Interview with a pack searcher.

In a recent post, Kimaloo mentions offhandedly that even at her local Tar-ghay store she inevitably gets hits. It almost made me misty-eyed because, you see, that can never, ever happen at the Target in our town.

It took me a while to notice that the trading card distributor who stocks Target here is usually present on Wednesday or Thursday mornings. That's been true for at least a year, maybe longer, now that I think about it. Okay, so I'm slow.

But whenever I've noticed her, I also spy a fellow in the following uniform:

  • wool hat;
  • several shirts;
  • a hoodie;
  • droopy pants;
  • a backpack;
  • and iPod earphones leading to some electronic gizmo tucked in a pocket of one of his shirts.

Last week as I strolled by seeking dryer sheets, baby wipes, and a certain item that must go unmentioned in case You Know Who sees this post, there they were, the two of them, and it finally dawned on me that it's no coincidence. He is lurking.

The tableau:

Distributor Lady
Many cardboard boxes
Packing Debris
Pack Searcher Guy

She'd open a case of retail boxes (many different products inside the cardboard boxes; not 12 of the same). He would pick out a couple boxes, walk with them over to a nearby empty cash register conveyor belt, remove the outer cellophane, take out EVERY SINGLE PACK from the boxes, give each one an expert corner-to-corner quick bend and a run down along the sides, and then return it to the box. Or if he detected something, put it aside.

Did he appear guilty or nervous? Not a whit. Were Target staff members walking by? Sure, he even said hi to one of them. Then, in an indication of the glasnost and perestroika to come, he said to me, "Wow, don't see many girls* over here! What I'm doing is I'm checking for game-used jerseys and autographs." When finished scouring, he returned the box to Distributor Lady. Really, you've got to credit PSG for his straightforwardness and lack of guile.

Then the distributor said to me, all chirpy, "He's my best customer. And at least he doesn't use those little scales."

Didn't think to ask, "How can he be your best customer if he buys a few packs at at time? He certainly doesn't buy BOXES." But remember the part about my being slow.

"What about people seeing what looks like a full retail box, then they buy a couple packs but have no chance now to get a 'pull' despite the odds described on the box? Because by searching everything right away, you have ensured they have no chance." How about that, Pack Searcher Guy and Distributor Lady? Huh? Huh? Huh?

The distributor shrugged. PSG didn't respond because he was busy opening a retail box. Here is the gist of the conversation that followed: PSG has a skill. And he takes the time. And he employs expertise. And he pays for the packs he selects. If he's rewarded for his results, well there you have it. Nothing is stopping anyone else from stalking the distributor and spending two hours box searching while she unloads.

Nothing except, of course, time, responsibilities, and life itself.

"This is how I do it," he said raising a pack, demonstrating the technique. "The autos aren't usually thicker but if you slide your thumb and index finger down the sides you can feel them sticking out....I'm always one hundred percent right about game used and seventy percent right about autos."

So, no secrets. And it's not rocket science. Attempting to maintain journalistic (or at least blogalistic) objectivity, I said, "But this ruins chances for anyone who follows, doesn't it?" This vague notion of fairness didn't give him pause. And it's probably quite a bit easier to detect differences in a pack when you have the entire untouched box of packs for comparison.

"No, it depends what they're looking for! Not if they're looking to complete a set, for instance. Or they can always get a blaster or repack box."

"Which cost twenty dollars," I said. "Packs are $2.99."

Another shrug. "A couple of months ago I got a Joe Montana multi-colored game used auto from a pack." He then reeled off numerous impressive pulls.

"Do you sell the cards on eBay?" I asked.

"Sometimes," he answered. "It's not bad money. Every now and then I keep one, like I kept a Walt Frazier game used auto for a rainy day."

Although I was horrified and fascinated, I needed to get going and felt surprise when PSG said, "It was very nice meeting you. I hope to see you again!"

