As I've mentioned before, there are basically four links in the retail chain: manufacturer (that's me!), distributor, shop and customer. Ideally what you want is to get your product to the customer as quickly as possible.
It's possible to skip steps, either by selling directly to the customer (via your website or at a convention for example), or directly to shops, but you'll never hit the big time doing that unless you have an extremely popular website.
What you want to do is get your game carried by most shops. Most shops won't want to order enough copies of a game to make it worth your while selling to them directly, in addition, they want the convenience of dealing with a single supplier (or two) for all the products they carry, rather than dealing with hundreds of manufacturers. So you want distributors to carry your products.
Distributors will either pay you when you invoice them for an order or when they sell to a shop (if the games are 'on consignment'). If they pay on invoicing, they won't place another order until they've sold the first order to shops, so you want shops to carry your products.
Similarly, shops will only re-order your games if customers buy them, so you need to get customers to want your games.
You will get a little help from one link to the next (distributors will tell the shops that they are carrying your products, shop staff will tell customers that your games are available), but you really need to get your marketing to work on each link in the chain.
I've got a pretty good network of distributors, some of which I've contacted myself, some of which have contacted me and some of which have been asked by their customers (the shops) to carry my games. I've spent some money on online advertising and I occasionally make a fuss on BoardGameGeek to contact customers. In addition, I attend Essen, several UK conventions and I'm currently doing a tour of UK game shops to promote my games to customers.
So the missing link is clearly the shops. I've been thinking for a while about how I can best contact the US shops (there's at least 2,500 of them!), while spending the least amount of money. I've considered paying my distributors to advertise my products to their customers; getting volunteers to demo games in their local stores and now I'm trying something new: email.
Email has the advantage of being free, and simple to do. The downside is that any email I send is going to be to a public email address from a webpage which is likely to be heavily spammed, so my emails might not get through, and if they do they might themselves be considered spam.
I'm currently sending a brief email to every shop I can find out about, introducing myself, my company and my products and asking the shop to consider stocking them. I ask them to let me know if they will start stocking them (or do already), and give them an incentive to reply by offering to list them on my website as a stockist.
In addition to sending the emails, I'm building up a spreadsheet of all the shops I find out about, including their contact details (phone number if I can't find an email address) and whether or not they've replied and are a stockist. I'm using the FLGS of the USA meta-thread on BGG as a starting point to try to find out about the shops.
So how's it going? I've had nine replies so far from about 100 emails. Most of them already carry at least one of my games, two are going to carry them from now on. That seems a pretty good response rate for an email marketing campaign. I'm going to keep it up for a few weeks, and see if it leads to any re-stock orders from my US distributors.