Friday, May 28, 2021

5 Reasons My Store Didn't Back the Kickstarter

  1. I didn't know it existed. There are 600 live Kickstarter game projects at this moment. I'm currently backing 29 Kickstarter projects that could be anywhere from a day old to over a year old. 29 is about 5% of what's live right now, but since my 5% represents a year of Kickstarters, it's more like half a percent. I tend to follow the lead of my peers who back more Kickstarter games than I do, so we can at least cry together when they take our money or the game is late. I'm also not an "alpha" board gamer, and that's often where most of my KS money goes.
  2. The publisher didn't offer. We can't just back games like a consumer, we need an appropriate margin. Some publishers have no idea how to structure a game for retailers. Some do the math and realize their project has no way to support that retailer margin. Building in a retailer margin so the game is "marketable" outside of direct sales, requires planning in advance and not all games are going to sell in the volume to make that happen.
  3. The terms weren't good. Perhaps the publisher did offer the game to retailers, but the terms were poor. Perhaps the margin was too low or the buy in was too high. If my turn rate on board games is six per year, and you require I buy 12 copies, I will need to be certain that game is a hit. Since I only back a small percentage of what's out there at any given moment, I can often swing for the fences on the hits, or at least try. With supply chain problems, all games right now are one-shot print runs, so buying a years supply is becoming more common place.
  4.  It was wrong for the store. I get a lot of push from my customers to carry Kickstarter games, but often that customer is an outlier. They may love train games with crayons, but they're the only one. Sometimes I'm the only one, like when I back Italian, spaghetti fantasy RPG books, and then bang the drum to create interest (there was no interest). I back a lot of experimental RPGs because I think they're cool. The game might also be wrong for the local culture, like yet another offensive game in a black box.
  5. I can't afford it. Kickstarter games are a marketing expense. 29 projects might sound like a lot, but this week I received 16 new board game titles and none of them came from Kickstarter. That's one week. Kickstarter games assume: a) I may never get my money back again, so it's a gamble, b) My ROI is irrelevant, because it often makes no sense at all when you run the numbers, and c) I can afford to essentially use staff "pizza money" to fund the games in a financially irrelevant fashion. I call it a marketing expense because it drives people to the store and allows us to stand out against competitors. 
If you're a publisher and want to learn some well accepted guidelines on how to structure a project to work with brick and mortar retailers, join the Game Retailers Who Back Kickstarter Facebook page and read the pinned post.

Thursday, May 20, 2021

Delegation and the Maui Beach House

Since my store closed in March of last year, I've taken on all the office work and data entry. The employees have come back to work, but I've retained my work load. It's a tremendous amount of hours, but they have enough on their plates with COVID era retail. It is work that was originally mine, but was then delegated to anyone on staff at any given moment, often with a newly arrived order in front of them. 

Delegating this work freed up a huge amount of my time, at the expense of accuracy. The work was critical to inventory management and the health of the business, and it was done very, very poorly. Nobody "owned" that job so nobody really cared or understood it. That's entirely my fault, of course. It's really a management level responsibility at the least, despite being a lot of clicky clacky.

The solution to giving that work back begins with tracking my hours. I can't assign hours if I don't know how many there are. What do I do on a weekly basis? I've been reluctant to start this tracking, because I know how this goes. I've done this before, when I gave it away initially. 

Before you give away your work, there's an important pre-requisite that's really obvious, like the key to the whole concept, but a pre-requisite I failed to grasp. You have to have something else to do. The goal is not to make yourself dispensable, that's just a step to bigger things. The best reason to delegate is so you can do "more important" work, otherwise known as work only you can do. If you don't have anything more important to do, don't even bother tracking your hours.

"More important" could mean high level owner tasks, but it could also mean taking a vacation, retiring, or having more time with your family. Maybe you want to play games more often. All good motivations. Really, anything you would rather do is a fine motivation. What you can't do is have nothing to do. You can't delegate and twiddle your thumbs, because I know you, business owner, you are not a thumb twiddler. Idle hands results in weird projects, at least for me.

I've quoted the Harvard Business School study of successful business owners before, and I regularly reference my "beach house on Maui." You get to a point in business where you sell, shut down, expand until you fail, or accept your slow growth level of business existence .. . and plan your beach house on Maui. The beach house on Maui represents outside interests you pursue instead of mucking up your business. Maybe it's coaching kids soccer or painting all those unpainted miniatures. 

This problem came to a head when I was handed a quarter million dollar, thirty year, government loan. Having all the money in the world, in the form of government money, and not having a plan to spend it to expand my business or start a new one, accentuated that I would be building beach houses on Maui. I called it a failure of imagination, but it was just a final acceptance of the fact my business is fine, it doesn't need to expand to any great levels (it did somewhat with this money), and I have no desire to start another business. It was an imagination exercise and I both failed and succeeded. It accelerated a thought process that might have taken another decade. I am done ... for now.

So I'm not going to track my hours yet because I have nothing better to do right now. As I research trucks and travel trailers in my spare time, and work on my online Spanish (yesterday was day 600), I imagine what I'll do with those extra hours. But for now, that work is mine. 

Thursday, May 6, 2021

The Phantom Business and the Placeholder Customer

I recently read an article from someone who declared the hobby game store finally dead. In sixteen years of flogging this dead business model, I've seen many such articles. This is the "standing on the COVID corpses of dead game stores" version. What struck me about this article was the misperception of how stores run their event space.

This customer went to local game stores, used their game space paying some nominal fee, and bought all his games online. He had no idea how this game store could possibly operate under such conditions. He's choosing to ignore the busy register, ringing up sales, or the many customers that come in throughout the week to make purchases, all of them cheaper and easier online.

Put simply, he is not their customer. The nominal fee, social gatherer game, is not how stores survive and prosper. Their value proposition does not align with him. So why is he there and why is he confused? It's because he is the product, not the consumer. His living corpse is being used as a placeholder for actual customers who wish to engage in that stores value proposition, which is community. His role is filler, a cardboard stand in. He's more Facebook user than Amazon consumer. Unfortunately, store owners have a difficult time sifting the wheat from the chaff, so these people sit amongst the real customers, sometimes confused.

Many customers are eagerly awaiting stores to re-open their play space. There is tremendous demand for this not just because it is our core value proposition, but because it's an impossibly good value. Asking a nominal fee or tiny buy-in for access to this core feature doesn't begin to cover costs. And to a mercenary customer only interested in the best price, who takes advantage of this near free feature, it causes legitimate confusion. How do they do this? Why are my peers supporting this? So the game store is once again declared non viable.

The solution to this is to actually charge what that space is worth. I figure its value is at least the cost of a movie ticket, probably approaching $15 an evening. But will stores ever charge that amount for an evening of entertainment? Doubtful, but they should charge something. Do it for your bottom line. Do it to clear up confusion in the market place. Do it because you've seen this business model works without events and how events drag down your store to a micro managed chaos that impedes your progress in life. Or don't do it. The model was viable before. It's viable now.