Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Customer Loyalty

Imagine my surprise when my daughter brought home a pack of 2009 Element from school last week. I had forgotten that I gave her teacher a bunch of old trading card packs to use in the class “treasure box” – a special box from which the kids get to select a prize when they behave all week. She was very excited when she opened the pack and found a Missing Element card. We decided that we would get on the computer after dinner and enter the card.

Except…the Missing Element redemption page isn’t up any more. The product is two years old and we’ve taken it down. So, now imagine the Press Pass Director of Customer Relations trying to console her 7-year-old who can’t redeem her card. Quite the lesson, huh? Some of you would say it serves me right.

Regardless, it was a good reminder that decisions must be made with the end-user in mind. At Press Pass, we know we’re one of the smaller trading card companies. We produce trading cards for niche products and entertainment properties and while we’re pretty successful doing it, we always remember that we have to do it better than the big guys.

Most of our customers see that in our customer relations policies. I can’t begin to tell you the number of times someone in our department has been told how refreshing it is to find out that yes, we will still honor your redemption card past the expiration date or yes, we will work with you to figure out what happened to your card. As much as possible, we want to fix what is wrong and turn a bad experience into a good one. We even try to fix it when it’s not our fault. (Chances are if you leave your just-opened trading cards next to your three-year-old who is coloring with markers, you will find interesting new art on your cards.)

As a retailer, I believe it is important to have the same strategy. The reason collectors like to visit hobby stores is to experience the fun of opening packs with a group of people who are as enthusiastic about the hobby as they are. They are also there because it is familiar – usually, they know you, they know your store and they know your events and promotions. Anything you can do to enhance their experience will only increase their loyalty.

Terri Rehkop

Monday, February 28, 2011

Collecting Focus

Like many of you I have been collecting sports cards and memorabilia most of my life. The difference between us may be that I’m a little longer in the tooth and that means that I have had more time to “accumulate” things.

From time-to-time I find myself having to refocus my collecting habits. There are so many choices of things to collect in this day and age. When I was a kid there was one card set a year per sport so while you might collect multiple sports you were still capped at how many offerings were available to you in a given year.

Nowadays it is just like everything else in our world-sensory overload. And unfortunately when your mind (or your house!) becomes cluttered that can lead to a little less joy with your hobby. That’s because you spend as much time trying to figure out what to do with all of your stuff as opposed to being able to spend real quality time with it.

I am as guilty as anyone of falling prey to trying to collect everything. We automatically set ourselves up to fail as it simply can’t be done. Part of the joy of collecting is the “completing” aspect along with the “chase” aspect. But if all you ever do is chase then where is the fun in that? We are all competitive and we all want to win (finish) every once in awhile!

Even trying to collect a favorite athlete’s trading cards can be problematic. If you are a Dale Earnhardt Jr. or Derek Jeter fan then you’ll need to take out a second mortgage to try and amass all of their cards. It can almost be a curse to cheer for the most popular teams as they often have the most collectible players therefore ensuring a higher demand for the cards of those players. If you are a Kansas City Royals fan you are A-okay!

So what can we do to keep things interesting yet achievable? Focus! But we can make focus fun and affordable too. For example, here’s an approach I have taken to going back and collecting the baseball superstars from when I was a kid (Clemente, Aaron, Gibson and Mays to name a few). I have been collecting League Leader cards that feature these players (or not). Not only is it often a chance to have more than one of them pictured on the same card but they are affordable too! They often cost far less than the player’s common card from the same year. I have been trying to complete these by individual years, one year at a time.

Let’s talk about current cards. You love Dale Jr. but wow, there are a lot of cards out there. How about an approach of trying to collect all of his cards where he has a beard!? That focuses the chase a bit. Or maybe you want a little more variety with a challenge so you could go after non-memorabilia insert cards. That would provide a challenge but wouldn’t completely deplete your Daytona 500 trip money.

