Miniature painting – is there a demand?

So, Alison recently brought up an interesting point.  A lot of board games are coming out with tiny miniatures these days and most of them are unpainted.  Since she actually likes doing painting and is actually pretty good at it, she was wondering if there was a demand.  We’ve had a few inquiries for painted miniatures, but only once in a while.

So, is there a demand? Would you be interested?  Generally, pricing would be about $2 – 3 per miniature (depending on number and quantity of the same type)  so for something like Descent it’d be pretty expensive.

Also would you want the miniatures to be pre-painted already or would you want to pick-out your colours yourself? The first has the advantage of quick delivery (we’d only sell what is painted) while the second option would require the customer to first purchase the game from us, and then wait while Alison did the painting.

So, is there a demand? If so, in what format?  And for which games?

The Mathematics of Stock Growth

I continuously struggle with two opposing factors of the business:

  • Growing the variety of board games available
  • Removing ‘Dead-Weight’ Games

We generate a vast amount of our revenue from games outside the top 10.  In fact, we generate quite a bit of revenue from games that sell only once every 3 to 4 months.  A look at the numbers indicated that we generate about 80% of our revenue from the top 20% of our SKUs (about 300).  The remainder 20% of our SKUs generate the remainder of our revenue.

It might seem like a simple choice then – just don’t carry the other 1,200 SKUs.  However, losing that 20% of our revenue would actually mean making a loss.  And that’s not counting the fact that often, we receive large orders that include one of those ‘less-important’ 1,200 games.  So it’s important, if nothing more than to have customers look to us to be complete, to carry a lot of stock.

While I set aside a portion of our net profit to purchase the new board games that are released each month, it is quite often insufficient to deal with sheer volume of new releases. So I need to trim dead weight – board games that just haven’t sold sufficiently to make them worthwhile.

Currently my criteria runs roughly along these lines.  This criteria is used for games in that calendar year:

  • if a game has sold 2 copies; we keep 1 copy in-stock and review at end of year.
    • at 4 or more sold copies, we are definitely keeping at a minimum  1 copy in-stock
  • if it sells from 0 to 1 copy in the year, it gets put on the review list

The review list is what we look at just before Boxing Day.  That’s when we work to trim our inventory down. Games on the review list are checked for their :

  • past sales history.  If it’s sold more than 4 copies at full price (in its entire history with us), we’ll be keeping the game in-stock.  This generally indicates that the game has had some good, continuing interest.
    • if it just released that year, that level is dropped to 2
    • this works for us since we’re only 3 years old.  Later on, that’ll likely be adjusted
  • below those levels, we look to see if it’s part of a ‘set’ of games – either as an expansion or line extension.  If so, we normally try to keep at least one copy in-stock if the base game sells well
  • if the board game fails to meet either of these criteria, it’s sale time!

Games that don’t reach the above, lax criteria generally have generated very little interest.  I don’t mind holding ‘older’ stock that once sold well, but is now selling slowly; but games that have just not sold at all need to go to ‘make way’ for new games.

This method currently means we continue to grow our inventory levels at a somewhat frightening pace.   However, since we’re committed to being one of the largest retailers for board games, that is the point of increasing stock levels.   If we can carry a game that no one else does, that still has some demand, then we have a definite advantage.   It just means that for the next few years, most of our ‘profits’ have to be dedicated to stock growth.

Budgets, January & mid-February Sales

So, finally finished doing an interim budget for 2010.  I’ll need to finish up / clean-up last year’s books a bit more to go ahead and hammer the final numbers down, but it’s been a pretty interesting morning.  Particularly since I’m plugging in numbers for hiring someone full-time at last (other than me!) towards the end of the year and potentially even earlier

Budgets are an interesting part of business; and really, I was pushed into doing this year’s at last by a friend who pointed out I needed one to keep me on-track.  I’ve been using a variety of interim solutions (revenue, cashflow, major expenses, etc.)  to keep an eye on where we were, but I haven’t actually looked at my year 2 budget since I put it together in January 2009 because the actuals were all over the place.  We kept on missing revenue targets (both upwards and downwards) to a degree that it felt better to manage it on a month-to-month basis.

However, that’s okay in the beginning but now that things seem to have smoothed out and we have a better “feel” of the business, we need the discipline of a budget and targets.  In particular, I need to start looking at targets not just for 2010 but 2011 and 2012.  I really need to go back and ask those hard questions of where I want the business to go.

The truly interesting bit is that our January and mid-February sales are coming in close to our estimates for growth; averaged out.  January did incredibly well for us but excluding GottaCon; our revenue for February’s down.  That’s not unexpected since we did “pull” sales from February into January due to the ZMan Games Sale.  So unless something major changes, it looks like we’ll be about where we forecast.

