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Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Year 2014 Wrap-Up: DSG Best-Sellers - TCGs, Comics/Media/Toys, Miniatures, Others

Greetings once again!

Time to cover the other categories here at DSG, with lists of our top ten best-sellers in each!

Trading card games yielded mostly predictable results:

TCG Sealed, December Only:

  1. MTG Duel Decks Anthology
  2. MTG Khans of Tarkir Booster Pack
  3. MTG Magic 2015 Core Set Booster Pack
  4. MTG Theros Booster Pack
  5. Pokemon XY Phantom Forces Booster Pack
  6. MTG Khans of Tarkir Fat Pack
  7. MTG Commander 2014 Black
  8. MTG Conspiracy Booster Pack
  9. MTG Commander 2014 White
  10. MTG Khans of Tarkir Holiday Gift Box

When we sell booster boxes, they go into the system as 36 packs.  Thus, the total figure you see reflects both box sales and pack-by-pack sales.  Check out the Duel Decks Anthology, crushing it for us this month!

TCG Sealed, All of 2014:

  1. MTG Khans of Tarkir Booster Pack
  2. MTG Born of the Gods Booster Pack
  3. MTG Magic 2015 Core Set Booster Pack
  4. MTG Journey into Nyx Booster Pack
  5. MTG Theros Booster Pack
  6. MTG Conspiracy Booster Pack
  7. MTG Return to Ravnica Booster Pack
  8. MTG Duel Decks Anthology
  9. Dragonball Z 2014 Core Booster Pack
  10. MTG Magic 2014 Core Set Booster Pack

For the year, Khans boosters more than doubled the #2 entry in revenue, and Khans singles were the house sauce for all of October in addition to that.  It is difficult to convey in the course of just these lists how huge MTG Khans of Tarkir was for us.  It was far and away our best-selling single product since the store opened.

Only about $1k separated entries #2 through #6.  I can't explain #2.  Born of the Gods seemed to sell very poorly.  That figure might be augmented by the fact that we had to break down fat packs for boosters when we were out of the latter and choking on the former.  We've been selling RTR packs for $6 for a while now, so the actual number of packs sold is less than anything else on this list, but in revenue it landed there at #7.

This next category gathers most of the miscellany as well as some specifics.

Comics/Media/Toys/Apparel, December Only:

  1. Naruto Shippuden Kakashi Gem PVC Figure
  2. Funko POP! Marvel GOTG Dancing Groot
  3. The Walking Dead Compendium One
  4. My Little Pony Vinyl Figures Blind Box
  5. DC The Joker 75 Years HC
  6. DC Batman 75 Years HC
  7. Funko POP! MTG Nicol Bolas
  8. Funko POP! Disney Frozen Elsa
  9. Funko POP! MTG Ajani Goldmane
  10. Funko POP! Disney Frozen Olaf

Comics/Media/Toys/Apparel, All of 2014:

  1. The Walking Dead Compendium One
  2. Funko POP! MTG Nicol Bolas
  3. Funko POP! Disney Frozen Olaf
  4. Funko POP! Disney Frozen Elsa
  5. Naruto Shippuden Kakashi Gem PVC Figure
  6. Funko POP! Disney Frozen Anna
  7. Funko POP! Marvel GOTG Dancing Groot
  8. The Walking Dead Compendium Two
  9. DC Batman The Long Halloween TPB
  10. Funko POP! MTG Elspeth Tirel
This category is not on the volume level of the others -- the #1 item on these lists wouldn't make the top 25 in TCG Sealed.  It's still illuminating to see what products are at the vanguard in DSGCW's first year of being involved in comics and pop culture generally, not just tabletop games.  These lists exclude Marvel, DC, and other single comic issues, which are kept in consolidated SKUs and tell us very little despite being respectably large numbers.  Marvel Comics single issues, combined, earned as much for us in 2014 as MTG Journey into Nyx did.  That's meaningful revenue.


Miniatures, December Only:

  1. Star Wars Imperial Assault Core Game
  2. D&D RPG Miniatures 2014 Series 1 Box
  3. Star Wars X-Wing: YT-2400 Freighter
  4. Star Wars X-Wing: VT-49 Decimator
  5. Star Wars X-Wing: Lambda-Class Shuttle
  6. Star Wars X-Wing Core Set
  7. Star Wars X-Wing: Rebel Aces
  8. Star Wars X-Wing: Imperial Aces
  9. D&D Attack Wing: Aarakocra Troop
  10. D&D Attack Wing: Shadow Black Dragon

Miniatures, All of 2014:
  1. Star Wars Imperial Assault Core Game
  2. Star Wars X-Wing: VT-49 Decimator
  3. Star Wars X-Wing Core Game
  4. D&D Attack Wing Core Set
  5. Star Wars X-Wing: YT-2400 Freighter
  6. D&D RPG Miniatures 2014 Series 1 Box
  7. Star Wars X-Wing: Lambda-Class Shuttle
  8. Star Wars X-Wing: Rebel Aces
  9. Miniature Battles Space Game Mat 36x24
  10. Star Wars X-Wing: Imperial Aces

It's hard to know what to make of these figures, though, considering virtually the entire line of X-Wing continues to be unavailable for restock.  Based on player demand, it seems likely the Millennium Falcon would be by far our best seller in the category.  Imperial Assault made the year's top ten despite being released in mid-December, probably because it's a $100 SKU and we sold a bunch of them.

