Thursday, February 26, 2009

Drafting position.....not referencing NASCAR

What are every one's thoughts on NFL products this year? What are you looking forward too? What are you curious about?

First part of the NFL year it will be business as usual with Retail products that is. Press Pass will have an exclusive window from draft day to about three weeks afterwards. UD will have its 2nd year Draft Ed NFL and Topps has brought the biggest gun to the table with Bowman Draft Edition. Now I know what you are thinking, he thinks Topps with typical fake Letter patches that have been over produced and idea is great, execution terrible. Well I must defend myself on this part. Each one of the manufacturers tries to beat the competitor to shelf....which makes sense, who wants to be second or risk consumer dollars being spent? So without the leagues dictating release schedules we are stuck with what we have.

So Press Pass will be pretty traditional but with added content (SEE love given in photo). UD Draft is a product I like because of the NFL Draft artwork, concept but it has some flaws. Topps went away from Draft Picks and Prospects last year with Rookie Progression. Which I thought was a huge mistake, if you dont have to fix something then why not just improve it? Rookie Progression might have been in my opinion the worst looking cards I have seen since the Kmart Topps MLB sets. So why am I on the bandwagon now? For one the Name Bowman has some relevance in that Bowman is home of the Rookie Card....well that is the slogan anyway. Now to most collectors we know that is not always the case, to the casual fan that what you see is what you get. I like the fact that they released Rookie Progression needed to go bye-bye.
I dont think the actual Draft is shaping up to be a great Trading Card draft. We need more skill position players drafted high, although 2006 doesn't seem to be that great afterall. I think next year looks better but think we are about 2-3 years away from another deemed a great class. For these early products the key is to have a very late rounder to undrafted person become Brady. Which in turns make the following years products stronger ie David Price in MLB this year. Amazing what happens when you have a couple good games at the appropriate time.
Also this weekend I will be releasing the information on the black boarder Walmart cards, etc.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Getting cards in my hands???

I have been keeping up with a number of blogs regarding 2009 MLB products. It seems that there are some pockets of the country where product is missing. It is very disturbing to me because this is my livelihood. Its not always a case where product is not there either. Nine times out of ten when I do the research product is in the store its just not on shelf. Therefore it sits in the backroom, closets, locked offices etc. at retailers. Unfortunately this is one of the largest expenses in the business is to have account managers go and place the product on shelf.

Typically each distributor has service people go into each store each week and place product to a plan-o-gram and return old product. This means that if I service a store on Monday morning and product comes in Monday afternoon the product could sit in the backroom until I come back the next week. As the economy worsens the easiest way to cut cost at retail is to cut payroll hours. Which means there are less people to put products on shelf, less time to zone or organize shelves, more dependant on these service people, etc. Not to mention that the trading card section is so overwhelming to people that don't know the product.

Our system is designed to replace everything that sells, 1 for 1. There are many variables that go into it though. First off we dont always know how well a product is going to sell. IF we did I wouldn't be working here, I would be drinking Coronas and fishing in Belize! We have years of sales history but did we know 2008 Topps was going to be a stinker? No, did we know that 2009 Topps was going to do so well? Somewhat but we didn't know to this degree. If you let me know what store you are constantly not seeing product I will do what I can. No promises but I will do what I can.

By the way I added my first picture....I will put up some cards that I think are no brainers.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Search High...Search Low...part 2 The End.

So why doesn't the retail store personnel stop pack searchers? For one its usually a high school kid or college kid working the registers. Do you really think they care about the person over by cards running his finger across the back and sides of all those packs? So you think its the Assets Protection persons job then...well technically they are not stealing or doing anything wrong. How many customers come in and feel the tomatoes, apples, etc and pick out the best one. What is really the difference? Not to mention you really think managers are going to kick people out of their stores?

Why doesn't the manufacturer do something to stop it? First off that takes money and no one wants to spend it. They only have so much to spend to make each pack and therefore every deterrent would result in lost content. The industry tried a drastic move last year by blistering all cards and it failed. Well in some eyes it failed! Not to mention it sort of made the searching worse because people would actually damage the cards while trying to search.

