That’s all folks and thanks for the fish!

As you probably realised, we’ve closed the store for general retail purchasing. While we’ll still be selling & shipping a few items online till Jan 31, 2019, that number is going to drop continuously as we move products to Amazon for final sale. We’ll probably stop even that by the middle of this week or so, depending on orders / quantities / etc.

Any products that we haven’t sold / been able to ship by Jan 31 will likely be donated to a local charity.

We’re also going to be getting rid of all our shelving & other assorted items, so if you know anyone who wants a billion warehouse shelves, do let us know. We’ve also got some old Ikea square shelves that are perfect for board games too.

I did want to clarify something for those who are curious. The main reason for closing the store has been due to a loss of passion on my part for the business. While I’ve tried to reduce the ‘burden’ of work of running the store on me, it’s not really worked out as well as I’d hoped. Considering the significant amount of work I still had to do and the overall headache of keeping the business running along with low interest on my part to deal with the increasing complexity, I decided to take the opportunity of our lease running out to shut the store down. I’d hoped someone would purchase the store since it was profitable, but due to the sheer value (of inventory if nothing else) of what we’d built up, it was, eventually not viable.

The Kickstarter Fulfillment side of the business will continue to exist. That requires minimal work and we should – hopefully – have reached a methodology that will see me with very low total involvement over the next few years. In either case, that will not affect customers.

Lastly, I’d like to thank everyone for their patronage over the years. It’s been an interesting experience running this business, but all good things have to come to an end. After 12 years, running Starlit Citadel has been the longest running job I’ve ever had. I’ve made some great friends and learnt a lot and it wouldn’t have been possible without you. Hopefully we’ve also added a little fun for all of you over the years too.

Business For Sale – PDB Sales Inc.

Big news!

PDB Sales Inc. which includes Starlit Citadel, the Starlit Logistics (our Kickstarter fulfillment brand) and our other online websites is up for sale. After consideration, after over 11 years in this industry, I (Tao) desire to pursue some other projects. As such, rather than just shut down the business entirely, I’d like to see if there is anyone who is willing and able to purchase the business. I’d prefer to sell the entire business (i.e. PDB Sales Inc. corporation) rather than piecemeal, though dependingo n the offer, that might be viable.

What is included in the sale:

  • Websites and backend for online shipping
  • Over 200k of Inventory (book cost)
  • Youtube videos and other graphics
  • Well-trained staff who deal with 95% of everything
  • Documentation on the majority of processes for shipping, kickstarters and more
  • Current lease (expires February 2019 with renewal option for another 2 years)

I believe Starlit Citadel can continue to grow with a passionate owner. Unfortunately, that owner is no longer me. The Kickstarter logistics business continues to grow every year with 0 marketing effort, the retail store does extremely well even in its basement location.

 

Quick FAQs

Are you closing down?

No. The business is going to be open until Feb 2019 at the least. The business is overall profitable, so there’s no reason to shut it down.

What kind of owner is this suitable for?

Realistically, this is a business that works well for those who want to own and run it themselves. While it’s viable to have the professional manager (Paden who is doing a great job) manage it, there is still roughly 10-20 hours worth of backend work that is required a week. In addition, there’s a lot of work that can be done to expand into markets we don’t touch really well (Magic, etc.).

How much do you want?

… as much as possible? Realistically, I’d be happy to discuss with people directly but at a minimum I’d be looking at the cost of the inventory. Most of the inventory is ‘good’ stock and can be liquidated at either cost to customers and the remainder sent for slow resale with a 3rd party business.

If you are interested or know someone who is willing and able to purchase the business, please e-mail me directly at trwong @ starlitcitadel.com.

 

Kickstarters in 2017

As many of you know, we help publishers ship items within Canada. Last year, we did a total of 45 Kickstarters in Canada, more than we’ve ever done. Here’s the list:

 

