Until I started manufacturing games professionally, I'd never dealt with a distributor. A couple of shops carried my hand-made games (which felt great!) but I couldn't get them made cheap enough for the manufacturer, me, the distributor and the shop to all take a cut from the price.
Now that I am getting the games professional manufactured, distributors are the key to succeeding. Very few shops have a high enough turnover to order from me directly, and those that do often don't want the hassle of dealing with each manufacturer separately, they'd much rather place a consolidated order with a distributor for games from several publishers. Also, a lot of them just want one or two copies, at least to begin with, and that's a lot of hassle for me, much less for a distributor who can just pop into the warehouse, pick the odd copy of a few different games, box them up and send them off.
So distributors are vital. So far so good. Now I need to deal with them. The first hurdle is getting through the door. In most cases I've tried to email the email address on their website. This sometimes works, but often doesn't. Publishing an email address on your website is a recipe for spam (I know from experience), so it may be that they aren't interested, it may be that they don't even see my email - hoovered up by some over-zealous spam filter. The next stage is to try ringing them, but as these are often international phone calls this is a last resort for me - due to the expense and, for some places, time difference (if I want to call an Australian distributor during their office hours I've got to make the call between 10:30pm and 6am UK time!). If I do get through to the right person, then I briefly discuss what I'm offering and take an email address (unpublished so less spammed) to send more details to.
So, now I've got a contact. The next step is to get them to place an order. This can be like getting blood from a stone. Distributors are very busy - especially at this time of year. I seem to spend a good deal of my time chasing distributors who are 'just about to place an order'. Because my supply chain is somewhat less than optimal (I've got to drive over to the warehouse to collect some stock, drive to the box-maker and collect the shipping boxes bring it all home and arrange a courier collection) there are good times for an order to come in (just before I go to the warehouse) and bad times (late on a Tuesday evening, when they need the stock on Friday and I've got to be in from 10am on the Wednesday - i.e. yesterday!).
This isn't always the case, some times it's remarkably easy. Two examples are Brown Box, Inc. who contacted me after one of their large online customers asked them to stock It's Alive! and VINCIT, AB in Sweden, who placed a joint order with Lautapelit that was all arranged by Lautapelit. I like these ones!
Once they've placed the order and I've shipped, you'd think the hassle was all over, but no. All my distributors (except the consignment ones!) are on NET30 terms, i.e. they have thirty days to pay. At the moment, about 60% of payments are late, sometimes two weeks or more, so I have to spend a decent chunk of time chasing late payments.
Those distributors that place an order swiftly are great. I want my games in shops as soon as possible - they are not going to sell sat in my warehouse. Similarly, those that pay swiftly are great - hassle free. Sadly, neither are the majority.
Still, for all the hard work, distributors are vital to my success. There's nothing that feels quite as good as a distributor who has previously placed an order for something coming back for more stock - it's selling!