The Optimum Price of a Board Game

Over the last few years, we’ve sold a lot of board games.  And after ordering, packing, shipping, re-ordering and the like, we’ve noticed a trend in what games will sell and at what price.  This is obviously our own opinion, though it is mildly backed up by data.

To start with, the average price of our board games sold is $29.53.

In addition, it seems that the optimum price for a card game is in the range of $15 to $25.  Outside of that, and sales are generally pretty low.

As for board games, it seems to sit between $30 -$40.   Much over that, and sales drop-off considerably.  It’s fair to say that while FFG Big Box board games sell well, they generally do so in much lower quantities than most Euro games.  That could, of course, be a factor of the market too.  However, most Ameritrash games seem to be able to ‘handle’ a higher price point than most Eurogames, perhaps because of the expected higher production values of those games.

Of course, there are exceptions.  Small World and Ticket to Ride are DOW products that are consistently higher as is Agricola. Most of these exceptions  seem to come from games that have generated a high level of demand already.  Most board games that start out at significantly different price point generally don’t sell that well.

What does it mean for us?  When pre-ordering, one of the things we check out is the price point and theme.  A significantly different price point generally means we keep our pre-orders significantly lower than normal since we expect that sales will be low as well.  And of course, vice versa.

Work-Life Balance

It’s now over three years since Alison and I discussed launching the store.  Since then, the concept of a balance between work and life has been somewhat lacking, which has occasionally lent to burn-out.  Not surprising, for either point, when you’re an entrepreneur.

In the first few years, I worked full-time and had to research and then set-up / manage the store.  That meant between 40 – 50 hours of work on-top of my job.  Mostly, that meant working during lunch hour and into 1 or 2am when I got home.  On good days, I’d be in bed by midnight.  On Saturdays, I generally spent the entire day working, with Sunday taking a half-day off for gaming.  Other than fencing, work and occasional gaming was the life.

Ever since I went full-time, this has  altered somewhat.  Now it’s just 60 hours a week, with some time for other things including the wife.  Which is good, but it’s still a lot of hours.  And some weeks, that easily pushes 80.  Mostly when I get bored.

Why so many hours?

Numerous reasons, partially because I really am a workaholic.  Also, the lack of a barrier between work and home makes it all too easy to start working when I’m bored.  And lastly, it’s been the constant need to grow the business recently.  so that I can actually pay myself a decent salary.

That’s now accomplished, for the most part.  The work hasn’t stopped however, since I’m not content to just let it be – improving and growing the business is a constant drive, and that means putting in more hours.  Eventually that’ll mean having to hire someone, but there’s so many other things I have to balance first that that will have to wait a few more months.

How Do Online Retailers Survive?

A while ago, I was asked a couples of questions on a different forum:

How can an online retailer manage to compete in such a tight market? …So how do you rise above the crowd? Or is the market large enough that it supports all these retailers comfortably?

I promised to answer them once I had some time and did so on that site. So I thought I’d rewrite the answers for the blog to deal with the questions.

Let’s begin with the last question first – is the market big enough to let us all survive comfortably?

That’s a very difficult question to answer, simply because no one has an idea about how big of an industry we actually are. And when mentioning industry, I’m discussing gaming as a whole – there’s just no reliable statistics out there. I’ve seen numbers fly around, but none of those numbers are at all reliable. So if we don’t even know the general idea of the industry, there’s no way I can discuss a smaller slice of the pie – the online game retail industry.

That by the way is also why I don’t get into discussions about market share and the impact of online / b&m stores. Without actual, reliable numbers for the industry, it’s all opinions.

It is simple enough to state that the industry is large enough to support at least 3 to 4 stores. That’s the number of both Canadian and American board game stores that seem to have survived at least 5 years. It’s what given me hope that we can, eventually, carve a niche for ourselves.

The other part of the question is just as difficult to quantify – comfortably. What is comfortably? How many are full-time online retailers and how many are part-time? Again, we come back to the lack of data issue here, but I suspect that a good percentage of online sellers aren’t working full time as an online retailer. That includes both individuals who have a full-time job elsewhere (yes, I’m looking at you eBayers) and b&m stores supplementing their store income via an online store.

