Entertainment cards are probably sold by less than half of pop culture stores, whether because retailers feel it's too hard to pick winners, because of display problems, or for other reasons. But non-sports trading cards can be a successful product category, as was indicated by both of the retailers we interviewed recently on merchandising movie products (see 'Moving Movie Merchandise Part I' and 'Part II'). So we sought out a couple of retailers that we were told do an especially good job of merchandising and promoting entertainment cards to find out their secrets. We talked to Mimi Cruz of Night Flight, a 1500 square foot mall store in Salt Lake City, Utah; and to Dave Luebke of Dave's Comics, a 1049 foot store in Richmond, Virginia. Here's what we learned:
1.Who's the customer for movie cards? Luebke said his non-sports card customers ranged in age from five to 35, and collected the property, rather than looking for rare cards. 'If I could pick a single direction to describe the non-sports card collector,' said Luebke, 'I'd say they do it for the love of the product.' 'It's not for the money at all any more,' he said. He said that interest in cards waxed and waned depending on the property, citing Episode II as one on the upswing, because early word on the movie was generating excitement.
Cruz also said that the typical customer was more a member of the general public than her typical patron. She said that her mall location made her store an easy-to-find source for movie or TV-based items.
2.What's the customer looking for when he/she buys entertainment cards? Both of our experts indicated that chase cards were a minor part of the equation these days -- their customers are primarily interested in the images of the properties they like. Cruz said that she was seeing customers looking for everything Spider-Man right now, and that they were collecting the Coke cans, t-shirts, posters, comics, and so on. She said that cards are a good fit for those customers (or those buying gifts for them) because almost everyone is familiar with trading cards, so they're a comfortable purchase.
3.How long do you stock new entertainment cards? Both retailers said they stock new card series for varying periods, depending on demand, but that meant different things to the two. Luebke said he had cards from some time ago still on display, including cards based on Lion King, Pocahontas, Tomb Raider, and Marvel and DC cards. Cruz said that the stronger the property, the longer they tried to have it in their store. Star Wars, for example, would be stocked for the long term, while Scorpion King would be stocked for a shorter period. In general, she said that she stocked cards based on TV properties, such as Buffy or Simpsons, for a longer period than most movies.
4.How do you display entertainment cards, and especially how do you avoid shrink? Both retailers had specialized plastic displays. Dave's Comics displays non-sports cards in an acrylic rack placed directly across from the cash register to deter theft, in which packs are displayed vertically with full faces out. Magic the Gathering cards are kept behind the counter, and Pokemon cards are also carefully watched.
Night Flight displays entertainment cards in acrylic cubes that open to the back of the counter, requiring that a customer get counter help to get cards. This effectively keeps shrink to near zero. Cruz does let customers pick their own packs under clerk supervision.
Neither retailer carries singles or sets as a stock item, although both indicated that they sometimes special ordered sets when customers requested them.
5.How are you promoting entertainment card sales? Dave's Comics is advertising that it will be giving away Star Wars promo cards to the first customers at the store on May 4, Free Comic Book Day. Cruz said that Night Flight sometimes also used cards to promote the store to new customers by giving them away. In those cases, they first attach a coupon to the back of the card with rubber cement, which allows the customer to use the coupon to redeem a bounceback offer and still preserve the card from damage. Night Flight also incorporates cards into its promotional efforts tied to movie releases. Both Dave's Comics and Night Flight indicated that they get promo cards from Topps for use in special promotions.