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How to Start a Sports Trading Card Business

Written by:

Carolyn Young is a business writer who focuses on entrepreneurial concepts and the business formation. She has over 25 years of experience in business roles, and has authored several entrepreneurship textbooks.

Edited by:

David has been writing and learning about business, finance and globalization for a quarter-century, starting with a small New York consulting firm in the 1990s.

How to Start a Sports Trading Card Business

Fast Facts

Investment range

$3,050 - $7,100

Revenue potential

$73,000 - $183,000 p.a.

Time to build

0 – 3 months

Profit potential

$51,000 - $130,000 p.a.

Industry trend

Growing

Commitment

Flexible

The sports trading card market is taking off like a rocket ship, expected to grow more than 700% from 2019 to 2028. If you have your own collection, you could leverage that into a huge business opportunity with your own sports trading card business. Even if you don’t have a collection, you could start from scratch and ride the trend to make some good money.

In addition to having a knack for choosing the right cards, you’ll need to develop a knack for business. Luckily, you can find everything you need to know about starting a business in this handy step-by-step guide, designed to put you on a path to sports card success.

Step 1: Decide if the Business Is Right for You

Pros and cons

Starting a sports trading card business has pros and cons to consider before deciding if it’s right for you.

Pros

  • Good Money – Sports trading cards can appreciate by huge amounts
  • Flexibility – Run the business from home on your time
  • Huge Market – Billions of dollars are spent on trading cards

Cons

  • Finding Cards – Finding cards at discount prices can be a challenge
  • Delayed Returns – Hold cards for a period of time to get higher returns

Sports trading cards industry trends

Industry size and growth

sports trading card industry size and growth

Trends and challenges

sports trading card Trends and Challenges

Trends in the sports trading card industry include:

  • Sports trading card values are skyrocketing. In 2021, a Michael Jordan rookie card sold for $215,000. Two weeks later the same card sold for $738,000.
  • People are buying sports cards as an investment instead of investing in stocks.
  • Companies like Topps, Donruss, and Upper Deck are producing some cards in limited quantities, creating opportunities for sports card traders to see huge returns in a short time frame.

Challenges in the sports trading card industry include:

  • The surge in the market is making cards with the most potential harder to acquire.
  • It’s possible that the sports trading card industry is experiencing a trend bubble, which could burst and reduce card values.

How much does it cost to start a sports trading card business?

Startup costs for a sports trading card business range from $3,000 to $7,000. The bulk of the costs are for a website and a trading card inventory. 

Start-up CostsBallpark RangeAverage
Setting up a business name and corporation$150 - $200$175
Business licenses and permits$100 - $300$200
Insurance$100-$300$200
Business cards and brochures$200 - $300$250
Website setup$1,000 - $3,000$2,000
Trading card inventory$1,500 - $3,000$2,250
Total$3,050 - $7,100$5,075

How much can you earn from a sports trading card business?

sports trading card business earnings forecast

Prices for sports trading cards vary greatly. In the current market, if you find good cards, generally older cards, you can probably earn a profit margin of about 70%. These calculations will assume an average per-card sales price of $50. 

In your first year or two, you might sell four cards a day, bringing in $73,000 in annual revenue. This would mean $51,000 in profit, assuming that 70% margin. As you acquire more valuable cards, your average prices could climb to $100 and sales to five cards a day. With annual revenue of $183,000, you’d make a tidy profit of $130,000.

What barriers to entry are there?

There are a few barriers to entry for a sports trading card business. Your biggest challenges will be:

  • Finding cards with the most potential value
  • Competition from big trading card auction sites

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Step 2: Hone Your Idea

develop a business idea

Now that you know what’s involved in starting a sports trading card business, it’s a good idea to hone your concept in preparation to enter a competitive market. 

Research the sports card industry. Know the popular types of cards, trends, and what collectors are looking for. This knowledge will guide your inventory decisions and marketing efforts.

Why? Identify an opportunity

Research sports card businesses in your area and online to examine their products, price points, and what sells best. You’re looking for a market gap to fill. For instance, maybe the local market is missing a business that specializes in rare basketball sports cards like Kobe Bryant or Lebron James.

