VOL. 126 | NO. 246 | Monday, December 19, 2011
Memphis Small Business Spotlight
TNC Sports Expands Product Mix, Space
By Andy Meek
Part of the experience that often goes hand in hand with packing ballparks and swarming stadiums to watch two sports teams clash is the need to keep some memento of the occasion.
From Hank Aaron to Lebron James, TNC Sports has all the sports collectible cards you can imagine.
(Photo: Ben Fant)
It could be an oversized foam glove frozen in the “We’re No. 1” gesture, a team jersey, brightly colored license plates or something as simple as a trading card. And that’s where Mike Stramel comes in.
From the outside, the decision by Stramel, the owner of TNC Sports at 2829 Bartlett Boulevard, to peddle a range of memorabilia in a sports town like Memphis can seem like choosing to sell bottled water in the desert.
The University of Memphis’ recent decision to hire Justin Fuente, co-offensive coordinator at Texas Christian University, to lead the Tigers football team has been big news across the city. The NBA lockout is over, and Memphis Grizzlies fans are ready to believe again. For the U of M men’s basketball program, coach Josh Pastner has high expectations for what his team can accomplish.
All of which, and more, are why Stramel expects TNC’s cash registers to keep ringing loudly.
His store has been around since the 1990s. And a few months ago, Stramel was starting to run out of room for the new inventory he kept adding, so more space was an inevitability.
“We were at 2811 Bartlett Boulevard from 1994 until August of this year, when we expanded,” Stramel said. “We were in a 1,200-square-foot location, and we expanded to this store, which is about three times the size.”
The reason for that need goes back several years. Stramel said his store since 2006 or so has been morphing from a trading-card store into a more general fan shop.
He still carries trading cards and supports that part of the business. But he’s also expanded the inventory to include a smorgasbord of sports memorabilia – from T-shirts and hats to license plates, frames and clocks.
“And as we were adding those items in the 2811 location, we just basically ran out of room,” he said. “When we first started in 1992, we were strictly trading cards and comic books. And the trading-card business was just booming at the time. It was a billion dollar business back in 1992.
“Then we had some setbacks along the way. We had a baseball strike in ’94. We had a basketball strike a few years later. Lost a whole season of hockey. So we started looking for other sources of income, and that’s how we came across what we’re doing now, the fan stuff.”
The store, which also recently changed its name from Tennessee Card Co. to TNC Sports to reflect the broad product mix, started out small. It added other things such as license plates bit by bit.
This year, it jumped into apparel.
“And that’s a whole new ballgame for me,” Stramel said. “I’ve never been in the apparel business before. But with the shirts, caps, jackets, sweatpants, sweatshirts, jerseys and now everything else – that was one of the main reasons we had to expand.”
The store is open seven days a week with shorter hours on weekends. It’s small; right now, there are two employees plus Stramel.
“I’ve got some part-time people that work a day here, a day there,” he said. “Also, my customers are really loyal to us. We’ve just kind of built our business a little at a time.”
He likes the TNC’s still relatively new location. There’s a traffic light in front of the shopping center in which it operates. Customers turning at that light can drive straight up to the store.
“It’s a nice store. We run a nice little retail operation,” Stramel said. “We try to put the customer first – all the old-timey stuff.”