Industry Summit Survey Indicates Hobby Shops’ Hopes and Concerns in 2012

As the 2012 Industry Summit nears, geared toward professionals in the sports collectibles industry, from hobby shop owners, distributors, manufacturers, licensors and everyone in between, Summit organizer Kevin Isaacson has released results of a survey issued to hobby shop owners regarding hopes, concerns and thoughts on the business heading into 2012.

With key areas being addressed – product diversification, online marketing and enhanced corporate partnerships – many have high hopes for the current year.

“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
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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.’’

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 e-mail marketing.  Some of the most aggressive retailers are even executing product sales via box breaks on YouTube. 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.’’

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.  Several promotions, such as the Gold Rush, and Black Friday sales provided a healthy boost.

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.

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.

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.

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 endorsing 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.

Across the board, though, retailers indicated they are approaching 2012 in an aggressive and optimistic fashion. A key phrase in many retailer assessments:  “Investing.’’ In fact, several retailers have requested a seminar on “Opening Multiple Locations’’ at this year’s Industry Summit.

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