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Summit Survey Shows Sports Card Market Optimism

@2012 The Industry Summit, March 18-21, Las Vegas (http://www.regonline.com/2012summit)

Product diversification, online marketing and enhanced corporate partnerships have sports-focused collectible retailers viewing 2012 as potentially their best year in a decade.

An Industry Summit survey of independent retailers serving the sports and entertainment collectible and gaming categories indicated unprecedented optimism for the year ahead – and not only due to Tim Tebow, the Rally Squirrel or Blake Griffin slam-dunk highlights. Several brick-and-mortar retailers told The Summit that they are aggressively exploring expansion to new and/or additional locations.

“Holiday sales were tremendous, and if we do what we plan to do in 2012, it will be a very good year,’’ said Lou Brown, who operates two Michigan-based hobby stores and a vibrant online business.

David Reel, Topps’ director of hobby sales, said that his company’s hobby client base is growing – for the first time in several years.

“Our metrics over the past quarter support the enthusiastic comments of our core clients,’’ Reel said.  “We truly are seeing a positive trend – many more new-account inquiries and store openings, as well as retailers looking to add second and third locations.’’

Industry Summit host Kevin Isaacson said his brick-and-mortar clients are “investing in a way we haven’t seen in years. They view this as perhaps their best opportunity in a decade.’’

More than 100 independent retailers who responded to an Industry Summit survey (www.regonline.com/2012summit) outlined several developments as critical to their proactive outlook, notably:

Cost-effective online marketing.  Retailers are investing aggressively in social media marketing, creating presences on Facebook and Twitter as well as increasing their email marketing.  Some of the most aggressive retailers are even executing product sales via Box Break on www.YouTube.com.   Noted Geoff Connolly, CEO of Cloutsnchara (Canada): “We have utilized many different tools to get our deals out there to the public. As our hobby is evolving more and more each day, it is becoming more interactive and you have to be in the public eye as much as possible (much like our store hours of 10 AM till Midnight, 7 days a week).’’  Said Bruce Parker, a New England-based retailer: “The weekly newsletter and the Pack Attack promotions were my biggest success stories. Keeping customers informed on upcoming products and store promotions through the newsletter helped drive sales in 2011.’’

Positive messaging in mainstream and social media, thanks to significant investments from  licensors, manufacturers, auctioneers and recently, the launch of two sports collector-focused TV series. “Social media is allowing collectors to get so much closer to the card companies, and that definitely creates excitement for each new release,’’ said Dustin Laugherty, Director of Sports Marketing at Southern Hobby Supply. “Panini’s blog just had a great item showing photos of several NBA players signing cards, and Topps’ countdown to the launch of Topps Series I really got people excited about the product’s release date.’’

Stronger partnerships and promotions with manufacturers, licensors and leading wholesale distributors.  Included:  The Topps Series I Gold Rush promotion that formally launched today, US inclusion in NHL’s National Trading Card Day; new and dramatically expanded Black Friday programs, notably via Panini America, and many more well-executed efforts.  “Our phones are off the hook for Topps Baseball,’’ said Dave Bronson, owner of the Sweet Deal (CA) distributorship. “This is fun.’’ Retailers, in turn, shared their thanks with providing increasingly well-crafted promotions. Said Rick Rollar, a retailer based in Pigeon Forge, TN: “You have no idea how happy you can make a customer’s day by just giving a bonus to them for buying a box they were thinking about buying anyway.’’ Noted Joliet, IL-based retailer Jeff DeGraw: “Panini’s Black Friday was huge as far as excitement and sales – a great kickoff to holiday sales.’’  Said Steve Wilson, a Chicago-based retailer: “I do hope Panini does it again. It would be great to plan on this, and make an annual event based on it.’’

Hobby-centric distribution initiatives, notably from Upper Deck as well as Panini’s MAP program and seven-day exclusive selling window for brick-and-mortar retailers.  “The seven-day window is helping to level the playing field,’’ said Mike Fruitman, a Colorado-based retailer. “Once again, hobby shops are become the ‘place to go’ for the first look at new product.’’ Said Dominic Santillo, a New York retailer:  “The Upper Deck distribution program is the best thing I’ve seen in this business in a long, long time.’’

Labor peace in all four major sports, as well as a host of compelling rookies/prospects in all sports, as well as vintage-player signings.   “We are excited about Pujols being an Angel; also, Topps signing on Griffey Jr. and Mays,’’ said Greg and Debbie Neumann, California-based retailers.  On-field affiliation was beneficial on a local level, also:  Andrew Corbett (St. John’s, NL, Canada), said that the addition of an AHL franchise has impacted his business in dramatic fashion.

Diversification into gaming, novelty, entertainment and vintage products, generating additional and more balanced sales at retail.  Retailers credited companies as diverse in approach as Leaf Trading Cards Onyx Authenticated, Konami, Tristar Productions and Cryptozoic Entertainment, as well as increased collaboration via in-store signings, with creating new products that increased their customer base.  “Last year’s Industry Summit introduced me to companies whose products I had never carried,’’ said Don Joss, a Renton, WA-based retailer.  “I met with representatives from Historic Autographs and In The Game, which I decided to carry only after seeing them at the Summit, and have led to a better selection in my store and higher sales.”  Increased ability leverage the potential of hot-market sales.  Thanks in great part to distributor encouragement, industry retailers are aggressively converting on local championships, awards and celebrations. Noted Larry Chrisco, a Missouri-based retailer “Our biggest success in 2011 was the purchase of a simple two-sided vinyl banner with two words on it:  “Cardinals Merchandise”.  We displayed this banner out front of the store following the World Series and gained numerous new customers who thought we were only a sports card store.  This very inexpensive advertising media resulted in a very significant increase in sales the last two months of the year while growing our customer base. “

Along with optimism, though, retailers shared several ongoing concerns that they intend to address during the March 18-21 Industry Summit.  Included:

  •  Maximizing the benefits of product release dates (which includes meeting and enforcing shipping and release schedules, and leveraging all benefits of  “now available’’ promotion);
  •  Resolving redemption issues in a collector-focused manner;
  •  Continuing to aggressively endorse the benefits and services provided via local hobby stores.
  •  Improving communication with full-time retailers, especially given their increased ability to interact with customers via social media 

For more information on the participants, products and promotions featured at the 2012 Industry Summit, visit www.regonline.com/2012summit.

About Rich Mueller

Rich is the editor and founder of Sports Collectors Daily. A broadcaster and writer for more than 30 years and a collector for even longer than that, he's usually typing something somewhere. Type him back at [email protected].

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