Friday, November 2, 2007

Miniatures Store

We're a miniatures game store. It happened overnight. Well, actually over a 30-day period. I was doing the numbers for our first month and miniature sales are up 531% from last October. Most surprising, they're 41% of our sales, 47% if you count the paint used on them (up 237%). Before the move they were 15%. That's staggering and a little frightening for someone who likes balance and diversification.

I used to believe that you build your store and the local customer base determines the mix based on sales. It's a mix that's localized and organic. Now I've learned that there are more factors. Granted, having the local Games Workshop store close has been a great boon, but other miniature games are doing amazingly well too. It's the game space. Selling role-playing books is fine, and anyone can play Magic with their friends, but miniature games seem uniquely suited for game store play. The special tables, terrain, opponents, and a ready supply of troops in the store make for a combination that I dismissed before the new store. I was the cranky guy asking, "Don't you people own dining room tables???!!"

Before I start talking about revolution and paradigm shifts, it was just one month. I've learned that retail is unpredictable and full of surprises. There are some obvious losers from last year too, although the winners offset them immensely.

Collectible miniature games are a pale shadow of what they once were. Stars Wars miniatures was our core game since we opened. It's been abandoned by our child customers almost entirely. D&D miniatures suffer from the role-playing game slump. Whiz-Kids pirates is down to a crawl and is probably nearing it's inevitable end. PocketModel never caught on. Sales of these game are down 73%. Their numbers are now competing with snacks, where once collectible miniatures was our top department. They've become an add-on sale, like cheap mints. This is a regional phenomena and when we start lamenting the appearance of a new collectible miniature game, know that the segment is a non-starter for our customers. They've got collectible malaise.

Role-playing, as everyone tells me, is in a slump. That explains our 30% drop in sales. As I look around the department, nothing jumps out at me as worthy, except for a few hot small press titles, like Spirit of the Century. Battlestar Gallactica RPG has been overlooked, I think, but that's about it. There is a fatigue here, brought on by the D&D 4E announcement, plus it's just not the season for them.

Collectible card games just don't seem worth the effort. After all the work to promote Magic, Yu-Gi-Oh, Naruto, and World of Warcraft, all of which now have organized play in the store, sales are flat. The premise goes like this: Miniature gamers play their game in the store, don't do as well as they like, check a book and realize they need new guys for their army, and buy them off the shelf. Card guys know of a new release months in advance, pre-order online to get their $145 box of cards for $80 and occasionally buy a booster pack or two at a local store when forced to (like tonight). Who would you rather have in your store, twelve guys who spend $4/each on a booster pack, or $30/each on a medium size miniature box? It's not that there isn't money in cards, it's just not being spent with me.

Toys got off to a respectable start. They're a quarter of the store and accounted for 6% of our sales. That's not great, but it's a bit like starting another business. People need to know we have them. I'm having supply problems already, unfortunately.

Comics remain an anomaly. We haven't gotten rid of them. In fact, the trade paperbacks are steady sellers. This is a bit odd. Here's what's been happening: I complain about the amount of time needed to research comics, then I don't spend the time doing it, but comics continue to sell respectably anyway. Perhaps they don't take as much time as I thought. Our strategy of stocking evergreen, classic trade-paperbacks is working. The problem is there's nowhere to go beyond that.


  1. Everyone knows why the BSG RPG is being "overlooked": the price. It's a beautiful book with a decent RPG system, but the price is a killer. A lot of people know that the price is because of the licensing fees, but they just don't care.

    Also, while an immensely cool show, BSG just doesn't offer a huge amount of options for roleplaying. You pretty much either run the "rag tag fleet trying to survive" game or the "survivors trapped in occupied territory trying to survive" game. The only real variations being whether you play characters like Adama or like Cally.

    A comment on also got me to thinking that BSG would probably be more fun to game using an indy system that focused on characters rather than a mainstream system focusing on Vipers. What gets more screen time, dogfights or characters wrestling with their inner demons? That ratio should be reflected in what gets game time in an RPG.

  2. Unfortunately, SWM took a big hit with a 9-month gap between set releases. That’s one way to murder a collectible game.

    There are several ways to rehabilitate SWM:

    1) Keep the singles case stocked with good stuff. For the last 6 months, the case has been filled with poo. As time goes on, unwanted singles accumulate. Because they don’t sell, no additional singles are added to the case. Because no new singles are added, nothing sells. It’s a vicious cycle of self-fulfilling prophecy that results in 0 sales. Displaying them at ankle level doesn’t help either.

    The singles case markets the game. It’s what hooked me.

    2) Keep starters in stock. You don’t need many, only 1 or 2, so you can avoid major inventory expense. I try to recruit people for the game. How can they start without a starter? The new starter looks good, and it comes with Darth Vader. Who doesn’t like Vader?

    3) Take advantage of the buzz. The last set, Alliance & Empire, was mostly original trilogy stuff for old fogies like me. It didn’t take off. The next set, The Force Unleashed, is tied into a videogame that has been compared to Halo. Force Unleashed minis could market itself, assuming customers see that you are selling it, and see the singles displayed (especially those silly huges). Force Unleashed is the best argument for a comeback.

    Also, putting up a poster or two from the next set would really help.

    4) Free Promos – why aren’t they finding their way into the hands of other customers? Put ‘em in a box next to the mints and with a sign that says “take one.” Always save one for me, though :)

    Speaking of Force Unleashed, it’s about time I pre-ordered a case or two….

  3. Some good advice.

    A few things:

    The starter sets are out of production! Talk about giving up.

    The singles sell REALLY well when we've got in-store play. We haven't any robust in-store play for quite some time. The singles for Alliance & Empires sold poorly, so I wasn't motivated to open more cases. Basically, it's you and Frank for my singles market.

    What free promos?

  4. I know the Revenge of the Sith Starter is no longer produced, but what about this? :

    It just came out 3 months ago. Maybe it's a Target exclusive?

    I certainly wouldn't characterize SWM as giving up, since WOTC plans on releasing 4 (!!!!) sets in 2008.

    I totally feel your pain regarding the lack of sales of A&E singles. That was mostly due to poor rare / very rare distribution. People were glutted with "regular" rares, which only sell for $2-$3 online; most people wanted the very rares. Notice each and every A&E "very rare" (star with a circle) in your case sold out! Hopefully the Rare / Very Rare distribution will be solved in the next 5 sets.

    Hopefully Force Unleashed singles will generate new players, which will will bring more robust in-store game play, which will sell more singles and so forth...

    As for promos I am referring to the Gotal Assassin, Gammorean Guard, Nikto Soldiers, from WOTC that you and Mike have passed on to me from time to time.

  5. While it can be nice to demo most games in the store, miniatures games require so much special equipment (tables, terrain, etc) to get started, that having a play space is really crucial to having good miniatures games sales.

  6. The Target starter hasn't been offered to us. Anyway, I spruced up the SW mini singles, adding a bunch more today and lowering the prices.

    The new D&D minis set came out today. The yawns were deafening.