5 Massive Mental Shifts I Made While Breaking into the Board Game Industry

Posted on 2 CommentsPosted in Dev Diary

Dev Diary posts are made to teach game development through specific examples from my latest project: Highways & BywaysJust here for Highways & Byways updates? Click here.

 


 

Entrepreneurship is hard. One of the hardest parts of entrepreneurship is knowing when to change your mindset. We all go into our day-to-day endeavors saddled with a set of assumptions on how life works. Our assumptions are always a little bit wrong, but the act of assuming we know how to act is sometimes a useful way to deal with the bigger enemy of indecision. That said, from time to time, we all must undergo the painful process of changing our belief systems to move forward in life.

 

 

1) You must build an audience before you launch a product.

In February 2016, I launched War Co. on Kickstarter for the first time. It was a dismal failure. The game was about 50% complete and I had not spoken to any board gamers or card gamers prior to launch. In fact, I had no real understanding of the board game industry as a whole. I had no idea what I was doing. On this very blog, I’ve analyzed things that I did wrong with War Co., viciously eviscerating my own work despite the fact that I’m pretty happy with it.

We’re not talking about a laundry list of things I did wrong today, though. We’re talking about earth-shattering paradigm shifts that rewired the way I think. This failed Kickstarter launch did just that. I immediately understood – both intellectually and emotionally – how critical it was to build an audience before launching a product. “Build it and they will come” is false in the board game industry.

 

 

There are a few ways you can build an audience, but they more or less boil down to “talk to a bunch of people” or “get your game in front of people who’ve already done that.” For your own sake, I recommend you do both. People you talk to individually will be the most loyal to your cause, and people who find you through others who have a larger platform – who will come in far greater numbers – will be more likely to stick around if you’ve already got a lively community of your own.

There is a reason why A Crash Course in Board Game Marketing & Promotion is one of my most popular articles on here. A lot of people have come to realize just how important it is to build your own audience.

 

2) It takes more than one game to make a viable business.

I’m going to tip my hand a bit here. I’m still a pretty new game developer. I’m committed to sharing all my knowledge for our greater good, but I should not be regarded as a veteran like Jamey Stegmaier or James Mathe. Why? A little something I realized in March 2017: it takes more than one game to succeed in this industry. I’m working on my second: Highways & Byways.

It took me a long time to realize this. I wanted to just make War Co. and call it a day. I didn’t intend to get into the board game industry, but I ended up really liking it anyway. Still, it took me until March 2017 – ten months ago, mind you – to finally take Pangea Games seriously and start working on a second game.

Why does it take multiple games to make a viable business? There are several factors at work. You need money to have a viable business and board game development businesses have a tough time with this. Bringing in steady money requires an audience and a backlog of different games. Both the audience and the backlog take a long time to build, and there is no shortcutting that. Even if you decide you’re not crazy enough to self-publish like me, your publisher won’t pay you a lot. It will take several games to start racking up royalties that will bring you decent amounts of cash.

I’m not saying “don’t make board games if you want to make money.” I think there are far too many negative people who act like you can’t make a dime in this industry. I don’t buy that. This is a $1.4 billion industry with fairly low barriers to entry. You just have to have a big enough audience to take advantage of large print runs OR a backlog of games that sell.

 

3) I began to think about “the After.”

This hit me around March 2017 as well. When I launched War Co. to the general public on Valentine’s Day 2017, it didn’t sell well. A lot of the stock sat in my garage for a while before it finally started selling a little bit. The reason why is simple: I didn’t think enough about sales. I was myopic in my past, thinking the Kickstarter alone would get my business, well, kickstarted. It’s not that simple. You have to build up a sales system, you have to think about “the After.” Kickstarter, or “launch day” if you launch your game through other means, is not the end-all-be-all. You need a way to sell your inventory on an ongoing basis. Otherwise, it will just sit in your garage or a warehouse. Needless to say, I’ll be handling Highways & Byways differently.

 

You have to think ahead.

 

 

4) I started using social media for leads and connections, not followers.

