How to Price Your Board Game

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Cardboard costs a lot of money! Board gamers are accustomed to handing over hundreds of dollars at a time on board game shopping sprees. If you look on /r/boardgames or Board Game Geek, you can find no shortage of “shelfies” where people have hundreds of board games. You might even get the impression that board gamers are not price-sensitive at all…

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Price matters. The amount you choose to charge for your board game says a lot about your game. Naturally, as the price goes up, fewer people will be interested in purchasing. But how does that explain $150 monsters like Gloomhaven?

Price isn’t just a number

Before you set out to apply a price to your board game, ask yourself these questions:

  • How complex is my game?
  • What components does it come with?
  • How long does it take to play?
  • How physically large is the box?

Price isn’t merely the amount of money that someone has to pay to get a copy of your work. It’s one of the most useful pieces of information about your game available to a board gamer. It is shorthand for the above questions. Along with your box, the theme and mechanics of your game, and the reviews you receive, board gamers will make a decision to buy or not to buy.

Different price points have different psychological effects on people. A $19 game is an impulse buy – people usually don’t think too much about spending that amount of money. For that price, they expect a small game without a whole lot of parts. On the flip-side, people are perfectly okay shelling out $100 or more for a giant game like Gloomhaven or Food Chain Magnate. Those games come with lots of parts and are complex, long-lasting games. There’s a lot going on there!

If you’re not sure on price, start here…

When choosing a price for your game, you’ll need to do something I often advise: look at similar games on Kickstarter and Amazon. Make sure you take into account the complexity of your game, the components included, the length, and its physical size. I even recommend you go to a local gaming store to look at the boxes, still shrink wrapped, and compare them to their prices. That can tell you a lot about how board gamers value games.

Naturally, any price you come up with will need to cover your manufacturing costs. A general rule of thumb to follow is “five times your landed cost.” That is to say, your game should cost gamers five times as much as it costs to print and ship the game to your warehouse. For Kickstarter campaigns, you might be able to push this down to “four times your landed cost.” As always, though, run the numbers and don’t rely on rules of thumb without closer analysis.

Still, I must reiterate: don’t merely think of price in terms of monetary exchange. It’s an important part of signaling the kind of game you have created and how much is in the box. The value of a game is not just its parts, its art, or the amount of hours you can play it before getting bored. The value is in the eye of board gamers and their expectations.

Here are a few examples:

Santorini – $25.98 on Amazon

Santorini is a sharp game. It’s a very intelligent abstract strategy game in which you competitively build towers in an effort to be the first person to stand atop one. It’s a really simple concept that has all sorts of profound strategic implications. From its simplicity comes its complexity.

It has great plastic components – these neat towers that stack and give the game a great physicality. For goodness sake, the box is linen! Yet here stands for a mere $25.98 despite having really good components. What gives? Are they trying to be competitive with pricing? Is the manufacturing cost deceptively low?

I don’t know the answer for sure, but my belief is that they keep this game under $30 to attract the right audience. It’s considered a light game, and while it can accommodate 3 or 4 players, it’s really best for 2. The game doesn’t have the sheer grittiness or complexity that more hardcore gamers crave, but it has a light, poppy appeal that makes it a great gateway game. That’s why they price it under $30 – to keep it in gateway game territory.

Twilight Imperium – $109.99 on Amazon

Twilight Imperium is notoriously complex. It’s for 3-6 players and games routinely exceed 4 hours in length. The sheer amount of components can easily fill a large table. I lifted the box once in a gaming store, and I can swear its heavier than the stones I used to build the retaining wall outside my house. This game is a monster!

This game is huge – game length, player count, component count, and box size. The price tag merely reflects what the game is. Now, yes, Fantasy Flight does have to charge a lot of money to break even on all those parts. That’s true. This game, however, scratches a very specific itch for board gamers who love heavy games. That’s why they’re willing to drop a fat hundred bucks on it. Buyers perceive a great value in the game which justifies the three-digit price tag.

Ticket to Ride – $44.99 on Amazon

Ticket to Ride is an old classic. If you’re reading this blog, you’ve probably played it. It’s a great game. It’s what many gamers would describe as a “medium-sized game.” Appropriately, it is priced at a middle of the road price: $44.99. Anything $40-50 generally implies that a game takes about an hour to play, can entertain 2-4 people, and doesn’t skimp on components. All of these things are true for Ticket to Ride, and the price justifies this.

