Editor’s note: In celebration of eBay’s 25th anniversary, we’re spotlighting a seller every week from our global community in our Mini Stories column through 2020.
Sports aren’t just about scores and final tallies. As any fan knows, baseball, football, basketball — they’re all about cheering favorite players, rising in the stands with the crowd at key moments, feeling that rush for your favorite team. Joe Davis, a longtime eBay seller, has made a career out of his passion for collecting cards, building on that team spirit and overall camaraderie. His ultimate goal is to bring others his joy in finding the perfect card. “The dollars are great, but the reward that comes from serving others by meeting their collecting needs means so much more to us,” Joe said.
Joe spends his days poring over card packs and listings with family and colleagues, searching for that one special card that will light up a fan’s face and make their day — or decade. Currently, Joe has more than 600,000 items listed in his eBay store, gotbaseballcards, and splits his time between his successful online store and his brick-and-mortar shop in Loganville, Georgia.
“It is always rewarding when a grandparent or a parent tells us we sold them a trading card of their child or grandchild, or we help a collector find that last trading card for the set they've been building for years,” Joe says.
That desire to help others and his strength in relationships stems largely from his commitment to family — and the encouragement of his relatives that spans generations. “My whole family has been incredibly supportive of my business, from my parents to my brothers to my wife and children,” Joe said.
His brother, Larry, works part-time at the business now, and his brother Jeff has assisted Joe in the past as well. His daughter Allison, age 23, used to help out with sorting cards, and his son Josh, now 27, still enjoys opening cards with Dad and investing in the sports card market. Joe’s wife, Jane, also has been instrumental in his success, helping with numerous aspects of the business over the years. “It’s a real blessing,” he said of his family’s support.
Joe with his collection of sports cards and collectibles.
Joe’s parents set the stage, however, supporting their son in his hobby from an early age. Joe bought his first packs of cards in 1976, and built his first set, a 1977 Topps baseball card set, when he was only 8 years old.
“I spent many hours sorting those cards by numerical order,” he said with a laugh. “I’ve always loved sports, so collecting sport cards was natural.”
His mother cleverly encouraged this passion, offering him packs of cards in exchange for high grades. “I was a straight-A student and finished second in my high school class,” said Joe. “The only person to beat me out was my then-girlfriend, who has now been my wife for the last 29 years.”
His father, however, was his inspiration for turning his love of cards into an actual profession. Starting from age 13, Joe worked at his father’s paint and decorating store. “I saw both the joy and challenges of owning a business through my father’s eyes, and I dreamed that one day I could own a business as well,” Joe said. “My father provided great advice over the years and even helped in my business after he retired. He showed me it was possible to start from scratch and build a successful business, one new relationship at a time.” Today, those relationships extend to his co-workers as well, as Joe feels like they are all a part of his extended family.
After leaving home, Joe studied business and economics at Berry College in Rome, Georgia, and spent his downtime promoting and attending sports card shows. In May 1991, during his last week of college, he took a leap of faith and rented a 500-square-foot card shop with his classmate, Jeff.
Joe with his classmate, Jeff, in the early days of selling sports cards.
Slowly, but surely, they built up their business, inventory and clientele. “For years, we basically barely survived off of retail sales and mail orders through print advertising in national publications,” Joe said.
Fortunately, he received a hot tip from a customer and fellow sports card dealer to check out a relatively new ecommerce site that was gaining ground among hardcore collectors: eBay. Little did he know, it would be a drastic game changer for his business.
Joe launched his eBay store in December 1998 and began uploading card listings and closing deals, using the then-cutting-edge, dial-up internet. “My phone line was always busy,” Joe recalled. “I remember we had an AOL account and AOL would provide a small amount of image hosting, so I would get different AOL log-ins just to get additional image hosting.”
As his eBay presence grew, Joe began using the site to introduce and test new products, as well as determine which items in his inventory were more in demand.
With eBay’s help, he was able to decide “what to buy and what price points to pay,” he said. It became an integral tool in building his customer base and diversifying his supplier and distributor list.
Joe at his store in Loganville, Georgia.
Joe with Barry Sanders, former running back for the Detroit Lions.
Over his long history on eBay, Joe also feels lucky to have built strong friendships built on a shared love of sports cards. “We're constantly building new relationships with the other eBay sellers and buyers,” Joe said. “It’s not one specific sale that stands out, but 22 years of sales that have led to friendships with collectors all over the globe. We are so blessed to have an avenue like eBay that allows us to build these relationships, where products are the ‘spark’ to get the relationship going.”
Joe is especially thrilled whenever he can make card connections for families. “We’ll see an order come through and the last name matches the name on the sports card,” he said. “We see people ordering their nephew’s first card, or people have family gatherings and order cards. I always think that’s really neat.”
The more time he poured into his eBay store, the better results he saw. “eBay gives you back whatever you put into it,” Joe said. “If you spend 100 hours a week listing items, you are going to sell a lot more items.” As the business grew, Joe likewise expanded his physical shop, which now sits in a 10,000-square-foot, three-story building, and is one of the largest sports cards and collectibles stores on the planet, storing approximately 10 million sports cards and collectibles.
He’s also pleased that the new location is only a short drive from his home — allowing him to spend more time with family and more time hunting cards. “eBay broadened our horizons as far as where to sell, how to sell, which opened us up to the world which we had never been able to do from our tiny, 500-square-foot store,” Joe said. “Were it not for eBay in those early years, I doubt we would have made it.”
Joe with his wife Jane, daughter Allison, son Josh and his wife Melissa, and their two dogs — Cooper and Maple.
His advice for others just starting out with their own dreams for online sales success? “Find one area that you can become an expert in, you don't have to be a jack of all trades,” he said. “Whether it’s cards or coins or comics, find something you’re passionate about. If you want to be the best comic book salesperson, learn that field. Don’t dabble in it, really learn it. It’s like if you want to motivate kids, talk to them about the importance of hope — and about their dreams.”
Through economic upturns and downturns, the store has proved to be a steady and consistent revenue stream for Joe for nearly 30 years. When the COVID-19 pandemic reached the U.S., Joe worried the business would take a financial hit. But even as his retail sales took a big hit, his eBay store experienced a surge in sales, comparable to margins seen from December holiday revenues. Apparently, while staying at home and sheltering in place, sports fans had the extra time to devote and invest in their childhood passions and interests, as well as nostalgia for times and games past. “We’ve got a whole (U.S.) country returning to their youth, and they’re buying things that maybe they couldn't afford back then,” Joe said.
Joe remains hopeful about the future of his business, the card collecting trade and the power of eBay. “There’s a greater need for eBay now more than ever before,” he said. “Whether it’s sports cards, toys or whatever, anyone with a laptop can become a stay-at-home entrepreneur.”
Peppering his conversations with past sightings of sports greats such as Pete Rose at a conference, photos with Hank Aaron and Wayne Gretzky, and autographs from Chipper Jones, Joe remains, now and forever, an enthusiastic fan both of his sports passion and eBay. That’s ultimately what helps fuel his success. “When I think of eBay, I think of fun,” he said. “If eBay was a retail store, I’d want to go hang out there. “
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