In 1993, Red left the Navy and began focusing all his energy on Baseline, which, besides Darlene, employed five teenagers (some still in high school). By 1994, growth in Ohio hit a plateau, so the Barneses began researching new markets. They settled on Virginia, because there was no major distributor between the New York/New Jersey area and Atlanta, and Darlene, being a native, halfway knew her way around.
Despite the baseball strike in 1995, Red says Baseline has enjoyed "wonderful growth" year after year. To weather the strike and safeguard himself-and his distributors-from like turbulence in the future, he delved into NASCAR collectibles. Now Baseline has a full line of racing memorabilia, which, along with gaming cards like Pokémon and the traditional trading-card business (now including basketball, hockey and soccer), has helped Baseline grow into one of the 10 largest U.S. card distributors.
These days, after starting a deli on her own at one point, Darlene has left Baseline to restore an old house she and Red bought. Rooting for him, however, is a job she'll never retire from. Their son Bret recently graduated from law school, and Blane, resident computer expert, now works alongside his dad, doing promotions. The company has 30 employees and has even opened a second office in Jacksonville, Florida.
Red has most likely succeeded in this $1 billion industry (including sports, racing and gaming cards) because he knows how to keep everyone around him happy-especially customers. "Our customers are our friends, so we watch collectable trends and make sure we're providing the right products to them [so they can] continue to be successful," says Red. Doing things like holding a meet-the-manufacturer event at the Baseline Sports warehouse, where store proprietors get the rare chance to meet the card-makers, keeps relationships strong. "I feel like we understand how people like to be treated," says Red.
On the home front, Red is in no danger of becoming the Big Tycoon Who Can't Do Anything For Himself. In fact, you could say he's more the Millionaire Next Door. He and Darlene coached little league, even after their kids had stopped playing, and they're involved in the local charity football camp, which hosts NFL stars.
So how does Red maintain a manageable ego when, despite modest beginnings, business has gone up and up? "Just by remembering where I came from," he says. "I joined the Navy when I was 17, and I started this business with not a whole lot of money. I'm proud of what we do, and I realize that if we don't stay in tune [with] our customers, we're going to be one of the many distributors who are no longer in business."