Robin Lee is a sports junkie. She loves watching sports, such as ESPN. She reads about sports, from Sports Illustrated and elsewhere. And she has played organized softball, soccer and volleyball. Softball is her favorite, and her best, having played since she was 7. She mostly plays in the infield, often at third base, while her partner of 11 years, Alexia, roams the outfield.
Lee's passion is also her profession. At least her part-time job.
Lee runs Girl-Jocks, a small California-based company that claims to be the No. 1 source for women's sports memorabilia and collectibles. She sells items via her Web site, www.girl-jocks.com, and is a regular dealer at trading card shows in the San Francisco area, including some of the nation's biggest shows.
For instance, she sold more than $1,500 worth of memorabilia, mostly women's collectibles, at the annual Tri-Star Productions' Labor Day Weekend Collectors Showcase. The four-day show attracted more than 5,000 collectors—and Lee, as usual, was the only dealer focused on female collectibles.
'At every show I used to go to ( as a sports fan and collector ) , there were tables and tables of men's memorabilia—and absolutely nothing women-related,' said Lee, 44, who lives in Concord, Calif., and was born and raised in the Bay Area. 'I'd ask the dealers if they had anything women-related, but found very little. So, I decided to do what no one else was doing, take the path less traveled. I wanted to be the one dealer who had everything women-related.'
And she does. From WNBA goodies to items commemorating the U.S. National Soccer Team. From Martina Navratilova to Sue Bird.
'I see Girl-Jocks becoming something more than just a memorabilia outlet. Where it's going is, to more of a networking place,' Lee said. 'Even if someone is not a collector per se, if they are a women's sports fan, well, they still are helping my cause. Anytime I can put someone in touch with women's sports, in any way, shape or form, that's helping my business. Maybe it won't impact sales immediately, but hopefully it will down the line.
'Girl-Jocks is not just about sports memorabilia and collectibles; it's about empowering women, the belief that you can do anything you want, anything that you put your mind to.'
Lee was introduced to the sports collectibles industry years ago while living in Hawaii. She befriended several dealers, and eventually was helping them. And she even got to meet her hero, former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Joe Montana.
'I had memorabilia from the ( San Francisco ) 49ers and Giants, the ( Oakland ) A's and ( Joe ) Montana, but I never could find the stuff that I really wanted to collect: memorabilia from Martina, Billie Jean King, Steffi Graf, Brandi Chastain or the women baseball players immortalized in the Tom Hanks movie A League Of Their Own.
'There just was not a lot of women's stuff out there; that's when my focus shifted. I immediately found my niche.'
Girl-Jocks started in February of 2001, and today the company has more than $7,000 worth of women's relics, such as Navratilova lithographs, Lisa Leslie basketballs and other goodies.
'I feel no pressure at all, because my niche is so different from everyone else. So I'm not competing with other dealers for potential buyers. The other dealers at shows have been helpful and extremely willing to work with me. I'm really no competition for the majority of the show dealers because I deal on a very limited basis in men's memorabilia.'
Lee said WNBA superstar Lisa Leslie is, by far, the biggest seller on her roster. Mia Hamm is second, followed by Brandi Chastain. Diane Taurasi and Sue Bird will improve in sales in the near-future, Lee said. The U.S. National Softball team, namely Lisa Fernandez and Jenny Finch, also have a strong fan base. Michelle Wie, Lalai Ali and Annika Sorenstam have been steady sellers.
'I see the Girl-Jocks brand and logo becoming its own entity eventually, meaning, it will appear on t-shirts, hats and elsewhere … a la Nike and Adidas,' Lee said. 'There definitely is a bright future for women's memorabilia.'
Surprisingly, Lee said only 60 percent of her sales are to females and only about 10 percent of her overall sales are to the GLBT community. Gay males often buy relics related to gymnastics and figure skating, Lee said. Lesbians often steer to WNBA and women's soccer players, she said.
Lee's in-stock goodies also include relics from the Sacramento Monarchs and the Women's Professional Football League. Lee said sales related to Billy Bean, Esera Tuaolo and other openly gay former professional athletes are steady.