His openness surprised me...although I'd pictured the pack searcher costume pretty accurately, I didn't think of them as friendly. Just purposeful. After shopping for the items I needed, as I headed past the Box Pair to the cash registers, he stood amid widely strewn boxes and cellophane, waiting while Distributor Lady opened more boxes and arranged the contents on display shelves that were now groaning full for holiday shoppers. She didn't mind when he removed retail boxes to open.

Distributor Lady, who seems like a pleasant enough and hard working person, had no problem with the scenario. The Target folks had no problem with the scenario. If the world turned upside down and I wanted to show up every week to do the same thing, I have a feeling even PSG wouldn't mind. He's very democratic.

But I prefer Kimaloo-style luck or our own technique: the thrill of the two-minute clueless chase.

*Neither do I.


night owl said...

I'm not surprised at all about pack-searcher guy's openness, nor by the distributor lady or Target employees' inability to see anything wrong with what he's doing.

Shoppers do all kinds of things to ensure that they get the most for their money. One trip out with them on Black Friday will assure anyone of that. And just about anything they do (short of trampling an employee to death) is considered admirable, almost the American way -- "look at the deal I got and look what I did to get it."

Cards are just another consumer product that shoppers can extend that thought-process to.

Pack-searching offends my sense of fairness, but given everything I've seen from customers, it doesn't shock me or even bother me too much. But I do stay home on Black Friday, so it does bother me a little bit.

Yeah, I prefer Kimaloo's kind of luck, too.

(And thanks for the post and for quizzing pack-searcher guy. I've actually never met one nor seen one -- outside of a couple of 12-year-olds rummaging haphazardly through a box. So it's good to hear the mind set.

Ross said...

I'm afraid I would not have been near as polite. I would have asked to see a manager and informed them of what was going on. If you explain to them what he is doing they may not approve.

I would have also told this loser to get a life and a different hobby. Maybe asked him outside to discuss this "hobby" of his a little further.....

Michael said...

Kim-a-loo and I shop at the same Target. The pack searchers there are 11 and 12 year olds. I see them everytime I go in and even though the display is right across from the customer service desk they do nothing about it as long as the kids pay. I have to say my wife usually buys the blasters and has done very well. Personally I don't care about the PSGs of the world. They don't ruin the hobby, that was done by Topps and Upper Deck long ago. In truth being a former pack searcher myself, the "hits" they are pulling are 98% crap. Rookie jerseys that never make it, autos of rookies stuck in single A. Very rarely do you ever get a decent hit, his Joe Montana patch is a one in every 500 pack hits. His good hits he could probably count on one hand. It sucks for the people that either can't do it, or are left with crap boxes, but truth be told, the hits are crap anyway, that's why I stopped. It just isn't worth the hours it takes to find a hot pack or two.

dc said...

Night Owl, I thought to ask him questions based on viewpoints I've seen in blogs. I should also have mentioned his age, which I estimated to be 25.

Ross, fisticuffs is a last resort for me. :)

Michael, I agree with the premise that we are all deluding ourselves as to actual value no matter what you pull. If that's what you're saying. Also agree that The Corporate Mindset is what caused ruination, and the pack searchers are the least of the hobby's problems.

steveisjewish said...

Love the post - while i do think that pack searching is pretty lame, I would venture that the man doing that doesnt love the same things that the most of us do about the hobby. The Chase, the thrill, the checklist. As a set collector, the searching doesnt really bug me, if i want a hit, i go with a blaster, otherwise i am usually okay.

Aron said...

call me naive, but that was news to me.

James B. Anama said...

The only time it is ever okay to pack search is if you are down to the final two or three cards you need for a set and are able to see through the packs at the store. I've been crazy enough to buy jumbo packs just because one of the cards I needed was at the front or back of the pack, and I could just make out the player's name or the card number.

Otherwise, unlike many with internet bravado, I would have just walked away if I saw someone doing what you described (and I have at two or three occasions).


