The Pursuit of Perfection

I find when I get involved in an area, I find myself extremely critical of it.  Being intimately knowledgable about the subject matter, I find myself hyper-critical, searching for perfection.  In martial arts, a quarter inch difference in targetting could mean a blow having significant effect or none at all.  With the business, I find myself reviewing the store constantly and finding myself hyper-critical about where we stand.

It’s particularly glaring after the last few days when customers have been into the retail store and we’re not where I expect / want us to be.  There’s no signage, pricing isn’t complete, the displays are okay but not great, there’s not enough lighting… the list goes on and on in my mind.

Yet,

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.

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…

 

Summer Promo: $100 Free Shipping Treshold

Free Shipping at $100!Now that Summer’s pretty much here, we’ve decided to lower our free shipping threshold in Canada from $175 to $100. Yes, that’s right. $100.

What’s the catch? Our usual free shipping policies apply.  The $100 threshold is per order and is calculated after discounts but before taxes and shipping is calculated.  Furthermore, if your order has pre-order / backorder items on it, we will hold the entire order till all items in the order are ready for shipping.

Of course, at the new $100 level, you should be able to split your orders quite easily to ensure everything that everything that is in-stock is in one order and everything that is a backorder on another.

Once again, this promotion is running for all of Summer and is scheduled to end August 31, 2016.

Happy Ordering!

 

 

Lion Rampant Open House

We visited the Lion Rampant Open House for the first time to chat with the distributors, some retailers and the publishers.It was a fun event, if exhausting coming on the end of 2 conventions. Between multiple conventions and the time zone differences, I was wiped and didn’t spend as much time gaming as I’d like.  Still, I did get a chance to see some interesting new products, some of which I took photo’s of.

Holmes: Sherlock & Mycroft
Holmes: Sherlock & Mycroft

The Games:

  • Costa Rica by Mayfair Games.  A rather cut-throat push your luck game with set collection where players flip over tiles and collect various animals but must be careful not to get cut off from the island as other hexes are collected out from them.
  • Agricola (vaguely, it’s interesting to see the new design and there’s mentions of new cards)
  • Holmes: Sherlock & Mycroft – a good 2 player worker placement / set collection game that seemed to play fast and make sense, with interesting resource management aspect. Very well put together.
  • Android: Mainframe – obviously one of the most popular games out, this is a multi-player abstract that seems to work very well. Players build out ‘walls’ through the system, attempting to cordon off their own nodes from others while messing with other players.  Quite fun and vindictive, the game is simple to teach too with pretty intuitive iconography.
  • Mystic Vale definitely  needs a closer look. I never had a chance to play a whole game but I like the simple deck-building / card drafting mechanic and the clear cards that combine together.  I think it’s a nice change from the other games we’ve seen, and I think it might be a good game. I just don’t know yet.
  • Boomtown Bandits is a fun dice rolling fighting game with a Western theme.  Fans of Cash’n Guns would probably like this – it’s a light-filler with tons of randomness but some fun shouting and lots of dice rolling.

Networking:

  • As always, networking at these events is interesting. We managed to meet a number of our online competitors and also physical b&m stores and trade war stories about the industry which is fun.  It’s a nice break to chat with people who understand what we are seeing on the backend.  It’s also interesting to note how many old timers there are at this business (there are people who have been around for 27+ years!) and get their perspective as well as the newcomers.  There was a gentlemen who had purchased 3 stores in a year and was now trying to figure out what to do which seemed incredible to me.
  • FFG doesn’t seem to have any major plans (yet) to change what is going on in Canada.  They have to deal with existing agreements which need to either run out or be re-negotiated and of course, Canadian law is somewhat different from US law.  As such, from speaking with them, they aren’t going to be majorly changing what and how they are handling Canada in the near future.
  • Board games are becoming a major part of many game stores businesses which means even more competition for us, but also means that the market is growing.
  • Game store owners are seriously beginning to span a wide range of people from youngsters to old timers. There’s certainly a subtle changing of the guard, especially from the other Open House we went to a few years ago (WA not Canada though)

 

Takeaways:

3D Chess!
3D Chess!

 

  • I really, really want one of these (see right).
  • There’s a lot that we are not able to do as an online store that I’d love to do.  It’s certainly made me think that we need more and more to look seriously at a B&M retail location as well. Of course, we’d need the money for that which is a whole different ball of yarn.  Anyone have a $100k to loan?
  • I really enjoy board gaming and I really should get back into gaming more.
  • Clearance items! We picked up a bunch at the warehouse (just a few copies each) and once they actually arrive here in Vancouver, we’ll throw them up on the site and pass on the savings to you. Have fun!

 

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.