That’s the good news because if we do hit our expected growth rates, I can rely on the budget instead of adjusting on a regular basis.  Of course, if we miss on the high-side, that’s nice, but as always, controlling costs is more important.  That is what will drive our eventual profitability.

5 Things A Game Store Entrepreneur Should Know

After nearly 3 years running an online board game store, I thought I’d write this short list of things I feel a prospective entrepreneur should know before they launch the store.1) Captialise, Capitalise, Capitalise
Firstly, unless you’ve taken a lot of time to do your business plan, it’s wrong. Even if you do spend a lot of time on it, it’s most likely wrong. A lot of businesses fail between year 1 to 2 because of a lack of adequate capitilisation. That includes us – we didn’t have sufficient funds and if we hadn’t been able to tap into additional capital, we would have been in serious trouble.

2) Cashflow is King
Even if you are making a ‘profit’; you could still go out of business. It’s not a matter of the profits you make, but your cashflow. If all your ‘profits’ are going into inventory, when your bills come due, you won’t be able to pay your suppliers or yourself.

3) It Ain’t A Competition
Experience seems to indicate that it’s really, really hard to ‘steal’ customers from other stores. You have to grow them organically yourself. So it’s a long, slow grind to get sufficient sales, but it’s the customers that matter, not your competitors.

4) No Time for Fun and Games
I used to game about once a week, guaranteed. If not at least twice to three times. These days, I get lucky if I get to game once week two weeks. Certainly in the first couple of years, your ability to play games drops hugely. And worst, I rarely get to play a game I like more than twice – I’m always learning new games because I have to.

5) Love the Business – not the games
Lastly, and this is perhaps the most important point of all, you need to love running a business as much as you do playing the games. It’s something I have discussed with other ‘hobbyists turned business owners’ and that if you don’t love the business side, you’ll find yourself struggling. Since most of your time is going to be spent running the business, it’s easy to lose your love for the hobby especially if you hate running the business. So make sure you want to own a business, not play games.

Of course, this is all my opinion formed by my experience. If you have a different opinion, do feel free to comment.

Mini Board Game Reviews

I realise I haven’t written any game reviews in a while, mostly because while I’ve had a chance to play a ton recently, I haven’t had a chance to play them more than once mostly.  That doesn’t give me a huge amount of confidence in my ability to review the game objectively and well.  So, on that note, I thought I’d do a ton of mini-reviews today.  Hopefully, I’ll get around to doing full reviews soon of these games.  Games listed are in order of my recollection!

Caylus Magna Carta

Having finally had a chance to play the game half-way through, I must say, I thoroughly enjoyed it.   I definitely want to finish a full game, but the little that I played certainly made this resource management / worker placement card game seem a ton of fun.  I like the fact that there’s a bit of interaction via the Provost and the placement / taking of buildings.

Chrononauts

I’ve actually played this game sufficiently that a full review should arrive soon, but overall, I have to say I like Chrononauts for a quick, fun game.  It uses the time mechanic quite well, and the variable winning conditions makes the game a bit of a guessing game on how close each player is to winning.  It’s quick and simple to teach, though the randomness in the cards can be somewhat over-whelming.  Overall, a good filler game.

Power Grid

Having had a chance to play this finally, I must say, I understand why people enjoy this game. While the multiple routes and the knowledge of the upcoming power plant cards give experience players an edge, much of the game is still quite apparent on the board itself.  Of course, that might drive an analysis-paralysis prone individual to distraction and those who don’t like to do maths should consider avoiding this game, but otherwise, the game is a fun auction / route building game.  A definite step-up from Ticket to Ride in my opinion.

Power Grid : Factory Manager

While Factory Manager uses some of the same auction mechanic of Power Grid, it replaces the route building aspect with a factory /space management mechanic.  It plays faster as well,  and the additional strategy of pulling specific machinery down to purchase makes the game quite interesting through all stages.  I actually prefer Factory Manager to Power Grid, though mostly because of the shorter time frame of the game.  It’s certainly a ‘lighter’ game, but not necessarily a gateway game since there’s still a bit of math involved.  I’m certainly a fan and it’s game I’m looking to add to my collection in time.

Before the Wind

An interesting auction / bidding card game.  It’s unusual in that players choose to draw a card, and must then entertain bids from other players.  If they refuse to take the bids from the  other players, they must choose one player to pay off.  It’s an interesting twist on the auction mechanic that takes a few games to get used to definitely, as we had a tendency to over-bid in the first game. Relatively light, and interesting for its mechanic.