One of the nasty and seductive parts of Twitter, Instagram, and other social media networks is that it’s easy to focus on followers. Followers do not really matter. If your followers are not targeted, then your channel won’t do your business much good. The War Co. Instagram account is giant, but the Brandon the Game Dev and Highways & Byways accounts both bring me more actual business.

Instead of focusing on followers, focus on leads. I started doing this in June 2017. Try to find people who will be interested in what you do, and follow them. Don’t abuse the system, just follow a few people every day. Then you can reach out to them individually and you’ll have real common ground. This is called lead generation, and this is the main mindset I use with social media now. This helps me get email addresses and grow the Discord server that I run. This is infinitely better than tens of thousands of followers who simply don’t care about what I’m doing.

Even better than leads, though, you can start making connections to important people. I’m talking bloggers, podcasters, and reviewers – people who can really help you get your board game seen by a larger audience. You can find other game developers, make friends, and find mentors. Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and other social media networks make this a lot easier.

 

5) I learned the importance of playing matchmaker.

Last but not least, in June 2017, I started building up the game dev Discord server that many people know me for. It’s got over 1,000 people in it and I recommend that you join it if you are starting to make board games. I realized just how incredibly powerful it is to be able to connect people with other people they’d like to meet. I’ve learned that it is a wonderful thing – and good for business – to be able to connect developers and play-testers, bloggers and designers, artists and paying customers.

What sets businesses apart is often intangible qualities. The reason campaigns go into the millions on Kickstarter is because the people behind them have built up – either individually or through a larger organization – goodwill. That goodwill translates into trust and eventually sales. One of the best ways to build up goodwill is to help people with their goals. Matchmaking is the most time-effective way to do this.

 

Have you had any massive mental shifts in your own game development endeavors? Share them below in the comments 🙂

 


 

Most Important Highways & Byways Updates

  • I’ve ordered 10 review copies.
  • I’ve started sending out a few copies to reviewers.
  • I’ve got a lot of guest posts in the works.
  • I’m starting to show up on podcasts – keep an eye out for me!
  • There is generally a lot of exciting stuff going on with Highways & Byways – got to spread the word.

How to Develop Visually and Physically Accessible Board Games

Posted on 3 CommentsPosted in Start to Finish

Board game development is a very individual process. Every single developer has different methods for creating their games. This article is the tenth of a 19-part suite on board game design and development.

Accessibility is a big issue in board gaming. It’s also a very complex issue that is hard to talk about succinctly because it covers game design, product testing, individual behavior, and group behavior under a lot of different circumstances. To help understand this subject, I’ve brought in Dr. Michael Heron of Meeple Like Us.

 

Carcassonne being tested for visual accessibility. (Photo from Meeple Like Us)

 

But first, let’s go ahead and define accessibility, using Michael’s own words (paraphrased):

 

Accessible games are ones where people can still play your game even if they have extraordinary usability needs. An inaccessibility is any feature of a game that presents a barrier to enjoyment. Mostly it’s about how information is presented and how the game is manipulated, but I also include aspects of cultural inaccessibility and representation.

This guide comes in four parts:

  • Who is Michael and what is Meeple Like Us?
  • What is accessibility and why does it matter?
  • Visual Accessibility
  • Physical Accessibility

 

Below is a transcript of our conversation over Discord DMs. It has been lightly edited for clarity and flow.

 


 

Who is Michael and what is Meeple Like Us?

 

Brandon: Thank you very much for agreeing to help with this post!

Brandon: Tell me a little about yourself and Meeple Like Us.

Michael: I’m a lecturer in computing at Robert Gordon University in Scotland. My main research interests are accessibility, games, but especially accessibility in games. Previously I’ve been mostly focused on video games, with a special emphasis on games with unusual interfaces, such as text-based games. A couple of years ago I got into tabletop games in a reasonably big way, and as I saw my collection start to balloon I decided I need a way to pretend this was in some way an endeavour that had some applicability to my career. Thus began a study of the accessibility of tabletop games. That in turn resulted in Meeple Like Us where I document all my observations about the games I play.

Brandon: You go into a lot of depth on Meeple Like Us, especially on board game accessibility teardowns. For those who haven’t had the pleasure of reading one, they cover eight different areas of game accessibility and show how well a game covers each one.

