Go ahead, call her a scalper. Amy Stephens doesn't mind. Under any title, she's cleaning up. As owner of Amy's Tickets, the 35-year-old mother of four grossed $4.5 million each of the last two years running the small business out of her Smyrna, Ga., home, according to the trade journal Ticketnews.com.
She'll make a chunk of that in sales for this week's Final Four and next week's Masters golf tournament. In case you're wondering, she had Final Four tickets ranging from $332 to $7,975 when we last checked. She's offering a $7,300 four-night luxury package for the Masters, grounds badges and open bars included.
Stephens has a broken date with Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick to thank for her entry into the male-dominated world of sports and concert ticket selling. She and her husband bought two tickets to "The Producers" while visiting New York in 2001 and decided not to go. So she sold the tickets for a $400 profit on eBay.
Stephens experimented again by buying up 20-game strips of Angels baseball tickets in 2002. At the time, the Angels were one of MLB's perennial also-rans. By the end of the season, however, they were World Series champs and commanding top dollar. Stephens, a former middle school teacher, had given fellow brokers a lesson in how to speculate. She officially launched Amy's Tickets.
Buying from venues, teams and individuals, and reselling through her site and StubHub, she hopes to reach $6 million in sales in 2012 -- not bad for a scalper.
How did it feel to begin turning around tickets for big money?
I was embarrassed for a while because of the negative stigma of the industry. I had such a negative perception of scalpers from going to ball games. My husband tried to convince me I was simply buying and selling stuff. People buy and sell everything on eBay. As the business has grown and I've been able to get to know my customers more, I feel like more of a tour operator or travel agency than a street scalper.
What do you think separates you from your competition?
Initially, price. I have very little overhead and therefore can be the lowest-priced ticket for most events. With time, I'd like to think being polite and professional -- and being a woman -- has differentiated me from the competition. Many of the large firms have women working in customer service because we're so good at it, but very few women are leading or owning ticket or event companies.
What's the ticket to a smooth-running small business?
I have contracts through arenas and venues that allow me to buy face value tickets before they go on sale to the public. But I spend lots of money with those venues to get those contracts. I am not a fan of Ticketmaster and try to use them as little as possible.
How important is this time of year to your bottom line?
It's probably the third-biggest time for me. My busiest time of the year is December when college and pro football are playing big games -- bowls, NFL playoffs, etc. People love to go to the big games and give tickets as gifts for the holidays. This season is a lot like August and September when football is kicking off but much more stressful. We have to fill orders and ship within minutes for the Final Four. The Masters stress comes next week when we'll have hundreds of people picking up and returning badges, sometimes daily.
Any tips on reselling tickets for profit?
Whatever you're selling, my best advice is to find a niche you know well and concentrate on that. My husband and family love college football. We grow up on it in the South. So, almost half of my annual sales are college football tickets. I also love Broadway and used to sell a lot of Broadway tickets but the prices have gotten so high that there is very little margin, so I don't sell many for Broadway any more. Sell what you know and hopefully what you enjoy. It makes your job and life much more rewarding and fun.