Saturday, June 17, 2023

A Tale of Two Releases

We had the first of our Lord of the Rings Magic: The Gathering pre release events last night. It was highly successful, a perfect crossover storm. My staff reported it as the most attended Magic pre release event ever. They are young in the history of the business and weren't around before COVID when we built our game center to host 121 Magic players. It was our best sales day in years, at around $25K. Best of all, we have two more events throughout the weekend and plenty of product to sell, although we're nearly sold out of a couple key items. Distributors are flush with product for a Monday re-order (edit: not so much, actually). This is game trade retail at its best.

I spent about two weeks trying to triangulate exactly how much LOTR Magic to buy, as this set had very high prices and lots of moaning on the Internet. We're selling a box of Collectors boosters for $435. Friends outside the trade gasp at these prices. There was fear that the high prices would drive beleaguered Magic players away. 

As usual, I sourced product from three different vendors and hoped I got the numbers right. In the end, it was a Toyota Corolla amount of Magic and there was a legitimate fear it might bomb. If it were to bomb, with me out of the country, it could spell the end of my trip, as a nearly un-payable Corolla invoice came due in mid July. Like everything in small business it was a calculated risk. 

Next weekend we see the release of the Warhammer 40,000 10th Edition Leviathan starter set. In this case, I was called on the phone because numbers were needed immediately for this product. I was walking through a campground in Mexico when I got the call for Leviathan. I don't answer phone calls anymore, unless it's a 901 area code. I went back to my RV, fired up the laptop, and ordered what I sold on the last combination of 40K starter sets, plus 50% for growth. I was rushed to get the numbers in by the end of the day. Later, when I announced on social media we would have Leviathan soon, interest was sky high, so I called the next day to increase my order. Nope! Locked in. Have a nice day. 

Since then we have pre-sold every copy of Leviathan we're getting. Some might call this a success. Those people are generally publishers. However, this means the release of Leviathan at my store is a quiet order pick up day for my alpha customers. We even have some promotional items to give them we had made, but it's really a show of appreciation, rather than some sort of sales incentives. The sales already happened. There will be no big party or excitement, in fact, it's to our advantage to downplay this release, and make it a soft release, rather than a hard one. Keep it quiet until the eventual restock. Let the casuals who don't follow any of our social media learn about Leviathan when they wander in during their monthly foray to the store. Sell outs are often declared a victory for publishers, but they're a mixed bag for retailers who trade in enthusiasm.

So we have two pre releases, one with great excitement and fanfare, with product available after the event to build the brand and make money, and a second release, that is an order pick up day. You could say that I played the Magic card correctly, but busted with Games Workshop. Again, it's about risk management, and I, like many others, have been burnt badly on over ordering large GW box sets. This usually happens after being incentivized to over order (like with the extended terms). Games Workshop can create as much scarcity of product as they desire, its up to me to determine if I'll be content with an opening day sell out, or whether I'm willing to cry over dead stock on the open market below cost (there is quite a bit of Magic like that out there).

Do I wish I had ordered more Leviathan? Absolutely. If you told me the additional product would sit until January, would I still want it? Hell no. Would I be ecstatic if Games Workshop had a reasonable ordering window with the ability to order more product after that first phone call? Or perhaps an order window of a week or so? Of course, that's the happy medium I'm looking for. Until then, I'll mark these both as wins, not a win and a loss.

Finally, it's amazing that both Wizards of the Coast and Games Workshop have licenses to make Lord of the Rings gaming products, and GW can't seem to make a go of it with such a valuable property. It's speculated Asmodee will get the license when it comes up for renewal. That's a bit like The One Ring going from Isildur to Gollum.

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