Former NBA player helps West Michigan sporting collectibles store grow

Former NBA center Chris Kaman walked into Man Cave Sports Cards and Collectibles in Stanton a few months ago, looking for cards.

Then, according to Man Cave founder Nate Smith, a friendship began to develop between them. In September, Smith worked to bring on Kaman as a partner and is now helping the company expand.

Earlier this month, Man Cave opened its second location, 701 S. Greenville Drive in Greenville, joining the first store and thriving business of eBay as the sports cards and memorabilia industry continues to grow all over the country.

“When I first opened the Stanton store a few years ago, I don’t think I can remember a time in recent years where we haven’t been busy,” Smith said. “We thought we’d try to find a bigger venue in a bigger city, and maybe we’ll see a little more foot traffic.”

Keeping stores stocked is the most challenging aspect of the business, according to Smith. Smith, Kaman and the employees must travel across the Midwest to visit card shows to purchase new inventory. This will continue as the new store continues to mature.

Smith said that in the worst-case scenario, Man Cave would reconsolidate into one location, but he also has ambitious plans for the future. He said more positions could be on the table.

“Chris has a really good business mind, owns a lot of other businesses and can help,” she said. “If Greenville takes off like the Stanton store did, which I expect, we’ll continue to run into the problem of not having enough inventory, so logistically having a third store would be difficult, but it’s possible.”

In addition to going to shows, Smith said she buys collections from people who walk into the store.

“We try to buy at fair prices, so we can sell at fair prices,” he said. “We are always willing to work on pricing and look to buy more inventory. We have people bringing in boxes of stuff from the 50s and 60s up to new stuff, and we’re very competitive in what we pay.

The growth of a home-grown store in western Michigan is no surprise with the way the sports memorabilia industry is growing. The boom has come, at least in part, due to home lockdowns during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to multiple sources.

Trading card sales increased 142% year-over-year in 2020, including Pokémon cards, which Man Cave also deals, according to an eBay report. In the first half of 2021, eBay reported $2 billion in card transactions, according to an August release after the company acquired trading card marketplace TCGplayer for $295 million.

Goldin, a leader in trading cards and sports collectibles, sold $330 million in memorabilia during 2021, more than tripling its 2020 total, according to Fox Business.

In August, a 1952 Mickey Mantle baseball card sold for $12.6 million, making it the most valuable card in the world. He doubled the previous record of $6.6 million set by a Wagner Honus card last year.

There are also now apps that offer investors the ability to purchase expensive memorabilia, such as Rally and Collectable.

Although Smith said prices have begun to decline slightly in recent months, collectors are still on the lookout for the right pieces. He doesn’t see that that will change anytime soon.

“The sport as a whole seems more popular than ever, there seems to be a strong appeal and people are getting favorite players and teams and wanting to collect them,” he said. “People spend their whole lives collecting cards, and I’m not knocking. I’ve been doing this for years and let’s scratch that itch.”

Chris Prins, a consultant at DAR Commercial, helped Man Cave find its second location in Greenville. He said the area is incredibly active at the moment, with many new retailers and restaurants opening in the past three years, including Hobby Lobby, Sketchers, Planet Fitness, Marshalls, Starbucks, Aldi and a “handful of locals.”

“It has to do with mining from such a large radius,” Prins said. “It’s different than most retail hubs, as its radius is over 20 miles.”

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