Organized Play, December Only:

  1. MTG PPTQ $15 Cash/CC
  2. MTG Constructed $5 Cash/CC
  3. MTG Constructed $10 Cash/CC
  4. MTG Constructed $6 Store Credit
  5. MTG Draft $14 Cash/CC
  6. MTG Draft $15 Cash/CC
  7. MTG Draft $18 Store Credit
  8. MTG Constructed $3 Cash/CC
  9. MTG Fate Reforged Prerelease
  10. MTG Constructed $12 Store Credit

We have differential entry fees based on whether a player is paying in MoneyDollars or store credit.  We had 95 players at our December 6th PPTQ.  I guess someone who wanted to do so, could derive our approximate tournament revenue for the month from that.  December was a down month for attendance, for sure.

Organized Play, All of 2014:

  1. MTG Constructed $5 Cash/CC
  2. MTG Constructed $10 Cash/CC
  3. MTG Draft $15 Cash/CC
  4. MTG Khans of Tarkir Prerelease
  5. MTG Draft $14 Cash/CC
  6. MTG Magic 2015 Prerelease
  7. MTG Born of the Gods Prerelease
  8. MTG TCGPlayer Event $25 Cash/CC
  9. MTG Journey into Nyx Prerelease
  10. MTG Constructed $6 Store Credit

All four MTG prerelease events made the top ten list, coming in ahead of various other organized play SKUs.  All in all, I am not disappointed at all by these figures.  Obviously I wish they were higher, but that's always true.  What irks me is that it's all MTG.  You'd think at least that our FFG $5 Kit event SKU would have cracked the annual top 10, for all Fantasy Flight games combined.  But nope.  Our Pokemon open play is free so I'm not surprised to see it absent here.

Wrapping up the last loose end of our year, we have a category no longer active:

Video Games, All of 2014:

  1. Used - Nintendo
  2. Used - Xbox
  3. Arcade Game - Star Wars
  4. Arcade Game - Multi-Pac
  5. Used - Playstation
  6. Arcade Game - Xybots
  7. Used - Sega
  8. Used - Miscellaneous

Those were all the entries in the category; early in the year the store sold off its arcade hardware to two of the owners, and sold the remaining arcade games to the public.  Then, in July, we discontinued console games.  Not because of viability or profitability.  In fact, the category was great for us.  We simply didn't have the facility space, rack and fixture, and market positioning to carry it properly.  If DSGCW ever expands into a megastore, it's highly likely console games will return.

And that's it!  The top sellers in every category at DSGCW in 2014.  I hope you enjoyed this article series.  See you in 2015 here at The Backstage Pass!

-Bahr

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Year 2014 Wrap-Up: DSG Best-Sellers - Accessories and Concessions

Greetings everyone!

Time for the second installment in our Year-End Wrap-Up!  These lists go by total revenue.  Accessories was so close to expectations I could have dart-boarded it:

Accessories, December Only:

  1. Dragon Shields, Turquoise
  2. KMC Sleeves Hyper Matte Black
  3. Dragon Shields, Black
  4. Ultra-Pro Black Solid 100ct (sleeves)
  5. KMC Sleeves, Hyper Matte Clear
  6. Dragon Shields, Copper
  7. Dragon Shields, Blue
  8. KMC Sleeves, Perfect Size 100ct
  9. Ultra-Pro Satin Tower Black (deck box)
  10. Ultra-Pro White Solid 100ct

In case there is any lingering doubt after my last series of articles, this should make the landscape crystal clear.  It really is all about those textured sleeves.

Accessories, All of 2014:

  1. KMC Sleeves Hyper Matte Black
  2. Dragon Shields, Black
  3. Dragon Shields, Turquoise
  4. KMC Sleeves, Perfect Size 100ct
  5. Ultra-Pro Pro-Fit 100ct
  6. Ultra-Pro Black Solid 100ct
  7. Dragon Shields, Red
  8. Dragon Shields, Blue
  9. Dragon Shields, Green
  10. Dragon Shields, Purple
The year looked about the same.  Hyper Matte Blacks alternated places with black and turquoise Dragon Shields for about half the year at the top of the list.  The three are our best-selling accessory SKUs consistently, but every color sells -- it's just that the sales are spread out among all those SKUs.

What happens if I exclude card sleeves from a list of our top-selling accessories?

Accessories, All of 2014, Excluding Sleeves:
  1. Ultra-Pro Satin Tower Black
  2. Desert Sky Games playmat
  3. 5000ct Super Shoe Box Storage w/Lid
  4. Ultra-Pro 209D 9-Pocket Pages 100ct
  5. BCW Current Comic Boards 100ct
  6. MTG Black Mana Flip Top Deck Box
  7. 3200ct Super Shoe Box Storage w/Lid
  8. Ultra-Pro Playmat and Artwork Tube
  9. MTG Blue Mana Flip Top Deck Box
Only nine non-sleeve accessories made our top 100 accessories SKUs in revenue for the year.   The tenth came in 118th place, and it was the Ultra-Pro Satin Tower Light Blue.  This doesn't mean your store should ignore non-sleeve accessories -- we sold $5,000 in dice in 2014 -- but it means having your full lines of sleeves is of high importance because even tournament-hardcore Spike players who already have every card are still going to buy their sleeves from the store where they play.

