Increasingly, relying on distribution is a failed strategy. More of what I buy needs to be through firsthand knowledge, or at least firsthand risk taking. Backing Kickstarters is a thing I regularly do now and I've gotten better at it, mostly because I can spot an inexperienced mess of a product pretty well now. It doesn't mean I don't get burned, I really do (Dark Souls stretch goals), but I'm making enough money up front to offset the losses.
Telling you what to buy would be one heck of a holy grail blog post. I can't do that. I'm good enough to stay in business after buying my ten million, but I can't tell you what to buy. If I could, I would crush your store with my national franchise. We're still specialty retail with individualized hand selling to an idiosyncratic base of customers that is different just ten miles away.
So why wouldn't I buy something? Here are some reasons:
- Margin. Of course margin. I often don't know the margin until after I pre order something, in which case, if the margin is too low, I kick myself and set a product not to re-order. 50% is a great margin. 47-49% is reasonable. 45% and I better see above average performance. 40%? I better see stratospheric turns like with a CCG. There is technically no floor to margin. I'll take 10% if I know I have a guaranteed sale. Car dealerships make their living like that. Then again, give me a medium to low margin on a run of the mill product and I'll kick it to the curb (Tiny Epic).
- Packaging. Is your game in a brown paper bag? Unless it's Poop: The Game (really, that sells like that), I'm likely not to re-order it. Same goes for tubes. Nobody likes a tube, unless it's full of counters or dice. Tubes and boobs. Meaning I also don't want explicit graphics on a game. I'm looking at you play mats. We recently had a long thread in a retailer forum about the logistics of dice bag packaging and how few companies have figured this out. This stuff is critical. Kickstarter products often fail here, although much less lately.
- Installed Base. If you're trying to sell me a collectible card game, just no. If I need a community to support a game, I need that community to ask me to carry it, not a publisher. How do you get that community? Don't care, your problem. Most stores will tell you they can only support perhaps three games in a community at most, and they probably already have those three. I've simply passed on several CCGs lately as companies seem to have some arcane inner motivation to break into this realm, and I'm not going to be their guinea pig.
- Devalued Online. I'll often look to see if a product is already being sold when I'm solicited by a distributor. If it is, it's not a disqualifier, but if I see it's going for 30-40% of the MSRP, that game is dead before arrival. There are ways to protect your brand value and often that product is under assault before I'm even asked to order it. If Dungeons & Dragons were a new game today, I would shun it (same with Magic).
- It's Everywhere. There are some games I don't have that I've seen at Target that look kinda neat, but Target has it. I think they're doing fine satisfying the demand. This is not to say I won't try such things. There are perhaps 18 Hasbro games I keep in stock when I can (I can't right now). They sell just well enough to make sense for me, despite being everywhere.
- I'm Poor. I could easily increase my inventory by 10-20% or even double it. That's right, I have room to double my inventory. But I'm poor. For me to say yes to one game, I have to stop carrying another one. Sometimes that lines up wonderfully. Whenever a store has a clearance sale, that's the sign of a mis-alignment (all stores have clearance sales).
- My Customer Base. I have demographic envy, a desire to have my competitor's customer bases. My customers buy what they buy, and it's not always the interesting stuff I want them to buy. I would love to have more exotic stock for them to purchase, but I'm in the suburbs. Sometimes I buy something and tell myself I'll buy it myself if nobody picks it up. Then, six months later, I don't pick it up, because I've grown to hate the site of it.
- Line Extension. Line extensions marketing theory has been debunked, but it basically says when you add more products in your line, the line eventually becomes too confusing for customers and they stop buying. I can see this with Munchkin, Red Dragon Inn, versions of D&D, LCGs and many miniature games. There is debate about line extension theory, and it's likely nuanced, but it has increasingly become more true. Endless supplements will eventually collapse a line, and I increasingly avoid them and often desire to dump the whole thing. I'm always on the look out for that tipping point.
- Bad Company. How terrible a company would you need to run for me not to carry your game? Well, money talks. I'm not happy with a lot of companies, but they make me a lot of money. Usually my irritation with a company is directly related to my inability to make money with them. The more irritated I am though, the higher that company needs to perform. So you can be a giant dick and if I'm paying my mortgage with your game, we're good. But when your product slows, retailers look for excuses to let you go, often with a vengeance. There is a brittleness with companies with ill will, and we make excuses for you if you're good people. There are companies with people I just really like and their stuff is marginal and often gets a pass.
- I'm Ignorant (or I can't get them). There are 10 new board games released a DAY. My gatekeepers might present me with what, three? I might pick one to sell. I may not know of a games existence. A game might not be available to me at wholesale prices. I really want to sell Matthew Colville's Strongholds and Followers, but he has no love for the middle man. I'll have to be content with my personal copy. I regularly bug one of the distributor buyers to look into a game and I'm often told they're not interested in distribution. Fair enough. There are a lot of games I have no access to either because I don't know or just can't get them. I suppose that's two reasons right there.
Anyway, ten reasons why I might pass on a product. Why might I buy something? You're one of my 30 top companies of proven performance in the marketplace. You personally impress me with your cleverness or innovation. You provide me early copies before the rest of the marketplace. Customers ask for it (number one reason). It's not just good, but cheap, which bypasses online price competition. See, I'm not all negative today.