The biggest problem (if you’ll call it that) with the Internet is how cheap it is to set-up and run a business. Since owning a game store is an avocation – a wish by many – it might not even matter if the business is losing money when it’s only $500 a year.

That of course makes the first and second question much more important to solve.

For the first question, the generic answer would be to create a marketing plan that works. Look at all 4P’s, review where you and your competitors are and figure out, most importantly, what is your competitive advantage. Then exploit that to the fullest extent.

The second answer almost assumes that there is only one market and one ‘crowd of competitors’. If you go with a different marketing mix; as FunAgain did, you’re competing in a different market for different customers.

If you do go for the alpha gamers; it’s worthwhile knowing that it’s very, very hard to ‘steal’ customers. There’s just too little difference in most cases to make it worthwhile for customers to change their routine once they have a good retailer. Occasionally, it might work for an order or two but the cost of doing so is really high. A good example of that is the current ZMan special we’re running. Even with a really low price point; and the best deals in Canada for it, we’re still generating very low interest outside of our regular customer base.

As such you really have to develop your own customer base. To do that, you’ll need deep pockets and a lot of patience. Standing out of the crowd then seems to be a matter of lasting long enough to actually build the customer base to keep you afloat.

ZMan Special Sale

We’ve got a special sale on right now, at Starlit Citadel for some ZMan Games that we were able to bring in.  Discounts on the sale items are extremely high, so purchase quickly.  We have a limited stock purchased of these sale items, and should be able to get more but are uncertain of total quantities we can get, so best to purchase as soon as possible.

Revenue by Product Type – A Pie Chart

I thought I’d share an interesting little graph drawn from Quickbooks .  A few caveats – a lot of this data still needs to be cleaned up and it only shows to early December in terms of product revenue.  Obviously, some of these figures will change (and quite drastically) but on a scale basis, I thought it’d be interesting.

Revenue by Product

In particular, the fact that more than 75% of all my revenue is generated from products outside of my top 10 is interesting.  Especially considering that my largest single ‘product’ is Expedited Post.

The largest actual board game (surprise, surprise Settlers of Catan) is only 3% of my revenue.  It really is a game of the ‘long-tail’ here, with the more products avaialable the better.  Except of course, you get games like ‘The Prince‘ that I have had a copy for 2 1/2 years that hasn’t sold. Finding the right balance is all about making this business work.

January 2010 Newsletter

January Newsletter


Contest Winner Announcement

For our review contest, we had an astounding 58 entries this month. The winner is Cameron W. with his review of Blokus Travel Edition.

As for our year end winner, we’re happy to announce that Murray C. is the winner for 2009. We will be sending his prize of $250 worth of board games to him.

Ongoing Contests

The monthly review contest is continuing this month and the winner of each monthly review contest will receive a $20 gift certificate. With a full year left, the winner of each monthly contest will be entered into the 2010 end of the year draw for the Grand Prize of $250 of board games! So start writing your reviews now, since every review is an individual entry into the monthly contest.
Site Updates

We have a The Year 2009 in Review blog post up discussing our experiences in 2009 and a new Bestselling Board Games of 2009 article.  Lastly, there are a number of exciting new updates planned for the site. With Christmas coming, we’ve just finished a full stock-count and will have more games arriving to restock soon.

Upcoming Games

We have a series of upcoming board games arriving including Dungeon Lords, Runewars and A Brief History of the World .

Year in Review – 2009

Well, it’s 2010 now and let’s start by saying Thank You to all our customers.  It was the first year that one of us would work full-time at Starlit Citadel (me!) and the first full year that we brought shipping in-house.

Some of the major issues and lessons learnt:

1) Logistics

2009 was our first year downtown and shipping all the orders by myself has taught me a few things.  Firstly, that I desperately need to hire someone to work part-time on shipping (especially during Christmas) and secondly, while I can do it, I’m not the world’s best.  The small attention to detail that  is required is not one of my strengths and we had roughly a 2% error rate – mostly during Christmas when things was so crazy it was hard to double-check everything.

So our first goal of this year is to find a part-time employee to start training.

2)    Conventions & Events

We made it to three conventions this year as a vendor.  As always, both Anime Evolution and V-Con were a ton of fun and we did well at both.  The new location for Anime Evolution in the convention centre offered us a truly large, well laid out booth to showcase our games while VCon continued to be the quiet, intimate convention that we have always loved.

