He is a retired Maryland state trooper who claims not to be a sports fanatic. Yet John Heckner is in the business for sports fanatics as the owner of Forest Hill Sports Cards and Collectibles. And while the business “used to be for collectors” today it is a different animal altogether.
This business has seen many changes throughout the past couple of decades. You can blame it on the internet and sites like EBay or the microscope the media has put on its sports stars. Heck, you can even blame it on the schlub who likes to run his own racket to avert a day of work. No matter. The business of sports memorabilia is based on the good old-fashion laws of supply and demand.
“Years ago I was doing security at the BWI airport and Cal Ripken was coming off the tarmac of the plane and here comes a guy with two kids who couldn’t have been much older than 6-years old. And this is 3 o’clock in the morning with a dozen baseballs and a half-dozen bats. I guarantee you that those are going to get sold,” Heckner says.
“Can you blame the players for not wanting to get something anymore?” Heckner asks.
Well, you shouldn’t. Especially since it is us, the fan, who ultimately set the market price. In order for Heckner to get a sports celebrity in his building for a signing, he’s got to shell out anywhere from $3,000 to $55,000. The price, of course, depends on how bright the star of the player.
In June, Forest Hill hosted Ray Lewis for a signing. As you can imagine, Lewis commands top dollar for a signing. But Heckner had no problems selling out the pre-paid tickets. He charges his customers three different rates, $79 for a picture, $89 for a mini helmet and $99 for a full size helmet.
With Ravens training camp here, why would people pay to get something signed by Ray? First off, anybody that has ever been training camp can attest to the fact that Ray is one hot commodity to get around. Second, “Training camp is not meant for a business man,” John laments.
But whose to stop a seedy business man, like the guy at the airport from doing such a thing? Nobody. There are no rules governing this industry. Only self-regulation and authenticators who verify a legit signature.
When it comes to making money some people tend to loosen up the values belt. But not John. “Some guys will pay kids $5 to get an autograph. If I wanted to be dishonest about it, I could go over to training camp and pay kids $5 or $10 to get Ray to sign something, put it in my storage and sell it for $80. Or do I pay Ray a wholesale price of $50 for that same autograph. What is the better profit margin?”
It doesn’t take an accountant to figure out which pays better. The only thing separating the wholesome dealer from the shady guy is their individual integrity. “Most of the dealers that I know are legit, they pay the same as I do to have the players come in and sign autographs. Most of them are legit, but you’ve got a few that play the game and the beat the system.”
The Ravens unexpected (and awesome) run in the playoffs last season saw this shop’s profits thriving and healthy. Since then, however, things have changed. “This is fifth year of the store and probably at the beginning of this year it looked like we were going to make a profit, but with the economy that is not going to happen this year.”
“Is there anything in this store that people have to have?” Heckner knows. “If anyone is trying to make a living in this business it’s gotten pretty difficult.”
Whether he is a die-hard fan or not, you know Heckner is rooting for the same success we are. It can only help his bottom-line. And we’ll keep on collecting.
For more information about this Forest Hill store check out the website here.