Shoemaker Scholar Evan Zona recently interviewed Spencer Harke, a senior at IU studying economics. Through this conversation, Spencer retells some of the stories that have made up his entrepreneurial experience starting online sports cards retailer, Pack Brokers. Revealed through this conversation is the unique drive and initiative that allowed him to identify and tap into this segment of the sports memorabilia market.
As Spencer winds down his business, he has turned his eye on two new endeavors; his future fulltime role with S&P Global in New York City, and an idea named Project Parallel.
Name: Spencer Harke
Business: Pack Brokers, an online sports card retailer
What is your story?
Pack Brokers is an online sports cards retailer that sells primarily to lower tier card collectors that have been left behind by sports card prices that have spike upward in the past years. During the pandemic I was at home and started some entrepreneurial projects to fill my free time. It was during this time that I started Pack Brokers.
My initial interest in sports cards came from my interests in playing and watching sports and from my growing up years when I had sports cards. I began selling cards because I knew the industry so well and felt confident that I also knew what customers wanted. During the height of the pandemic the sports card market really took off and I began selling online through my website and eBay. The cards kept selling, and so I kept creating new ways to make the business a little bit better and improve my margins.
What were some of the methods you used to improve your margins?
Opening the website was part of a strategy to move closer to my customers and develop a better relationship with them. Ebay gave me exposure to an incredible number of customers, but they didn’t allow me to really communicate with or market to people who bought from me and so it was harder to foster repeat purchases. So I decided to open a website on Shopify and place business cards for that website in every package I shipped out.
I also tried my hand at influencer marketing when I reached out to the youtube channel, PackMan, to have some of my cards reviewed. Although he doesn’t do card reviews anymore, he had around 200,000 subscribers when he reviewed my cards. The video got somewhere around sixty or seventy thousand views and resulted in around $4,000 in sales that week – the best week of sales I’ve had.
How did you know what to improve in your business?
Customer feedback. I focused on reaching out to repeat customers and getting specific feedback such as the cards they wanted. Although, this type of feedback was obviously individualized, patterns would still develop that allowed me to see how to appeal to certain customers. For example, individual jersey cards were unpopular, but there was a market for ones that were autographed and in more expensive boxes. In fact, it became clear to me that customers in general loved autographs and things packaged in the more expensive boxes. So while this increased my expenses, I decided to spend a more money to sleeve every card I sold in a plastic protector.
What has been your biggest setback or failure in your entrepreneurial process?
Sometimes I have ideas for things that just don’t work out. One idea was to sell individualized branded packs of cards at lower margins then the larger retail outfits. Often times larger retailers will place a nearly fifty percent mark up on packs of cards, and my idea was simply to sell at at four to five percent mark up. I went out and bought $3,000 worth of cards but I wasn’t able to move my inventory fast enough and had to spend more time and money on social media and other online marketing.
What I discovered was that customers were suscipcous of being scammed on individual packs. So they were willing to pay for more expensive cards from larger retailers because those larger retailers had built trustworthy reputations. Although I sold my cards at a significantly lower price, I didn’t have a system for communicating my level of trustworthiness and really struggled to draw in customers. I learned from that experience and don’t regret following through on that idea!
What has been the most valuable thing you have learned as an entrepreneur?
I learned that sometimes you have to be willing to just cut your losses and try something new. For me it’s time to move on from an idea when I’ve exhausted every effort to execute on that idea but it still fails. At that point of failiure, I have to be willing to accept that the initial idea was bad or poorly timed. Moving on from an idea after accepting that it is wrong has been one of the most helpful thing I have done for myself in this business.
What has been the most valuable resource you have utilized at the university?
During the semester of Spring 2020, I was taking a personal finance class at Kelley that helped me restart thinking through things in a more financial way. I also took classes that provided me with the familiarity with the accounting and data management skills needed to grow Pack Brokers.
What are your future plans with Pack Brokers?
I just finished the process of restocking cards and will continue selling through the summer. However, as I gear up for a new job starting in the Fall, I also plan on retiring the website and winding the business down.
You will begin working at S&P Global in the Fall, can you tell us about this role?
Towards the end of summer, I’m moving to NYC to begin with S&P Global in their credit rating program – so a type of financial research role. I’ll rotate through their different business units of structured finance, public finance, infrastructure, financial services/sovereign funds, and corporates. After three years of learning all these areas, I will then specialize in a specific business unit.
Have you considered returning to entrepreneurship?
Yes, absolutely. I’m actually working on something right now called Project Parallel. It’s a parking map idea that my friend and I came up with to help drivers navigate campus parking. Development is coming along, so keep an eye out for it!
Thank you, Spencer, for sitting down with StartupIU. We’re excited to continue following your pursuits!
If you are interested in following Spencer or checking out Pack Brokers, then listed is his LinkedIn account, ebay and instagram handles, and website.
LinkedIn – https://www.linkedin.com/in/spencergharke
Instagram – @PackBrokers
eBay – Pack Brokers or via my website https://packbrokers.com/