What about a those info cards they put in packs? Well those are printed on very low stock paper therefore cost is minimal and most of them are marketing for future products, license agreement issues, etc.

For the most part the PS'rs will always be around. It's sort of like baseball players your really think its 100% steroid free now? The cheaters will always find a way around the system. PS'rs will be around forever all we can do is limited it as much as we can.

WOW in these two posts I talked out both sides of my mouth! For the record I can not stand Ps'rs and will always look at them as hurting the hobby.

On a side note...come on Chiefs get Cassell in here, don't waste the pick on a unproven college QB!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Search...High...Search Low......part 1.

So a lot of feedback has come in regarding those darn pack searchers. I spent nearly 4 years of my career visiting mass retail stores, 3-5 different ones each day, 4 days a week. Which is equal to a crap load of stores, so I have a pretty good idea of our customer. Each time I ran into one of these pack searchers it was a very stereotypical conversation.

Me: "How is it going?"

Pack Searcher (PS): "Good, you have anything new?" Eyeing that big cardboard box I have with me, very similar to my dogs when I put food in their dish and make them wait.

Me: "Don't know till I open it."

PS: "I always leave this nice and neat. I always put the packs back" PS thinking that justifies his actions. I will get into the signals, technics, etc in part 2.

Me: "Well I am sure the store personnel appreciate that." Even though I am thinking yeah right, otherwise you would end up searching the same packs over and over because your intellectual ability is very limited. Not to mention have you showered today?

PS: "Do you know when "X" product is coming out?" PS thinking his knowledge of the industry will get him a even better chance at the contents of the box I have with me.

Me: "Don't know, I just put out what comes in." As I purposely stall opening the box and all of a sudden need to go to the backroom or what really gets them going is when you start with the TCG's (pokemon, yugioh, etc).

PS: "Do you know when your going to be putting out the sports cards that I see in there?" PS is now wanting to get back to searching the Internet and finding out how much his Malcomy Kelly Relic he searched out in the previous store.

Me: "I dont know"
Sorry, just wanted to relive some memories. So do pack searchers piss me off? YES, but not because they are doing it. They piss me off because it removes a future collector from our hobby. Can you imagine if MOM bought a pack and gave it to her child and there was a relic of a player in there? Wow that would be his or her newest favorite player. Thus adding a new person to the hobby. I want to grow the industry not shrink it.

Don't think that PS'rs are only in Retail also. Believe it or not their are alot of Hobby PS'rs also. The saddest part is that they are usually the owner also. Now I know alot of people are not this way but there are some.

The industry will always have PS'rs until we ultimately decide that there will be no single packs sold. That is not going to happen. Also for the manufacturers to engineer a way to place dummy cards in every pack that would mean the cost will be absorbed somewhere else....usually through less content. That is not going to work either.

The PS'rs are such a small percent look at this retail its typically 1 hit per 24 packs. So if we look at 2008 UD NFL Heroes if the PS'rs searched every box that would be roughly 5000 stores between Walmart and Target. Well if no one bought packs because they were searched that means the one hit was purchased from every box resulting in 5000 packs sold. Between both retailers there were probably 125,000 - 200,000 single packs sold on that product. Meaning PS'rs counted for at the most anywhere from 1-4% of the sales.

Final note...our service people are not allowed to purchase packs from our retailers. Any instance results in immediate termination. This eliminates the opportunity for our employees to cherry pick or pack search prior to being on sale.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Defying Gravity

So what are those big boxes at Target that spit out single pack cards? Well we efficiently refer to them as Gravity Feeds. They came about roughly 4 years ago and developed into multiple configurations over the years. The idea came from the early years of trading cards at Mass Market. If you can remember back into the 90's (Collective Soul, Reebok Pumps, Ren & Stimpy, Tecmo Bowl dang Bo was fast!) trading cards were most of the time found in plastic containers that you were only able to remove one pack at a time. More often times than not it would damage the cards inside. Not a great sales tactic, but the funny thing in this industry is that we think shrink (theft, stealing, ripping off, etc) is a very large percent. In actuality it is not nearly as high as one would think. Topic for another day!

