Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Holidays and Game Stores

Curious customers ask if the holidays are a big deal for game stores. Well, it depends on what kind of game store you have. If your store is in a college town, you might see a reverse pattern, where your customers go "home" during the holiday period and Summer. This, I imagine, would be a nice change from regular retail, in which you wouldn't dream of taking a vacation during these times. Consider this if you want to run a retirement game store. Stores in malls tend to be intensely focused on the holiday months, as sales are concentrated in November and December, as are their general public customers. Their stores are more "muggle" friendly throughout the year, so they're set up well for the holiday period. It's more of the same for them, I'm told.

Our store, the game "destination" store that's also family friendly, sees a big uptick in December, but only because we sell board games year round. Our board game sales skyrocket in December, while the rest of sales are up a smaller amount. In the end, our December months are usually 40-50% higher than a normal month and those sales continue into the first week of January.

It's not a make or break month for us, but it is where most of the money comes from for bigger projects, like expansions and inventory increases. Summer months, July-September, are 20% jumps. This is when many of the new hobby games get released. I think they're too bunched up actually, but supposedly this is when young people have time to play them. In the past, when we were new, Summer was about catching up with our finances, rather than now, where they add more opportunity for projects.

December is also the end of our fiscal year, so there are strange issues related to that as well. For example, if our inventory has expanded, it's considered taxable income, so while we're trying to ramp up inventory at the beginning of the month (I'm $15,000 over budget right now), the goal is to have that budget balanced by the 31st. So there's this enormous bubble that must be gradually and gracefully deflated in a matter of a few weeks. This is stuff that's invisible to the staff, but it's a big part of my job. We want full shelves on December 1st, empty shelves Decemeber 31st and moderately well stocked shelves for our returning customers on January 1st. We also gave a bunch of items to charity this year to not only be good guys, but to reduce our taxable inventory burden. If you've ever seen the birth skit from Monty Python, in December I'm like the hospital administrator with the machine that goes "Bing!"

We stock differently for December. Some "core" board games get a deeper inventory, while we also struggle to bring in games from the SF Chronicle list. The list games are tough to manage, due to their mass market obscurity and "family" focus. In other words, we tend not to like them, so the list games need to be brought into the store in quantity and sold out completely in a three week period. Anything left over after that simply won't sell for us, perhaps ever.

Sometimes we find games we like on the list, but it's often one or two that we'll reprise, mostly for the next list period. Flip Out and Finca come to mind and I know Snake Oil from this year will be a regularly stocked game for us now. It's an Apples to Apples variant where you sell things to a particular customer using a combination of cards in your hand. Sounds like work to me, but it's actually pretty fun. Many of these games, once they run out, will be abandoned forever by both us and our suppliers.

With the holidays, we generally sell 30-50 board games a day. Again, we sell and stock most of these games, nearly 1,000, year round, so it's not something we just bring in for the holidays. That said, we stock up on puzzles and more mass market alternative games like items from Gamewright, Pressman and Winning Moves. Sales ramp up slowly. The first two weeks of December look like a strong sales period in any month. The period before Christmas doubles and then triples in sales. Again, this varies between stores, but in our case, it's incredibly consistent. In fact, the holiday period is the most consistent part of our year, with sales hard to nudge up, since the game trade trends tend not to filter out to our "muggle" holiday customers.

The holidays are where we test our policies and procedures. It's when I spend the most time with staff as we have multiple people on shift all the time. In fact, I just gave a raise yesterday after realizing we had a star player in our midst. The holidays are when we can refine our sales technique, which is about maximizing sales of the right thing to the right person. Gross selling is easy, but finding the right fit and avoiding returns is key. Holiday sales are the only time we see returns of games; gamers don't return things unless they're broken. Despite all the work, the holidays are also when we can relax and show a little more thanks to our colleagues and customers. Thanksgiving should really be in January for us.

No comments:

Post a Comment