Time to look at the elephant in the room.
Board games. I used to work in a store that primarily sold board games. It was a lot of fun. The poor thing went belly up eventually, passed to a different owner only to die again a few years later. That was almost twenty years ago at about the time German style board games were really taking off in the US.
Admittedly, board games weren’t the only thing that shop sold. The owners, misguided and loveable though they were, decided to pull in jigsaw puzzles by the truckload along with all kinds of other crazy stuff. This is the game store death trap of competing with Big Box stores mentioned earlier in this series. One simply can’t compete with stores such as Target when it comes to buying power.
That leaves all of the the niche board games. There has also been a massive bloom of what are called “Deck Building Games” in recent years. These are basically TCGs that knew they couldn’t compete with Magic so they made it an all-in-one affair and put it in a box. Then they sell expansion boxes. It’s a good marketing strategy.
The same phenomenon is becoming a trend with RPGs. These board games follow in the footsteps of Talisman and Hero Quest (both of which have also seen a revival) where you have one game with pregenerated characters in a dungeon style environment battling their way through multiple scenarios. Basically someone smashed an RPG campaign into one box and provided minis and dice along with it. Personally, I miss Heroscape.
Have I mentioned sales yet?
No, I have not. Here’s the problem I see with board games. They take up a lot of space and don’t necessarily sell all that incredibly well. They’re usually a larger ticket than other things in the shop and the prices from the distributors make it less appealing. Competition with the Big Box stores can be fierce on mainstream games such as Monopoly and its hundreds of variants. There is more money to be made elsewhere in the shop.
There are a couple times per year when board games sell well. The first is November through January. Everyone likes to take a board game home for the holidays. Family gatherings- go figure.
The other good sales time is when people know they are going to be indoors for long periods of time. We used to call it “winter” here in Iowa, but the last several years have been progressively more mild. Maybe the popularity of board games is geographical? I haven’t been to Europe where pub culture is alive and well.
The other down side to board games is in order for them to sell successfully, people have to often times experience them first. I think most of us prefer to play a round or two of any given board game before deciding to buy it. That means the store trying to sell the game must have someone on hand who is knowledgeable about said product and a demonstration model has to be available. How many FLGS owner/operators are free to do so?
One of the most successful things I have seen done in the FLGS sphere is having a local board game club meet in the store. Basically, it’s a demo night for board games and players can get a taste of the product. With some concerted efforts in communication and promotion, stores and clubs can work together to make game nights a huge hit. This is also true for RPGs and miniatures wargames.
The only things required for club play are a semi-regular meeting time, space to play, and an organizer. Okay, and people, but that usually sorts itself out with some communication and promotion. Having the regular meetings in the shop are a huge bonus because the product is in the next room if people want to buy a copy. (Although the shop also has to be open for that to work. Just sayin.)
Taking it on the road.
This sort of a gamble. Sometimes taking a board game or two to a gaming convention pays off. People become introduced to the newest, shiniest board games at a particular convention and have to have it. The only kicker is how many other dealers brought it with them? Is the company who created the game present with their stack of copies? (Those folx jump for joy when they sell a copy because it’s huge profit with no middle men in the way.)
Smaller, local conventions sometimes offer a better venue for board game sales. There are also specific non-gaming conventions such as the Pork Producers Convention or the State Fair where specifically themed games might do well. This is always a gamble of time, help, and profits. If you can spare the manpower and pay for a dealer table, it might be worth the effort.
Taking board games on the road to gaming or sci-fi/fantasy conventions is a gamble. How many RPGs, dice, M:tG booster boxes, comics, etc could one have brought instead that take up the same amount of space for far more product? Is it better to sell one $60 board game with 40% markup than 30 packs of Magic cards at $3.97 ea at 50% markup. (These may or may not be realistic numbers nowadays.) I can pack three or four booster boxes of cards in the same space as the board game. There’s the dilemma.
If I were running my own little FLGS I might devote a small amount of space to a few board games. I would be extremely picky, however. I would pick things aimed more toward the RPG and Deck Building game crowds. Obviously anything sold at Target, WalMart, Costco, etc is right out. I would ramp up the board game inventory a bit in October and then reduce it back to maybe 20 or 30 different games in January with the notion that specific games can be ordered via customer request.
If I had an expert in my friends group willing to set up a board game club night, I would help promote whatever he/she/they would want to showcase. The only thing I would ask is to have some idea of what they were planning to play so I can get one or two copies on hand for people interested in it. Oh, and make sure the gaming space is free that night. Magic Tournaments and D&D Adventurers League take up as much or more space. It’s all about scheduling.
Next time we’ll talk about diversification.
I mean in terms of the business. What do you sell on top of games, cards, dice, minis, meeples, and snacks at a game store? Oh, you might be surprised at some of the crazy cool stuff people have come up with over the years.
Thank you for stopping by. I hope you’re enjoying this little foray into the retail side of the game industry as much as I enjoy discussing it. I appreciate you.