A number of sports card industry leaders are in Las Vegas for the 2012 Industry Summit including a group from the Topps company. The company has brought aboard several new faces in recent years after being sold to a group led by former Disney chief Michael Eisner.
One of those is David Reel, who has served as Topps Director of Hobby Sales since 2008. Reel, 44, joined the industry after serving as sales manager at Honeywell International, Inc. He is responsible for all Topps hobby sales and business relationships with hobby distributors and HTA stores in the US and abroad, and answered these 5 questions from Summit host Kevin Isaacson.
Q. It’s fair to say this Topps company, circa 2012, is markedly different from 2010 – many staffing changes, notably a new CEO, new GM, new VP/sales. Give us some insight into how these changes have impacted day-to-day business, and how that impact retailers and collectors during the next year.
A. The changes have been positive, helping us to deliver products on time, and with higher quality than in the past. Day to day, there is a higher level of accountability and responsibility throughout the business, and that culture change has been positive for the business also.
Q. Topps has been as aggressive as any manufacturer in exploring direct-to-consumer sales. Share your assessment of the Topps’ direct-to-consumer selling thus far, and how you expect those efforts to evolve/increase over the next 24 months.
A. Topps will continue to take an approach of testing opportunities that could eventually help to expand the consumer base. (Direct to consumer sales) is one of those opportunities that will help us serve customers who don’t have access to major retailers or hobby stores or, for whatever reason, are not having those needs met through those channels. But I would also say that our primary and preferred core business is still hobby product, sold primarily to hobby stores.
Q. Brick-and-mortar retailers have responded positively to distribution-focused initiatives from your competitors, notably a 7-day early sales window. What enhancements is Topps planning to its partnership with the hobby channel in 2012?
A. We will continue to invest in our HTA program, which is the longest-running hobby store program of any manufacturer. As far as distribution changes: We understand that there are some positive benefits of other recently announced programs, and continue to evaluate our program. There are significant costs involved in a distribution program that would, among other things, allow us to track and monitor how and when product is moving through the marketplace. We are choosing, at present, to allocate those resources into our products – and we are all pleased with the market’s response to many of our releases during the past year-plus.
Q. Let’s play “King of the Industry’’ for a moment: From an industry-wide perspective, what would you like to accomplish or improve across the hobby segment during 2012?
A. A higher level of commitment from all manufacturers to create collectible products. Responsible selling from distributors. Great customer service from retailers. And across the business, very aggressive promoting. I want to see everyone involved in this business maximizing their opportunities and ROI … and it will take a more focused, disciplined effort for all of us to accomplish that.
Q. Finally, a question that should be right in the wheelhouse: What Topps product, promotion or initiative have you found most rewarding during the past 6 months, and why?
A. Easy answer: Our products. Topps has really raised the bar with our product portfolio, and continues to do so. Our core brands are performing at a high level, and we have introduced new brands like Gypsy Queen, and re-invented others like Triple Threads, that have performed at levels that we haven’t seen in a long time. And it’s important to say that we owe a lot of that success to our customers. We wouldn’t have been able to make those improvements without getting a tremendous amount of input from collectors who are passionate about Topps products. It’s a lot of fun to work in a business where our product continually meets and exceeds our customers’ expectations.