01.04.17 Santorini
01.19.17 BrilliAnts
01.24.17 Ghostel
01.28.17 Siege of Dragonspear(video Game)
02.2.17 Vampire Hunter D(Comic)
02.9.17 Battleborn Legacy
02.15.17 Dresden Files Card Game
02.16.17 Rare is Everything(Book)
03.02.17 Flying Pig Redux
03.02.17 Unfair
03.09.17 DVP -Shadows
03.14.17 Rare is Blah Redux
03.15.17 GameFolio
03.17.17 Too Many Bones
03.20.17 Gnomi
03.24.17 Betabotz
04.04.17 Pirate Nation
04.7.17 DicenStein
04.11.17 Scurry
05.02.17 Flying Tents
05.04.17 Dark Blades RPG
05.18.17 Cthulhu Wars
05.26.17 Dark Blades 2 RPG
06.1.17 Xia
06.5.17 Cthulhu Wars 2
06.29.17 7th Seas Theaoth
07.13.17 Summit
07.24.17 Star Traders
07.26.17 Shadows over Brimstone
07.27.17  Roswell 51
08.14.17 Brides and Bribes
08.18.17 RDI6
08.25.17 TMB2
09.10.17 GloomHaven!!!!
09.15.17 Stop Thief
09.29.17 Monsoon
10.13.17 Flying Pigs
10.20.19 Caledonia
11.10.17 Mistborn
11.24.17 Bluebeard
12.07.17 Watches
12.18.17 Bullets
12.19.17 BlueBeard
12.29.17 Destiny Aurora
12.29.17 Get off my lawn

Discounting, MAPs and distribution

I was recently at a distributor’s event and was chatting with a few retailers as you do. As always, the talk returned to things like MAP, discounting and sales. Not surprisingly, most retailers are against discounting from MAP (whatever that is in Canada) for any reason.  Since we started as an online retailer, we’ve got a bit more of a nuanced view on this.

Let’s be clear here:

  • Many of our customers purchase from us without ever using our available game space and/or game library
  • A small percentage of customers use our game space, but most do so to play RPGs (our smallest ‘main’ category, even including miniatures)
  • In terms of revenue per square foot, board games are horrible.  We make more sales per sq foot in terms of dice or sleeves or (nearly) CCGs.  The only product line we hold that does worst for us is clothing (and we’re slowly getting out of that line).
  • MAP programs are a one-size fits all solution. What is a ‘good’ price for one market might not be great for another (see different costs for different cities).
  • Retail space is expensive. Especially in Vancouver.  A nearby location on Main & 12th on the corner is currently asking for $60 per sq ft per annum.  If we paid that, we’d be looking at over $16,500 per month.  At our current 50% markup, we’d need to make CAD$50,000 a month just to cover rent.  If we did a 25% markup (what the US does for many online stores), we’d need to be doing $66,000 a month to cover rent. If you assume rent is 1/3 of your expenses, you’re looking at needing to do nearly CAD$2 million annually to just breakeven at 25% markup.

These numbers are why most retailers balk at the idea of ‘discounting’ to match US online store pricing. To just make a little bit of money, you’d need to work incredibly hard.  Now I’ll admit, our numbers are high because we’re in Vancouver, but when the generic call is to ‘discount or we won’t buy from you’, you can see why retailers get upset.

It’s also why many retailers switch focus to CCGs. Margins might not be great (at least in terms of booster boxes) but regular sales of booster packs and great margins on singles mean that it’s significantly better for them to concentrate there.  It’s why we’ve focused development of our sales / events to CCGs in-store at this time (it’s easy to grow from $0…).

However, MAPs also create their own problems (outside of their legality in Canada). If we want to sell / discard old stock (like Android Netrunner’s chapter packs that are no longer going to be in rotation), we can’t.  So we’re stuck with dead stock which any good retailer would want to get rid but can’t.  Worse, it hits online & hybrid stores significantly more – after all, if we just kept the sales in-store, it’s not as if most publishers would ever know.

On the other hand, without MAPs, businesses like Amazon who sell the D&D Core Books for cents over our cost can destroy entire product lines.

If we do have to have MAPs (and it seems like the way this is going), it’d be nice to have them on a rotating basis.  Since the entire industry is front-list driven anyway, keep the MAPs up for the first 3 months or so. After that, games should be taken off it.  This breaks up purchasing by customers who want / need it now and allows businesses to dump bad / old stock without issue.

 

Retail Store Manager

Starlit Citadel is looking for a full-time retail store manager that will drive sales and attendance at the retail store while keeping expenses in-check.  Store manager responsibilities will include supervising assistant store managers, purchasing, merchandising and some customer service.  As a small business, we require a high degree of flexibility in all applicants.

