Friday, July 23, 2010

Between a Rock and a Hard Place- Topps Efforts Noble But Ultimately In Vain?

Yesterday via their Twitter account, twitter.com/toppscards, they asked bloggers and National attendees if we would be willing to participate in a panel discussion or town hall meeting. Here was my response which was echoed almost verbatim be a well known hobby insider.

Hello Mike,

No offense to you or Topps but I have come to the unfortunate
realization that card companies, as a whole, have only one focus and
that is the bottom line. Which is understandable.


However, what would really be accomplished? What would be Topps
motivation? It certainly wouldn't be to get a better understanding of
what collectors really want. That message can be garnered from any
number of blogs, Hobby websites and message boards.

I have been reviewing products sent to us from the card companies,
including Topps for 7 years for Card Corner Club.
Nothing ever changes despite the myriad of suggestions for
improvement, new product ideas etc.

The companies know collectors, as a majority, will purchase whatever
is produced regardless of how poorly designed, configured and under
valued they might be and the truth is why change if a vocal minority
believes something can be done better.

I hate to sound cynical but I unfortunately believe this would be just
another attempt by the card companies to give off the appearance that
they actually care what collectors think.

Respectfully,

Rob
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

Rob,

I get what it is that you are saying and in a lot of ways your cynicism
is justified. It is a business, and like every other business making
money is the primary reason for our existence. That's the reality.
However, I think everyone here understands to a certain (perhaps
varying) extent that making the customers happy is an important part of
maintaining the bottom line.

Topps hired me not long ago in part to engage and take the pulse of our
consumer base. I listen to the concerns and frustrations of collectors
on a daily basis and do my best to take them to the people in charge of
changing things. What I am finding is that the hobby in general (us
included) has a very old-school mentality where they may not feel the
need to listen to criticism or be accountable if the bottom line is
good. Even internally I deal with a situation where most people I work
with have no idea what my job is or why I'm here. Of course, the fact
that I was hired and remain employed means that there are people who see
what I do in engaging with our consumers as valuable. I feel like my
job is to create a culture of openness and engagement with our
customers, but sometimes where a cultural shift is required change
happens slowly.

So my motivation in holding a town hall or panel discussion or whatever
it ends up becoming at the National is to begin to create a culture of
engagement. I can either choose to be put off by the (justified)
cynicism of many collectors or I can do my best to change it. I may
ultimately be tilting at windmills here, but I'm doing my best. If we
do end up doing something like this in Baltimore I hope you will
participate. There will be beer. Feel free to introduce yourself and
we can discuss this further. Thanks for taking the time to share your
concerns. Contact me any time.

Mike
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

Mike,

Thank you for your reply. You have always done a good job of engaging Topps' fans and critics and I honestly don't envy your position of balancing the company line and engaging your customer base with the empathy you employ.

In all honesty, I have been at this alot longer than yourself,( providing feedback to the mfg's on product likes/dislikes) and while it's admirable of Topps to have employed someone in your position, I can easily hear the suits in the board room agreeing to "throw collectors a bone by hiring somebody to listen and pretend to care." While you have been a straight shooter from the get go and a valuable source of information, I really don't expect much to change. Topps has everything going for it right now with the licensing trifecta of MLB, MiLB and USA and has no one to compete with. Yet what has Topps done with this opportunity? They've rolled out the same product line as any other year.

If their was ever a time for experimentation, innovation and providing real value to the collector to establish brand loyalty for the day when the market returns to multiple licensees, now would seem to be that time. And yet the Topps design department seems to consist of people programmed like robots to replace images and copy and dump them into the same old stale designs.

Most of the collecting world has grown to realize that most memorabilia cards aren't worth the material they are printed on, and yet Topps idea of a high end product is to jam as many relic pieces onto a card as they can, photography, autograph placement and overall card design be damned.

The bottom line is they don't have to care what we think and more sadly, clearly have no desire to but again, I appreciate your efforts. I wouldn't be saying anything at the town hall that my colleagues and I at Card Corner Club have relayed to Clay Luraschi and his team for the umpteenth time.

