Monday, October 29, 2012

Honey, I Shrunk The Blaster Boxes

Who feels like being bored for a few minutes?  Great, please proceed with reading this post.

Has anyone noticed the size of blaster boxes has shrunk considerably?  I noticed this with Bowman Chrome earlier this month, and again with Topps Update.  At first I thought it was a new pack size choice aside from standard blasters, hangers,  packs and rack packs.  But it was a shrunk down blaster, about 25% smaller than the blasters we are accustomed to.  Here is a side by side of a blaster and card for comparison:

Having a side by side of the old and new blasters would have been so much more impactful....

And my point is…..?

Not really much of anything, except I thought it was interesting.  I actually don’t know why Topps didn’t do this earlier.  With the old blasters, there was a lot of wasted space.  They were shipping a lot of air and can now fit more cases per truck.  And with this reduction in packaging materials, they have to be realizing some savings in that aspect to.

Don’t be surprised if this is also a result of Wal-Mart’s pressures on suppliers for improvements in sustainability.  As a supplier to Wal-mart, I know firsthand packaging reduction has been a big initiative of theirs  for several years now. 

(Side note:  I’m just stating facts right now, not cheer leading for Wal-mart.  Please let’s not get into a debate on the evils or merits of Wal-mart.)

So…. Does this sort of change have an impact?  Let’s make some estimates and see.

First, we determine how much space a case of blasters takes:

Old Blaster New Blaster
Height 6.5 5
Width 3.5 3.5
Depth 2.75 2.75
Blaster Cub Ft. 0.04 0.03
Blasters/Case 16 16
Case Cub Ft. 0.58 0.45

The new blasters are about 23% smaller than the old.  The old and new sizes are both packaged 16 units per case as far as I can tell.  There is likely a 3-5% addition in cube size once the outer carton is factored in, but for our purposes that's irrelevant. 

Next, we have to make some assumptions on how many blasters Wal-mart sells.  Wal-mart has over 3,700 stores (not including Neighborhood Markets and other small formats), and I’m going to guess baseball cards are sold in around 3,400 of them.  It may be closer to 3,000 stores, but I’ve yet to see a Walmart that doesn’t carry cards, so let's stick with 3,400.  I’m going to pull another guess out of thin air and say the average store sells 6 blasters a week (of a specific series, not all blasters) over a 16 week period.  Sound reasonable?

Blasters/Store/Week 6
Stores 3,400
Weeks 16
Avg Per Store 96
Blasters 326,400
Cases 20,400

If that is correct, Topps probably sells about 325,000 blasters of each series to Walmart, or 20,000 cases.  Anyone think otherwise?  It feels like a good number to me, but I may be wayyyyyy off track.

So, how many trucks does Topps use to ship to Walmart’s distribution centers?  Let's assume Topps ships from one ship point, which may not be true, but it keeps things simple for this exercise.  I’m also going to assume that Topps does not use the large trucks you typically think of for these shipments since I doubt they can fill large trucks to each of Walmart’s 40+ distribution centers.  (Actually they probably can when you include other Topps products, but again, we'll ignore that for this example.) Let's say they use what we call LTL (less than truckload) size carriers.  I think the cube capacity on these is typically around 2,000 cubic feet.  Again, I may be wrong, but for comparison’s sake, it's good enough.

Old Blaster New Blaster
Total Cubic Ft. 11,817 9,090
Truck Cube 2,000 2,000
Total Trucks 5.9 4.5
1.4 Fewer Trucks

Bottom line, with the new blaster size, Topps can brag to Walmart that they need to use around one and a half fewer trucks per card series.  Not a lot I guess, but it adds up pretty quickly when you apply this to all of the issues Topps releases.

Let me know if you have some better assumptions.  This is pretty simplistic approach because I have no idea of what the replenishment strategies are over the course of the season.  Also, fair warning:  you will all be quizzed on this in the final exam, so be sure to hang on to your notes.


Hackenbush said...

That a nice Darvish card. :)

carlsonjok said...

I would guess that Topps, given the sheer diversity of products they make, only does one large print run per series to minimize setup costs. So, your calculation may not be bad for the first tier of the distribution network. Once you get beyond that, and closer to the retail outlet, it isn't clear what, if any, savings would be realized. There isn't enough information available to even hazard a guess.

My guess would be that a major savings would be the cost of packaging, which would be around 33% less in the new design

Wilson said...

As someone who was "sorta" involved on the supply end, I know they worry about shelf space too. We were asked if we could shrink the width of a package so that they could get x+1 instead of x within a certain area.

The sprawling card aisle at the bigger Walmart in town would seem to render this moot, but we have a store that has all of the cards in a single regular checkout lane (where you often see candy and such), only about 6 feet wide. I could see some savings there, where they could fit in a few more Yu Gi Oh sets or whatever the kids are playing these days.

AdamE said...

I'm pretty sure that Topps doesn't ship to Wal Mart and that Wal Mart doesn't keep any cards in its warehouse. I think that they are stocked by a 3rd party supplier.

But they do still gain shelf space.

Napkin Doon said...

Good point on the benefit of shelf space.

Adam, don't confuse me with facts.

Seriously, how does Topps get the products to WM stores? UPS? I know they are stocked by a 3rd party, but the cases could still go through the WM distribution system. They can ship through DCs without the DCs holding and stocking the product. That's how a large % of products get to WM stores. But I wouldn't be surprised if they are shipped via other carriers direct to stores, although that would be pretty expensive.

We are all learning so much!

Play at the Plate said...

I've talked to a number of the people who stock those shelves (the third party people) about packsearchers and none of them bring the product with them. It's either delivered by Wal-mart or a different person working for the 3rd party company. I'll ask them the next time I see one.

carlsonjok said...

I had heard that they use a "breadman" model to stock the shelves, where an employee of the distributor brings them in. As PATP also said. If that is the case, I don't see much savings in downstream logistics.

Napkin Doon said...

Well then never mind.

Josh D. said...

Nice back-of-the-envelope calculation...or "Street-Fighting Mathematics" as Sanjoy Mahajan calls it. As others have mentioned, I bet the choice was some combination of shelf-space and packaging cost optimization. I don't think there would be much increase in theft due to the smaller size.

Cory said...

Anybody else feel 1987 Topps is actually rare compared to 2012 Topps print run?

It seems like they have made millions of each card.