Preview: 2010-11 Upper Deck Ultimate Hockey

This is one of my favorite products year after year from Upper Deck. This year looks like it will be just as amazing as other years. You may think I may be an Upper Deck fanboy or just like hating on other products after reading this preview but I will tell you one thing, this product just looks amazing. For the record, I haven’t been around long enough to show my praise for Panini Crown Royale hockey being one of the best products of the season. Just throwing that in there to show that I don’t have a Upper Deck bias.

Ultimate hockey brings you the same every year. Every box has 5 cards and sells for around $80-$100 depending on where you are looking. It will contain at least 1 rookie, 1 game used, and 1 autograph. The autograph or game used may also be a rookie extending your luck to pull some of the great rookies this year. Also included are Upper Deck staples like Sidney Crosby, Wayne Gretzky, Gordie Howe, and Bobby Orr.

As with all high end products, there is risk involved but with how great the rookies are this year and the types of veterans they put in this product, I think it will be more hit than miss. This product will contain the popular 1 of 1 autographed NHL shields, sick patches, and oversized game used cards. Everything will be hard signed as well. For once, I don’t see any manufactured patches in a high end product (take note Panini). If there is anything I don’t like about it is that it has been delayed, a common occurrence with Upper Deck lately. According to Dave and Adam’s Card World it is scheduled for May 25, 2011.

I mean who wouldn’t want to pull this…or something like it:

That is going to be the holy grail of Ultimate pulls this year. But you can’t go wrong with a Skinner, Eberle, Paajarvi, Stepan, Seguin, etc. The rookies this year are talented which makes this product one of the hottest of the year. If you need some high end to hold you until The Cup, this is it.

How I Would Run A Hobby Shop

Originally, I was going to write about another product preview but I decided to change my mind. When I started this blog I wanted it to be a place to find any information you wanted on products as well as tips and tricks for collectors. I decided to change it up because two product previews in two days would get kind of….boring and repetitive. I don’t want to bore anybody away from the blog so this should open some eyes and get people thinking. This is going to be a long one, so bare with me.

With Upper Deck and Panini really trying to make brick and mortar stores come back instead of steadily washing away, I want to write about how I would run a card shop. I believe that some of these shops are going down because of their owners and the way they run things. There is a brand new era of card shops and this will be about how to create a great shop or optimize your already existing shop so you can improve business. I by no means am an expert in the inner workings of business but I do know what I want to see as a consumer.

Let’s start with location. Location has always been considered very important, but with proper advertising you can afford to grab a cheaper area. If you want a prime spot, obviously you want a place with heavy traffic either by foot or by car. A big sign that will grab eyes is always important as well. I’ve seen shops with barely visible signs and they wonder why no one knows they are there. I also think with proper advertising you can go to a little less trafficked area. Why? Trading cards is a hobby. Most random people would not step into a hobby shop if they had no interest in any of the hobbies offered.

Proper advertising is key to getting people in your card shop. Just remember these three words and make them your mantra. Internet is king. Let’s say it together, “Internet is king”. This means you need to advertise the heck out of your shop online. Facebook, Twitter, CitySearch, hobby forums, everywhere you can think of you should be advertising your site. Yes, this takes work. But if you want to stay in business you will be doing it all. Start a website for your store. Not only will it be great advertising, you can sell items on your store site. The best part of this is you can expand your business and sell nationally. Increased sales means increased profits. Panini and Upper Deck even have benefits if you have a brick and mortar store and sell online. Why would you not do this? Start a site for your store and create an eBay store for your singles and watch your sales increase.

When using social media like Facebook, Twitter, or hobby forums the one thing I don’t understand is why shop owners don’t use YouTube to record and post box breaks or pack breaks in their stores. Chris from Cards Infinity has revolutionized this process. What he does is he takes orders off of his website and then he opens the product for you on camera and posts it on YouTube. He then sends you the contents. People who buy cards online usually don’t want to wait to see what they get, so this is the perfect impulse buy if you know you can see what is in your box immediately. I would also use YouTube to hold group breaks for anyone on the internet who wants to buy into a case. A great example of this is the people at CloutsnChara. Every couple days they hold a chat session and people buy into a group break of either a case of product or a mixed box break and open it live on camera. They move a TON of product this way. When SP Authentic hockey came out, they moved 5 cases of the product in 2 days. 5 cases. How many hobby stores can move 5 cases of any product in two days? All of this could even just be posted on your store’s Facebook and when you promote that, everyone will want to see what is next.

