Survival of Innovation

31 08 2009

In 1988 Pinnacle Brands broke into the baseball card market.  The market had long been dominated by a couple of players (Topps,  Donruss, and Fleer) and the market was doing fairly well.  It catapulted onto the scene by throwing in new features to the market, more colorful cards, full edge bleeds, more information, etc with their Score brand.  Over time they added in brand variations that were targeted at very specific markets:

  • Score:  Lower price point, more kid friendly
  • Select:  Mid price point, geared for the beginning collector
  • Pinnacle:  Higher price point for the more serious collector

If you followed the baseball card market at that time you will remember it as a rather unique time.  It was perfect example for economists.  The value of each card, pack, box was independently valued by third parties.  Card shops popped up in nearly every neighborhood to trade cards, and serious collectors were following the distribution trucks buying entire cases at a time before they even hit the shelves.  The catch was that you could not make all the cards you wanted.  The more you made the less you sold, and vice versa.

One of the main things that happened was the wrong sales mentality.  What made them successful, new  innovation, also hurt them.  They tried to stack the cards to the ceiling and create a consumer good mentality, not realizing the principal that the card would really only sell if they kept product very limited.

Hindsight being perfect (still a good lesson none the less) they should have kept production runs low, elevating the brand and looked for other ways to extend the brand.  As a last change, they started to get into other types of cards.  I think in the beginning they had the brains to come up with demand creation card games like today’s Pokeman genre.

Upper Deck came along in the same year and appears to be the leader in the field today.  Usually someone is going to survive, are you doing everything you can to make sure it is you?

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