Distributor List

Occasionally I get asked about distributors.  So, here’s a (non-exhaustive) list of distributors in both Canada and the US:

 

Canada

Lion Rampant

Filosofia

Mindsports

Grosnor

Everest Distribution

Universal Distribution

 

US

Alliance

ACD DistributionGTS DistributionSouthern Hobby DistributorsPHD GamesI’m sure I’m missing some, so feel free to chime in on comments.

 

New Releases: September 26th, 2013

Deadwood Studios, USA
Dungeon Twister: The Card Game
Fortune and Glory: The Cliffhanger Game – Rise of the Crimson Hand
The Lord of the Rings LCG: The Black Riders Expansion
Pathfinder GameMastery Flip-Mat: Deep Forest
Pathfinder GameMastery Flip-Mat: Urban Tavern
Romance of the Nine Empires
Star Wars LCG: Escape from Hoth Force Pack
The Three Little Pigs
The Werewolves of Miller’s Hollow: Characters

BattleTech Minis:
Battletech: 20-220 Longbow Mech
Battletech: 20-5016 Apollo Mech
Battletech: 20-5023 Hyena Salvage Mech HYN-4A
Battletech: 20-5027 Merkava Mk VIII Heavy Tank
Battletech: 20-5032 Thunderbolt Mech TDR-10M
Battletech: 20-5040 MadCat MK II-E Mech
Battletech: 20-5042 Ebony Mech with Sword Variant Parts
Battletech: 20-5054 Mjolnir MLR-B2 Mech
Battletech: 20-5056 Chalchiuhtotolin Support Tank (2)
Battletech: 20-5060 Pack Hunter II Mech
Battletech: 20-5061 Osteon Mech
Battletech: 20-5062 Morrigan Mech
Battletech: 20-5064 Cephalus Mech

Inventory Management – Top to Bottom

Speaking with Claus over e-mail, he had a question in inventory management.  Basically, how do you manage inventory? There are quite a few tools that you can use, and I’ve covered them in bits, bobs, drabs and other pieces before in this blog.

So, here’s how to break it down:

– Total $ amount is based off turn rate for desired revenue level

For B&M you can shoot for a turn rate of 4, online I’d say it’s between 5 to 6.  A lot of that though depends on how often you get stock – if you only restock once every month, you have to keep a higher level of stock overall than if you restocked every 2 to 3 days.  Also, if you are growing a new section (e.g. like we did for RPGs) your turn rates for that section will suck in the initial period but slowly get better once you (a) hit a minimum stock amount and (b) customers get used to you having that kind of product.  Then you can start trimming we find.

– Open to Buy methodology keeps track of your inventory dollars spent on a high level basis

Think of Open to Buy as a high level methodology – keeping an eye on total $ spent; not specific products.  So, it’s a good way to keep an eye on how much money you are putting into the business in terms of inventory and ensuring you  have money to buy new stock though I’d point out that you also need at least $5  – 10k for overages during crazy release season like now.

You can even push open-to-buy down to category level sections.  Deciding how much of a % you want your RPGs, Miniatures, etc to be part of your revenue / product quantities.

– Minimum Stock Levels keeps track of stock for individual products

On a specific product level, we generally pre-order 1 copy and add more depending on the publisher and theme.  So we know for example FFG products we can sell 2 to 3 each for most of their products, so we start at a 2 or 3 qty level.  Then we adjust according to theme – e.g. if it’s a popular IP; we add more, if it’s less popular or boring sounding, we drop by 1 or 2.

We also adjust based off buzz and pre-orders.  Our rough guide is we get twice the number of pre-orders brought in.  So if we have 3 pre-orders, we ask for 6.  Generally, we sell another 1 or 2 copies in the week of release.

The minimum stock level we use is basically sales for 1 1/2 weeks rounded up.  For popular products (e.g. Settlers of Catan) we add a +2.  It’s 1 1/2 weeks since we restock once a week; so technically we should be at or close to 0 when our restock comes in.  For really popular products, we might get 2 weeks worth of restock.  So if we sell 3 copies of Settlers a week, we’d normally stock 6 copies in-house (3 + 1.5 + 2) at any one time.  For a product that sells once every 3 months (i.e. turn rate of 4); we’d still stock 1 copy.  Those with turn rates lower than 4; we’d selectively cull depending on game and whether it’s an expansion, new game or classic or minimum requirement (e.g. monopoly).

– Stock levels are then further adjusted based on product level turn rates

Once a product passes a certain timeframe (generally for us about 3 months); we start reviewing it for sales.  Anything that hasn’t sold in that timeframe starts getting shifted into the ‘sale’ pile for further trimming to free up our inventory (see Open to Buy again).

And that’s how we manage inventory.  Kind of messy, but it works for us so far.

