23 February 2016 | 25 Comments
Last fall I was faced with a problem: I had a small product in production and no way of effectively delivering it.
The product, the Viticulture Moor Visitors Expansion, would have an MSRP of $15. I knew there would be some customers who would want to pre-order it, especially if they got a discount on the game. But they would also have to pay for shipping, which for our fulfillment centers would be about $10.
$10 shipping for a $15 expansion didn’t feel like a good deal for me to offer to pre-order customers. So I decided to find a different way to run a pre-order for it.
At that point, there were basically three models for releasing a new board-game product (they can be used in combination with each other):
- Sell the in-stock product directly to distributors, who would in turn sell it to retailers (no pre-order). This is the most traditional model, and some publishers still use it. It’s fine, but it doesn’t help the people who want to pre-order the product. Those people are going to be the most enthusiastic about the product–they are your greatest ambassadors.
- Accept pre-orders directly through our website after the game is in production. Many publishers use this method, and there’s nothing wrong with it. Sure, you’re taking some business away from retailers, but it’s usually not significant. This still requires us to ship individual products to people around the world, which doesn’t address the pricing dilemma above.
- Crowdfund the product before it enters production. This is great for gauging demand, improving a product, building community, raising funds, and marketing, but none of those things really apply to this expansion. It doesn’t cost much to make, it’s a cohesive product, and there’s already a strong community around it. Also, when you crowdfund an expansion, there is the expectation that you will offer the original game as part of the deal. Not only is this offputting to retailers, but it’s also not in the spirit of Kickstarter, which is to create new things, not reprint existing stuff (they grey area is for new editions of existing products, like Tuscany + the second edition of Viticulture).
None of those solutions fit well for the Moor Visitors Expansion, so I tried something new.
Last week, with Moor Visitors already on the boat from China to the US, I sent an e-mail to the 250 retailers on our mailing list to tell them about the new pre-order system. In this system, instead of Stonemaier accepting pre-orders through our website, retailers would accept pre-orders for one week on their websites and in their stores. I would send the purchased products to the retailers, and they would fulfill the orders to their customers.
All they needed to do was reply to say they wanted to be part of it–any retailer is welcome to join.
I set up a temporary page on Celery, our pre-order platform of choice, that gave the retailers 55% off the MSRP of the expansion and our other in-stock products. I also offered them free shipping on orders over $100 (the plan is to air freight games from the US to Canada, Australia, and Europe and then send individual packages to retailers from within those regions).
I then created a page on our website that lists all participating retailers broken down by region and whether they’re local or online, as well as links to their websites. Finally, I sent out an e-newsletter to our 19,000+ subscribers to inform them that the pre-order campaign had launched.
Why is this system one that retailers would want to try and that customers would benefit from? A few reasons:
- Price: I would have had to charge $20-$25 for pre-orders for this product, so this is a case where retailers can offer a better price to customers. Local game stores don’t need to charge shipping at all, and online game stores having shipping methods that can get shipping down to $4-$7.
- Shipping: Customers in non-US regions like Canada, Australia/NZ, and Europe will have their games shipped from stores that are within a few hundred kilometers at most, not from the US.
- Consolidation: Because we’re directly customers to stores, those stores have the opportunity to sell other things to those customers. Not only is that good for the stores, but it can be good for customers who are trying to exceed the free shipping threshold on those stores.
- Convenience: We wanted to give customers the opportunity to buy from local game stores where they could simply pick up the pre-ordered game when they’re ready.
- Discovery: Customers have a chance to discover new stores–both local and online–that they’ve never heard of.
- Precision: We’ve had plenty of retail support on our Kickstarter campaigns, but for the most part those stores are buying blind. They don’t know how much demand there will be for the product. This system takes away that mystery, as the retailers can wait until February 29–after they’ve collected pre-orders from their customers–to place their order with us.
- Marketing: We’ve essentially created an event around this pre-order campaign. Sure, people often get excited about new product announcements, but it rarely turns into an immediate actionable event for retailers or customers. This is different–it’s happening right now, giving everyone involved a compelling reason to talk about it and become a part of it.
- Respect: I believe that it’s really important for a company like Stonemaier to have a great relationship with retailers. This pre-order is partially about me showing them that I respect and value them–I want to work with them, not undercut them. I’ve tried to do similar things with the way we involve retailers in our Kickstarter projects, but because Stonemaier isn’t accepting any direct pre-orders from customers for this campaign, it hopefully takes that relationship to a new level.
At the very least, those are my perceived benefits. This entire thing is a bit of an experiment. The pre-order campaign ends next week, after which I’ll follow up with a postmortem post with statistics, feedback, and lessons learned.
What do you think about this system?