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How to buy Hockey Trading Pins: The ins and outs of getting highly tradeable pins for less - and without the stress

August 30, 2016

Hockey season is gearing up, and that means pin trading season is gearing up too. Truth be told, being the parent responsible for ordering trading pins for the team is a big responsibility, especially when it comes to big tournaments. Some “perks” of being the pin parent:

  • On top of your day job & daily responsibilities, picking the kids up from school, and your nightly taxi service to the diamond, you suddenly find yourself a helpless middleman between a pin company and 20 opinionated parents, kids, and coaches settling on designs, price, and quantity.  
  • 30-50 emails back and forth with the pin company and other parents deciding on design, and inevitably there is one parent you just can’t make happy.
  • If you’re really lucky, a player will leave the team during the process, often introducing a new player/parents combo and resulting in a last minute change to artwork.
  • It’s up to you to collect everyone’s pin money, so likely you’ll have to foot the bill for a late parent or two.
  • Sometimes the pins don’t come out right, or come out short, yet because of all the time it took to get artwork approved and collect money there is no time to process a re-order.

What a nightmare! But fear not - we’ve been in your shoes a few times now and perfected a process that eliminates all the fear and pressure that comes with being the pin parent. Keep reading for our 5 Step Process to buying trading pins simply, quickly, and right.

Step 1: Start Early

Starting earlier in the season has a number of benefits related to the stress we mentioned above, but the primary benefits of ordering early are A.) higher quality pins and B.) better deals.

Quality: By the time June rolls around, the companies that make trading pins get slammed with hundreds of requests like yours each day, which means their factories get slammed with thousands of orders. Coupling limited capacity, high demand, and seasonal factory employees, your order in June gets less attention and is more likely to have errors than it would if processed in April.

Deals: Most pin companies run promotions from February through April offering free t-shirts, banners, pin bags, and towels (item’s you’d otherwise be buying separately). Additionally, many pin companies are forced to raise prices May through July due to price increases they see from their own supply chain.

So even if you don’t know if your team is going to make it to the pin trading event later in the season, but know there is a possibility, it’s usually best to start the design process as early as you can. Regardless, the team will love having pins that were made specially for them and they’ll have an awesome keepsake that they can also give out to friends and family.

Step 2: Choose the right pin company

We mentioned before that many of these companies use the same overseas suppliers, so the value the company provides aside from the pin itself is usually what separates them. Look for quick responses (within minutes of your email or quote request during daytime hours), friendly service, and a company that actually answers the phone.

Some tips…

Price generally correlates to quality: There are primarily three groupings of companies when it comes to price. Those that price low, those that price high, and those somewhere in between. It’s important to differentiate what each price point is actually offering you as far as quality and service.

Important note: AVOID THE LOW COST ECHELON. Many of these companies are overseas, their communication is sporadic at best, especially after you’ve paid, and you will get what you paid for - a cheap product. These companies often cut corners, producing a thinner pin (standard thickness is 1.5mm). Some will measure size diagonally versus a standard LxW sizing. There is truly nothing worse than seeing kids stuck trying to trade inferior pins, or worse, nothing at all because the pin company didn’t deliver as promised. It’s important to avoid these cheaper prices because they truly won’t put in the time and effort necessary to deliver you not only a good product but a good customer experience.

In the high priced group you’ll find many companies that specialize in lapel pins trying to sell trading pins. These companies are used to selling to companies with large budgets, so they don’t adjust their pricing for a different type of product.

Step 3: Make a great personalized design

  • Have a general idea of what you’re looking for ahead of time. Even if your team doesn’t  have a logo, a pin company can best meet your expectations if they have an idea of what you have in mind. Many websites have galleries to give you some ideas of designs if you’re new or looking for inspiration. Additionally, you can check out their Instagram and Pinterest pages.
  • Know your pin types. Soft Enamel pins are the most common and most popular come trading time. These pins are die struck out of 1.5mm thick iron or brass metal, and color enamel filled below the ridges to give a textured surface. Offset Printed are another common style; these are printed on 0.5mm iron and covered with a thin epoxy layer. Typically you’d only want to go with this style if you fall into 1 of 3 categories:
    • 1) Your budget dictates it (Offset are cheaper than Enamel)
    • 2) Your timeline requires it (Offset take half as long to make as Enamel)
    • 3) Your logo dictates it (color gradients are involved).
  • Pay attention to space utilization. Pins are priced by their minimal square size, so a 1.0”x2.0” pin would be the same cost to you as a 2.0”x2.0”, both are considered a 2.0” pin. Even if you’re basing the design off of your home state and it is not square shaped,  other details can fill that empty space so your pin is true to size.
  • More detail does not equate to more price. Fitting more detail into the same pin space does not affect price. A good trading pin has a lot of line detail and a good mix of colors & contrast.
  • Make the pins personal to the players. Try to add the kids names or numbers to the pin design. Adding those in baseballs around the logo is common - for a more unique approach add them on batting helmets or gloves, along the base path, or on bats around the edges. It’s also a good idea to include the year, the age group, and the town/region/state you’re representing.
  • Tradeability ultimately lies in the designs (Yes, Plural!)

No matter how much we as parents and coaches try to convey fairness and equality, pin trading will always be dictated by two things: Popularity, and subsequently, the supply & demand curve. The trick is, almost any pin can become popular once a limited supply is introduced: so aim to create rarity. Not only is this a smart move, but if done right can reduce your total pin cost.

How do you accomplish this? Create two designs, one “elite”, in limited quantities with a few bells & whistles, and the other standard  in a quantity that will give your team sufficient pins to trade. The trick is to use the upgrades such that you’re able to use the same pin mold for both designs. A few ways to do this:

  • Standard Pin: Crystals. Elite Pin: Blinkers.
  • Standard Pin: Just Enamel. Elite Pin: Glitter Enamel or Glow Enamel
  • Standard Pin: Team Color Enamel. Elite Pin: All black enamel on a gold plated pin
  • Standard Pin: Soft Enamel. Elite Pin: All metal (brass, nickel) or even two toned (both)

Not using the same die will cost you a few hundred dollars extra. At the end of the day, trading pins are given away, so save some cash and find a way to use the same die - your customer care team should also be able to give you some ideas!

  • Order enough but not too much

General formula when ordering one pin design:

(# kids on your team) x (# of teams in tournament) x (1.2)

The 1.2 factor allows extras for siblings to trade (unless you like tantrums) and a few extras for the players to keep or trade with their friends. Umpires sometimes participate in trading to commemorate their unique tournament experience, organizers, and occasionally a zealous parent or two, so having some extras for one of these often limited pins comes in handy.

When ordering two pins, a standard and an elite pin, the recommended formula is:

Standard Pin: (# kids on your team) x (# of teams in tournament) x (0.9)

Elite Pin: Smaller tournaments go 10 per player, for regional/national tournaments make the range 15-20. The goal for Elite Pin is obviously to have way less than there are total kids in the tournament (supply & demand)!

To summarize:

  • It’s important to start ordering your pins early to avoid unnecessary stress and to be sure every player on your team has the opportunity to make a lifelong memory with his team.
  • Compare prices and customer experience before placing an order to avoid spending too much money or receiving an inferior product.
  • Elite pins are a great way to increase interest in your team come trading time, but there are lots of other ways to create a unique and popular design.
  • Order plenty of pins - remember our formulas!

Stay tuned for more hockey and trading pin news - happy hockey season!

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