Back to the gravity feeds, we wanted to come up with an idea that would market the product better within our section and consumers could see it with out being at the actual rack. So we developed a 14" tall gravity feed built on that old plastic box concept. The early on results were stunning, the gravity feeds were out performing traditional foil box by a crazy number. This was in entertainment titles only. So we branched over to sports, the lift was not nearly as high as entertainment but certainly still there. So why was sports lower? My perception is that because change is difficult and people are very much traditionalists. Its very difficult to get people accept something different than they are used to seeing, doing, buying, etc. Is it because its more difficult to search through for that one or two packs you want? Is it because you can not get the fourth pack down on the left stack of the box (I just pulled that number is meaningless)?

I do all I can to make sure that from my end the ratio's are the same as the 24ct box. Moving forward you might start to see exclusive subsets, inserts, etc in only the gravity feed SKU. The biggest issue with the gravity feed is that the actual box is pricey. So the pack count has to be much higher and that increases every ones exposure on the product. If we lower the pack count then the gravity feed is not a feasible product anymore and the manufacturer would need to dilute the content or lower card count. Neither one is a viable option for us.

So question of the day....What would make you buy more Gravity Feed packs besides putting an actual dollar in the ninety-nine cent packs? Does an exclusive subset work (t-205, dick perez, MJ legacy, etc)? Does just having maybe 5-10 of the subset cards can only be found in the gravity feed work? What about a certain cut signature is only in the gravity feed? What about some of the short prints?

Off Topic--------I have been asked for some more background information on myself by numerous people. So here goes some tidbits for today: I am huge Cubs fan (Ryno rules my world), the Chiefs are my NFL team (our future is looking better), I enjoy the NBA (no real team for me, but I can be bought).

My favorite set of all time is Topps 1975 MLB, because it was totally different than years prior. Not to mention it had a lot of great player rookies yet still contained a good number of great players from the 60's. I view it as a set that was before its time.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Support or no support....

How does a retailer decide whether or not to support a brand or not? First thing is sales history. Did this title perform last year? Second thing is calendar releases. How many products will it be competing with. Each retailer only has so many dollars coming to the rack each day and week for specific things. So if I have 4 NFL titles released that week...I don't do 4 times as much as I would have if I only had one. So we try and balance out the schedule. Unfortunately no body wants to be last to market so everyone front loads calendars. Also they look at quarterly results to a degree. Third thing then would be the actual product configuration (how good do we think this product will be). If the third thing is so good then the other two don't matter as much.

So where am I going with do we get all these brands out and not compromise any of them. Simple we have the leagues start dictating release schedules. Can you imagine how much better products will be if revenue determined your release date? If you want to be first to market and keep that position you had better earn it. Don't get me wrong here, it would not be like months apart. Just a week or two. This would help everyone in the industry. Cash flow would be much better because your not having all the peaks and valleys.

It would also bring more consistency to the hobby because you would not have the turn over in brands like we do today. Granted a few new ones each year are fun but lets not get out whack like we have been.

On a side note...I apologize for the lack of comments available. I am learning this BLOG thing and had the improper settings to allow better feed back.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Next Big Thing.....

With Panini taking over the NBA Oct 1st, what will the next big thing be? In order for Panini to succeed they need to be the ones that come up with the next big thing. It can not be a game-used something or other, autograph, etc. That has been done and will be done for the next hundred years (OK maybe not a hundred but hopefully a few more at least). I get very frustrated with the big three always using retreaded tires. Its always a GUE per 'x' packs, an auto in 'x' boxes, 2 GUE per box, etc, etc, etc. Lets think outside the box here and find out something else. Game Used has run its course....everyone knew that going into 2008 hence the insertion in every blaster box. What ideas run through your heads? I think the next big thing will be similar to what World Of Warcraft TCG has done where they have incorporated a LOOT card in which the only way to get something is by having it in an actual trading card game. WOW TCG is not played in correlation of their sales. Most consumers are buying the TCG to chase LOOT cards for the online game. How nice is that for UD? Sell product to someone who doesn't even play the game. Wait there is another company doing the same thing...oh yeah the biggest item going POKEMON. People are not playing Pokemon everywhere you go, but you see the cards. Kids just collect em for no reason other than they think they are cool.

