Hey gang! Bryan the owner here with another episode of Game Store Transparency Corner! Today we’re going to talk about the increasing importance of preordering the stuff you want. But first…
TL;DR: Preorders are an important way for us to gauge interest in a product, and help ensure a copy is ready for you. You get 10% off and you don’t pay until you pick it up.
Some Current State-of-the-Industry Provenance and Opinion
There has never been a better time to be a board game fan. New players are entering our amazing hobby every day. Specialty/hobby games are becoming mainstream and normalized. The games themselves are (for the most part) more professionally made, better designed, better tested, and more fun. And new games are coming out all the time. But that’s actually becoming a bit of an issue. New games are coming. All. The. Time.
It was estimated that about 3500 gaming products released in 2017. In 2018, that estimated number increased to about 5000. That’s almost 15 new products every single day including weekends. Now, that includes expansions and miniature figures and dice and lots of little things, but a lot of it, a whole lot of it, has been new products. A lot of those products came from companies that saw the growth of board gaming (one of the few segments of the toy industry that is growing) and jumped on that band wagon. Some successfully, others not so much. Some of those products came from Kickstarter, but honestly not that many. Kickstarter is a cool source for interesting games, and we back a lot of projects, but it’s actually a pretty small slice of the games industry pie. And lot of those products came from established publishers who looked at the growing marketing and cranked up the machine.
And you know what? That’s great! Choice is good! Selection is good! The quality of games coming out right now has never been higher. And even better, our industry is still growing. Sales as a whole are up. There has never been a better time to be a game fan. Or a game retailer.
But what’s not so great for retailers, distributors, and even the publishers, is managing the fire hose. When I’m Board first opened, it was a relatively easy thing for me to carry “everything.” Now obviously I didn’t carry everything, but I think you will agree that our selection has always been pretty top-notch. Unfortunately, maintaining that selection is becoming more and more difficult every day. And you see the effects all up and down the chain…
- From a consumer standpoint, we hear every day that “there are too many great games.” And for game fans, that’s actually becoming a bit of an issue. There’s only so much space in your game shelf, or in your game budget.
- From a retailer standpoint, we are inundated every day with new product information. So much stuff is being announced and planned and ordered and shipped and stocked and restocked and keeping up is not easy. You can come in almost every day and the games on our New Releases shelf have rotated. So many new things are coming in it is sometimes hard to keep the spotlight on a new game for more than a few days! And like your game shelf, we only have so much space on ours.
- From a distribution/supplier standpoint (the vital intermediaries who enable us to one-stop-shop most products without having to buy direct from every publisher), they are having a hard time keeping up. Missed products, shipping errors, late or forgotten order fulfillment, allocations, and being too busy moving the new stuff around to restock the old stuff.
- From a publisher standpoint, all three of the other legs of this stool are affecting them in surprising ways. Sudden demand creates severe allocations due to underprinting (and reprints take many months). Printing fewer copies of more games creating launch-day sellouts of some titles, while watching the spotlight shift away from their other titles, tapping revenue.
Back Catalog Blues
I’ve become increasingly aware of an issue that has affected us in the past year, and it really showed it’s head at the GAMA Trade Show in March. The scenario goes like this: A consumer asks us, “Do you have Game X in stock?” As it turns out, we’ve been trying to restock Game X for the longest time, but all our suppliers have been out of stock. This leads us to believe that Game X is currently out of print, and we are awaiting a reprint. At the GAMA Show, I ask the publisher, “When will Game X be reprinted?” They look at me quizzically and reply, “I have a warehouse full of it!” Turns out they have been under the impression that demand for Game X has dropped off, when the real reason may just be that no one knew is was available for sale. I heard that multiple times.
And this “backstocks not being restocked” issue is actually quite problematic. Because while the attention is always on that latest and greatest and the supposed “cult of the new,” in actuality its the classics that keep selling. If you look at I’m Board’s top 50 or so games in 2018, only a small handful of them released that year. A majority were older, established games. Why? Because the hobby is growing, and for new players it doesn’t matter that Ticket to Ride and Pandemic are ten years old.