However, I do believe this dialogue would be valuable to the blogsphere and provide further commentary. Do you have any issue with me posting our correspondence on my blog?

To be clear that I am not alone in these concerns and opinions. Please reference long time industry insider, former Beckett employee, brand manager at every trading card manufacturer, Steven Judd’s response, this morning, to Topps inquiry. (Remember the commentary is in chronological order, so it's best to read in reverse order from the bottom up)

@
toppscards - .....then people might start to believe it. Until that happens, all of this hubbub is a waste of everyone's time.
@toppscards - .....marketing initiative is much to do about nothing. Don't tell us, show us. Once you do that with a couple of products....
@toppscards - ...products each year. Until your company gets past the "We're Topps and that is how its going to be" attitude, all of this..
@
toppscards - ...understood why Topps would blatantly ignore the words/wishes of people that spend tens of millions of dollars on their....
@toppscards - ....the topic of Topps products come up in our conversations. While ignoring the rants of one guy is feasible, I've never...
@
toppscards - While it is easy to dismiss my words since I'm just one person, your master distributors say the same thing ever time....
@toppscards - From my personal vantage point, your company would have more credibility if you had hobby people working there.
@toppscards - You can't kick us in the teeth for years and except us to flock back just because you are willing to actually sit down with us
@toppscards - Again, I'm try to say this as tactfully as possible in a constructive manner. I hope that you understand where this comes from
@toppscards - The perception amongst the hobby is that your people have not listened for years, so why would they start to now.
@toppscards - ....to correct the mistakes. Things that are being done at retail is great, but that does not help the hobby side of things.
@
toppscards - .....helps@nwhit, but it fails to address topics such as weak hobby brands such as Unique, Platinum and what is being done...
@
toppscards - ...to discuss how the retail shelves are easier to read for new/novice collectors? That is great for the hobby and it.....
@toppscards - ...is less cluttered and they've made great strides with Topps Attax reaching out to younger sports fans? Are they going...
@
toppscards - What are your people going to tell me that I don't already know? Is Warren and Mark going to talk about how the landscape...
@
toppscards - ....know how to make a hobby-focused product that does not insult our intelligence. Talk is just that talk. Worth nothing.
@
toppscards - .....meetings will be seen as nothing more than lip service. Don't talk to us about it. Do something about it. Act like you...
@
toppscards - ....a lot more involved than that. The issues go far deeper and until they are addressed properly by Topps, these type of...
@
toppscards - You can't just start interacting with folks on Twitter and think they will make the company appear hobby friendly...it's......
@
toppscards - ....the relationship, or lack their of, they have had with the hobby. Topps has never been seen as a hobby-friendly company.
@
toppscards - Not trying to be a jerk about this, but there is a lot of history you are not aware of when it comes to Topps and the ......
@toppscards - .....would actually result from this type of meeting, except for more "head in the sand" behavior from your co-workers.
@
toppscards - The PDT and executives from Topps have snubbed their noses at the hobby for such a long time, no one believes anything...
@toppscards - Speaking to a hobby group without having any hobby cred/knowledge would make for an unpleasent afternoon.
@
toppscards - While your efforts are appreciated, the fact is that your executives would get torn apart piece by piece, rightfully so.

Topps Response

@StevenLJudd The change might happen slowly, but I think there is more of an effort being made here than in years past. @StevenLJudd we need to be more open and accountable to the hobby community. Events like this give you the opportunity to voice concerns.
@StevenLJudd Obviously I can't address you concerns here one by one. I can say though that we are at a place as a company where we realize...

2 comments:

Rod (Padrographs) said...

How do you even contact some one at Topps, their website has no email contact information at all? Actually no worthwhile information. I did once manage to email them something and got a generic email back. No one ever bother contacting me. I still want my Padres cards but the companies are no help.

Rob- AKA "VOTC" said...

You can contact them by support@topps.com. You will get a generic response but then their should be a link to something that says, " if you have not received a follow-up.

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