Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Ebb and Flow

As I've mentioned before, inventory is a zero sum game. If I buy something new, it means something isn't getting re-ordered. One of the reviews on Yelp mentioned the Reaper selection going down-hill. That's because it was drastically downsized because of poor sales. It had been this way for over a year now, and we were hoping for a turnaround. No such luck.

Here are the highlights of what's expanding, what's contracting, and my watch list. Most stores won't actively tell you this stuff, but hey you should know, you participate actively:

Expanding: Areas that are seeing more inventory dollars flow their way.
  • Warhammer 40K. As of this week, we'll have every 40K item, so expansion is over.
  • Role-Playing Department. We've got a very successful RPG department where we can take risks and stock new items. I'm more liberal with my purchasing dollars here.
  • CCG Accessories. Card sleeves, boxes, etc., are great sellers and we'll likely increase our selection.
  • Jigsaw Puzzles. With one of our competitors closing, we've found ourselves with an expanding puzzle clientèle. Expect them to expand further into the toy department.
  • Indy Miniatures. Sales of artisan miniature lines like, well, Artizan, Freebooter, etc, are strong and they add lots of flavor. A lot of our Reaper dollars went here.
  • Classic Games. We've found some new classic lines that sell better for us, so we'll keep working on this.
Contracting: Areas that are getting pillaged to pay for expanding lines.
  • Toys. I want to maintain the better selling toys, but I envision cutting the toy department by a third over time. Some of this is inventory dollars shifted to games, while a lot of it goes to pay off expansion costs.
  • Reaper Miniatures. Reaper has had a free pass in the past, but that's over. Miniatures that don't perform are not re-ordered, like how most stores handle them. It's more common sense than a slash and burn approach. We're now as good as the other stores who sell Reaper, but not any better. In exchange, we can afford the Indy Mini section.
  • Board games. We're overstocked and could lose about a third of them without being missed. If you're a board gamer, you probably won't miss the ones that go.
  • D&D 3.5. The books are going out of print rapidly, which is great for cash flow, but not so great if you're still planning on picking them up at a later date.
On the Fence. These are lines that are being considered, tweaked and have an uncertain future.
  • Flames of War. The down-sizing is complete and we'll be building back up the depth of more popular items. (was once our number one game)
  • Warmachine/Hordes. We carry every SKU, but lately I've been wondering if we should be more selective. Sales have slowed, but the Summer has seen many new players. Still, it's beginning to sputter (like FoW). (was once our number one game)
  • AT-43. Sales have fallen lately, organized play never materialized, and active customers have moved on to other games. We still stock every item, but we're watching this very closely.

16 comments:

  1. Re: Jigsaw Puzzles. I have considered an idea for Jigsaw Puzzles. That is: Jigsaw Club. You sign up for the club (cost free or cheap probably). This gives you the option of selling the puzzles back to the store for say $5 store credit; *and* buying used puzzles for say $10. The cool spiff: You give each person in your club when they buy a new puzzle a sticker they put on the inside of the box. The sticker has columns that say "Name of person/team"; "Date completed"; "Comments".

    This gives each puzzle a little history, and could increase your turns on puzzles overall, maybe. Or maybe not.

    Regarding your mini games. Do you think the fade in some games is because you personally aren't playing them anymore (FoW)? And on the other side of the coin, sales are up on 40k due to your playing it and modeling it?

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  2. I really like the jigsaw puzzle idea. I'll be thinking more about that!

    As for miniature games, I'm more of a follower than a leader. I tend to learn a game AFTER it takes off, usually when it's our number one game, as is 40K and *was* FoW.

    When I first started, I used to attempt to evangelize games that I thought should get better play, but that was a monumental waste of time. Accentuate the positive, drop what doesn't work. Move on. It doesn't stop my from trying on occasion, such as my insistence that employees demo "double shutter" (shut the box with two rows).

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  3. Hey Gary,

    I really enjoy reading your blogs. Why do you think FOW is no longer popular? Is it a boring game and people have moved on? Too much money? No one wants to organize play?

