So a while back I had a chat with Bez (who’s fantastic btw) and was asking how he’s done so well with In a Bind. Generally I was interested, but also I knew I was releasing Escape the Nightmare soon and wanted it to go well. There are some similarities between the games, they’re both party style games, they both try to do something interesting to break the mould, they’re both averaging a respectable 7.3 on BGG (and both having a lower ranking due to having few ratings). Among the things he mentioned that fell into the category of “Stuff Bez did that I did not do for my previous games” was that he’d personally called a lot of shops in the UK and asked them to stock the game. I figured I’d give that a go, so this post is about what went well and what went wrong.
The first step was to get a list of games shops and phone numbers. I couldn’t find a directory for that, so I wound up doing it by hand. My method was to download a list of UK cities and google “Board game shop in [cityname]” for each of them and throw whatever came out into a spreadsheet. That produced a list of 118 bricks and mortar stores.
I have no idea if that’s meaningfully a success or not! How many game shops are there in the UK? Did I find all of them? Half? It strikes me that I’ve no way to know if this list is any good.
In any event, I started calling. My first call could charitably be described as underinformed, but I prefer “unmitigated disaster”. I assumed that having done all of the design work and a lot of the publishing work for these games that I might know enough about them to get through a conversation on the topic “Are these a good fit for this shop and can I order them?” This is because I am an idiot.
In some cases I was blindsided by needing some information that I didn’t make sure that I had to hand. I’d done some preparation and knew things like our price, the retail price, what we were doing about minimum orders and so on – but I also missed some pretty basic things. Should you ever be in a similar position, here’s the list of things you should know:
- The name of the person (or at least store) that you are calling.
- Your name and the name of the company you work for.
- The name of the game that the call is about.
- Where the person you’re talking to can see a picture of the game.
- Where the person you’re talking to can read reviews of the game.
- The MSRP of the game.
- The price you’re charging for the game.
- The minimum order (or in my case the extra charge for orders below a threshold).
- Whether your prices include VAT.
- Whether your company is VAT registered (For those not familiar with UK tax law, if a company is VAT registered then the shop can be reimbursed for the VAT you charge them).
- Whether you operate a sale or return policy (Can they send you the games back and get their money back if it doesn’t sell).
- Whether the game has been released previously (Including Kickstarter – and then things like stretch goals, exclusives and market saturation come into play).
- Your turnaround time (How long it takes you to send more games if they sell out).
- Whether a distributor is carrying it (And if not, why not?).
You may wonder why I bothered to list some of those – surely I did not forget my own name? Well, indeed I did not, but I started that last lot with “In some cases…” In other cases I wasn’t blindsided by not knowing something so much as I was failing to communicate it effectively.
There’s a lot on that list and you don’t want to bore someone to tears with a long spiel when they’ve got a game shop to run – it’s also much much better to have a conversation than a speech (I learned a lot from speaking to people running games stores!) It is surprisingly easy to get enthusiastic with a fellow gamer about something and to forget to mention your name or contact details or the name of the game or something equally basic.
I think that by the end of my list I’d got a much better idea of what I was doing, I wish I’d started out with that understanding. By the end the first thing I said was something like:
“Hi, my name’s Greg, I’m calling from a small UK games publisher because we’ve just released a couple of new games and are talking to people who might be interested in stocking them, can I talk to someone there about that?”
That tended to be enough to be informative and to get me talking to the right person. Pretty soon, someone would want to know what the games were and I’d give a brief (two line) description covering genre and weight and mentioning their average BGG score.
A little detail seemed necessary to make the games stand out, but any more than that seemed like overkill – plenty of time for it if the other person wants to go into detail later. For some reason the BGG score things seemed to be really important. It seems like a lot of game shop owners as an “at a glance” metric for whether a game was worth stocking or not. Possibly because it’s an aggregate score so less prone to being wrong in the way that a single review or other facet might be. It’s not much on its own, but maybe a good indicator for “Should we continue this conversation.”
So, once I knew what I was going to say, could remember to include my own name, had all of the relevant business information and so forth – how did it go?
One store hung up on me. Not a word. Literally listened until “Is there anyone there I can talk to about this?” and put the phone down.
A couple let me know that they were specialist stores and interested in only games from a particular genre. I took a note of that so that I don’t bother them again with things that aren’t their cup of tea.
Seven asked to be removed from my list. I feel pretty good about this, it’s a waste of everyone’s time if they’re not interested so I always tried to be nice about it. In one case it was because the store was closing down in a few weeks because it’s hard to run a FLGS in this economic environment. That was sad to hear about – I heard a lot of stories of people doing different things during this – whatever else happened it was worth it for the stories.
About that many were also not in existence anymore, I’d found websites for game stores that had since closed their doors and no longer existed.
22 I couldn’t get hold of, I always called while their shops were open and tried on different days at different times of day I just couldn’t get them. I dropped them emails instead.
79 asked me to email them more details. This was by far and away the most common response, which made me wonder if it would’ve been better to drop an email in the first place rather than calling. I like the personal touch and I learned a lot from some of the game store owners I talked to, so I’d definitely have lost something important by not calling. On the other hand most people want to be able to take their time and read some reviews before making a decision and an email is a MUCH better format for giving links. I don’t think this was the wrong decision for this project, but I might email first and then call to follow up in the future.
One decided to buy in the games there and then. I wasn’t really expecting anyone to do that, I figured that people would mull over the info and maybe order some when they next restocked. It was really for someone to become so enthusiastic immediately, made my day.
I only finished this process this morning, so it remains to be seen how many stores will decide to stock these games after looking over the extra information that I’ve sent. So far we’ve had 50 games go out to stores, which feels like a nice start – but I imagine I won’t have the real number until a few weeks go by.
This was an experiment for me and I’m still not sure if I did the right thing in the right way. I learned a lot from the process though so I’m glad I did it either way and look forward to seeing how it all turns out.
Before I wrap this up I’d like to shout out to a couple of shops that I dealt with:
Wayland’s Forge is my local FLGS here in Birmingham and has been since I was a teenager spending all of his money on Magic cards. They invited me to physically bring the games in since I was around and are always great to talk to.
Firestorm Games in Cardiff spent a decent amount of time talking to me on the phone fairly early in the process and making me smarter about what I was doing. They’re delightful to deal with and I’m very thankful that they took the time.
They both sell online, so if you’re planning on buying a board game anyway in the near future I’d encourage you to throw a bit of business their way 🙂