Pricing board games is about far more than simply breaking even on manufacturing costs. It’s yet another way to signal values to prospective customers. Board gamers are accustomed to looking at games, and have internalized an intuition about what to expect out of games priced in a certain way.

Have you ever bought a game because of the price tag? Have you ever walked away from a game because of the price tag? Share your thoughts, experiences, and questions below!

How Cons Can Help You Get Your Board Game into Retail

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If you want to get your board game into retail, you’ve probably heard the advice “go to cons.” But what exactly do you do at board game conventions? Why are cons so useful for getting into retail or even launching a Kickstarter?

We will answer these questions and more in this week’s post.

But first, Molly and her company are currently running a Kickstarter for The Million Dollar Doodle, a new creative party game. Check it out here!

Molly's latest game, The Million Dollar Doodle, is live on Kickstarter!
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Molly Zeff cold emailed me about her board game, Wing It, which is in over 300 stores across the world. I don’t normally answer cold emails, but her story is just too good to leave untold. And that’s how we wound up on an enjoyable video call for over 2 hours!

Below, you will find an edited transcript of our video call, transcribed by Scribie. The original call was over 30,000 words in length but was so information-rich that I’ve split it into three posts of which this is the second. (You can read the first here and the second here.)

What follows has been edited for brevity and clarity.

What exactly do you do at board game cons or trade shows?

Molly: It helps you get into retail if your product, you, or your company, is recommended by other retailers. So getting referrals is important and it’s something that can happen easily at a trade show like GTS, the Game Manufacturer’s Association Trade Show, since there are hundreds of retailers there.

For example, people meet you at GAMA or at another, regular board game convention, they see your game, and if they’re excited about your product they may spread the word to other retailers. A lot of the indie retailers are friends and just in general are a tightly-knit group. Although not as many retailers attend game cons in general, the same principle applies to Origins because Origins has a lot of the retailers from GAMA. Make sure you attend both GAMA and Origins!

Brandon: Yeah, that’s good advice.

Molly: Yeah. Look around for the retailers. Also, if you go to Origins, add a day because there are several board game stores in Columbus, Ohio. If you’re not full time in the game industry and you can add a day off work, try to do that. And if you’re ableto, you can even work a half day remotely and then go on store visits, because they’re more often open during the afternoon anyway.

And keep in mind that retailers will talk. Remember, that’s how we spread from about 11 to nearly 60 stores in four weeks in 2018. It was because the retailers played the game, in fact, a ton of us played it for hours one night at GAMA while retailers there also gave me advice, and then they spread the word.

I’m not saying that will automatically happen. Of course I can’t guarantee that, nobody can, but at least I had the experience of being together with retailers, and then they shared the story. Someone the next day had actually heard what happened the night before with all of us and said, “Oh, you’re Molly, you’re the one with the cheese. I’m going to buy your game.” It turns out one retailer had spread the word. 

And also be authentic. One of the retailers said, “You were authentic. That’s why we liked you, because you sat down on the floor at the bar and you had your cheese.” I was like, “Yeah, that’s just who I am, I want my cheese.” I really like cheese a lot. It’s one of my favorite foods.

Molly at PAX Unplugged 2019

The power of referrals in board game distribution

Molly: You can also do this a little more intentionally. I have a toy store in St. Louis, it’s one of our only toy stores, ’cause I don’t usually visit toy stores, and I found that early on I wasn’t selling too many of them. I was either told [occasionally] or was thinking that our product is a little above age level for these stores.

But guess what? Because we do well at this one toy shop in Boston, Boing! Toy Shop, and Happy Up, which is a toy store in St. Louis, I started talking to the toy store owner from Happy Up and I mentioned to her…

“We’re not really even trying to get into toy stores.” I told her about my trip to almost 70 board game stores in October and all that. And I hadn’t gone on my second Upper Midwest trip yet, and she had ideas about toy stores to recommend to me in the Upper Midwest, and also in D.C. She recommended specific stores, and when I visited those stores, I was able to say, “Shawnta’  from Happy Up in St. Louis actually recommended your store.”

I would even say that when I called in advance. “I’m a game designer and publisher, and Shawnta recommended your store.” And they would say, “Oh, I love Shawnta.” People knew who she was.

Brandon: That’s smart, yeah.

Molly's latest game, The Million Dollar Doodle, is live on Kickstarter!
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Win a million dollar investment or crack up trying.