Atlantis

Atlantis is an older board game that a friend was bought for Christmas.  We played a quick game a month or so back and I must say, it’s not a bad game.  There’s nothing revolutionary on it, though the movement deck and the way the trail is set-up is quite interesting.  However, there is a lot of luck involved – from the way the trail is laid out to the cards drawn into your hand to which player goes before you – so it won’t be for everyone.  Overall, ot a bad game, just not great.

Twilight Struggle

What an incredible 2 player game.  I never finished our game, but it was a ton of fun and another game that I’d definitely want to play again.  Having seen both the old and new versions, the new Deluxe version is  a huge improvement in looks while the gameplay is rock-solid.  If you’re looking for a longer, tougher 2 player game, this is definitely a game to consider.

Castle Panic

Fun, fun, fun!!!  This is definitely a light co-operative game, with quite a bit of luck involved (at least in the base game) as the monsters arrive based on a die roll.  On the other hand, this game has definite potential as players are both co-operating and competing to win the battles.  I thoroughly enjoyed the 1 game we played, and I’m looking forward to testing this out further with my regular game group.  My only complaint is that it’s only a 4 player.

Lord of the Rings

We tried out this older co-operative game and a lot of the points about the game definitely hold true.  Firstly, it’s a very tough game – we nearly lost and the only reason we didn’t was because we had mistakenly used ‘easier’ rules in the first 1/4 of the game.    Even then, poor Sam went  to the dark side.   Secondly, the game does lack a touch of ‘atmosphere’, since much of it is just playing specific cards to the board.  Thirdly, I can see how it could almost feel formulaic in time as the board itself does not change – just your hand.  There’s obviously an optimum play-style, but there’s going to be a lot of testing before you reach that point.  Overall, this is a good game and one I’d be happy to break out for fans of the book.

Con Report : GottaCon 2010

Finally back from GottaCon 2010 and having unpacked all our product, deposited the change and edited the products on the site, we’re exhausted and amused.   This was our first year at GottaCon and it looks like we’ll be adding GottaCon to our Con circuit.  In fact, considering how well it went, I’m debating if we should be looking at the conventions in Calgary for next year as well.

GottaCon definitely grew in size, with what seemed to be at times twice the number of people there this year.  The board gaming section maxed out it’s 10 tables on Saturday quite often, and in fact, sometimes we over-flowed to other places.  If anything, they were victims of their own success with there being insufficient space and planning for open gaming for us board gamers.

There were a ton of demo’s being run and 4 different tournaments, with Settlers of Catan drawing the most and our own Race for the Galaxy tournament coming in 3rd.  We had 6 participants, which was a reasonable amount considering we requested a $5 entry fee.

Outside of us, there were a ton of other gaming going on.  As always, the CCGs were the more numerous with the miniature gamers a close second.  The RPG tables were constantly filled; with perhaps the Computer Gaming section being the barest of them all.

Still, all that said, there were a few hiccups.  We made a loss this year, not unexpected of course.  Frankly, most cons we are viewing as a marketing expense – we do sell games, but the cost of being at the Con (especially if its outside of Vancouver) is quite high.  A rough calculation that I did in my head came up to about $1,000 for GottaCon.

We also need to work out a better shelving option (our current shelves are just too big to transport well) and a better idea of what games to bring to conventions.  As always, we over-packed with dozens of games never making it out of the box.  Without shelving to put the games on, we couldn’t showcase them.  And thus the games were there only if someone specifically asked for it.

On the other hand, we had a good dozen games that were asked for that we didn’t either bring enough copies of, or didn’t bring at all.  So that’s a dozen sales lost.  Finding a solution for both of these  factors would make Cons better events for us.

February Newsletter


Contest Winner Announcement

This month’s winner is Chris Morris with his review of The Art of War.

Ongoing Contests
The monthly review contest is continuing this month and the winner of each monthly review contest will receive a $20 gift certificate. In addition, the winner is enterred into 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’ve added some new categories to the site to make it more convenient to browse and also added information on the category pages to indicate how quickly orders normally ship.

Lastly, we’ll be at GottaCon Feb 5- 7, 2010 so we will not be shipping on Friday and will be slow to answer queries over the weekend. If you’re at Gottacon, make sure to drop by and say hi!

Upcoming Games
Tons of great games have arrived, so only a few new games expected this month including Mecanisburgo, Days of Steam and Pressure Matrix .

We expect the next few months to be pretty quiet in terms of big name games, though a ton of reprints should be arriving later on in this quarter.