Ever dreamed about meeting Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo and getting a selfie or autograph? Peter Johnson has done that – and become a millionaire in the process!
The memorabilia geek was £10,000 in debt when he founded his business, Firma Stella, with the ambition of selling signed gear, pictures and artefacts to sports-mad punters.
We can trace his lifetime ambition back to Worcestershire CCC as a nine-year-old who met Australia cricket captain Steve Waugh and ‘got the buzz’.
‘Instead of a paper round as a teenager, I would chase autographs and collect stuff to sell it. I loved the buzz of selling them for a lot of money,’ he tells Sportsmail at his huge warehouse in Hartlebury, Worcestershire.
‘I started travelling around the world to chase stuff. I went to the F1 in Asia, the Rugby World Cup in Japan, Manchester City pre-season tours. Then I decided, “Let’s make this an empire”.
Peter Johnson was in £10,000 debt before founding sports memorabilia business Firma Stella
Johnson has become a millionaire since getting his collectibles empire up and running
His Firma Stella facility, which sells a wide range of signed sports gear, is brimming with life
‘I was in £10,000 debt… Now I’m a millionaire. All with four and a half years’ work.’
Firma Stella’s facility is brimming with life, with 12 full-time employees and a dog for morale, Leo, who patrols the floor as staff work hard on framing, packaging and collating certificates of authentication.
From £10 photos to £5,000 signed shirts, the website has something for all, with a mix of sports and levels from League Two to Champions League clubs.
The store has photos of the likes of Springboks captain Siya Kolisi and Mo Salah signing gear – but meeting Messi and Ronaldo trumps the lot.
‘Real Madrid were playing Manchester United and I found out about Ronaldo’s flight,’ says Johnson. ‘I followed their bus from the airport to a hotel and quickly booked a room.
‘I knew they were staying on the top floor and their team room was on the second floor. I saw the lift was on the top floor so I waited for it to come down.
‘No joke, the first lift that opened… imagine it, Ronaldo is just standing there! So I jumped in and he was like, “What the hell?”. He signed some stuff and we went from there.’
There are currently four signed No 7 Manchester United shirts with Ronaldo’s name on the back and none are going for under £1,400 – and that’s with an ongoing sale!
He launched the business after hunting down Cristiano Ronaldo (left) and Lionel Messi (right) during their time at Real Madrid and Barcelona respectively
From £10 photos to £5,000 signed shirts, Johnson’s hit website has something for all
He also sells signed cricket bats, including from current England captain Ben Stokes
Liverpool star Virgil van Dijk’s signed jersey is another stellar item you can get your hands on
Such are their rarity after Argentina’s World Cup win, there are no Messi jerseys for sale currently – but Johnson has met the Paris Saint-Germain forward.
‘With Messi, I had to take a big risk – this whole game is about risks,’ he says. ‘I found out Barcelona flew out of a public airport, so I flew over there from Birmingham.
‘Then I booked a “fake flight” from Barcelona just to get into the terminal. All of a sudden, the team just walked through security – Messi, Neymar, Luis Suarez… they signed all our stuff.
‘We took a risk and it paid off. It all comes down to research, knowing where the players and the team will be, then hedge your bets slightly, it usually pays off.’
Johnson is a beaming character and his office features motivational slogans about becoming a millionaire.
‘What we do well is that we’ve got something for everybody. We’ve got a £10 poster of a player for a child, right up to £5,000 Diego Maradona shirts for the millionaire CEOs wanting to kit out their office!
‘League Two teams have 10,000 fans – they are in our market just as much as Kevin De Bruyne fans are.
Johnson is a beaming character and his office has motivational slogans about becoming rich
His initiative in tracking some of sport’s biggest stars down has transformed his life
‘We have scouts who chase the autographs but we have partners such as Ben Stokes, Manu Tuilagi, Warren Gatland – and another famous person on the way who I can’t tell you yet!
‘Our biggest sale is an England 1966 signed shirt which went for £10,000 and a lot of Maradona gear has gone well, while iconic names such as Michael Schumacher and Ireland rugby shirts sell for a lot of money.
‘There’s 12 permanent staff members but we have six job advertisements out. We’re big on culture and have a policy of “No d***heads”!
‘Our recipe for success is already there. Everything has to be scaled by 10, we want to branch into the States and overseas.’
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