Thursday, March 19, 2015

Interview and Gama Trade Show (Tradecraft)

I did an interview on The Company Bard, "the gaming careers podcast." We talked about the game trade from a retailer perspective. It was a solid, nuts and bolts interview with a lot of crunchy numbers. You can listen to it here.

This week I'm at the Gama Trade Show in Las Vegas. The show feels packed, with retailer attendance up 20% from last year. It continues to grow rapidly. This is very good news, since game stores are also continuing to grow and proliferate. Nobody goes to Gama unless they're serious about improving their business.

There are three main components to this show: retailer seminars, publisher seminars, and the trade show floor. A fourth component is networking outside and within these events, and not surprisingly, that's where I've been getting the most insight into the trade.

From the retailer seminars, I didn't come across anything that revolutionized my business, like my last show, two years ago. I did come across many best practices I was able to load "into the hopper" for changes back at the store. That change management function was a critical skill I learned at that 2013 show from Dave Wallace.  This year it was mostly ideas about human resources and events. We're all about constant improvement.

The publisher seminars were fine, with a couple of interesting juxtapositions. On one hand, we had Reaper Miniatures stand in front of a room full of retailers, asking where the hell their product was in the distribution channels, and answering "Don't know." Everything is cool on our end. Don't know. "Don't know" comes off as ignorant or deceptive, so it wasn't surprising it kicked off a retailer discussion of whether Reaper was still right for game stores, or necessary, or even relevant with their direct to consumers Kickstarter model.

That's hardly the take away you want for your company after spending thousands of dollars going to a trade show. Poor messaging. Moreover, after telling us "don't know" why we can't get stuff through distribution, they handed out a catalog with about a dozen high value rack deals and told us not to order from them; go through distribution. Riiiiight.

I mentioned that juxtaposition. If you want to see a company handle messaging correctly, the WizKids seminar was an inspiration. WizKids has really screwed the pooch (technical term) with supply of Dice Masters. Did they show up and say "don't know?" Hell no. I'm not a big fan of this company, but the CEO, Justin Ziran, showed up, explained exactly what happened and why, what's happening now, and what they're doing in the future to avoid the problem of stock outages. He put his cell phone number on a presentation slide. It's safe to say, "he knew." I came away from Reaper wondering if I should disengage. I came away from WizKids sending emails to my staff asking how we could engage further.

The show floor. I mentioned in a previous post I came with a bankroll to spend. If all goes to plan, I will have spent $5,000. How did I spend it? My first stop was a small playmat company, one of several. I promised to buy $500 in mats, but they had no order forms or catalogs. That meant I couldn't really place an order, but they'll call me. I give it a 50% chance of happening.

Next was airbrushes with Grex. I've wanted to bring in airbrushes for years, and these were beautiful, with quiet compressors. Unfortunately, they had a six page retailer application. I was determined though and went back to my room, filled out the app and handed it in, along with one of their forms of suggested starting stock and a demo kit. They took my credit card information and I spent about $1,200.

Combo GCK03 gravity feed airbrush with compressor, Tritium TG3 gravity feed airbrush, Genesis XGi3 gravity feed airbrush, Genesis XSi3 side feed airbrush, 2 AC1810-A 1/8HP mini compressors, a variety of nozzle kits, replacement needles, airbrush holder, valves, hoses, adapters, cleaning kits and a full demo kit. 

Then I walked right over to Vallejo, saw their new Model Air airbrush paint line, and emailed my Alliance rep to get me one. $600. Some people have been waiting for this line for years, and I just happened to hit it on release.  Who knows, it may even show up today at the store. In fact, there were probably half a dozen games where it was all about a quick photo sent to my sales reps at the distributors.

Next I found the old Wench card game, which despite the controversial name, has nice pin up art that I know is appreciated by a good number of both my male and female customers. I picked up a couple displays off their table and they ran my credit card right there. $90. Stop judging me. 

