Say you have a game product and you don't want to deal with the game distribution system for whatever reasons. How do you sell to retailers? What do they want? What should you avoid? Here's what I'm looking for. I encourage other retailers to add their comments:
Alpha Stores. On one extreme, game stores can exist entirely with one distributor and 100% of their games coming from that single supplier. On the other extreme, mall stores that do a lot of mass market games to the general public may have as many as 100 suppliers. But most stores? Most stores have a couple other accounts besides distributors, such as a Wizards of the Coast account to get Magic promos and product and perhaps a Games Workshop account. Adding more accounts adds complications and cost and they generally dismiss the idea out of hand.
If you want to sell direct to game stores, you're selling to alpha stores. You are their luxury brand, as they've already covered all their bases with product from distribution. They're looking to "round out" their inventory, to add flavor. You are the spice to the meat they buy from their other sources. There are probably 3,000 game stores and about 10% are alpha stores, so your market is around 300 stores.
Simplicity. Those 300 store owners spend no more than 10% of their time purchasing. They need quick, streamlined processes that don't require remembering complicated information. I've got a supplier that will sell me boxes of CCGs, but at six boxes I get a discount, then a different discount at 12 boxes. And then.... snore. I call him when I need things and their prices are good. That's what I remember. He also calls me on the phone using high pressure sales tactics and he knows I screen him with caller ID.
Simplicity also means I can quickly generate a purchase order and send it off or I can go to your website and order direct, hassle free. If I have to call you, you know, on the telephone, it's an interrupt I will avoid. That includes the weekly or monthly phone calls I take from so many secondary and tertiary suppliers. I'm busy and it's an irritation. Send an email. Remember, it's only 10% of my job, while it might be 90% of yours. A simple order placement system means I can do restocks like clockwork and regular restocks are how you and I make the money.
Also, if you've got PDF products free with print products, please go with an established system, like Bits & Mortar. I've got half a dozen people on staff who need to know the procedure for this, and multiple procedures is not going to work. One procedure barely works.
Seeing Other People. You will probably also be selling direct to customers. I'm not going to stand in your way. Multi channel sales is the way of things. However, if you're selling to them at a discount, I'm probably not going to deal with you unless you've somehow approached "first tier" in my mind, like a Paizo or a Games Workshop. If I do carry you, it's unlikely I'll promote you like I should, because I know you're under cutting me. Every moment I spend selling your game is a moment I'm spending on marketing so you can later "steal" the sale. I'll cut bait and run much sooner than with those who aren't doing this.
This also goes for special offers to customers that aren't offered to retailers. If you're offering anything other than junk clearance (which you should also offer me, to keep me happy), I'm going to be frowning. This includes Kickstarter projects as well. As much as I hate ordering a game and having it arrive with a bookmark, promo card and stuffed chihuahua that once meant something to you and your backers, at least I know you cared enough to include me in the scheme. An entire series of blog posts could be written on the Kickstarter-Retailer relationship.
Push. If you really want us to sell your game, suggest customers buy the game from us. Do you know where Games Workshop fails and every good direct company succeeds? They get customers to ask me for the upcoming release. Push your customers to pester existing game stores to have the new thing on release. Even better, push them to special order that item. Please don't push them to ask every game store, just your retailer partners. There's nothing worse than a campaign to pester me for a line I don't carry. It makes me dig in my heels and resist.
Include a retail locater on your website. Make sure you contact those people once a year. Fun fact: Most game stores don't track what retail locaters they're on, so over time, that information becomes stale, making the publisher and the retailer look foolish. Retailers should track this, but so should you.
Margin. At a 50% margin and free shipping, we're good all day long. That's what we get from most distributors on most products. You should be able to afford this without the distributor involved. At 45% and free shipping, you're now a brand sold at a premium. I'll carry your line, but it better move and brands at 50% get top billing. At 40% and free shipping, your brand sells itself. When it stops doing this, it's gone. At 35% and free shipping, there should be no risk, amazing turns, and you're in my top five in the store. You are the Cards Against Humanity of your tier. If any of this sounds terrible, consider distribution.
I want to pay with a credit card (edit: PayPal is fine, with no fees). I want quick turn arounds with order confirmations and tracking. I want out of stock tracking and notifications when items are back. I want paper invoices sent with the order. I want emails of upcoming items in a timely fashion and the ability to pre-order them, not just a phone call when they're in.
If you want an example of a company that nailed direct sales from day one, check out Wild West Exodus. We're really not selling their game any more, but they were breathtaking in their professionalism. I give them massive credit for that. The absolute worst is Games Workshop, of course, who seems intent on making my life hard and my customers buy direct from them.