Friday, September 10, 2010

Guest Blog Post - What can third party publishers do to help improve their presence in the friendly local game store by Gary Ray

Gary Ray, owner of Black Diamond Games in Concord, CA was kind enough to write a a guest blog post for us here at In the Mind of a Mad Man about third party publisher (of which LPJ Design is one) and retail stores (which Black Diamond Games is).  Hope you enjoy.

What can third party publishers do to help improve their presence in the friendly local game store by Gary Ray

So what can third party publishers do to help improve their presence in the friendly local game store? The answer involves understanding your audience. I'm not talking about your customers, you intimately understand them, of course. It's the local game store that you may not fully grasp. First, lets get some perspective.

We are not in the '80's and game stores are no longer fantasy shops, as much as I wish they were. Hobby gaming has diversified greatly. My store is divided into five departments, including board games, miniature games, collectible card games, classic games and puzzles, and finally role-playing games. This means that role-playing games occupy about 20% of my consciousness, assuming they have an equal role to play (they probably don't, but I like them, so it's not far off). Of that 20%, about half my sales are Dungeons & Dragons and Pathfinder. I think this is fairly typical. In fact, many store nowadays don't go much beyond D&D and perhaps the next two or three top games. You have your work cut out for you.

So all non-D&D role-playing games are now occupying about 10% of my consciousness when it comes to purchasing. Of course, purchasing is probably about 20% of my job as a store owner, so in reality, all things RPG that aren't D&D are more in the range of 2%. I bring this up because there seems to be this misperception of the role of RPGs in game stores. They are far from a primary concern. From a sales perspective, they are relevant, but not overly so. I think I'm fairly typical in this regard and perhaps atypical in that I spend any time whatsoever with non D&D RPGs. At last count we carried over 30 different game systems, but most of the 3,000 or so stores out there that carry games probably have far fewer. I put myself in the top 10% of stores in this respect. I'm not bragging, just providing some perspective. Maybe 200-300 stores will have that 2% on their radar.

So how do you get on my radar? How do you capture the 2% of a store owners attention in about 10% of the stores? Here is where marketing to your customers comes in. The best way for your game to get on my radar is through our customers. A good game store listens very carefully to their customers. If a customer wants a product, we carefully gauge their true interest and may bring in one.

The best way to make this happen is to ask them to ask your customers to buy from us. This may seem against your own interests if you sell direct. It may seem futile if my numbers are correct and 90% of store owners won't care, but 10% of stores is 300 sales. I'm not saying you give up direct sales. Just tell your customers that if they've got a good store to support it by asking for your product and buying it there if the store owner brings it in.

Why give up half or more of your margin? The FLGS is yet another sales channel and can be a big source of marketing for you. Once we buy your product, we have some level of interest in generating further demand. That one guy might have bought it, but a hundred more people might see it on the shelf. You've also created a sales partner. We post your product info on Facebook, talk up your product with potential customers, and possibly hold events if it's a big enough deal. This all begins with getting that alpha gamer on board with your product with a commitment to buy from us. Without this, you're occupying 2% of my consciousness. With it, you're on my to-do list.

What else?

Do your own marketing, especially using social media like Twitter and Facebook. Adjust your web page with meta tags that work with Facebook so I can easily post your link on my wall. Foster your sales channels equally. If I visit your page and I see you encouraging direct sales over store sales, such as with discounts, early release or telling your customers to please buy direct and not from the grubby game store (this has happened), we're done. I am not afraid of the PDF product, but if I see you're already selling your print product before the release, I'll generally believe the demand is soft and probably pass.

Produce quality books in the format we can sell. Digest size books are popular, especially with the D&D Essentials line moving to them. However, many stores hate them. Think about how your book will be displayed. We use magazine racks, so your digest sized book is invisible unless it's in front. This means it's likely to be shelved on a book shelf instead, spine out. That's bad. Also make sure your book will hold up to wear. A successful RPG book will sell three times a year or more. How will your book look on the shelf after four months? If it's looking ratty, if the cover bows, or if it in any way looks like it's sliding into home and about to fall apart when it's bought in month four, it won't get ordered again.

Create hope in the future. If it's not a one shot RPG product, already begin marketing book two on the release of book one. Maybe you don't have the money for it yet. So what? Bang the drum. If you take a wait and see attitude, so will your customers and many won't buy your book. They have this crazy perception of what is alive and what is dead. They want "support" for the product line, reprints with errata, additional supplements to spur their imagination. If that's not forthcoming, they have deep suspicions. They've been burned too many times.

This might sound harsh, but the bottom line is we want to work with you. You're fighting an uphill battle. You're at best Dr. Pepper in a world dominated by Coke and Pepsi. That's alright. We run game stores. We're used to the long odds and making something from nothing.

Once again this to Gary for this great post and if you are in Concord, CA make sure you check out his store.  Talk to you later...