Brandon: Nothing comes out alive! Except for, I want to say Splendor, but correct me if I’m wrong here.

Michael: There haven’t been a lot of games that have come out unscathed, but really that’s not surprising – they’re being judged against criteria that are sometimes contradictory, sometimes counter to the game design, and sometimes just really, really difficult to meet. Some of the games that have come out smelling of roses have been Skull, Love Letter, Lanterns and most recently Blank and Wibbell++. Cottage Garden, as yet an unpublished post, also does very well.  Mostly, games tend to fall down in one or two categories rather than across the board (although there are a few of those too). In the end, it’s not so much about complaining, but about trying to give people some insight into game elements that usually don’t get covered in reviews.

 

Catan’s accessibility ranking on Meeple Like Us. Pretty middle of the road. (Photo from Meeple Like Us).

 

Brandon: Right, and the difficult criteria are not there to condemn, but rather to show ways in which game developers can make their games more accessible.

Michael: Yep, absolutely. One of the difficult things about designing for accessibility is that often the compensations for one category come at the expense of another. Icons can sometimes be good for visual accessibility (information dense while taking up small amounts of space), but be a problem from a cognitive perspective as an example.

 

Michael: So in a lot of cases it’s not pointing out mistakes, but pointing out where design or graphical choices are likely to be a problem for people.

Brandon: So it’s about making conscious choices that benefit as many people as you can.

Michael: Absolutely – inaccessibility comes at you from all kinds of angles and they’re often not obvious. Tales of the Arabian Nights, for example, is a mostly narrative game that is a problem for those with physical accessibility concerns purely because of the fact the spiral binding in the book tends to stick and becomes difficult to manipulate.

Michael: There are some clear, uncontroversial accessibility wins, but more often it’s a case of just trying to maximise the accessibility for the groups you’re looking to design for. A dexterity game likely won’t ever score highly for people with physical accessibility concerns. A game of pattern matching probably won’t be great for people with visual accessibility issues. It’s about being conscious of the inaccessibilities even if sheer pragmatics mean you can’t do much about them without changing a game into something different.

 

What is accessibility and why does it matter?

 

Brandon: So here’s an “easy” question.

Brandon: What, broadly speaking, is accessibility in board gaming? Why does it matter?

Michael: A quick definition of accessibility would be “people can play your game if they have extraordinary usability needs.”

Michael: An inaccessibility is any feature of a game that presents a barrier for someone when it comes to enjoying the game you’ve designed. I have a holistic approach to this that also includes aspects of cultural inaccessibility – that sometimes it’s not an aspect of a game as it exists but how that game is presented in its art, aesthetics or theme.   Issues of representation are a big part of what gets talked about in each teardown. Mostly, though, it’s about how information is presented and how the game is manipulated.

Michael: It matters because a) there are a lot of people out there with accessibility needs, and b) we are all going to fall into that category sooner or later. The accessibility issues we discuss on Meeple Like Us aren’t just factors of disability, but also of aging. Assuming any of us ever get to retire, and assuming we want to play the games we never had time for in our working lives, we’re going to want them to be accessible.

Brandon: It’s a good way to include as many people in on the fun as possible – including ourselves in the future!

Brandon: Running with your definition, I’d like to point out that your own site splits it into eight broad categories, which I’ll just paste here:

  • Visual
  • Physical
  • Cognitive (split into Fluid Intelligence and Memory)
  • Communicative
  • Emotional
  • Socioeconomic
  • Intersectional

Brandon: I’d like to dive into each of these in further detail.

Michael: Sure thing.

 

Visual Accessibility

 

Brandon: What are some ways in which games often fail to be visually accessible?

Michael: Well, the most common one is colour blindness – it amazes me that in 2017 we’re still seeing games that use palettes that are a problem, and not doubling up game elements with icons where it could be done. Other common inaccessibilities are tokens you can’t tell apart by touch (different denominations of money as an example), tiny text, random placement of game symbols, poor contrast, non-standard dice with special faces, paper money, and so on. More subtle things come in when you consider the realities of how people with visual impairments will interact with a game – touch where possible, as an example. That means that flimsy components tend to wear away over time.