My purpose here is to point out that we collect cards and memorabilia as a hobby and an outlet. At the point it becomes overwhelming then it is no longer fun. So every time that I personally start to reach that point with my own collection I just refocus. Sometimes that means I purge some cards to allow me to begin a different pursuit. And that in itself is very exciting because one of the best parts about collecting as a kid was “trading” with your buddies. Think of a purge as just an adult’s way of trading!

One of the best things about our hobby and industry are the myriad of choices. Get creative with how you choose to continue your collecting quest and it will lead to more fun-filled times with family, friends and even yourself.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011


First Marathon – Pilot Mountain Payback, Pilot Mountain State Park, North Carolina, February 19, 2011

Beginning in November 2010, I decided to begin training for my first marathon. Being an avid hiker, I wanted to choose a race held on trails. The race held at Pilot Mountain in February fit the bill and I had just enough time for a 16 week training schedule. Little did I realize this was not an ordinary marathon.

Several weeks prior to the race, I had built up to 19 miles on a couple of my long training runs. Most of these long runs were done on hilly trails at Morrow Mountain SP about an hour from home to try to mirror what I would face on race day. Then it was time to begin the taper – a 2-3 week period before the race of cutting back mileage for rest. During the taper though, I was very busy having two weeks of business trips to Pennsylvania and Texas. Not only is it hard to train while traveling, it is also hard to eat smart. Consequently during the last two weeks before the race, I had several nagging twinges and pains in my knees and feet. A week before the race the training plan called for an easy 8 miles, but I bagged it about halfway in due to the aches and pains and not wanting to do anything to keep me from race day. The next six days I decided to not run at all even though the schedule called for 3 easy runs of about 3-5 miles. I hoped it would help.

Race day rolled around and I felt about as good as I could hope. My wife Kristie was my driver and cheerleader for the day as we drove the 1.5 hrs to the race site. There were about 83 signed up for the full marathon and another 130 or so for the half-marathon. It was a chilly start somewhere in the 30’s but the sun was out. I was shivering before the race – probably from the cold and the nerves. Many runners were jogging or stretching. Being a relatively new runner I wasn’t sure what to do but I sure wasn’t going to go jogging and add any mileage to my day before the race! As the 9am start approached the race director said a few words while all the runners gathered around casually. I made sure I was standing out of the way near the back. Then out of nowhere we hear GO!!!

And there we all went and I was glad to finally get moving to build up some heat. And then we hit the first creek crossing at 50 yards; there was no avoiding getting your feet wet in this one. Following the creek was a nice, steep climb but it was short lived. The first mile or so the trail does a quick loop and comes back down a hill near the start/finish area before crossing a couple more creeks (there is a pattern here). At about 2 miles racers then follow the Corridor Trail about 6 miles to the base of Pilot Mountain. The Corridor Trail rolls up and down but the hills are short for the most part. The tread is nice, not too rocky but there are 4-5 more stream crossings. It was about 2-3 miles in when my right calve started tightening up like a cramp. It was strange because my calves have never cramped during training. At the 5 mile aid station(AS) I made a point to stock up on bananas and also refilled my water bottle with Gatorade. I had a handheld 22 oz water bottle which I drank and refilled 7 times during the race. The 5 mile point had taken about an hour which for me was a bit too fast so in the back of my mind I knew I needed to pull back my pace a bit. My goal was just to finish within the 7 hour cutoff.

Either the cramp went away or I forgot about it. I was talking with another runner who I would later meet whose name was Jim. Come to find out later, his wife Jade and my wife just happened to meet each other at the start and decided to hang out together and meet us at various road crossings during the race to cheer us on. Crazy! I don’t remember much about the conversation other than one item in particular concerning the course. The marathon runs out the Corridor trail, then around and up Pilot Mountain, back down the back side of the mountain on a different trail than it went up, then rejoins the same Corridor Trail back to the start/finish. The point where the course leaves the Corridor Trail to begin the climb at mile 8, I knew there would be the chance that the lead marathon runners may already be done and back around the mountain to this point (mile 19.5) by the time I was just getting there. It was a small mental hurdle to make it to that point and not see those lead runners (I hear the winning time was 3:05, insane). That was also the turn around for the half marathoners. We met many of the half marathoners on their way back already with several of the leaders showing some serious pain and intensity in their faces.