You might consider targeting a niche market by specializing in a certain aspect of your industry, such as baseball cards or football cards.

This could jumpstart your word-of-mouth marketing and attract clients right away. 

What? Decide what type of sports trading cards you want to sell

You need to determine if you want to specialize in a certain type of cards, or if you want to offer a variety. In addition to sports cards, you could sell game cards like Pokemon cards. You could also sell sports memorabilia. 

How much should you charge for sports trading cards?

Prices for sports trading cards vary greatly. You’ll need to check market prices for each card. You should aim for a profit margin of about 70%. 

Once you know your costs, you can use this Step By Step profit margin calculator to determine your mark-up and final price points. Remember, the prices you use at launch should be subject to change if warranted by the market.

Who? Identify your target market

Your target market will be sports fans and collectors, which is very broad. You should spread out your marketing to include sites like TikTok, Instagram, and Facebook. 

sports trading card business idea rating

Step 3: Brainstorm a Business Name

Here are some ideas for brainstorming your business name:

  • Short, unique, and catchy names tend to stand out
  • Names that are easy to say and spell tend to do better 
  • Name should be relevant to your product or service offerings
  • Ask around — family, friends, colleagues, social media — for suggestions
  • Including keywords, such as “sports cards” or “trading cards”, boosts SEO
  • Name should allow for expansion, for ex: “World of Cards” over “Sports Card Central”
  • A location-based name can help establish a strong connection with your local community and help with the SEO but might hinder future expansion

Once you’ve got a list of potential names, visit the website of the US Patent and Trademark Office to make sure they are available for registration and check the availability of related domain names using our Domain Name Search tool. Using “.com” or “.org” sharply increases credibility, so it’s best to focus on these. 

Finally, make your choice among the names that pass this screening and go ahead with domain registration and social media account creation. Your business name is one of the key differentiators that sets your business apart. Once you pick your company name, and start with the branding, it is hard to change the business name. Therefore, it’s important to carefully consider your choice before you start a business entity.

Step 4: Create a Business Plan

Here are the key components of a business plan:

what to include in a business plan
  • Executive Summary: Present a brief overview of your sports trading card business, highlighting its focus on selling, trading, and appraising a wide range of sports cards for collectors.
  • Business Overview: Describe your business’s specialization in offering sports trading cards, including rare, vintage, and contemporary cards across various sports.
  • Product and Services: Detail the products offered, such as individual cards, complete sets, and related collectibles, along with services like card grading and authentication.
  • Market Analysis: Assess the demand for sports trading cards, identifying key customer segments like serious collectors, hobbyists, and sports fans.
  • Competitive Analysis: Compare your business to other card shops and online retailers, focusing on your unique offerings, such as rare card acquisitions or expert appraisal services.
  • Sales and Marketing: Outline your strategy for attracting customers, which might include online sales platforms, attending trade shows, or hosting card trading events.
  • Management Team: Highlight the expertise of your team, especially their knowledge in sports memorabilia, retail management, and customer service.
  • Operations Plan: Describe the operational process, including inventory management, customer engagement, and online sales logistics.
  • Financial Plan: Provide an overview of the financial aspects, including startup costs, pricing strategies, and revenue projections.
  • Appendix: Include supplementary documents such as a catalog of inventory, market research data, or partnerships with card grading services to support your business plan.

If you’ve never created a business plan, it can be an intimidating task. You might consider hiring a business plan specialist to create a top-notch business plan for you.

Step 5: Register Your Business

Registering your business is an absolutely crucial step — it’s the prerequisite to paying taxes, raising capital, opening a bank account, and other guideposts on the road to getting a business up and running.

Plus, registration is exciting because it makes the entire process official. Once it’s complete, you’ll have your own business! 

Choose where to register your company

Your business location is important because it can affect taxes, legal requirements, and revenue. Most people will register their business in the state where they live, but if you’re planning to expand, you might consider looking elsewhere, as some states could offer real advantages when it comes to sports card trading businesses. 