What else might they buy?  Happily, virtually every player regardless of game partakes of our concessions.  We include coin-op in this category since it's an on-site consumable.  The results:


Concessions, December Only:

  1. Surge 2014 can 16oz
  2. Bottled Water
  3. Mountain Dew can 12oz
  4. Quarters into Pinball: Street Fighter II CE
  5. Quarters into Pinball: High Speed
  6. Mountain Dew Throwback can 12oz
  7. Monster Energy Original 16oz
  8. Coca-Cola Classic can 12oz
  9. Gatorade Frost Glacier Freeze 20oz
  10. Dr Pepper can 12oz

I did not expect to see that performance out of Surge, even though I knew it was doing well.  But displacing bottled water at the top of the list is like beating the Harlem Globetrotters.  It just doesn't happen.  And that's without considering that we give away bottled water for free at competitive/championship tournament events we host.

I liked seeing my new Street Fighter II pinball machine, which only just arrived mid-month, breaking into the top 5 on revenue.  Probably a quarter of its earnings were from me personally, but hey, it's all good.  No surprises from the soft drink flavors that made the top ranks.

Concessions, All of 2014:

  1. Bottled Water
  2. Monster Energy Zero Ultra
  3. Mountain Dew bottle 24oz
  4. Quarters into Pinball: High Speed
  5. Quarters into ESD-4 Sticker Machine
  6. Dr. Pepper can 12oz
  7. Monster Energy Original 16oz
  8. Mountain Dew can 12oz
  9. Coca-Cola Classic can 12oz
  10. Mexican Coca-Cola bottle 12oz

Coming in 12th for the year was a product I could only get until May or June-ish: Rockstar Recovery Grape, my beverage of choice.  Of course it got discontinued.  I see the effect of our failing to make timely refills of our sticker machine, which is usually stocked with Magic, My Little Pony, and Pokemon cards.  For the year it was our fifth-highest earning concession, while for the month of December it didn't make the top ten.  (It was 18th.)

So there we are!  Trading card games and comics/media/toys still to come!

Monday, December 29, 2014

Year 2014 Wrap-Up: DSG Best-Sellers - Board Games

Greetings everyone!

Over the final week of 2014, I'll be sharing our top sellers at DSG over various categories.  Today, we'll address board games and RPGs!  The "board games" category includes non-collectible card games such as the Fantasy Flight LCGs.  RPGs is mainly only products directly sold as roleplaying material, including map packs and tile sets (if any of them had made the top ten, which none did), but omitting dice and miniatures.

These lists go by total revenue.  It's possible to do a unit count list with considerable report massaging, but most of the list is the same -- only a few SKUs, such as Love Letter, jump higher if you go by raw quantity.

Board Games, December Only:
  1. Cards Against Humanity Base Set
  2. Warhammer 40K Conquest LCG Core Set
  3. Netrunner LCG The Source data pack
  4. Ticket to Ride
  5. King of New York
  6. DC Comics Forever Evil deckbuilding game
  7. DC Comics Heroes Unite deckbuilding game
  8. Pandemic 2013 Edition
  9. Catan: Ancient Egypt
  10. Love Letter Boxed Edition
Interestingly, none of these were close calls.  Even with considerable business over the final few days of the month, none are likely to change spots even if we sell out of our stock of them.  The demand levels are that cleanly defined.

Board Games, All of 2014:
  1. Cards Against Humanity Base Set
  2. Warhammer 40K Conquest LCG Core Set
  3. Netrunner LCG Honor and Profit
  4. Ticket to Ride
  5. Cards Against Humanity First Expansion
  6. Android Netrunner LCG Core Set
  7. Small World
  8. Cards Against Humanity Second Expansion
  9. Adventure Time Card Wars: Finn vs Jake
  10. DC Comics deckbuilding game
Our list mirrors that of the industry overall, which I take to mean we are doing things consistently with the best practices of most full-spectrum game stores.  Other than not (yet) carrying paintable miniatures such as Games Workshop products, and not having much in the way of mainstream classic games, I'd say we're following that blueprint faithfully.

The situation is much more skewed in one direction when you look at RPGs.  We don't even have a proper Top Ten, because after the top five SKUs the sales trickle into the single units.

Role-Playing Games, December Only:

  1. D&D Next 5th Dungeon Master's Guide
  2. D&D Next 5th Players' Handbook
  3. D&D Next 5th Starter Set
  4. D&D Next 5th Hoard of the Dragon Queen
  5. D&D Map Pack: Vaults of the Underdark

Role-Playing Games: All of 2014:

  1. D&D Next 5th Players' Handbook
  2. D&D Next 5th Dungeon Master's Guide
  3. D&D Next 5th Monster Manual
  4. D&D Next 5th Starter Set
  5. D&D 4E Players' Handbook
  6. D&D Next 5th The Rise of Tiamat
  7. Pathfinder Beginner BLUE Box
  8. D&D Next 5th Hoard of the Dragon Queen
  9. Star Wars: Edge of the Empire Core Rules

I expanded that list until two non-D&D products appeared, and those were the two highest.  The next seven entries were all D&D SKUs.  Players' Handbook 5E sold in higher total volume than the rest of that list combined.  Pathfinder honestly may as well not exist right now, which is staggering when you consider it had legitimately overcome D&D in sales volume industrywide as recently as last year.

