I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Jeromy Murray, the newest president of Beckett Collectibles, to chat about his career and the state of the hobby. Over the last year or so, the collectibles industry has boomed beyond belief. Jeromy answered questions on ranging from the arc of his career, the current state of the card market, the role technology is starting to play and will play in the future, and what the future holds for the industry. Dive in to find out how a failed grading test and an office fist fight played a role in his rise to the top.
At 44 years of age, you’ve been in the collectibles space for over 20 years, and now find yourself as president of one of the biggest companies in the industry, what drew you into this field at such a young age?
Right out of college, I got a job with my dad wholesaling Christmas items. I was in a car driving around Kansas and Oklahoma during that first year, and it was awful. I knew immediately that it wasn’t a long-term solution.
So, in 2000, I was looking in the classifieds section of the Dallas Morning News, and I saw a job posting for graders at Beckett, which their grading service was just getting started at that time. I had no clue what a grader actually did, but I knew the name Beckett, and was immediately interested. So I went in for the interview, was blown away by the facilities, but after having spent a few minutes with the HR representative, she knew right away that grading was not going to be a good fit for my personality. She knew I wasn’t cut out to sit in a room by myself for eight to ten hours a day looking at cards.
I took the grading test anyway, and she was right, I completely bombed it (people in our office actually still joke about it to this day). Thankfully, there were a number of other opportunities in sales and customer service, trade shows, etc, that I was able to land a position with Beckett and really start at the ground level. So that was basically it, just finding an ad in the classifieds and pursuing it because I knew the name Beckett and thought it’d be a fun place to work. It sure beat driving around Kansas and Oklahoma with samples in my trunk.
You mentioned that Beckett’s grading service started in 1999-2000, and we know that PSA’s service started in 1995, was Beckett’s move into grading a reactionary move, or something that Beckett had planned for a while but hadn’t been able to get off the ground up to that point?
I do think it was reactionary, but also something that Dr. Beckett and the president and the leadership of the company felt was necessary given what they saw was coming in the future, i.e., a world-wide marketplace where people were going to need graded cards. In actuality, early on, it wasn’t even viewed as a revenue generator but, again, just a reaction to what the industry and the market wanted at the time.
Does Beckett feel like they are still chasing PSA in the grading area?
Great question and it’s definitely a chase, definitely a competition. There are three major grading companies and we feel like we are in the top two. With PSA’s recent announcements, recent acquisitions, they are a market leader right now, but we’re constantly battling for market share, and that will always be the case.
What role did card collecting play in your youth?
It was huge for me and my friends in the late 80’s and early 90’s. The funny thing about it though is that we jumped into the scene when mass production was a real thing. We were chasing stuff that was simply junk wax, but we loved it. We would jump on our bikes every Tuesday and ride to our local card shop to see what our Kevin Moss Upper Deck rookies were doing price wise. We would open packs as fast as we could and then take the best card we got and trade for more packs.
What we were doing really made no sense, we often would already have the best card out of the box, but we just wanted to open more packs, so we’d trade it away just to get more wax, we loved it. We even went to the National in Dallas one year for one of our friend’s birthdays, and when we saw that, we just couldn’t believe our eyes, it was the greatest thing we’d ever seen.
We got to the point where we were having our own sales out of our garages, it was just the thing to do then. I look back at that time with great nostalgia, and now that we’re older, it’s fun to see some of my friends get back into collecting again.
As you moved up the ladder at Beckett, what were the positions you held that you feel really prepared you to take on the role of president at Beckett?
Someone in our office actually came to me the other day and asked a similar question, and it actually still amazes me that I’m even in this position. No way did I think as a 12-year-old kid, or even when I started out at Beckett, that I would one day be the president of this company.
To answer the question though, looking back, it was a bunch of different roles, but even my very first one was an important stepping stone because of what it taught me. Funny story, when I first started I was working alongside two other guys and not long into it they actually got into a fist fight in the office. They were fired and that left me as the only one handling all the sales and customer service stuff on my own, it was emails and phone calls all day, every day. On the weekends it was trade shows, Philly, San Fran, all over and as a young guy it was great. I had nothing tying me down and it was something I could really pour myself into. It did, however, get to the point where I was doing 35 shows a year, and that was brutal.
