Friday, October 21, 2011

A Better Topps Distribution Schedule for 2012...Maybe.

I'm reading Grand Cards' post called "Misjudging Customer Demand. It's a very well thought out post about how it seems that Topps seems to be cramming down a lot of baseball card products towards the end of the season while there were months during the season that there may have been only one or two products out a month. Of course, many collectors share his view. These would be the team collectors, the player collectors, the "I want to try everything at least once" type collectors. And to a degree, I agree with the apparent lack of proper spacing between products that we're now seeing six MLB products (and one MiLB product) come out within the past two months. Basically, we're looking at a new product hitting the shelves EVERY WEEK!!!

Now, is this all Topps' fault? I'm not here to apologize for them, but it's not. Could they have planned their distribution schedule better to guarantee success for their products? Absolutely. But what wasn't considered in his post was that there were other baseball related products that were put out in between the "lull" that was the period in-between the guaranteed 17 products that helped appease the appetites of baseball card collectors while waiting for the next new thing. These would include the MLB 17-card team sets (which I like), and factory sets of the flagship brand (you had your hobby, retail, All-Star edition, Opening Day, and Topps Attax, products that are not part of the "quota 17" were sold in between new releases. Not to mention the big bonus boxes that could be found at your local WalMart or Target store that had packs of different products in one easy to manage package. And of course, you have the…"ahem"…cough…cough…competition.

For a collector like me, who focuses primarily on Topps' flagship brand, I'm not really screaming to the heavens about the glut of products that showed up seemingly all at once at the end of the season. Yes, I liked this year's A & G, Gypsy Queen, and Lineage, but I would prefer to buy full sets on the Bay (or a reasonable facsimile of) than buy pack after pack to try for a complete set. That's not really the point. But for the player, team, type, high end, try-everything, collector, it is too much product at one time, at probably the most inopportune time of the year, especially when there was only too few products to hold us over during the course of the regular MLB season. But how long should it be between distributing new products? Two weeks tops (pun intended)? What time frame (months) would it be ideal (or profitable) to ensure that everyone is satisfied (there will never be a consensus as to what that means, but work with me here) with the distribution schedule?

Before we can even begin to figure that out, the first thing to do is to determine where each product stands in the hierarchy of collecting. As we all know, sports card sets/products are categorized into four specific groups: low-end, mid-level, high-end, and everything else.

Low end products are produced in higher quantity, has a huge following, appeals to everybody, sells well regardless of who buys it kind of products that are (relatively) inexpensive and sets can be completed with not too much effort on a budget. The hits are there, but not as important to those who collect them.

Your mid-level sets tend to be those are a bit more marketed towards the collector who doesn't necessarily have to have a complete set of everything. The technology used to manufacture the cards (ie. Chrome) is a selling point. The inserts and the hits take a bit more of a stage here as the reason to buy the product.

High-end products are the big-hit oriented products that come maybe three or four cards per box, or an even limited number of packs with maybe one or two cards in them. It's all about the relics, autos, white whales, whatever you want to call them products. It's the reason people shell out major league money on them, and for some people, the only cards that fuel the marketplace.

"Everything else" would refer to the rest of Topps' product line that the company makes and sells that doesn't affect their 17-product MLB quota. These products would be placed under the low to mid level products under normal circumstances. But for the sake of this article, we'll just keep them separated.

So what is there that can be done to improve the scheduling for next year? How could we suggest to those who know more than we ever will about how this business actually works, when to distribute the merchandise for 2012? Let's assume that the same products from 2011 are coming back for 2012 (in reality, some collectors are already on that mindset seeing what the 2012 Topps I product looks like). There are 52 weeks in the year, and at least 24 different baseball products (MLB and MiLB) to be brought to the masses. That is, on average, two sets per month in a 12 month calendar year.

