Shane Rue, Richie Delaney, Ryan Kern and Zach Balo

Dorm Dudes Breaks, sports memorabilia selling business, really takes off for AU students

Published on May 07, 2024
Ashland University

“All right everybody, who’s ready for the brand-new product from Just Break It?” Shane Rue excitedly asks TikTok viewers while filming a video to kick off a live stream as Richie Delaney pumps his first and then claps loudly with Ryan Kern.

“We got Richie,” Rue says pointing to Delaney. Then pointing to Kern, “We got Kern, and we got Boss Man over there,” he adds turning his phone toward a smiling Zach Balo as he calls Balo by his nickname.

“Here we go,” Rue screams as Kern simultaneously yells while putting his hand on the pile of boxes with the new product behind him, “They’re the one! They’re the one! They’re the one!”

Still both yelling at the same time, Rue shouts: “Let’s get it baby. Right here, guys, you can get the product now attached to this video,” and Kern howls: “The break to end all breaks. There’s a Speedflex in these” as Delaney holds up one of the boxes.

“Guaranteed authentic, this is the one, jump on the stream; we’re live right now,” Kern continues enthusiastically as Rue takes a short break from talking before ending the video with a closeup shot of Kern’s football helmet in front of Kern and Delaney, energetically saying: “Bang, right here, baby! There should be a product attached to this video. We should be live right now!”

That video starts another live stream and a typical afternoon of selling sports memorabilia for the Dorm Dudes Breaks, a business of mostly Ashland University students.

The new product is Speedflex helmets of NFL teams autographed by a player or players from Just Break It, a supplier for Dorm Dudes that boasts a variety of certified authentic memorabilia mystery boxes.

Shane Rue, Zach Balo and Joe Beck

Balo, a finance and accounting double major who just finished his junior year, started the endeavor, hence the name “Boss Man,” selling and streaming sports items about two hours a day from his dorm room and his parents’ basement in Coshocton a year ago. He came up with the idea to help pay for college.

Because it went so well, Balo asked his friend Rue, who recently wrapped up his sophomore year at AU, to join him and stream and sell, too.

When they started selling too much to keep up with the shipping, they asked their buddy Joe Beck to handle that part of the growing business, which now streams around 18 to 20 hours a day to about 25,000 people daily, ships about 500 packages a day through the U.S. Post Office and UPS and has had sales of more than $3 million in its first year.

Some of the members of Dorm Dudes Breaks

From there, followed Kern, Delaney, Grayson “Bubba” Hay and other friends at Ashland University, as well one of Balo’s friends from his hometown of Coshocton who streams from midnight to 4 a.m., a streamer in Virginia who usually streams in the mornings, and …

“Mrs. Dorm Dude,” Kern says to Balo’s girlfriend, Hailey Helter, another AU student, as she enters the room for the April 23 live stream just before going live in the AU building that used to be a BW3 and now houses Dorm Dudes Breaks.

Helter, a business administration major who has been dating Balo since their high school days in Coshocton, helps Dorm Dudes in a variety of ways, including shipping, signing checks and helping keep the workspace organized, which can be difficult with hundreds of products regularly coming in and going out.

Richie Delaney, Ryan Kern, Zach Balo and Hailey Helter

Another person who helps Dorm Dudes is …

“Bobby Bones!” Kern yells early in the live stream. “Bobby Bones is in!”

Bones, who has the top nationally syndicated radio show based in Nashville, Tennessee, and won “Dancing with the Stars” in the fall of 2018 season, has become a regular buyer for the Dorm Dudes.

Bones also has offered business advice to the Dorm Dudes like eventually considering diversifying their products beyond sports items. 

Being “in” like Bones did the afternoon of April 23 meant buying an NFL division slot during one of the Dorm Dudes’ “breaks.” After all the divisions are bought during a break, Kern and Delaney open one of the boxes.

Richie Delaney and Ryan Kern

“For the first helmet,” Kern says as he and Delaney open the first box for the first break “winner.” “It’s a normal helmet. It’s going to be the Packers and the NFC North to Elijah.”

While the “winner,” Elijah, had signed up for the NFC North, this “break” had the other seven TikTok viewers each sign up for the other NFL Divisions. Once all the divisions are bought, Delaney and Kern randomly pick a division and open a mystery box.

Elijah also could have received any of the other helmets from the other NFC North teams – Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions and Minnesota Vikings – if they had opened a box with a helmet of one of those teams, and not just a regular helmet but one with a different kind of design like camouflage. 

The other buyers all earn something, mostly packages of mystery sports trading cards, which is like buying a pack of football or baseball trading cards at a store – you don’t know which players’ cards you will receive until you open the package.

Some breaks are much longer as the Dorm Dudes wait until slots for all 32 NFL teams are bought to pick a winner by randomly opening mystery box. Most of the Dorm Dudes’ breaks are for NFL items because they sell better than items from other sports.

Because everyone wins something, what the Dorm Dudes do isn’t considered gambling, which they wouldn’t be able to do on TikTok or other social media platforms.

With the threat of Congress approving a ban of TikTok in the U.S., the Dorm Dudes also do some selling on Fanatics Live and Instagram.

For now, it’s mostly TikTok, which handles all the shipping information and pricing but at a price of 6% of the Dorm Dudes’ sales – about $40,000 a month.

What began with Balo having monthly sales of a few hundred dollars or less has grown to hundreds of thousands of dollars a month and nearly hit $1 million with $900,000 for February when the Super Bowl took place.

To have sales that high, you need some good sellers like Delaney and Kern, an AU football player and high-energy seller who often likes to wear his helmet during live streams.

Richie Delaney, Ryan Kern, Zach Balo and Shane Rue

“There’s still Patty Mahomes! There’s still Tom Brady! There’s still C.J. Stroud,” Kern, wearing his trademark helmet, screams to the live stream crowd, getting louder and louder with each NFL player’s name, which are among the player autographs on the helmets they are selling. Some of the helmets are even signed by multiple players.

Having different personalities helps move sales, too, like their morning streamer, who is the opposite of Kern: a calmer, more businesslike seller.

The streamers and shippers are all contract workers who pick their own time slots and are paid by commission.

The products come from a few product companies, some of which Balo has part ownership of or is the full owner. He bought out a couple of competitors who were doing the same thing on TikTok, so he has different streamers and sellers for those businesses, which go by different names.

Balo started streaming and selling from his Kappa Sigma fraternity house on campus until the university informed him businesses can’t be run out of a dorm room. Who actually reads the student handbook and would know that?

That turned out to be a blessing in disguise as space for all the products was becoming an issue.

AU’s Business Department then helped him get into the old BW3 building, which part of is used for storage and where the Dorm Dudes are now was empty. They pay the university rent for the space.

The room for the live stream used to be BW3’s kitchen. The plan is to turn it into a space for podcasting and use the rest of the space for not only shipping preparation and product storage but also live streaming.

The Dorm Dudes have a barbecue sauce company interested in being a sponsor and they are looking for an energy drink company to sponsor their midnight to 4 a.m. streams.

Recently, Dorm Dudes Breaks was recognized for its success, finishing first in the money maker category of the northeast Ohio region of the Entrepreneurship Education Consortium’s ideaLabs competition that included 12 universities.

Dorm Dudes Breaks white boards

A few sentences written by Kern on one of the white boards in their workspace among their goals and schedules describes their success as well as the afternoon live stream April 23 does.

“From the humble beginnings in Zach’s basement, to now having their own office to work out of, Dorm Dudes have truly come a long way. Working with friends, providing fans with good products and flourishing a great bus (short for business). Dorm Dudes out!”

Dorm Dudes quote