If I were in charge of Panini NBA that is the question I would pose to my staff. How do we get people to buy our product that don't even care about the NBA or trading cards? Can you imagine if people were to start buying trading cards again because they thought they are a good investment?

Which by the way my 401k looks more like my card collection these days so my wife can get off my back for buying cards all the time. My retirement fund has diminished in value just as fast as my collection has, except my Cubbies they only get better with age!

Monday, February 9, 2009

Hobby Store visit

So over the weekend I stopped by a hobby remain anonymous. I began thinking of all the hobby stores I have been in over the years, which is a pretty good number since I used to travel everyday. What stood out in my mind as a collective theme? Cleanliness and disorganization. Now as I write this I don't want to lump all stores into the same category because I have been in a few very good ones that don't fit this stereotype at all. So don't get me wrong I am not referring to those select few...I am referring to the 60-75%.

What would I do if I owned my own hobby store? First thing is everything would be very clean. This might seem simple but its the difference between not only hobby and mass but also in big box retailers. Walk into the big three or four box retailers and tell me how they rank in terms of cleanliness. Then I would almost be willing to bet you that the average ring correlates with the cleanliness ranking.

Second thing is everything would be organized. I would not have pizza boxes (5000 count boxes) sitting on top of display cases. I wouldn't have 1988 Topps wax packs scatter everywhere. I would keep sports together (I thought that was a no brainier but you would be surprised). It amazes me how many stores will have MLB here...then more MLB in a different part of the store. When I go online and click Toys then click Action Figures I don't expect kitchen tools, clothing, etc to mixed into that category. It pains me to see boxes of cards sitting everywhere. Now remember most hobby stores are very small and don't have a lot of room so organization is the key to maximize every square foot you have.

There are numerous other things but those are my big two. Now why did I write about this? I am a firm believer that for the industry to continue we need both mass and hobby to succeed. I enjoy going into a hobby store and talking cards with informative people. If we only have mass I highly doubt the high school kid making minimum wage gives two cents about the cards he is putting out.

I also think that hobby has not produced the way it should over the last few years and that owners got fat and happy during the hay day and now just complain that its someone else's fault. Once again the disclaimer: this does not apply to all owners. I think the biggest issue today in hobby is that there is a lot of behind the scenes crap going on. In a tough economy that becomes even more a daily operation. There is a lot of artificial inflating and deflating pricing that goes on. I see it every day...what happened to the day when a player's performance and charisma determined his value on cards?

So how would you run a shop? How would you clean up the hobby?

Once again DISCLAIMER: This BLOG did not apply to all owners and I am sorry for offending anyone, but sometimes the truth hurts!

Friday, February 6, 2009

Blasters continued....

Well after a lot of action on the blasters...everyone has the same concern I do. We want the $9.99 box to stay. From a manufacturer point of view this price point is very difficult because of the cost to not only produce the packs but to actually pack it out. I agree with Steve ( in that I can not believe someone has not figured out how to pack these out better and cheaper. We demand at least 20% extra value in the blasters so that would be $2 in value all ready that the manufacturer is losing out on. Throw in packaging and pack out...its a loss (a loss leader in my opinion though!)

So here are some questions:

1. If its just one big pack doesn't that take all the fun out of the busting packs. I am a total pack guy, I love to rip open packs, lots of packs! If its just one big wrapped up bulk cards then I view that as one pack.

2. Make the $9.99 unique (more on this once a certain items have hit shelves).

3. If the price point moved to 11.99 or 12.99 would that still deter people from buying. We have tried the $14.99 price point in blasters with not much success. Please understand that a vast majority of the Mass consumer is an uneducated hobby customer (usually Mom) and no that is not a stereotype it is a fact. I will branch this blog into Trading Card Games also (Pokemon, YuGiOh, etc) That should be fun!!!!!!

