Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Value Proposition

With the economy in question, people are asking how they expect a faltering economy to affect the store. When my primary investor, a money guy, begins to ask, I know there is real concern out there. He's my macro lense into the money world and he only gets concerned if there's a preponderance of problems, like now. Having not owned a store through a recession, I can only go by what others have told me and what I've learned over the last few years.

First, my core customer base are hobbyists. These are maybe 400-500 regular customers, defined as someone who comes in more than once a year to buy stuff. There are "angel" customers out there who buy lots of stuff, but even they can't rise above around 1% of my sales. That's a good thing. The common wisdom on core customers is that they'll continue to purchase game products until the bottom literally falls out of their lives. They have to be homeless or unemployed before they stop. Why? This is their main form of entertainment. What I sell makes slogging away at work worthwhile. I used to be that guy, I know. What is likely to happen in uncertain times is that customers spend a little less here or there, but they continue to buy, and they continue to buy where they've been buying. That's supposedly another comfort.

Second, table-top, traditional, specialty, whatever you want to call them, these games are comfort games, like comfort food. You eat comfort food because it makes you feel good and reminds you of better days, possibly at home with momma in the kitchen with avocado colored appliances. Ok, maybe that's just my childhood. Table top games represent better times, stronger values, something more family oriented than playing video games where you kill hookers with baseball bats. Nowadays I try to turn people to the Euro games. If they've spent their youth in epic games of Risk or Monopoly, it's an easy transition to Carcassonne and Settlers of Catan. They have a very high entertainment value for what you get. Which brings up the big point....

Third, table top games are a fantastic value. Take a game like Carcassonne, which I personally think is the best "gateway" game to playing the Euro board games. The game is now $30. It works for 2-5 players. Say you play it with another couple, or a family of four. That's $30 divided by 4, or $7.50 per person. You can't go to the movies for that! Lets assume you play two enjoyable 45-minute games and suddenly the cat jumps up on the table and pees on your Carcassonne, ruining your copy forever. That was still an evening of good value for your $30 (and a great story to tell your friends). More than likely, without feline intervention, you'll play that game a dozen times for a dozen hours of entertainment for your $30.

The usual comparison is video games. How much entertainment value can you squeeze out of a $50 video game? The argument is that if you can match that value, and keep the price in this acceptable entertainment mediums price range, you've got something special. I've also never looked back on a video game experience and said, "Wow, that was sure a great use of my time!" I usually wish I had those hours back.

The video game argument also pops up whenever someone puts out an $80 board game that most non-Hobbyists are unlikely to purchase. I'm a big fan of price points all along the spectrum, from $10 card games to $100 monster board games, but that $50 price point seems to be special. The key for non hobbyists is trying to explain why a $50 board game we sell is better than the $9 board game they can find at Toys R Us and Wal-Mart. It's about properly expressing the value proposition of the specialty game: better quality, better game play, intelligent design, and many more hours of fun than a dreary game of Monopoly.

The key for getting the general public into the hobby is making sure they actually enjoy the first couple hours of their $30 game. We do that by learning their needs and helping them select the right game. No amount of help will allow them to select a board game that little Johnny with his ADD can enjoy (that was my brother in our house), but for most people, unplugging for a while is not only a lot of fun, but a good value. The other way we allow them to participate is our game nights. We let everyone interested in these games know they can come play, for free. Some will buy games afterwards and a small number will become hobbyists (see point #1).

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