Insider: Lessons From Buying a Collection

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It all started with a missed phone call at 9:03 pm. After a seemingly normal day, my kids called me into their bedroom. Sometimes they ask me to put on some fun pop punk to go to sleep to and during their relaxing rock-out time my phone rang. As a dad, I don’t normally get phone calls that late so I was very curious what the call was about.

My missed call was from my business partner, a good friend, who I own my shop with. He wanted to know if I thought buying Modern Master 2015 boxes at a discounted rate was a good idea. I responded with, “Heck yes!”

After working out many awkward details like why the shop owner wouldn’t take our credit card over the phone, I made arrangements to drive an hour and a half to a shop in the middle of nowhere to purchase eight boxes of the Modern reprint set at an insane rate. As it turns out, this shop I was headed to was going out of business.

Making the Trek

I always find it interesting to go to a variety of shops because every business owner has a different outlook about how to run things. Take this particular place for example. The owner decided it would be best to combine Magic with skateboarding into one interesting business. That’s something you don’t see every day, but it’s not the first such combo I’ve seen.

Getting into the shop required some knowledge of the building layout lest you got lost in a maze of hallways on your way back to the room. This may have detracted from his business so if you're looking to open somewhere to sell your wares, be extremely careful about the location you choose. They say location, location, location, but it truly is essential for success.

In situations like this it's often best to go with someone for a little extra safety, but I was meeting a friend here so I wasn’t concerned. There have been collections I’ve gone to see in seedier parts of Pittsburgh for which I take my brother with a concealed weapon along just in case. Know where you are going and make sure your safety is never a problem.

The shop was long and narrow with a small play area, but to my surprise, they had multiple cases dedicated to singles. Of course I took a couple minutes to peruse the inventory and see if there were any good deals to be had. As it turns out, despite ridiculously good deals on the MM15 boxes, the owner was unwilling to negotiate his TCG Mid-priced singles.

Let’s talk about that briefly. If you are going out of business and fire-selling your sealed product, what’s the point of not doing the same with the singles? Most of the cards were Standard-legal from Battle and Oath, so they will be in the format for another year, but holding singles has a much higher downside than sealed product.

As a business owner myself, I feel like this mentality was a misplay. Were I in charge, I would have swapped the products in how I dealt with them or I would have moved the whole inventory. Basically, holding the boxes is good value, whereas holding the singles is risking lowering your margin significantly. Either way, I wasn’t in charge here but that doesn’t mean I didn’t try to see if he would be willing to let me buy his singles inventory as well as his sweet boxes.

As shop owner and his wife started getting the boxes together for me to purchase, I noticed they had an opened box sitting on the shelf. You might say, it’s good enough to finish the buy and move on with your profit, but I would say take advantage of all opportunities that present themselves. So, I asked how much it would be for the opened box as well. We were able to agree on a price, which was basically a percentage of the cost of a full box price based on the remaining packs.

Eight and 2/3’s boxes would be enough for most people but right before I was about to finish, I noticed some updated price stickers on a couple Conspiracy boxes. $75 each! I couldn’t pass up on that opportunity either so I had him add those to my bill as well and I walked out with all the sealed product in one giant heap.

On my way home I was so excited and also distracted by my GPS trying to find the highway that I missed a speed limit drop and ended up going home with a ticket in addition to my sealed product. Even if you play 99% of the game correctly, that one misplay can cost you. Keep that one in mind for the future.

This endeavor definitely paid off. We were able to double up on the purchase within one month. Our customers were thrilled to be able to buy MM15 boxes and packs again and we were able to make a bunch of money in the process. It was a win for everyone with a bonus speeding ticket as the price I apparently had to pay to make it happen.

Finance Tips

This whole experience reminded me of some key concepts about Magic finance. So, in addition to story time, I wanted to share the concepts that I’ve boiled down into some useful financial tips of the trade.

