Business Plans – Write one or not?

It’s strange. I know a lot of people (including us!) pour hours into writing a business plan.  When we first launched, I know I devoted a ton of time writing one.  In the years since then, I’ve worked with a few other businesses and launched others and in all these cases, the work being done being an Internet / Digital business, we didn’t bother with a business plan.  A lot of the time, those businesses failed, a few times, it went well.

Looking at our options and what we did, I wonder if it makes sense to write one.  I know, best practice wise that you should.  However, after a while,  you realise that you end up asking those questions yourself anyway.  Of course, it might vary a bit depending on how much money you are really talking about – most of our other businesses that we ‘launched’ we were talking $5-10,000 in expenses.  Launching a business like Starlit Citadel cost significantly more.

However, if you know the business (or just business in general), sometimes the time taken to write a formal business plan could be spent doing more important things – like research into your location or your competitors or ways to save money on the business.   To me, a business plan is a way of asking the important questions in a structured way, but if those questions are being answered, perhaps it doesn’t matter if it isn’t written in Times New Roman, 12 font, double-spaced with proper titles.  Maybe it’s just better to make sure the questions are answered and you are moving ahead.

Certainly, I’ve seen a number of businesses die in the business plan phase, not because of the lack of capital or time but because businesses moved too slow and another business came in and did it.  Sometimes, it might just be better to fly with the seat of your pants.

Just don’t spend more than you can afford to lose.

Survey Comments: Rambling On (Part 2)

Continuing to part 2 of our on-going answer to some comments / suggestions in our latest survey.  Part 1 is here.

Your selection isn’t large enough / Carry more stock

I grouped these comments together because they are actually two sides of the same coin.  The problem is the wider our selection grows (the more different SKUs we carry); the harder it is to go ‘deep’ on individual games.  It’s all a matter of capital – if we stock 1000 games at an average cost of $20, it’d cost us $20,000.  If we stocked 2,000 games at the same average cost, it’d cost us $40,000.

The other problem we’ve slowly realised is that as we grow larger, the need to stock higher quantities for a larger number of ‘good’ games increase.  Basically, as we get more customers the ‘type’ of customers we get and their tastes broaden, requiring us to broaden the amount of stock we have of the more ‘popular’ games.  As such, where we might stock say 3 copies of 20 games a year ago, now we might have to stock 3 copies of 30 games.  Again, this requires more working capital.

All this is to say, our selection has broadened somewhat but we’ve also grown deeper.   Unfortunately, it’s rather obvious that we haven’t grown deep enough – the rate of stock-outs has been something we’ve been concerned about; and most of it is due to the lack of capital (or the need to have a higher level of capital).

We’ll need to work on this, and hopefully increase our total levels soon.

More stock of newly released games

For the most part, we stock new releases using a simple formula – number of pre-orders * 2 = number of quantities we request.  However, one issue that happens with games with good ‘buzz’ is that in the last week before a game releases (often long after the game has started shipping to us and/or the pre-order window has closed with the distributor); we see a massive surge in orders.  So, for example – we have 6 pre-orders 2 weeks from release.  We have 12 games on pre-order.  In the final 2 weeks; we see another 5 games sold of this pre-order.

Suddenly we go from having a decent 6 copies ‘free’ to 1 copy free.

Of course, you’re saying ‘well, you should order 3 times pre-orders then’.  Except this doesn’t happen for every game – it happens maybe 1 in 5 times.  So some games might have 6 games on pre-order with us, we order in 12 copies, 0 sell additional in the next 2 weeks and we end up with 6 games ‘free’.  Which is fine – but those 6 games might take another month to rotate out of stock.

Basically, if you want a game; pre-order it at least a month from when it’s expected to release.  We don’t charge your card and we even provide double Citadel Points just so we can gauge demand.  If you don’t pre-order, well that’s a decision you’ve made. Sorry!

Bring in Imported Games

We tried this once.  It was a dismal failure – we lost quite a bit of cash trying to get rid of stock.  What we found was that it just wasn’t worth the cost and time to bring in imported games when many of these games would be brought in later on by publishers in much larger quantities and thus lower cost.

Truthfully, unless there was a lot of demand for a specific game (like Bunny, Bunny Moose, Moose) there just doesn’t seem to be sufficient demand to make bringing in imported games worthwhile.  Of course, that doesn’t mean we can’t special order such games in – and if sufficient number of customers started asking for a game(s); it might be worthwhile for us to look into once more.

Pre-painted miniatures for normally unpainted mini’s

Again, something that we’ve tried to set-up before.  The issue really wasn’t on the customer’s part – it was on ours and our inability to locate a reliable miniature painter.  Finding someone who’d be willing to do this kind of work on a regular / reliable basis.  It’s also a low-demand service (at least we thought so); so one thing that we haven’t devoted a lot of time to.  We’ll put our thinking caps on and see if we can find someone(s) who might be willing to do this and the cost / price.

