Part 2 of our Founding Breaker series brings us to Pittsburgh. I had the pleasure of speaking with Ben from Steel City Collectibles about their emergence within the breaking community. SCC has a prominent name in the industry and Ben is carrying the torch for their Break business.
This interview was a bit unique because Ben didn’t come from the industry before joining SCC a year ago. His perspective was fresh and genuine…and a good reminder of why it’s important to bring in new faces to this hobby!
Enjoyed the conversation with Ben and I think you’ll appreciate his insight….and don’t forget to go shake his hand at The National!
Ty: How often did you break before you started?
Wasn’t really into cards, but was a huge West Virginia / memorabilia fan. I obviously did my research and figured out that this fit my personality and passions. But I didn’t participate in group breaks prior to seeing this position open with SCC.
Ty: Being that you didn’t come from the industry (prior to joining SCC last year), what misconceptions did you have about breaking or the hobby?
The biggest misconception I had coming in was the variance in value with these cards and market. I mean, there is diamonds in cards now! I didn’t expect to see such a variance between the way people collect and the way products are produced. It’s such a diverse hobby. In any particular break we have customers hoping for completely different things.
I’ve had to learn how to balance pleasing the customers that will spend $20-$30 a day in our breaks and the customers who will spend $1,000 a day in sealed wax. So having to please both ranges of customers in each break was something I didn’t expect. But, that makes it fun!
Ty: What did you find most appealing about the business?
My customers are the most appealing part of my job since this I deal with so many regulars on a consistent basis and I love being a part of them getting that certain card or cards that they have been searching for. I always look to build a relationship with my customer and find out what interests them so I can help them make the right purchase.
Ty: It started as a Part-Time gig. Is this now a Full-Time gig for you?
This is a full time job for me and unlike some places I have the full support of a growing business which frees me up to just focus on the breaks and my core of customers.
Ty: How often are you breaking?
Monday – Sunday. Have to be flexible to handle the various schedules. We are moving into evening and more weekend breaks to make sure we satisfy all of our customers.
Ty: How has growth changed the way you provide breaks?
I think the biggest challenge is having to be innovative every day, trying new types of breaks, new products, and ideas. With products coming out so rapidly something that is hot one week may fade completely when the next big release comes around. We have also added night breaks to our rotation which has been a great a success and we will be looking at new ways to give our customers as much access to us as we can.
Ty: Has competition made it difficult for you? How so?
Competition is good in any business. We strive to keep our products as low as we can while I try to get to know every customer so it’s not just me breaking for a random screen name. I encourage any customer that has never tried us to give us a chance and speak to our customers as I feel they are our best salesman.
Ty: Outside of competition, what has you worried about the breaking marketplace?
I think in general companies are going toward break oriented and hit filled products. And as always the less packs the better for breaks. I think there will always be room for a base card heavy product and for those customers we are one of the few companies that ships all base cards from group and live breaks free of charge.
Ty: I can understand that hobby concern. Tell me about how have card manufacturers made breaking easier for you? More difficult?
There are some products that we cannot break due to the pack count and the amount of time it would take to pack and ship it out. It just doesn’t make business sense for us to break. Although, I believe we have the most “live” break eligible products in the industry.
Ty: What strategic advantages does having Steel City as the foundation provide you for all the breaking?
Well the hardest part for a new breaker is getting the NEW customer, because customers don’t who is legit. But we have a customer base and us having a retail store and established credibility gives customer peace of mind… But you still have to set yourself apart by taking care of your customer.
I’m not doing this in my basement, we have folks working on the website, our marketing department, and our shipping department. With the retail store and the warehouse we can absolutely back up all of our promises.
Ty: How do you typically handle customer issues and/or breaks that don’t fill?
For all break related customer issues I handle them personally and we do whatever we can to make sure customers are happy with their orders. The biggest issue with breaking is a lot of people are worried about the legitimacy of the breakers and the products being opened and I can say that we do everything the right way from before, during, and after the breaks.
Ty: What would you say is the biggest prohibitor that is preventing SCC from growing bigger/faster on the break side of the business?
I think the biggest prohibitor is being able to get more breaks out, different variety listed, perform different nights, or even potentially hiring a 2nd breaker. The demand from our live breaks is growing, so we’ve explored different days like our new Sunday afternoon breaks.
But as we look at growing the breaks, we want to make sure we keep the quality and performance the same. So we keep evaluating what the customers want and how we can best manage our resources. The biggest thing is making sure we grow at a pace that makes everyone happy (SCC and the customer).
Ty: What makes you different than any other breaker?
The majority of our breaks we will offer a prize like a signed jersey or photo that gives our breaks always something to look forward to after the cards are opened. We also ship every card and sleeve every hit pulled from the break at no additional charge. Most importantly we offer a wide variety of products at low prices which allows us to serve all our customers needs. We have such a large warehouse that we can (and want to…) put together some very large and creative mixers.
Ty: What do you enjoy doing in your spare time (not-breaking)?
I am a giant sports fan so whether it’s watching playing or coaching which I did for a number of years I can almost always be found doing something related to that. I also love taking my dog out in the woods for a hike or swim.
Ty: Do you PC any player/team?
For anyone that is in my break room for even a few minutes will realize I am a giant WVU Mountaineer fan and most of my house is covered in WVU and Steelers item. My most prized possession is a signed Football by 2006 WVU Sugar Bowl Champs. Not the most valuable piece in the world but I love it.
Ty: What is your favorite product of the year?
My favorite product this year has been the Gold Rush Jerseys that our company has put out. As a jersey fanatic they have been a great success for us and our customers love them as well. For trading cards I would have to say Flawless Soccer I love the look of the product and we have pulled some greats hits from it as well.
Ty: What are you looking forward to the rest of the year?
Honestly, I’m incredibly excited about The National. This will be first time there and I’m excited to meet my customers and join in on the fun.