Hobby Musings: Chatting with The Bullpen’s Tai Fauci – Every trading card shop owner, including Tai Fauci of The Bullpen, has a story about why they got into the hobby. Based in Los Angeles, she’s helped to create a welcoming community not only for her shop’s customers, but for women in the card world as a whole.
I had the chance to catch up with Fauci about her origins in the hobby, the current state of the trading card world and the challenges female collectors can face.
KS: Tai, how did you get started in the sports card world?
TF: I started collecting with my dad when I was a kid. He would take me to card shows and shops out here in Los Angeles. It was our thing. I collected mostly baseball. My childhood PC was Ken Griffey Jr., Sandy Koufax and for basketball, any Knicks card. I took an extended hiatus from cards during college and career.
I got back in the hobby participating in online breaks and buying my Knicks. Breaking with great folks like Mojobreak and Layton Sports Cards. Then I started hanging out (way too much) at my local card shop in Marina del Rey, “The Bullpen 2.0.” The owner, Mitch Guttenberg and I became really good friends. He had some great ideas on expanding, I was looking for a new business venture, and our visions really meshed and we created the current Bullpen. Our partnership has become my biggest and best investment in the hobby, and I couldn’t ask for a better business partner and friend.
KS: What is your favorite part about operating your store?
TF: Getting to work with our team and interacting with our great community of collectors, #bullpenfamily. I am really proud of the culture we’ve built at our shop.
KS: In what way has the hobby changed the most from when you started to now?
TF: There has been a big shift from collecting to investing. The products that are coming out are aimed more at attracting adults to the hobby than kids. I used to be able to pick up a retail basketball blaster at Target whenever (circa 2016) and now flippers wait in line for them the second they are delivered. The sheer popularity of the hobby is insane. It’s mainstream again. Multiple card shops have opened around the country during a pandemic and are thriving.
KS: We’ve seen a pretty big boom in the sports card industry over the past year. What are the most popular items with your customers right now?
TF: We do a variety of repack products that are very popular on our nightly Instagram Lives (@bullpenLA & @bullpenLAtoo). We have a lot of price points. We want to keep the hobby inclusive so it isn’t just $300+ hobby boxes. Prizm Basketball & Football are always top sellers. 2020 Optic Football is very hot right now. All Bowman baseballs. 2021 Topps Series 1 has a lot of great rookies, currently on the hot list. For hockey, Upper Deck The Cup recently came out and the moment we get more in, it is snapped up. There is very little that isn’t popular. Knock on wood.
KS: What about players? Who would you say is the most in-demand player right now?
TF: There are a lot of in-demand players. Cards are constantly setting records. I have recently seen a slightly bigger shift to the greats. More collectors are investing in Jordan, Kobe, LeBron, Trout, Messi, Brady, etc. People are still chasing top rookies and prospects every year. They drive products. I do think more people are realizing it is prudent to include the sure things in their collections along with the gambles on younger players.
KS: You were involved in starting a Facebook group for ladies in the hobby. What more can you tell me about it and what inspired you to start it?
TF: Women in the hobby are sometimes treated differently by men in the hobby. There is some built-in bias with some men, that as women we couldn’t possibly know about sports or be savvy business people. At one of the first industry conferences I attended, I was asked “Whose wife are you?” Not even my name or my shop, just that. And it was not an isolated incident. The group is both a safe space for women in the hobby to share their experiences in and share their love of collecting. It is a great community.
KS: What challenges do you think female collectors face the most in pursuing the hobby?
TF: Built-in bias of a male dominated business community? Honestly, once you can debunk that, I don’t think there are any challenges. And if you don’t want to deal with that or the general misogyny, you really don’t have to. Buying online on eBay, COMC and in breaks, there is no gender bias. If the owner of your local card shop or someone at a show treats you in a way that makes you feel uncomfortable or lesser, don’t give them your business. There are a lot of great people to do business with in this hobby, deal with them instead.
KS: What advice would you give to any fellow ladies wanting to get into sports cards?
TF: Go for it. It is a great market and there is a lot of opportunity. Learn the market, know the products and the players. Watch games. Research grading companies and what value they add. Put in the work. It is a great industry. Also, join our group on Facebook, Women in Cards.
KS: Is there anything you think the card manufacturers or shop owners can do to help get more women of all ages into the hobby?
TF: Create a culture of inclusion. If you don’t alienate female collectors, they could be your customers for life.
Kelsey’s ability to bring hobby coverage to the mainstream sports fan has been a true asset. GTS is happy to feature his thoughts on collecting in Hobby Musings. The opinions expressed are his and do not necessarily reflect those of GTS Distribution.
Hobby Musings: Chatting with The Bullpen’s Tai Fauci
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