Molly: ASTRA is the toy store world’s version of GAMA. And I thought they were going to be [geared towards an audience that was] too young for me. 

But the first two toy stores Shawnta’ recommended both bought products right in front of me. They made a decision on-the-spot. (That is not normal).

One owner ordered 12 (Wing It) right in front of me, another ordered 32 (of both games) in front of me. They just got on our website and just did it… So I learned, “Oh, there’s a new market I haven’t explored.” And how did I do that? By just chatting with a retailer [the one from Happy Up] and getting the idea that maybe toy stores could work.

Brandon: Referrals are one of the primary ways that I actually get business these days. If somebody is happy, they’ll tell a friend, and then that’s incredibly powerful. And when you’re talking about retailers, I can scale from 11 to 60, like you said, very, very quickly.

Just having somebody’s name to mention is a wonderful icebreaker.

Molly: Also, always collect business cards. Especially if you go to a place like GAMA, but really anywhere, always collect business cards for follow-up.

The biggest way we spread now, as I alluded to or maybe mentioned briefly earlier but didn’t get into much detail, is I go to a city or a region and I just try to cover as many stores as I can in that region. So right after Origins, I visited over 30 stores across Ohio in different cities. I would just look up “Canton board game store”, “Dayton board game store”, “Cincinnati board game store”, and I would figure out my plan from there using Google Maps. Then I also looked at nearby cities like Detroit.

It’s draining. It is really hard, and it’s draining, and I’m really tired on these trips sometimes. That’s okay. You put the work in, then you’re following up with over 30 stores.

Brandon: Yeah, ’cause a lot of times, you’ll just find a whole bunch of metro areas close to one another. It’s hard, in most parts of the US, to get more than two hours from one place to another without running into a major metro with over 100,000 people, which is enough to have a board game store somewhere.

Molly: Just to summarize [from all 3 parts of this blog series], we talked about how to get into stores by walking in the door for your very first stores, in cities you live in or cities have a connection to.

We talked about the GAMA Trade Show and spreading the word among retailers and really playing [games] with them and going to the bar at night and making friends. We talked about cold calling stores.

And then we talked about the personal connection and we talked about getting referrals. Lastly, I got a little into these really big regional trips

Brandon: This has been very good! I’ve got a single question left for you…

This is Molly visiting the store Vault if Midnight in Detroit during her tour of over 30 game stores after Origins, which took her all over Ohio, the Detroit metro area, and a little bit of northern Kentucky. She began going on more of these tours in 2019.

Parting words of advice from Molly

Brandon: What advice would you like to tell yourself when it all started? You go back in time, you get to give yourself one piece of advice, what’s it gonna be?

Molly: You’re going to make a lot of friends and so when it gets really hard, just remember you have these friends who are there to offer advice. That’s what I view it as, anyway, networking is making friends.

I would say it’s going to be really hard, it’s going to be tough and you’re going to have times when it’s financially a strain, it’s okay to pay yourself a little more than the minimal amount you could possibly imagine. And…

Gosh, it’s a really good question. It’s a really good question in that it makes me reflect on what I didn’t know.

And I would say it’s okay to call up the stores that are your friends and just schmooze a little and then see if they want to order. That’s totally fine to do. You’re building a relationship in the best cases that’s not simply a business relationship.

Yeah, also just to learn to take care of myself and to try to go to bed earlier on these big trips because that’s really hard. Getting enough sleep when you’re staying with people and they get up earlier is always gonna be a challenge. So I’m trying to say this with compassion to myself from two and a half years ago…

Reach out to people you can rely on when you need to rely on them, and try to be okay with being human with retailers.

Brandon: Yeah, people are surprisingly decent. You reach out to them with a big idea and most people will be, at a minimum, courteous. And some people will change your life in incredible ways that you can’t even comprehend at the time.

Molly: We do get a lot of advice, we also get support in ways I didn’t expect. One of the retailers I visited in October, who was one of our very successful retailers with Wing It, said to me when I was visiting his store, “Why are you doing Kickstarter?”, and I was like, “Well, because it has marketing benefits and we don’t just have $12,000 laying around.” And he said, “I can loan you the money. I can put $12,000 on my credit card.”

Brandon: Oh my goodness.

Molly: I’m still gonna run the Kickstarter, but he might be a backup plan. We don’t know for sure.

Brandon: That’s good to have, honestly. That’s good to have.