New Releases: September 20th, 2013

Fate Dice
World at War: Eisenbach Gap Deluxe
Shadowrun 5th Edition: Core Rulebook
Smash Up: The Obligatory Ctuhlhu Set
Spyrium
Star Trek: Attack Wing – Starter Set
Star Trek: Attack Wing – U.S.S. Reliant
Star Trek: Attack Wing – I.R.W. Valdore
Star Trek: Attack Wing – R.I.S. Apnex
Star Trek: Attack Wing – I.K.S. Gr’oth
Star Trek: Attack Wing – I.K.S. Negh’Var
Star Trek: Attack Wing – Kraxon
Star Wars X-Wing: HWK-290 Light Freighter
Star Wars X-Wing: B-Wing
Star Wars X-Wing: TIE Bomber
Star Wars X-Wing: Lambda-class Shuttle

Delegating & Outsourcing

There are only so many hours in your day.  If you don’t want to let work take over your life, you have to learn to prioritise and finally delegate as you grow as a business.  One of the biggest problems of a successful business is a boss / owner who doesn’t know how to delegate.

Types of Tasks

Which is fine, but how do you know what you can delegate? Well, for me I delegate or outsource a task, they generally fall into one of a few categories :

  • Low Knowledge Tasks

Oh look, we need to do inventory. Or packing. Or receiving.  All important tasks – but you don’t need a lot of training to do any of these.  This is not a specialised task or one that is particularly complex – so why are you; the owner doing this?  If you can afford to delegate, why don’t you?

  • Specialised knowledge tasks

On the opposite end of the spectrum, you have specialised tasks that require a high level of specialised knowledge.  Our yearly tax returns are a great example.  Could I learn how to fill out the tax form? Probably.  Would it be worth the time and effort taken? No.  There’s too great a liability to getting it wrong as well.  So these are great tasks to outsource.

  • Tasks I’m Not Good At

There’s a lot of things that you might be good at.  There are a lot of tasks or types of tasks that I just am not very good at.  These days, I do my best to delegate these tasks to others.  As a great example – anything that has to deal with detailed work.  My mind spins too fast, running away from the task at hand and I often make mistakes on detailed work even when I try to focus.  It’s better and easier to actually delegate a lot of this type of work to someone  else, just to get it right.

  • Things I Hate to Do

Here’s the part where I abuse my privilege of being the business owner.  I do outsource and delegate some work that I could do, which I just have no desire to do.  The Video Reviews are a great example.  Could I do them? Sure.  Are they a detailed / knowledge-heavy enough task that it’s not low value? Yes.  Would it cost a lot more to outsource than produce in-house? Yes.  So why don’t’ I do them? Because I don’t want to.

Sometimes, you should use the privilege of being the boss.

When to Delegate

Great.  So you know the types of tasks I generally delegate, but when do you do delegate?  Here’s a few criteria I use:

  • Can I afford to? – Obvious and no explanation needed
  • Can I replace the delegated task with another higher value task? – Assuming you still intend to work those hours, sometimes it’s worth asking if there’s a better task you could be doing.  If there isn’t, you should just do the task at hand after all.
  • What’s my liability if this task is not completed by me?  – I still double-check our petty cash books on a regular basis, ensuring that everything totals up correctly.  It’s a boring, tedious task that I dislike doing but it’s a necessary fraud-check behavior.  If I delegated this task, it would lose most of its importance and increase my liability to being defrauded.
  • Can this task be done faster, more effectively and cheaper than by someone else than me? – If I’m not really good at a task and have to continuously redo or recheck a task to ensure it gets done properly, perhaps it’s better done by someone else.
  • Is this task important enough that someone else should know how to do it? – Nearly every single task in the store has been completed by me at some point or another.  I can takeover almost every single task, and that’s good.  The opposite should be true – in case of accident / injury / illness; your employees should still be able to run the store without you (mostly).  Some things might require you to use a 3rd party (e.g. a director, your lawyer or accountant) if you would prefer not to give them that level of power / control (e.g. the ability to pay the bills).
  • How much problems are there going to be delegating this? – delegation of tasks takes time.  If it’s a one-off task, it might be better to just bit the bullet and do it yourself.

If you can get most of those checked off, you’re good to go.  That lists even works for tasks in-house if you are looking to outsource it.

SEO in the New Age

So.  I launched Starlit Citadel in 2007.  At that time, I was fairly confident I could take on and beat most of the (existing) game store webstores out there at the SEO game.  It looked like that most of the other store owners did not have a background or knowledge to do it properly and as such were not taking full advantage of the gifts afforded to them as existing businesses.

I was right for the most part – we rank quite well for many of the search terms I targeted and we continue to do well.   That was 2007.

Here & Now

So when I say that things have changed significantly, you can understand that I speak from a place of knowledge.  I’m trying to replicate much of what I did in 2007 for Fortress Geek and finding it much more difficult to do so.  Many of what was considered ‘good’ tactics or at least, vaguely viable are no longer considered ‘correct’.  In fact, Google can and will penalise you for taking may of the shortcuts that I took back in 2007 today.

Link building which is still one of the major forms of gaining authority has become significantly harder.  Blog owners, especially those with decent websites all know better than to give out links willy nilly.  You can’t purchase links anymore, not with any level of confidence that they won’t be found and penalised by Google.  And even press-releases are considered ‘Spam’ by Google these days and discounted.