Brandon: Colorblindness is the simplest thing to scan for. You don’t even have to use icons if you use a color-safe palette. Here’s an online tool you can use to simulate colorblindness.

 

Andy Warhol painting or accessibility test of an old Highways & Byways board?

 

Brandon: Tiny text is another usually straightforward fix because it’s usually covering up for overly verbose text – a larger problem.

Michael: Where possible, what you’re looking for here is redundancy of information – colours in a colour safe palette are great, but colour-blind senstive palettes with icons are better if you can accomodate that.   That way you get around environmental issues such as poor lighting too.

Brandon: And visual accessibility can be improved on more heavily used components just by upping the physical quality of the goods, too.

Brandon: Doing one is good. Doing both is better.

Michael: Yep. 🙂

Brandon: Flipping the question, what are some easy fixes to improve visible accessibility?

Brandon: As opposed to invisible accessibility, I suppose. I meant “visual.”

Michael: Haha

Michael: Larger fonts, limiting ornamentation, good contrast ratios, consistency of component layouts are all useful. When using physical components, follow the design of physical coinage – if you look at denominations of coins in your pocket you’ll see they usually alternate size and shape which means that you can tell the difference by touch. You can adopt that with any chits and counters in the game.

Michael: And again, avoid paper money.

Michael: That’s actually an interesting case study of accessibility in tabletop games.

Michael: Because there are ways in which paper money can be made accessibile in real life.

Michael: Such as the folding method where different denominations are given a different folding pattern so you can tell them apart in a pocket or wallet

Michael: But that doesn’t work in a game purely because of how rapidly money circulates in a game economy.

Brandon: Or you can do what we do in the US with paper money and make everything the same length and texture 😛

Brandon: Same issue board games have, by the way, with paper money. That’s why you avoid it. It’s annoyingly hard to fix that in small print runs – punchout coins are almost always a better, more cost-effective, more accessible option.

Michael: Yep. I don’t have those accessibility issues, but I will almost always replace paper money in any game with poker chips.

Brandon: You can always replace paper money in games with pounds sterling if you want to keep it really interesting.

Michael: With the way Brexit is going, that’s probably also cheaper than using paper money.

 

Physical Accessibility

 

Brandon: What are some ways in which games often fail to be physically accessible?

Michael: The main problem in games with physical accessibility problems is that they sometimes don’t offer people easy ways to verbalise their instructions. If you’re playing with someone that is fully unable to interact with a game, most of them can still be enjoyable if instructions can be delivered clearly and simply. But many game boards don’t offer easy ways to refer to game locations, or lack grid references or landmarks, or so on. Tight constraints or fiddly pieces are a problem, as are many different components of different kinds. Card shuffling can be a big problem too, especially in deck builders. Again, consider the real world way games get played in these circumstances – often with card holders and card shufflers to alleviate problems. Except that may not work if cards have key information along the edges that get covered by a card holder, or non-standard card sizes that don’t work in a shuffler.

Brandon: In general, you want mechanics to de-emphasize fiddly actions as much as possible. And cut out parts when you can.

Brandon: Regarding physical accessibility, what best practices can you recommend for piece size, board landmarks/references, and card shuffling?

Michael: Bigger and chunkier is better, but there are obviously cost considerations there. Standard card sizes where possible, and as generous as you can be with physical proportions in board state and the like. Try to limit hand sizes, and provide alternatives to fine motor control – let people position rather than flick, for example. Position game information where it’s not going to be obscured by card holders.  Also remember that a good insert can be a user interface tool in your game – a well designed insert can help limit game sprawl by permitting components to be kept in the box rather than on a table.

 

Hive components are a good weight and thickness. (Photo from Meeple Like Us).

 

Michael: Mostly though, make sure it’s possible for people to unambigiously describe any action they want to take in the game and where they want to take it. If you have a map, provide landmarks. If you have a grid, provide chess style grid references.

Brandon: A simple grid overlay and using thicker tokens is a really simple fix, for example.

Brandon: That’s as easy as saying “2.5 mm punchboard instead of 1.8 mm” – very little material price difference and can be night and day for some.