Arrange the Details

Determine the details of the deal ahead of time. To set up this particular deal, I spent an hour sorting out everything before I left to make the drive. There is no sense in driving somewhere on a hunch so if possible, make sure you know what you’re getting yourself into. Some things to keep in mind are your safety, the amount of the purchase, and a list of exactly what you will be purchasing.

Most of the time, stories like this involve buying singles or a collection. Many times I’ve gone on the road to inspect collections for sale. When that happens, often you don’t know what you’re going to find. Sometimes you have to make the drive and check things out for yourself.

Usually, if the collection has a reasonable price one of two things will happen. First, you could be seeing another finance expert peddling their leftovers as a collection. I have not found this to be the case most of the time.

The more likely scenario is where the person selling their cards has no idea what they have. When this is the case, they usually put a negotiable amount that they are looking to get for their time and effort collecting.

In these situations, don’t forget that you can negotiate the price. You don’t have to commit to the buy before you see exactly what they're offering. Pictures can be misleading so inspect what’s offered before finalizing the deal. I usually take some time to flip through the cards before agreeing to anything.

Keep an Open Mind

Just because you set out to buy something doesn’t mean you are forced to, but also it doesn’t mean you can’t add to what was offered.

Plenty of time people assume no one wants certain parts of their collection. The thought is that no one wants random commons and uncommons, but we all know there is gold hidden within those boxes. There are also gaming supplies that frequently get left out of deals like play mats, binders, dice, carrying cases, etc.

All of that can make you extra money, so keep your eyes open to alter the deal further. Basically be Darth Vader, if you get my reference. Don’t be shady like the dark lord of the Sith, but altering deals for both parties' benefit is always a plus.

In my story, I wouldn’t have made as much money if I didn’t ask about the partial MM15 box or looked around to find the two Conspiracy boxes. Lots of stores have good deals, so take some time to explore your area. There are finance opportunities online, but most of the deals are hiding in stores all over the world.

My friend recently went to a shop where every common was 10 cents and every uncommon 25 cents. These prices had nothing to do with the actual value of the card, so there were tons of deals to be had. Knowing what commons and uncommons are worth is a huge boon when buying a collection too. They can help make your margin better.

Make sure you pick your bulk for valuables and don't be afraid to look a bunch of cards up. There are tons of articles in the archives and forums on Quiet Speculation that can help with this process as well. You can even scan the cards with the new Ion Core scanner tool to cut down on data entry time.

There are always bulk rare box deals waiting for you to find too. Even if you are a finance expert, people miss things or don’t have time to micromanage their bulk rares. We are still happy to sell you a card we paid 10 cents on for a dollar even if it’s worth two, but you can make a lot of money scouring through bulk rares. Recently I pulled a bunch of Reforge the Souls from bulk. Did you know that card is almost $3?

So, make sure you look for other deals, see if you can get a better deal, and most of all, make sure you’re getting your money's worth from every purchase.

Manage Your Finances

One finance aspect that often goes unnoticed is what you do to make sure you have funds available. Some people have extra cash lying around, but if you’re like me, you have to manage your purchases carefully in order to afford things like buying a collection.

There are two things I do to ensure I have money to make the buy. First of all, I tend not to focus on long-term investments. It’s not that long-term investments are bad, but they tie up your money for too long. I would rather make short-term investments and reap the profit quickly even if it’s less than what I would make holding something for a couple years. This is precisely why I don’t invest in sealed product that I don’t plan on selling.

Of course there are exceptions to this rule. Most recently we have Expedition and fetch lands. Both of these are great long-term investments. If you don’t have any of these, start making them a priority because they are almost a sure thing in terms of investing.

Last time fetches were printed, I buylisted every one I could get off of people. They were eager to dump their rotating lands. With Modern being so prominent now, I doubt as many players will have this mentality, but some certainly will. If you find those opportunities seize them immediately before someone else gets your free money.

The shock lands are another example of an obvious investment. Before these rotated out of Standard, my goal was to buy so many of these that I would have to figure out how to store them.