The Stargate Convention was an utter waste of time and effort – in fact, we will never go near another convention run by Creation.  It’s no surprise that we were the only vendor in the room if the way we were treated by the organizers was any indication of their normal practices.

Lastly, the Trumpeters Game Society convention was something that we had initially planned to join but our invitation to be a vendor was withdrawn at the last minute.  We’ll try again this year, but I doubt we’ll get in.

We also went / hosted a few events in 2009 including Gottacon, Starlit’s Anniversary Party and playing at the Gaming for Diabetes event.  They were all highly entertaining events that we’re looking forward to doing again this year.

So our calendar for this year includes being a vendor at GottaCon, VCon and Anime Evolution and hosting the Anniversary Party and sponsoring the Gaming for Diabetes convention.  If you’ve got suggestions for others, do tell us!

3)    Stock
Cashflow was much less of a problem this year, due to some changes and additional funds.  In addition, we’ve added another 700 plus SKUs to the site in the year, putting us over 1,500 SKUs and more addedeach month.  In fact, we’re looking at adding between 20 – 30 SKUs at a minimum each month, often hitting 50.

We adjusted a number of our policies this year including ordering weekly which has improved our ability to keep a wider range of stock at close to the same level of capital.  However, that caused numerous stock-outs during Christmas – in fact, we probably had too little stock even though we doubled or even tripled our stock levels for some important games.

It’s definitely something else we learnt, and intend to improve for next year.

4)    Accounting
Not much to update here, beyond the fact that we’ve got some interesting trend-lines and data now.  We’ll be doing a variety of blog posts once things have slowed down enough to properly compose them.

5)    Marketing
This year has seen a bit more of a focus on branding the website as well as trimming some of our marketing expenses.  We continue to dedicate a significant % of our budget to marketing (roughly 3%) which has included everything from banners advertisements on Board Game Geek and other game sites to Google Adwords and Sponsorships and Contests run on the site.

For the most part, our marketing exercises have been quite successful and we’ll be continuing with most of our current advertisers   While it’s quite often hard to track direct results from some of our advertising, we feel that most of it has had a beneficial effect.

Lastly, our on-site contests have seen mixed results.  The Review Contest continues to do well, with quite a few great new reviews and a ton of entries.  Unfortunately, the Small Publisher Contest was a mixed success.  While some publishers provided great support – over and above the call of duty – others, were difficult to work with.  In the end, with the amount of time dedicated to running it and the eventual results and lack of interest (from publishers and customers); we’ve decided to discontinue the contest.  We’ll still be looking at how better highlight these smaller games, but for now, we’re putting the contest on hold.

6)    Website and IT Issues
Many of you will have noticed a substantial increase in site speed as we have improved code and streamlined some of our processes on the back-end.  There are a few new updates awaiting testing and implementation, which in a few months should see another substantial upgrade in site load times.

In addition, we have a few new modules planned including our long-awaited Customer Rewards Program and changes to how the site looks including improving the availability information on the site.

7)    Customer Service
I like to think we have improved on the customer service substantially, keeping customers informed and resolving issues faster.  Overall, I am much happier with how we’ve done in 2009 compared to 2008 and hope to continue that improvement through this year.

Future Directions

2009 was our hump year.  We had to see a substantial increase in sales to make Starlit Citadel viable and for me to start drawing a salary in 2010.  We achieved the first objective and we’re just awaiting the final invoices from December to see if we can deal with the second.  I’m not concerned at all about it, but I prefer to cross my t’s in this.

Now that we’re over that hump, I expect we’ll be better able to focus on the business even more including the new hire.  At the same time, we’ve decided that we will not be opening a retail store any time soon.  Many of the reasons for launching a retail store in Vancouver no longer hold true.  There are now a ton of great game stores in Vancouver, Alison who had all the retail experience is no longer able to work with us full-time and I’m more suited for working behind a computer.

So that means renewed focus on making us the best online board games store on the web – which to us means great customer service, great selection and the best and most user-friendly website possible.   I’m quite excited at what we’ve got planned for 2010 and I’m sure you will be too.

Tao