Responsibilities

  • Develop business strategies to raise our customers’ pool, expand store traffic and optimize profitability
  • Meet sales goals by hiring, training, motivating, mentoring and providing feedback to employees
  • Conduct personnel performance appraisals to assess training needs and build career paths
  • Ensure high levels of customers satisfaction through excellent service
  • Work with Warehouse Manager to ensure timely and satisfactory fulfillment of all online orders and inquiries
  • Complete store administration and ensure compliance with policies and procedures
  • Contribute to Social Media presence and building the company brand
  • Weekly purchasing of products from distributors and communication with distributors and publishers
  • Maintain outstanding store condition and visual merchandising standards
  • Report on buying trends, customer needs, profits, etc.
  • Deal with all issues that arise from staff or customers (complaints, grievances, etc)
  • Be a shining example of well behavior and high performance
  • Prepare, pack equipment, travel to and set up material at various conventions in Western Canada
  • Additional store manager duties as needed

Requirements

  • Prior experience as a retail manager
  • Budgeting
  • Customer management skills
  • Strong organizational skills
  • Good communication and interpersonal skills

 

Nice to have

  • Knowledge of Board Games and Board Game industry an asset
  • Knowledge of Magic the Gathering an asset
  • Valid Driver’s License an asset

Contact us at logistics@starlitcitadel.com with why you’d like to work for Starlit Citadel and your resume.  Salary is dependent on experience.

Retail Store Move FAQ

There have been a few questions recently about our move to a retail store, so in an effort to reduce repetition on Elise’s part, I thought we’d just write this post.

What’s your address?

187 East 11th Ave., Vancouver.  Yes, it’s changed slightly as Vancouver City Hall decided to change it.

When is this move happening?

In late-February with our goal of having a soft-opening early March. We are planning on much of the move happening in the week of Feb 20th, though we are hoping to do it in parts to reduce disruption.

Do you need help with the move?

Yes! If you would like to help us move and are free that week, e-mail us at support@starlitcitadel.com.

Are you going to raise prices at the retail store / have 2 tiers of pricing?

No. There is no plans to raise our prices or charge more at the online store / B&M store.  Our prices will stay the same.

Why are you turning off the reward points program?

The short answer is that we are facing issues with integration of the reward points system with the POS software that we intend to use.   In addition, it creates a 2 tier system where customer’s who order online gain the benefit of the reward points while customers who order in-store don’t.   As such, we’ve decided it makes more sense to just remove the entire system and eventually turn it off entirely.

Can I still order online and do Local Pickup?

Yes! We are not turning off this option.  Of course, if you are swinging by, you might as well just order in-store, customers are more than welcome to decide how they’d like to purchase products.

What is another customer picks up the game I ordered? Who has precedence?

In-store customers will generally have precedence over online orders (i.e. if a customer is holding a game in his hand, we aren’t going to tear it out of their hands just because another customer ordered the copy online).  However, we intend to do periodic processing in-store to ensure that products ordered in-store is removed from inventory, reducing issues like this.

Will Gift Cards continue to work?

Yes. We’ll even be looking at creating physical gift cards that customers can purchase and give to others, though that might take a little longer.

What are your hours?

Currently the plan is to be open 10am to 9/10pm Mondays to Sundays.  We’ll adjust as we see how traffic develops and cut / reduce hours for days when things are particularly quiet.

Will you be running events?

Uncertain at this time but unlikely.  We will only know when we have completed the move, but currently, it looks like we will not be able to fit sufficient tables to host events.

Now Hiring – Retail Store Employee (Vancouver, BC)

Starlit Citadel  is hiring again in Vancouver, BC!

This is a year-round part-time position that works in the retail store and at conventions as needed.   With our move to a full brick & mortar location, we have need of a dedicated retail store employee to work with customers at the counter and answer questions.

The retail employee’s main role will be handling customer interactions in the store, assisting customers in locating products and with their product knowledge as well as the checking customers out.   In addition, they will be required to help invoice and pull orders from the online store, receive products and clean and tidy the retail location as needed.  Work at conventions both in Vancouver, BC and out-of-province will be required from time-to-time. Additional projects and one-off tasks will also be assigned from time to time, according to the needs of the company.

As this is the first retail employee hired, the employee will need to be quick on his feet with a preference given to those with previous retail experience (as an employee and manager).  They will at times be required to help develop procedure guides for tasks and help develop better procedures to increase efficiency in the company.  will be provided hands-on training and written procedure guides for all of the above tasks, and will be expected to follow them in order to reduce errors and ensure consistency of service in the company.

This job’s primary hours will be during the Friday to Sunday shifts (8 hours each) with occasional additional hours during weeknights as needed.

Requirements:

  • Full-time availability Saturday & Sunday
  • Familiarity and comfort with computers and data entry
  • Good customer service skills
  • Detail oriented and focused

Nice to Haves:

  • Full-time availability on Friday, partial availability during weeknights
  • Gaming knowledge (specifically board games) and general geek culture knowledge
  • Knowledge of Magic the Gathering
  • Valid class 5 driver’s license
  • Previous retail experience

If you are interested, please send your resume to logistics@starlitcitadel.com with your hours of availability and a cover letter explaining your fit with the job. Please note that this job will initially pay at minimum wage.