Another interesting trend is that while our board game sales continue to grow as a category, sales of individual titles, especially new titles, are shrinking. And that makes sense. More titles means more choice. More choice means sales flatten out across the category.
So, What Are the Solutions?
The industry at large is going through some growing pains at the moment, and there are no clear answers. From a publisher perspective, some are shifting their resources away from logistics to focus on their core products. This has been seen in initiatives such as ending the direct sales of their products to stores, or limiting the number of suppliers they sell to. Others have gone the opposite route and created methods for retailers to buy their product directly, bypassing distribution. Some are creating programs with distributors to ensure they always have backstock in place. Some have simply decided to focus on making fewer, better games (and in my humble opinion, AEG has the right idea). Some are testing the Kickstarter waters to use it as a direct sales channel (which is fine by us as long as we get to participate).
From a wide-range retailer perspective, I think retailers as a whole are being more and more cautious. With so many new releases coming from so many sources, stores are drowning in new product, and we are forgetting about the foundational games on which this industry rests.
Specifically from an I’m Board perspective it means we have been, and will continue to be, more selective about what products we bring into the store, and how many copies we initially bring in. More than ever, we’ve been approaching the store like museum curators, making sure the shelves are stocked with the most interesting and in-demand products. If we are not confident a new title will sell amidst all the other new products that are coming out every day, we’re going to give it a pass. It may be that we only bring in one or two copies of something. It may be we see a diamond among the pearls and bring in a whole bunch because we can see the potential (Tiny Towns comes to mind).
But mostly, we are much more likely to pass on a product if no one tells us they want it.
And that’s really the big message here. We are much more likely to bring a game to our shelves if we hear you talking about it. Every day we see new titles and shrug and give them a pass, because we’ve not heard any mention or anticipation. And usually, that’s not a problem. However, every so often that product we never bothered to stock releases and we get unexpected requests for it. Or we only brought in a few copies because we only had one or two people ask for it, and it quickly sells out. Most of the time that’s not too big of an issue – we can probably get that item restocked within a day or so. But other times, it’s too late. Because of all the other issues listed above, that game sold out before it even released and we’re all stuck until a reprint comes.
So, Let’s Talk Preorders
When the above situation happens, I like to think we are a victim of our own reputation. It’s amazing to have the reputation that “I’m Board will have it.” And I’m sure that, on the rare occasion this happens, it’s because the customer simply presumed we would have that item in stock. And that’s a perfectly understandable presumption, because usually we do. But unfortunately, because of the deluge of new products being released every single day, and the issues I mention above, it’s becoming more and more difficult to take the pulse of any one product.
And that’s where preordering helps. Our ordering practices are largely determined by three factors: reputation of the product line or publisher, sheer gut and intuition of the staff, and the number of preorders we receive. Zero preorders? We may bring in 1 or 2, or we’ll just pass on an item. Many preorders? We’ll bring in a whole lot of extra copies. Our customers are a tremendous and valuable resource in this way. This is especially true with the more diverse titles from smaller publishers, but there are even titles from companies like Fantasy Flight that we’ve passed on due to perceived lack of interest.
Other benefits of preordering are, you get 10% off of any item you preorder, and you don’t need to pay for that item until you pick it up! You don’t even need to come in – just call either location (scroll down for hours and info) and we can add you to our list. And of course there is our Subscription Service for those items that have regular releases.
And of course, preordering an item massively increases the odds that we’ll have one for you on launch day!
Even if you are not quite sure that you want to commit to a preorder, we’d still love to hear your feedback! If enough people say “I’m kind of interested in that game,” it can definitely have an impact.
And as Always, Thank You!
Our customers are the life blood of I’m Board, and we appreciate and value every one of you. I hope this little trip down Transparency Boulevard was informative, or at least interesting. If you ever have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact me.
Happy gaming! -Bryan