EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — Corey Biscieglia took what he called a calculated risk five years ago when he left his job as an Ocean City real estate agent to open a sports clothing and memorabilia business.
He took out a $250,000 loan and borrowed against his home to open Top Shelf Sports & Memorabilia, located in Somers Point at the time.
Biscieglia, 36, of Egg Harbor Township, is seeing that risk pay off, particularly due to the Egg Harbor Township-based brick-and-mortar business’s large Internet presence, which accounts for about 80 percent of sales.
Internet orders have increased from 40 to 50 per day to 400 and 500 in the past few months — the business recently started selling on Amazon and also sells at eBay, its own website and an international website. The retail store moved to Egg Harbor Township earlier this year.
“The first couple years all you do is worry, because it’s your money at stake. It’s a lot of hours and it puts a strain on your family, but in the end it’s awesome when it’s finally all coming together,” he said.
Top Shelf Sports & Memorabilia sells licensed clothing from Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the National Hockey League and the National Basketball Association, as well as signed memorabilia and team-related products such as lamps, magnets and other items.
Retail sales of licensed merchandise for Major League Baseball reached about $3 billion in 2011, an increase of more than 5 percent from the previous year, the Licensing Letter, a New York-based independent trade publication, reported in June.
Biscieglia, who worked in real estate for eight years, had sold some trading cards previously and had a longtime passion for sports.
“I remember waking up one day watching CNBC and Warren Buffet was on. And he said if you don’t wake up in the morning excited to go to work, you’re in the wrong job. It’s time to make a change,” he said. “And I can honestly say today I cannot wait to get to work.”
Biscieglia also has a valued, experienced business adviser in his father, Charles, the former CEO of South Jersey Industries, who evaluated his initial business plan and said it seemed solid.
“I respect my father’s business opinion more than anybody. And I felt like if he’s telling me to do something, I feel pretty confident it can be successful,” he said.
Biscieglia also works with Pete Virgili, a minority owner in the business.
Top Shelf Sports opened the business at a fortuitous time in local professional sports and merchandise sales — the Philadelphia Phillies were on a World Series run.
This provided an early jolt to the business, but not as big as it could have, he said.
“We were not prepared for it and we did not capitalize on it as much as we should have, if that was today. We had lines out the door,” he said. “We didn’t know how many hats to order. We were bringing in 50 — we didn’t know we could have sold 5,000 of them. We were so underordered. But it’s a learning process in this business.”
Currently, the store’s top-selling jersey is of Millville native and American League Rookie of the Year Mike Trout. The business sold 500 Trout jerseys in December, he said.
“He’s outselling Derek Jeter — we shipped about 400 of them in December,” he said. “Then Miguel Cabrera is our number three.”
The NHL lockout is having a noticeable effect on in-store sales of hockey jerseys, yet Internet sales of hockey jerseys have remained stable.
Biscieglia attributes this to the business’s international Internet presence — many foreign hockey players are playing in other leagues, including in Europe.
“That’s where the players are playing right now,” he said. “There are so many fake jerseys out there people are selling. We’re selling real jerseys, and that’s why we have such a big international business.”
Contact Brian Ianieri:
Top Shelf Sports & Memorabilia
Location: 501 Zion Road in Egg Harbor Township
Owner: Corey Biscieglia, 36, of Egg Harbor Township
Annual revenues: $900,000