5 questions with Roger Barry of The Magazine Exchange
LAS VEGAS (February 22, 2012) — This week’s INDUSTRY SUMMIT Q&A is with Roger Barry, owner of The Magazine Exchange, a leading sports card and trading card game distributor based in Grants Pass, OR. Barry, 54 and in his 35th year at the company, has utilized his considerable marketing and promotional skills to keep The Magazine Exchange at the forefront of industry distribution. He answered these five unscripted questions from Industry Summit host Kevin Isaacson:
Q. Let’s be honest: Grants Pass, Oregon, is not the premiere location for a nationally-focused distribution company. How have you survived, and thrived, given that your warehouse is well outside the mainstream?
A. A close friend in the business always referred to us as her “geographically handicapped distributor.’’ So yes, we’ve always had to work differently, and perhaps work harder, than some of our competitors. Early on, in the mid-1980s, before our industry had any real structured or authorized distribution, we saw that need and began to position ourselves as a company that could fill that role. To this day, we continue to anticipate what our partners will need, and then work hard to provide it.
Q. Retailers have many options for sourcing product. Why do your customers chose Magazine Exchange?
A. We concentrate on the things we do well – sports trading cards and trading card games. We don’t handle 3000 other licensed products. We try to remain focused on what we do best and on what generates the most revenue for our customers. They know we have Panini, Topps, Upper Deck, Wizards of the Coast, Konami – and they know we are well-versed on those product lines, and a good source for those product lines.
I think a big part of our longevity is that we really try to not burn bridges, and try to represent the brands we sell in a positive way – the way the manufacturer wants them represented. We have been working with a lot of these shops since the 1980s, so they know that they can rely on us to deliver what we promise.
Also, the shops have begun to realize the benefit of buying from a true distributor, someone who does not have a retail website or compete with them in any way. You can’t be a true partner if you are also a competitor.
Q. Magazine Exchange has always been an aggressive marketer – taking front-page advertisements in trade publications, investing in unique store-sign opportunities and hosting special events at The Industry Summit. Why do you promote more aggressively than many of your competitors?
A. It goes back to being geographically handicapped. If I may steal something from Apple, we have to “think different.” Part of it is our commitment to our suppliers. We like to represent the brands that we sell in a positive way. We like to do things for Topps or Panini or Upper Deck, and conversely, we like to do things for the shops that do business with us. I am often asked, “How can you justify the cost of that Upper Deck Certified Diamond Dealer sign, or that Topps Allen & Ginter sign?’’ In my mind, not everything has to be a profit center. I am willing to invest in things that strengthen our industry, and I believe that if our industry grows, we will find a way to profit eventually. And honestly, it’s just fun: I enjoy being the guy with the innovative campaign, the guy with the Yu-gi-Oh! sign. It’s fun to send it out to customers, to get their reactions, and to know that 20 years from now, that sign will still be hanging in a store window. It’s part of our role in the industry, and it’s fun to represent our partners positively in the marketplace.
Q. Time for our “King of the Industry’’ question. If you could make one change in our business, what would you choose to address?
A. Ask everyone to focus on their business and improving what they do – and not worry so much about what everyone else is doing. I have learned to be happy when my competitors are doing well, because hopefully, that means the business as a whole is growing. Adversarial relationships are damaging to our industry. Instead of doing our life’s best work, something we can take pride in, some people in our business seem focused on attacking others. That doesn’t serve the business well at all.
Also, I’d go back 35 years and change our company name. While it works for us now, it provides an initial obstacle that is even more significant than our geographic location.
Q. What is the best single innovation or advancement in our business during the past 12 months?
A. Simple: Panini’s Black Friday promotion. It brought people into hobby shops, it allowed us to engage with the shops, it promoted additional sales, and it delivered for the shops that participated. We had tons of positive feedback; several stores reported their best sales day ever! It increased our sales on all Panini products – not just those featured in the promotion. Could Panini improve on some elements of the promotion for future years? Of course. But it was a great promotion, and we believe the store traffic it created is something we should strive to repeat and increase in the future. The nature of our business demands that we create exciting in-store events, and this was a good example of what we can accomplish by working together and driving customers into stores for a great collecting experience.