I attend a variety of trade shows during the course of the year and it’s always fun getting out to these events and meeting different partners and customers. Frequently at these shows I’ll cross paths with Lynne LaPlaca of UltraPRO who is always smiling and usually in the middle of demonstrating some new holder or storage device her company has released. Collectors tend to be pretty interested in the different ways to store their precious collectibles so I reached out to Lynne and she was kind enough to answer some questions for us about the collectible storage business exclusively for the Upper Deck Blog. Check out what she had to say!
UD Blog: How did you get in the business?
Lynne LaPlaca: “I started working for Rembrandt in 1987 as the Accounts Payable Clerk; I grew in this department for eight years. An opening for the Collectibles Account Executive was available in April of 1995 and I decided to take the position with the encouragement of [company president] Robbie Shipp. Several people took me under their wing and showed me the ropes to learn anything and everything about this industry. I traveled every weekend to attend the TRI-STAR shows and learned about this industry from the inside out. I am now the General Manager of the Collectibles Division and have 24 years with this wonderful company.”
UD Blog: Do you collect trading cards or memorabilia yourself? If so, what are some of your favorites?
Lynne LaPlaca: “Over the years of being in this business, I have been fortunate to have collected some amazing memorabilia. As a Tennessee fan, I consider my Titans collection pretty respectable with many of my favorite players included. I also have a Walt “Clyde” Frazier basketball, along with my favorite piece of all time – a signed HOF Bob Lilly football, all kept in our Z-Design holders of course! I actually got to play darts with Bob Lilly at a Distributor meeting; he is such a nice person.”
UD Blog: UltraPRO is the obvious leader in the collectibles storage industry. Tell us a little bit about your history.
Lynne LaPlaca: “We were founded as Rembrandt initially. Robbie Shipp first introduced PVC-free pocketed pages to the photo industry. In 1988, when trading cards really took off and the only available pages were PVC, it made sense to supply the needs of card collectors with the same quality PVC-free pages. Within six months of launching the first PVC-free card collector page, UltraPRO became the ‘Brand of Choice.’ Robbie Shipp’s passions for collecting led the way for coming up with ways to protect them. When we developed the PVC-free 9-Pocket page, he made sure we were at every tradeshow handing out free pages. As a true marketer, he believed sampling made a difference. The product line soon expanded and was recognized as the standard in safe storage.”
UD Blog: There is competition in your industry. What do you think sets UltraPRO apart from the others?
Lynne LaPlaca: “First and foremost is keeping our customers satisfied. They have come to expect the best from our products, and we pride ourselves in maintaining a high standard of quality and innovative design. I think our loyalty to them is what sets us apart.”
UD Blog: When collectors show off their autographed collectibles, they worry about fading. Tell us a little bit about UV protective cases and what you do there to help protect collectibles from damage that comes from light.
Lynne LaPlaca: “Unfortunately, Collectors have come to realize that extensive and continuous direct light will fade their treasures when being displayed in clear cases. By request from our customers, we conducted extensive research on material formulas and performed a battery of tests with our independent laboratories to perfect a special formulated material that blocks the UVB light rays by 98% up to 374 nanometers, which would be the equivalent of 65 SPF sunscreen. In parallel, we also educated our customers on trying to use proper lighting and the use of UV filters in conjunction with our UV-branded product to preserve their memorabilia. Like with 65 SPF sunscreen protection, individuals also need to take precautions and measures in order to protect themselves from the harmful rays. We first started the UV addition to our popular baseball display holders and then expanded the product line to our other holders. Our display packaging easily identifies which products have this added formula.”
UD Blog: Obviously with oversized cards, booklet card and die-cut cards, there are a variety of holders you could make. What goes into your decisions to make or not make holders for new trading cards?
Lynne LaPlaca: “Market research and listening to our valued customers. Based on this, we start designing and then introduce the concepts to our distributors, dealers and a collective advisory group. From there, it can take many shapes until we come up with a winner. We really depend on their combined input because they are the ones that will use our products first hand.”
