Co-owners of The Bullpen, Mitch Guttenberg and Tai Fauci
Founded in Los Angeles in 2016 by Mitch Guttenberg and now co-owned by Mitch and his business partner Tai Fauci, The Bullpen is a sports card business that caters to everyone. Despite having to limit their hours and scale back in-store operations during the pandemic, Mitch and Tai were able to maintain their business’ community spirit by hosting virtual card breaking events and, once fully reopened, recommitting to the customer experience with new payment and commerce tools like PayPal Zettle.
I recently had the chance to catch up with Tai and Mitch to hear more about their business, their best-selling baseball cards, as well as the impact PayPal Zettle – an in-person and omnichannel solution that PayPal launched for small businesses in the U.S. last month – has had on their operations.
Mitch Guttenberg: I attended my first baseball game was when I was just three years old. I started collecting cards when I was five. I’ve wanted to own a card store since I was six. In 2000, I opened my first card shop. In 2016, Tai, a long-time customer, came in asking if I was looking for a business partner. I told her I hadn’t worked with a partner before but that I'd be happy to sit down and talk about it. We hit it off and agreed to become partners, and since then, our business has quadrupled.
Tai Fauci: As a kid, my dad would take me to card shops on the weekends, and every couple of years he’d take me to a card show. I wanted to invest in something and investing in actual sports cards was something that I saw increasing, so I started collecting cards. But after a while, I thought why invest in sports cards when I could invest in a sports card business? Mitch and I talked about what we envisioned in a new store and our visions were closely aligned.
TF: I'm all about creating a healthy collecting community. We've tried to create a culture of family, healthy collecting and love of sports. Pre-pandemic, whenever a major game was happening, we'd show the game on our big screen and everyone would come in and watch the game together. That's something I miss that we lost during the pandemic. But card collecting became more popular during the pandemic. People started looking at sports cards as an investment whereas before it was more of a hobby. I think it's both now.
The pandemic forced us to close our physical shop to customers, so we quickly had to come up with a new way to reach customers. We started livestreaming virtual card breaks out of our physical store. We restructured the store for the card breaking and for doing it all online. We even dedicated a new extended area of our store for shipping because we had started doing so much online business.
MG: Over the last year and a half, we’ve increased sales from $8 million to $13 million a year. Online selling has opened a new customer base for us, including customers across various geographies. We’ve seen customers in our chatrooms well past midnight, either waiting to buy or watching an unboxing. We’ve recently opened our shops to full capacity and we’re looking forward to meeting people and selling in-person again. Business has been amazing, so we’re going to keep doing what we’ve been doing and continue to sell both in-store and online.
MG: Working with PayPal has been nothing but perfect. Transactions are easy. We don't use any other online currency except PayPal, credit cards at the store, and cash. Tai and I have a philosophy – we pick our lane, and we stick with it.
With our stores finally open to full capacity, we started using PayPal Zettle. We love how quick and easy it is to get the product up and running, get inventory set up and our employees trained, and that it seamlessly connects our online livestream selling with our in-store transactions. All you have to do is turn it on, enter your code, open up your iPad, hit what you got, hit add to cart, done. Tap a credit card and, "You want a receipt?" "Nope." "Have a nice day!" It’s so seamless.
TF: PayPal gives us the confidence to run our business and lets us focus on our passion, which is being a steward of sports history, providing a healthy and welcoming trading environment for hobbyists and encouraging inclusion. Through PayPal Working Capital, we were able to open a second location and soon, we’ll be opening a third location. Using PayPal for all of our online selling and using PayPal Working Capital made using PayPal Zettle feel like a no brainer. I feel confident in it as a point-of-sale solution for us because I've been confident in PayPal for a long time.
TF: Know the business you’re getting into, continue to innovate and work hard. There are a lot of stores that have popped up in this business that haven’t made it because they didn’t have the knowledge or passion. You need to take the time to care about and understand the industry you’re working in.
MG: Right now, Los Angeles Angels pitcher Shohei Ohtani is our best-selling card, followed by San Diego Padres shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. and Toronto Blue Jays first baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr. My favorite card is my signed Steve Irwin card – it’s the only card I’ll never sell.
We’ll be publishing another interview with an inspiring PayPal small business owner next month, so be sure to check back in.
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