6 February 2020 | 14 Comments
While it may not always seem to be the case, I prefer to sell the majority of our games to distributors. Quite simply, it is much easier to sell and ship a pallet of games to a single location than to sell and ship 126 games to 126 individual customers. I’m still glad we have the opportunity to serve those who prefer to buy directly from us, of course.
While most of our products are in distribution, not all of them are. Scythe’s metal mechs would require an MSRP of over $100 for a single set of 1 mech per faction if we sold them to distributors, so we don’t. We also have a number of ala carte items without bar codes that don’t seem like a good fit for distribution.
But because of the worldwide value added by distributors (here’s a basic explanation of the board game supply chain), it often surprises me when I see Kickstarter exclusive projects, Target exclusives, and any publisher that entirely ignores distribution. Especially since a significant number of consumers buy from retailers:
Why then, you might ask (if you’re in the US or Canada), is Stonemaier Games selling Wingspan on our webstore right now when US and Canadian retailers can’t get it from distributors?
In September, I initiated a 21,520-unit print run of Wingspan. Approximately half of the print run was for distributors who prepaid for it, which is incredibly helpful, as making 21,520 games ties up quite a bit of cash.
In addition to the prepaid units, I reserved 15,000 units for distributors and direct sales. But 15,000 isn’t half of 21,520, is it? That’s because I wrote down the wrong number on a spreadsheet I use to communicate to our broker. Basically, I told Panda to make 21,520 units (which they did), but elsewhere I wrote down 26,520.
A few months later, we solicited non-North American distributors for their desired quantities of Wingspan. We do this because it allows us to ship to those distributors directly from China instead of freight shipping to the US and then to their final destinations. When our broker portioned out games to those direct-ship distributors, they used the 15,000 quantity I gave them, not the correct number of 10,000.
As a result, when our broker received games for North America, they received far fewer than they were expecting to have for distributors. It was then that I discovered my clerical mistake, but it was far too late at that point.
Meanwhile, our broker received tens of thousands of orders from distributors in the US and Canada with only a few thousand copies of Wingspan available. This presented quite a dilemma, as a few thousand copies of Wingspan can barely cover one distributor’s orders, while there are nearly ten major hobby game distributors in North America to whom we sell.
Our choice was to divide the few copies we have among those distributors, knowing that each will be frustrated for being heavily allocated (and that local game stores in particular would end up receiving 1 or 2 copies at most, which would be frustrating for them), or do we wait until we have a more robust supply of Wingspan?
I decided to wait. We already have a mid-sized print run in production, so its primary focus will be to serve demand for distributors in North America. In addition to that, our broker accepted orders from distributors without prepayments for the next print run of Wingspan–we’re funding this print run ourselves so that we can make exactly what each distributor wants. That print run should arrive in stores in July.
In the meantime, however, I decided to sell the extra copies of Wingspan on our webstore. I understand this decision may not resonate well with distributors and retailers, but I think it’s a better way to serve the thousands of customers who requested a back-in-stock notification on our webstore than to let those games sit in our warehouse for 3 months.
For full context, there are now 300,000 units of Wingspan in print worldwide. Stonemaier Games has sold approximately 20,000 of them directly to consumers, so over 90% of all units have gone to distributors and localization partners. Yet–with the exception of distributors who have pre-committed to a portion of reprints before production begins–distributors have been continually frustrated by allocations. That played a major factor in my recent decision.
All of that said, I don’t want retailers to suffer from my clerical mistake, especially not small brick-and-mortar stores. Over the last few days, I’ve received some notes from US and Canadian retailers saying that they would love to get a few copies of Wingspan to serve their local customers, and I’ve offered them the ability to buy a case from our webstore at the standard 50% retailer discount. I applaud those retailers’ willingness to serve their customers without blasting me (I received a few very inflammatory messages), and I’m happy to help them.
Anyway, those are my thoughts on this subject, and I’d love to hear yours in the comments below. You’re welcome to disagree with my decision, but please do so constructively.
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