Sunday, October 16, 2011


It's that time of year again when I order jigsaw puzzles for the store. Puzzles represent a category that I have yet to master, the seasonal item. Seasonal items are strange to me. I'm a gamer at heart and there's nothing that interests me in December that doesn't interest me January through November. Really, nothing at all, except maybe Italian candy. People that buy seasonal things tend to be the other, the muggle. We love muggles, the uninitiated, but their likes are not our likes.

There's also a danger to seasonal things. The big danger is you don't sell them during the specified season. Then what? Most stores sell their plastic Santas and Halloween candy the following month at a deep discount to eager customers. We lack that follow-up muggle traffic, so there will be nobody looking for our seasonal items for another eleven months. We've got Christmas jigsaw puzzles from last year that we're hoping to sell this year. What a waste of capital. We blew out our Christmas wrapping paper from last year sometime around March.

When it comes to jigsaw puzzles, I ran some numbers to see exactly how seasonal they were and found that I was ordering too late in the season.

What I discovered on this virtual back of a napkin was we actually sold double our normal puzzle numbers in November. With this data, numbers I'll often crunch when the mood hits me, I decided to order my puzzles in October instead of November. Our order this year will increase our selection by 125%. We basically ordered every new 2011 puzzle from Ravensburger and every top seller from Springbok. More from Pomegranate will come a little later. We've given up on Educa, by the way. They're far less popular and very expensive. People ask why. I don't know. It's a Spanish thing (they're from Spain, like our expensive Vallejo paints).

Building puzzle clientele is a kind of trial and error experience, mostly because we have a trial and error selection of puzzles. There are casual puzzle collectors, who come in mostly during the holidays and buy whatever looks nice, but the hard core puzzle collectors are a hard nut to crack. They have needs. They call with a bit of artwork in mind looking for a puzzle that may or may not have been created in this millennium. They're really no different than the rest of our gamers. Imagine if we sold Space Marines, but only the best selling SKU's and only the ones in plastic boxes, and only in December, and had no way to special order one we don't stock. That's basically how we do puzzles, which is weak sauce from a retail perspective.

Really what it takes to sell puzzles, I've discovered, is lots of money and lots of space to display what you've bought. It probably requires regularly ordering them, as opposed to what we do, which is order them two or maybe three times a year, only with some sort of promotion to defer costs. For example, by including a couple holiday puzzles from Ravensburger, payment for our large order isn't due until January. Dating (paying the bill farther into the future) is important for something that probably is going to be primarily a seasonal thing.

Of course, the biggest problem with puzzles is it's kind of an aging market. Yes, that sounds harsh, but very few young people come in asking for puzzles for themselves. If you put games on a bell curve by age of customer, you would get something like this:

In fact, you could write an entire doctoral thesis on hobby games and age with the problems in this chart. Not only are classic games becoming a bit obsolete with the aging population, but so are the hobby games. I would put Magic at an average customer age of about 21, 40K a bit older than that, but RPGs and board games tend to skew older. 

This is also why you see us trying so hard to accommodate Yu-Gi-Oh, which represents a swath of the hobby game market that almost entirely owns the under 18 demographic. Compare that to the actual population break down and you can see it's a market under-served by the game trade:

One positive out of all these fancy charts is the coming geritocracy. If gamers can accept their hobby as a "life game," a term my father once described for such activities as bowling and golf, then they could potentially change what retirement looks like in the future. Shuffleboard and putting greens in retirement communities may one day be terrain tables and card tournaments.

No comments:

Post a Comment