Shipping Innovations by Level99 Games

11 July 2016

I recently had the opportunity to interview Level99’s Brad Talton about what he’s learned about shipping and fulfillment. Brad has fulfilled 12 different Kickstarter campaigns so far, and he’s currently running his 13th campaign (Millennium Blades reprint), so it seemed like a good time to tap into his experience.

You’ve run a number of Kickstarter projects now. Roughly how many rewards would you say you’ve fulfilled at this point? Have you used fulfillment centers for all of them?

I’ve fulfilled about 12 campaigns now (9 of my own and 3 for others). I’d say its close to 25,000 rewards shipped around the world. We’ve done everything from shipping out of my garage to opening a fulfillment center of our own, to using professional fulfillment services.

Throughout those projects, was there any key pivot points where you realized something you were doing didn’t work and needed to be fixed en masse for future projects? If so, what was it?

Most of my realizations came after the fact, when I looked at the numbers, or at the costs of certain countries. For example, allowing people from South Africa and Brazil to back my KS projects was probably not smart, since these countries are in a tier by themselves in terms of cost and the likelihood of a package being lost. Nowadays, if I can’t do mass shipment to a region, I ask fans in that region to just order from our online store, where they can get a calculated shipping rate just for them.

What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made while shipping Kickstarter rewards?

I’ve made my fair share of mistakes, so I’m going to post two here.

  1. Opening my own fulfillment center in my own warehouse was quite a lark. We managed to keep it running for about a year and a half, but our rates just weren’t competitive with professional fulfillment centers and we didn’t get much business. You have to be very detail oriented, and count every penny on every shipment to make sure you’re profitable in that industry. I’m not that kind of person, and it was a rough experience that almost bankrupted Level 99 Games.
  2. Another big mistake I made was in the shipment of Millennium Blades. We allowed a lot of add-ons and big group pledges, and then forgot to include these add-ons in our shipment to European backers. As a result, Europe was about 70 games short, and some of our most involved patrons were 3 months late on getting their games. Freighting over the units to fix this took far longer, and was far more expensive than it had any right to be. I’ve told this story a few times with various add-ons over the years. In general, the overhead that add-ons bring to a campaign isn’t worth it for me.

What’s the biggest innovation you’ve made while shipping Kickstarter rewards?

Producing everything at once, and having our factory pre-package the pledge tiers into one shipping box. We have the shipping box custom-made in China to reduce the cost of damages and box fill, reduced waste, and made it very easy to fulfill the rewards (just put on a label and go). Each box is stamped with a different SKU code, matching one of the tiers of the project rewards. It requires that your pledges be very streamlined though, and doesn’t work well with add-ons. But as I’ve mentioned earlier, I’ve found that add-ons are more work than they’re worth in general.

Your company, Level99 Games, sells products through its website. Do you have any insights for other creators about how to continue to facilitate individual order shipping (opposed to mass fulfillment)?

This was the main reason for us opening our own warehouse in the first place. However, now that I use a remote fulfillment center, I can say that this is even easier to do remotely than to do locally. I would say our most successful products have been add-ons that are not available at hobby retail: mini expansions, playmats, and the like. Our store guarantees the availability of our games anywhere in the world, but most of our customers discover the game in stores, then come to our store for something extra special and hard to find.

What are your favorite fulfillment companies to work with? How do they meet your needs in turns of ease of use, communication, customer service, speed, packaging quality, and pricing?

I’ve been very impressed with our fulfillment service in New Jersey, Fulfillrite. They’ve managed to ship out our past three campaigns (Pixel Tactics Deluxe, Millennium Blades, and EXCEED) without any incident in the USA. We typically work with Snakes and Lattes in Canada, and with Spiral Galaxy Games or Ideaspatcher in Europe (depending on whether more backers are in England or the rest of Europe).

I’ve had a little difficulty with the last two, but I think that handling a business like fulfillment overseas is always going to be tough. I would say that anytime you’re shipping over 100 units of anything (or more than 30 units to an overseas country/region), a fulfillment center is going to be a good idea.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with your fellow Kickstarter creators about shipping and fulfillment?

Beware of your costs! There’s no faster way to lose money on a Kickstarter project than to overlook some shipping cost! Consider using your online store to reach the far corners of the globe, and just Kickstarting to a few regions where you’re willing to freight your rewards and thus can offer more reasonable shipping rates.

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Thanks so much for taking the time to answer these questions, Brad! I’ll also be writing an entry soon about my experiences shipping Scythe.

8 Comments on “Shipping Innovations by Level99 Games

  1. Jamey,

    Thanks for posting this interview!

    Brad,

    I greatly appreciated your candid responses ~ as someone who ran only two successful Kickstarter projects with less than 150 items shipped around the world, I can tell you that I agree wholeheartedly with the notion of getting the shipping right. While I had a really strong sense of the price point for our pieces, coupled with the expenses related to hiring artisans, I had no clue as to the shipping side of the equation, especially for overseas Backers. One Backer, in Perth Australia, came to the rescue and paid the entirety of the shipping cost, which was nearly $250!

    You have had great success and I wish you the best on future endeavors. Again, thank you for sharing your experiences.

    Cheers,
    Joe

  2. If there is any doubt how important a lock tight shipping plan is please consider that in many (if not most) cases even domestic shipping cost per tabletop game is more than your manufacturing costs per item. Make SURE you have a solid primary plan with at least one backup plan before you kickstart IMHO.

  3. We too had problem with BRazil, something happens at the customs there. I cannot tell but we have decided to no longer offer simple shipping method, tracking number only so that backers feel the authority of watching. Of course we haven’t raised the final price , instead we incorporated it to the final pledge, making the reward the same but the KS backing sweeter with upgraded shipping methods :)

  4. Brad’s a great guy, and we strongly considered using his service for Halfsies Dice.

    He offered (I suppose still does) a similar service as Ideaspatcher: Flat rate cost by weight, with zero “pick n pack” fees. This was huge for a campaign like Halfsies dice where the average pledge had 7.4 items in it, and went as high as 40. (He’da killed me. ; ) We ended up self-fulfilling again for a litany of reasons, but nothing to do with Brad of Level 99s offering.

    Good guy, good to work with from day one.

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