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Industry Interview

Bringing back card flipping games and mining collector interest in gemstones mark return of Dart's founder

Nov. 25, 2005

In 1988, Dart Flipcards,  a Montreal-based independent trading card producer, made its debut in the non-sport card industry with Vietnam Fact Cards, a title that gained measurable mainstream notoriety after a report printed in the New York Times.  Dart remained a niche publisher of a variety of products throughout its corporate history.  Besides trading cards, the Canadian firm manufactured a series of collectible stuffed bears in the late 1990s.

With his partner Stewart Sargent, who now heads the nascent Breygent Marketing, Dino Frisella worked to bring the hobby interesting and intriguing non-sport sets that often battled for attention during the early '90s industry boom years.  Frisella became the face of Dart Flipcards at various conventions and card shows for nearly 15 years.  Dart ceased operations in mid-2003 ironically not due to trading card production, but over product development and workmanship of a proposed series of NHL lunch boxes.

Frisella reemerged at the 2004 Cleveland National Sports Collectors Convention with Gemstone Treasures, a collectible melding the trading card business with the speculative precious stone marketplace.  

But the entrepreneur always harbored the concept of a card flipping game during his years as Dart's president.  Finally, the '05 National Sports Collectors Convention in Chicago saw the debut of Flipzz, a game of many variations loosely based on childhood baseball card playing.

In this extended Industry Interview, Frisella shares the enthusiasm he has received for Flipzz in its earliest trade show appearances, as well as insights into the development of Gemstone Treasures.  He also talks about Dart Flipcards World, the company he founded to market Flipzz, and what future he sees for it.  


Q:  In today's technologically based civilization, something as simple as Flipzz may seem quaint, but not particularly relevant to today's sophisticated child of hand-held video games.  How do you respond to this?

Frisella:  What's relevant to today's kids is what excites them and makes them happy.  Taking it in context, you have to remember the trading card industry would not have taken off originally had it not been for card flipping.  In our youth, we flipped cards against walls -- their primary function was not as a collectible, but as a toy.  In those days, that was our hand-eye coordination, similar to what video games do today.

I think people place too much value in their cards.  Granted, some are valuable and rare.  But there's a missing element in all this.  I remember having fun with my cards, reading the backs and learning nuggets of information.  I thought there had to be more to the trading card business than what is going on now.  Flipzz represents a comeback of the trading card as a functional toy.

Q:  How long has the Flipzz game been in your mind as a concept?

Frisella:  In 1988, actually.  I looked at the game as a possibility.  That explains the company name Dart Flipcards.  When I was looking at our original logo, that was what I remembered about cards, flipping them against a wall.

Remember, in '88 there was some magic going on in the industry.  Collecting cards caught some fevered pitch.  Crazy prices were being paid.  Of course, it was a matter of recapturing one's youth.  So, the concept of card flipping as a product, it just wasn't the right time.  Over the years, dramatic things occurred.  Flipzz never really left my mind.  It was a question of timing and how to represent it.

Q:  What were the initial goals you had to achieve to make Flipzz a reality?

Frisella:  This may sound awkward: I tried to make Flipzz as non-collectible as possible.  If they were collectible, then they'd be put aside and not used as they were intended.  

It came to me one night that kids basically don't have the imagination we had when it came to toys.  Toys today, you push a button and everything is done for you.  I felt there had to be an impetus for kids to play the game.  So I brought the school yard to them.  Really that was the inspiration for the backboard and giving the whole game some structure.

The next revelation was creating the cards.  They had to be unique and do certain things.  I needed them to fly better and be more aerodynamically efficient than the average card.  It took time to check what type of paper to use, what kind of finishes to put on the cards.  After initial testing, there were problems.

Q:  That sounds detailed and perhaps a bit discouraging.  Who did you consult for more insight?