So there you have it!  Board games and RPGs, with more categories to come tomorrow!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Customer Vital Prep for Card Games, Part 3

Welcome back to The Backstage Pass!

Time to talk sleeves.  In this third part of my card accessories primer, I am going to cover what you need to know as a retailer or a new card player about sleeving those cards.

First of all, I know it may seem a bit obvious, but yes, sleeves are necessary.  Even for a player who says they plan to keep cards forever and never trade them in -- and everyone who says this eventually changes their mind at least once -- nobody wants them to get obliterated due to normal wear and tear, and for games like Magic: the Gathering, opaque-backed sleeves are required for tournament play regardless.  For other games, even where sleeving is not required, there can be print run differences between editions and expansions and players don't want these variations to cause them to fail a deck check.
Before proper TCG sleeves were made, gamers who thought to sleeve cards simply used sports-card "penny" sleeves, so called because they are sold in packs of one hundred sleeves for a dollar.  Card players were mercilessly mocked for sleeving up, "card condoms" and all that.  Well, the joke's on them now, with differences in wear on early Magic cards making thousands of dollars in difference to the cards' values.  We're not just talking about Lotuses and Moxes here -- DSG buys and sells Revised dual lands all the time, and a worn Underground Sea that saw unsleeved play may barely sell for $200, while a near-mint specimen will reliably sell for $300 or more, as of this writing.

Of course, penny sleeves break very easily and shuffle very poorly.  Ultra-Pro introduced card sleeves designed specifically for gameplay in 1996, starting with clear, then black-backed, and then red-backed "Deck Protectors."  In the early going the sleeves did not stand up to wear that well, but honestly, they were an order of magnitude better than penny sleeves, and Ultra-Pro deserves all the fortune they've reaped for being in the right place with the right product at the time.


Today's Ultra-Pro Deck Protectors are still evergreen because their price point is low.  There are cheaper sleeves (MAX Protect, Player's Choice) but we never saw them turn volume, so while you can carry them without significant exposure, and certainly you should experiment with that, don't expect miracles.  We see significant sales of the regular Deck Protectors mostly to price-sensitive players.  They come in packs of 50 in a rainbow of colors, or packs of 100 in the Magic primary colors:


We see good volume also on the next step up, Ultra-Pro's Pro Matte series, which has some texture and stands up to wear much better than standard Deck Protectors do:


Ultra-Pro attempted to repackage the Pro-Matte line in 100-packs, mimicking Dragon Shields (which I'll discuss in a moment) as the "Pro Slayer" series, but we did not see any player interest on that and our distributors appeared to have discontinued it more or less at the same time we did.
So, what's the step up in sleeves?  For a while, the step up was art sleeves.  Like art binders, these are entirely dead money now.  Art boxes do okay because the art has little or nothing to do with the shuffling properties of the sleeves, but they still fail to outsell Ultra-Pro's more elaborate Mana Flip and Pro Tower style boxes.  Art sleeves for a while appeared in a variety of styles, primarily as licensed promotion for current Magic expansions:


Legion Supplies released almost nothing but art sleeves and were a mainstay during DSG's early days as a store.  Their art designs were generally more imaginative or inspired than the licensed art sleeves, and for a time we saw widespread player uptake on them:



Ultra-Pro got into the act by introducing "meme" sleeves in addition to their licensed art sleeves:



By mid-2014, none of this mattered.  The sleeve market had matured, and players wanted one of two things: a robust, textured, high-quality sleeve, or a cheap sleeve.  Nothing else.  The premium charged for art sleeves became extraneous, and players not only disdained "slippery" non-textured sleeves unless they were cheap, but also discovered that art layers peeled with surprising ease after being subject to vigorous shuffling over time.  DSG does still see some sales of Grumpy Cat, Doge, and My Little Pony art sleeves, and occasionally the new Magic expansion licensed sleeves, but in terms of overall volume these sales are dwarfed by sales of textured or cheap mono-colored sleeves.  We discontinued Legion products entirely as sales ground to a complete halt.

Ultra-Pro covers both sides of this market, as shown above.  However, their Pro-Mattes are not viewed by players (justifiably or otherwise) as being top-tier in quality, though we have discovered in usage that they are in fact quite good.  Nevertheless, players seeking higher-end textured sleeves turn either to Dragon Shields or KMC Hyper Mats.  Those are the two critical lines you'll want to carry to cater to those players, because even the tournament Spike players who already own every card still tend to buy their sleeves locally, which means sales for you.