 


 

In next week’s article, we’ll continue our conversation, focusing especially on the mental and emotional aspects of board game accessibility.

Often times, small tweaks and a general sense of awareness go a long way toward creating professional and polished board games. By exploring some of the ways we can make games more accessible, especially visually and physically, we can create games that more people can play. More fun for everyone!

Here are some key takeaways:

  • Accessibility is about making games for as many people as possible.
  • No game can be accessible in every situation. Accessibility is about practicing mindful design with your target audience in mind.
  • Use colorblind-friendly palettes.
  • Pair icons with colors when possible.
  • Make tokens differentiable by touch.
  • Use the largest font size possible.
  • Use game symbols sparingly and deliberately.
  • Make it high contrast.
  • Try to avoid non-standard dice.
  • Avoid paper money.
  • Use consistent layouts.
  • Make it possible for people to verbalize their instructions if they can’t touch the pieces. Include landmarks or a grid on your game if appropriate.
  • Avoid tight physical placement and fiddly pieces.
  • Avoid excessive card shuffling.
  • Avoid placing critical information near the edge of cards.
  • Use thicker pieces when possible (such as 2.5mm punchboard).
  • Limit hand sizes when using cards.

 

Got any questions or comments? Leave them below, I’d love to read and respond to them 🙂

How Board Game Fulfillment Works at Fulfillrite

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Know-How

Fulfillment is one of the most intricate and complex parts of the board game business. In fact, I’ve written about a few times: a crash course on the concepts, how to prepare for the costs, and a personal story of how hard it was to fulfill War Co. on my own.

Then I got Twitter DM from Charlie at Fulfillrite saying they’d like to do a guest post on this blog. I’d already been researching Fulfillrite and was probably going to use their services on the Highways & Byways campaign for US shipping. I said yes, provided they make a really good educational post. They delivered! In fact, I learned a lot just by reading this before posting it.

 

 

In the interest of full disclosure, let’s cover something real quick: they offered me a small discount on services in the Highways & Byways campaign fulfillment. Just telling you that ahead of time so you don’t think I’m hiding secret subliminal marketer messages.

I sent some questions to Charlie Brieger, which are in bold below. What follows are his responses to my questions, edited only for grammar and spelling.

 


 

Tell me a little about yourself and about Fulfillrite.

Fulfillrite has a lot in common with its clients, which is why it serves them so exceptionally well.

E-commerce is an industry populated by entrepreneurs. Individuals who value their independence.  Individuals willing to take the risks, experience the frustrations, the highs and lows. They’re committed to never quitting. They’re going to see it through to the end until they achieve success.

My brother Joe and I share that entrepreneurial spirit.  We always wanted to work for ourselves. I guess it’s in our family DNA to have that entrepreneurial character. Having previous experience with shipping and warehousing, we were disappointed in the level of service we saw in the fulfillment industry. There were many facets of the service we felt could be improved upon. So we established our company, Fulfillrite.

We empathize with the vision and goals of our clients.  Our Mission Statement is to help our clients achieve their dream of building a successful e-commerce company.  To us, it meant taking apart every part of the business. Breaking it down into its components to see where we can make improvements. We’re always challenging ourselves how we can further help our clients. By being so demanding of ourselves, we have innovated services and developed software that has become the benchmark of the industry. We’ve helped reduce our client’s costs in many ways. We’ve enabled them to enjoy a smooth error-free operation.

All I can say is that the hundreds of testimonials on the web tell our story best. They attest to the fact that we are succeeding in living up to our Mission Statement to help our clients achieve success.  To us, it’s the true way of measuring our success.

 

Generally speaking, what happens between inventory arriving at the warehouse and the customer receiving their goods? What processes are involved in shipping to customers?

You know e-commerce is a business that lives or dies by its customer service. Customer satisfaction is everything. In a way, even though you never see your customer, and most likely never speak to him, the fact is he is looking at you squarely in the eye. That’s because, from his perspective, he’s dealing directly with the company owner. There is no retail middleman.  So all of his gripes and complaints fall squarely in the owner’s  lap.

