Heads up: this fulfillment article assumes you live in the USA. Even if you don’t, it’s still helpful – but it’s not as specific to your needs.
Fulfillment is one of the trickiest parts of any board game Kickstarter. It requires your inventory being sent from your manufacturer via freight shipping agencies through customs agents to warehouses and finally to your customers. It’s the part of the process that feels the most international and it’s one of the areas that feels the most overwhelming to the uninitiated. That’s for good reason: the devil really is in the details.
Last week’s article, we focused on domestic fulfillment from the perspective of a resident of the USA. This week, we’re going to focus on international fulfillment. This is a little more complex than last week’s, but we’ll follow the same format.
Like last week, I recommend that you read some of the other fulfillment articles I’ve written – particularly A Crash Course on Board Game Fulfillment. They include:
- A Crash Course on Board Game Fulfillment
- 3 Simple How-To Guides for Board Game Fulfillment
- How Board Game Fulfillment Works at Fulfillrite
- How I Fulfilled a Kickstarter & Bought a House in the Same Week
Scenario 1: You fulfill the game yourself using USPS even for international packages.
I’m using brand names here, but that doesn’t imply loyalty to them.
“A hundred and sixty backers,” you say to your co-designer. “I never thought we’d make it this far, but here we are.” Having shopped around for a number of fulfillment companies, you’ve determined that it just doesn’t make sense to send all your inventory and warehouse it with a larger company for 160 packages. You have enough space in your garage for the remaining 340 units, so you tell BangWee to go ahead and ship the game to you.
Twelve long weeks pass and your game is printed and shipped from Shenzen, China to your home of Provo, Utah. It’s shipped into San Fransisco and then travels by less-than-truckload (LTL) to a nearby warehouse. You borrow your friend’s pick-up truck, move about 40 boxes of 12 games each, and regret lifting with your back instead of your knees.
You unload the inventory in your garage on a wooden pallet. The inventory all looks neat. BangWee did an awesome job. You cover everything up with a tarp and get ready for a busy Saturday of preparing packages.
Now your US packages? Those aren’t too hard to send. We covered that in last week’s version of this same scenario. But you’ve got 12 packages that aren’t US-bound. Five go to Europe, three to Australia, two to South America, one to Russia, and one to Belize.
After dropping off a big batch of US-bound packages, you return to the post office the following day with your remaining 12 packages. Each one is neatly packed with the lightest material you can find. You make sure that the package is a small as it possibly can be. Smartly, you ship First Class International instead of Priority to save money. You don’t get tracking and the packages can take weeks to ship, but Priority Mail can be close to $100 each. That’s seriously cutting into your profits, and would even make you run at a loss.
You fill out 12 different customs forms by hand. It’s pretty time-consuming. You wind up paying a little over $500 to ship everything. Weeks later, your customers receive their packages. Some of them receive them with no issue, a few of them have to pay customs fees on delivery but they let it slide, two more are demanding reimbursement for the customs fees, and one package went missing entirely.
At this point, you’re probably hearing the record scratch. Customers getting charged customs? Paying extremely high shipping rates? Whaaaat?
I’ve done quite a bit of research and I’ve yet to find a satisfying way to fulfill board games internationally without going through a third party such as Games Quest, or another company with global distribution. The simple fact is that sending a board game from your house to Australia can be as much as $50. Similarly, you can send a similar game to the UK for about $30, but then they’ll get hit with customs and handling fees when it’s time to receive their package at the door. It’s a mess.
Can you fix this by using FedEx or UPS? Maybe, maybe not. That’s highly dependent upon the nature of your project and I’ve never had any luck with it. Their rate estimates come out so high that they wind up making the USPS look good.
Some clever folks have worked around the difficulties of international fulfillment for small Kickstarters by shipping a few copies of their game to friends within a region or country, such as the European Union, and then having them ship the games separately from there. Does that work? Sure, it can. But do you really want your business to depend on bundling games to send to overseas friends and then pressing them to fulfill your deadlines? I sure don’t, and to be honest, it’s not usually a money saver. That brings me to…
Scenario 2: You have Games Quest fulfill your games for you.
Again, I’m using brand names here, but that doesn’t imply loyalty to them.
“Eighteen hundred games!” Your parents can’t believe it. How could your scrappy team of three make $51,000 on Kickstarter? That’s enough to order more than the MOQ from Panda Games, with stretch goals to boot!
Last week, when we ran through this scenario, you sent most of your stock to Fulfillrite, a company that specializes in fulfilling packages to the US. They can fulfill packages internationally, too, but they can’t do it in the customs-friendly way that backers have become accustomed to. (This might change by the time you read this, though.)
To fulfill your 217 international packages, you send 250 units to Games Quest. Like Fulfillrite, they take care of fulfillment behind the scenes. The only difference is that they’re sending to different countries. The average package costs about 10 pounds to ship, or $13.
Every once in a while, you get a customer service call saying they haven’t received their package. They’re so few and far between that you send another game no questions asked. By all measures, your campaign was a smashing success and you barely had to work during fulfillment!
International fulfillment is nothing to be intimidated by. It’s not as simple as domestic fulfillment, but there are a great number of services available to board game creators like you and me to help make the process easier.
Do you have any questions about how to fulfill your campaign? What about war stories from your own fulfillment experiences? Share both in the comments below 🙂