You've Got Mail (May)

Every month, ToyNews Q&A's one of the top faces from the global toy industry. This month, we speak to Hedley Barnes, the MD of trading card specialist Upper Deck.
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> All toy retailers seem to love trading cards. They’re propping up a lot of businesses at the moment, I think. Is Upper Deck the industry’s best kept secret?

I hope we are not a secret. We certainly try to make as much noise as we can. But we are certainly not considered the ‘sexy’ part of the industry. Many people got their fingers burnt in the early days of Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh! Often supply was an issue, and by the time this side got sorted, the craze was over, so retailers ended up with over stocks. This has been a perception we’ve worked hard on to continually change.

What Upper Deck has spent many years and much investment on is the grass roots marketing programme that has turned Yu-Gi-Oh! into an evergreen, and allowed us to bring other new trading card games into the market.

> It’s all a bit baffling though. Kids seem to have a better ability to understand it though, right?

Yes. Kids are much better at not having to understand the whole rules to any game and just live with it, without full explanation. The TV show helps explain the card game, and how the cards interact with each other, and of course the kids also love having something parents can’t grasp.

The game is actually played at so many different levels, with six year-olds collecting cards, eight year-olds starting to learn the game mechanics off friends and the show, 10+ year-olds starting to play and compete in our store leagues, 12+ starting to attend our premier town events and 14+ starting to appear in our national finals.

> It’s the US sports cards that are the real money spinners though, I believe?

The US sports side of things certainly is big business and this is where Upper Deck made its name through innovation in printing techniques and a reinvention of the category.

But the world’s biggest trading card brands in value terms are entertainment based properties as they have a global reach, unlike a local or national sports team.

Upper Deck is the only company that delivers both the Sports and Entertainment trading card genres and the markets thrive in both of these across Europe, America and Asia.

But you may have heard we are moving into toys and games?

> Ah yes, and what form will that take?

Well, we are growing in two ways in this category. In addition to our own, ‘home grown’, new toys and games, we are also taking on distribution agreements with the likes of Spinmaster, Giochi Preziosi and Playmates, to name a few, but these currently are all for territories outside of the UK.

We are also about to announce our formal agreement to distribute a new range of collectible football figurines called FT Champs Nanos in the UK. These are high detailed figures that are action posed and have a basic, competitive mechanic on the base. The figures will be the top players in Europe – but will have a strong focus on the Premiership clubs.

We are TV advertising these heavily in autumn/winter this year and believe with the right marketing approach we can break them into the mass markets and make an evergreen style line like YGO.

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