Molly: Yeah. [Back to your question], I think that I would tell myself to try to find ways to take care of myself ’cause it’s something I can do right now. And also just to drag yourself out of bed when needed.

I would tell myself that I have those days when it’s just… I’m really tired and I’m just not feeling super motivated ’cause I’m worn down or because I’m not feeling great or whatever. I would tell myself, “Just try to get up for one hour and just work hard for one hour and just see if that pushes you enough to go,” ’cause I could use that advice a lot.

Brandon: I have a technique for slow days. I call it “just write three words,” that’s all you have to do, you just have to open up WordPress and you just write three words and you can adapt this to anything you do. And it’s like starting small, like what you said, that works. I don’t even know how it does, it just does.

Molly: Yeah, I’ll say when I’m having those days maybe I get up and make three calls and I’m allowed to go back to bed if I really need to…

Brandon: Yeah, but by the time you get to that point, you won’t, it’s like, “Oh I don’t really wanna go running 2 miles,” and you actually get the endorphins and you want to continue it, that kind of thing.

Molly: I’d also say to remember that if I have someone to work with, that really helps. So that’s one of the hardest things, I’d say, of doing this full-time. I have my co-founder by phone, but that’s a little different, you know, by phone or by text. He also has a new baby.

Brandon: Yeah. That makes it hard.

Molly: So he’s launching a child and a new product around the same time.

Brandon: Oh goodness. I don’t know how these folks do it, because I’m engaged, I work a full-time job, I got family, I got friends, I’m like, I don’t know how these folks balance all that stuff, and they have a baby too, that blows my mind.

Molly: You have a partner in your fiancee and my partner has me.

Brandon: That is true.

I’ve asked all the questions I’ve got in mind. Is there anything else that occurs to you?

Molly: People can reach out to me if they need some coaching or support…

Brandon: Awesome.

Molly: And almost everything I said is replicable. I think that was the word you’d used originally;it’s all replicable except for the trips that I do. As I mentioned earlier, you can probably do almost everything else.

It’ll be challenging, and it’ll be hard on top of a full-time job, but if you’re making a game, you’re already doing that on top of a full-time job, so it’s just adding, you know, the sales work.

If you’re nervous about sales, don’t fret about it. Try it out and you’ll get better and it’ll become a skill. You get tougher and find ways to decompress whether that’s playing a rowdy song you like or reaching out to a friend about how hard sales is. You get one good win out of 10 calls, let’s say, or 20 calls, maybe you don’t sell any, and you just pick up and do it again. Just keep plugging through, ’cause you’re your own best salesperson.

Brandon: Pretty much, and yeah, by the time you start really feeling the impact of your work, that’s when things are truly snowballing.

Molly: There you go.

Final Thoughts

Molly has a lot to teach us about how to get your board game into retail, both directly and through distribution! Trade shows like GAMA are really important, as are referrals. Be patient, be persistent, and be kind to yourself. You’d be amazed how far you can go this way!

We hope you’ve enjoyed this in-depth, three-part interview! You can read the first post here and the second post here. You can back her current Kickstarter campaign for the Million Dollar Doodle here.

Now go forth and get stocked 🙂

Title photo credit: By dooley, posted to FlickrCC BY 2.0 license.

How to Get Your Board Game in a Retail Store for the First Time

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If you want to get your board game into retail stores, it helps to set small, achievable goals. What could be a more achievable goal than getting in one store? Just one board game in one board game store!

Molly's latest game, The Million Dollar Doodle, is live on Kickstarter!
Use the hive-mind to design brands. Pitch your ridiculous companies.
Win a million dollar investment or crack up trying.

Even this can be a huge step for a game developer, and I’ll be the first to admit I didn’t know where to tell you to start until recently.

Enter Molly Zeff. She cold emailed me about her board game, Wing It, which is in an estimated 300 stores across the world. I don’t normally answer cold emails, but her story is just too good to leave untold. And that’s how we wound up on an enjoyable video call for over 2 hours!

Below, you will find an edited transcript of our video call, transcribed by Scribie. The original call was over 30,000 words in length but was so information-rich that I’ve split it into three posts of which this is the second. (You can read the first here.)

What follows has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Molly & her first two retail customers

Brandon: What was the first store you got your games into and how did you do that?

Molly: Well, we had just two retailers pledge on our Kickstarter and I’m going to name them in a moment. And those two are actually the first of around eleven.

