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Game Society convention was something that we had initially planned to join but our invitation to be a vendor was withdrawn at the last minute.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

7 thoughts on “Year in Review – 2009”

  1. Congratulations on what sounds like a great year! I only came along to this site (and board games!) in the past few months, but I really appreciate what you’ve got going on, and I’ll definitely be looking forward to a customer rewards program and the continuation of the review contest. Keep up the good work!

  2. Thanks for sponsoring the Gaming for Diabetes mini-convention, Tao. It’s a great get-together of many of the different boardgaming groups in the city, and of course it is for a great cause.

    Though I don’t think downtown has any game stores right now, or at least won’t shortly (I’ve heard the one in Chinatown is moving to eastern Burnaby or New West), the metropolitan area definitely has plenty of great gaming stores. So it’s probably a good decision to avoid starting a brick-and-mortar store.

  3. Glad to see that business is booming! I must say, I see your online ads EVERYWHERE. It’s really quite amazing.

    My own collection is quite full now, but I’m still recommending your store to everyone I know and meet in Vancouver.

  4. Thanks guys.

    Darryl- you’re welcome. I’m looking forward to this year – it’s nice to be at an event that I don’t actually have to DO anything. 🙂

    As for Downtown (central that is); with retail rents at least $2 – 4 per square foot, that’s a VERY hard row to hoe and you’d need a LOT of capital to give it a good shot.

    Murray – you have no idea 😉

  5. Hey Tao, are you still fixing up stuff on your back end? Perhaps you could add a few functions:

    With marketing, knowledge is gold. You should definitely add an optional 1-5 minute survey after an order completes. You can offer a single entry for the monthly review draw as compensation. In the survey, you can ask questions such as whether the person is a repeat customer, how many prior orders they’ve done, how happy they were with the order, suggestions, and, to help you out with advertising, where they initially heard of you and how long ago that was.

    Additionally, you could do a quick and easy referral program by allowing first time survey fillers to drop a person’s name/email and give the referer a single entry to your review contest as well. This would be hard to abuse since they would actually need to complete an order before being able to fill in a survey.

    This should be an easy solution to your traffic influx problem and give you a better idea where you are getting the most bang for your buck

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