Talking Shop

I've spent my last couple of weeks of evenings and lunch hours dropping in on the various boardgame retailers here in Edmonton. It's been a great opportunity to talk shop with the owners, and leave them with copies of a Two by Two Retailer Flyer that gives them some information about the game and where they can order copies. For those reading, go ahead and forward copies of that flyer to any retailers you think might be interested.

As a game designer, I'm way at the beginning of the pipeline but store owners are right at the very end, actually putting copies of my games into customers hands. It's always useful and interesting to listen to them, get a feel for the challenges they face, the markets they serve, and what I can do to help them sell my game. They were all wonderfully enthusisastic and very happy to take the time to talk shop and share insights into their business.

First off, I was surprised by how much growth there's been in the boardgame sector over the past few years. I'd been hearing stats of double-digit growth in North America, made all the more impressive given the otherwise dismal state of the economy (and double-digit losses in the video game sector). I went into West Edmonton Mall, for instance, expecting to talk to the one or two boardgame retailers I was already familiar with. To my surprise, it seemed that every little coin, stamp, and hockey card store (of which there are quite a few) carried a small but well-appointed selection of modern eurogames, often in a prominent location right by the till. Likewise, a growing number of familiar local retailers such as Warp, Happy Harbor, Wizards, and River City Games have outgrown their original locations and now operate as small chains of two or three stores. All of them are increasing the percentage of shelf space that's dedicated to boardgames and a growing number of retailers are beginning to add "& Games" to the end of their names. Look at it through the lens of any individual retailer and it's not all that dramatic a shift. When you start to put all the pieces together and can see the big picture, however, it's quite remarkable. I'm sure there are plenty of other cities in Canada and abroad that are going through similar transformations.

Given the family-friendly nature and biblical theme of Two by Two, I've also been stopping in at various kid-centric, educational, and religious retailers for whom games serve as increasingly popular novelty items. Many of them rely on different distribution channels than the hobby market so a lot of our discussion has focused on who those distributors are and how to approach them (both as a push from the publisher and a pull from the retailer) to ensure that they carry the game so that these sorts of retailers can get it onto their shelves more conveniently.

One thing that I was particularly shocked to find was that, aside from the good people at Mission: Fun & Games (Edmonton's only all-games retailer), none of the retailers were aware that Two by Two's publisher, Valley Games, is based right here in Canada (let alone Alberta). Many were excited to learn that fact --- they felt that their customers, when faced with a wall of games and the tyranny of choice, would be interested to hear of a local connection and would take that into consideration when selecting a game to purchase. One of the retailers immediately got on the phone with their distributor, Lion Rampant Imports, and ordered a full line of Valley Games' titles. Another mall kiosk operator is now planning a Canadian content display as part of his pre-Christmas upgrade to a custom kiosk. All of this has me thinking that there's got to be a better way to educate Canadian retailers, and the game-buying public more generally, about Canada's remarkable tradition (and exciting new developments) in game design and publishing.

But that's a subject to explore in future posts...

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