Dragon Shields were something of a unicorn for years.  A decade back they were the best sleeve going, bar none, and supply was woefully inconsistent.  Stores sold out all they could get, and who knew when a restock would come around.  In 2012 Fantasy Flight acquired the brand and began manufacturing their own LCG art sleeves at the same factories in China.  After some disappointing variations in quality across the Dragon Shield line in the last two years or so, by mid-2014 they had hit a sweet spot in production that continues to this day.  Moreover, Fantasy Flight's restocking consistency has improved by leaps and bounds.  Right now, today as I write this, Alliance and GTS Distribution both show every color of Dragon Shields in stock and available to ship immediately.  Dragon Sleeves feature a subtle but noticeable texture that hits just the right tolerance for many players, and these players swear by these sleeves and will buy no other.  Turquoise, Copper, Black, and New Gold are the top sellers in this line:


KMC Card Barrier sleeves spent years in the same world as Dragon Shields: inconsistent supply but a superior product.  While their supply chain is still not close to as good as Ultra-Pro's or Fantasy Flight's, it is generally solid and stockouts tend to be bad only until an overwhelming wave of replenishment shows up.  KMC makes a Super series that's high in quality but slippery, and thus sells poorly.  Their Mat series is somewhat better, the texture level is minimal but the consistency is great. However, KMC's Card Barrier Hyper Mat series has emerged as the top sleeve in their portfolio, with extremely high quality and resiliency, and a deep, granular texture that players find immensely tactile and grip-friendly.  I recommend them without hesitation, the Clears for board gaming and LCG play where opaque-backed sleeves are not required, and the monocolored Hypers for Magic: the Gathering and similar trading-card games.


There is no real right or wrong answer between Pro-Mattes, Dragon Shields, and Hyper Mats.  You just need to carry all of them, because you'll sell all three.  You'll want to be Switzerland and maintain your neutrality as to which one is the best, which is easy considering it's all a matter of personal opinion anyway.

Ultra-Pro and KMC have one additional sleeve product apiece that you need to know about.  For Ultra-Pro, they are called Pro-Fit sleeves, and for KMC they are Perfect Size (or, colloquially, "Perfect Fit") sleeves.  These are smaller sleeves that protect cards within the regular card sleeves.  So, double-sleeving, essentially.  The smaller sleeve is placed upside-down (opening to the card bottom) and the Fit-sleeved card is then inserted into the regular card sleeve.  The level of protection afforded is considerable, but many players find this to be excessive.  You'll see more double-sleeving among Vintage, Legacy, and Commander players than you will among Standard, Modern, or draft players.


I have been told by some of the more devoted Magic players, especially Commander players, that they now buy one brand and one color of sleeves to the exclusion of all others, double sleeve in Perfect Fits or Pro Fits with that brand and color, and never de-sleeve their cards thereafter.  Moving cards between decks becomes relatively easy as a result.  I recognize the value preservation argument for sure, though their method of achieving it is extremely elaborate and not especially budget-friendly.  It is worth your while to cater to these players, however, because they are willing to buy locally rather than online.  This is why I restock to a dozen quantity on each sleeve SKU I carry, and to well over 100 on the two Fit sleeve SKUs.  I never want that preservationist player, who shows up offering me hundreds of dollars for sleeves, to leave DSG empty-handed.

So, there in three articles has been The Backstage Pass's primer on card accessories for retailers and players.  I hope you have found this informative; please feel free to leave comments here or on our Facebook page and tell us what you think!  E-mail your questions about any aspect of the industry and yours might be featured in a future article right here.

Have a great week!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Customer Vital Prep for Card Games, Part 2

Greetings All!

This continues from last week's post about vital prep for card games.  Today I'm going to address tokens and dice.  That's right, I'm going to keep you guys waiting on the controversial sleeves article, because I found when writing this article that I had plenty to say about dice and tokens and wanted to give adequate time to sleeves without crowding out that discussion.

Tokens are a brief study, so let's cover that right up front.  Traditionally, tokens for card players used to be just glass beads, the kind you can get thirty for a buck at Cost Plus or Pier 1 or Hobby Lobby.  Even Wizards of the Coast included simple glass beads in the Revised and 4th Edition gift boxes.  These:


These work well enough really, with the marginal downside that they don't stack well or group well.  That problem is addressed by tokens like these by Fantasy Flight:


We carry a bunch of colors of the FFG stackable tokens and they work reasonably well.  Wizards of the Coast included some extremely nice tokens in the horribly short-printed 2012 Commander's Arsenal, for +1/+1 and -1/-1 creature power and toughness indicators:


But a lot of times, players just use d6 dice to indicate power/toughness, loyalty counters for Planeswalkers, and so on.  That's about the end of the token revolution.  If the players aren't using dice, a lot of the time they just use common objects (such as spare change) or their own hand-crafted items, or in the case of token creatures in Magic: the Gathering, the printed cards that have been around for about ten years now.  There is a non-trivial cohort that likes to use poker chips, but those tend to be a shade too large for extensive on-board use.  So, mostly we see dice used as tokens.  I like that as a segue, so...

There are 1.18 names in dice right now, and the 1 is Chessex Manufacturing and the other eighteen-hundredths of a name are everyone else put together, most notably Koplow Games, "the Nice Dice company," new entrant Metal Dice, and board game companies such as Asmodee, Fantasy Flight, and WizKids.  Your bottom line in terms of volume will be Chessex, but it's worth carrying the other companies' dice too.

