By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
When Corey Biscieglia was a kid, he loved sports memorabilia. Baseball cards, figurines, jerseys, autographed footballs. Anything that had to do with sports, he was all in. But, he never figured he could make a living at anything involving sports.
After graduating from Holy Spirit High School in 1994, Biscieglia set about the task of making a living, and got involved in the real estate business. He said he did fairly well in that business, but just didn’t have the passion for it. He knew where his passion was, and nine years ago decided to take a leap of faith and get started in the sports memorabilia business, opening up Top Shelf Sports & Memorabilia in Somers Point.
Eventually, Biscieglia moved the storefront to the shopping center at the corner of Ocean Heights Avenue and Zion Road in Egg Harbor Township, and tucked away in the corner of that shopping center is a sports fan’s paradise. Currently, Biscieglia is redesigning the store and stocking it with all kinds of items such as jerseys, hats, figurines, T-shirts, even baby clothing emblazoned with the logos of popular college sports teams.
“I always collected memorabilia. As a kid, my dad and I would go to card shows and I always loved collecting. I knew I wanted to someday open my own business. I was selling real estate in Ocean City and I was doing really well. I had a guy who was looking to get into the same type of thing, so I said, ‘well, why don’t I do something I know?’” Biscieglia said. “I never realized how hard retail was. My partner went in a different direction after about six months, but we’ve come a long way. We really focus on the internet on sites such as Amazon and eBay — we’re selling on Walmart now and trying to get our own website finished. There’s only so much time in a day, though.”
A huge help for Biscieglia has been his father, Charles, and girlfriend Kasey Caruso. Caruso has been helping redesign the store to feature more products for women and high school athletes.
“I’ve been very fortunate to have my father, Charles, as my advisor. He was the CEO of South Jersey Industries. He doesn’t own any of the business, but he advises me and keeps everything straight. To have a CEO of a Fortune 500 company giving you advice every day is a nice thing to have,” Biscieglia said. “And my girlfriend, Kasey Caruso, is a huge help in getting the store looking great. Another thing she’s been a big help with is we are starting to add a lot of women’s clothing, such as compression gear and athletic wear, as well as stuff for kids in high school. We’re going to start carrying more of that in the store so people don’t have to go out to a major box store. We’re going to give them better pricing anyway, and you can shop locally.”
Biscieglia said a typical day at Top Shelf is extremely busy, even when foot traffic at the store is light. A good portion of Top Shelf’s business is transacted online, so there are plenty of orders to fill on a daily basis. And, he and his staff also have to be ready any time a team wins a championship.
“We opened up (in 2008) and the Phillies won the World Series. I didn’t capitalize enough on that. We did well, having lines out the door, but we could have sold so much more than what we did. But, you’re careful of spending money when you’re starting out,” Biscieglia said. “The challenge is getting enough people into your store. Retail is really tough. On a typical day, we come in and start filling online orders right away. Usually we will have about 100 to 200 orders on a non-holiday to pack up and ship out of the store. As long as somebody makes a purchase by 3:30 p.m., it ships out that day. Everybody wants everything as quickly as possible, so we’ll list stuff all day long. We’re constantly listing stuff online, so once we fill the orders we’ll start listing things online. And we also have to check on orders, deal with customers, stuff like that.”
Biscieglia said there has been a big run on Chicago Cubs merchandise since the beloved baseball team won the World Series a few weeks ago.
“We put the stuff online the minute it’s over. Once somebody wins, we have stuff on Amazon or eBay within five minutes, usually, and the orders start coming in. With the Cubs winning, it’s been insane and I don’t think it’s going to stop until after Christmas. People are just ordering anything with a Cubs logo on it,” he said.
There are some old standby fan bases in the sports memorabilia business, such as the Dallas Cowboys, New York Yankees and Boston Celtics, but Biscieglia said he has been surprised that leagues such as Major League Soccer have such a rabid following among fans.
“I didn’t realize how big Major League Soccer was. The Seattle Sounders get 50,000 people out for their games, so I didn’t realize how good that would be. And the Dallas Cowboys,” Biscieglia said. “The thing about the Cowboys is, their fans buy product no matter what. Some other fans only buy when the team is doing really well. If they win four in a row, people start buying, but as soon as they lose a couple games you don’t see anybody. With Dallas fans, it doesn’t matter, they never stop buying merchandise. I’d say Cowboys, Steelers, Packers and Raiders. Raiders fans are so loyal to that team. So it is surprising to see certain markets sell more than others. I guess they just have really dedicated fans in certain areas. In New Jersey, I don’t know of any other store that comes close to the amount of Cowboys stuff we carry.”
What the future holds for Top Shelf, Biscieglia said, is getting the storefront reorganized and getting the website up to speed so the company doesn’t have to rely so much on Amazon and eBay. He said he also wants area sports fans to start thinking of Top Shelf as an alternative to national chains when it comes to buying things such as autographed items, jerseys and kids and women’s clothing.
“I want to get more into college stuff and I want to build our website to the point where we can move some of our customers from Amazon and eBay to our website. Having a store on Amazon is like a job in itself, but I hope soon our website is going full bore,” Biscieglia said. “We want to carry all the leagues, including the colleges. It’s just a matter of getting products listed and being able to satisfy orders.”
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: email@example.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays
By DAVE O’SULLIVAN