It’s no secret that a primary cause for customer dissatisfaction is late delivery.  The customer expects it to be there when promised. It may sound simple, but the fact is there are steps that occur between the arrival of the products at the fulfillment warehouse and arrival at the customer’s door.  A mishap at any step will often lead to delays in shipping.

I can’t speak for other fulfillment companies. I don’t spend time investigating them. My knowledge comes from when our clients write or call to share their appreciation, and in doing so compare our shipping to other companies in a very exemplary fashion.

The fact is that from the moment we opened our doors we made it a priority that there should be no delay from the time the product arrives at our door until it is shipped to the customer.

Speed and error-free are often contradictory terms. Yet, with fulfillment, they are two equal necessities. To achieve both Fulfillrite has a proprietary computerized pick and pack system. To enable the system to operate properly, a scannable SKU or Barcode is required for logging the product into our system, shelving, packing, labeling, and shipping. With our pick and pack system, orders are ready for shipping almost immediately after arriving at our door. If we receive the shipment before 2 pm, orders can go out the very same day, which is unheard of in the industry.

 

A simple UPC Barcode goes a long way.

 

We provide the client with very clear guidelines for inbound receiving. As long as the client follows those guidelines correctly we can have an order ready in and out the door within 2 hours. And, we actually incentivize our clients to follow the guidelines; by doing them so we do not charge any receiving fees, as other fulfillment services do.

A concern for every E-commerce owner is shipping to the wrong address. Often, the first time the owner finds out about the problem is when he hears from an irate customer about not receiving his order. By then the opportunity for a positive image and relationship is almost certainly ruined. At Fulfillrite we prevent delivery to the wrong address by verifying every single address before shipping to assure that its deliverable.

Orders can come in at any time, and customers expect the product to arrive on schedule as promised. So we push the envelope on on-time delivery and have Fulfillrite operational 6 days a week.

The point is we’re constantly looking for ways to enhance our service and live up to our promise to help our clients live up to their promise to build a successful company. There are so many small details that make a difference between success and failure. We’re constantly monitoring our service seeking ways to improve. We’re not afraid to invest money in developing proprietary software, in training our shipping specialists. We work hard on behalf of our clients to negotiate rates from national and local carriers.

Let me be frank. People think all fulfillment requires is to open a warehouse, stock up on packaging materials, connect with a few carriers and you are in business. It doesn’t work that way. To provide clients with maximum advantages and benefits requires a true commitment. The investment in terms of time, effort, hard work, and funds is considerable. There’s no shortcut to becoming the best.

Let me add that another strong reason for our on-time shipping is the professionalism of our shipping specialists.  It’s not simply a matter of scotch taping a package and slapping on a label and postage. Our specialists go through a rigorous training process until they are thoroughly familiar with our phase of our fulfillment system. Our proprietary software is the heart of the system, but our staff is the key to making sure every single package is shipped out on schedule. Our specialists are rewarded well with salary and bonuses. They take pride in being the best in the business.

 

 

Why is fulfillment through a third party a good idea?

Every businessman is looking to save money, to cut overhead, and save on expenses. E-commerce business owners naturally look at fulfillment as a place to contain costs. The question they ask themselves is why pay an outside service when they can do it themselves?

This is a legitimate question that deserves an answer. Our answer is that there is no one answer for everyone. Each e-commerce owner needs to take a close look at cost of an outside service and his alternative to handle it himself.

All I can do is give your readers the big picture of what is required for fulfillment.

Take product storage as an example. You need to warehouse inventory. One option is to rent space. Right away you have an overhead expense. The other option is to store the inventory on the premises. Very likely this will interfere with other aspects of the business. Let’s face it, having boxes piled here, there and everywhere is not conducive to a smooth running operation.

The next issue is: who is handling the fulfillment? Does the owner have time to spare from all his responsibilities to pack and ship? Probably not. So an employee has to be delegated, quite possibly more than one. That’s another expense. How much training will the employee receive? Warehouse employees are typically at the low end of the wages scale. Odds are they won’t be too professional and motivated.  Poor handling of orders can have major repercussions on customer satisfaction. It could even lead to bad online reviews which can be very damaging to a business.

