Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Board Game Soup (Tradecraft)

You've heard me and my peers talk about diversification and you want to enter the competitive board game market. Perhaps you do other things well or perhaps you're starting a brand new store. Here are some things to keep in mind:

Market Leader. In each local board game market there is generally a market leader, a brick and mortar store already serving local customers. Unlike a game like Magic, it is difficult to gain traction if there's already a market leader. Customers tend to be loyal to the leader, and since just about every type of customer is more loyal than a typical Magic customer, there's a stickiness you might not be familiar with. Mercenary board game customers tend to shop online almost exclusively, so you'll rarely see them unless they're low on card sleeves. I struggled as the second fiddle board game store for four years before the market leader retired. Now I wear the mantle and bear the responsibility.

What is In The Past. Buying new board game stock based on online rankings is like trying to buy financial stocks based on their past performance. Most games, even great games, become irrelevant to you once the market is saturated, which can happen in days rather than years now. Old games are old. Focus your energy on upcoming games, especially ones on wish lists.

Boardgamegeek rankings contain interesting data, a lot of it irrelevant to your needs, but the most important element to a BGG listing is how many people want it. A great ranked game that nobody wants is irrelevant. A poorly ranked game that a lot of people want is a curiosity. A great ranked game that everybody wants is a pretty sure thing.

Soup Stock. A good soup needs a base, a savory stock to build around. There are also psychological sales elements you need to crack, such as how many games you need before it's perceived in the mind of the consumer that you're a legitimate board game resource. That number of these stock, evergreen titles is probably in the 20-30 range, which would form your initial base. Rotate them out if they stop selling.

So although I just told you not to focus on what has come before, there are evergreen titles that you simply can't help but sell well. Make a well informed list, pick 20-30 and stop there. Talk to retailers and distributors. The worst thing you could do is attempt to mimic some Hotness list or the top ranked BGG games. That way lies madness. I should know, I once stocked the top 100 on BGG and I'm a nut. What a disaster.

Also, ignore customers who aren't intent on buying right now. They either wish you to carry things they love (but already own) or want other theoretical people to buy a game so they can play. Board game enthusiast customers will give you bad advice. Finally, an inch deep and a mile wide is your mantra. Do not stock deeply until you have long term sales patterns. No matter how well regarded the new thing is or how many people want it, don't assume you can move a ton of product.

Front List Driven. You're only as good as your next board game. Once you have your base figured out, you'll be adding delightful new ingredients to your board game soup from across the game trade. Pay attention to pre order requests and focus your money on hot new games. From now on, this is what you want to focus on, so avoid backfilling with evergreen titles. It's tempting, but don't do it. For every new game, check out rankings online, see how many people want it, and still be cautious when ordering in quantities. It's far better to run out of games that have too many. We just got back from a convention this weekend where half a dozen games from The Hotness went unsold at a 40% discount. We over ordered great games and they are now dead to me. Plan to run out.

Expertise. I think you can run a game store having never played Magic, having never rolled up a D&D character, or having built a 40K army. It would be dumb to not do these things, but you could sell Magic, D&D and 40K without knowing a damn thing about them. You'll sell them better with knowledge, but you could do it. Board games are not like this. Somebody better know their board games or you'll have a heck of a time with them. The reason is board games sell best to new customers who need guidance on gateway games. The more experienced customers already know what they want and they tend not to buy from you.

More than any other category, board game customers tend to "graduate" away from you, but you get them during their formative education, so you have to make the best of it. If you don't know board games, engage in a crash course. Start a board game night in your store and attend every session. I did this for the first few years of being in business and it helped tremendously. Even better, keep going, become an expert, play games at trade shows and have first hand knowledge of games before they come out. When they do come out, have demo tables to show off these games and make sure staff are trained to do so.

Marketing. One of the most valuable assets my store possesses are Facebook Groups dedicated to various game types. My board game group is gold. I can tell my customers about upcoming releases, post photos of new games, and field questions. Because it's private and focused just on board games, I can be candid. I can give my opinion. I can confess my ignorance and ask for their help when I need it. They have my full attention and I thankfully have theirs. So when a new game shows up, my marketing efforts result in sales the same day, not the once a month when the average customer shows up. This means I can stock smarter, lighter, and turn games faster so everyone benefits.

Kickstarter. Should you back Kickstarter games as a retailer? As a new store, I think the answer is probably no, mostly because you'll have a difficult time moving the quantities necessary to participate. As an established retailer, we've had very good success backing projects, especially ones where we order and pay after the project is complete. I think it's recognized that retailers lose every time when they tie up capital at the beginning of a project. So some projects can work, but if you're just getting into selling board games, you don't need to dabble in Kickstarter. Wait until you have demand and your marketing apparatus functional. Then try to get customer pre orders before you delve into a project. Our most successful backed projects sell out quickly upon release to customers who pre ordered months before.

That's about it! Just some thoughts on how I do it.

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