JayBee Anama

Jeffrey Wolfe said...

I hate to say it, but being an old-schooler I don't care about autogamers, I think they should just do away with them and make all cards the same thickness, then there wouldn't be this problem. But then there would be no kid Joe Collectors. That might not be a bad thing. I think both Topps and Upper Deck could each make a set without autogamers that appeals to the old school market. I mean they each make 17 sets a year don't they?

jacobmrley said...

i used to work in a card shop and pack searchers were banned immediately. i used to tell them, 'i'll punch you in the mouth and then check for loose teeth'. being 6'4", i got away with this. i also wouldn't let the bosses son search packs, but i wasn't there 24/7, so i doubt i prevent that very much.

the best thing the card companies ever did was put those thick doohickies in the packs (i like it when they make thick cards out of them).

plus, card shops where i know they pack search and then foist the leftover packs on an unsuspecting public are immediately off my shopping list. i even know of places that reseal the boxes - this is pure evil. know how they do it? they use the cellophane from a larger box on the smaller ones. and it is usually the smaller boxes with the bigger hits...i will avoid naming names, but you need to be very aware of who you buy from and where you shop. the wrong type of people know how to suck the fun out of everything, including our lovely little hobby (emphasis on the word hobby).

AlbuqwirkE said...

Fascinating! I love your investiblogging efforts.

Personally, the only time I purchase a loose pack is when I see a new product and want to see what the cards look like in order to decide whether or not I want to collect it. Of course with all of the trading card blogs these days, I haven't run into a new product in a store that I haven't already seen images of online.

Is pack searching "fair?" Is anything?

Michael said...

You know what if you want a hit, go to ebay.That way you know which one you get and it costs the same as a pack of cards. Let the searchers spend their hours, you reap their work as they get about a buck a pop for them.

FanOfReds said...

Great blog/investigation! Between your questions and some of the blogger comments, this is one of my favorite entries. It's interesting to see the different views of pack searching. Personally, I find it to be "cheating" - but I suppose the old saying goes that if you aren't cheating you aren't trying... I think the best way to enjoy cards is to buy them for the cards. If you get a "hit" great, if not, well, you better like the cards or else it's a waste of time and money!

Well done!

Dave Miedema said...

The stores really DON'T care. I've reported pack searchers at Kmarts, Targets and other mainstream stores and have had no respone from customer service types at any of these locations. The searchers I've encountered generally ignore your complaints or
tell you to do waht they're doing (somewhere else, of course). Even hobby shops sometimes allow it...I used to work at one where the two sos of a wealthy customer were allowed to search anythin they wanted, with the only caveat being not to do it when other customers were around. I just don't byuy cards at places like Kmart, Target, and certain hobby shops where I have reason to believe this takes place.

Dave Miedema

Anonymous said...

I would like to say thank you for your post. As a non-collector, I always thought I was being polite and helpful when I PULLED the new items out for a customer. You know "the customer is always right", "do what it takes to help the customer", "make the sale", the list goes on. Thank you for making me aware of this problem. I don't let customer search the new boxes, but I have pulled new items out for them to look at. I know now & you don't have to worry about it happening with me anymore!

Thank you, Newly Informed

fuji said...

Nice post... I've read similar stories on other blogs and podcasts. It's frustrating, but informative. Keep up the excellent blog.

GCA said...

I would have really had to fight the urge to smack that guy on the back of the head (or worse). But I think I would have demanded the manager to put up a sign for all the other collector customers that said something like "You won't get any nice pulls from any packs sold here. Pack searching sanctioned by management and vendor reps".

David said...

In general, I doubt that retailers care. They just want to sell product. If we could show that letting people search packs affected the number of overall sales they made, they'd stop it. Otherwise, as long as searchers buy some packs and don't damage the others, they'll just look at it as another sale. If searching affected their bottom line, they'd stop it.