I like Games Workshop products. We also have a great relationship with the company. We're a partner store, which means Games Workshop actively works with us to promote the hobby. Actively, is the key word, as they're the only company that will sit on the phone with me and brainstorm about how to better sell their product and promote the hobby. They provide us prize support, free copies of pre-release books, pre-release models at cost, promotional materials, and order fulfillment second to none. Got two left tracks for a tank? Show me and you get a new tank; keep the incomplete one for parts or terrain. No other game company of note comes remotely close to this kind of support. They're so good that I have to resist being a GW apologist. It's easy to forgive foibles when they do so much right by you.
The price increase announced for June 1st is a reminder that the company can be a bit schizophrenic. Their last annual report promised no price increases, followed a few months later by a price increase. This was due, we're told, to the increased price of commodities, raw materials used in their products. Since then, oil and tin, the main ingredients of their models, have plummeted. This commodities based increase was supposed to be an exception to the five year plan, in which all models are gradually raised in price over a five year period. With the June increase, the five year plan has been abandoned completely, just a few years into it and nine months since the commodities increase. We're told the price increase is about trying to acquire some sort of parity or alignment with national prices around the world. With the Internet, it's easy to see that some countries are getting things cheaper than others, and it creates problems for them.
How do you explain this to a customer in a way that doesn't make you look like an idiot or a liar? It's one of those areas of discussion in which we have to shake our heads and move on. Unfortunately, a lot of customers are moving to other products or activities. Spray primer is a good example of this. It was once one of the best selling items in the store. For some heavy GW stores, GW black spray primer was the most popular product; their best seller. Increasing the price to $15 scared away all but the most die hard hobbyists. Now we sell a stupid amount of Board to Pieces primer with Army Painter primer slowly beginning to gain traction. A $14 bottle of Army Painter primer doesn't seem so expensive anymore.
Other customers are moving on to different games. The time of protest games, like Warmachine, are behind us (Warmachine players are curiously protesting new rules by playing Infinity). These are not gamers with money in their pocket looking to make a statement. These are gamers who have become very cautious with their money, switching to board games or Magic out of necessity. Others just hold off their purchases for some future time. It's a little strange when customers openly long for models they cannot afford. Pulling back from a culture of instant gratification can be a little clumsy sometimes. Poor is the new black, so complaining about your finances is acceptable now.
The truth is a lot of customers are being priced out of the market in these hard economic times. I think there's a permanent shift in US spending, especially in what's considered luxury or premium brands. Games Workshop increasingly backs itself into the premium corner with their price increases. Yes, we love their products, truly, but we're seeing hard limits on the way in which people are willing to spend their money.