Stocking a Board Game Section

Wrote this answer to a question by a redditor, thought I might as well C&P it here.  He did answer some other questions (it’s a comic / hobby store re-opening, with a competing MtG centered-store) so hopefully that provides some context.

Okay, I’ll give this a shot. OLGS owner here (Starlit Citadel) so recommendations based off our own sell list, our experience at Cons and reading Gary’s blog (read it!!!). A few things to start, there’s some information I’m missing which will affect what you are buying.  This includes:
1) Store size (how much square footage, how much space is dedicated to board games).
2) Location (are you a mall store, strip mall store, stand-alone, in an industrial area of town or smack downtown? All dictate foot traffic and type of customers).
3) Game space (and if so, what kind and size? what events will you run, etc?)

Okay, that being said; I’d actually break your buy list down a bit differently.  My categories are:
– War Games (stock Command & Colors Ancients, Memoir ’44, Battle Line, A&A 1914, 1942 Europe & Pacific, Risk Legacy. Forget all the smaller publishers, just special order them in.)
– Heavy Strategy Games (Agricola, Ora & Labora (if it comes in), Power Grid, Suburbia, Puerto Rico, Caylus)
– Mid-Weight Strategy Games (Small World, Sentinels of the Multiverse, Takenoko, Race for the Galaxy, Lords of Waterdeep, Stone Age)
– Light-Weight “Gateway” Games (Kingsburg, Revolution, Munchkin, Ticket to Ride, Settlers of Catan, Carcassonne, Citadels, Gloom, Lost Cities, Bang!, Castle Panic, all the Fluxes)
– Deck Builders (Dominion, Ascension, and for your comic crowd; maybe Tanto Cuore. DC & Marvel Deck Builders 1 copy each).
– Filler Games (King of Tokyo, Love Letter (in all its versions), Coup,  Smash Up, the Resistance, Hanabi)
– Adventure (or Ameritrash) Games (Arkham Horror, Last Night on Earth, Cutthroat Caverns, Eclipse, Twilight Imperium, Mage Knight, Firefly,  BSG, Eldritch Horror, GoT Board Game, Zombicide)
– Co-Operatives (Forbidden Island, Forbidden Desert, Pandemic, Flash Point, Ghost Stories, Elder Sign, Shadows over Camelot )
– Family / Party Games (7 Wonders, Dixit, Wits & Wagers, Say Anything)
– Classic Games (Monopoly, Clue, Risk: Legacy, etc – decide if you want / need these. It can help with ‘branding’ you a game store, but if you’re a really geeky location due to the comics, it might be wortwhile not bothering and saving up on dollars / space).

There a lot of games here.  There probably are more I’ve missed, but these cover most of the evergreens we see with a few ‘hot’ items right now.  You’ll want to rotate the hot stuff in / out.

Some things to consider:
1) Board games take up a lot of space. Look at your own collection, count the number of games. Do a rough calculation of their value (50% of MSRP for your sales budget).  Now consider that you have to actually merchandise these games properly (i.e. they must be easy for customers to grab, hold and browse).  At a con, we easily bring about $8,000 worth of games and maybe have space to show 2/3 of it in a 10″ by 10″ booth.

2) You have to decide if you want to go full-line or just hit the highlights of some of these popular games.  Dominion by itself with just 2 copies of each game can take up 2 shelves. Ticket to Ride, Settlers of Catan, Carcassonne will do the same if you go full-line.  That’s an entire bookshelf (probably shelf and a half) filled with just the ‘mainstay’s.  Munchkin can easily take up 2 – 3 shelves, probably more if you really go full-line.

3) Tabletop is fine; but demand can vary significantly. Example – Dragon Age RPG – we sold 2 copies last year.  Ticket to Ride has always sold like hotcakes (easily over 20 turns) while Get Bit went up from 0 turns to 8 or 9 a year after the show.

4) Seriously, seriously consider bringing in the X-Wing Mini’s game. It sells insanely well for us and is so pretty.

5) Think about LCGs – specifically, Game of Thrones & Android.  Bring in ONLY the Core Sets, see if there are special orders.  There are way too many chapter packs to stock for most FLGs these days, so make sure there’s a demand first, then bring in the latest set in small numbers to sell to your current customers.

6)  Do NOT think you need to spend your full budget immediately.  Keep at least 20% (30% is better I’d say) unspent for upcoming products and to ‘fill-in’ sections as you see customers show interest.

7)  Decide how ‘deep’ (how many copies) you need based off how often you (or the owner) orders and how long it takes to arrive / stock the shelf.  E.g. if he only makes orders once a week and it takes 3 days to arrive, you need at least 2 weeks worth of product on the shelf.  So if you sell 2 copies of Settlers of Catan a week, you need 4 copies on the shelves (3 copies will ‘on average’ sell before the restock arrives, with 1 copy left for sudden fluctuations).

Building Capacity

A conversation Randy and I had a few months ago while I was down came to mind recently while a nasty flu bug hit the office.  We were down 3 people and the office was chugging along, slowly but surely.  Everything that needed to get done – the shipping & customer service, purchasing & receiving was happening.

It’s something I was talking to a prospective entrepreneur up here about too in his business plan.  When you develop your plan, your pricing model and plans; you have to build capacity in the system.

When Things Go Wrong

Extra capacity is required when things go wrong – if there’s no slack in your system, you could find yourself struggling to catch up.    Let’s say you work 12 hours a day yourself – now, if you have to take a day off, to catch up you need to do another 12 hours.  If you can only add 2 hours a day to your regular day, it’d take another 6 days to catch up.

Obviously, that’s not always true – not everything needs to happen immediately.  Projects can be pushed off, nice-to-have things are set aside, pre-orders left till later.  Yet, theoretically all that work you did in the 12 hours has to be done sometime – so what now?

