I was in Las Vegas on Wednesday, March 18th in a meeting with representatives from Panini, Topps and Upper Deck at the annual Industry Summit (some of you might have followed my conference tweets @Mikesstadiumsc) when I got a text asking me what I thought of 2015 Topps Tribute MLB. Since I was out of my shop, I figured that Tribute had hit, was selling well and that the person asking was wondering what the vibe was on it.
I had no idea until after the meeting had concluded that there were issues with a number of the autographed cards that would lead to Topps attempting to recall the entire print run. If I only knew an hour or so earlier that meeting might have gone in an altogether different direction.
I learned a long time ago that owning a card store is not about selling what the owner likes, but really what that shop’s collectors want. Let’s face it, if you own a truck stop and you like selling unleaded gas, you are going to have a lot of 18 wheel drivers wondering why they cannot fill their tanks at your business.
By the time I got back into my shop on Thursday, many in the hobby had placed the same skull and crossbones warning label that accompany packs of cigarettes onto boxes of Topps Tribute. That same day I received an email suggesting that I hold onto my remaining product until Topps decided how to handle their smeared signature issue.
I watched as Tribute box prices shot down faster than the stock market on Black Tuesday in 1929. At one brief point these $200+ cost boxes were being offered for $170 before Topps shared that they were willing to cover shipping and offer full refunds for any purchase product. We’d opened some in the shop and here are the highlights from one of our in-store breaks.
So what’s a shop owner to do?
Tribute has an incredible history mostly made by its first two years on the market. While the level of included players had slid there is always a line of people wanting to give it a go when it hits. This year, we were sure to inform our collectors of the possible problems. That did not stop many from opting to purchase and those who did have actually seen some of the sweetest swatches and autographed cards that Tribute has offered in years.
Well, one of our bigger shredders took it upon himself to break open a case and apparently the card gods were kind to my shop. I would have opened this case if I knew it would yield signed cards of Cal Ripken Jr, Ken Griffey Jr, Chipper Jones, Troy Tulowitzki, Tom Glavine and many others that make breaking fun.
Going back to my earlier question about what is a shop supposed to do?
I bought more.
No, I didn’t hedge my future like Dan Aykroyd and Eddie Murphy did with orange futures in Trading Places, but I have since brought in multiple cases and for whatever reason, those we have received have offered nothing but stellar signatures and some of the sweetest swatches that we have seen in some time.
To this point, my store has gone through four eight-box cases in less than two weeks of release and we still have quite a few boxes to go. Typically we do not go through that many Tribute boxes in an entire year. I have had collectors tell me that news of the recall inspired them to come in and try Tribute since they now expected to have less competition on eBay and could see a better return for what they would flip.
Let’s face it. If you pull a green signed Nolan Ryan /99 you are never going to be competing against all 99 copies at the same time. I have no idea how many cases will be returned to Topps, but suffice to say that quite a few of those Nolan Ryan’s /99 will not be on the market until Topps re-releases Tribute later this year (if they do at all).
For those of you who are still breaking Tribute and who come across an autographed card with the smudging/smearing/missing ink issues, Topps has offered this information to help you feel more comfortable: “In addition, between now and June 30, 2015, anyone in possession of a damaged autographed card (not in pack) can exchange the card by contacting Topps Customer Service. Exchanges will be made for another card of equal or greater value, plus a bonus autographed or relic card (valued at the company’s discretion).”
On a side note, it seems that Topps is about to enjoy the coolest rip party this hobby has ever seen. All returned cases had be postmarked by Friday, March 27 so the UPS trucks should be filled with whatever Tribute shops and distributors gave up on. Topps, I will gladly fly to New York and volunteer my time to bust a few dozen cases at the corporate offices. You are even welcome to frisk me on the way out if needed.
The gem on the right featuring Matt Harvey actually got pulled at my shop today and nobody felt bad about it.
While no company wants to go through this and I feel for collectors who had the hassle of dealing with damaged autographs, I would be dropping the ball if I did not offer props to Topps for stepping up and standing behind a product. While each and every release from any manufacturer comes with risks of an occasional smeared autograph, dinged corner or even missing relic swatch, for them to incur the tremendous expense in recalling this release is an industry first and they deserve to be applauded for doing so.
Looking ahead, if Topps Tribute comes out this fall and offers rookie cards of Kris Bryant and any other popular rookies then I will be back in line to snag another few cases on top of each of the releases I have already stocked.
What else are we moving at Colorado’s best card shop? Here’s what rounds out the top 5 sellers at the moment.
2) ANYTHING WITH KRIS BRYANT CARDS! At one point he had 8 spring training HRs in 28 ABS. The moment he plays a game in 2015 every following baseball release will be that much better.
3) 2014 Panini Black Gold NFL: Collectors are grooving on what appears to be Panini Black on steroids.
4) 2014 Topps Chrome Mini: This release has rebounded better than Dennis Rodman.
5) 14/15 Upper Deck 2 NHL: For some reason without an inspiring rookie crop, we are going through cases like they already have the 15/16 rookies already in it.
Mike Fruitman owns Mike’s Stadium Sportscards in Aurora, CO. Normally, his column focuses on what products are selling best in hobby shops. He’s got thousands of cards for sale on COMC.com under the ID cardmn5150. Enjoy new arrivals and big hits from Mike’s on Twitter. Mike’s is always looking for more friends on Facebook and you can email him at [email protected]