Miniature wargamers and a subset of card players tend to like dice by quantity and aren't especially concerned about appearance.  A set of Chessex solid or translucent 12mm d6 are usually more than enough for these players and the low price point reflects that:



Role-playing gamers, especially the superstitious plurality of them, are extremely particular about their dice, even going so far as to discard a die that someone else has rolled a 20 with, because of the belief that the die will not roll as many 20s in the future now that one has been "taken away."  Because of the tremendous overlap between this audience and that for LARPing, cosplay, and other social and artistic gaming, Chessex's most elaborate (and expensive) dice tend to be a hit with this group.  They are also utterly gorgeous.  Some examples:

16mm d6 "Festive"


Polyhedral "Borealis"

Polyhedral "Vortex"



Polyhedral marbled "Gemini"


Among pure card players, you will see both types and you will want to cater to both.  I have found that dice are what Gary Ray calls a "product pyramid" category, in which you will get laggard sales until you have basically the full product line, at which point you will get great sales across many SKUs.  This is definitely consistent with what happened at DSGCW as I ramped us up to carrying the entire Chessex line.  We used to carry a handful of Chessex SKUs covering both sizes of d6 blocks and some polyhedrals, and we'd sell perhaps $25 in dice per week.  We now have the entire line, basically a one-time expense since it restocks 1:1 on sold items now, and as of this writing, we sell $150-175 worth of Chessex dice per week.  That's a huge difference.  I have to source them from two different distributors, GTS and Alliance, to cover all the restocks.

Koplow makes some great novelty dice like 30-sided trinatakohedrons, 14-sided days-of-the-week dice, dice embedded within translucent dice, and so forth -- they really are cool, but they are niche.  They are not the go-to dice that players use every day.  Examples:

d30 Trinatakohedron:


♫ Dice within dice  in a spiral array ♫ ...


Some game companies, mainly Asmodee, Fantasy Flight, and WizKids, make custom dice for their games.  This is basically a pain in the rear and I wish they wouldn't do it, because it creates an item to get lost from the base games, and you never sell any of them until a customer desperately needs them, at which point you probably already clearanced them off.  The dice packs that come to mind are for Formula D, Star Wars X-Wing, and Attack Wing.  (Well, and Dice Masters, but that is an entirely self-contained game and if you lose those dice, look out below.)

FFG X-Wing dice:



One promising development is the introduction of ultra-premium dice into the mix.  So far these have seen slow uptake in the RPG world, but the card players gravitated right to them.  Metal Dice opened the door with d6 solid metal packs and then polyhedral colored metal packs, which at thirty to forty dollars the pack are not for the squeamish or dabbling player.  The corners on those polyhedrals are sharp.  We're talking caltrops-grade hazardous here.

MD 16mm d6 Ancient Gold set:

MD Poly Sterling Gray set:


Caveat: Card players love casino dice.  Love them.  Carry these without fear, regardless of how you have to source them or what you have to charge for them to make keystone margin:


Naturally, Ultra-Pro, of all manufacturers, has upped the ante by crashing the dice party with a forthcoming series of Gravity Dice, anodized "aircraft-grade aluminum" laser-etched dice that Ultra-Pro claims are "perfectly balanced for a more randomized roll."  For $25 the deuce or $50 the five-pack, these dice will need to live up to those strong claims, but I already know some of the players at my store who will be buying these on release day because it's very compelling bling.

Gravity Dice 5-pack:

Whatever you end up doing for dice in your store, I strongly encourage you to commit heavily to it.  A player wants to know that you care about their gaming experience as much as they do, and one of the clearest ways you can communicate that is by having a wide variety of dice for them to choose from. If you skimp on dice, before you have even said a word, you have told the player walking into your store that the stuff that player loves just isn't all that important to you.  Clearly, that's a message none of us would want to convey.

If you're a player reading this, honestly, don't worry about the industry side of this equation at all.  That's not your job.  Just buy the dice you like and enjoy, and by all means give feedback when you can so that your Friendly Local Game Store can further tailor their offerings to suit your preferences. Your job is to have fun, and to the extent possible, roll those natural twenties!

To be continued next week (for real this time!) in Part 3, in which I will discuss naught else but card sleeves!

Friday, December 12, 2014

Recruiting: Brand Ambassador (Part Time)!

Are you looking for an opportunity to join the DSGCW team?  This may be your chance!  Please read  this entire post below for instructions on how to apply!

DSGCW is recruiting an outgoing, personable individual to join us as a Brand Ambassador on a part-time basis!

Job Summary:
Brand Ambassadors perform the complete range of customer service functions within the Desert Sky Games and Comics Warehouse retail store (DSG).  Brand Ambassadors are expected to greet customers in a friendly and inclusive manner, assist customers in finding items to purchase, perform cashiering activities, stock and maintain inventory, direct customers to organized play experiences that reflect the customers' gameplay preferences, monitor customers to minimize theft and wrongdoing, maintain and protect the assets and reputation of DSG, keep clean and sanitary the DSG facility, and other duties as assigned.

Qualifications:
- Candidates must have prior experience in face-to-face customer service and cash handling in a banking, retail, or similar work environment.
- Candidates must be available for the following shifts on a weekly basis: Fridays beginning as early as 3:00 p.m. and ending as late as 11:59 p.m.; and Saturdays beginning as early as 9:00 a.m. and ending as late as 9:59 p.m.  (Other shifts and additional hours may be available in addition to the shifts cited.)  Shifts are no more than 9 (nine) contiguous hours and include a 30-minute meal break for shifts more than seven hours in length, and a 15-minute general break for every four hours or portion thereof contained within a shift.

