A Big Bet

We’re about to fly off to do two major conventions tomorrow and it’s a bit scary in someways. We’ve thrown a bunch of cash at it already, so at this point it’s mostly a sunk-cost but that doesn’t mean it’s not a big bet.   We’ve never done Regina before and the costs involved is very high, especially when it’s not a (mostly) sure bet like Calgary.  We’d love to try Toronto one day but getting into the show is a bit of a struggle – they are booked up so fast, even on the waiting list, we still aren’t able to get in yet.

Conventions outside your main city is always expensive. There’s no way around it as you tack on a series of additional cost that aren’t present in local conventions.  Among the additional expenses:

  • Travel costs. This is not just the ticket but also the travel time of your employees (in Canada, you have to pay for the hours traveled at their regular rate)
  • Accommodation costs. Yeah, everyone needs a place to stay.  Also, a side hint for business travelers – AirBnB is becoming quite, quite useful for budget travelling especially if you prefer to cook for yourself.
  • Transportation costs. That’s transportation from the airport to your accommodation and back and of course, to the event itself if you aren’t staying in walking distance.
  • Freight costs.  You’ve got to get your products there somehow.  Figure anywhere from $300 – 700 per pallet.
  • Insurance costs. Depending on your insurance, you might need to get an additional rider (or just a separate insurance package) to cover your tradeshows / conventions.
  • Opportunity cost of lost shows (a bit more hard to quantify, but in our case, we’ve got our stock out of the warehouse for a good 3 weeks at least).

On top of that, you have all your usual costs too:

  • Staffing costs
  • Table / booth fees

It’s what makes most organisations decide not to do conventions, or in some cases, just do conventions.  There’s also a lot of economies of scale involved in doing conventions outside of your province.  If you are shipping a pallet for example, the cost per pallet goes down the more pallets you add.  If we are staffing, there’s no real difference in staffing 2 booths to 3, while 4 booths only require a marginal increase in hours. However, if you are a small or new business, losing 2 or 3 valuable staff members at your main location can be a major issue.

For us, we’re not a large organisation so putting out all this money and taking myself and Elise out is a big bet. If you’re in Calgary or Regina though and read the blog, come say hi. We’ll be working hard but promise to at least give you a smile.

Mining for Gold

I watch a reality series called Yukon Gold regularly.  It’s about gold miners in the Yukon who strip tons of earth in search of ounces of gold.  There’s a metaphor there about the amount of muck everyday people have to wade through to get a tiny amount of gold but that’s really not what I came to write abut.

No, what struck me while watching the current season was the differing amounts of gold each operation needed to breakeven.  Some required a half ounce of gold for every hour they operated, some an ounce.  The largest operator wanted 3 ounces of gold to make him happy.  They are all miners in the same geographic region (sort-of, the Yukon is HUGE); and yet they each had so different requirements.

It’s true for any business really. As we grow, my ‘breakeven’ amount for each day has shifted too.  What I need to keep the lights on is very different from when we started in 2007.  What any of our competitors need is going to be different.  There’s a myriad number of reasons for this – from different leasing rates to different personnel, higher fixed or variable cost, more or less efficient operations, it all varies the amount of gold we need to find in the pan at the end of the day.

The other thing that isn’t accounted for is what each group would consider ‘success’. One group’s a young family with 2 children whose entire livelihood is based off their operation.  Another is a retired business owner who is chasing his dream.  Then we have the ‘professional’ crew with multiple diggers and trucks who are working on a completely different scale from everyone else.  Each group has a different goal amount, but those goal amounts also include the needs of their families or corporations.  It’s one thing if all you need is to breakeven because your ‘salary’ is what you are looking for.  It’s another when you are looking to generate a decent return of investment for your investors.

This difference is something most people who don’t run their own business don’t get.  What seems to be a ‘lot’ of money for one corporation might be nothing for another.  What end goals each group needs varies and often has nothing to do with any external objective of ‘fair’.