If you’re willing to move, you could really maximize your business! Keep in mind, it’s relatively easy to transfer your business to another state. 

Choose your business structure

Business entities come in several varieties, each with its pros and cons. The legal structure you choose for your sports card trading business will shape your taxes, personal liability, and business registration requirements, so choose wisely. 

Here are the main options:

types of business structures
  • Sole Proprietorship – The most common structure for small businesses makes no legal distinction between company and owner. All income goes to the owner, who’s also liable for any debts, losses, or liabilities incurred by the business. The owner pays taxes on business income on his or her personal tax return.
  • General Partnership – Similar to a sole proprietorship, but for two or more people. Again, owners keep the profits and are liable for losses. The partners pay taxes on their share of business income on their personal tax returns.
  • Limited Liability Company (LLC) – Combines the characteristics of corporations with those of sole proprietorships or partnerships. Again, the owners are not personally liable for debts.
  • C Corp – Under this structure, the business is a distinct legal entity and the owner or owners are not personally liable for its debts. Owners take profits through shareholder dividends, rather than directly. The corporation pays taxes, and owners pay taxes on their dividends, which is sometimes referred to as double taxation.
  • S Corp – An S-Corporation refers to the tax classification of the business but is not a business entity. An S-Corp can be either a corporation or an LLC, which just need to elect to be an S-Corp for tax status. In an S-Corp, income is passed through directly to shareholders, who pay taxes on their share of business income on their personal tax returns.

We recommend that new business owners choose LLC as it offers liability protection and pass-through taxation while being simpler to form than a corporation. You can form an LLC in as little as five minutes using an online LLC formation service. They will check that your business name is available before filing, submit your articles of organization, and answer any questions you might have. 

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Step 6: Register for Taxes

The final step before you’re able to pay taxes is getting an Employer Identification Number, or EIN. You can file for your EIN online or by mail or fax: visit the IRS website to learn more. Keep in mind, if you’ve chosen to be a sole proprietorship you can simply use your social security number as your EIN. 

Once you have your EIN, you’ll need to choose your tax year. Financially speaking, your business will operate in a calendar year (January–December) or a fiscal year, a 12-month period that can start in any month. This will determine your tax cycle, while your business structure will determine which taxes you’ll pay.

The IRS website also offers a tax-payers checklist, and taxes can be filed online.

It is important to consult an accountant or other professional to help you with your taxes to ensure you’re completing them correctly.

Step 7: Fund your Business

Securing financing is your next step and there are plenty of ways to raise capital:

types of business financing
  • Bank loans: This is the most common method but getting approved requires a rock-solid business plan and strong credit history.
  • SBA-guaranteed loans: The Small Business Administration can act as guarantor, helping gain that elusive bank approval via an SBA-guaranteed loan.
  • Government grants: A handful of financial assistance programs help fund entrepreneurs. Visit Grants.gov to learn which might work for you.
  • Friends and Family: Reach out to friends and family to provide a business loan or investment in your concept. It’s a good idea to have legal advice when doing so because SEC regulations apply.
  • Crowdfunding: Websites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo offer an increasingly popular low-risk option, in which donors fund your vision. Entrepreneurial crowdfunding sites like Fundable and WeFunder enable multiple investors to fund your business.
  • Personal: Self-fund your business via your savings or the sale of property or other assets.

Bank and SBA loans are probably the best option, other than friends and family, for funding a sports card trading business. You might also try crowdfunding if you have an innovative concept. 

Step 8: Apply for Licenses/Permits

Business Licenses and Permits

Starting a sports card trading business requires obtaining a number of licenses and permits from local, state, and federal governments.

Federal regulations, licenses, and permits associated with starting your business include doing business as (DBA), health licenses and permits from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), trademarks, copyrights, patents, and other intellectual properties, as well as industry-specific licenses and permits. 

You may also need state-level and local county or city-based licenses and permits. The license requirements and how to obtain them vary, so check the websites of your state, city, and county governments or contact the appropriate person to learn more. 

You could also check this SBA guide for your state’s requirements, but we recommend using MyCorporation’s Business License Compliance Package. They will research the exact forms you need for your business and state and provide them to ensure you’re fully compliant.