I did that for about five to six years, and then moved into an operations role with BGS. Five years ago we then added authentication services, and at that time I moved into a vice president’s role to handle all the grading and authentication needs we had as a company.
What’s been a challenge is learning the technology and media side of the business that I now look after in the role of president. Grading is something that is somewhat second nature, but there are a few aspects of this current role that I’m still working hard to master.
What are the biggest changes in the industry you’ve witnessed over the past twenty years?
One of the biggest changes, excluding what we’ve seen happen in the industry the last two years, is the growth of the international market. When grading was just getting off the ground, no one really thought about how eBay and other secondary marketplaces would change the way people would buy and sell cards. In the past ten years the international market has absolutely exploded, specifically the NBA in the Asian market has just blown up, just a huge business over there. Me and one of our senior graders were in China five years ago doing an event onsite in a card shop, and it was incredible seeing them opening packs, submitting stuff for grading right there.
Ten years ago, no way did I think we’d be traveling 18 hours to Shanghai to do a live show, or have a major partnership with a huge shop in Australia called Cherry Collectables. Also, the reach breakers now have with current technology, it allows for a guy in Germany to sell his break spots to a guy in the U.S., and a break to happen at all times of the day or night. You can publicize and promote your business twenty four hours a day. So seeing the international market grow to the extent that it has is one of the major changes I’ve seen.
In the last two years, specifically during Covid times, it’s the new investors and the people getting into this market that were not there four or five years ago. Brian Gray, CEO of Leaf, when speaking at Beckett’s Industry Summit, was talking about how it used to be the case that guys who collected were kind of nerds, and you kind of hid, it wasn’t cool, now it’s cool. And obviously not just sports cards, but Pokemon cards, gaming cards, and you are openly bragging about how you have these cards and they’re now worth hundreds of thousands, even millions of dollars. That’s the big thing recently, the growth of outside investors, all of the new people that are interested in the collectibles market, that’s been the massive change over the last couple of years.
We were in a strategy session not too long ago, and we were discussing just how impossible it was to predict that we would have a worldwide pandemic that would not cripple our business, but enhance it in a massive, positive way. There’s just no way you could’ve predicted that. You rewind back to 2008-10, and the economy was bad, people didn’t have discretionary income to spend, and it was a time where you worried if the collectible industry as a whole would even continue. Now, it’s completely opposite, with whole new streams of revenue coming in, and a whole new group of collectors.
How has technology impacted the collectibles space the most?
It’s something that’s been talked about for years, can you use AI to help with grading? Do humans grade your cards, or do computers? And, right now, there’s still a need for human graders, it’s just one of those things that you have to lay your eyes on, hold in your hands. I’ve even seen some of our graders who work with vintage cards smell the actual card to see if it smells the way old cards are supposed to smell. Having that level of expertise where someone can see the card, feel the card, smell the card, even weigh the card is really important.
Now, technology is going to play a factor moving forward. Maybe it’s used to pick up slight variations that the human eye can’t see, measuring a card a little bit closer, speeding up the process of entering the cards, or making sure the labels are correct, etc. We are constantly looking at ways technology can improve the process, our competitors are constantly looking at ways technology can improve, we have to outthink our competition and figure out a way to use technology to our advantage.
If the market stays like it is, if it keeps growing, you’re going to have to have help from technology, you can’t just have humans doing the work or you’ll be passed up.
Moving forward, it’s still a work in progress, but we’ve talked to some companies who have the ability to scan cards quickly, which helps build out your database, and you can go back and know that you’ve graded a specific card before. This is helpful because in this current market, you’ll run into a situation where you grade a card out at a five, then someone takes the card, touches it up significantly, and resubmits it. If you have the technology in place, you can know immediately that you’ve already seen this card before, it’s just a security measure that needs to be in place. We have the ability to do this to an extent, but it needs to be developed more, especially given how much money is coming into this market right now.
Would you say that technology can be used too much to where it can actually become prohibitive to grading a card effectively?
