For those that know Chris and Top Shelf Breaks, will recognize his unique nightly performance. Chris has a background that lends itself well to his current role as Owner and Lead Breaker for TSB. He spent 15 years in the music industry as; a DJ, Promoter, and Producer. No wonder his breaks are filled with bursts of loud tunes and savvy production elements. Chris has brought his skills from the music industry and created an entertaining style of breaking.
I spent some time with Chris and am excited to share a little more about your Personal Online Card Concierge & Hobby DJ.
How did you get started into breaking?
Pretty simple. I stumbled across a link on Twitter back in 2011(ish). guy was opening just packs, that led to more research and I found boxes and cases. Long story short, I started out as a customer.
What did you find most appealing about the business?
The most appealing part to me was the possibility of growth. I knew the technology could be utilized to build into more of a show experience – and not just a webcam & a random hand. Within this experience, you could be interacting with other collectors talking sports, life, and opening boxes of cards.
Is this a Part-Time or Full-Time gig for you?
I am a licensed Real Estate broker in Chicago, along with my wife. We’ve built a business around short sales, and pre-foreclosures. Historically that had been my full time focus, but over time TSB started taking off and demanding more of my time. Two years ago I took the leap, and I’m still in this full time. Attending the National in 2015 helped nudge me into committing to this full-time. No regrets.
Outside of competition, what has you worried about the breaking marketplace?
Competition breeds success, keeps everyone on their toes. If there were only 2 people doing this, it wouldn’t force or give owners the drive to get better, offer more, & evolve the hobby and their business. With so many doing this nowadays (on twitter, Facebook pages, and elsewhere)– more pieces are being added to the proverbial pie. This is just forcing everyone to step up their game and keep up. I love this aspect, as long as you are the one who can stay ahead of the curve through constant innovation, service, creativity and customer service, your “piece of the pie” will always be a nice slice of the large pie.
How have card manufacturers made breaking easier for you? More difficult?
I’ve had some great opportunities for exposure and value-add through the Panini programs the past 2 years. Whether it’s from live breaks at the Panini booth (The National) or the highlight of doing live breaks at the NFL Draft (w/Panini _ NFLPA). These things just boost exposure for TSB, enhance our credibility, and help bring more value to our customers. In addition it allows to pass on more goodies and giveaways to our clients. So, yes, they’ve helped me in some ways…by giving me additional opportunity and ways to bring more excitement to my customers (who deserve to share in the experience).
In regards to your breaks, what are the rules that you absolutely WON’T compromise on?
I’m fortunate that the “rules” really don’t have to be enforced to often around here. We are (usually) a family environment, and I think everyone knows (and believes) that. We typically attract the family-friendly type of collector. Within our chat, our mods do a good job of handing vulgarity or any comments that cross the line. But those issues rarely happen.
I’ve been in rooms where the breaker and the chatters were completely destroying a product, constantly ranting on the mistakes, even covering it up with a box so they “didn’t even have to look at it.” This is not my style, and even if we find a product that isn’t acceptable we do NOT disparage it – we just won’t buy it. I’m okay with voicing our opinion, but speak about facts…and don’t trash it just to trash it.
How do you typically handle customer issues and/or breaks that don’t fill?
We have created a system, a schedule and routine that works for us at TSB. For me, the fun is building the breaks, finding different products to break, mixers, sports. Specifically the way TSB works is we post breaks daily, or 2 days in advance. Presale stuff usually a week or so in advance. Each product has the day its breaking in the title (e.g. “Mon” “Tues night” etc.). People are driven by routine, so it only makes sense to build in these routines. If folks want a quick check, they just hit twitter or the website. Thankfully these days it’s very rare that we do not fill a break. But every once in awhile I’ll add a last minute break and we might come up short. Those just rollover into the next night as a “guaranteed to break” product.
How about sorting? Do you hire others to sort or are you content with at piece of the business?
Oh man, I’m super lucky and blessed to have Nate here for that side of the business. I don’t want to go near the cards after I break them. It’s not my strength. But Nate is awesome, he is a paid employee, he has an awesome system and process and knocks out sorting/packing for me weekly He typically knocks most out on Sunday.
What makes you different than any other breaker?
I’d say the core difference would be vision. My vision for TSB and the hobby extends beyond a webcam and box cutters. Many are content with just opening cards, making a little money, or getting free cards for themselves. This only goes so far…and is very one dimensional.
We have a vision, which we hope is articulated on our approach and all of our outlets (web, social, etc…). We don’t want to settle for the simple way of doing breaks. We focus on being upbeat, engaging, and almost like a “show” type atmosphere. We keep focusing on getting better…because Collectors deserve it.
What do you enjoy doing in your spare time (not-breaking)?
Well, like I mentioned earlier…our home is very entrepreneurial. But outside of “work” it’s 1-thing. It’s family. We have 2 boys, and when I’m not TBG’ing, I’m handing with them (and wife). We are both blessed to work from home, so we get a lot of time with everyone, so that helps make up for the late nights at TSB.
Do you PC any player/team?
I have the worst luck with my PCS. When I do collect, I like to collect left-of-center kind of players. Next time you are in a break ask me about Kendall Hunter or Silas Redd. But, I’m a Niners fan, have been since 80s.
Tell me more about how your spouse supports you in this profession?
Heather understands what it takes to build a business. Usually lots and lots of time. Thankfully she sees the growth and is 1000% behind me. I take off Sun/Mondays nights for date night…but I’ll admit those conversations consist of lots of business talk. But we love what we do so it’s great to share that with each other.
What is your favorite product of the year?
Hands down Spectra. It is absolutely a TSB favorite. I call it chunky and shiny (those are my favorite terms). Immaculate and NT are chunky, but not shiny. Prizm is shiny, but not chunky. Spectra is both of those things.
If you were advising a breaker that was just starting out, what is one piece of advice you’d give them?
I get lots of emails, DM’s, and messages – almost weekly – about this very thing. Guys wanting to start their own breaks and looking for advice. I approach is as any other business owner start up. be prepared for TIME AND COMMITMENT. That’s what it takes – so simple way around it. I think many think they can just pick up a few boxes of stuff, post on FB/Twitter and go live and break. They just expect the money to roll in. Sometimes that works…but you have to be able to do that EVERY SINGLE NIGHT.
There is also a difference between someone who wants to just throw up a mixer…and someone who wants to build a long-lasting, respected, and sustainable business. It takes substantial work and commitment to your trait.
Taking that a step further, what is one thing you’d do differently if you could start your breaking business over?
Really, the only thing I would have done differently would have been starting it 3 years EARLIER. When we started, we were kind of behind the curve. Many were already established and had a good 3+ years of established success. This just meant I had to work extra hard at building the brand, establishing trust, and building a customer base. I know they put work into building their businesses, but to be at the forefront of the “boom” does make it easier than trying to elbow your way into a community and business starting from scratch.
Check Top Shelf Breaks out at the following spots:
Their Website: www.TopShelfBreaks.com