Space Confirmed – 185 East 11th Ave – Unit B!

After months of quiet work, we’ve finally confirmed and received our business license from the City of Vancouver.  We can now inform everyone that we’ll still be in the general vicinity of our current location but we will be operating as a full retail store. Here’s a map to our new location as of (tentatively) March 1st, 2017.

This new location is a basement location right under the existing Rollergirl.ca store.

The Plan

The current plan is to shut down operations late February and move and complete set-up before March 1st. At that point, we’ll host a soft opening while we iron out the details of running both a physical store and an online store.  The current expected hours of operation will be 10am to 9pm 7 days a week, with adjustments made as we work out traffic at the location.

We currently believe that there will be space for demo and gaming tables to be included in the store.   If that holds true, we have every intention of hosting regular game nights at the store.  However, we can’t promise this will happen until we finally move in and check how much space we will have used.

Photos of the location will show up once we actually move-in and potentially a longer post with pictures of the before & after.  Let me know if you have any questions!

Diversification and Margins

One of the major themes for us in the past few years have been diversification.   We’ve worked on broadening our revenue streams, not just in terms of new product lines like clothing and figurines but in miniatures too such as bringing in over 400+ new Bones mininatures.   We even briefly tried to bring in Guildball.  In terms of revenue streams, we have the Fortress Geek website, we sell on other channels than the site itself and we have our Kickstarter Fulfillment operation.

We diversify to reduce risk, the same way financial experts tell you not to purchase just a single stock.  Sure, you can make a lot of money doing so and if you are lucky enough to catch the ride horse / buy the right product line / stock,  you should ride it out as long as you can, but at the same time, not diversifying / taking your profits is dangerous.  When the bubble pop’s, it pop’s.

I’m thinking a lot about this recently due to the increasing restrictions we see in the board game trade for online stores as well as the lower than expected sales for Aether Revolt.   As I understand it, a lot of companies are desperate to dump their stock at cost just to recoup their capital.  Even before this though, every summer I used to wonder what we could / should do.  Our sales have always slowed during Summer, both because of release schedules and our customers propensity to enjoy the outdoors.   I always wondered if we should (and occasionally took a look at) more summer oriented items (disc golf was something we considered); but we always came back to keeping it relatively ‘geeky’.

It’s important not just to be diversified but for it to stay to a theme.  We could try to sell sports equipment out of Starlit Citadel, but it wouldn’t make much sense.  And the amount of effort required to build a new website is significant, so much so that the time taken to do so is probably not worth the potential returns.  It’s easier and more efficient to stay to the geeky theme for us while diversifying to different customers rather than trying to attract entirely new customers.  Having sports goods and books and board games all on the same website is something only someone like Amazon or Wal-Mart can do with their marketing dollars and capitalisation.

Product diversification isn’t necessarily easy though.  It takes time to find the right product, money to purchase it and more money and time to acquire new customers.  That means you need to start as soon as you can.  It does help though to have multiple sales channels.  It’s surprising what sells on one channel and which won’t sell on another – the product sales between Fortress Geek and Starlit Citadel are completely different.  Having multiple channels at the same time lets you diversify your risk and potentially speed up your rate of adoption of a new line.

 

Opportunities in the Board Game Industry

A recent post on a forum asking if it was a good idea to start an online game store had me thinking.  The simple answer is no (definitely not in America, not so great in Canada either really).  However, the fact stands that there are a significant number of opportunities in the industry currently which don’t involve direct retail of board games.  I figured I’d detail some of them here (at least from my view point).  Note that I don’t, in most cases, have direct experience so it’s an outsider perspective.

1.  Game Reviewer

Firstly, let’s start by saying that there are only a few reviewers out there who do this full-time.  This is a long-term play as you need to build up enough of a fanbase that they would be willing to pay for you to continue development & publication.  It took us nearly 4 years (over 100+ videos) before we ran our successful Patreon campaign and even then, at $400 per video which came out every 2 weeks, it wouldn’t really be enough for most people to live on.  However, we also only published a video every few weeks and focused on significantly higher production values than most game reviewers, so if you had the time, ability and funds to do this for a year (or two), it should be possible to make a full-time career from it.

The advantage of this is that you’d be playing games constantly unlike other parts of this business.  After all, part of your business is playing games  The negative is that it takes a lot of time to create a video review, so you’d be on a constant ‘mill’ of content development.