Yeah, I do think there needs to be some human involvement regardless of how far technology advances. Machines have the potential to be too tough and make it nearly impossible to achieve a perfect score.
Are there stud graders in the industry? Do grading services poach graders from each other?
Oh yeah, and last year we had a competitor that popped up and took some of our best guys. The reason for that is that it’s such a niche market, you can’t just go out there and find guys who can do this at a high level. I know it’s biased, but I believe our guys are the best in the industry, the way they can sit there for hours on end and look at cards, and get it right time and time again. And as the market continues to grow, there are going to be more grading services that pop up and they are going to poach our guys, that’s just the nature of the business. We just have to work to show our employees that Beckett is here to stay, and they are better off staying with us.
Card collecting seems to replicate the volatility of the market in general, with bear and bull markets. Would you consider us to be in a bull market now and, if so, do you think it continues and for how long?
Definitely in a bull market now, though it’s slowing down slightly. A year ago the market went to astronomical levels, it’s since leveled, even slowed slightly, but not in a way that’s bad. You were getting to a point where a lot of consumers were getting priced out of the market, the correction actually brings more people back into the fold.
At Beckett’s Industry Summit there was one individual who used the analogy of a baseball game to talk about the current market, he said that we were actually probably in the second inning of this cycle. There’s still a lot more out there to come, a lot more upside.
And, to follow up on that, what are the major indicators you look at in trying to forecast the market cycles for the collectibles space?
It’s a number of things, but we look at the secondary markets, what they’re doing, what prices are doing, you look at new investors that enter the market and influence buying decisions, you look at crops of talent that come into the different leagues, you look at what types of product the different manufacturers are putting out, really a number of different things.
With the explosion of demand, how did Beckett handle the volume? Do you guys feel like you handled it well?
We have not handled it anywhere close to where we wanted to, the demand has far exceeded what we can produce in a day. In the past twelve to eighteen months it’s been a massive hiring spree, across the industry, and we’re bringing in people as quickly as we can. But you also have to be very careful who you are bringing in and putting in these very important roles.
We want to bring enough people in here where we get to the point where our turnaround times are a lot quicker, but also realistic. Having our customer’s cards in our vault does us no good, it does the customer no good, so we’ll continue to hire, continue to utilize technology, to improve our process and adapt to what the market is doing.
We are nowhere near where we want to be, but we’re going to get to the point where we keep the quality level high and are able to keep up with demand.
What are you most excited about when it comes to future developments in the collectibles space?
As I see my kids and other kids around our neighborhood getting into this, I think the future of the entire market is those children. Right now the space is really dominated by big time investors, but there’s a longevity built into the market because more and more kids are getting into it.
Second, I think it’s the technological advancements being made that are allowing the average consumer to have a more instantaneous grasp of what the market is doing. Technology is at your fingertips and you should be able to pull up what a specific card is doing right this minute and compare it to what it did yesterday. I want people to be able to pull up the Beckett app and know what the market is doing, even to the extent that if someone went for say 60 points in a game last night, they can see if that impacted the price of their card. That’s going to be a big player in the long term for both Beckett and the industry.
With the advent of companies like Loupe, a break-centric app, would Beckett ever consider integrating breaking into their site?
Anything in this market right now is a possibility. We get calls from people all the time asking if we want to invest in or partner with their companies, and I’d say that anything is a possibility right now in this market.
Has there been any type of collectible that has really surprised you in terms of its appreciation in value?
Yeah, and it’s really happened in the past several months, but seeing prices go sky high on some of these cards. For instance, the Jordan cards have just gone through the roof. The rookie card is the obvious one, but it’s not just that, it’s random inserts from the 80’s and 90’s that are going for astronomical prices. Some of them aren’t worth looking at, and yet here they are going for north of a hundred thousand dollars. It just blows my mind.
Alright, last question, if you could give our readers one piece of advice when it comes to collectibles, what would it be?
I think I would just stress the importance of investing and getting into this hobby where you feel comfortable. And also just have fun, get more people involved, get your kids involved. There’s money to be made in this space, you can make a career out of it, but bring people into it along the way. The more we get this younger generation into it, the better.