4. If there was a unique subset to the $9.99 blaster would that be enough to over take the 20% added value?

5. Are you disappointed when you get packs inside a blaster that are different than the packs for sale out of the foil box? Example $1.99 foil pack for sale has 12 cards...Blasters have 8 cards per pack.

6. What do you want to see in a $9.99 blaster besides a $10 dollar bill ya all?

I appreciate every ones great comments and encouragement on this blog. I apologize once again I am not the best writer, I am a numbers guy. So bear with me, I will not be posting over the weekends most of the time. I have a wonderful family that I need to attend too also!

Thursday, February 5, 2009

2009 MLB Products

Many bloggers have been reviewing 2009 MLB Topps and UD. My first impression is that Topps hit a home run with the Turkey Red subset and that UD hit a home run with their card design. I think some of the things you will notice in 2009 have not yet been seen. The biggest difference this year will be packaging configurations. You will see at Retail many different packaging configurations. I expect those on shelves very soon (7-10 days). My question to you would be do you look at card count per packaging configuration? Meaning if the 1.99 pack has 8 cards and the 2.99 has 14 do you go with the 2.99? We have this debate internally all the time...I am of the philosophy that if you spend more you should get more value, but what happens when inserts are removed to add to card count?

On blasters, those boxes that are typically $19.99 and contain $22 - $24 in value, what makes you pick them outside of they are not searched. Are refractors drivers? Are GUE (game used) drivers in blasters? Are extra pack drivers?

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Background Check...Retail / Hobby

So my second attempt at a meaningful entry. Hopefully they will become more topic driven very soon and less resume. So I apologize for the history lesson.

My current occupation is revolving around the Retail side of the business. My personal side though is on the Hobby side of the business. Talk about a tough road! I began as a lonely retail kid because that is all I could afford. Then I transitioned into a Hobby kid as my allowance and income allowed me to. Now I am a full fledged card carrying member of both communities. I assume most people are these days. I think they both prosper from the success of each other. All though I do believe that if the Hobby stores shrank to nothing the Retail side would flourish, but not to the degree one would believe. None the less lets hope that doesn't happen.

As far as retail goes for the industry, currently we all have seen that retail is getting stronger brands and more content. I think this trend will continue for a while for a couple reasons.

1. Retail is opening doors....hobby is closing doors. In 2009 alone there will be over 250 new retail stores open. I don't have exact numbers but my educated guess is that there will be 100 - 250 less hobby stores on Dec 31st, 2009 than today. One in my community closed just recently.

2. Retail has more buying power than hobby. Even though retail buys on different discounts the volume has increased enough and the hobby volume has decreased enough to make it more feasible for the manufacturers.

3. Royalties are at an all time high and the easiest way to pay them is by having stronger products. Don't be surprised if we see Finest, Co-singers, Sweet Spot, Longevity titles at Retail in the near future.

What direction would you like to see the manufacturers go? More Hobby Exclusive titles at mass, more hobby content??? Understand that in most communities these days the Hobby store is Wal-mart or Target or Rite-Aid or Meijers, etc.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009


First off, I am by no means a writer. I have zero capabilities in that department so please bear with me. A little background on me, I work for a distributor in the trading card industry. I still am and have been with them for almost 10 years. I am also an avid collector for over 20 years. I enjoy reading the numerous blogs out there in cyberland regarding our hobby so I figured I would start my own as well.

My goal in this blog is to be very interactive and reader driven. I will throw out topics and questions to get more information back from people out there that enjoy this hobby. I have direct contact with the manufacturers so I want to hear from you. Talk about a true town hall meeting! I know what I like to see but what you do others want to see? I see it this way...from reading blogs there doesn't seem to be much market research going on these days. I want to be that person that changes this. Without you I have no job...which doesn't make my wife or son very happy!

So I will persuade as many of you as possible to jump on board with me. In return I will voice your concerns. I want to learn more and more on how we can improve this hobby.