When I think about where I started my professional journey, it truly began in 2003 in my living room. My dad came in with two small stacks of Magic: the Gathering cards and asked if I wanted to try to learn a new card game. Since that moment, I have memorized new cards every day, I’ve played in countless tournaments, and my collection has varied in size from a small trade binder to my current collection of around 160,000 cards.
I’m going to share with you five tips if you’re just beginning the professional journey:
- Never Stop Learning
- Buy Low
- Sell High
- Buy Supplies
- Get Experience in the Industry
I’ve worked in the online marketplace buying and selling cards for about five years now, but the reason I say my journey began in 2003 is because this is when I first started learning about the industry I currently work in.
I’ve found success in selling my extra cards online on my own as well. My store, BeardFishGaming has been able to grow from just a dude with a few of his cards to… well, the same dude with a lot more cards! I was able to do this by recycling and salvaging my shipping products whenever possible, buying affordable products within my means, and working with the many tools for success provided by TCGplayer.
Never Stop Learning!
Since learning about this game at eight years old, I have enjoyed so many different ways to play and collect cards along the way. Not everyone starts to learn that young and that’s okay! Even with an early start, I still don’t know everything there is to know about Magic, nor do I ever think I will, and that’s okay too. I am a student to the knowledge itself, and will spend my time uncovering more of that knowledge every day.
If this is the first article you’ve ever read on magic, then it’s a great first step in learning how to be a professional in the collectible gaming industry.
This seems like a no-brainer, but what does buying low actually mean? There are a few ways to obtain cards at a price that allows you to sell items while providing a profit margin and valuing your time spent selling. When buying cards to resell for high, you spend time seeking out inventory, there’s time spent negotiating a price, there is time spent retrieving the inventory, there is time spent listing the inventory, and finally there is time spent shipping the inventory to your customers. Your time has value and if you’d like to make profit while selling cards, you need to make sure you’re factoring in this time as a part of your selling process. This is why you generally buy cards for buylist prices or bulk prices instead of full listing price. You need to save room to value your hours spent getting this card from you to the customer. On more expensive cards, you can research buylist prices using TCGplayer and offer something close to that price. Buylist prices are the maximum amount sellers across the platform are willing to pay for a given card in real time. Using this price when buying more expensive cards outright is a good way to leave some wiggle room for you to flip them for a profit!
With cards that are not as expensive or “bulk,” depending on the market at the time you could be paying anywhere from $3-6 per 1000 cards. Cheaper cards have a much lower potential for profit, but when sold in small chunks can be quite profitable in their own right! The reason you buy these cards for cheap however is because of the amount of time it takes to sort and list low value cards. It’s a lot of work to sell them!
When buying collections, apply a mix of both of these methods to calculate value. Pick a price to have as your bulk or expensive pile (for example, I use rares below $1, uncommons, and commons are bulk) and then price out the collection. Pay the bulk rate on anything under your price threshold and pay buylist prices on anything above your price threshold. This will help you build and maintain an online inventory, while also creating opportunities for you to value the time and effort spent listing cards.
Sell High… with a few extra considerations?
This lesson is a bit tricky because it requires the balancing of two opposing ideologies: sell for the most you can possibly get, while also pricing competitively enough to stand out in a very large and diverse market. When listing a card for sale, you want a price that is going to cover your operational cost of shipping it to a customer while also being a competitive listing compared to other sellers' products on the site.
Selling cards has costs associated with every step of the process, or as stated above - the operational cost. The pieces of my operational costs I tend to focus on most are: time invested into selling an item, materials necessary for shipping an item, and in-transit loss. When considering these costs, I try to roll them into the listing price of the card. This way, I still have the most competitive listing or am equal to the lowest listing on the site I’m using to sell on at the time.
I’m going to start with in-transit loss because this operational cost is the least preventable or even predictable. When you ship things in the mail using any carrier, there is always a chance that it gets lost or damaged. Unfortunately this is just a cost of doing business. To proactively prevent this, you can ship cards with the best protection you have, provide tracking for packages whenever possible, and ship your packages in a timely manner. However, keep in mind that sometimes you will ship a card and it won’t get to its destination, meaning that you will have to refund the cost of the order to the customer.
Packaging your cards to be resistant to wear and tear by providing a rigid backing of some sort is a huge plus. A plastic toploader, a thick piece of plastic, or a thick piece of cardboard may prevent your cards from getting dinged, ripped, or damaged while in transit. By providing a tracking number, you are given the opportunity to see where along the transit pathway a package may have gotten lost, and you will be able to open a lost package case with your courier service.