Just focusing on the product lines that Topps was produced in 2011, here is how they would have broken down in the three categories (obviously, I could be dead wrong in the positioning of these products, but for the sake of the article, just work with me here, will you?):

  • Low-End (6): Topps (1 and 2…counts as one product but sold in two series), Update Series, Heritage, Allen & Ginter, Gypsy Queen, Bowman
  • Mid-Level (5): Topps Chrome, Lineage, Tribute, Bowman Chrome, Bowman Draft Picks & Prospects
  • High-End (6): Topps Finest, Marquee, Tier One, Triple Threads, Bowman Platinum, Bowman Sterling
  • Everything else (8): Topps Attax, Opening Day, Stickers, Team Sets, Factory Sets, World Series Team Set, MiLB Pro Debut, MiLB Heritage (all considered low-end with the possible exception of Heritage).
I think it would make sense to distribute no more than two products of low, mid, and high end product a month. And based on the categories, there can only be one product from each level per month. That means two high end items should not be sold within the same month. Items in the everything else category should be distributed during the baseball season, can be sold concurrently with regular product, and this should not affect the distribution schedule of the "quota 17." 

As Topps flagship products (Series 1, Series, 2) and Update Series are the company's number one sellers, these three sets should stand alone, and not distributed in months with mid or high end products. As there are three of them, each new series should be distributed every four months, beginning with February (the start of Spring Training). So on the first week in February, Series 1 comes out to whet our appetite. The first week in June gets Series 2 to heat things up. The first week in October brings us the Update Series to end the regular season on a high note. No mid level or high end sets should be distributed during these months.

In March, as spring training competition starts, Topps Heritage (low end), Topps Finest (high end), and Topps MiLB Pro Debut (everything else) can make their appearances. This will allow set collectors who don't do the base set but crave all things Heritage to begin their seasons. It allows high end collectors to start their season, and with Pro Debut out at this time, it gives player, team, and auto collectors, to possibly get the autographs of those up and coming players who might actually break camp with the MLB team. Heritage and Pro Debut should come out the first week in March, and Finest two weeks later.

As April rolls around, it's the beginning of the regular season. This is a good time to put out a set that focuses on retired players. But because the MLB Players Association (or is it MLB Properties, I'm not sure which) won't allow a full-on retired players set, they have to mix current players into the products as well. What better set to sell in April than the mid level Tribute set, Gypsy Queen (which is actually scheduled in 2012), and Opening Day? I know that Topps plans on putting Tribute out in February, but it just doesn't fit for me there. Opening Day would be sold during the week of…do I even have to mention it? Tribute comes at the same time, and Gypsy Queen two weeks after that.

I would put three products out in May. The season is one month old, and rosters are now firmly entrenched into the season. It is just the most appropriate time to distribute the Team Sets to the department stores, hobby shops who want them, and Team shops around the country. Bowman, with all its bells and whistles makes its appearance here, as well as the next high-end set for the year, Triple Threads. Bowman would come out during the first week of the month, the team sets a week later, and Triple Threads two weeks after that.

The kids get out of school in June. As mentioned earlier, Topps Series 2 gets the whole month to itself. But what better way to get the kids interested in cards again than with a game? Topps Attax, that European sensation, goes into store shelves two weeks after Series 2. This would also be a good time for the Stickers, and its accompanying album, to come to market.

July brings the All-Star break for everybody, majors and minors alike. And by now, the competition has heated up to a boiling point. Teams are starting to separate from the contenders to the also-rans. But every collector is out now and they are looking for something to sink their collective (another pun…get it) teeth into something. And with the National just around the corner, you need your proven products, the big sellers, to come out swinging like home run derby participants. This would be a great time for Allen & Ginter, Bowman Chrome, and the second MiLB product (be it another Heritage, or something else) to make an appearance now. A&G and Bowman Chrome are no brainers. Both have a huge…HUGE…following and people will bust cases of the stuff in their free time. These have to be out before the National. And now is as good time as any for the second MiLB product. The minor league season ends in August/early September. And it would be a really bad idea for this to come out any later. Put Allen & Ginter out first week of July, with Bowman Chrome two weeks afterwards. The MiLB product can be let out in-between the two MLB products. And, which reminds me, with FanFest out, now is a good time for the Factory Sets (Hobby, Retail, All-Star, and any Team-Specific) to make their first appearance.