Frisella:  I presented the problem to people in the aviation industry.  It was a matter of what questions to ask.  They gave me ideas and formulas.  They explained what happens when a card cuts through the air.  I had to develop a card that had a little less drag.  To do that, I had to remove some surface area.  By reducing area off the corners and edges, there's less drag with each card revolution as it flies through the air.  It's a simple formula.  A typical card loses steam after six to eight feet.  A Flipzz card doesn't lose steam until about 10 feet.

Q:  It seems solving the complexities of the cards' actions contrasts with simplicity of the finished product.  What does Flipzz offer as a gaming pastime?

Frisella:  There are 12 different games within Flipzz.  It can be played by someone who can knock the eye out of a fly at 30 feet and also be played by six-year-olds who never flipped cards before.  After a few minutes of practice, you can have a competition that can get heated and interesting between kids playing for the first time.

Some of the game variations are these:  Farthees, simple.  You take turns flipping cards against the backboard.  One who lands closest to the backboard wins and collects the cards.  With more practice, you can go into other games, from leaners to knockdowns, to making cards stand up.  There's a game which is a variation of toppers where you have to cover a specific card.

Flippz will evolve and grow with future plans.  We'll develop booster packs with cards that have point values.  But right now, we're trying to keep the game play as simple as possible.

Q:  How did you previous experiences as a manufacturer help you in the development stages?

Frisella:  Well, there always has to be elements of innovation.  It's just an evolutionary thing based on one's experiences.  In my case, I like to visualize the end item and keeping the final product as simple as possible.  That way, people will readily understand what you're doing and more people will partake in it.

It took a while for me to figure out what the backboard would be like and how it would work.  I wanted a portable unit that wouldn't bend or bow.  You have to temper that with the financial limitations because it can be an expensive proposition to make a board of that thickness.  It's a matter of sourcing these things.

Q:  You debuted Flipzz at the 2005 National Sports Collectors Convention.  What was that experience like?  

Frisella:  We were not prepared for what happened in Chicago.  Just imagine for the moment that everybody would come by our booth and very nicely say they'd order [the game] for their store later on.  We originally thought we'd start with a few kids coming by to try the game.

What we actually experienced was a stampede.  Kids wound up bringing their friends, who bought more friends.  By 10:30 Friday morning, pandemonium broke out.  We were eight people [in charge of] the booth and we still had to hire extra security to manage the crowd.  We ended up quickening the pace of the games and tournaments just so we could get more people through.

We were blown away by the response and also about the information we gained by doing the show.  What we noticed right away was that the cards would have to be replaced after a while because of the usage.  Because of the pace at our booth, we saw cards flipped against the backboard two to three hundred times and they'd start to crumble.  We thought it would transpire over a longer length of time.

The interaction between parent and child we saw was gratifying.  Kathy Garver [who appeared in Chicago as a celebrity autograph guest] came by our booth to say hello.  I met her the day before.  She had her son Reed with her at the show.  She said to me, "You know, you kept us up until 12:30 last night."  Kathy and Reed were flipping cards most of the evening.  But it was like that with a lot of people.  Parents came by to congratulate us for making something that was simple and fun.

You held a tournament during the convention in which you gave away prize money.

Frisella:  We ran through at least 128 people every hour.  We would whittle that down to one.  That one winner received $100, a certificate and was invited back for the national championship at high noon on Saturday.  On Saturday, I think 16 of the 22 finalists were able to come back.  The first prize winner was a college student and the $2,500 prize money came in handy for him.  The second place finisher won $1,000 and third place was $500.  They all received plaques.  We have a photo of the winners on our Web site.

Q:  Let's move our discussion toward Gemstone Treasures.  What were your initial steps in figuring out how to create the product?

Frisella:  In the fall of 2003 I went to a gem show in Montreal.  I had a prototype of the Gemstone card in my hand.  Walking down an aisle I bumped into a chap.   The card went flying and the chap picked it up.  He asked me what it was and I told him.  I also said I was looking for some help in sourcing stones.  I said I'd need 18 different stones ranging from two to eight thousand single caret stones.  I could see his jaw drop a little.  He was actually an agent for a unique set of mines; he also put us in contact with some mines directly.

