Retailers, Filtering Feedback, and Making Sense of Your Business

9 July 2020 | 13 Comments

I recently stumbled upon a thought-provoking post by AJ Porfirio of Van Ryder Games in a retailer-focused Facebook group. I asked AJ if I could reference and quote it here for a broader discussion, and he gave me permission to do so.

The core principles of AJ’s post are as follows:

  • Consider the source: When you get advice from someone whose business is related to or impacted by yours, the advice is almost certainly from the perspective of what benefits them. That doesn’t mean it necessarily contradicts what’s best for you, but it’s important to remember who is giving the advice.
  • Business sense: Every decision needs to make business sense for you. Every decision. That doesn’t mean to ignore customers, retailers, distributors, partners, the good of the world, etc–far from it–but you need your company to survive and thrive if you are to serve anyone.

Filtering Feedback

I’m going to jump back and forth between quotes from AJ and thoughts from me.

“You SHOULD listen and care about what the retailers are saying and what they like. It is ONE of many data points and factors that should go into your decisions. They FOR SURE know what works for THEMSELVES. They can’t make your game an evergreen, the market does that, but they can be a catalyst and are still the best way to achieve scale. It would be foolish not to listen to them and understand what is important to them.”

This applies to everyone, not just retailers. You know your life and your business better than anyone. That doesn’t mean you don’t have blind spots–in fact, I would almost guarantee that every creator has large and small blind spots, including myself. That’s why I seek feedback from a variety of sources, always considering the source.

Just the other day, in fact, I sent my monthly e-newsletter to distributors with a focused question about Tapestry. I genuinely wanted their feedback, and I’m grateful that 31 out of the 865 retailers on our mailing list responded to the short survey.

“Retailers are important, but you must always understand that advice comes from the perspective of what benefits them most as a retailer (not always what benefits you as a publisher) and I don’t blame them, but they don’t know your business, your goals, or your strategy, so the assumption is a one size fits all “this is what publishers should do”.”

Consider the source. This is something I try to remind myself of whenever I seek or consume feedback. And I honestly think there are some sources that are not worth considering at all. For me, I don’t want to make personal or business decisions based on people who spend their time posting on social media about what they hate. It doesn’t matter if I agree with you or not–the people I seek to steer Stonemaier Games are those who seek to include, uplift, and improve, not those who exclude, hate, and destroy.

“So how much weight should you put into retailer’s advice on pricing or otherwise when the most likely scenario is your game sells in distribution for a couple months and then more or less dies and gets dropped by all the retailers (including those that advised you what to do). Who cares if a customer compares the price to your KS if the retailer most times isn’t really going to stock past a handful of copies anyway?”

This delves into what I recently discussed in my What’s Up with Reward Prices on Kickstarter article. In it I suggest that creators determine reward prices from the bottom up (starting with manufacturing and sunk costs), not from the top down (starting with hypothetical MSRP). Of course, even that proposal isn’t a good fit for all creators–there are some publishers that make most of their sales on Kickstarter, while others (like Stonemaier) make the vast majority of our sales to distributors.

Every Decision Must Make Business Sense for You

“It has to make business sense. What has to? Everything has to. For you, for the retailer, or both, but there won’t (or shouldn’t) be any business deals if it doesn’t make business sense for someone. Depending on your goals it might make sense to do something that doesn’t make sense for them but makes a ton of sense for you. Or maybe doing something that makes sense for them more than you might be ok if it drives growth of your brand or benefits you some other way. Not all business benefits are about $$$ but don’t lose sight of how much profit, and cash flow especially, matters to a successful publisher. And of course arrangements that benefit BOTH is something publishers that want to succeed in retail should be striving for.”

I love this, and I completely agree. That’s really the entire intent of my blog–I want to present you with a variety of options and questions so you can figure out what’s best for you. And it’s often on a case-by-case basis: What’s right for one product, situation, or company may be very different than another.

I also like that AJ talks about profit and cash flow. Yes, they’re important for a sustainable business. But there are a lot of other factors in play too. Just yesterday I was listening to Justin Gary (Ascension, Shards of Infinity) talk to Gabe Barrett, and Justin said that one of the main motivators for making a pirate-themed expansion to Ascension is because he loves pirates. It’s hard to sustain any form of content creation for an extended period of time if you don’t do some things–many things–simply out of passion, love, excitement, or fun.

***

I really appreciate AJ for posting this and for letting me share parts of it. How do you consider the source when considering feedback, and have you had to make some interesting/difficult business decisions when considering feedback from multiple perspectives?

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Leave a Comment

13 Comments on “Retailers, Filtering Feedback, and Making Sense of Your Business

  1. Reminds me of the classic advice for board game design: Feedback from Play-testers is typically filled with ‘what should be done’ but the designer should focus on what problems the feedback has shone a light on, rather than on the solutions offered.

    1. Gavin: Indeed–that’s one of the ways I filter the best playtesters. I want to know what happened and how it made playtesters feel, and I’ll use that information to figure out the solution.

