2016 in Review: 2 Steps Forward, 1 Step Back

2016 has been a mixed year for us, mostly with overall improvements in the business but with some setbacks as well.

Industry Consolidation & Restrictions

We continued to see industry consolidation including the purchase of F2Z by Asmodee creating a single company that now owns about 70% of all board game sales.  We’ve already seen (and expect to see) further increases in our base pricing (as it stands, Asmodee products direct from Asmodee Canada are marked at 40% discount with an exchange rate of 1.5!).  In addition, PSI is working to block the sale of games to online only stores, which has caused some issues for us (especially during Christmas) in terms of availability.

I expect we’ll see even more price increases / restrictions in the coming 6 months as Asmodee North America decides what they are going to do about Canada and other publishers follow suit in an attempt to reduce the price devaluation of their products online.  This has been a trend in the last few years and I don’t expect it to change.  It does however put us in an interesting position, which leads to…

Geek Product Explosion

Armored Batman Figurine!Most of you probably noticed the huge increase in geeky products including clothing, pop figurines, graphic novels and more.  I know it’s caused some difficulty in finding new board games, which is why we created a whole new category for listing new board games, but it’s not perfect as yet.  The goal is / has been to widen and diversify our categories such that we are not as dependent on board game sales.  We’ve now reached what I expect to be a stable inventory value / volume, and we’ll just be rotating product like our board games for the next year.

Backend & Stock Management

We mentioned last year we were looking at better ways to managing stock.  That meant trying to (again) implement an ERP system.  That did not go well, and after 6 months of struggling with the software, we put it to bed before the Christmas season started.  It was painful in many ways since it did make ordering simpler, but order processing more difficult.  Unfortunately, it also meant that our push towards using barcodes went haywire.

Our Location Move

We are extremely close to finalising our location move and once all the paperwork is complete, we’ll be able to provide further detail.  Expect a full blog post about this once it’s ready.  This has / will consume a ton of our time in Q4 2016 / Q1 2017 and probably Q2 2017.

Kickstarter Fulfillment

The other area of major growth for us has been Kickstarter Fulfillment.  From smaller projects like the 7th Seas RPGs to the giant Scythe fulfillment project, we’ve been busy with Kickstarter projects. It’s been fun to work with publishers directly and our current plans including actually going to GenCon & (potentially) BGGCon to meet more publishers in-person. It’s never (likely) going to be a huge business in Canada since our population is so small, but it does pay for the occasional nice meal :).  You, our regular online customers actually benefit on the backend as the more product we ship, the greater our ability to negotiate lower rates.  It’s probably something you might have noticed in mid-May as we dropped rates by over a $1 all across the board as we signed a new contract.

Conclusion

Overall, 2016 was a good year.  We saw overall decent growth in our main game sales with some good growth in our new product lines / areas of business.  With the big move, it’ll be time to consolidate further and trim product lines and selection to increase turn rates and provide a higher overall return from our investments.

Conventions – GottaCon & Toronto

I’ll write a much longer blog post later when I have time, just got back from the second convention in a row that we have gone through and am still somewhat bushed.  On a personal good note though, I have managed to somehow miss the Con-lurgy.   I too am amazed.

We did GottaCon at the start of this month and the new location and format had both it’s high points and low points.  Being based downtown, the convention was amazingly well situated with food options easy to get to and hotels a short walk away.  The fact that the convention was split over multiple rooms and floors was a bit of a problem in terms of concentration of events, but it did mean that con-goers could just focus on what was most important to them.  It was also really, really nice to have carpeted floors to stand on.

For us, the big problem was having to move-in / set-up the day before and setting up for the school event that was a huge bust.  The children basically paid no attention to us as vendors, which was understandable – but it did cost us a significant increase in funds to arrive a day early and staff the booth.  Hopefully, this will be changed again.

The board game section was once more buzzing – there were 22 ‘main’ tables and another side room with another half-dozen tables, all of which were packed during the busiest periods.  In fact, there weren’t enough tables at some points during Saturday.

Overall, we enjoyed ourselves at GottaCon and will definitely be back next year.

As for the other convention, we visited as Fortress Geek; so I’m going to just say that if you do live in Toronto; the Toronto Comic-Con is a ton of fun.

Post Con Report : Gottacon

We just came back from Gottacon and while we are still recovering from the 15 hour days.  Gottacon this year was as big, if not bigger than last year and it was an interesting year all around.

Day 1

Load up and go.  We generally pack the day before and just load the van in the morning to catch the 11am ferry and this year was no different.  Load out was easier this year in general too – we tried our best to restrict what we were bringing across to games we knew were going to sell and dropped a bunch of other games.  It didn’t help that sales throughout the week were good enough that we actually had less of some bestsellers in-stock than we had expected.