Expenses aren’t the sole criteria. They may not even be the most important criteria. Fulfillment, like any business, requires professional expertise. Negotiating for lower rates with major carriers is no simple matter. It requires an understanding of how carriers evaluate the value of a client. Obviously, a fulfillment service that generates a large volume of business is in an equipped to negotiate lower rates. But there’s more to it than that.  Carriers are competitive, fighting each other for business. That too has an effect on rates. Knowing the business from the inside, knowing the high and low range of a carriers pricing structure, allows us to negotiate even lower rates.

And, then there is the power of long-established relationships which transcend the purely business end of the business. Carrier representatives deal more favorably with people they know well and trust on both a professional and personal level. Over the course of many years, Fulfillrite has established very favorable relationships with the major carriers, and Indeed Fulfillrite’s rates are among the very lowest in the industry.

In addition, we provide free padded mailers, which adds up to handsome savings over time depending on volume.

 

In which cases is fulfillment through a third party not appropriate?

I’d say there are a limited number of situations that preclude working through a fulfillment company. Obviously, I can’t speak for other companies. All I can mention are a few factors that relate to our company. What makes our company so successful, and our clients so satisfied is the insight we bring to the business. We don’t make casual, quick decisions. Everything is carefully thought out as to how we can be more efficient, more cost-effective.

Based on our thinking and experience, Fulfillrite has specific parameters that decide a new client’s acceptability.  By the way, that is for their benefit, as well. Companies that don’t meet our parameters won’t benefit from our service. As an example, clients that have fewer than 50 orders a month. Or, clients that have expensive products which require special handling and packaging.  Companies that have high SKU counts are difficult to integrate into our system. Same for clients who require custom packaging.

Our focus is on small, lightweight products, typically under 5 pounds, with a minimum volume of 50 orders a month. Our system is designed around this. Everything we do, all the proprietary software we develop, all the unique benefits we provide are built around this clear and very defined understanding of what our core business is. That’s why we’re so effective. Also, high SKU counts, as well as clients that require custom packaging will not meet the parameters.  In such situations, in-house fulfillment may serve the client’s need best.

 

How do you successfully choose a fulfillment service for crowdfunding projects?

For crowdfunding companies, fulfillment is the tail end of their planning.  For obvious reasons they are focusing on the product idea, having it manufactured, creating the website. Usually, it’s when all the other aspects are in place do they think about how they are going to get it to the customer.

The best advice we can give crowdfunding companies is do your research. Don’t leap into the business simply because you have an idea for a product. The first question should be is there another product similar to it? The other product doesn’t have to be exactly the same. If there is a product that essentially provides the same benefit in a similar manner, you’re developing a commodity. A commodity is a product or service that is non-distinguishable from other similar products. This means there are other options for the customer to choose from. Usually, when that happens the typical response is to lower prices to be more competitive. So you end up in a price war. It’s a no-brainer that no one ever wins a price war.

Three good places to begin researching whether there is a competitive product are  Google, Amazon and Ali Baba.  A patent search could prove helpful. A patent attorney can easily charge thousands of dollars. But patent search may prevent serious problems arising in the future that could have serious consequences.  Consider this real-life occurrence.

That famous yellow smiley face that you see all over was created at the behest of a large insurance corporation to elevate the spirit of the employees that had suffered through a merger. A graphics designer was hired to come up with a visual concept that would have people smile and feel good. The smiley face was his graphics solution. It caught on and became very popular. Two gentlemen, realizing the concept had never been trademarked, made some slight modifications and trademarked the image.  As we’ve  seen, the image appears on everything from coffee mugs to t-shirts to posters and school supplies, bedding, stationary you name it. Over the years the two men have earned millions in royalties. The graphic designer who created the concept and image was paid by the insurance company sixty dollars. He never earned a penny more.

Assuming the product concept is fresh and original, the next step is to have a prototype made by a tooling company.  The cost of a mold depends on complexity, size, and the raw materials required. There are many factors guiding where the initial prototype should be created, local in the US or overseas. Once the prototype is created, the individual has to find a factory, here or overseas.