    I was reading a "Fulminata" Blog post and he stated it was still his number one game but he didn't like the company support, Ex. no PDF updates for book errata.

    Is that the deal? There were lots of times when I "got worried" about the games I liked because corp. did something, Ex. Wotc got rid of interrupts to Magic, Wotc bought TSR, Hasbro bought Wotc. I didn't stop playing the game though. As far as obscure rules go...isn't that what house rules our for?

    Thanks,

    Steve

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  4. I think Flames of War, as a historical game, has a natural saturation point in any given area. There are only so many customers who want to play a WWII miniature game, and history is fairly static.

    Flames of War could do much better with us IF we had organized play, but the customer base has resisted that for as long as we've carried it. We held events in the old store, which was admittedly cramped, and we've offered a variety of events at the new store, with few takers.

    It's not that FoW does badly, it's just that I think it has a very steep sales curve in which is does extremely well in a community for a year or so until it hits saturation. That can be deceiving if you're used to a continued revenue stream, like with Games Workshop.

    On top of all this, the company has fumbled badly on numerous occasions, both locally and at corporate in New Zealand. They have not delivered on promises, have outright lied on numerous occasions (to my face!), and have suffered through two re-locations, both manufacturing and US sales. They would be a prime example of how not to run a company, if they weren't already copying all the old mistakes of Games Workshop. Battlefront is a prime example of how not to copy another companies bad example.

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  5. Thanks for the feedback Gary.

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  6. Gary's probably got a better view of the issue from behind the cash register, but from my point of view the problem with FoW is less that it is historical and more that the company fumbled the ball.

    The only real disadvantage that historical games have when compared to fictional games is that you eventually run out of history, and FoW hasn't reached that point yet (partly due to good planning on their part several years ago when they split it up into early, mid, and late war periods). What it has instead is a company that simply took the wrong path and lost a lot of good will as a result.

    They ran into a problem where their growth had a negative impact on their ability to provide adequate customer service, but every step they've taken to correct things has only made things worse. Then they combined that with controversial decisions in regards to tournament support, refusal to acknowledge mistakes in terms of published errata, and a long standing refusal to reign in their more rabid supporters on the official boards (a problem that became minor only in comparison to everything else that happened later).

    I've been driven so far from the game now that I wouldn't even know if things got better, because I've just stopped caring at this point. I still buy the books, but that's it. I'm not painting, I'm not playing, and I'm not buying new minis. I'm just buying the books out of habit, and may stop doing that soon.

    Now, how that translates to Gary's store is that I used to be one of the biggest supporters of the game at his store along with joedog and rayipsa and a couple of others. I got married and moved away, and that's out of Battlefront's control, but I was already fed up with the company, and joedog would have picked up the slack as far as organizing things, but he was fed up too and instead found himself drawn back to Warhammer 40K.

    The result was that no one was willing to establish organized play after Gary moved to the bigger location, which in turn led to the continued decline of the game in terms of sales.

    That's my perspective anyways.

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  7. Thanks for the feedback. It's always sad when a company does not do justice to it's customer base. It's just biting the hand that feeds it.

    For better or worse, I'm kinda of a "Johnny come lately" and haven't had to deal with all of these problems.

    I've toyed with the idea of trying to resurrect this game at BDG, I just don't know if the interest is there or if it's worth the effort.

    Thanks again.

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  8. Oops, I just started a blog and that's my pen name. Thanks,

    Steve

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  9. It makes sense to attempt to start a group if you need people to play with. Getting enough of them interested has always been the hard part, but it's not impossible. The last time it had successful play in-store, it was built around a core of 3 people.

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  10. It really only takes one guy who can attend regularly to get things started, as long as there's one or two more who are interested in showing up. I just don't know what the interest level is right now.

    Josh is still very much into it, but he's only back in the area when school is out. I don't know if joedog or rayipsa are interested in playing if someone else wants to organize, but they might be.

    There are a couple others in the area that are into the game, but that seem to have some aversion to playing at BDG, despite it being closer to them than the other places they play at. They might change their minds if there was a regular event.