This year we skipped staying at the Howard Johnson in an effort to save our backs (horrible beds) and booked another motel (the Super 8).  We had about 2 minutes in the room, long enough to drop off clothing before we had to rush to Gottacon and begin unpacking.  As usual, a single booth never seems enough space when you start out and we certainly ended up with boxes unpacked and hidden beneath the tables.  A quick walk-around showed that we had a lot more competition this year too – there were a total of 5 game stores and another independent seller at Gottacon this year.  That was obviously slightly worrying for us, but it seemed many game stores had decided to ‘specialise’ in one area; whether it was miniatures, CCGs, accessories or board games (us).

Kaja in the booth - a brief moment of rest
Kaja in the booth – a brief moment of rest

Once the doors opened at 5pm, the next 6 hours passed by in a blur.  Con-goers were streaming in much more quickly this year, which meant people were playing and shopping immediately.  This was a major change from the year before and we have to give kudos for Evan & Carson for fixing the lineup problem that arose last year.

Game tables were packed almost immediately between the various demos, tournaments and open play.  If anything, we definitely needed at least another 3 tables for open play it seemed.   At 11.30pm we decided to call it a day, though we might have to look at staying open later next year.  Certainly con-goers were still running around shopping it seemed, though at a significantly slower pace by that time.

Day 2

Day 2 started at 9am for us (okay, 9.05am when we got to the Con) and almost immediately we started doing sales.  Sales moved in fits and starts throughout the day, with customers coming in waves as various games and panels finished.  This helped us pace the day, giving both Kaja and I time to take quick breaks to look around the Con.

2013-02-02_14-47-25_787_Victoria2013-02-02_14-48-48_875_VictoriaThere was definitely a lot to see – the board games tables were constantly packed with players with over 16 tables in-play at any one time. Day 2 was also the day of the costume contest with some amazing costumes on display.  On the left is our favorite of the con.

The other sections of the con were always busy though we didn’t see much of it at all.  Certainly the miniature section was very busy whenever we glanced over.

The silent auction as always had some amazingly good deals, with a wide range of items ranging from board games to miniatures to fantasy books available.  The silent auction is probably one of the better parts of the con with such a wide range of products available at sometimes a steal of a price.

Starlit Citadel was running 2 tournaments ourselves, the first a Race for the Galaxy tournament in the morning that had 12 participants and later, in the evening a Dominion tournaments with 23 participants.  The Race tournament went off without a hitch with a lot of happy players and I’m quite happy with the new format (single game elimination with the winner going to the final round where 3 games were played for a $15 gift certificate prize).

The Dominion tournament on the other hand was a bit of a mess, with too many games played (i.e. too much time) and too much confusion.   I’ve definitely got to edit the tournament format; though thankfully everyone involved was generally happy with the overall experience.  Certainly, the finals was nail-biting – everyone ended up winning a game (tie in game 1 between 2 players) so the winner’s were decided by overall points.  The overall winner came from behind and won by amassing 40 points in a last round filled with Witches & Curses.

Sales were busy but started tapering off towards the evening, which meant that Kaja managed to make it to the RPG Improv for the Standard Action Panel.  In Kaja’s words – “I got to play a Goblin“.  That might have been followed by a squee.  I understand there were props, plot cards, singing and a video.

With most gamers having wandered off by 12.30am; we decided to call it an evening  and headed to bed.

Day 3

Day 3 – the final day – started at 9am too but really, most people wandered around like zombies till at least noon.  With sales and traffic slow, I took the chance to do some gaming and broke out Glory to Rome Black Box and Clash of Cultures.  Both were great games to play, with the new edition of Glory to Rome doing some things better (easier sorting and design) and others worst (diagonal stripes that hurt the eyes – really?).  Clash of Cultures was a lot of fun, it’s a streamlined Civilization game that is to civilization games what Eclipse is to Twilight Imperium.  I’m definitely looking forward to trying that one again.

In the afternoon things picked up, with more customers coming by to purchase last minute products.  At this point it seemed some of our over-zealous streamlining of products brought hurt our sales with quite a few games out of stock.  There were also some customers who came by looking for last minute con deals who left disappointed as we don’t do con deals.  Overall, sales were much slower than last year’s con – a factor it seems due to the last minute deals the rest of the vendor’s room was conducting.

Packing up was murderous – long days made both of us move a lot slower than normal and the lack of a proper load-out option meant that load out took forever.  Gottacon definitely needs to work out a better plan for that since by the time we drove to the ferries, we had missed our reservation window.