With some of this cycle I was successful at achieving that goal, but a few of them I wasn’t able to accomplish that objective. I found that the Gatecrash duals weren’t being sold to us as quickly as I would have liked. Did other shops have the same trend take place? Of that, I’m not certain, but although it took a while, we are finally starting to see an uptick in the prices of these cards.

Getting back to the core of managing your finances, the second principle I utilize might be a bit more ubiquitous. Every year, I save as much of my tax return as I can. This helps with being prepared for life mishaps like the dryer breaking while at the same time giving you access to a sum of money to invest with.

If you are showing gains on each of your investments, you should have money all year to leverage. Everyone’s finances are unique so take your own situation into consideration before making your purchases.

Act Quickly

Most of the opportunities I been involved with have been at the spur of the moment. In our story today, I left my house at 10 pm. Other times, I met someone after work or at midnight in a bank parking lot.

My friends and I joke that many of these situations would seem like drug deals to outside eyes. Don’t be afraid of your cardboard crack deals and take advantage of the situation even if it doesn’t happen at the best time. Often you need to fit the buy into your schedule rather than expecting the seller to fit into yours.

Make Contacts and Treat Them Well

Many words have been written about being an honest businessman. This way of operating sets you up for return customers. For instance, if you are generous and honest when buying an acquaintance’s collection, they might contact you on Facebook a decade later and ask you to buy a foil Italian Future Sight Tarmogoyf and just give them as much money as you can because their boyfriend randomly acquired it back in the day and they thought it would be worth some money.

(True story, by the way, and while you should make your money where you can, I recommend staying as far away from Italian language cards as you can because jeez those cards are hard to move. You know you have an ugly duckling when every dealer at a Grand Prix says pass when you show them the card in question.)

In any case many friends have sold me their collection multiple times because I was fair the first time, so they came back to me a second or third time.

Having a reputation as an honest collection buyer in your area will get you referrals as well. I’ve gotten messages from friends about someone they know selling their cards. Of course I’m interested and often I give a finder’s fee without prompting because I recognize I wouldn’t have ever known about the collection without their help. When you treat your referrals well, they are likely to bring your more business.

With the MM15 boxes, I traded one of them to the friend who told us about the deal for a pile of cards we could put in our inventory. It was good for everyone. He got sweet buy prices and a discounted MM15 box, and we got lots of product and some bonus singles to have available.


To wrap it all up with a nice finance bow: Remember to decipher all the details of the situation before you get involved, be open to additional opportunities, manage your finances so you can always make the buy, be swift in confirming your interest, and finally, treat the seller well and give them honest numbers so you both can make some money and no one gets ripped off.

These are some of the tips I’ve learned over the years from buying collections and owing my own store. If these tips were helpful, let me know in the comments. If everyone liked this article, I can write more articles like these when the situation arises. We can all learn from the circumstances we find ourselves involved in.

If you have a good buying story, I’d love to hear about it in the comments as well. Next week we will dive into Shadows over Innistrad, so stay tuned for the discussion about those sweet new cards! Vampires, werewolves and zombies, oh my!

Until next time,
Unleash the Finance Force!

Mike Lanigan
MtgJedi on Twitter

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Mike Lanigan

Mike Lanigan is high school math teacher by day and a shop owner by night. His tournament grinding may have slowed a little, but his love of the game has not. Mike's goal is to bring you a mix of perspectives from shop-owner insights to finance tips to metagame shifts and everything in between.

View More By Mike Lanigan

Posted in Business, Buying, Finance, Free InsiderTagged ,

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2 thoughts on “Insider: Lessons From Buying a Collection

  1. Very fun and interesting article, Mike! I always enjoy reading about firsthand accounts of buying and selling collections.

    While there are some baseline recommendations and steps to follow (including the excellent ones you provided), it is always helpful to have real world examples/stories to provide insight. I’d certainly be happy to see more articles following this format!

    Thanks for the tips. Keep up the good work!

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