Thursday, January 21

Contacting Shops

Over the last year or so I've managed to pick up twenty distributors for my games. This is obviously a Good Thing(tm), since I can now get my games in more shops and hence more exposure and hopefully more sales to actual customers.

So far, when I bring out a new game I get initial stocking orders from my distributors, and often a restock of the others. Occasionally I get a restock order for one or more of my games out of the blue.

Over the Christmas and New Year period, with no new games released, I've not had many restock orders - most of my distributors still have stock of my games on hand. In an effort to help them sell their stock and encourage them to re-order, I've been contacting shops in the US introducing myself, my company and my games.

I've managed to build a database (read spreadsheet!) of 611 stores in the US, including their location and contact details. That's great - if I could sell two copies of each game to all those stores I'd have sold a huge percentage of my print runs in one fell swoop. Now obviously, lots of those won't want to carry my games because they're not that heavily into board games and they only want to carry the really big names. However, a few of them would want to carry my games, only they've not heard of them - they've slipped under the radar as they receive a welter of information about hundreds of new games.

I think my email marketing campaign has been remarkably successful. I've got to assume a lot of my emails will end up in a spam filter and in many cases won't even be read. However, of the stores I have contacted before today (the ones I contacted today haven't had much of a chance to respond!), 10% have responded to me via email.

That 10% includes 4% who already stock my games, and another 2.5% who have placed orders with their distributors as a result of my emails. Where I've been copied on the emails to their sales contact at the distributor they have usually picked up two or three copies of each game.

What surprised me the most though was the number of stores with no website (not even a Facebook or MySpace page) and the number who don't provide an email address on their website. I can see why they wouldn't want to expose an email address to the world (I get enough spam on mine), but there are ways around it (online email forms, possibly with captchas, obscured email addresses (e.g. jack (at) reivergames (dot) co (dot) uk). I would have thought as a store you would want to make it as easy as possible for your customers to contact you. In total, I couldn't find an email address or form for 113 of the 611 (that's 18%!).

I think this has been a pretty successful effort, I'm just kicking myself that I didn't do it sooner - especially when I had a new game coming out. I'm going to extend my efforts to Canada and then Europe, and possibly other countries where I already have a distributor.

Monday, January 11


In my last quarterly newsletter I did a special deal for subscribers where they got to buy my games at a discount price. There were a few takers, but not a huge number - there's only four hundred or so people on my newsletter mailing list, and most of them already own one or more of my games.

At the moment I'm running another incentive: free shipping on all my games (but not the Sumeria Expansion) when bought from my website - regardless of where I'm shipping the games.

Incentives like these seem pretty harmless - I get a bit less money than selling at full price, and the customer gets it a bit cheaper than full price plus shipping. However, it's not quite that simple.

I've already agreed to sell my games to a bunch of shops and distributors. Those shops and distributors want to sell my games in their backyard, and due to their nature they will be much better at it than I am: A game shop in Lancaster, PA will have a much better idea of who in Lancaster, PA buys board games than I do, and far more people there will know about the local game store than my website. So I want to keep them as customers, and support them however I can.

The shops and distributors that have bought from me have invested their money in buying my games in the hope that they can sell them on at a profit. If I invite a few select people to get the games cheap from me, that's not really any skin off their back - those people were unlikely to buy from them anyway. In fact, as more people get my games and play them, the awareness of my games increases and it might even lead to more people interested in my games and more sales for my stockists.

If, however, I start undercutting them and making a big splash about it, then it might drive some of their customers who would have bought my games from them to buy them from me instead. That's not playing nice. Instead of supporting them in return for buying my stock, I'm hurting them. In that situation they'd be unlikely to buy more of my stock - leading to fewer sales overall.

There are some places in the world where I've got pretty good distribution: the UK, the US, and a chunk of mainland Europe. Similarly, there are a bunch of places where it's really hard to get hold of my games: Australia, New Zealand, Africa and South America. The free shipping deal was designed to help those hard to reach customers, while having minimum impact on my stockists in the well-supplied regions.

So far, it seems to be working, only one of the orders I've received since starting the deal came from a country where I've got good distribution, the rest came from those hard-to-reach countries - people who probably wouldn't have bought my games otherwise.

So I've sold a few extra games to people who were unlikely to get them otherwise; some people who wanted my games but couldn't afford full price plus shipping got them and the shops that stock them didn't get screwed. All sounds good.

The downside is that I really don't make much money on these copies. For example a sale of Sumeria (plus the expansion) to New Zealand gets me £25. £3.72 of that goes to the tax man as VAT. £1.18 goes to PayPal. £8.81 goes to the Post Office. £0.58 goes to Staples for the packaging. I'm left with £10.71. Still, it's more than I'd get selling to a distributor, and it's money I wouldn't have got without the incentive.

Thursday, January 7

Sales Over Time

Happy New Year everyone. I hope you all had a good Christmas (or other appropriate holiday season). I had a proper break for Christmas and New Year - it felt like the first proper break in years, but I'm sure it wasn't.

I read something recently (I think it was on BoardGameGeek but I can't be sure), that said that the vast majority of sales of a game are in the three months after release. I think they even gave a percentage. I can see that for companies with big marketing budgets that would be the case. Before the game is launched lots of money is spent to prime the market to expect and want the game. When the game comes out lots of people will buy the new hot game, but over time there's another new hot game, and then another, so sales tail off. However, I can think of at least two occasions when the front-loaded sales profile is not the case:

The Smash Hit

I've also read that over 15 million copies of The Settlers of Catan have been sold in the 15 years since it was released. Settlers has been a breakout hit, being re-published in tens of languages and becoming a perennial best seller. I can guarantee that most of those 15 million sales weren't in 1995. It's the same for Carcassonne, Magic: The Gathering, Monopoly, Munchkin, Risk, Trivial Pursuit, and any other game that becomes hugely successful. As more people play it, more people buy it and it becomes a juggernaut.

These games sell because people try it, love it, introduce their friends to it, they love it, some of them buy it, they introduce others to it and so on. As time goes on the demand for the game increases - not decreases.

The Sleeper

When the game is unknown and the company is small and has limited marketing budget then it's possible for initial sales to be slow. Distributors and shops don't pick up the game initially, waiting to see if it's got legs before investing in it. Maybe they get demo copies, try it out, like it and get a few copies in. Those copies won't fly off the shelves because no-one's heard of it, but maybe someone takes a chance and tries it out. Things then follow the Smash Hit path but only on a much smaller scale.

Without much of a marketing budget to speak of, I need my games to fall into the Sleeper category. I've not sold the majority of any of my print runs in the first three months. I've sold a decent chunk of my games in their first three months, but not a majority and certainly not 2/3 or 3/4.

How do I intend to do this? Two main strategies. I need to reach new markets where I don't currently have any presence, and improve my market penetration in markets where I do currently have a presence.

For the first point, I'm going to be contacting as many new distributors as I can, focussing on those that have recently expressed an interest in carry my games (particularly those who approached me at Essen) and those in territories where I don't currently have a distributor (notably France and Australia).

For the second part I'm going to continue contacting shops in North America (I'll do Canada once I've finished working through the US States), this seems to be working - several stores are now going to carry my games as a result of me contacting them.

I need sales this year to be at least as good as last year - it's a tall order, but I've got to make it happen. If you've got any ideas on how to boost sales, I'd love to hear them in the comments.