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It Was in the Cards

All you used to do with sports cards was stick them in your bicycle spokes. Today, Red Barnes makes millions with 'em.

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This story appears in the November 2000 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Having just hit 40, Red Barnes can pretty much say he's reaped the best of life. His sales manager, Alex Payton, expects Barnes' Norfolk, Virginia-based Baseline Sports Inc., a master distributor of trading cards, die-cast collectibles and supplies, to hit 2000 sales of $24 million. Last year's $19.5 million mark was accomplished without strain. And somehow, with all that money, Barnes, his wife Darlene, and twentysomething sons Bret and Blane, manage to live modestly, remaining active in their community. Heck, Red still drives a pickup.

Good-Luck Charm

Pickups are lucky for Red. It was in his '63 Ford that he hauled a shed-full of trading cards he'd bought in Fresno, California, with a $500 bank loan. The year was 1987, and the Navy had just moved him from Hawaii to Lemoore, a small California town "with about 12,000 people and one traffic light," says Red. Bret and Blane had gotten into card collecting back in Hawaii, and Red, looking for a way to bond with the boys, began collecting as well. By the time the family arrived on the mainland, they all had the bug. Too bad there was nowhere to go to add to their sets. "We were searching for card shops in the area," says Red, "but you'd have to drive an hour, and the guys weren't friendly."

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