I finally returned from my second Essen at midnight on Monday. It's been a pretty busy few days since I got back too, so this is the first chance I've had to really take stock.
First a big thank you to all of you who swung by and introduced yourselves - it was nice to meet you all and to know that somebody out there reads these musings!
The run-up to Essen as I've already mentioned was pretty stressful, in particular the travel arrangements. When I finally found out I could get the games freighted to Essen for £160 (as opposed to £1000 for the van hire and freight rate on the ferry) I felt much better about that, but the banners didn't arrive until lunchtime on the day I left - thankfully they were ok!
Just to make things more exciting on the shipping front, I heard from the freight company (after they'd already collected the stock) that there would be a couple of extra charges. I wanted the games delivered on Wednesday (so I could unload them myself to save money) which was an extra £40, and then when they realised it was going straight to the fair there was an additional charge for unloading delays which I still don't have a final amount for. As it turns out they didn't deliver on Wednesday, but Tuesday instead. This was good in the sense that I knew that the games had arrived safely, but bad in that it incurred extra costs (warehousing at the fair and delivery to my stand by fork-lift - £140€ in total). The freight company did waive the delivery on Wednesday surcharge though.
A pretty good day. It took a little longer to get to the fair than I expected, we'd got up at 4:50am, caught a 6:50am plane to Dortmund and arrived in Dortmund at 9:05. Then we managed to miss every connection to Essen, so we didn't arrive at the fair until lunchtime. We set up the furniture, hung the banners (which looked great - much more professional than last year's posters) and waited for the games to arrive. A fork-lift dumped the two pallets and then we set up the rest of the stand and went about adding the errata sheets to all 630 copies of the expansion I'd taken. That took Andrew and I three hours, it would have been a bit quicker but I kept having to stop to speak to people :) There were even a few sales of Sumeria and the expansion too :).
Sans crowds the fair was easy enough to negotiate so I took advantage of the space to chat with my Taiwanese and one of my German distributors. My Taiwanese distributor said It's Alive! was selling well for them, and stock was running low. Since the cost of shipping to Taiwan is so exhorbitant, he was keen to collect stock from me at the show. I delivered four cases to him that day, and he said he might want some more, depending on how much space they had left at the end of the show. The German distributor hadn't yet collected any Sumeria, and assured me that he wanted to, it had just got lost in the run up to the show chaos. He asked me to come back to him at the end of the show - he'd take some of my left over stock if I had any - maybe 60 copies of each?
Feeling pretty chipper about things and with the stand ready to go by early evening, Andrew and I headed off to the apartment and a welcome Chinese takeaway (we'd eaten at about 5:30am in the airport, and then not until 8:30pm at night. Mmm. Hungry! That evening Dunk and Lucy arrived from Duesseldorf and the team was complete.
Thursday was the first day of the fair proper, and since Dunk and Lucy had arrived late the previous night, and Dirk (the Sumeria designer) was going to be helping out on the stand Thursday morning, I gave them the morning off - so it was just Dirk, Andrew and I until lunchtime. It got off to a fairly slow start - it takes a while for people to percolate through the halls to Hall 4, which is right at the back. Sales were pretty good though, lots of Sumeria and the expansion alone, plus more It's Alive! and Carpe Astra than I was expecting. The hardcore geeks tend to come on Thursday and Friday in an attempt to miss the weekend crush, and to get what is on their lists before they sell out. There was also some interest from new distributors in Finland, Japan and Singapore and my Belgian distributor collected some Sumeria too.
Friday was slower than Thursday, but not a bad day at all. I sold a box of each game to a shop in Switzerland (my first confirmed Swiss stockist) and sales were not too bad. It's Alive! and Carpe Astra continued to do better than I had expected, but it was definitely looking like my 50 copies a day target for Sumeria was optimistic. I gave Andrew the afternoon off - he'd earned it!
I wasn't expecting much from Saturday - the crowd is usually more family-oriented, tends to stick to the front halls and is less free with their money. Still nothing prepared me for just how bad it was. Sales were just over half the previous day's and it felt like we weren't selling anything at all. People seemed to enjoy the games though, and a couple of distributors swung by after apparently hearing good buzz about Sumeria. Alliance, my biggest US distributor sent a couple of guys over from their sales team. Previously I'd only dealt with their purchasing team so it was nice to meet them. They said that they'd heard good things about Sumeria and wanted to push it on their return to the States as a game with good Essen buzz. Plus a potential new French distributor had also been told about Sumeria and was interested in ordering 120 copies (a larger order than any I'd had outside America). Sales were very disappointing, but the buzz and distributor discussions left me feeling better about things.
Sunday was a real roller-coaster. Sales were going really well, my second best day of the show. Several people who'd played the games on Saturday came back and bought them and I picked up another Finnish distributor. I still had a bunch of stock left, but I hoped after the German distributor took some it would be a manageable amount to possibly send back in another UK publisher's van.
Then disaster struck. The boss of my contact at the German distributor came round, and seeing that my games were also distributed in Germany by someone else decided it would just be easier to buy from them rather than me. NO! Now I had a lot of stock to somehow get home. Time to panic! I went back to my Taiwanese distributor who took a bunch more It's Alive! and one of my UK distributors offered to take some of my stock to an Italian fair they were visiting the following week. I tried to see my contact at the other German distributor to see if they wanted some stock, but I couldn't get to see him - he was way too busy.
My last option was to buy a pallet, put the games on it, shrink-wrap them and then get the fair freight handlers to warehouse it for the night and ship it back to me in the UK. 460€. We finally left the fair at 9pm after a very stressful final few hours.
The next day Andrew and I pootled round Essen before heading over to Dortmund airport for our 4:15pm flight. Which eventually took off at 9:30pm, 7.5 hours after we arrived at the airport. I finally got home at midnight, tired and emotionally exhausted.
On Tuesday I paid my take into my bank in the UK, although I brought home fewer Euros than last year, even with the huge cut the bank took, the weaker pound meant I paid more pounds into my account than last year. Of course with the sweaters, banners and the freight costs my expenses were much higher than last year, it was still a profitable week, but not by much.
Since then I've been busy on personal things and following up on all the distributor contacts I made - trying to expand my market presence further round the world. Next year things will be cheaper (the sweaters have a one off cost I've already paid and the banners are re-usable) and I really need to find a more affordable way to get my games to and from the fair.
I'm off to Patriot Games in Sheffield on Saturday for another demo day, and things on the home front will quieten down on Monday. Then sleep. Lots of sleep.