumped to see him re-sign with the Sox after a year in Nationals system, and hoping to see him stick around for as long as possible.
  2. Robby Scott – We’ve got a signing coming up with Robby, and that’s been a long time coming.  I’ve been buying game used gear from him since he was in A-Ball, so it was nice to watch him rise through the ranks to his current spot as the number one lefty out of the Sox bullpen.  Robby has always been great to work with, and I never sensed that he only saw me as a quick cash grab while getting rid of some old gear.  It’s been a lot of fun watching someone you’ve known and worked with for so long finally get his shot in the bigs and to take full advantage of it and have so much success.
  3. Joe Kelly – I didn’t meet Joe Kelly for business reasons, but rather just happened to be seated at a bar next to him during Spring Training of 2017.  I never did bring up Sox Signatures, as I figured it just wasn’t really appropriate in such a social setting.  However I did get a chance to talk to him about our respective families and some of the difficulties and experiences we have had as fathers of young children.  We of course chatted about baseball too, and it was interesting to get his view of his time with the Sox since 2014.  I happened to see him at the field the next day, and he did remember my name and gave me a quick fist bump as he passed by, so it was nice to know I left at least a little impression on him.  Hopefully run into him again soon and maybe work towards a a business relationship as well.
  4. Brian Johnson – Brian is another former signer that I’ve gotten to know a little more over the years.  We did a private signing with Brian back in 2014, and have bought game used gear from him a couple of times since then.  He’s another guy I’ll continue to root for not just because we still have a bunch of his 8×10’s for sale, but because he’s a genuinely nice person that also has taken the time to chat with me both about the business and my personal life.  Looks like 2017 may be the season he finally gets a real shot at sticking in the Sox rotation, so i’m holding out hope that I don’t run into him at Pawtucket again!
  5. Ryan Lavarnway – I only got to work with Ryan twice, both during the 2014 season, but he was instantly one of the more personable players I have met.  He had quickly risen to the majors and had some limited success in the big leagues, but was back down in Pawtucket for most of that season.  I met him on the last day of the season in 2014 just before the offseason when he was placed on waivers by 3 different teams in December of that year, but he said that he wished he had met me sooner as he had already tossed away a ton of gear since being drafted by the Sox.

That concludes our mail bag, I want to thank everyone who submitted questions!  For those whose questions we used, we’ll be reaching out to you shortly to send you an autographed card as a  “Thank-You”.  If you’ve enjoyed reading and want to see more, or if you have your own responses to any of the questions above, be sure to comment below!  Thanks for stopping by!

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