Saturday, April 30, 2022

My Problem with Ultra Pro

This is a case study of a problem product line from a purchasing perspective. Whether Ultra Pro is a good product or not is irrelevant to me as a buyer, at least until it effects sales. When we have it, we sell it. We've been approached by marketing folks who I believe represent Ultra Pro, trying to figure out the role of the brand in my store. I've been thinking about it ever since. Here are my issues with Ultra Pro:

Market Leader: Ultra Pro is the CCG supply market leader in the game trade, and my top selling brand of CCG supplies at 40% of my sales. It should be higher in a mature market, but I believe they've slipped and allowed others opportunity. This is my single store perspective, of course.

Their position has eroded over time. We've been able to easily source and sell Dragon Shields by Arcane Tinmen. In fact, we've spent thousands of dollars buying pusher shelves for Dragon Shield boxes. We've invested in Dragon Shields because the brand is strong, available and consistently priced. I believe the success of Dragon Shields is primarily availability

Going forward, I wouldn't be surprised if Arcane Tinmen took our top position. This is not to say anything about product quality, customer preference, or other subjective factors. I can get Dragon Shields from everyone, at a consistent price, with consistent availability, even during the supply chain crisis.

Out of Stock. Whatever you want to say about Ultra Pro, I can't sell it if I don't have it. Basic items are regularly out of stock. Most themed items are "splash" on release, meaning it's unlikely I'll ever see them again. This lack of availability wears on you, especially when I can easily get other brands of supplies without the hassle. I have long lists of products I check on regularly, and it drags down the purchasing experience overall for the store. 

Splash Releases. It might just be me, but the number of themed releases, like this quarters Magic themed play mats, sell very thinly. Perhaps other stores can't get enough of this product, but I've done something I swore I would never do, I've stopped inventorying individual items. Ultra Pro Mat: Kandahar: Various, might describe twelve new play mats from a new Magic set. I can't be bothered to create individual items, or find photos -- often on the Ultra Pro site because distribution can't be bothered either. It's a splash item for them too. The indifference comes through the screen. This means they don't appear in my online store, which hurts their sales. They never get re-ordered, even if available. This is a recent thing for me, but while comparing notes, I learned other stores do this too. I should really stop selling them.

Erratic Pricing. Ultra Pro is probably, maybe, sometimes net priced now. Do they have an MSRP? Who knows. Let's look at that for a moment with a ubiquitous item: 

Deck Protector Pack: Green Solid 50ct (82671)

Ultra Pro website to consumers: MSRP: $3.99. This is the de-facto MSRP, since it's on the UP site. 

PHD:  $1.85 with a different MSRP listed of $3.49 (in stock)

Alliance: $1.89 net priced (in stock)

GTS: $2.10 net priced (in stock)

ACD: $2.23 net priced (OOS)

There is price confusion. Normally I like price confusion, but this level of chaos is unusual in the game trade. Are they net priced? Is there an MSRP? What is that MSRP? Why isn't there agreement on this? The most shocking thing about this is three out of four of my distributors have these in stock. It must be Magic release time! Ultra Pro stock might be described as seasonal.

Too Broad a Line: There are simply too many SKUs for too few sales and they're simply not available often enough. If I had to give some advice it would be go back to basics. I can't keep track of the 136 Ultra Pro deck boxes, 228 sleeve packs, 176 play mats, and 148 binders, and Ultra Pro can't product them consistently. 

A CEO once told the game trade if you can't keep it in stock, order deeper. That might be true if you're the only producer of the Arkham Horror board game, but I've got six other viable manufacturers making roughly the same products as you. We've established the licensed stuff is garbage, so that's not your unique value proposition. What is the Ultra Pro Unique Value Proposition? Anyway, if you could actually keep your line in stock, I might carry all that product. Because you can't, I throw up my hands and order from the other six.

Anyway, that's far too much thought for what should be a turn key, easy to understand product line. The bottom line is if enough product is produced, everything else is details. 

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