This is not a step to be taken lightly, as failing to comply with legal requirements can result in hefty penalties.

If you feel overwhelmed by this step or don’t know how to begin, it might be a good idea to hire a professional to help you check all the legal boxes.

Step 9: Open a Business Bank Account

Before you start making money, you’ll need a place to keep it, and that requires opening a bank account.

Keeping your business finances separate from your personal account makes it easy to file taxes and track your company’s income, so it’s worth doing even if you’re running your sports card trading business as a sole proprietorship. Opening a business bank account is quite simple, and similar to opening a personal one. Most major banks offer accounts tailored for businesses — just inquire at your preferred bank to learn about their rates and features.

Banks vary in terms of offerings, so it’s a good idea to examine your options and select the best plan for you. Once you choose your bank, bring in your EIN (or Social Security Number if you decide on a sole proprietorship), articles of incorporation, and other legal documents and open your new account. 

Step 10: Get Business Insurance

Business insurance is an area that often gets overlooked yet it can be vital to your success as an entrepreneur. Insurance protects you from unexpected events that can have a devastating impact on your business.

Here are some types of insurance to consider:

types of business insurance
  • General liability: The most comprehensive type of insurance, acting as a catch-all for many business elements that require coverage. If you get just one kind of insurance, this is it. It even protects against bodily injury and property damage.
  • Business Property: Provides coverage for your equipment and supplies.
  • Equipment Breakdown Insurance: Covers the cost of replacing or repairing equipment that has broken due to mechanical issues.
  • Worker’s compensation: Provides compensation to employees injured on the job.
  • Property: Covers your physical space, whether it is a cart, storefront, or office.
  • Commercial auto: Protection for your company-owned vehicle.
  • Professional liability: Protects against claims from a client who says they suffered a loss due to an error or omission in your work.
  • Business owner’s policy (BOP): This is an insurance plan that acts as an all-in-one insurance policy, a combination of the above insurance types.

Step 11: Prepare to Launch

Launching a Business

As opening day nears, prepare for launch by reviewing and improving some key elements of your business. 

Essential software and tools

Being an entrepreneur often means wearing many hats, from marketing to sales to accounting, which can be overwhelming. Fortunately, many websites and digital tools are available to help simplify many business tasks. 

You may want to use industry-specific software, such as Cardgeniepro or Cardbase, to manage your inventory, values, and pricing. 

Accounting

  • Popular web-based accounting programs for smaller businesses include Quickbooks, Freshbooks, and Xero
  • If you’re unfamiliar with basic accounting, you may want to hire a professional, especially as you begin. The consequences for filing incorrect tax documents can be harsh, so accuracy is crucial. 

Develop your website

For a sports card business, having a well-designed website is essential. You can opt for a website builder like Shopify, Wix, or Squarespace, which are user-friendly and offer e-commerce capabilities, ideal for those without technical skills.

Alternatively, hiring a professional web developer can provide a more customized and feature-rich site.

Ensure your website is visually appealing, with clear navigation and high-quality images of your cards.

Include effective call-to-actions (CTAs) like “Shop Now” to guide visitors towards making purchases.

Marketing

Here are effective marketing strategies to consider when starting a sports card business:

  • Develop a Strong Online Presence: Utilize social media to engage with the community. Platforms like Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook are great for showcasing new arrivals, rare finds, and special deals.
  • SEO and Content Marketing: Optimize your website for search engines to increase visibility. Regularly post blogs or articles about sports cards, collector tips, and industry news to attract and engage your audience.
  • Leverage Email Marketing: Build an email list to keep your customers informed about new stock, special promotions, and events. Personalized emails can be very effective in building customer loyalty.
  • Host and Attend Events: Organize trading events, auctions, or meet-ups. Attending sports card shows and conventions can also help you network with collectors and other vendors.
  • Collaborate with Influencers and Bloggers: Partner with influencers in the sports card community to promote your business. They can help you reach a larger audience quickly.
  • Offer Exceptional Customer Service: Build trust with excellent customer service. This includes fair pricing, authenticity guarantees, and a hassle-free return policy.
  • Utilize Paid Advertising: Consider paid ads on Google and social media platforms to reach potential customers who are actively searching for sports cards.
  • Create a Loyalty Program: Reward repeat customers with a loyalty program. This could include discounts, early access to new stock, or exclusive deals.
  • Stay Updated and Be Flexible: The sports card market can change rapidly. Stay informed about trends and be ready to adapt your strategy accordingly.