Not having to create a website from scratch; I hadn’t realised how hard things had actually gotten.  With Starlit Citadel, we’ve already got a good base and some great customers who are happy to help promote us.  The things we do now just add-on to a great base, a cycle of virtue.  If you’re starting new though, you have nothing to work from and have to build it all up…

What’s A Boy To Do?

The big change in the last 6 years has got to be social media.  Oh, it was around in 2007 but it wasn’t as important.  In the last 3 / 4 years though the importance of social media as both a start-up boost and as a major form of marketing has increased significantly.  With Google making it harder and harder for new sites to showcase themselves, you have to get around them and work on secondary ‘signals’ on importance.  Things like Facebook Business Pages, Yelp listings (if you’re a physical store), Google+ pages, Twitter followers, etc.

It’s all a slow grind to get these customers, followers, etc. but at least there’s a new way to do so.  It’s not perfect, and building up your search engine presence now takes even longer than before and is even harder than it was before.

Option 2

Of course, there’s a cheat option and one were using a bit.  If you have an existing property of some form, one with a decent amount of authority as it stands, you can ‘borrow’ some of that authority and pass it along to your new property.  This is something that is helping a lot of existing brands to dominate in niches that they newly moved into (see Amazon) over and above their existing advantages of a large bankroll.

If you don’t have an existing property, there is a possibility of contracting with a SEO professional who does.  Many of these professionals have created a wide slew of websites for just such an eventuality and can ‘push’ some of their authority to you.  And even if they don’t, they can proceed to create websites with authority quicker than you can because that their job – while you have to handle a slew of other things.

The Silver Lining

If it’s hard for me, guess how hard it is for everyone else? Just as hard…. so if you have an existing business, Google is helping protect it.  Sort of.

 

Customer Survey 2013

Did we mention that our Annual Customer Survey is up and running? We run a survey every year, giving up a significant portion of our margin for a month for some business intelligence.  Is it worth it?

Depends on who you ask I guess.  We obviously think so, but it’s still a significant amount of money to ‘give up’.  If you intend to run a customer survey, there’s a few things to keep in mind.

Is this Statistically Relevant

Okay, we could probably run the survey and not give up the 5%.  However, we start running in the problem of statistically relevant datasets.  We generally have that problem anyway with specific categories of our customers who answer the survey (example, women customers – last year we had 16 respondents).  The more responses you can get, the better in general.  There’s an actual formula (of course) to figure out the number of respondents you want or need.

If you have a customer base of a 1000, you’d want (for a 5% confidence level 278 customers sampled).   The total numbers continue to go up as the number of customers you have increases, so for all intents and purposes in an in-house; non-professioanlly run test; you’ll want as many answers as you can.

If you can’t get statistical relevance on your data, you have to be careful about making decisions from the information.  Sometimes though, the little additional data garnered can coincide with your gut feelings; which can be enough to base some major business decisions on.

Why are you asking me this?

All too often, I’ve seen surveys (and yes, including ours) where questions are asked that have no real point to them.   Questions on the survey should do one of two things:

a) Categorise your respondents (example – have you purchased from us before differentiates customers and browsers)

b) Will provide data you can take with (in previous years, we asked where people found us via so that we could stream our advertising / marketing a bit further and evalutate our marketing spend).

In both cases, you are gathering data so that you can use.  Asking someone whether they are right or left-handed, while amusing; is not very useful.

Don’t Lead

Work on keeping a neutral tone to your questions.   The questions should be phrased so as not to lead the answers ‘Starlit Citadel is the best game store because…’ is not a good question. Especially if it precedes the question ‘Which is the best game store of the following’.

I’m not sure if active or passive voice matters, but I generally go with passive just because it’s less likely to have non-neutral terms in it.

Keep it Short(ish)

On one side of the equation, you want as much data as possible; especially actionable data.  On the other, if you keep the survey running too long; you’ll lose respondents.  Generally I find that surveys in the 10 – 15 minute range is about the maximum for online surveys.  Again – you can go longer if you provide an incentive (our coupon code here); while no incentive surveys mean you got to keep it short.

Just remember to test both the maximum length as well as minimum length (i.e. if someone answers ‘no’ to all your questions, what data are you getting and how fast is he going through the questionnaire) to get an idea of your survey ‘length’.

Don’t Forget to Compare

The answers we get this year is going to be a lot more useful for us than it was in  year 1.  Not only because we have made the questions better (yeah, we did) but also because we will have 2 years of previous questionnaire data to compare it to.  This can provide you some interesting results that you can track as your company / marketing changes.

Oh yeah, don’t forget to test

Lastly, make sure to test your survey.  We’ve managed to make mistakes even after testing the survey a few times, I’m sure this year there will be mistakes too or missing components.  The more testing you can do, the better

So that’s the quick and dirty for surveys.

PPS: When creating the questions, don’t forget to ask yourself the question ‘can I get this data better somewhere else?’.  I could ask people if my stock levels for products are good; but I get much better data by just keeping track of out-of-stocks, sales velocity and turn rates (i.e. actual sales data).  When you can, it’s better to track what people do rather than what they say they do.