2. Game Accessory Retailer / Manufacturer

An interesting area that has cropped up is the development and sale of game accessories.  Whether it’s sleeves, tokens or inserts, there does seem to be some demand for this.  My guess is that the actual margins on producing and selling multiple tokens is quite high once you get past the set-up cost.  The negative is that you are targeting a small portion of an already small market, so I’m not sure there’s enough of a market to generate a decent income.  On the other hand, if you can combine this with sales to publishers for their prototype designs, there could be a decent business here.

3. Publisher

This is probably one of the two areas that I’d certainly look into more significantly if I had the time and capital.  With Kickstarter available these days, capital requirements are actually significantly lower than previously (I’d guess between $3-5k per game for artwork, design and testing and prototypes to be sent to reviewers).  Risk is significantly lower as you are able to crowd-fund the cost of publication to start.  The major disadvantage (beyond the significant time investment to find and playtest games) is the time-lag.  It seems to take between 8 to 12 months to produce a game and most backers would prefer to see the delivery of their first game before you begin Kickstarting a second game.  As such, until you’ve developed a significant following (and/or have a decent hit for a game), your income is likely to be pretty low for the first few years.

4. Game Publishing Management (ala Game Salute)

Game publishing management is something I haven’t seen since tried since Game Salute.  Rather than being a full publisher (purchasing rights, developing the art, etc.), that there might be a space in the market for someone to work as a contractor to aid in the marketing, design & manufacturing and importing of the game.  Certainly it’d require quite a bit of knowledge in this area and and it’d be tricky to work out compensation.  If you charged an hourly rate, you might not be as attractive to a new publisher, but if you did it on a commission basis, you run the risk of a failed Kickstarter (or low funding Kickstarter) since you aren’t personally choosing / editing the games yourself.

5. Distributor

This is really only for those with a lot of money and probably not in the USA. I know at least in Canada, we could probably do with a well-funded West Coast distributor and I’m sure there are significant opportunities for distribution in other countries.  When I say a lot of capital though, I’m talking in the millions.

6. Game Cafes / Restaurants

The hottest trend in retail is game cafes & restaurants.  This seems to be quite profitable if you could can locate a good spot that is large enough and can be staffed regularly.  This is the other area I’d recommend putting money into if you had the desire to get involved with the game industry.  Unlike publishing though, this requires significantly more retail.   From my estimatation, you probably need at least CAD$30k to barebones launch a business and I’d really not want to get involved without at least $60k.  Comfortably, you’d be better of with $100k.

7. Rulebook reviewer / editor

If you’re reading this, you know how many bad rulebooks there are out there.  If you have the skillset to write good rules, this is probably a good market to get into.  This is however (like being a cover artist / board designer) something that is very skill dependent.

8. Game Designer

Unless you become a publisher yourself, most game designer’s aren’t able to make a living just designing board games.  On the other hand, you don’t have to put up a lot of money for this and who knows, maybe you’ll design the next Pandemic / Catan / Scythe and end up raking in royalties forever.

9. Comprehensive Board Game Website (competitor to BGG)

Everyone thinks the design on BGG is horrendous.  They’ve been working on a version 2 of the site forever.  So far, no one has come up with a serious competitor to the site but considering the sheer volume of advertising / marketplace sales and industry information there is, I would have to say there’s a significant revenue source here.  Of course, this requires specific skillsets, a decent capital bank and reliable servers, but I’m sure there’s a business case in here somewhere.

10. Kickstarter Fulfillment

We do this as Starlit Citadel Logistics.  There is certainly money in this business, but it is fast getting extremely competitive in Canada & the USA.  Outside of those countries, South America and Asia seems wide open and potentially Europe (or at least, there’s no leading player in Europe from what I understand).  The biggest barrier to entry in this area is shipping cost.  Many of the established players are able to get significant volume discounts from the courier companies and as such, unless you have an existing business that does a lot of shipping, this could be a major disadvantage.  Other things to watch out for in this business is that income is not predictable – you could do 3 Kickstarter’s in a week and then nothing for a month or 3.  Lastly, most Kickstarter’s break out (from what we’ve seen / been told) into the following volumes – 60% USA, 10% Canada, 20% Europe & 10% everywhere else.  If you assume most Kickstarter projects fund at the 1000 backer level, there’s only a small number of shipments everywhere but the USA which means you’d need to get a significant number of projects signed up to make a decent living.  Then again, there are always the mega projects (Kingdom Death anyone) that help pay the bills for months…