Wider selection of meeples and tokens

I guess we have a wider variety of game designers out there than we thought.  We’ve got an order in for a wider variety of tokens, hopefully it should be enough when it arrives (look out for arrival in 2 weeks or so).  If not, we can certainly go looking for more…

Help me connect with gamers!

Ooof – that’s an interesting series of comments.  They range from suggestions that we run events to forums to conventions.  I’m going to have to think about this one a bit more, I have a germ of an idea (and long-time customers know we tried forums once to dismal failure); so we’ll get on this project after Christmas.

Working with Kickstarter project creators / being a distribution hub for Canada

This is actually a really interesting idea.  I played with it for a short period but after talking to a few developers, realised that the number of actual Canadian Kickstarter backers was somewhat smaller than I thought (in the low 30’s I believe was the number).  While we have both the space and expertise to ship orders out for developers (and help them lower their overall cost I’d guess); the potential revenue at those numbers seemed way too low to be worth the ‘chase’.  If we say charged a handling fee of $5 for each order we processed, at 30 backers that’s only $150.  In between there’s a lot of leg-work working with the developers to pitch the idea to them, working out a contract, doing the import paperwork, receiving the delivery and finally the shipping (and handling of shipping issues).  Of course, the numbers change if we can work with a more successful project; but guessing which one’s those are are somewhat more difficult.

I wouldn’t say no a developer approached us, but it’s a project that for now is on the low-end of the priority scale for us.

Online supplier for independent game producers (small scale orders or consignment).

It’s an interesting idea but most publishers that I know of would not want to place the items with us on consignment.  Don’t forget – we have a limited amount of space, so we’d have to put a limit to how long ‘non-moving’ stock could stay with us.  Which would mean we’d either junk them / destroy the games eventually or they’d have to pay return shipping too.

Shipping games direct to us in small quantities is a great example of why distributors exist – if we purchase 2 copies of a game, on average it’d cost a publisher $7.50 per game just to ship those games.   That’s a huge chunk of profit loss.

Again, it’s an interesting idea and we’d be willing to talk to publishers to work on a consignment basis, but it’s just a low-priority / low-profit project.

Okay, next set of ramblings is going to focus on the video review comments.



Survey Comments: A Rambling Answer (Part 1)

Question 28 of our survey was an open-ended question.  It was:

Is there an unaddressed need in the gaming market that we should focus on?

There were quite a few different answers in the question, but I thought I’d group some of the most common comments and our own thoughts.

On-site 3D-printed miniature service, from a basic modeling system.

Ummm… hmmm. Considering we’re an online store; it’d be interesting in that we’d have to then ship the orders out.  I just don’t see us getting into POD miniatures just yet.  For us, we need to increase our ‘regular’ miniature lines first.

Build a Board Game / Gaming Cafe / Game Store

There are a few reasons why we’ve not launched a gaming cafe.  Among them:

  • Lack of funds
  • Lack of expertise (never worked a cafe before)
  • Lack of time

I don’t see any of that changing in the near future.  The only way we’d be launching a game cafe or even a B&M store in the next 3 to 4 years would be if we did it as a partnership.

Lower Shipping Costs

Sadly, there’s very little we can do to alter shipping cost or ship times.  Shipping methods and cost, are a complicated matter but at the end of the day you’ll ‘pay’ for the shipping whether by higher prices or a lower margin on the retailer’s side.  Of course, there’s always the lowest level in margin that one can take; and so we come back to the customer ‘paying’ for shipping one way or the other.

Running regular gaming days

Again, not as viable as we’d like.  To start, we’d have to book a location.  Then we’d have to staff it (and pay for staffing).  Since it’d be a 3rd party location, we’d have to look at either bringing stock in regularly or foregoing any sales (most likely the latter for simplicity’s sake).  All of that is an additional cost, over and above what we have already.  It’s one thing when it’s part of your regular location (and can thus be easily monetized); another when it’s in a separate location I believe.

Warhammer 40k

As an online store, that’s not viable due to Game Workshop restrictions.

Storage Solutions for Large Games and Games and Expansions

Now this was interesting.  I’m not sure it’s something we can do ourselves; but it’s certainly something we will look into.  It’s one of those things that steps outside of our normal skillsets, but it is one of those suggestions that we were looking for.

Game Salute Games

Another interesting suggestion.  We did have the possibility of receiving Game Salute Games, but on a consignment basis at a much lower than normal margin.  Considering the cost of actually handling and managing a consignment of these games, we decided to forgo the option.  One particular case (Free Shipping) is a great example of why we’d need a higher (or our normal) margin at the least before we integrated Game Salute Games.  Till that percentage changes, we just can’t afford to do it.

Okay, that’s enough for now  – more comments in the next post.