Saturday, January 3, 2009

How We Sell Board Games

I posted this to the game industry forum and figured it would make a good blog post.

Our board game sales doubled in December, partly because of an article listing us in the SF Chronicle and partly because our local competitor that "owned" the board game market closed after 20 years. Another big part of board game sales is we promote them as strongly as any other game. This comes from spending 3 years without game space; everything had to pull its weight or we were sunk. Board games couldn't afford to just sit on the shelf. We had and still have weekly board game nights, and keep up on new releases as they come out. We have about 600 different board games.

I stock them very carefully. Most board games on release will appeal to at most one or two of my customers. Identifying those games early and not re-ordering is key. It's the board game "periodical model" unfortunately, but the market is just too full of them. The periodical model is buying up copies of a product for a short period and letting it go once the initial demand has warn off. It was standard for third party role-playing supplements and it's a bit alarming when applied to board games.

A small percentage of our board games are "iconic" game store games. These icons, kind of like slow selling D&D products, identify us as a source for these types of games, even if they sell below my preferred turn rate. These are games like Sequence and basic Scrabble and we try to keep them in stock. They are sacred cows for us, and like in India consumption of them isn't expected. There might be 50 of these and life is just easier if we have them the one or two times a year they're asked for.

Beyond that, I'm pretty aggressive with turn rate analysis. A year ago, with our competitor still in business and a month or two at the new store, we had a dismal turn rate of 2 on board games. This means, on average, every board game sold two times in one year. Four is excellent, two is under-performing. As of last week, board game turns shot up to 3.5, about where I want them. Part of following turns is actively dumping games and recovering your cost. I'm very aggressive on dumping non performers and I'll do it at any time of year. We have a discontinued bargain shelf and I have several customers who only shop that shelf, similar to our clearance and used role-playing shelf.

Another key is we don't just have board games for sale, the staff knows how to actively sell board games. We sell them year round, but in December we add an additional staff person to just sell board games (sometimes that's me). If we've played a game, it helps tremendously in sales, although it's certainly not necessary. I usually give a free pass to a game I've played and I like, but I've recently retired a few that just couldn't be hand sold any longer. There are some great exceptions. I played Wasabi! and disliked it, as did the SF Chronicle article, but it's so simple to play and so easy to describe, and so popular with our board game night crowd, that we sold 35 copies in December, our second best selling board game. I'm thinking I must have been mistaken and can't wait to try it again.

600 board games? Who has time to play all those? Being able to describe a game just by looking at the back of the box can be very helpful. When I first started, I would make a spreadsheet of every board game that included a one line summary of it's key concept. The spreadsheet was never printed out, but making that one line summary was like studying for a test. It doesn't need to be complete, and it doesn't need to be 100% right. It just needs to sell the sizzle of that board game, the experience that the customer will get from it. Now I mentally try to sum up that game in my head when it comes in for sale, but a lot of times I just read the back of the box when the customer expresses interest.

Our top sellers from December:

  1. Dominion *
  2. Wasabi * ** (reviewed poorly in SF Chronicle article)
  3. Settlers of Catan **
  4. Qwirkle *
  5. Ticket to Ride Europe **
  6. Ticket to Ride
  7. Agricola *
  8. Witch's Brew *
  9. Wits & Wagers **
  10. Battlestar Galactica **

* Listed in the SF Chronicle article
** Games we actively push


  1. Out of curiosity, which of your personal favorite games were you forced to retire recently?

  2. I had to let Manila go. I also liked Thebes and had to retire that too.

  3. I was afraid one of my favorites would be on there :-P

    My wife finally got the chance to give a copy to her family for Christmas. I have no idea if they'll ever play it, but it seemed like an appropriate gift.

  4. Out of curiosity, how many copies of each of the top ten games did you sell?

  5. I know we sold 40 Wasabi, which should give you an idea.

  6. How many W&W and Battlestar Galactica did you sell? That will give me the range I'm looking for.

    BTW, I am the designed of W&W, which is why I'm curious.

  7. Oh cool:

    Wits & Wagers 14
    Battlestar Galactica 10 (another 13 in November)

    We sold 24 Wits & Wagers in 2008.

  8. Is it possible for you to post the numbers that Qwirkle did during the year and for December? My wife is the designer and we're both curious. :)

    I recently found this blog through its mention of Qwirkle and your posts have been both useful and interesting.

    Best of luck with your store and thanks for the posts!

  9. Nice game. 3 Qwirkle up until December. 30 Qwirkle in December.