Q:  Was there a primary factor that led you to start Gemstones as a collectible?

Frisella:  The whole reason for the set of cards is deep down, it was a method of getting away  from the perceived value of cards.  I wanted to put real value into them.  How many times can you say, "I've got a card with a ruby on it?"  And it's not just a speck.  I can honestly say that 90 percent of the aqua marines that went into the set were of top gem quality.

Q:  If the gems are of top quality as you claim, how could you afford to purchase enough stones for the cards?

Frisella:  You see, it all breaks down into an average.  First, I'm buying more than the typical New York wholesaler is in a five-year stretch.  Second, I'm buying from a localized source from specific mines dealing in specific stones.  I'm not running around looking at different quantities from different people.

The unique thing about the gem business is it's based on the honor system.  You only get one chance to bugger things up -- you do that, you're out of the game.

Another thing, some of the stones are bought in "mine lots."  A mine lot is a contract you sign -- a mine will know what its average yield per day will be.  The contract states you buy everything they dig out of the ground for a period of time -- for example, four days.  With that, you get the good, the bad and the ugly.  You cull out the ugly stones and keep the commercial grade or better.  So, now you've paid rock bottom price for everything.  Let's face it, in every pile of stones, there are some real beauties and they go into the packs.  That doesn't diminish the other stones you're putting in.  They're all worth the money.  Every now and then you stand a better chance of pulling a valuable stone from my cards than pulling an autograph from a pack of trading cards.  

Q:  Gemstone Treasures is a hybrid product of two established industries.  When you unveiled it at the 2004 Cleveland National Sports Collectors convention, what were your expectations?

Frisella:  We didn't know what to expect in the way of response.  The evening of the convention's first day was depressing.  People came by our booth and wondered about the product.  "What are they made of?"  Well, it's a real emerald.  "Yeah, $15 [per pack], a real emerald, sure."  We got a lot of those responses.  We sold maybe eight to 10 packs that day.  It was awful.  The next day, every person we sold a pack to the day before came back within minutes of the show's opening.  They bought more packs, and more boxes.  They brought friends.  We went from eight packs the first day to selling 300 packs the second day.  On the third day, we sold almost 3,000 packs.  By 11 a.m. Sunday, we were putting name tags on display boxes.  So we sold out.

Q:  What other shows have you exhibited Gemstone Treasures

Frisella:  We did a gift show in Las Vegas.  We thought we'd got a much better response there.  Got a good response, but there was a learning curve.  They all liked the packaging, the price, the concept.  Then came the question, "What's in it?"

With the card buying public, they saw the value of the cards.  They were clear in the concept of buying blind.  See, retail is different.  When you go to a store to specifically to buy Kraft sliced cheese, you get Kraft sliced cheese.  When you buy a package of trading cards, you don't know what you're going to get.  [The National Sports Collectors convention] was a much more successful way of launching the product.  Since that time, the product is working its way into gift shops pharmacies and novelty stores.

There are 18 different kinds of stones in your Gemstone Treasures checklist.  You also used a chase card configuration.  Perhaps you could detail these.

Frisella:  We have three Caret Club cards, one of which is a London blue topaz.  All these cards contain stones weighs over a caret.  Another chase is Matched Pair and there are four different.  There's the Silver Series where you get a Swiss topaz of over a caret mounted on a silver pendant.

The ratio for the Matched Pair and Caret Club -- every display box had one of these chase cards, which is about one in 17 packs.  We also have a Gold Series which is one in every 384 packs.  Every 2,400 packs contained a diamond ring; one in 2,800 packs was a diamond.


Previous interviews:

Show promoter Paul Maiellaro
Wrapper publisher Les Davis

Inkworks president Allan Caplan


Dino Frisella, presi-   dent of Dart Flipcards World.

photo: Non-Sport Update




























































































Example of Flippz           card














































At the National Sports Collectors Convention, Frisella poses with actor/director Penny Marshall.



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Copyright June 2010 by Scott Thomas, all rights reserved.