Why eleven? I was able to get into about 10 or 11 stores by just walking into them in 4 different cities, most of which we had some kind of connection to. These stores bought from us before GAMA last year [in 2018] and that was a really big deal, actually. The Uncommons is one of the first [retail supporters] ever. It’s in the Lower East Side [of Manhattan], it’s this cute little game store. Everything’s up against the wall and way up to the ceiling.

They were one of our first two stores. The other is The Brooklyn Strategist – a game store that’s pretty near where I was live in Brooklyn. Because I lived in New York City, I walked into a bunch of stores around town to ask them if they wanted to pledge on our Kickstarter, and those were the two who said yes.

Brandon: Well, that’s fantastic! And I would advise anybody who’s just living in an urban area, if you’re running a Kickstarter, why not just pop into the store and talk to folks? Doesn’t even have to be New York City either, like most places that are reasonably good-sized will have three or four board games stores around.

‘Cause about everybody I’ve talked to… They’ll say, “I live in Lincoln, Nebraska and there are five game stores.”

Molly: Indianapolis has many, and LA has a lot.

Brandon: I  believe that. It blows my mind that Atlanta doesn’t have a whole bunch of them because that’s a huge market… That’s like one of the top 10 cities in America. It kind of blows my mind that they don’t.

This conversation continued for several minutes as we discussed game stores in different cities we’ve been to.

Sometimes your best board game selling tool is a map!

How do you get your board game into retail stores?

Brandon: How do you reach out to retailers?

Simple loaded question.

Molly: The first answer is very simple. You walk into a store that’s local, that’s where you live or that is in a place you’re visiting early on. First you just google a city with the words “board game store.: For example, Washington D.C. Board Game stores, okay, there’s one. When I went to visit D.C. last February, over a year and a half ago now, that’s how I got into the Labyrinth Game Shop.

The first way you get into retail is you just go to your local stores, as many designers seem to do. If you don’t have any, that’s harder, but you wait till you go on trips, and you add stores to that trip, so if it’s a small number of stores, you may need to add a day or two to visit stores. If you’re going to San Diego, for example, you can hit six or so in an afternoon.I’ve done that. From early afternoon to evening, I hit six or seven and just made my way back to LA for the night

You also look at toy stores if you have something like a party game or lighter strategy game. You see if the toy stores carry board games first and whether they have some games for older kids, teenagers, or even adults Their audience matters. Some toy stores for example, felt like Wing It wasn’t a fit for their mostly young customers.

The second big way [to get into retail] is you go to the GAMA Trade Show, the Game Manufacturers Association Trade Show. And I feel like this has got to be one of the biggest secrets of the industry for some reason.

Molly's latest game, The Million Dollar Doodle, is live on Kickstarter!
Use the hive-mind to design brands. Pitch your ridiculous companies.
Win a million dollar investment or crack up trying.

How GAMA got Molly’s board game into retail in a BIG way

Molly: So this is where the interview gets the most exciting. This is a fun story.

I went to the GAMA Trade Show last year because it was either Origins or GAMA that I would go to, and in 2018, I had a second cousin once removed’s Bat Mitzvah in Brooklyn, and it was during Origins, and it was likely the only family event I’d ever have in Brooklyn, so I decided not to go to  Origins. Because of a fluke, I ended up at a trade show instead [GAMA] that totally changed our lives.

Because if you go to a consumer show, you meet people, individuals, consumers, who can buy your product and you can do really well and you can make a few hundred, maybe a few thousand dollars for some of my game designer friends.

You go to a trade show, you meet retailers who can make your business sustainable. And that’s basically what went down. We were  actually advised us to go to Origins but couldn’t, which was a great thing it turned out. First of all, hen I showed up at the GAMA Trade Show, I luckily was able to work with Hit Point Sales [our consolidator] at their booth. I got a $75 badge from them. But the exhibit hall at GAMA is only two days. It’s like six hours for two days. It’s very, very short. What I did… And this is where I want people to really learn from my process, and this absolutely is repeatable.

I had missed the networking event the very first night, that Monday night because my flight was delayed. It was such a bummer. So I got into Reno really late. I went to my hostel. I was staying at Morris Burner Hostel because it’s very cheap. I saved money by memorizing the 10 Principles of Burning Man and reciting them when I checked into the hostel for a discount!