  2. Thank you Jamey!
    Your blog is really amazing. I wanted to thank you for all the Information you put out there, for free, to help creators. I finished reading the Blog posts “before the Kickstarter Campaign” so far and there was so much useful information in it.
    Especially how you present your experiences, where they collide with your ethics and how you deal with it.
    I want to write a German blog about my experience as a solo entrepreneur going for a kickstarter with my board game (the game will be in English and German) as soon as my web presence is going online (probably 1-2 weeks from now… this takes so much longer then I expected). The board game scene in Austria/Germany is quite big and I know there are quite some gamers who are no big fan of English. I wonder if you know from people who put out information like yours in other languages, like German. So far I didn’t notice any.
    I will add links to your blog for sure, as your blog is the best resource for people who want to self publish boardgames.
    I wish you all the best!
    Greetings from Salzburg, Austria

  3. This is one of the things that most led me to create the Retailers Who Back Kickstarters Group.

    The advice that creators were getting was not particularly retailer focused. In fact, it was often downright anti-retail focused, and extremely so. A guy who is giving you advice because he wants to flip your product isn’t always the best person to go to – they’ll often want a smaller print run, something more exclusive, with lots of added stretch goals at the lowest price you can do it at – and we used to see loads of advice from that sector.

    Most retailers don’t want your game to be a one and done. They want a long term relationship, because selling one or six or twenty is great, but it isn’t selling a hundred. And THAT is the thing we look for – is this game Wingspan, or Gloomhaven?

    We’re looking for games good enough to go to distro. Big enough that there won’t be stock outages if it sells well. Games that we can springboard and signal boost.

    Some companies can get to distro anyway. But by working with retailers like me, a smaller company can get a taste of what distro will want – if they can’t make the numbers work for a retailer at 50% with small quantities, how are they going to make the numbers work at 60 or more and bigger quantities?

    And we can give feedback. In fact i probably spend at least a dozen hours every week doing just that – feedback on what sells or does not in a retail store, and why. Hopefully that means the second or third product is better able to hit that home run and be picked up in a bigger quantity by somebody bigger than me.

    Thing is, without retailers in that conversation, the alpha gamers get to call the shots. And i haven’t met an alpha yet who would prioritise a publishers well being over their own desire for exclusivity.

    A smart publisher seeks all the advice, and then steers the course that best suits their product. Not every product is designed for retail – but that doesn’t mean that YOURS isn’t. After all Jamey took the decision to bypass Kickstarter and go straight to a combination of consumer, distributor and retailer. That’s a decision to build a brand and every publisher should have their brand, what it means, who their target market is and how to get their product to it paramount in their thought processes at all times.

    I obviously think retail is a major part of that equation. But also? its advisable not to go into a room full of retailers and tell them they are all shit, just as its not advisable for me to go into a publisher space and tell THEM they are all shit. That’s just not what we do.

    Our industry is probably the most collaborative industry on earth – all tiers working together, for mutual fun and profit. because while everyone CAN do it alone, the rewards are bigger when we work together.

    1. Thanks for chiming in (and for starting that group), Dave! I think it’s great that the group provides a variety of perspectives, with many of them leading to decisions that mutually benefit publishers and retailers.

  4. This post just kept reminding me of the Rotary 4-Way Test (which was originally created by a struggling business owner for how he and his employees should interact professionally, and he credits with turning things around.) If you’ve never heard it:

    Of the things we Think, Say, or Do:
    1. Is it the Truth?
    2. Is it Fair to all concerned?
    3. Will it build good will and better friendships?
    4. Will it be beneficial to all concerned?

    Particularly that last one… then the retailers would only be sending you suggestions if they honestly believe it will benefit both parties.

    1. Thanks for sharing, Rik! I’m not familiar with that. #4 is interesting. I agree with it with some hesitation, particularly because it isn’t “Will it be equally beneficial to all concerned?”

  5. Thanks for giving this greater visibility. It is easy to feel confused at the conflicting advice, and to adopt a “me first, and you never” mindset after getting burned by reality (like the retailer commanding your obedience and then stocking only a few copies before moving to the next thing).

    I have been feeling these emotions after seeing the results of so many of my clients after they take the path on either of the extreme ends of the continuum:

    [Reject Retail] [Do Everything Retail Says]

    The problem is on either end you’re going to lose out. Often by doing what is best for you, it ends up being best for all in the end. Look at what Isaac Childres did with his second Gloomhaven printing — that made retailers quite angry at the time. And on the other side of the coin, look at what you did leaving Kickstarter behind — that made some of your backers quite angry at the time.

    But here we are, with your two companies more successful than ever before, and retailers reaping the benefit of your decisions in various ways.

    If only the future effects of sound business decisions were more easily discerned… But then again, business owners are inherent risk takers, and easy street would make life less interesting!

    1. Aha I think I commented out my awesome continuum graph. Here it is again:

      [Reject Retail] —————- [Do Everything Retail Says]

      Will it work? Who knows. Taking the risk in 3… 2… 1…

    2. Thanks for sharing, Andrew! I have found–for me and other creators–that it’s really hard to navigate that spectrum, to the point that some of the advice I’ve given to creators is that if they’re trying to find a middle ground, they might be better off just choosing one side or the other.

      1. For many, distribution is the bottleneck. It came as no surprise to me that some creators, like Chip Theory Games, were exclusively direct-to-consumer through Kickstarter and their website for so long. Now that their game has so much demand, they’re making Too Many Bones available at retail.

        I encourage people to constantly re-evaluate their marketing strategies, and I think that mindset can be extended to a company business plan as well.

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