Collections are a beautiful part of the floor trader’s profit process. They’re so integral to what we do that I feel I could do a month’s worth of articles and still not cover all the fine points. I do not, however, want to bore you all with situations you will only see once in a blue moon, so I will attempt to get what I can in this week and move on to bigger and better things next week. Last week, we covered the process involved when looking to buy a collection . . . which can be a daunting task the first few times before you figure out a solid process that works for you.
Though picking up a collection is among the hardest parts of what we do—walking a fine line between insult and profit—it is not the most skill-intensive part of the process. We are here this week to talk about what goes into taking that treasure of a collection you just picked up and turning it into cold, hard cash. I will cover the basics of what I do when I am picking through a collection to give you an idea of what you should be looking for, but I will not be able to cover the more in-depth parts involved when you are looking deeper into the retail side of things. By now, I am sure you are itching to see how to make some dead presidents happen, so let’s get right into the thick of things!
Choose Your Destiny
Before you can even begin to pick through a collection properly, you have to know what you are looking to find. Are you looking to turn a quick profit for the next collection? Stock a retail store or binder for future trading or sales? Perhaps even just buy-listing everything, stocking the rest for later? No matter what you are looking to do, some parts of the process remain the same, and that is what I will be discussing first. Once you have done these first few steps, however, it is important to branch off based on what you are looking to get out of the collection, which is something I will get to later in this article.
The first part to any picking process is to make sure you have a few empty boxes in order to sort the collection. Stacking cards on the floor is not only asking for disaster, but it creates a hassle if you have to leave the picking for a while and come back later. After you have created an acceptable work station, the fun part begins. If the collection is completely unsorted, meaning the rares are in with the bulk, this process can take a bit longer, but it essentially works the same.
The key is to pick out anything that would be described as better than bulk, and although this can mean different things based on what your end goal is, the process for this part remains the same. I will usually begin by sorting through and picking out any card that is over $1 on the retail side, setting those aside in one of my boxes. In a separate box, I will place any Commander or Constructed staples that are not over $1 but that can still make great trade fodder. Simian Spirit Guide and Birchlore Rangers are great examples of these types of cards that have a higher perceived value than retail value. Once you have managed to grind through the bulk and assemble the box of treasure, the real fun begins!
Whether you have ten thousand or a hundred thousand cards, the above process remains the same. If you have to flip what you can for a quick return, it may be best to break the sorting into parts, stopping once you have hit your target number or breakeven point. I would suggest finishing the whole sorting process at once if you can—it increases your productivity and leaves less room for mistakes, concentrating on one process at a time rather than switching between tasks.
Once you have the box of better-than-bulk sorted out, I would unload the bulk as soon as possible just to get rid of the clutter . . . assuming you are not a retailer or eBay business looking to sell lots with these cards. If you have other uses for bulk, it is best to set these cards aside for now—this is your lowest profit point and therefore can be left for a later date when you have the spare time. If you have no outlet for bulk other than a buy list, it is best to find a solid retailer that can perhaps cut you a deal assuming you can ship them a certain amount over the stretch of time desired. Some stores are more lenient on their bulk prices if they know they only have to go through one person and therefore don’t have the hassle of sorting through the cards themselves.
If you have no such outlet, it is not hard to get at least $4 to $5 each thousand cards at major events, so stocking up for a local Grand Prix or Pro Tour Qualifier is fine. If this is the method you choose and you are looking to unload a significant amount of bulk, be sure to contact the retailers ahead of time and make sure they have room to drag it back on the return trip; nothing is worse than traveling to an event with a trunk full of gas-guzzling bulk only to have to cart it back home at the end of a disappointing weekend.
Once the bulk is handled and the box of good stuff is set aside, we can finally dig in and start figuring out how much loot we have acquired. This is the part of the process that changes the most depending on what you are looking to get out of the collection, so I will cover the basics of each.