The climb up the mountain was intense, very rocky at points. I had previously trained on the course once before which made it a bit easier from a mental standpoint. I walked almost all of the uphill portion of it as did many of the runners around me. Passed a few guys while walking up, one was a soldier from Ft Bragg. I thanked him for protecting our country. As the trail approaches the summit parking lot, it steepens further with many high wood steps. To my surprise, Kristie and Jade were clapping and cheering me on at the summit parking lot AS (mile 12.5). After grabbing more bananas and Gatorade for the 3rd time, I headed for the summit knob. The trail wraps around the cliffs of the summit knob and then descends the Ledge Spring Trail which runs along the bottom of a cliff with many high rock steps to descend. The views from here are amazing! I then passed two older runners coming up the wrong way; I meant to say something to them but didn’t. For some reason my brain didn’t make the connection. And then there was the voice in my head telling me I was the new guy out here, I might very well be the one going the wrong way.

Continuing downhill on the Grindstone and Grassy Ridge Trails, they wrap around the north, then east, then south sides of the mountain. Mile 17.5 AS came along and my hamstrings were feeling sketchy but I had more pressing issues. An extended restroom break was necessary, costing me about 5 minutes but better than the alternative. More bananas and Gatorade. The next section I was really wondering if the hamstrings would cost me the finish. They felt overstretched at times and I wondered how far I could push them. I prayed that the Lord would help me finish the race and kept moving. I didn’t see any runners during this section except for four guys running together coming towards me running an extremely fast pace. They didn’t have race numbers on so I nodded to them and they said Good Job as they passed. I was later told these were the course sweepers making sure all the runners were okay along the trails. Nice.

Making it back to the mile 19.5 AS where the course rejoins the Corridor Trail, Kristie and Jade were there cheering me on. I was tired but couldn’t help but smile. More bananas and Gatorade along with a shot of Mountain Dew and M&M’s this time at the counsel of my wife. While I was there, Jim (Jade’s husband) came up and we were formally introduced. He was in and out of the AS in a blink, while I messed around – what can I say, I’m a rookie.

The next 6ish miles were running the Corridor Trail back – the one with all the stream crossings. I managed to run (a very loose use of “run”) most of the rest of this with the exception of a handful of steep climbs that were walks. Things were starting to run together in this section but my hamstrings weren’t bothering me quite as much and I knew I would finish. Last full AS at 22ish miles I loaded up on, yes, Gatorade and bananas but also threw down some salty potato chips. I believe those may have been the best chips I’ve ever ate. Passed a few guys while walking the uphills and exchanged some encouragements. Nearing the finish, the course leaves the trail and onto the dirt road we’d started on. Only a couple stream crossings left and I didn’t even bother to find the shallow parts. Plow right through kicking up water on my legs. Oh yea. I can see the finish line and I just keep my steady slow pace. My wife sees me and runs out to run the last 50 yards or so with me. About 5 hrs and 45 minutes, 26.2 miles was finished! Thank the Lord! It felt great; great to stop. I had a couple pieces of cold pizza, some pretzels, and a can of soda while chatting with Jim and Jade and a few other finishers. For the next little while we watched as others finished. Several runners were using this race as a training run for ultramarathons. I was impressed. They were saying how crazy I was for choosing this as my first marathon and now that it is over I can see that. There were several other first timers out there though so at least I wasn’t alone. I hobbled over to the car and my wife drove us home. Time to pick out the next race.


Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Here We Go Steelers!