    Despite all my problems with the company, I would still play the game if I had regular opponents where I am now.

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  11. I anticipate that FoW will get some new life when they finally release the "Bagration" book - Oh, wait, that is, the "Bagration" CYCLE of books - and players can play LW (Late War) Eastern Front battles.

    Shortly after moving to the 2nd edition of the rules, BF switched from the MW (Mid War) to the LW as their product emphasis. They announced a release schedule that fit very well into their previous rate of releases - about 12-20 miniatures offerings per month, and a new book every quarter.

    The LW period was going to be divided into 4 or 5 sections -D-Day (Normandy) Bagration (East Front 1944), Market Garden/Bulge (possibly two sections), and Berlin (1945). Each period was to be covered in something like 6 months, with a single book for EW (Early War) to be released that fall (along with new EW figures said to be almost finished).
    Two years later, we are still receiving D-Day/Normandy books, and the releases are down to 4-6 per month - including "new" releases that are repackaged old sculpts.
    By choosing to focus on producing entire lines of figures for specialized and unique units that saw just a few weeks of combat in a single theater, they have limited the appeal of their new products.

    By focusing all of their marketing support on tournament play - particularly larger tournaments - they have alienated many who would like their support to help with getting leagues or other types of play organized.

    They have also tied up capital in several moves - including moving their U.S. distribution center from Seattle (a major West Coast/Pacific Rim port city) to a place a stones throw from Glen Burnie MD (home of GW USA). This means that their products are manufactured in Malaysia (iirc) and New Zealand, shipped to the West Coast, shipped across the USA, then shipped back to the West Coast for us.
    Their QC took a beating, and they pretty much gave up on customer service for that after their move to Malaysia (iirc).
    Customers have also been unhappy about scale creep, and the proportions of some body parts and equipment.

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  12. Even with all that, it would only take two or three committed players to bring some of the other local players out of hibernation.

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  13. Okay. What needs to be done to bring this game back to active status? Tourneys, multiplayer games, a weeknight league?

    I'm not a total newb now that I've been playing all summer with Josh. I can take an active role to organize things.

    Steve

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  14. Simpler things are better. For one, I don't care the least about events that have regional people driving to the store. This does nothing to bring the local crowd to the store and only fragments all those other stores' events.

    What works best is a regular, low-key event, that doesn't take a huge amount of time. For example, the 40K league is great: perfect point value, great time slot (every other Saturday), but it's too long (11am-6pm).

    What would be better, I think, would be a 3-4 hour time slot, possibly an infantry league, like we've done in the past, with a couple of people who commit to coming for a while, regardless of turn-out. It takes several months to get good turn-out.

    Meanwhile, store staff can promote the event and push everyone interested to it. We can also explore prize support from Battlefront.

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  15. My take on this whole situation regarding FoW is that once Fulminata and myself moved away, the enthusiasm for the game fell through the floor, unfortunately.

    Maybe I am too young and inexperienced to successfully organize FoW events, and maybe that is part of the reason why I have had issues with it in the past.

    As far as Battlefront goes, I have said this before: just because they screw up at the planning and Corporation level does not mean that the game itself is broken and not worth playing. If you don't like the official boards, don't go to them (many of you have stopped already). It is not necessary to play the game.

    Besides, I feel that even if I tried to get people to play a new game with new rules, (Cold War/Blitzkrieg Commander etc.) no one would play it with me anyway, so we should stick to what we have got.

    About a regular date for FoW; Steve and I can wrap up games in about two and a half hours or so. Steve can't do infantry league games regardless, because he has an armored company. I don't have much time left at home, so it would have to happen fast.

    -Josh

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  16. I don't know if I can commit to everyweek. However, I like the idea of every other week. That seems more likely. Maybe on "skirmish Thursdays". I have to talk about it with my wife somemore.

    As far as another WW2 game goes, I agree with Josh, I enjoy FOW and I don't think there would be support for another WW2 minis game like Blitzkrieg Commander, or PBI, etc.

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