Monday, September 14, 2009

Selling Board Games

When I opened five years ago, I had a selection of around 100 board games that were thought to be best sellers in the industry. "Best seller" is a speculative term at best. Few board games sell themselves, the rest require the sales person to actively present the game to the customer. If you were to look at my sales numbers that first year, you would think Carcassonne was the best game ever, because I sold more of that game than probably any store on the West Coast. Why? It was the only Euro game I knew (I had played Settlers of Catan but I despised it). I sold the heck out of Carcassonne. Meanwhile, some excellent games were passed over because I lacked product knowledge.

During my first Christmas, an elderly woman scolded me for being so ignorant of the games I sold, and that set me off to my own personal board game boot camp. I started by staying late and playing board games with a small group of board gamers that had developed around the store. These people are friends of mine now. We played a variety of different board games, and they spurred me on by buying from me what they wanted to play (customers who want their store to carry board games should take note). By the following Christmas, I had a modest repertoire of games under my belt, enough to "fake it" with enough board game context to sell a bunch more that I hadn't played.

Playing a game is not a requirement to selling it, but it certainly can't hurt if you remember to focus on the customers needs and wants. Being a race car driver or a gear head in no way qualifies you to sell cars. Likewise, the most important thing in selling a board game is finding out what the customer wants and matching up those requirements with the right game. I've seen my own sales people nearly bore a customer to death telling them about abstract mechanics. Ask questions. What ages are the players? How many people are playing? What kind of games do they like? You can also gauge whether you can evangelize a customer into a Euro game (a goal of mine) or sell them their next mass market Hasborg game.

Board games I hadn't played my second year got added to a cheat sheet. I took every board game in the store and wrote a one sentence synopsis of what I wanted to tell my customers. This was no cut and paste from boardgamegeek, this required that I have the most basic understanding of what the game was about. It's a good idea to do this with new games too, as you buy them. In fact, if you can't summarize a new game in a sentence, I highly suggest you don't buy it.

So my 100 games became 200 games, and we added an entire aisle of shelves in a shameful disregard for ADA requirements. Legally, we were alright, because the shelves had wheels and could be moved, but the store was becoming a rabbit hutch. This eventually led to the new store, and those 200 games, which had since become 300 games, grew to 550 games. As the toy section diminishes, the board game section continues to grow. Right now we are at the same board game stock level as last Christmas. We can't possibly play all of these board games, especially at the fast rate of release, but hopefully we can summarize each in a sentence or two (or fake it by reading the back of the box!). Meanwhile, our board game night has grown, and we now have a steady group of 8-12 people. Occasionally I'll play if I have time, but it's so rare nowadays that most people don't know who I am!

If you're a store owner, give board games a chance. Start with sure bets in these four categories: strategy, light filler games, party games and mass market games. Keep the mass market games to identify your store to the muggles as a place where games are sold. They're decorations with price tags. Once they've got the slightest curiosity, transition them to the light filler games.

Party gamers have their own set of requirements and they shouldn't be ignored; at least read about their games. Strategy games are the domain of "the geek" and high minded board gamers. Most can take care of themselves, but understand their top ranked games. My goal for a while was to play all the top 10 board game geek games, provided I could convince our group.

Filler games are great little games for light play that are often panned by the strategy gamers and rated poorly online. Each of these games has their own adherents. If you're doing your job, you'll create hobbyists who may even exceed your knowledge of board games. This is a job well done on your part. Each customer requires a different sales approach. Each should get some respect in you store and the effort needed to sell to them.