Shaffer unveils plan for hobby resurgence

(Special to Sports Collectors Digest)

LAS VEGAS, NV – Industry Summit host Kevin Isaacson has been trying, for more than 15 years, to convince Victor Shaffer to speak at various collectibles trade events. Soon, you’ll understand why. Shaffer, EVP at Cartamundi USA and the one-time founder/CEO of the Press Pass trading card company, captivated industry professionals throughout a 60-minute keynote address April 14 at the Industry Summit in Las Vegas, providing a three-point plan for the category’s future that was stunning in its brilliance and simplicity.

“All I can say is, ‘I wish we’d heard this five or 10 years ago,’’ said Wayne Wagner, a leading retailer from Edmonton.

Shaffer’s presentation, entitled “Inside the Mind of a Manufacturer,’’ utilized trading-card history as well as consumer-product case studies to illustrate that the trading-card category’s most recent game-changing innovation took place in 1996  – when Press Pass inserted a swatch of race-used tire into a trading card, sparking the memorabilia-insert craze.

“I can remember Kevin (Isaacson) and others in the industry saying “That was great. What’s next?’ “  Shaffer said.  “The unfortunate reality is neither I nor any of the other manufacturers had any great answers after that.

“I think we all realize that putting 2-3 signatures or 4-5 pieces of memorabilia into a trading card is not revolutionary. It doesn’t change the game.’’

Shaffer documented the industry’s key issues, circa 1995:  Too much product, too many licensees, too many releases, too few kids involved.  The only unresolved issue:  Too few kids.

Executing a quick poll of attendees, Shaffer determined that 50 or more had children ages 16-under, and of those, many believed that their children communicated frequently via email.

Countered Shaffer: “I’m sorry, but you’re out of touch. Kids today communicate by tweeting, texting or updating their Facebook status. To them, email is the equivalent of our fax machines. ‘’

Instead of marketing to youths, Shaffer noted, manufacturers have since 1995 created products designed to interest ever-aging adults – and have watched as buyers focused on price-guide value rather than the inherent enjoyment of collecting.

“I know what it costs to make cards, and I know that we can’t keep saying “I’m going to put $10 worth of value into a $3 pack of cards,’’ Shaffer said. “If someone tells you they can do that, they’re lying.’’

 Shaffer complimented the retailers in attendance for surviving an industry that has seen its user base diminish consistently over 15 years, but advised: “I know you think things are tough now, but they could get much worse, if we don’t take certain actions.’’

His 3-point plan:

HUNKER DOWN AND TAKE CARE OF THE HOBBY.  “Why?  Because I have to protect my base.  But I would be planning for that core business – which, right how is based on much value can I shove into a pack– to continue to go down, because the economics of making those types of card products today just don’t work.’’

EMBRACE TECHNOLOGY TO BECOME RELEVANT TO TODAY’S KIDS.  A 99-cent pack of cards for kids is “just code for ‘junky product, ’’ Shaffer said. “This is garbage, I promise you.’’

Today’s kids demand interactivity, whether it be online, via their iPhone, webcams or a handheld device.  They want fun and play value, and for them, it’s not the same things that were fun for today’s 50-year-olds when they were kids.  Shaffer suggested the creation of card products that include online-enabling codes that provide information or game-playing benefits.

“When we were kids, putting a card in the spoke of a bike was cool,’’ Shaffer said. “Most of us inside this hobby are not in touch with what kids today are demanding.’’

CREATE PROMOTIONAL PRODUCTS FOR KIDS-FOCUSED COMPANIES.  Shaffer recommended every manufacturer realign their marketing department to aggressively pursue distribution deals with kids-focused companies.

He cited a Belgian grocery chain that distributed 50 million cello packs of Disney/Pixar cards – roughly 5 packs for every citizen of Belgium.

 “The kids were going crazy for those cards, so Mom & Dad went grocery shopping at those stores. It’s possible to accomplish – and not because of any potential price-guide value in the packs,’’ Shaffer said. “And when is the last time, in this country, that we put 50 million packs of cards in the hands of kids? And this wasn’t a give-away from a manufacturing standpoint – they made a healthy profit.’’

Shaffer suggested a revamped, promotion-focused marketing department could “help everyone in this room, because we’d be bringing in kids who wanted to collect for the right reasons.  Without that type of new collectors … I’m not optimistic.  But if we listen to the kids, and figure out how to make our products relevant for them … then I’m encouraged.’’

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