Recently I had to help my daughter with a project for school. She had to make a timeline of her life. Obviously she needed help with her early years but it was a fun exercise. The timeline of my life is littered with the love of the Pittsburgh Steelers and their accomplishments (and occasional failures). I’ve been a Steelers fan for my entire life. My dad is from Altoona, Pennsylvania and in Western PA the Steelers are closer to a religion than just a football team to root for on Sundays. My parents have a picture of me as a toddler with a “My First Steelers Shirt” on. Like most people I have vivid memories throughout my life of various different things, when I got married, when my daughter was born, when I graduated, or when a loved one died. I also have a lot of vivid memories that pertain specifically to the Pittsburgh Steelers. I remember being very sick and struggling to stay awake on a bunch of medicine to watch my first Steelers playoff game in 1989. I remember taking my brother to a game in 2005, watching the Steelers win the Super Bowl that year, and having my mother buy my daughter a Steelers cheerleader outfit. I’ve had numerous conversations with various family members that started off as an “obligatory family update” and quickly turned into a long conversation about the Steelers.

During the Steelers playoff run before Super Bowl 30 my girlfriend (who is now my wife of almost 13 years) was irritated that our ‘date’ that week (we were in separate schools and I had a full time while in college so our time was limited) was a Steelers game. Most of my family and a bunch of our friends were over at my parents’ house to watch the Steelers destroy the Buffalo Bills and Julie was visibly displeased at my choice for our date. My mother told her “don’t make him choose between you and the Steelers, he’s loved the Steelers a lot longer than he’s known you.” It was good to get the priorities of the relationship out there in the open at the start. We’ve been together for over 16 years and she does her best to not get in the way of the Steelers. I do my best take out of the trash, the compromises you make being married.

My favorite Steelers memory is taking my mother to the season opening game in 2006 to see the Steelers play the Miami Dolphins. My mother grew up in Miami and grew up a Dolphins fan. Marrying someone from Western PA means that your team is now secondary to the Steelers but she still liked the Dolphins a lot. The 2006 season opened for the Steelers on as the Super Bowl champions customarily open the regular season on Thursday. It was a great experience; there was a concert beforehand, fireworks after and a great game in between. Before the game we also go to see Jerome Bettis help unveil the 5th Super Bowl banner. It was a bittersweet experience because on that trip mom told me that was sick and not going to get better. Regardless of the bad news it was amazing to see the Steelers game with my mom and then eat at Primanti Bros. the next day waiting for our flight home.

Mom always taught me to be myself and like millions of other people worldwide being a sports fan is part of who I am. Sports are the ultimate reality TV, the events aren’t scripted and the outcome frequently makes you go “oh man, that was great”. Other Steelers fans don’t care what my race, religion, age, or anything like that, the fans care that I love the Steelers and dislike the rest of the AFC North. That’s it. I’m friends with people who outside of our mutual love of the Steelers we have nothing in common. Yet we’ve grown to be good friends outside of just the Steelers. It doesn’t matter if you’re rooting for the NFL, MLB, NASCAR, or your local high school football team; being a fan is just fun.

Obviously I had hoped to have a better memory from this past Sunday but that’s part of why the NFL is great; a six-seed team lead by a quarterback who was passed over by many teams in need of a QB wins the Super Bowl and is positioned to have a championship team for a years to come. If a movie was written that way the movie studios would reject as too impossible for the audience to believe.

Next weekend if you’re a fan of Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. or any of the other drivers in the Daytona 500 make sure you show your fandom. If NASCAR isn’t your thing then and you want to wait for Opening Day in April to root for your MLB team or next September to root for your NFL that’s fine as well. Just make sure you do so with pride, show your colors and have a great time while doing rooting for your favorite team, driver or athlete.

Trevor McGregor

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Listen, Sympathize and Care…

The more I work in Customer Relations at Press Pass and answer telephone calls from people everyday the more interesting it becomes. I always anticipate what will be on the other end of the phone call – will it be pleasant, will it be an angry customer or a happy customer? Most people would dread answering the phone when it rings and hesitate picking it up. But actually, some days I look forward to it and look forward to helping that person in hopes that they will be satisfied at the end of the call. You can usually tell what the conversation will be like, within their first few words, and in the tone of their voice. The customer can also tell what type of mood the customer relations people are in too; just by the way we answer the phone call or talk to them.