Last Thoughts

GottaCon was a lot of fun and certainly (in terms of sales for us) worth going.   While the increased competition did hamper us a bit, the increased number of con-goers seemed to make up for it.  I certainly think most attendees had a good time as well, with the amazing amount of gaming that was going on.  The larger number of demos and tournaments were great and the panels seemed to do very well with attracting interest from players who wanted a break from pure gaming.

As a gaming event, Gottacon is probably the biggest there is in BC by a large margin.  It’d be nice to see a similar event in Vancouver, with the current closest options being VCon and Bottoscon in October & November respectively.

Some things that could have gone better include:

  • more ventilation (especially by Saturday evening, it was just ridiculous how stuffy it was)
  • more variety in dealers booths (and a larger dealer area).  While I personally wouldn’t want more game stores, I do believe the con could do with a wider variety of dealers
  • a better load out plan – having the main loading area blocked off during load out because the video gamers were busy was a pain
  • more water – having volunteers drop by with water was great.  Having them drop by only twice during the 3 days was not
  • healthier food choices – while I understand we’re all gamers, it’d be nice if the cafeteria had some healthier food options rather than just pizza / donuts / chocolate bars on offer.

VCon 2013 – 10 Lesson in Sales

VCon Booth
VCon Booth 2012

We have been doing VCon (a local science fiction & fantasy convention) for 5 years now; and this year as always was great fun.  We always enjoy doing VCon as a convention – both the dealers and the guests are really nice and the atmosphere is fun.  However, instead of doing a con report (which really, would be boring since we never see a Con as we work all weekend long); I thought I’d discuss the various sales lessons I’ve learnt watching all the vendors work.

Lesson 1 – Have Fun

Professor Whovianart epitomizes this – he just thoroughly enjoys himself at the con.  He’s always happy, bouncy and just exuded fun.  It makes congoers stop; chat with him and hang around his booth.  He doesn’t have to sell his products to you, you sell it on yourself because you just enjoy your time with him.  That sense of fun is easily picked up, and his tables are always busy.

Lesson 2 – Looks Matter

VCon is filled with beautiful costumes, corsets  and clothes.  There generally are 3 to 4 vendors selling those items, and all of them look gorgeous.  Most importantly, most of the time the clothes are well displayed which just slows down the congoers, long enough for you to interact with them.

Another method I’ve noticed is the gimmick.  Whether it’s a particularly well-displayed, outlandish or just cool item; it helps you attract attention and strike up a conversation.

Lesson 3- Put it in their Hands

Felix & Kitty do this really well by dressing up anyone who even looks mildly interested in their clothes. By putting someone in their clothes, letting them see themselves how beautiful / handsome they look; they break down another barrier of objections. The more expensive the item is, the more important this is.

Lesson 4 – Keep them comfortable

Oh yes, definitely do this. More than a few vendors pull customers aside, giving them a space to browse / view their products in peace.  Whether it’s a changing room or just a corner to take funds, keeping customers comfortable means they are more inclined to spend time with you, which leads to a higher chance of a sale.

Lesson 5 – Ask for the Sale

It doesn’t have to be a hard sell, but you have to ask for it.  Sometimes, the very act of asking the question ‘should I write this up for you?’ or its ilk is enough to make the sale when a customer hesitates.  Sometimes, it’s what you need to get them to tell you what they actually want – which might not be the game / jewelry / item you are looking for.

Lesson 6 – Take it all 

I mean payment types that is.  The vendors who have the most options for taking payments often do the best, especially on later days as ready cash runs low.

Lesson 8 – Grease the Wheels

This is something VCon does very well.  They give $2 away to each attendee ($1 if you are there for a single day) to spend in the Vendor’s room.  This is the only place you can spend the money; which makes certain that most attendees (a) visit the vendor’s room and (b) are looking to buy something

Lesson 9 – Variety is the spice of life

Lastly, and leading on to the above; it’s always good to have a variety of items that can be bought at different price points.  BC Chains does well with their mini-badges that can be bought for a few dollars as well as their more expensive items.  It also includes just variations on the same thing; like a corset design in multiple colours / fabrics or earrings with different stones.

Lesson 10 – There’s Space for Everyone

This year, among the vendors there were 2 individuals selling Chainmail jewelry / items, 5 (or was that 6?) clothing vendors, 2 book publishers, a leather worker, 2 game stores and a leather-worker.  That’s pretty close to what we’ve had for 5 years, with a few new vendors coming and going.  Everyone builds their own clientele, their own sales and the atmosphere is pretty cordial.  It’s not a zero-sum game, and so everyone just has fun.