Thursday, December 10

The Links in the Retail Chain

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.


Hulken said...

Nice post.

Are you onley going for stors in the US or is it just a start to se if it is worth it?
Try contacting youre retailers and se if you can get a list of stors (ther costomers) from them and maby they have a better email contact info for the stors.

I have a litle question fore you also regarding sumeria. Did you have the artist do al art for it (box, board and so) or onley the box? Did he do the manual layout also or do you do them youre self?

Jack said...

Hiya Daniel,

I'm trying the US first, since they are my biggest market.

The artist for Sumeria did everything: Box, board, tiles, counters and rulebook background. However I did all the layout myself (box, rules, punchboards).



Darren, London said...

Congratulations on the sales, Jack. one you reach a critical mass I imagine the work will drop off greatly.

Jack said...

Hiya Darren,

Thanks! Until then it's back to the grindstone :)



Darren, London said...

Sorry, meant 'Once you...'

I had some ideas regarding Sumeria that you can consider if you ever re-work it:

- the cover art is gorgeous - keep it.

- make the box portrait - takes less space on a retailer's shelf. I think Munchkin is like this.

- get rid of the cardboard separator in the box - it does nothing, costs money, and adds weight for shipping. Stack the contents from the top down: wooden bits, bag, large tiles punchboard, small tiles punchboard, instructions.

- the lid doesn't go all the way down over the box bottom - don't pay extra to have them fit perfectly, it makes no difference.

- get rid of those green recycling things on the plastic wrap if you can - I don't care if the game packaging is recyclable and they just get in the way of the writing and pictures.

- it is difficult to read some of the text on the back because of the slim typeface and speckled background.

- make the game photo more prominent - don't try fitting the whole thing in. Close up on the bottom-left corner, showing some cards, territory, & colourful wooden bits.

- I like the title

- I'm not crazy about the Reiver Games logo

- merge the expansion into one game - I'm guessing a 2-4 player would sell more than a 3-4 player, all things equal. All the materials fit in the current box.

- make a 1-player variant which requires no extra pieces. Agian, I assume 1-4 player games sell more than 2-4.

- I have no problem with Dirk Liekens' name on the box - the German name doesn't put me off. It may even help sales in Germany, or let people know 'this is a German-style game'.

- if you need more room on the back get rid of the Sumeria title - it's already on the front. Or just make it smaller

- the rules cover seems unnecessary - it just repeats what is on the back of the box. If you have a page spare then make a gorgeous cover like on the box, or a special back page. I may be wrong, your call.

- change the contents list on the back of the box to read something like:
36 influence counters
- 9 economic
- 9 military
- 9 political
- 9 religious
56 trade markers
- 14 per player
8 city-state tiles
1 large Start Player marker
1 large turn marker
Counter bag
Quad-fold board
Full-colour instruction booklet - English & Deutsch

- put pictures of the contents next to their name on the above list on the box, the way they are in the instruction booklet

- the instruction booklet could be black & white to cut costs. It looks gorgeous, so don't do this lightly.

Just my first impressions. Feel free to ignore everything. I understand it's all ultimately your responsibility. Just in case you're ever re-tooling the game.

Hulken said...

By the way Jack hos is the cristmas sales going fore you. Or have you already felt them, I can imagin that the retailers stock up in like november to be shore to have every thing in stock.

How is the sales going for you, are you close to breaking even on anny of the games yeat?

You mentiend earlier in one of youre posting that the numbers of owners on BGG is about 1/3 of the copies of games you have sold, is this still accuret?

Jack said...

Thanks for your input. A couple of responses:

Dirk is Belgian - not German :)

The 2-player version of Sumeria was cut from the original version because one of my playtesters discovered a problem with it. We subsequently fixed it, but by then it was too late to put it back into the print run.

Christmas sales are going ok, not as well as last year, but last year I was getting initial stocking orders from new distributors and for newly released games. I'm still a way off breaking even with any of my games.

As for the number of owners, it's impossible to tell, since I don't know how many copies are with shops and distributors.



Anonymous said...

Just bought Carpe Astra, can't wait to give it a try!

Something you really may want to run with is asking customers to give demo's at local stores. Maybe 10% off a future order if they do.

Nothing sells a game like a fan.

I also noticed your BGG post about giving a game to a few groups, a great idea along the same thought.

Best of luck!


Jack said...

Hiya Matt,

Thanks for your support! Good idea about asking customers to demo games in return for a discount. I'll have to think about how that could work.