Some of your orders will be cheap enough to ship in envelopes instead of a tracked bubble mailer. This is an okay way to ship cards, but be aware packages without tracking are way less likely to be found by the courier. Giving your package as much time to get there as possible by tracking shipping times accurately is a little detail that can have a lot of impact on your customer’s satisfaction.
Buy Supplies (within your own means)
Buying and using supplies efficiently can be the make it or break it point for a small business. If you’re going to be shipping cards to your customers through courier services, then the supplies necessary to ship them is going to be a part of your operational cost. That being said, there are still plenty of ways to get shipping materials while remaining cost efficient and not having to worry about overspending.
Envelopes and Bubble/Padded Mailers are going to be instrumental in getting your cards shipped. These can be located at your local Department or Dollar store for relatively cheap! Online retail outlets also have some larger quantities of these products for inexpensive prices as well.
Sleeves and Team Bags are a great way to safely secure your cards in the package while making sure not to damage your customer’s product. A Team Bag is a slightly bigger plastic card container than a sleeve. They can hold 50 or more cards in some cases depending on size! You can also recycle your unused and mismatched sleeves to help cut some cost down! Especially with 1-2 card packages, your old Matte and Gloss sleeves are a perfect way to give your customers some extra protection in their package. You can also ask your friends or local LGS if they have any unused sleeves they are willing to donate or sell to you cheaply. Finally, if you are someone who also actively buys cards online, then it is likely you are receiving some of these shipping supplies in these orders. Recycle them! If they were good enough to ship cards the first time, barring any major structural damage, they should be good to ship out again! You will want to avoid reusing sleeves that have any visible particles inside the sleeve itself. If there is one noticeable grain of sand or dust inside the sleeve, there are probably others, and that could lead to scratching the surface of the card during transit, or the process of sleeving and unsleeving.
Rigid protection is something that will help your buyers have confidence when buying products from you. Toploaders or thick rigid cardboard/plastic is a great way to provide this extra confidence boost! With a toploader you can stick a card or two in a sleeve and then inside the extra protection of this hard plastic sleeve. Seal this card stuffed toploader into a team bag and now your product is surrounded by a protective layer. You can achieve similar results by taking to pieces of cardboard, sandwiching your product in the middle, and then taping the cardboard pieces shut as to not have the pieces jostle around in the package.
Do NOT put any adhesive material directly on to the card(s) you have sold. You will likely damage the card and definitely make customers unhappy. Only put tape on the sleeve/toploader/team bag. Never on the cards.
Stamps and Postage can be purchased directly from the courier you wish to ship through. I highly suggest looking at postage options online to compare rates to find the cheapest option for your personal situation. Keep in mind shipping a $1 card in an envelope is going to be much different in price than sending 10 cards, 100 cards, or 1,000 cards.
Most importantly, you can charge shipping fees to cover your cost for shipping cards. Depending on your sales strategy, you can charge anywhere from $0.78 - $5.99 depending on package type. If you ship using mostly envelopes you can cover the cost of a penny sleeve, tape, rigid protection, and an invoice for $0.78 - $1.00 per order.
Envelopes can fit up to 30 cards when packaged properly but do not have tracking or any extra protection provided by the package itself. Whenever you send an envelope you are taking on slightly more risk as you cannot recover the package or its contents should it get lost or damaged.
If you ship using Mailers you’ll want to be in a higher price range to cover the cost of a Mailer, a shipping label, rigid backing, a penny sleeve/Team Bag, and an invoice for the customer. An advantage of sending products with mailers is some shipping labels come with tracking depending on the courier. Some mailers have extra protection built in using bubbles or padding which can help keep your products safe from some forms of harm.
If you anticipate using a mix of mailers and envelopes, you may have to get creative in the ways you calculate your fees! For example, charge a lower shipping fee to sell cheap cards using envelopes, while building in the extra charges necessary for sending more expensive cards right into their listing price!
Just get started and get experience in the industry
This is going to relate heavily back to Never Stop Learning, and one of the best ways to learn is by getting some supplies to start. A tape dispenser, a roll of tape, some extra cards you would like to get rid of, some sleeves you have lying around, some mailings supplies, postage, and a TCGplayer.com account will give you the opportunity to get a feel for the market yourself. As you gain experience, you will learn your own tricks to saving costs, your own sales strategy, what price range of cards sell best for you, and what supplies you feel makes for the best shipping. Above are just some of the basics and some guiding lanterns along your own endless journey of learning about the Collectible Gaming Industry.