A Crash Course on Board Game Fulfillment

Posted on Posted in Start to Finish

Success is not the endgame of Kickstarter projects. Many people think that when a project is funded, that’s it – it’s a victory. This couldn’t be farther than the truth. As many as 84% of Kickstarter projects fulfill rewards late. That is because new entrepreneurs don’t know how to get products from point A to point B. Fulfillment is more complex than people give it credit for, and you can see the painful impacts of this. The silver lining here being that if you fulfill on time, you will impress your backers and they will remember you.

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What’s Fulfillment?

I think I said it best in my older fulfillment guide, How To Prepare for the Cost of Board Game Fulfillment.

For a moment, consider all the variables that go into fulfilling a Kickstarter campaign. Your manufacturer has to receive parts from their suppliers. They have to send the product to you or your distributors in bulk. Then they have to separate the rewards and send them to individuals. The whole time, your rewards or their component parts are zipping back and forth in boats, cars, planes, and trains. They cross country lines multiple times, go across oceans, fly thousands of miles, and are handled by multiple different companies. Your rewards are subject to all kinds of laws and taxes that you can’t possibly understand all at once. No one can.

That realization sink in yet? Good. Don’t let it dishearten you, because it’s not actually that hard to deal with. You just need to respect the complexity and variability of what you’re doing. That’s the beginning of understanding.

5 Concepts

When I was fulfilling my first Kickstarter campaign, War Co., I did so a little bit early and a little bit under budget. I’m going to teach you how to do the same. This guide will teach you the major elements that go into creating a simple, scale-able, cost-effective fulfillment network. As with the previous guide, this is just to get you started when you have no idea when to begin. You’ll need to ask questions, solve problems, and do your own research.

This guide is split up into 5 concepts:

  1. Warehousing your inventory
  2. Shipping from your manufacturer to your warehouse
  3. Dealing with customs
  4. Fulfilling from the warehouse
  5. Customers and customs

Warehousing Your Inventory

Manufacturing takes a little while, but it has the distinct benefit of happening in one place. That place may be overseas, most likely in China, but you know for a fact that your game is in that one place at one time. It won’t stay that way forever, though. Like children leaving their parents’ home, your game will need to find a new home in a distant land. That’s where warehousing comes in.

Broadly speaking, in order to proceed after manufacturing, you need two things: a warehouse to send inventory to and a way to get the inventory there. A warehouse could even be your home for small print runs, but I’d advise you not to do that unless you’ve got space to spare, you’re printing a card game or compact board game, and most of your customers are in your own country. Ideally, you want to find a warehousing company that fulfills inventory as well.

Splitting Inventory Between Warehouses

A lot of people choose to split their inventory between multiple warehousing and fulfillment companies. You could send Europe-bound stock to Games Quest, Canada-bound stock to Snakes & Lattes, America-bound stock to Fulfillrite, and Australia-bound stock to Aetherworks. (Do your own homework on fulfillment companies. This is just an example that happens to include people I’ve worked with or heard good things about.)

You must understand, though, that there is a trade-off here. If you use fewer warehousing companies, the shipping cost may go up since you can’t always pick a nearby warehouse for a customer. There are also customs concerns, which I’ll cover a few sections farther down. If you use more warehousing companies, you’ll have to pay more people and juggle more back-and-forth communication when you have orders. It’s your choice.

Shipping From Your Manufacturer to Your Warehouse

After you determine which warehouse or warehouses to send to, you’ve got three broad ways to get your inventory there. If you’re shipping from one part of a country to another part of the country, you can send it via ground: full truckload (FTL), less-than-truckload (LTL), or rail. None of these are very likely since you’ll probably end up printing your game overseas. That leaves the other two methods of shipping: air and sea.

Air shipping is very fast, typically shipping in a few weeks, but it is very expensive because it takes a lot of jet fuel to get your heavy board games off the ground. On the other hand, you have sea shipping. Sea shipping takes 2-3 months, but it’s also very inexpensive. This is what I recommend in most cases. It’s not always for the weak-hearted, though, because sea shipping is typically untracked and you have no idea where your inventory is most of the time.

Find a manufacturer who will handle this part of the logistics for you. You can arrange things on your own, but the trouble is more than it’s worth for a small business and the room for catastrophic error is extremely high. Board game Kickstarters and small print runs are very common at this point, so you’ve got lots of options. You just need to do your homework – don’t get into deals with people who make fulfillment difficult.

Dealing with Customs

Regardless of whether you’re dealing with one warehouse or multiple warehouses, you’re going to have to deal with customs. I’m using “customs” to refer to the various forms of import taxes that get stuck on top of your bill after your send your stock from a printing company to a warehouse in another country. Try to find a manufacturer who rolls this into the price. Don’t try to be your own customs agent. Make sure you ask if customs are included in the price.

Whatever your game costs to print, you’ll probably have to pay about 20% extra to move it from the printing company to the warehouse(s). The actual percentage is different depending on the departure and destination countries, but it’s almost always applied to both the cost of the goods (your inventory) and the cost of shipping the goods (the sea or air shipping).

Fulfilling from the Warehouse

If you’ve Kickstarted your game, you’ll need to handle two types of fulfillment. That is initial campaign fulfillment and ongoing fulfillment for sales. For initial fulfillment, you’ll probably be asked by each warehouse to fill out a CSV or Excel spreadsheet with a list of your backers, their addresses, and their orders. Listen to what your fulfillment company tells you.

One word of advice that could save you a massive headache: ask for your backers’ phone numbers in the survey early. Many fulfillment companies do not ship without a phone number.

As for ongoing fulfillment, you need a way to keep in touch with each warehouse. That way, you can tell them to ship stock as soon as you get an order. Ideally, you’d be able to integrate your sales system with their fulfillment system using technology, but this is not a priority for a small business. This is something to worry about after scaling up.

Customers and Customs

Customers hate being charged customs. You know that you’ll have to pay customs and/or import taxes when you ship from your manufacturer to your warehouse. What you may not know is that customers frequently have to pay customs any time you ship a product from a warehouse in one country to a customer in another. Customers really don’t like receiving your game and being asked for more money at the door by the deliverer. The only reliable way to avoid this is to have a fulfillment company who has a warehouse in that customer’s region.

In general, you want to make sure Americans, Canadians, Europeans, and Australians don’t get charged customs. There are some companies who can ship to all these regions without customers getting charged extra. This is something you need to research extensively before you plan a Kickstarter campaign or launch a game through other means. This is how you earn the “_______-Friendly Shipping” badge that you see a lot of on Kickstarter.

Final Thoughts

That’s a lot to take in! Now if you’re looking for pragmatic advice, I’d like to turn your attention to two more articles that I wrote a while back.

As always, I encourage comments. If you have any specific questions, feel free to ask below!

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