Lessons Learned

PROFILE MAGAZINE: Steiner Sports CEO Brandon Steiner could have given up after his first business venture didn’t pan out. Instead, he built one of the most recognized sports memorabilia and marketing companies in the United States

Brandon Steiner has never seen failure as the end of a road. In fact, he sees it as fuel to drive his next success. Steiner is chief executive officer of Steiner Sports, a company out of New Rochelle, New York, that specializes in and sells autographed sports memorabilia. It helps corporations of all sizes, retail stores, and individual collectors with their sports marketing needs. The company also has exclusive partnerships with the New York Yankees, Madison Square Garden (home of the New York Knicks and the New York Rangers), and the Brooklyn Nets.

Steiner’s empire doesn’t end in the sports memorabilia industry however. He is also the author of two books, the most recent, titled You Gotta Have Balls. He has a blog called “What Else” on his website, Brandonsteiner.com, which focuses on business, entrepreneurship, health, and wellness, and is read by more than 25,000 people every day. He also has public speaking engagements all over the country.

Steiner Sports also works with individual athletes and has exclusive autograph relationships with the likes of former Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter, New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning, New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist, Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, and more.

“When you think of the Steiner brand, you think of a company that when something great happens in sports, we’re usually connected to it,” Steiner says. “We do that with the personalities that are involved, licensed products, being able to meet players, things like that. So, that’s kind of how I look at our company; from a marketing and promotions standpoint, we want to bring people close to the game, and we do that via events, personal appearances, and then product, licensed product, and collectibles. That’s kind of the core of what we do.”

Steiner’s journey creating the well-known sports marketing and memorabilia company began in the late 1980s when he was an assistant general manager of a Hard Rock Café in New York City. It was there that he was introduced to memorabilia and the possibility of rubbing elbows with celebrities. He enjoyed the experience so much that he decided to open up his own sports bars.

“My mind was like, ‘Wow, this is unbelievable,’” he says. “I was a young kid at the time, only twenty-three years old. [I] thought, ‘This would be really cool in sports.’ At the time there were no sports bars. So I went on to open up a whole bunch of sports bars and was very involved with that theme getting started in the mid-eighties.”

Unfortunately for Steiner, his dream of opening a 20,000-square-foot sports bar was dashed when he couldn’t generate the capital. However, during his time opening the other sports bars, he had made connections with a number of athletes and asked if he could help them with their marketing. He began by opening their fan mail and setting up appearances for them. From there, Steiner Sports was born. “Failure is what brought me to open up Steiner,” he recalls. “Remember, back then, there wasn’t a lot of sports marketing stuff going on. There weren’t signs in the outfield and players weren’t doing all of these big endorsement deals, which is really very much the inception of all of this.”

The beginning of Steiner Sports did not come without challenges. Besides not having a lot of money to start, Steiner also faced the tough task of simply getting people to meet with him. Sports memorabilia and marketing was somewhat of an unknown entity at the time, but Steiner was determined to see it through. “It wasn’t like I went into a mainstream business,” Steiner says. “I was going into something that was different than what most people are used to, which is marketing athletes. Even when I eventually started the collectible business, it wasn’t like that was a mainstream business that people understood.”

“[My blog] is always looking at the ‘what else’ factor; it’s what I’ve lived my whole life by, and when I think about back then, in the late eighties and nineties, it was a ‘what else’ factor,” he says. “I saw a lot of players that were really popular that people just loved, but there was no connection between the players and the fans. So, I created a business that did that, because as I kid I said, ‘Wow, that would be the coolest thing if I could just meet one of these players one day.’”

To get the word out about his company, he became a student of sports marketing and promotion and did plenty of public relations and communications work.

“When you have those challenges, one of the big mistakes that people make is that they try to take shortcuts,” Steiner says. “They want to try to get the message out as quickly as they can, but sometimes the process is more important than the profit. The process I used was public relations.”

One of the biggest reasons Steiner was able to make his business successful was that he was not afraid to fail. He understood that with any entrepreneurial venture, a lot is unknown. He felt he had two choices: get excited by the unknown, or let it get the best of him. Steiner chose the former and it has paid off for him dearly.

“It’s very similar to the end of a game, where you’re competing and you get the opportunity to take the last shot, or you’re the person to get the last at-bat,” he says. “You have to find excitement; there’s a good chance you could fail, but you have to find excitement in the challenge and have the confidence that you are going to fight through it and figure it out to get your team to win.”

Steiner may have won, but that doesn’t mean he’s slowing down. A lot of times, the head of a successful business might sit back and let his or her employees do the heavy lifting. Not Steiner. Instead, he’s always pushing his team to do more, want more, and work toward the next step in their careers. He constantly asks his employees to revise their goals once they’ve reached their current ones. It would be easy for him just to tell his team to strive for more, but he opts to lead by example.

“I try to set the tone by being the hardest-working person in the company,” Steiner says. “I hope that’s what my employees would say: ‘Nobody works harder than Brandon.’ I try to set a good example by having a hard work ethic, trying to be a good person, trying to show how important it is to do things outside of just making money by trying to help others, trying to help the community. Those are things that you want to have going on with your leaders of your company.”

This article originally appeared in Profile Magazine.


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