I vowed to place a direct Koplow order this year, after seeing them at trade shows for 10 years and not really being able to get their stuff. I was helped by a friendly gentleman named William Niebling, who many in the game trade know well. They tell me he has been there for years at the Koplow booths, and I somehow didn't engage him before. Nevertheless, he was happy to write me up a $1200 order as I pointed to various products.
Plastic display boxes of opaque dice, double dice, Japanese/Chinese dice, 54 sets of hanging polyhedral sets, box of sand timers, box of wooden dice, L-C-R- display, 5mm mini dice display, two types of pawns, 20mm tactile dice, hit dice, compass dice, 55mm opaque dice, jumbo polyhedral dice, jumbo life counters (14 in a plastic fish tank), "life stones," two each of 7 colors.

What about Reaper? Well, I did place an order through ACD for a couple rack deals, both the Bones and the Pathfinder metal models. It came out to around $1,000 and I was told there was at least a months lead time and don't hold your breath.

If I've learned anything from the game trade, it's not to hold my breath.


  1. I'm judging you on the Wench buy, but not for the reasons you probably expect ;)

    My comment on BGG from 2010:
    "Two problems directly related to the idea that this is supposed to be a drinking game:

    1) The rules are too complex if you are drinking.

    2) The cards aren't even water resistant, let alone the waterproof that cards used in a "drinking" game should be."

    I rated it a "3"

    OTH: Let me know when those kanji character dice come in! I've had a hard time finding them for sale anywhere I can buy them from.

  2. I wonder if Reaper will hear you?

    My take is that they are trying to use their Kickstarter DTC model to expand their offerings, and then use retail's ability to run a long tail to be profitable.

    I imagine, that with timely fulfilment of product that had decent turns, and an ability to promptly fulfil special orders, you'd be perfectly happy to play that role in their model... Which puts the onus on them to figure out how to get their part of that working.

  3. I usually order directly from Reaper. I think they want stores to do this anyway. I have never had an issue with them. I order 3 rack deals and a paint rack from them. All came within the time they said. It is easy to set up an account with there web site. It also gets your store listed and this has brought in people. The Bones line sold like hotcakes. I was even through half my supply of paint in 3 months. The RPGers like the stuff.

    Wizkids is playing everyone again. They have done this time and again. They promise things, then tell all the customers it is the stores fault when they do not deliver. They will burn you again. I predict his cell will be turned off in a month. Tread lightly.

  4. Good analysis, and true. It's an increasingly common model.

  5. So, how to make your blog required reading for publishers/manufacturers ;-P

  6. During our meeting with Wizkids I thought it was a lot of smoke. They were asked if they were going to get their never ending late release dates undercontrol. The response "It's nothing we can control". Asked what about Wal Mart selling (yes the person said Wal Mart not Target) your products before the release date. " Come talk to us afterwards". Another person brought up the OP kits having less maps and being down to just five maps. The reply "you said you have ten players so that takes care of them." The person replied no that takes care of five people and then five players go away with out a new map. The cell phone was brought up because the person was having issues with Alliance and there is no direct contact with Wizkids. Basically it was Wizkids saying we make Alliance so much money they are our b**ch. I did think where was this cell phone contact during the whole Con In Your Store con? Wizkids ignored retailers who said anything about it last year. Alliance didn't want want to rock the boat with Wizkids so they told retailers it was Wizkids fault but said nothing to Wizkids. Wizkids never apoligized or tried to make it right with the stores that they took their money clear back in July and failed to provide what they said they would till almost the end of the year. And from what I have been told even after we finally received ours there were still stores that had not received what they were suppose to.

  7. Old post, but: regarding airbrushes. Never heard of "Grex." The market leaders are Badger, Iwata, and Paasche. Badger has the best support for modelers, with their "Minitaire" paint line, a very high-quality paint specifically for miniatures pre-thinned to airbrush consistency.

    Most of the miniature painters I know paint with airbrushes and they get them from Blick (who routinely print a coupon, so you get them for up to 40% off list price). A good entry-level brush is the Iwata Neo. Amazon has a steep discount on a Badger Sotar 2020; might be worth seeing what Badger will wholesale those for, because they're a fantastic mid-level brush for the price.

    This video of a demo from Badger CEO Ken Schlotfeldt is required viewing:

  8. Badgers can be picked up with a Michael's Sunday coupon as well. Grex is known in its circles. When it comes to retail, it's often more about who can supply me with product at a good margin, as opposed to what's the best.