Sickness isn’t the only thing that can throw you off. Unexpected problems like a server migration going bad, a shipment being delayed or damaged or just a bad traffic jam could all push you behind schedule.  Building a little slack in the system is a good idea in many cases.

When Opportunity Knocks

It’s not just things going bad though that you need extra capacity but for opportunity.  If you can handle 12 orders a day, 16 at a push once in a while; what happens when you are suddenly doing 16 orders everyday? It’s great but suddenly all that slack is gone and that 16 was a push anyway.  What if all that great publicity pushes it to 20 orders a day? How do you handle that?

Or you have the chance to hit a convention on the weekend at a really good rate – but you just don’t have the people to handle it.

Extra capacity means you have the time and space to jump on opportunities when they come calling.  It’s not just about planning for the worst, but for making sure you can take the opportunities that come calling.  Planning for capacity is really planning for success in that sense.

The Plan

So, what do I mean by capacity? It means having a little bit of slack during your workday, not working a 100% all the time you are there.  It means having a backup plan for when things go wrong – people or processes that fill in when needed.  Here’s a few things we do:

  • Cross-training employees so that there’s no single point of failure
  • Part-time employees – having a few part-time employees who can increase their hours as necessary to deal with short-term bumps in work
  • Flexible processes – knowing which areas of a process (e.g. shipping) where we can cut corners if necessary
  • and lastly; an understanding significant other!

I’m not joking about the last one.  If you have an SO of any form, you need them to be understanding if/when you suddenly have to work 16 hour days.  Of all the employees available, you are the one who can throw in the most additional work at the shortest notice, often at the highest level of efficiency.  Which means your free time can often be the slack in the system.  So making sure you nurture that relationship so that when you need to kick it up a notch, you can.

Balancing Customer Service & Profitability

Figured I’d write this after the recent kerfuffle with regard to our price lists.  For those who don’t know, while updating our pricing to reflect the new exchange rate; we accidentally priced a number of products significantly lower than our normal.  This was caught out by a few of our customers who then went out and made orders on these products.

Once we realised what the issue was, we cancelled those orders.  In general, we don’t honour mis-priced items and there are no legal obligations to do so.

A Fair Deal

The other side of the argument of course is that we ‘owed’ it to these customers to honour the mis-priced items.  However, I do not see it that way.  We run a business and with that business, we have decided on a pricing markup that we feel is fair.   That markup is simple – 150% of our Cost of Goods for new items we get from distributors (used products are marked up differently due to the different costs associated with them).  It’s one that allows us to run the business and keep it running while giving customers a good deal.

In this case, the products didn’t meet that margin and we managed to catch the error before the shipments went out to the chagrin of some customers (note, most were pretty understanding and excepting of this).   In other cases, keeping to this rule has benefited customers – for example, we refunded over 10 customers the difference between the old, over-priced amount for the Eclipse Ship Pack One and the new price.  We could have kept the funds and only refunded customers who complained / caught the change; but we felt it was fair to refund all of them.

Better Customer Service

At the end of the day, we can only do so much – we are a small company and a few hundred dollars loss is not an insignificant amount of money.  We try to provide good customer service, with good information and a fair sharing of the cost when mistakes are made.  We do our best to provide for the community as a whole – from our videos to donations to various community events, but all of those have costs.  Good customer service means providing fair service – it doesn’t mean taking losses where no one has been ‘hurt’.

I understand however others have a different view, and that’s more than fair.  However, this is how we’ve decided to run the company.

Server Migration Problems

Thought I’d make a quick post to let people know about the server migration that we had last week.  You might have noticed a bit of a hiccup last week as we migrated servers.  We do apologise about that but hopefully the new site is both faster and has less problems for everyone.

So, potential issues you might have run across include:

  • SSL not found (fixed)
  • Site not available – 404 errors (fixed)
  • Missing orders (should be fixed – look for your new order numbers!)

Our apologies on this, the migration was not well handled on a number of sides including ours.  We apologise for any problems.

And for those who read this for the business perspective – always keep your developer updated.  They can / will save your life if things go down.  Or – and backups are good.

Store Hours – Opening on a Weekend

We’ve decided to run a pilot program of opening once a month on the last Saturday of each month for a few hours.  If we have enough interest, we’ll definitely be extending the hours; but we’re going to run a limited test for now.

The Details:

When: February 22, 2014 and every last Saturday of the month
Where: The Warehouse at 61 West 7th Ave, Vancouver, BC
When: 1 – 5pm
Description: Local pickups, open gaming and shelf browsing!

The Explanation

Starting February 22, 2014 and for every last Saturday of the month after that, we will be open from 1 – 5pm for both Local Pickups and browsing & purchasing.  We will not be charging a local pickup surcharge during this period, so you can just browse games, talk to us and even try out some of our games from the game library.

This is a pilot program to see if there’s interest in us hosting this event.  If there is, we might even expand the program further. Do spread the word, we’d love to see you all out.

Exchange Rate Issues

I did a quick twitter feed recently that we will need to raise the price of our games soon, due to the exchange rate.  A picture says a thousand words, so here you go:

Canada - US Exchange Rate in 1 year
Canada – US Exchange Rate in 1 year

Now, this is the spot rate; add another 2 – 3 cents for the actual exchange rate you pay.   For us, we’ve been using an exchange rate for $1.05 for a while now (the reason why it often seems we had a higher price than our competitors who were pricing in at par); but with the recent surge we’re going to need to adjust our rate to $1.10.

As you can see, that’s actually still below the ‘actual‘ rate and it’ll only be for products that we bring in new.  We’ll be updating our pre-orders of course,  but for now older products are going to be a steal.  From all indications, the exchange rate is just going to get worst – so we might even have to adjust again in a few months!

Long story short – buy now!