Benefits:
- Compensation starts at $8.00 per hour, subject to applicable taxes, and may be adjusted depending on a candidate's degree of experience or other factors.  DSG Brand Ambassadors are eligible for periodic compensation increases contingent upon performance.  A brief probationary period may occur at the beginning of the employee's tenure with DSG.
- As this is a part-time position, there are no retirement, medical, dental, life, savings, holiday, vacation, sick, union, meal, or deferred compensation benefits offered.  At the discretion of management, Brand Ambassadors may be given priority access to limited-edition new product releases and other special items for purchase or on a compensatory basis.  In your cover letter, please identify by name your favorite professional musician or athlete.  At the discretion of management, Brand Ambassadors are granted a 15% Employee Discount for all purchases at DSG.

Pre-Employment Requirements:
- The selected candidate will be required to undergo a criminal history investigation.
- Candidates must be able to maintain physical readiness and capability for work in a public retail environment, including standing for long periods of time; the ability to bend, squat, maneuver, climb a ladder, and utilize janitorial equipment; the ability to lift up to 50 pounds safely and securely; the ability to work in an environment with loud noises, bright and/or flashing lights, and variable olfactory stimuli; and the ability to complete other activities typical in a public retail environment.  Employment is contingent upon DSG's ability reasonably to accommodate any restrictions within the scope of these requirements.
- Candidates must possess a valid Arizona bank account to receive paychecks by direct deposit.

Desert Sky Games and Comics Warehouse is an EOE/ADA Reasonable Accommodation Employer.  
All newly hired employees will be subject to compliance with the E-Verify Employment Eligibility Verification System.

Sound good?  If you have read all of the instructions above, please send us your Curriculum Vitae and a cover letter describing why you believe you would be a good fit for the Brand Ambassador position to the e-mail address indicated on our Contact Us page at http://www.dsgcw.com.

This recruitment offer will be held open until at least 12:01 a.m., Wednesday, December 17, 2014.  Candidates selected for interviews will be so informed shortly thereafter.  The expected start date for this position is Friday, December 26, 2014, but may be adjusted earlier or later at the discretion of management.

Good luck!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Customer Vital Prep for Card Games, Part 1

Greetings all!

This week's mailbag question comes from Luke in Phoenix, Arizona.  Luke is a long-time miniatures and tabletop gamer who has broken into the living card game scene with Warhammer 40K Conquest, the season's FFG LCG hit, and asks for help with what card sleeves, accessories, and storage items he will need.

TCG players need the same sorts of things that LCG players need, and this is one of those areas where new stores never seem to have the right line-up of items right out of the gate, so I figured this would be a great topic for The Backstage Pass!  Moreover, there's enough discussion here to make this a two-post series.

I'll address these items in order of least to most controversial.  Today in part 1, I will address storage generally (for the collection), followed by storage specifically (carry-along).  Next time in part 2, I will discuss dice and tokens, and finally sleeves.

Surely, many of you are familiar with this behemoth:



This is BCW's 5-slot "shoebox" with a 5000-card capacity.  For a long time this was the bottom line in full collection storage.  Many a gamer has had a garage rack full of these babies, often in a room other than his or her garage.  However, I'm here to bring you a new testimony:



This is BCW's 4-slot "shoebox" with a 3200-card capacity.  And it's the only one most gamers use anymore.  Why?  Simple.  It fits in these:



IKEA's Expedit and Kallax series of shelves, and all the ancillary variations, are sized perfectly to take 3200-count shoeboxes, and won't fit 5k boxes at all.  And, as I discovered during my law school sojourn from the industry, something like 107% of all people have Expedit or Kallax shelves in their homes or apartments these days (all figures approximate).  Thus it has happened that the smaller card shoebox has become the prevalent size, and Procrustes rejoices from beyond the grave.

Accordingly, store owners will want to make sure they have abundant supplies of all the white cardboard storage options, but especially the two large shoeboxes, in approximately a 2:1 ratio of 3200-count boxes to 5k-count boxes.

What about portable storage?  For many years, the gold standard was this:



Three-ringed binders full of Ultra-Pro 9-pocket pages were a mainstay for over a decade in the TCG world.  The pages remain a perennial SKU at game stores.  However, for most players, these are no longer essential.  Three-ring binders just aren't used.  They are clunky to carry, they protect cards poorly, they aren't used on shelves at home (the 3200-count shoeboxes have taken over on that front, as they are easier to sort cards in and out of, especially sleeved) and as a result most players aren't buying them.  Stores will still use binders of card pages for their own stock in many cases, as they deploy well for customer browsing of a singles collection.  But for players, there are better options, such as these:



Ultra-Pro Premium ProBinders appeared within the last year or two and have grown to be the go-to portable storage option among most card players I encounter.  There are plastic-exterior versions that cost a bit less, and leather-exterior versions that cost a bit more.  In either case, the inner pages are side-load, fit sleeved cards, and are made from a nice linen-esque non-abrasive material.  They either zip up or close with an elastic strap, depending which version you get, and overall protect cards far better than other binder options.