And then the next night, I went to what was essentially a networking event, but really an event for retailers. I showed up that Tuesday night  at a bar with a bag of groceries. I had walked 2.4 miles back from the store to see Reno and well, ’cause I was saving money on Lyft – I had literally my rent plus $25 in my bank account at that point. Running out of my savings, basically. That’s when we were in 11 stores. Maybe 10.

Four cities; I felt pretty good about that, I even mentioned that in the retailer session I went to Wednesday.

Anyway, that one night at the bar changed my life, and I love this story so much. What happened is, that I saw people from one of my St. Louis retailers outside the hotel/casino, and we were all going upstairs to the bar at the casino and resort that most people were staying at. So I walked with them and I first just  got a free drink.

“Oh, how’d you like the event?”

“I wasn’t at the event.” (Someone who may have been sponsoring the event gave me a drink ticket anyway).

I go into this little inlet of retailers and just start sipping my one drink and… My one free drink, right? And I started chatting with Matt who’s a store owner out in Vancouver. Matt and I are now friends and we became friends out of this event and this night.

I didn’t know that these people were part of a group of friends and colleagues who all own about 50 or so of some of the largest indie retail stores in the United States. I was just chatting with Matt.

After a little while, Matt said, “Tell you what, why don’t I take a look at your game while you eat your cheese?” I had cheese I really wanted to eat; I hadn’t eaten enough for dinner. And he looks at the back of Wing It. He looks at the thing and he looks at the back, and within moments he said, “Are you on PayPal? ‘Cause I’d PayPal you for 10 of these right now.”

That was a good size order at the time. I mean, it’s still pretty good, but people were ordering 24 later. He said, “I can sell five of these tomorrow. I could sell five of these right now, watch me.”

He starts playing with everybody. They ended up playing and giving me advice for hours.

The unsung hero in Molly’s story? Apparently, cheese!

They get Andrew Zorowitz, who owns Foam Brain Games out of bed, and he and the others en up telling me to raise our MSRP and giving a ton of other advice.

Laterthey call over two distributors to chat. One distributor they were gonna have me pitch to and it was Mark Aquino, who’s now a friend. He was like, “Wait, are you trying to pitch to me? ‘Cause I wanna get to my drink.”

And it’s funny ’cause we’re friends and joke about it now. But the rest of them were just playing and giving me advice. It was around 2:15 AM when I left that night. It was like a dream come true. So that was my one first full night at GAMA.

The next day, someone said to me after a session I was at with retailers, he said, “Oh, you’re Molly, you’re the one with the cheese. I’m gonna buy your game.” It was strange that people knew who we were. And we started making sales. I started getting emails for orders. That day I got an email from across country from someone who couldn’t come to GAMA that year who wanted to buy the game. And then we just started selling every day. I’ve never had it that easy since. People just knew who we were and emailed us to place orders.

It turns out Matt had written a story about that whole night on Facebook and I was part of that story of what happened. So because he had posted on Facebook about that night together at the bar, all these people knew [about Wing It] and they all just started buying the game, often by the dozen. Sometimes 20, sometimes 18, sometimes 12, whatever, it was great. And we thought it would end soon, we kept thinking this can’t last, and it ended four weeks later when we ran out of copies and we’re already taking backorders.

Molly's latest game, The Million Dollar Doodle, is live on Kickstarter!
Use the hive-mind to design brands. Pitch your ridiculous companies.
Win a million dollar investment or crack up trying.

Getting into board game distribution by finding a consolidator

Molly: The way to get into distribution initially is to have a consolidator, and Hit Point Sales is obviously the main consolidator that works with small companies. I say “obviously.” Are you familiar with Hit Point Sales?

Brandon: No, I’m not.

Molly: No? Okay, so they’re the consolidator that you work with if you’re a small company like ours. And by the way, if you hadn’t asked this question, I would have gone into all of this anyway so it’s basically what I would’ve…

Brandon: No, no that’s good, that’s part of what I wanted to happen [with these open-ended questions].M

Molly: Yeah, so Hit Point Sales is a consolidator that sells to distributors on your behalf, but you still need to create demand among retailers. I decided to start going on these big trips to cities or regions. Last August and September in 2018, I visited about 39 stores in three and a half weeks [on one of my first big trips], but I also along the way got to see family and friends and celebrate Rosh Hashanah, and travel between fromLA to San Diego to Seattle for PAX West, And then onto the Bay Area. In the Bay Area, you’re covering San Francisco, Berkeley, and Oakland, and I actually went to the South Bay as well. Those trips have become a big part of our business.

