Friday, August 27, 2010

Pristine vs. Craptastic

One thing you may notice when you shop at big box stores is the raggedy condition of their stock. The first Christmas season I was open, I shopped a really good Wal-Mart sale for Hasbro board games. These games were marked down well below my distributor cost. When I got them back to my store, I was appalled at how dinged up and damaged they were. They didn't seem out of place back at Wal-Mart, but in my clean, well lit store, they looked trashy. Some were also of lower quality than I was getting through my distributor, apparently designed specifically for Wal-Mart in a cost savings, craptastic level of quality.

This contrasts sharply with the hobby game trade. The game trade works in this wonderful way where stores are guaranteed top quality games in top condition. If I had received that same Hasbro order from one of my distributors, I would have shipped back 75% of them. The distributor would have paid for the entire process.On the positive side, there are small but lucrative business opportunities if you can find manufacturers and suppliers with these piles of dinged and dented games. Thus our fantastic ding & dent auctions that we hold each quarter (there's one Sunday). The game industry has high standards.
I'm reminded of this mass market negligence whenever I receive a Mattel order. Mattel ships their games with no packaging. They stick a bunch of board games in a box and send it out. No bubble wrap. No modest cardboard inserts. Just a bunch of games shoved in a box. Inevitably we lose 15-25% of the shipment to damages. These "damages" are, for the most part, completely acceptable to Target, Wal-Mart or whatever mass merchant normally receives them. Their business process falls short of our level of quality and it's pretty typical of any of our suppliers that ships to "mass." It's not just Mattel, it's any company that primarily sells to mass.

Hobby gamers have higher standards. Our customers envision a new board game in their collection. They want to see top quality board and game pieces and have little tolerance for cardstock quality boxes with dinged corners. Most are willing to pay for this. Perhaps their game will be collectible in twenty or thirty years. Maybe they'll pass it on to their children. In any case, part of hobby gaming is the visceral experience. No hobby gamer wants to play a board game with pink money and plastic pieces, let alone one that numbs their brain.

Talking about component quality and even the smell of a printed product is not unusual in a hobby game store. I regularly tell my story about how the smell of cookware stores takes me back to my early role-playing days. That's where I bought D&D, before there was a local game store. D&D next to pots and pans. Ahh, that unique smell.

Meanwhile, I've seen Target customers shop a game based on price. On price! They'll stand in the aisles with coupons. We'll get Monopoly Horse Feces edition instead of Oranges to Oranges Junior 9.25+ because it's $1.75 cheaper. No wonder muggles raise an eyebrow at board gamers.

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