by Brandon Reiter
Before I decided to pursue my bachelor’s degree at Syracuse University, I attended a seminar for prospective students. The speaker was none other than, alumnus, Brandon Steiner.
“Consistency over time equals credibility”
Brandon Steiner (the other Brandon) is the creator and former CEO of Steiner Sports, the world’s most recognized sports memorabilia company. He launched in 1987 and has been since recognized as “one of the most innovative figures in the history of sports memorabilia”. If you own an autographed jersey or picture, it probably came from Steiner Sports.
At the seminar I got to know Brandon and he eventually invited me to come visit the Steiner Sport’s headquarters in White Plains the following week. As a young high schooler ready to embark on my collegiate career, Steiner shared with me some valuable advice on keeping my options open as I began my studies, and what to expect at Syracuse.
I kept in contact with him over the years, as I would periodically ask him for career advice. It had been close to three years since we last spoke, but he kindly accepted my invitation to hop on a call with me and discuss how he turned Steiner Sports from a concept into an enterprise.
“You never know when you’re actually ready,” said Steiner.
I asked about his decision to leave his comfortable job at Hyatt Hotels to start his own business. “I wanted to be an entrepreneur since I was ten years old, but when I graduated college, my mother wouldn’t let me go off on my own without getting experience first, and the most important thing I learned was empathy. Once you are able to put yourself in your customers shoes is when you can be ready.”
No matter what your business is, without experience you won’t succeed. You won’t understand the landscape, or even have enough confidence behind yourself to be able to sell to your clients. But, most importantly, if you can’t relate to your clients, and understand their wants and needs, you won’t be able to successfully fulfill them.
“The 3 most important things in business are price, quality and service”
“The only thing that matters [when you start a business] is can you understand and develop what your value proposition is.” Your value proposition, explained in your company’s executive summary, is how your business will specifically aim benefit the lives of your customers. “The three most important things in business,” he went on, “are price, quality, and service. You can’t have all three, so you must decide which your primary focus is [and what your secondary focus is], all three work hand in hand, but it’s virtually impossible to achieve all three. Nobody likes to admit their [EXPLETIVE] isn’t the highest quality level, but look at Red Roof and Holiday Inn. They aren’t the highest quality – they’re service companies. You compare them to The Four Seasons, which is pricier, but you get a higher quality experience. A Honda is a price vehicle, they aren’t rolling out the red carpet for you, but you get a good price. If you get a Mercedes, they pick your car up to get service, they give you that extra level of quality and service, enabling them to command a higher price than Honda.”
When developing your brand, it’s important to decide which area you’ll focus on and make your value proposition. Will you be affordable and not focus too much on providing the highest quality product or service, or will you try to provide exceptional customer service and quality and command a higher price?
“If you go out, and try to claim that you’re all three, then you’re delusional. The only company that I’ve seen even come remotely close, and I’ve been looking at this for years and years, is Amazon. They have good prices, quality products, and the service? You can’t argue with that same day delivery,” he laughed, “but even they aren’t totally mastering all three. If you think your company can, then you’re just bull[expletive] yourself.”
I followed up by questioning what his biggest challenge coming out of the gate was, to which he simply said, “cash flow.”
“You can still make money and go out of business. [When starting], I miscalculated and completely winged it. I misunderstood [the logistics of] putting together a bunch of money. But the simple answer is, you have to figure out how to spend a little less than what you take in. Don’t get ahead of yourself. Growth is important but you can’t run out of money.” Don’t run out of money. Got it.
“Pricing is one of the most complicated things in business.”
“Pricing was very hard initially. A lot of people have trouble drilling down on cost, and it was very problematic for me for a while. You can’t just sell stuff and hope things work out. You have to have a [complete] idea of what things cost. Obviously, not just the materials of a product, but all the selling efforts that goes into it as well. Pricing is one of the most complicated things in business,” he concluded.
I wrote an article about the difficulties of establishing credibility as a young entrepreneur, so I asked Steiner how he was able to figure his path towards credibility in his early years. “Consistency over time,” he said, “you can’t shortcut it.” While, in my article, I discuss ways that will help you gain credibility, Brandon means here that, ultimately, your credibility will be built upon putting out a consistent product or service that is in line with your value proposition over time.
“You’re better off having one great employee than three [bad] employees. You can write that [EXPLETIVE] down!”
Getting yourself to buy in and put the most effort behind your work is the easy part, but getting your employees to buy in is where things get a bit more challenging. “You’re better off having one great employee than three [bad] employees. You could write that [EXPLETIVE] down.” I wrote it down, Brandon!
“The things that travel fastest in business are great news and bad news. Consistency over time equals credibility. If you produce work that supersedes your customers expectations right out of the gate, that’s how you establish yourself. You develop a reputation. Every project has to be the biggest project you’ve ever had. Those customers then become word of mouth advertisers for you. Come out of the gate and nail it.”
“It wasn’t like the business went down, the business went out!“
While pricing and establishing credibility are two of the biggest problems new business face, they are inevitable. I was curious to learn what Steiner’s biggest unforeseen challenge was over the course of his time as CEO of Steiner Sports.
“200 because of the financial crisis. We lost all of our wholesale accounts, so we had to pivot to online. It wasn’t like the business went down, the business went out. Figuring out the digital landscape was biggest challenge I faced.” Boomers vs. the internet: a tale as old as time.
Although Brandon sold Steiner Sports in 2000 to Omnicom, he remained the CEO until 2019, until Fanatics wagered a hostile take over of the company. “Yeah, it’s not a great story and nobody really gives a [expletive].” Okay then, moving on…
Although he was sad to lose the company that still bears his name, he has been building a new company that “will be better than Steiner.”
In 2019, he founded Collectable Xchange, which in his words will be a “more modern version of EBay.” Right now it is both a store and marketplace for memorabilia of all kinds, and currently has three times more items available than Steiner ever had. Another angle he’s working on is Athlete Direct, where athlete’s can go out and sell their own memorabilia via his online platform.
Steiner and I talked for over a half hour on other aspects of business and his new venture. The rest of the interview will be included in my first business help book, Cash Wheels (working title, but I think it plays.), which I’m aiming to have published by March. In the meantime, take a look at Steiner’s new venture here.
Thanks Brandon! -Brandon