The dog days of August are now upon us and all of our low-end products save for Update Series have now been put to market. This is now a good time to focus on the mid and high end sets to make their presences felt. Now I don't know the product lines, but if we were going with 2011's brands, this would be a good time for Topps Lineage and Topps Tier One. Lineage is that mid level set with inserts galore that people at the National would want. Marquee is a high end set that will keep the high rollers happy after solid months of Triple Threads. Either one could go live first with the other coming out two weeks later.

In September, as the playoff races are heating up, now is a good time for Topps Chrome and, again work with me, Topps Marquee (or whatever high end set you want to throw out here). But in this case, Chrome should go live first, then Tier One two weeks later.

October is Update Series month. All month. That's it. That ends the low-end product season. That ends the Topps brand season. That also ends the MLB season. Oh yeah, the World Series team set comes out soon after the WS is over.

It's November. Yes, we're already into the off-season. But with the draft in June, how quickly do you think Topps can get draft picks and prospects into a set that actually is called Draft Picks and Prospects? This is as good a time as any to put out Bowman's DPP. For high end junkies, Bowman Platinum can come out here as well. Draft Picks come out first, then Sterling two weeks later.  The Topps Holiday Factory Set appears in Hobby stores in time for the Holiday rush.

In the cold of December, with the Holidays fast approaching, nothing says "Happy Holidays" more than a box of Bowman Sterling. A high end set, with prospects galore to warm the hearts of many a prospector through the winter months.

And the good news is that in January, the 2012 season card season is over as we now wait for 2013 (and Series 1 to come out in February again).

If I haven't bored you to death with the above, here is the cliff notes version of what my ideal 2012 Topps Distribution schedule would look like (in order of when they would appear, assume every month has four weeks, and I don't necessarily mean the first day of the week, just week of):

  • February: Topps Series 1 (first week)
  • March: Topps Heritage, Topps MiLB Pro Debut (first week), Topps Finest (two weeks later)
  • April: Topps Opening Day, Topps Tribute (first week), Topps Gypsy Queen (two weeks later)
  • May: Bowman, Team Sets (first week), Topps Triple Threads (two week later)
  • June: Topps Series 2 (first week), Topps Stickers, Topps Attax (two weeks later)
  • July: Topps Allen & Ginter (first week), Topps Factory Sets, Topps MiLB Heritage (second week), Bowman Chrome (one week later)
  • August: Topps Lineage (first week), Topps Tier One (two weeks later)
  • September: Topps Chrome (first week), Topps Marquee (two weeks later)
  • October: Topps Update Series (first week), World Series Team set (end of WS), Topps Holiday Factory Set
  • November: Bowman Draft Picks and Prospects (first week), Bowman Platinum (third week)
  • December: Bowman Sterling (first week)
Would a distribution schedule like this work for collectors? What would you change? If I haven't bored you to death with the details, does my schedule make sense? Please let me know.


JayBee Anama

1 comment:

Ryan G said...

I think I wrote up something like this somewhere. I agree with most of it, and spreading the product out is an important task. There is some competition, but Goodwin Champions (the only real competition to Topps this year) came out a week or two before A&G.

While Opening Day would be nice as an opening day release, it seems like Topps wants it on the shelves by Opening Day, hence the March release. And I agree with it.

I would then move Bowman up to April, and Pro Debut back to May. You've also got Bowman and MiLB products grouped together - move BoChro to August, and Platinum to September, when minor leaguers are still in collectors' minds. I would also move Marquee, Triple Threads, or Tier One to December.

I like a balanced schedule, with a break in the winter. With only Bowman products and one high-end set after Update, Christmas want-lists will focus on a big-hit release, a factory set, or something that's been out a while.

With basically 24 products (including the three series of flagship, but not counting factory or team sets), there will be times when multiple releases come out within a week of each other - especially if most of them are coming out in a six to seven month time period. Just remember back to 2005 (if you were collecting then) - I count 82 releases other than factory sets and such - and series don't count individually in that number.