Focus on USPs

unique selling proposition

Unique selling propositions, or USPs, are the characteristics of a product or service that sets it apart from the competition. Customers today are inundated with buying options, so you’ll have a real advantage if they are able to quickly grasp how your sports card trading business meets their needs or wishes. It’s wise to do all you can to ensure your USPs stand out on your website and in your marketing and promotional materials, stimulating buyer desire. 

Global pizza chain Domino’s is renowned for its USP: “Hot pizza in 30 minutes or less, guaranteed.” Signature USPs for your sports card trading business could be:

  • Invest in your future – snap up a few rare sports trading cards
  • A basketball lover’s paradise – trading cards and memorabilia
  • Get in on the action – rare baseball trading cards

Networking

You may not like to network or use personal connections for business gain. But your personal and professional networks likely offer considerable untapped business potential. Maybe that Facebook friend you met in college is now running a sports trading card business, or a LinkedIn contact of yours is connected to dozens of potential clients. Maybe your cousin or neighbor has been working in sports trading cards for years and can offer invaluable insight and industry connections. 

The possibilities are endless, so it’s a good idea to review your personal and professional networks and reach out to those with possible links to or interest in sports trading cards. You’ll probably generate new customers or find companies with which you could establish a partnership. 

Step 12: Build Your Team

Launching a Business

If you’re starting out small from a home office, you may not need any employees. But as your business grows, you will likely need workers to fill various roles. Potential positions for a sports trading card business include:

  • Buyers – find and purchase trading cards
  • General Manager – staff management, accounting
  • Marketing Lead – SEO strategies, social media

At some point, you may need to hire all of these positions or simply a few, depending on the size and needs of your business. You might also hire multiple workers for a single role or a single worker for multiple roles, again depending on need. 

Free-of-charge methods to recruit employees include posting ads on popular platforms such as LinkedIn, Facebook, or Jobs.com. You might also consider a premium recruitment option, such as advertising on Indeed, Glassdoor, or ZipRecruiter. Further, if you have the resources, you could consider hiring a recruitment agency to help you find talent. 

Step 13: Start Making Money!

Running a Business

It’s time to get in on a booming market! The sports trading card industry is poised to grow to almost $100 billion in the coming years. You just need to be able to choose cards with real value, and you’re off to the races. You can run your business from home and earn high-profit margins. You might even find that one special card that will make you hundreds of thousands of dollars.

You’ve got the business know-how under your belt now, so go ahead and start building your sports trading card empire. 

Sports Trading Card Business FAQs

Is the sports trading card industry hot?

Red hot! Sports trading cards are trending, and the industry is expected to grow to more than 7 times its 2019 value and hit $100 billion.

How can I find sports trading cards to start my business?

You can check local marketplace advertisements, go to garage sales or estate sales, or look for cards online that may have future appreciation value. It may take some searching, but your work could have a huge payoff.

What types of sports trading cards should I focus on selling?

Sports like basketball, football, baseball, and soccer typically have a high demand for trading cards, so focusing on those sports and targeting popular players or rookie cards can be a good starting point.

How can I differentiate my sports trading card business from competitors in the market?

Differentiate your sports trading card business by offering a wide range of cards from various sports and eras, providing exceptional customer service, ensuring authenticity and quality, offering competitive pricing, and creating a seamless buying and selling experience through an online platform or physical store.

What is the most iconic sports card?

The most iconic sports card is often considered to be the 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle baseball card. This card is highly valued and sought-after by collectors due to its historical significance, scarcity, and association with one of the greatest baseball players of all time. Its iconic status has made it a symbol of the sports trading card industry and a benchmark for card values.

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How to Start a Sports Trading Card Business