Wednesday, October 19, 2011

More SKU's, please.

Watched a couple of documentaries on "design" last night on Netflix.

One was about the "font"; Helvetica. I'll never be able to look at lettering the same again.

The other was "Objectified" which was more or less about the form and function of manufactured objects.

One of the people they quote talks about how design is meant to replace the old with the new and that sometimes there is no more reason for it than that: that mass marketers need more units and types of things to sell. (Thus filling the worlds landfills for no good reason.)

It makes the whole "cheap" argument kind of bogus, when things could be designed to last and not constantly replaced.

Anyway, the discussion of how the mass market wants more SKU's (stock keeping units) made me think of -- yes, I'm sorry I'm bringing it up again -- sports cards.

When I started carrying sports cards there were three brands. Topps, Donruss and Fleer. Manufacturers did baseball, and football. No basketball. The packs more or less cost .50 and had fifteen or so cards and a stick of gum. Boxes had 36 packs.

Small shops like me figured out that you could take those three basic brands and make more SKU's out of them by breaking them up: Singles (commons and stars and, later, semi-stars), complete sets, team sets, packs and boxes. Add in specialized knowledge and display space and some basic supplies, and suddenly you had an industry.

After a few years, the sports cards were picked up by the major chain stores. By that time the brands had probably already proliferated a bit; new companies like Score and Upper Deck, and some price differentials -- Upper Deck at a 1.00 a back, for instance. But still, pretty much under control.

They exploded. Three tiers -- base, semi-expensive and super-expensive. They segmented into multiple issues within one brand. To differentiated themselves from us small shops and each other, exclusives started being granted. Then inserts and subsets.

Once the packs got expensive, then the mass market could "discount" them. That is -- at .50 cents a pack, there was only so much they could do to beat us. But at 5.00 a pack, they can beat us pretty handily.

Nowadays, I'm offered 500.00 boxes of cards with a few packs in them and a few cards per pack. The value is supposed to be in 'memorabilia' cards (cut up game-worn jersey patches and such) and autographs. I'm offered 150.00 boxes of cards with one pack. Yep, one pack. With one card. Ludicrous.

They finally gave us small shops the better brands, called "Hobby", but which are much more expensive and since grandma can't see the difference, she'll save money and buy the lesser brands from Walmart.

Anyway, to get back to my original point. I read this years ago, and I believe it to be true: The reason sports cards are so expensive is because Walmart WANTED them to be expensive -- the opposite of what everyone assumes.

This all happened because of the mass markets insatiable need for more and more and newer and newer SKU's.

The market is totally dysfunctional. Topps is the only real survivor -- an Italian sticker company, of all things, Panini, is the other major player.

You really have to wonder if all the cheap crap at the mass market is only cheap in relative terms, and in most cases unnecessary in variety and styles -- in other words, JUNK.

Sports card packs are expensive, overall, but cheaper at Walmart.

But not really cheap, you know what I mean?

4 comments:

H. Bruce Miller said...

"It makes the whole "cheap" argument kind of bogus, when things could be designed to last and not constantly replaced."

Back in the '50s and '60s Detroit called it "planned obsolescence." The term is no longer used, but the marketing strategy still is.

Witness the Apple cultists lined up on the sidewalks outside Apple stores waiting to get the latest and (supposedly) greatest incarnation of the iPhone.

Anonymous said...

Apple is the ultimate cult, glad to see you finally be honest hbm.

Steve Jobs always was the ultimate asshole, and his whore side kick jewelery salesman guy kawasaki that Bend cult loves so much.

In fact I find it easy to say that Bend is a cult as much as Apple. In the face of failure the cult of Bend hangs on.

Why the fuck is hbm still there?

Jack Elliott said...

I shopped for an undercounter can opener a few years ago. There were several models in the store.

"...design is meant to replace the old with the new and that sometimes there is no more reason for it than that..."

Yeah. You know that the basic electric undercounter can opener was invented back in the '40s or something, and over the decades they would have improved it to the point where it was effective, clean, and dependable. Instead, money continues to be spent on new designs rather than refining something that has already proven itself.

H. Bruce Miller said...

"Apple is the ultimate cult, glad to see you finally be honest hbm."

I've always said that.

"In the face of failure the cult of Bend hangs on."

I've said that too.

"Why the fuck is hbm still there?"

Because he's waiting for his wife to retire, at which point he and his wife will be free to move away. I've said this before too, many times.