Harassment, gaming and online purchasing behaviour

Recently, the discussion on harassment for women in tabletop gaming has been making the rounds. Unfortunately, it’s not a new feature but it is getting more press, mostly because I think of the larger number of female players, the Internet and (hopefully) changing mores.

The entire situation is something that isn’t particularly surprising.  I run an online business and the vast majority of my gaming is with close friends who aren’t likely to take crap like that so for the most part I’m shielded from encountering incidents like this.  While I do do conventions, I also work them – so I rarely see any major incidences as my head is down, working sales and chatting with customers.

Yet, even though I rarely see incidences like this, it doesn’t mean that I haven’t seen any at all.  I can recall at least 2 instances where we’ve had to deal with too persistent men by redirecting them away from the inflicted young lady.  I can recall instances in game stores where things said or done might make a woman uncomfortable in game stores.  And let’s not forget the sheer variety of comments on our Youtube video channel. We’ve had everything from purely crude to the subtler, ever-present discussion about hair styles.  So yeah, it’s not surprising that we have a problem (even if I wouldn’t go so far as to use the word terrorist).

One thing that was written in the article that started it all jumps out to me:

Gamers bemoan the loss of the local game store while ignoring their culpability for its demise. Amazon is blamed for the death of local game stores, but few gamers stop to question why so many people are choosing to buy social games in such an asocial manner.


In 2014, when I can’t run games anymore, they (the women in her gaming group) splinter off into several different groups. They buy everything online and never set foot in game stores. They’ve learned the hard lessons.

From my experience viewing the customer base at both game stores and at conventions, I can certainly say that this feels true.  I don’t know how many of these female customers purchase from us because of convenience or price and how much it’s because of the anonymity online purchasing offers, but I can say for sure that the number of women customers at Starlit Citadel’s higher than you’d expect.

I guess the point of this post is, yes; this is real. This is happening.  I don’t have stats on it, I have only anecdotal evidence; but this kind of harassment and sexism is more prevalent than some people think.

Edit: One thing that has come to mind that we need to add (see below too on the comments) is that the board gaming community specifically is significantly better than the general tabletop community.  In fact, board gamers in general seem to be more socially adjusted than most – whether it’s because many of us are older (than say CCG players) or it’s a very social gaming experience.

Vancouver Real Estate – a Commercial Perspective

One of the hottest topics in Vancouver is the real estate market.  The commercial side has always lagged the residential side in how fast it expands (historically as I understand it by about 2 – 3 years); but because we’ve been on the rise for over a decade plus, we’ve seen some major increases on the commercial side too.

We don’t own the building we are in, but as a renter it certainly does affect us through property taxes.  As many of you might know, property taxes are calculated as a % of the assessed value of the building.  This means that as the general market rises, our property taxes rise too.

How bad has it gotten? Well, this is the 4th year in this building and our estimated property tax portion is literally double what we were charged in 2013 (edited from 2007).  That works out to nearly a thousand dollar increase in our monthly expenses.

It’s certainly something that has had us seriously considering running away from Vancouver central to a more reasonable location outside of town.  Of course, we know that’s going to affect our local pickup customers, but one of the major calculations we have to do is how many customers we might lose compared to how much we might save.  We’re still locked in for this one year, but after that… well, we’ll see.

Spinning wheels

Posts on the business side have been particularly quiet lately.  There’s a lot of things going-on behind the scenes of Starlit Citadel, but most of it would be dead boring to those not involved in it.  For example, the last few months have been a huge struggle getting our database from the site-merge between SC and Fortress Geek sorted out.   Hours and hours of combing through data, checking over products and finally, the final site-merge which has still left numerous bugs in the other site.

None of that is of interest to people outside, beyond the occasional bugs that crop-up on the site because of the work we’re doing.

On top of that, our Kickstarter Logistics program has seen significantly more traffic (read, I’m giving a lot more people more quotes).  Not a huge amount of additional business and what there is, is months down the road.  However, it is important to get done and I’ve yet to train anyone else to take over the answering of those e-mails, so I’m stuck dealing with it.

All of which mean posts on the business side have been of the lowest priority.  Hopefully in the next few months I’ll have a little more free time to get back to posting.