The Ending of the Reviews

It’s an interesting thing to have a massive project (okay, massive for a tiny little business like ours) like the video reviews end. After over 110+ board game reviews and over 145 videos in total, we’re finally calling it a day. Assuming each video review took about 20 hours of work (what we calculated was the average) of production time, that’s around 2,300 hours or nearly 96 days (383 working days at 8 hours each!). That’s more than a year’s worth of work that has been put into the reviews by the Starlit Citadel team and it doesn’t even count the time need to play the games or the time cost of replying to subscribers and handling the various requests for reviews. Put another way, there’s at least half again as much work that went into those reviews than that estimate.

On that note, I wanted to publicly thank Joanna & Kaja once more.  As many of you know, Joanna directed and edited the videos in the last couple of seasons while Kaja was the one who scripted all the videos.  The lion share of the hours you see above are shared by them both and it was their consistent professionalism and dedication that kept the videos at such a high quality level.

What I wanted to highlight as well would be the support staff who were part of the video reviews. Rob Hunt was our initial videographer and editor in the first 2 seasons.  Carla Miller was both assistant videographer during this period and when Rob left, the main videographer. Ashley Young came into play in Season 2 when she started doing the ladies makeup.

While somewhat sad to see the reviews end, I understand the need to move-on. It’s always been a huge time commitment for the ladies and while I briefly (very, very briefly) considered seeing if we could continue the reviews, the fact of the matter stands that the current format & success of the reviews have everything to do with both Kaja & Joanna’s dedication.

2015 In Review: Industry Changes

I occasionally write these posts about the year before, talking about how the year went or not. I sort of didn’t do a massive review for 2014 last year, more discussing what would happen in 2015 instead. This year, I’ll try to get back to doing my usual year in review post.

Exchange Rates

Probably the biggest thing that affected us this year was the increase in the exchange rate.  We’ve gone from around CAD$1.15 to CAD$1.40 in a year with the resulting explosion in prices. For a long-time we held our calculation on the pricing at $1.35 but we’ve had to alter that recently, with the expected resulting price increases over the next month.  Worst, it means to carry the same volume of product (i.e. same number of items); our inventory numbers have just increased by 22%. In the last 2 years, that means we’ve seen an increase of 30% in our inventory cost which as you can guess with a store like ours is a significant bump in inventory.

Out of Stocks and 3rd party sourcing

Another thing that didn’t help was the lack of product for a number of hot games. As usual, Dead of Winter was out of stock for large periods of the year. Same with a number of hot products like Codenames, Pandemic: Legacy and more.  In an attempt to keep stock in-place, we started sourcing from 3rd party websites and managed to keep some of these items in-stock, even if at a much higher price than we’d prefer.

MAP Policies & Acquisitions

Mayfair made a bit of a splash with us late last year with their sudden attempt to implement their MSP policy. Interestingly enough, they just lost their Catan license, which makes them somewhat less relevant as a business for us. Certainly, if we exclude Catan the only games that actually sell regularly for us is Caverna and Patchwork.

Of course, last year was also the year of the acquisition with Plaid Hat joining F2Z (who own Z-Man already) and just at the start of the year, the lost of Catan’s license to Asmodee North America.  I won’t reiterate my discussion about the ANA announcement either, though that obviously was an interesting addition.

Convention Coverage

Perhaps one of the newest additions for our convention coverage was the addition of the Calgary Comic & Entertainment Expo last year. We’d have to call it a success and we’ll be back this year for sure.  In addition, we added Yukomicon to our list of conventions we do with Starlit Citadel last year and we probably will be looking at expanding our convention coverage across more countries next year.

Fortress Geek & Product Range

One thing that readers of this blog might realise is that we’ve been expanding our second business, Fortress Geek; aggressively.  It’s actually growing quite well, but for a variety of reasons (mostly backend and long-term); we’ve decided to integrate both sites.  That’s been.. a mess… but it’s mostly been taken care of, just not in-time for Christmas which was sad.  Still, we’re hoping that the introduction to the site will see a wider spread of sales for Starlit Citadel, diversifying us further.

In the meantime, we’ll continue to push Fortress Geek as a separate site.  There are a few business reasons for that, but it’s also a matter of selection. I expect we’ll be stocking some stuff in FG that just would never make it / sell well in Starlit Citadel.

Overall

2015 was a good year for many reasons. We’ve worked out some backend issues, implemented a series of procedures that have significantly expanded our ability to grow and streamlined processes while continuing to grow our business.  On the other hand, there’s been significant challenges in terms of our stock and stock management and it’s probably the biggest area that I need to work on.  Our old methods of dealing with stock just no longer work, at least at the level that we need it to with the worsening exchange rate.