13 May 2019 | 23 Comments
Last year at Gen Con, I had a pivotal discussion with a long-time Stonemaier Games partner, Top Shelf Gamer (specifically, Chad and Marlene). I didn’t quite realize it at the time, but that chat would end up shaping a key element of our overall strategy.
Since Stonemaier Games was founded in 2012, it’s been a game company. We make tabletop games, along with expansions and accessories for those games.
But along the way, the brand has flirted with other types of products. On the original Viticulture Kickstarter, for example, there were engraved wine glasses and corkscrews. Our webstore now includes a number of products designed for our games but are applicable to other games, like custom dice and metal coins.
Our most notable departure, however, began in 2014 with the first treasure chest of realistic resource tokens. It was a boxed set of commonly used resources in tabletop games (gold, stone, wood, etc), and it was intentionally designed as a universal product for a wide variety of games, not just Stonemaier products.
Among the many reasons we started making these realistic resources was to cultivate Stonemaier as a lifestyle brand beyond just games. A core part of our products is that they include high-quality components, and the premium realistic resource reinforced that element.
After eventually creating a total of 7 treasure chests, there was ongoing demand for specific resource tokens. So we partnered with Top Shelf Gamer, who specializes in selling premium components to enhance the games you love most. Their infrastructure was perfectly set up to sell, package, and ship the various tokens we continued to produce.
Starting with the Gen Con 2018 discussion, we decided to take it a step further and sell the realistic resource IP to Top Shelf Gamer. They were doing such a fantastic job with the brand that it just seemed like the right thing to give them full ownership over it. They’ll continue selling the same tokens, but they’re now coordinating the production with Panda instead of me, and they’re going to be releasing new tokens in the future.
This transition happened a few months ago, and Top Shelf announced it this weekend with a celebratory sale on their webstore. If you haven’t ever received a package from Top Shelf Gamer, I’d highly recommend giving it a try, even just once. It’s a special experience.
Coincidentally, a few days before the announcement and completely unrelated to it, I was starting to wonder if I should steer Stonemaier back into being more of a lifestyle brand. The impetus was a “back in the tank” episode of Shark Tank where a surf board company was expanding into a full line of t-shirts. So even if you couldn’t afford a $500 surfboard, you could still engage with the brand by buying a t-shirt.
I think this is a perfectly viable strategy, especially in cases where there are such vast differences in prices. An example of that in the tabletop industry is Board Game Tables.com, which makes premium tables and also bags and even a few board games. In other cases, there are cross-branding opportunities that emerge from lifestyle brands, like how Fantasy Flight leverages their card sleeves.
But for me, the Top Shelf Gamer announcement was a good wake-up call to how Stonemaier has tried to curate a focused brand rather than cultivate a lifestyle brand. I think it’s fine to have a middle ground too (we still sell the wine glasses, and I like writing this blog and filming my game design YouTube channel)–this is just the direction in which we’ve been leaning over the last few years.
The great thing about the focused approach is that it provides a clear sense of direction. Short-term decisions, long-term goals, areas of improvement, etc: Everything is centered around the focal point. Which, for Stonemaier, is still our games.
If you can think of any examples of innovative lifestyle or focused brands where the strategy seems like a great fit for that company, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments (among any other thoughts you’d like to share).
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