In store is obviously one of the more important parts as you could probably do all of the above just running a store out of your house. Those were ideas that will optimize your business by selling nationally. But in store promotions is where you can get people coming back. My best in store experience was at Wayne’s Sports Cards in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. I have never seen a store run so well in my career collecting cards and I’ve visited probably 50 shops. They have a huge store with products, supplies, and memorabilia but could easily get by with just products and supplies. I had a nice chat with the owners and learned quite a bit from them how they keep people coming back. Honesty, competitive prices, and treating your customers like they deserve to be treated. If it wasn’t for them, you wouldn’t have a business. The ways they do this is provide promotions, freebies, giveaways, raffles, everything you can think of just for buying something in the store. I bought a couple boxes and automatically was entered in two raffles for free swag and product. While chatting with them they even gave me free promotional cards that were only available 2 weeks earlier that they had laying around. That is how you get someone to keep coming back. I have only been to that store twice, but the only reason why is that I live 1700 miles away from there. I even still keep track of their Facebook because I respect that business so much. I know next time I am in the area I will have my choice of about 4 card shops. Wayne’s is now the only place I will go.

If I could add anything to that store (which they may even do, I’ve only been there a couple times) to promote the shop and get people in the doors is just standard promotional nights. They could hold a group break of a case of new product just released. They could hold a night of Pack Wars. All you need to add is to provide some snacks and drinks and watch products fly off the shelves. You could keep your best customers happy by starting a rewards program. Hell, if someone was sick and called in an order to deliver a box for an extra small fee I would do that too. Just keep people in the store and interested in the products and people will buy things. One of their loyal customers I met there I swear is there daily. There is a reason he keeps coming back to just that one store and that is because he is treated well by the store.

Keeping your local customers happy and expanding your business online to cater to the customer are the two most important things if you own a hobby shop. If you use all of these tips on making your current store better, I guarantee that you will see increased sales. A little promoting of your new promotions and pretty soon you’ll start getting a name for yourself and word of mouth alone will get you new customers. Do you know how Wayne’s got my business? I went to Sports Card Forum and asked the members there where the best store in Edmonton was to buy sports cards. I believe I had about 15-20 answers. Whatever that number was, 100% of them told me to go to Wayne’s. They told me about the 3 other options as well but they told me not to even bother going anywhere else. Isn’t that proof enough that your business is successful?

If I had the money to open up a shop, this is how I would run it and I guarantee you I would be making more money in the first year then any other shop not using these techniques. I just wish the shops around me in Portland, Oregon would do anything similar to this. Sadly, I haven’t found one. If you own a hobby shop in Portland and want to move it to the next level, contact me and we can work something out.

A Nice Easter Surprise

Easter baskets are a great place to put little presents. Whether it’s your children, family, or significant other, it’s always nice to receive a little surprise in your Easter basket. But sometimes you truly do get a surprise inside your basket.

Let me preface this by saying that this year my fiancee and I agreed not to give each other Easter baskets. The fact that I am unemployed and we just had our 2 year anniversary is part of it, but I made sure we had verbal confirmation that neither of us would be giving Easter baskets this year.

Well we were eating dinner before she went to work for the night and she goes upstairs to finish getting ready. As she is coming back down both dogs turn and look at the stairs, so being the observer I am, I turn and see what they are looking at. I turn and see a bright orange basket. Oh crap, I thought we agreed not to give each other anything. This wasn’t one of those instances where the girl says she doesn’t want anything but really does. It turns out her co-worker was talking about getting an Easter basket and how happy he was so she changed her mind and made me one.

The basket had all the regulars. Starburst jelly beans, Reese’s peanut butter eggs, the always yummy chocolate bunny, but what is this little box? It appears to be a little blaster box (7 packs) of Upper Deck Series II hockey! Awesome! This hockey season has been one of my favorites for collecting. My two favorite teams have awesome rookies. Carolina has Jeff Skinner and Edmonton has Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, and Magnus Paajarvi. So what’s better then trying to pull a Magnus Paajarvi Young Gun? I know it’s retail, but there’s still the chance!

Here’s how I did with the hits:
Victory RC Cam Fowler
Victory RC Oliver Ekman-Larsson
Victory RC Gold Mattias Tedenby
Young Guns Checklist Paajarvi/Seguin/Shattenkirk
Young Guns Korbinian Holzer
Young Guns 20th Anniversary Evgeny Grachev

Not bad at all for a retail box! I almost got the Paajarvi I was looking for. Well I can’t say I didn’t pull a Paajarvi Young Gun because I kinda did. The odds of pulling a Young Gun were 1:6 and I technically pulled 3 of them. The odds of a 20th Anniversary Young Gun were 1:96 which was a nice surprise too, especially since after opening 2 HOBBY boxes of Series I hockey I didn’t pull one 20th Anniversary Young Gun. Overall, this retail blaster was definitely one of the better ones I’ve opened in awhile. I never seem to get lucky with blasters. Perhaps I should let the fiancee pick out my retails from now on!