There are still the classic portfolios, of course:



These binders are not terrible as such, but they're pretty bare-bones.  You can't fit many cards in them and they don't protect super-well, but they cost little and are good enough for many deployments.  For store owners, I recommend keeping all of these items available and in many varieties.

Conversely, stores and players alike can basically ignore binder products like these:



Art binders, much like art deck boxes and art sleeves, are dead money now, and I'll discuss that more in part 2 next time out!

To be continued...


Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Why Does Anyone Open a Game Store?

Greetings, everyone.

Today's mailbag question comes from J.J. in Morenci, AZ, who asks if I would discuss the reasons why people open game/comic stores in the first place.  Great question, J.J.!

Obviously, I possess no portal into the mind of another person, but some store owners are open and happy to expound upon why they opened their stores, and I am happy to speak to my own motives, so we do have some information we can hang our hats on.  Beyond that, my musings here can only be speculation, though I suggest that I offer well-founded, educated guesses based on over 15 years of industry experience.

One thing I hear over and over from store owners is that they opened their stores because they expected the game trade to be more lucrative than it really is.  Longtime industry veteran Glenn Godard commonly quips, "Do you know how to make a million dollars in the game trade?  Start with two million."  As usual, Glenn's wisdom is on the mark.  My first foray into the market came with this reasoning in my "basket-o-hopedreams" as well: I believed myself capable of flipping any number of Magic: the Gathering cards, and saw the built-in profit from that as easy money.  Thus I opened the Wizard's Tower Gaming Center in Mesa, Arizona in 1998, which lasted almost five months.

The expectation of easy money went away as a game store rationale for a while, and rightfully so, but it has come back up in recent years as Magic: the Gathering has erupted in a half-decade (so far) boom cycle during which it has been hard for a store to do wrong.  There are shops that do little or nothing but Magic, and any time there is a less-than-stellar release (I'm looking at you, Born of the Gods) these stores suffer and sometimes fail.  Ultimately, when the money seems this easy, too many would-be competitors crowd into a market with too little audience, mostly fail to grow their own player base, and once a few die off, the remainder can stabilize.

Broken of the illusion that the game trade represented easy money, over the years I found ways to make the trade pay a modest but dependable ROI, mainly by selling collections on consignment via eBay.  I realized after a few years of gradual process optimization that if the landscape was right for a store to open, I could give it another go.  In late 2011, the venerable Atomic Comics chain of stores abruptly closed.  A combination of misfortune, insurance problems, tax problems, and other factors forced the Malve family to cease operations.  Having been on the receiving end of that equation, I was immediately sympathetic.  However, ever the capitalist jackal, I saw that Atomic's demise left the half-million-plus citizens of Chandler and Gilbert with zero game stores.  Clearly, the landscape I was waiting for had unfolded in front of me, and so clear a coast might never be sighted again in my lifetime.

In addition to competitive criteria, I sought a scenario in which I could construct a store that would serve as a robust tax shelter while slowly aggregating value.  If our holdings growth kept only modestly ahead of expenses, depreciation would keep our net figure near or just below zero.  We didn't have to dominate the market; we just had to survive sustainably.  In this way, slowly and over years, the ownership group could gain asset value without significant annual tax liability.  We then had the option either to keep the store open, reaping those tax benefits perpetually, or sell the enterprise off in one fell swoop with the tax hit already baked into the valuation.  It's anyone's guess how this story will end.  There is a number someone can offer that will make us walk away from the table with the chips we've got now.  We have fielded some bona fide offers, but thus far nobody has reached our decision threshold.  It's available.  DSGCW is absolutely for sale, right now, today, as you read this.  But not for salvage value, which is what most buyers are seeking to pay.

There are non-financial reasons to open a game store, but I left those for last because usually they foretell a financial ruin for the store.  For many years, gamers would open a game store on the understandable but mistaken notion that doing so would allow them to play games for a living.  As Ross Edwards wrote, they sought to "extend their living room to the public."  The rude awakening is that small business retail is not easy.  In terms of structure and logistics, we're not selling games at all; we're selling widgets.  (In other words, in a business context, our product doesn't matter.)  You have to be willing to master small retail as such in order to succeed with a game store.  Yes, it's true that you get to be around cool products all the time and things you're passionate about, and I don't deny that I get a rise out of big new releases and shiny new games and accessories.  But there is most assuredly still real work to do.  Just ask any of my staff members after they finish cleaning the restrooms.  I'm sure they could offer some choice words of wisdom on the topic.  There just isn't an awful lot of free time left after operations, administration, and everything else is taken care of.  Playing games becomes something of a rare indulgence.

Is there a "right" reason to open a game store?  There is, I think, a combination of factors that make doing so feasible.  I say feasible and not advisable, because honestly, it's never advisable.  If you're smart enough to succeed in the game trade, you're capable of making more money doing something else, as Gary Ray sagely noted.  I think the combination is: You're already used to self-employment or mentally suited to the entrepreneurial grind; you have a spouse with a good job; your competitive landscape is favorable; you have enough capital (and most folks think they do, but do not); you are an expert at some core aspect of the game trade so you can leverage that knowledge; you are able to locate a favorable occupancy situation; and you have an exit strategy.  If all of those things are at least mostly true, maybe the game trade is for you.  Or, at least, the game trade is less bad for you than it would be for most people.  Good luck!