I always try and answer the phone with a smile or at least an upbeat voice.
It’s interesting to know how many different personalities there are out there, dealing with NASCAR trading cards and die-cast each day. I sometimes wonder how many are really into the collecting of our trading cards and how many years they have done so. It’s kind of like making new friends or relationships that will continue for years with Press Pass - which is important to our company. So it’s important for me to sympathize, listen and care about what they have to say. It always works better than getting upset or frustrated or answering the phone like you’re having a bad day.

I’m learning that trading card redemptions are a big deal for some who are avid collectors - and not so much for others. Most just want some results for their card or money spent, while others want that specific card and nothing else! It’s nice to know that on most occasions, I can finish the call and know that the person is satisfied and happy. It is rewarding to me that I have left our customer feeling good, and that their issue or problem has been solved to their satisfaction. I enjoy being a member of our Press Pass Customer Relations Department. Hum, what will tomorrow hold? Who will I have the pleasure of speaking with? Will it be you?

Have a great day!
Lisa Shelby

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Field Fillers

It doesn’t matter if a race car driver has a day off. They won’t take it. Talk about stubborn! *smh* I’m beginning to see this first hand as my boyfriend Jonathan Lovero, aka my Love Muffins (ha) is a dirt track racer. They have to be CONSTANTLY doing something that revolves around speed. Whether its playing video games/simulators from the time they wake up to the time they go to bed or racing go karts on Sunday, the need for speed is something born only to a true race car driver.

It was at the suggestion of up and coming driver and 2011 Press Pass Undiscovered Elements participant Brandon McReynolds to come and check out the latest in local go-kart racing at Field Filler Fairgrounds in Concord, NC. Two Sundays ago, Johnny and I layered our clothes and braved the cold wintry conditions and attended the “JUSTIN BONSIGNORE MOTORSPORTS 51”, the first race in the 2011 year for FFC.

Televised by Weekend Warriors TV, crowds gather behind the Joie of Seating (owned and operated by two-time Busch Series champion, Randy LaJoie) headquarters to watch these karts battle it out. The karts get around this little bullring in about 6.6 seconds. Sponsored by NOS Energy Drink, Weekend Warriors TV and the Joie of Seating, the events at this track are growing more and more with the next race scheduled for Sunday, March 13th.



Tonya Clarkston

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Should you be online?

The trading card industry is fascinating. It’s one of the few industries left that is still resistant to the idea that change and new technology can make a business more efficient and effective. Granted, many advancements have made doing business more challenging, but I believe that’s because of how retailers and distributors are implementing these changes, not because the changes themselves are bad.

I have been asked more than once by people in the industry if they should be on the Internet. I have danced around the question in the past because of the negative implications of the question. However, if I were asked that today, I would answer yes. The key objective of any business is to reach its customers. If a big percentage of your customers are on the Internet, how can you justify not being there yourself? As a business, you have to make your decisions based on how you can make it easier for your customers to do business with you. Anything else is counterproductive.

Of course, the question of whether or not you should be on the Internet is driven by price. Early adopters in the trading card industry have made ripples because everything they do is driven by being the lowest cost option for customers. While this strategy can give a short-term bump to profits, over time it erodes both the product value (extremely important for everyone in the trading card industry) and the value your business provides to its customers.

By competing solely on price, you guarantee that your customer will look around before making a purchase. If they find a better deal elsewhere, they will buy elsewhere and you have lost a sale. However, if you look at the Internet and your overall business strategy as a way to build loyalty with your customers, you can go a long way toward ensuring that you keep the largest share of your customers’ trading card spending.

Everyone needs to take a hard look at their business and decide if they are doing everything they can to make their customers loyal to them. Are you talking to them on a regular basis? Are you tracking their preferences and what products they buy? Are you making sure it’s as easy as clicking a mouse to do business with you? All of these things are accomplished by an Internet presence. It doesn’t have to be sophisticated or fancy.

Just think about the companies you do business with. What do you like best? What do you not like? Take that information and apply it to your business. The trading card industry is definitely unique…running a customer-centric business is not.

I would challenge everyone in this industry to make their New Year’s resolution finding ways to make their businesses work harder for their customers instead of the other way around. The more you do for your customers, the more likely they are to resist spending their money elsewhere.

Terri Rehkop