The mojo was lurking with me, and may the mojo be with you!

Review: 2010 SP Authentic Football

It’s right before the NFL draft which means one of the last products of 2010 has been released (March 2, 2011) and it’s the one that collectors clamor for the most, 2010 SP Authentic Football. I recently broke a box of SP Authentic Football before I created this blog and thought it would be a great first break and review for those who love football.

As many know, Upper Deck has lost its license to produce NFL trading cards. To keep their hold in the football market they received licensing from the NCAA and have produced several nice sets featuring both rookies and veterans in their college football uniforms. While some cards don’t look as crisp due to the lack of photographic technology back when they played in college, the cards look just as good as the products featuring players in NFL uniforms. Here are some photos of SP Authentic cards from my break. At the bottom I will post a video of the break, however, to be honest, the box break part sucks. It had bad angles, lack of decent descriptors on my part because I had been awake 24 hours, and my camera ran out of batteries. But I think the pre-break festivities I recorded were solid.

Base:
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Rookie Authentics /999:
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Rookie Authentics Autographs /599:
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Rookie Patch Autograph /499:
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Design: 

I have always loved the design of SP Authentic throughout the years. Even though the design may seem repetitive or very similar to designs of past years, the design is still appealing every year. This year has a solid white background with circular designs on each side of the player who is centered in the middle. What I really like about circular designs on each side is that they use the team colors as the color of the design. On the left is the player’s name written vertically in gold foil, which looks real sharp and makes it stand out. Great design work.

Checklist:

When looking at the checklist for this product, you feel like you can pull just about any of the top rookies or players from your favorite teams. Since the loss of the license, it would definitely appeal more to the college collectors but also I think the player collectors get a real present. There isn’t many NCAA licensed cards out there and getting a player in a college uniform definitely changes up the collection a little bit, in a good way. As always, there are a ton of autographs to pull as well as autographed memorabilia cards. With plain game used seemingly turning into overproduced commons, it seems as if autographs and autographed memorabilia cards have taken the forefront as to what players want the most. The sickest patch, lowest number autograph, all of these are high on collector’s want lists. You can pull regular rookie autographs as well as retro rookie autographs which features superstars and hall of famers in their college uniforms. The checklist of names is long, but it’s also full of depth and value.

Value:

SP Authentic cards, specifically the rookie autographs, hold their value better than most other products out there on the market. The patch autographs are some of the most sought after autographs by rookie autograph collectors. With 3 autographs guaranteed per box (1 being an autographed memorabilia) and the $100-$120 price tag, you can pull some real gems. I really haven’t seen many terrible boxes of this product if you look at the names pulled, but it’s always possible. The only gripe I really have with this product is actually a huge one. Mike Williams. The Mike Williams drafted this past year who plays for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and played at Syracuse is NOT the same Mike Williams as the one who plays for the Seattle Seahawks and was drafted in 2005 out of USC, I believe. Whomever was responsible for quality assurance missed a huge mistake. Mike Williams (USC/Seattle) autographs have been spotted all across the product on Mike Williams (Syracuse/Tampa Bay) cards. Now maybe it bothers me more because I’m a Tampa Bay fan but this is unacceptable. I heard Mike Williams (TB) has been tough to get autographs from lately, but throwing on autographs of the other Mike Williams (SEA) isn’t the answer and he’s not the same person. I really hope Upper Deck replaces every last one of those cards, especially since it guarantees the authenticity of the autograph. It’s not Mike Williams’ (TB) autograph, therefore, it is not authentic. Other than that, I don’t see anything else that would hurt the value. Well I do, manufactured patches, but it seems as though those are here to stay in all products from all brands.

Overall:

Overall, SP Authentic brings you closer to the college game than has ever been seen. These are some of the hottest rookie cards on the market with the great patch auto hits you have the possibility of pulling. The visuals are stunning year after year and they change it up just enough to feel fresh but maintaining what makes it great. Simplicity. Despite a couple of screw ups, SP Authentic should be tops on your list of football boxes to pick up to complete your 2010 football purchases.

Here is my video, sorry for the epic fail:

What do you think of 2010 SP Authentic Football?

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May the mojo be with you.

-SCB