Just the hits, yet another Hobby Heavyweight interview…

Leaf made waves back in 1990 when it released its watershed series one and two sets. Leaf rose again in 2010 and recently made waves with the release of their Pete Rose stand alone set with some of the craziest inscriptions I have ever seen.
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I had the opportunity to chat with owner Brian Gray and get his take on the industry and collecting in general.

Take a peak.

K- Tell us about when you first got into collecting?
BG- I began collecting in 1987. It was exciting to not only collect, but see the incredible interest in investing in baseball cards.

K- Did you favor one sport, team or player?
BG- In 1987, it was all about baseball. But not long after I was buying boxes/cases of classic sets in other sports: 84 Topps Football, 86/7 Basketball,etc…

K- What was your favorite set and card as a kid?
BG- I always loved 1972 Topps. Besides being my birth year, its design was VERY different than its predecessors.

K- When/How did you decide to make it your career?
BG- When I was in high school, I was doing shows every weekend. The thought of making more money selling cards on the weekends, than my teacher made full time helped me to see the possibilities in this industry.

K- What experience and education do you have that prepared you to run a card company?
BG- I have worked in every element of this business. I worked for Pro Set in 1990, followed by 18 years with The Edgeman (one of the industry’s largest distributors). In addition, I do have my BA in Business Administration. Pairing all these traits along with my knowledge as a collector prepared me for this great challenge.

K- Can you tell us about the history of Leaf and how it joined the Razor family?
BG- Leaf is NOT part of Razor in any capacity. I split up with my partner in Razor in 2010 and took with me certain brand names. Independently, I acquired the Leaf named and used the lessons from my experience with Razor to build what has quickly become the 4th largest trading card manufacturer.

K- Do you own the rights to the classic 1990 Leaf design?
BG- Yes,… and the 1948 Leaf design among others also.

K- What do you like most about running a card company?
BG- Getting to be creative and make products that I would want as a collector. Plus, I get to meet the greatest names in sports and entertainment. How can you beat that?

K- What is the hardest part of running a card company?
BG- The industry and economy are very challenging. All the manufacturers are feeling this impact at present. In addition, when you love this industry like I do, Its hard to not take every flaw personally. I just care too much I suppose.

K- What is one set or specific card you have produced you are most proud of? What is it about that specific card you love?
BG- I love the Muhammad Ali products. They are not only beautiful, but include what may be the very last signed cards for Muhammad Ali EVER.
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K- Is there a set or card that you wish you could have a do-over, if so what would you do differently?
BG- I would make changes to my model back in the Razor days. We made a very good calculated risk at the perfectly wrong time. The economy fell apart in 2008 right after we started signing draft picks. I think our work at Leaf shows we learn from our mistakes.

K- Is there a dream set or card you would really like to produce?
BG- I cannot say at this time as I am working on licensing as we speak!

K- How involved are you in the design and creation of the cards?
BG- I have final sign off on everything. Most importantly, the very first step is me presenting my vision to the design team. I tell them what I am picturing and they make it reality…

K- Concerning the new Rose set, where did the idea come from? Did you approach Rose with the idea, or were you working on something with him that evolved into this set?
BG- I approached him as he is one of the easiest guys in the business to work with. He loves the fans and will go the extra mile for them.
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K- Metal and Valiant stand out as hit only releases. Why did you decide to move away from base cards?
BG- I believe saving that money and putting it into autographs better serves our customers’ desires at present.

K- Do you check out card blogs, twitter and message boards to see collector’s thoughts and opinions?
BG- I spend 10-20 hours a week reading blogs, websites and watching box breaks. We are here to serve collectors and what better way than to listen…

K- Do you think blogging and social media has been good for the hobby?
BG- Absolutely, sharing a love or passion is always a good thing!

K- What does the future hold for Leaf?
BG- The hobby landscape will be changing soon…We intend to make good choices and build loyalty that will serve us well as larger competitors struggle to survive.

K- What do you collect?
BG- Presidential autographs, Prospect/Rookie Cards and memories of the great fun that is my job with Leaf!

K- Do you bust wax for yourself? If so what products?
BG- Exquisite items, Cup Hockey, high end…

K- What is your personal best hit?
BG- Gretzky /Lemiuex CUP dual NHL shield from early cup (sold it for $9000)

K- What trends in the hobby do you like?
BG- Shorter print runs and more creativity in products

K- What trends do you wish would go away?
BG- The “rip and flip” mentality of selling everything at .99 and let it rip on ebay. It has helped to diminish secondary market values as too many cards hit at one moment for absolute auction to be the most effective way of selling cards.

K- There is debate online about whether or not the hobby is moving in a good direction. What do you think about the hobby today vs. several years ago?
BG- Much worse today. However, I plan to be part of the reconstruction back to what can be a great industry again.

K- As an insider is there anything about the card-manufacturing world you would like to tell collectors, any misconceptions you would correct?
BG- It is a lot harder than it looks and manufacturers are not rolling in profits as you might think.

K- This is for my own curiosity. I work at the University of Virginia and as such I am a big Danny Hultzen fan. Why did you guys decide to go with a picture of him batting on his Valiant card, seeing as he was drafted as a pitcher?
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BG- Unique, unusual shot.

K- Last question, what do you love most about the hobby?
BG- You guys! I am a collector too and I love making people happy with cardboard.

Thanks to Brian and thank you for reading.

-K-

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7 responses to “Just the hits, yet another Hobby Heavyweight interview…

  1. Great interview, K. I have to say I’m not sold on the Valiant although I haven’t seen any cards in hand, but the Rose set looks really cool.

  2. Another great piece! Thanks for the insights.

  3. This is one of my favorite series on the card-blogosphere. Please keep the great interviews coming!

  4. Pingback: The Card Beat: Sports Collectibles News for November 18, 2011

  5. Very well done, sir. Very well indeed.

  6. BG is a good guy. He interviews very well and is great with words. Not only is he good at what he does with Leaf, he’s a great salesmen and marketer.

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