Another way we meet retailers is at conventions]. At the end of the convention, sometimes before or after hours, but oftentimes at the very end of the convention, I go and I introduce myself and offer them a demo copy.

If you can’t offer them a demo copy, maybe it’s a mini promo version. It’s easy, to be fair, to offer,a full demo copy or a mini deck of each cards [for a party game]. At a convention you basically have that one-to-one face conversation, you hopefully exchange cards, and then you follow up with them, and what’s key is that follow-up call.

Basically I want to teach readers to view each convention as an opportunity to meet retailers who are also exhibiting. It might be three, it might be five, [so it’s not many, but] it’s not that hard. We do it each time and it’s an easy way to get face-to-face connections without adding an extra trip to your itinerary throughout the year.

The lost art of the cold call – getting your board game into retail by phone

Molly: Another way to get into retail by giving them demo copies and reaching out but without actually going in person is the old-fashioned cold call. Some people think the cold call is dead and it’s really hard, which it can be. And there are times you won’t reach the right person, for sure.

What I do is I ask, “who’s the person who’s your game buyer [or ‘who does your game selection] because I’d like to send you a demo copy? Were you interested in a demo?” And I tell them, “This was called one of the biggest successes of GAMA last year.” (You figure out what to say that may get them more interested in your game than they might be for any publisher who calls them up at random like this).

Cold calling is not dead. (The photo is an old AT&T ad.)

Now I do have some things to say that make it easier now to approach them. Out of all of my regional outreach to stores in a specific region, I’ve actually only done this [cold calling] once. I have a list of around 30 stores that I sent demos to and I’m gonna look at it right now; they are across the south, ’cause I just hadn’t gone to the south or southeast on my own in person. So I look, for example, at the stores in the Orlando area, I look at stores in the Houston area, in Dallas, Fort Worth.

I do it [my outreach] geographically by city. Whether I’m visiting or whether I’m calling, it’s all geographic. I look at the game stores in Asheville, [North Carolina]. There’s a ton of stores in Asheville. So I concentrate that way and then I offer them a demo, I send them a demo, and then I do follow-up repeatedly, and that’s probably the hardest part is a lot of follow-ups, a lot of calls.

You have to have a little bit of a tough shell for it which I don’t know I have, but not because people are not rude to you. Almost everybody is nice, but they’re busy and they might not have gotten to your game  in a few weeks or [or months!] whatever.

You have to be ready to hear that a lot. I even called someone recently who hadn’t even opened up the game I sent in eight months. (That’s unusual, by the way.)

Brandon: But, I mean, yeah, you run into stuff like that. Cold calling is a numbers game in a lot of ways and a game of endurance.

Molly: Today I probably called about 17 [stores I’ve worked with OR sent demos to in the past], which is still a lot. It’s draining. You do have to be tough about it and you have to be consistent. I would recommend to people who work full-time that if they’re on the East Coast, they try to call stores from the west and far west, basically the Colorado Rockies region and stores on Pacific Standard Time because if you call them at 6:00, it’s still 3 o’clock their time. I try tocall either mid to late morning or in the afternoon before schools let out since they’re likely to be less busy.

You can probably call five to eight in an hour, which doesn’t seem like a lot, but even that’s hard. And if they’re not opening ’til 12:00 or 2:00, you’re still reaching them at a reasonable time. 

Brandon: Yeah, that’s a good point. It’s funny actually, just coincidentally, I had an intern complete a post on cold calling, and of one of his takeaways, what he got from doing the research on his own, is that cold calling is a bootstrapping tool.

If you have no contact with anybody at all, you can make them aware that you exist, and you don’t even have to necessarily spend money to do that. And there aren’t that many different techniques for marketing that you can use to just get the word out there in such a powerful way as a cold call. So yeah, it might seem outdated in the age of the internet, but it’s really, really not. It’s got a place.

Final Thoughts

Molly has a lot to teach us about how to get your board game into retail! As you can imagine – there’s a lot of hustling. In addition to creating something retailers want to stock in the first place, it helps to go to conventions, visit stores in person, send demo copies, and even pick up the phone for cold calling!

Stay tuned for part three of this interview next week. You can read last week’s post here. We’ll be talking more about how conventions can help you get your board game into retail next week.

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