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Tuesday, February 3, 2009

An incredibly interesting day at the card shop

Ever have a gift just fall in your lap? All wrapped up? Could be a golden egg, could be a hand grenade? So, yeah. I got one of those today.

I had to go to work for a meeting. A mandatory meeting. After working last night. And fighting off a cold. So I went. The meeting was long and boring but I learned something and made some face time. Yay for me. Since I was already on the other side of town, I went to a card shop that I don't get to go to very often. Yay for me. I had all the lists of the sets I'm building with me and I was hoping to pick up one of the more expensive cards like the '79 Ozzie or the '84 Strawberry. Or at least pick up a chunk of the stars on the lists, maybe even find that Ripken and Rose to cap off my '83 Topps set. I didn't find a whole lot there unfortunately . At least not a whole lot of cards. I found a whole lot of other things though. Hoo boy, did I.

So, I walk into the shop around 4:00ish. Maybe closer to 4:30. When I walked in some guy behind the counter (the owner maybe? It wasn't the manager who was busy sorting Mayo) was deep in conversation with a couple of guys in the store. They were talking about cards. I mean REALLY talking about cards. They were mostly talking about Upper Deck products. I'm pretty sure the two guys there were either distributors or worked for Upper Deck. The guy behind the counter apparently used to work for Upper Deck as well, as they were both making fun of some guy who worked for Upper Deck then moved to Topps. I didn't catch any names other than the guy they were talking about, but after they left the phrase "#2 after Richard" popped up. This merely confirmed my suspicion that thanks to a boring meeting being scheduled for the one day a week I really have to relax I landed into somthing big by sheer dumb luck.

Man, why didn't I pay attention in Journalism school. Why didn't I have a wire on me so I could listen to what they had to say after the fact and could get exact quotes and maybe even understand some of the stuff they were talking about. Hell, even a good night's sleep would have been nice. Damn, Mario would have given a testicle for this opportunity. He would have come up with a Pulitzer for sure. Ah well. It was unambitious, unassuming little me with my hobby blog in there. I decided early on to keep my ears open and my mouth shut. Just remember that this is a conversation between some one who might be affiliated with Upper Deck and someone who at the very least was trying to butter up the people who might be afilliated with Upper Deck as filtered through ME, so, hell, there's no way I can possibly be objective about this and I'm just going to tell it the best I can. This is going to be more of a column by Rona Barrett than a piece by Bob Woodward, but I'll pass along the gist of the conversation to the best of my ability.

Of the two guys there, only one really did any talking. Apparently the other was from Germany? That's one of the things I caught at the end of the conversation when I was starting to get tired. The other guy was the one who did the talking. I'm not sure which one was #2. Probably 50% of what they were talking about was how awesome Upper Deck was. Man, Upper Deck is awesome. Well, not completely awesome. The topic of Upper Deck X was brought up right after I got there and it was acknowledged that mistakes were made. Basically they admitted it was a retail product with a hobby price point. Counter guy (to make things easy for me 'guy' is maybe Upper Deck #2 and 'counter guy' is the maybe owner dude) agreed it was bad and specifically mentioned the bad hits and the die cut problems. To their credit, they admitted that was a mistake and it would be fixed this year. There were actually a few things that were said that gave me the feeling that, yeah, they 'got it' with some stuff. Other products were talked up and they were confident that they would be better this year. It was hard to tell who was the one promoting Upper Deck products at times. When they asked the guy behind the counter if there were any other products this year that he didn't think were any good, none were mentioned for about five minutes. Meanwhile in my head I was screaming Documentary, Documentary, DOCUMENTARY!!! Finally the guy let me off the hook and mentioned that Documentary wasn't very good, to which the guy behind the counter admitted that he didn't really bother with that product. Still, Upper Deck ROCKS was a major theme of the conversation.

There was a lot of invective thrown out towards Topps, which was not surprising. You wouldn't expect a Pepsi distributer to say nice things about Coke, and the store owner is probably going to go along with it as long as he's selling Pepsi. Much of it was deserved too, they talked about how Topps is just lousy at Football. There were a few cracks about the Letterman set with the stickers stuck to the manufactured patches. They agree with the blogging community's belief that in two or three years those stickers will likely be unstuck. Some of it was sour grapes too. There was a little complaining about how Topps skates on their legacy. The fact that they can make rookies of whoever they want (a statement that was caught and modified to they used to be able to make rookies of whoever they want) and the Legends players they just picked up was grumbled about as well. I don't remember the exact quote but something to the effect that people walk into a Target and buy Topps because that's what their dad collected popped up. The opinion that Upper Deck could make much better use of Topps' legacy was also discussed. Eh, it's rivalry talk. I don't get offended if I overhear two Florida fans talking trash about Georgia. I'd be worried if they didn't.