He has to decide “is a well-designed package required?” It depends on the product and the retail cost. It should be kept in mind that product packaging is a key branding instrument for e-commerce, since the product typically isn’t seen in stores, or in offline advertising, such as magazines.  Packaging could play an important role in the branding positioning and imagery created through the website.

With product manufacturing in hand, the next vital step is to select a fulfillment service. Here too the owner should undertake careful, deep research. Fulfillment plays a critical role in operations. More importantly, fulfillment can be a deciding factor in retaining or losing customers and in profitability.  Fulfillment fees and shipping costs do affect the bottom line. On the simplest level, the right fulfillment service will mean a smooth frustration- free integration with his platforms. Knowing that he can rely on his fulfillment partner to provide on-time, error-free shipping allows him to fully focus his energy on building his business without the nightmarish worry of delayed, or lost shipments, and unsatisfied customers.

Here are key factors that should be researched:

  • Fulfillment costs
  • Shipping costs: how competitive are the shipping rates negotiated with major carriers, such as FedEx, UPS, USPS, and others. Do they offer truly discounted shipping rates?
  • Beyond shipping costs, does the service provide very useful information about the arrival time, even the arrival time of day, so the e-commerce owner can make a more comprehensive, in-depth decision.
  • Does the service system integrate with the e-commerce platforms he is using? How well? Does it integrate with more than one system?
  • How computerized, and hence simplified, is the order processing? Is there integrated computerized inventory data so the owner knows exactly where the order is in the shipping process?
  • How are returns handled? Do they go back into inventory, and if so how quickly? And, how quickly is the owner notified so he can make internal inventory adjustments, including placing or not placing future orders from this manufacturer?
  • How quickly is shipping expedited? Customer satisfaction hinges on as promised arrival.
  • How professional is the customer service? Does the customer communicate with a personal rep who knows his business inside out, someone he knows he can rely on in all circumstances? Or, is he handed off to the first person who answers the phone, and who is not familiar with, let alone up to date with his business needs and circumstances.

Google should be used to see if there are any reviews regarding the fulfillment service from e-commerce industry sources, as well as current and previous clients.

 

What sort of fees can be expected?

A fulfillment service’s fees are generally broken down into these 4 main categories:

  • Inventory Receiving Fees – free for all Fulfillrite accounts when inbound guidelines are followed.
  • Inventory Storage Fees – first month is free for all crowdfunding campaigns, thereafter the pallet storage cost will vary by the amount of pallets spaces used.
  • Fulfillment Fees or “Pick and Pack” – we offer tiered pricing on our calculator online and offer discounts based on the monthly order volume.
  • Shipping Costs – based on the product weight, dimensions, and the destination – we always offer our discounted, highly competitive, negotiated shipping discount rates.

Then you can also account for the possibility for one-time costs, for example, Special Projects, barcode labeling, shipping boxes if needed, container loading, and other such services, will incur one time fees.

 

 

How do custom taxes and VAT work?

The customer receiving the product is responsible to pay for any duties or taxes due upon receipt in the destination country. We are currently looking into the possibility to offer an option that is duties and taxes fully paid before leaving the country

 

Can you integrate with shopping websites?

Once a client is approved, he is given login access for account set up on the wizard screen where he fills in the details about his account. Once this is completed he can connect to our software via API or supported apps, and be seamlessly connected with his shopping platforms. He can be connected to multiple shopping carts.

We integrate seamlessly with Shopify, WooCommerce, Skubana, Backerkit, eBay, ShipStation, Etsy, Amazon, Magento, and others.

 

What makes your customer service so exceptional?

As I mentioned at the very beginning, customer satisfaction is the backbone of Fulfillrite, it guides all we do.  We pride ourselves on treating each and every customer with the respect and dignity they deserve. Every customer has a personal rep who knows their business who responds to their scheduled calls. The rep knows the details and particulars of their business and so can answer the questions correctly and handle any issue that arises without delay. Plus, on our site customers will find guides and FAQ’s that will answer most of their questions.

To us, customer service means more than being responsive to a customer’s call. It means constantly looking for ways to improve our service. The driving force behind every proprietary software, every innovation is how we serve our customers better.

The testimonials we receive show we’re doing an excellent job. But that won’t stop us from looking how to improve it even more.