UD Blog: A lot of people believe you work directly with manufactures on dimensions and storage devices for new types of trading cards. That’s not really accurate. Give us a behind-the-scenes feel for what it’s like when a manufacturer comes out with a new type of card that needs a new type of holder.
Lynne LaPlaca: “When an idea comes into our group, it will be analyzed and presented in a ‘New Product Meeting.’ Research data will give us the potential in sales and product design ideas will then be tossed around. When a design is chosen, our engineering team will take it to the next step by incorporating specs, factories and quality materials. Concurrently, our marketing plan is underway, implementing images and packaging. A ‘Pre-Sale’ e-mail blast is sent out, and the orders will help determine the demand for this product. Several generations of prototypes will be made, and typically 90 to 120 days later, we have the final product.”
UD Blog: Innovation is very important to what we do here at Upper Deck. What has been UltraPRO’s greatest innovation?
Lynne LaPlaca: “I would have to say the PVC-free 9-Pocket page; it has made UltraPRO what it is today.”
UD Blog: Some of the thicker cards we make like Shield cards are the ones that need the most protecting. What is on the horizon for new releases for thick cards like these, especially one-touches?
Lynne LaPlaca: “We just launched a 360pt ONE-TOUCH®. We have a 200pt and a 260pt currently in process and should be released by midsummer.”
UD Blog: We’ve heard quite a bit about a potential booklet card display you may be working on. Anything you can share there?
Lynne LaPlaca: “We have been asked to produce a holder to display the booklet cards open. In order to produce this holder right, we need a physical sample of the card. I have requested from the card companies to please send us a sample of one. Once we receive a sample of the booklet card we can start the design and development process.”
UD Blog: What steps do you take to eliminate scratches on new holders?
Lynne LaPlaca: “Each one of our holders are polished and packed accordingly to ensure the quality and safety during transportation. Our Quality Assurance team is consistently striving to deliver products in their best shape to all of our consumers. We use thick, corrugated materials along with shrink-wrapping individual pieces and design specifically placed pallet configurations all depending on the individual product.”
UD Blog: Fans have also asked about pages that they can put their top loaders or graded cards in. Anything like that in the works?
Lynne LaPlaca: “We actually made a graded card page for both Beckett and PSA slabs, and though the design was liked by consumers, sales were slow and we had to discontinue it. We may revisit the product again but we have to make sure there is a true sales potential with all products.”
UD Blog: There seems to be the opportunity to get into the field of slabbing and grading. Have you looked at that at all?
Lynne LaPlaca: “We have been producing slabs and graded products from the beginning. We produce these items for some of the top companies in the industry. We offer in our line Graded slab sleeves and clam shells for Beckett and PSA to prevent scratching. We also offer a semi-rigid holder for graded submissions. In terms of grading cards ourselves, well that’s not in our immediate plans.”
UD Blog: What about protection for mini-cards with the emergence of new sets with a vintage component?
Lynne LaPlaca: “We offer a tobacco top loader and sleeve in addition to our tobacco page. Last year we launched an insert for our One Touch Product that will hold a tobacco card in several thicknesses.”
UD Blog: Have you thought about making the tops of penny sleeves bigger so collectors can get the cards in easier?
Lynne LaPlaca: “Actually, we have never heard of the size of the current sleeves being a problem. We would definitely make adjustments to the soft sleeves if it’s required. My question would be how much of an increase would the industry like to see?”
UD Blog: What do you think your business will be like in 10 years?
Lynne LaPlaca: “We have learned to adapt to the needs of our industry. I can see ourselves expanding into other collectible needs and venturing into new product lines.”
UD Blog: What else should collectors know about UltraPRO?
Lynne LaPlaca: “Most of the people that work for UltraPRO have been with the company for more than 10 years. We are a tight group that likes where we work and are a family as much as we are a business. All of our products include extensive research, development and quality assurance to ensure customer satisfaction and our 100% guarantee behind all the products we sell. We pride ourselves on our ability to listen to our consumers’ requests and make it happen.”
Thanks for taking the time to share with us Lynne! For more information about UltraPRO products, please click here. If you have additional questions, feel free to post below in the comments section as UltraPRO staff will likely be reviewing this blog!