The NBA was discussed briefly and bitterly. Something to the effect that the NBA thinks their products drive the market because the secondary sales are hot. Of course the secondary sales are hot because everybody under produced this year because the products weren't selling. They got a point there. Razor wasn't treated kindly either. I think the guy was most mad at Donruss though. I'm pretty sure "Every set is the same" popped up. The fact that a $250 Donruss product with four prospect autos would be right next to an $85 Razor product with ten autos of the same guys worried the guy behind the counter. They both agreed one one thing though: even though every Donruss set was the same, they were very good at that one set.

They said a lot of good stuff about the industry and weren't totally negative, but sadly my brain has been trained by the mainstream news media to remember all the bad stuff. If things seem to be going very negative here, it's my imperfect and sleep deprived brain that's at fault, not them. They talked a ton about boring financial stuff like trying to keep product prices from falling under cost and the various hit ratios in products and the fact that the only hits that counted anymore were the BIG ones. There was a very 'high-end" feel to the conversation. Ironically, it seemed like there was no respect for the people they were targeting with those products! The word 'idiot' was thrown about at least once in reference to people busting cases of Goudey looking for a Tiger auto. Also about people busting open high end boxes like a Babe Ruth Sterling box they bought off of eBay for $900 when they could likely get the 'hit' out of the box individually for $250. There wasn't a lot of respect for the gambler types (which I agree with, honestly) when at the same time that seems to be what they think the core of their market is. There was also a discussion about how in order to make money on the product they had to balance out the Ruth hits with people like Paul Molitor. I was thinking to myself of a couple people I know who like Paul Molitor, but hey, I just collect.

A very interesting point about Sterling and Legendary Cuts came up. When Legendary Cuts' new contemporary player format came up due to the new 20% rule the guy behind the counter asked how Sterling got away with all the retired players. Apparently the Players' Union or the MLB (or both) signed off on it as an exemption because of the economy. The guy said that Upper Deck got an exemption too, but did not mention more than that. As for Legendary Cuts, the guy behind the counter said that he was a little concerned about this year's product. The guy must have said don't worry about Legendary Cuts at least five times. This leads me to believe that they are worried about Legendary Cuts. I'm cynical though.

All the set collectors out there are probably thinking "What about us? Did they mention us?" Nope, not really. I think set collectors was briefly mentioned in the aside about people getting packs at Target. There were some things that we gripe about that they really 'got' and were discussing ways to fix, but acknowledging that set collectors exist apparently isn't one of them. Set collectors seemed to be (paraphrased) "Case busters who rip open hundreds of boxes so they can be the first ones on eBay selling complete sets". Oy gevalt. Oh wait it gets better! They were talking about some real high end muckety muck set (not sure which set or even which sport, the conversation moved quickly) where they have over 300 cut autos in the set. Not sure if it was 300 different or three hundred total and "numbered to five" popped up but I can't remember if it was more than five or less than five. Basically there's going to be a set with a crapton of cut autos. The dude actually had the nerve to say that they were hoping that with the cut auto checklist configuration that some of the really big case breakers might be tempted to build a set of the cut autos. Jayzus. This is their concept of set collectors. The guy was also utterly bewildered why Timelines box prices plummeted to way under cost, but the secondary sales of the individual cards was so hot! HELLO... MCFLY... SET COLLECTORS. You accidentally made a really nice looking set and then put a Brandon Boggs auto in every box! OF COURSE all the idiots who bust cases don't want to buy your overpriced boxes now! OF COURSE all the people who like to build good looking sets see a nice product at a cheap price and start buying up individual cards on the secondary market to complete their sets! LEARN SOMETHING. You just made a good product that the whales won't touch but the minnows devour. FIGURE OUT HOW TO MONETIZE THAT. And the case breakers are the idiots?

Ok, so I'm getting a little angry. The anger is why I'm posting this at all. I'm probably going to get at best some compaints over this post and at worst a letter from a lawyer but one quote that is still stuck in my mind pushed me into writing this.
"If you're buying Upper Deck [base] for the content, you're buying the wrong product"
Pretty sure this is from the guy behind the counter this time but I just remember the words, not who said them. Content meaning "big hits" and "big hits" exclusively. You see, once upon a time the damn cards were the content. Before that the GUM was the content! So, yeah. This conversation blabbed blithely in front of some random guy picking through the dollar box with a want list might have touched the wrong nerve.

There were a lot of interesting things in the conversation though. Like spokesmen on the packs. When the guy first started with Upper Deck (he did say he worked for Upper Deck, but I can't say for sure if he still worked there, so I'm being wishy washy about it) all the packs had Jeter on them. Unfortunately, packs with Jeter on them don't sell well in Boston for some reason. Heh. Players with exclusive contracts get on packs a lot of times but sometimes a company specifically pays money to a player just to be on the pack. Apparently Gilbert Arenas got a lot of money from Topps to be on their wrapper a while back even though they had six guys under exclusive contract. What was wrong with those six other guys? They agreed that the best products were the ones without a player on the wrapper. Like Sterling. And Ultimate. And all those high end sets that us peons can't get. Ok, I'm getting bitter again. Moving on.