Assuming you are shipping strictly to buy lists, it is easy enough to wade through and pick out the cards you can ship now for a reasonable price and put them in the mail as soon as you can. With everything else you have left, you have a few choices based on how much you travel or trade. If you are a regular grinder and have the opportunity to make it to larger events, or at least a large number of smaller, local events, it is wise to put all of these cards in a binder and trade them for cards you know you can buy-list. This process, although not the most cost-efficient, is among the most hassle-free ways to deal with collections, and it can still net you a solid profit without having to do too much work. If you just don’t have the time or resources to make it to any events, looking into sites such as eBay and Cardshark can still give you a solid outlet with only a minor amount of extra work involved. Of all of the options, this is by far the least intense and one of the most common ways to ensure a profit since you can use these buy-list numbers when deciding how much to pay for the collection up front. I would not suggest this method if you have the time and money to sit on the cards for a while, as you do take a significant hit on each card since you are selling for sixty to seventy percent of retail.
Retail or eBay
This process is similar to the buy-list process, except you have to put more work in, and in return, you are likely to make a greater profit over a longer period of time. If you don’t have a significant number of cards to sell, I would stay away from this method—it is a lot of work only to make an extra ten to twenty percent on your cards. If you do, however, have the quantity that calls for such action, it is advisable to sort the cards into a few extra piles:
Large-ticket items – Anything that moves for a close-to-retail number such as dual lands, staple Standard cards, and Commander foils. With these items, you will probably be listing them separately, many with Buy It Now (BIN) options if you are using eBay. This creates a safety net that ensures that you don’t accidentally sell a high-dollar card for a low price and lose money because you mislisted an item.
Midrange cards – This is a wider range of cards, and in turn, can be handled in a number of ways. I would consider anything in the $5 to $30 range in this category, each having its own process for unloading. Many times, you will sell these cards in play sets with a BIN a few dollars under retail. Anything closer to the $5 range is usually best set as a minimum auction with no reserve and free shipping. This will attract people to the auction and make it more likely to sell for close to retail than if you have a singleton copy with a BIN and shipping included.
Better than bulk – These are cards that are at $1 to $5 and are less likely to have a significant enough interest to gather many views. I would suggest putting these cards up at a minimum auction, listing them in play sets if possible, and charging shipping. Many of these auctions will end at the minimum bid, and charging shipping means you can at least make a small profit over the top if you charge $2 to $3 for basic shipping. Selling a $1 rare to a buy list for twelve to fifteen cents is fine, but if you can manage fifty to seventy five cents just by a quick listing, it adds up when you are moving thousands of cards.
If you are looking strictly to pick up collections in order to trade for cards you may need, I would suggest bindering anything in the high- to midrange and making a box of any rares that otherwise would not be binder-worthy. In addition to the bulk rare box, I would create a second box that contains a play set of commonly used commons and uncommons while including at least a copy or two of Commander staples such as Ravnica Karoos and Time Spiral storage lands. This process is far harder to outline than the others because you can be trading for a number of reasons, each of which has its own requirements when looking to gain value. This is just a blanket plan assuming you are just looking to trade into new cards for decks and pick up only the occasional collection to restock from time to time.
As I stated earlier, there are a number of ways to make money from collections, and although I covered the basics of each of the major ways, this is by no means everything there is involved when looking at collections. I will return to this topic eventually so I can detail the finer points involved with these and a few more processes that I was not able to cover. However, this should give you a good grasp of what I do when I am looking to unload my finds for cash and stock my binders at the same time. I hope these last two weeks have helped you get a basic idea of what to do when faced with picking up a player’s collection, and the next time you are presented with the opportunity, I hope you can benefit from the firsthand experiences I have outlined here.
Next week, I will be covering something a little less intricate while I get my information together for this series of articles I have been talking up for the past few weeks. I am really looking forward to interviewing some influential people in both the financial and collectible side of this game for your gain. I will also be covering the end of the Box to Extended process as I draw to a close. I will list a few more trades in the coming weeks, but overall, the process is finished. I will talk about what I plan to do next as far as this article goes . . . and get some community input as well!
Until next week, keep collecting!