Towards the end of the converation it took a very odd turn. I had already gone through all the dollar cards looking for a stupid '83 Topps Pete Rose (50 other Roses there but no '83) and was trying to edge my way into looking through the rookie case at this point. I was also getting a little dazed and hungry. Needless to say I didn't follow the thread very well. Basically they started off talking about hockey cards. Solid fan base, great resale value. However, hockey sets don't translate well to baseball. Minor stars are much bigger in hockey than in hardball it seems. They did say how a product like Ballpark would work great in hockey with the multiple swatches. The guy was a bit hesitant to call the baseball version a success but the guy behind the counter seemed to really like it. They then started talking about O-Pee-Chee and how it was underrated and was going to be a success. The boxes were cheap and if you bought one, you bought more. Maybe here they were finally giving some props to the set collector, just not baseball set collectors. Then the conversation got strange. A&G was mentioned. More than once. O-Pee-Chee was mentioned again. Lots of good stuff in O-Pee-Chee. A&G mentioned again. Something to the effect 'were going to go after A&G'. Again, I have no idea what was going on at that point and I didn't feel like popping up and saying "Hay guize, I'm a blogger and I love A&G, wot's all this then about O-Pee-Chee?" One hour less of sleep last night and I might have been loopy enough to do it. Anyway, strange things seem to be afoot at the Circle K. I just don't know what they are.

At this point they left, the one guy came back in for a moment to leave his business card and I started to wrap it up. That's when the "#2" comment popped up as the manager asked what that was all about. I got a few measly cards and four Hobby packs of Topps. the Upper Deck wasn't out on the shelf and I didn't feel like hanging around while they opened it. I'll show off my loot later this week.

I wasn't initially planning to blab what I heard. I'm not interested in having a large manufacturer or even a card shop owner getting pissed off at me. But, if I didn't post it I'd regret it. I might regret it anyway, but it will be an 'oh crap, sorry about that, please don't hurt me' regret instead of a burning 'why am I too chickenshit to ever say anything, boy I suck' regret. And besides, this is the 21st century. We have the interwebs now. If you don't want to lose your advertising sponsors, don't smoke a bong in front of kids with camera phones. If you don't want gossip about your industry posted on a blog, keep your big mouth shut in front of customers.

18 comments:

Wax Heaven said...

Wow. Great post, maybe the best of the young year.

stevenljudd said...

If you tell me what city you are in I can probably tell you who the Upper Deck person in the shop.

Chris Harris said...

The Junkie blogs from Atlanta.

Gellman said...

See, I have to disagree with you. I think that most of the hobby feels that way about set collectors. The blogs have a completely different mindset, and I think that people just start to believe that the blogosphere represents the general feelings of the hobby. Do I agree with you that making generalizations about set collectors is probably the wrong way to approach things? Yes. Do I think that they are correct? Yes, no doubt.

handcollated said...

The reson people buy more than ne box of OPC hockey is that you get less than 30% of the set in one box. And that's just base cards.

And if they were talking about hockey and "going after A&G," that may be a reference to Champs hockey, which looks very similar. I'm not sure how that translates to baseball, though...

Good stuff, though. Thanks for bravign illness and hunger to share it with us all.

cardboardicons.com said...

There is nothing to worry about legally. If the conversation were private, it should have been held in such a location. And from what I can tell, it's just you sharing gossip, which happens every day in every walk of life.

I find the conversation interesting, although I did not find anything entirely shocking here except for that quote you highlighted.

mfw13 said...

Although it's not surprising, it's disappointing to see any business hold it's customers in such contempt.

Nothing good can come of viewing you customers as sheep to be fleeced...

tastelikedirt said...

Nice report, well done!

stusigpi said...

No legal worries man. The conversation was in a public place, thus there is absolutely no legal claim that can be made against you unless you said something that wasn't true. Other than that you are good to go.

Joey said...

Thanks for sharing Dayf. You don't have anything to worry about. Very interesting read.

If the guys involved get upset they only have themselves to blame.

Motherscratcher said...

Very interesting post. Thanks Dayf.

Oh, and, nice Bill and Ted quote. I enjoyed it immensely.

dayf said...

Right or wrong, Upper Deck has more lawyers than me. Plus, I've taken just enough undergrad law classes to be scared shitless of the law. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go hide some more. I'm really good at blending into the background, none of these guys took the slightest notice of me while I was there.

The sewingmachineguy said...

What's the deal with the 83 Rose? Yeah, that's my biggest question from all this. Peace.

MMayes said...

Don't worry about the law. There's enough lawyers here to protect you from Upper Deck. Besides, I don't see that you've slandered anyone. This is far less slanderous/libelous than other stuff you've written!!!

Anonymous said...

Don't see anything wrong with what you wrote or anything they said.

Rob- AKA "VOTC" said...

Outstanding work!! Thanks

DaveH said...

Dayf - the counter guy formerly worked at UD. This is the same shop I raced to last year when you posted the Chipper TCH giveaway card as card of the week.

jacobmrley said...

still need an 1983 Topps Rose? I'll trade it for that sweet 2009 gold daniel murphy. email me back at jacobmrley@yahoo.com