$2000 in Free Merchandise

How do you get it?

I’ve heard it said from people who come to the gaming industry from other industries that we enjoy more support from our manufacturers than in any other industry. The collective aid of manufacturers in terms of demo volunteers, POP advertising materials, retailer locators and other benefits is an enormous marketing and advertising aid.

One of the most popular forms of this support is free merchandise. Manufacturers set aside a part of their print/production run for free distribution. Some of these copies go to reviewers. Some goes to freelancers. Some goes to conventions as prize support. Some goes to you.

The thinking is rational. There’s a lot of game material out there. If you bought one of everything and planned to re-order what sold (which is what new manufacturers expect), you’d be broke in about 6 weeks as the huge supply of gaming material outpaced demand. Often, stores rely on feedback from other stores or from their distributors regarding what’s selling when making their purchasing decisions.

Putting products in your face gives a prospective purchase visibility above 90% of its competition. You can check out its production values, the content, the price point, and other factors that help you decide whether or not you can sell it. If you pass, the cost to the manufacturer is low: one copy of a book that might not have sold anyway, plus a little shipping. If you decide to buy into the game, your purchases will pay them back for that investment many times over.

Your goal is to make sure you’re one of the stores that gets this stuff.

The GAMA Trade Show

GAMA has formalized a long-standing tradition of the show. Instead of manufacturers handing out stuff one at a time to attendees, and leaving the attendees with the problem of getting the loot back to their stores, GAMA collected all the promo material from the exhibitors and arranged to ship it all after the show. Retailers could walk around and listen to sales pitches without a straining arm or backpack urging them to get it over with. Exhibitors knew that there would be some control over “swag hounds”, or customers who went “representing” a store specifically so that they could get free stuff for themselves.

This package this year came to about $1,100 worth of free games. Sure, attending the convention could be expensive, but if you’re thinking about going anyway for the content, the free merchandise is a bonus. A big bonus.


Some game makers offer bonuses if you buy a certain amount of their games. Buy 4, 5 or 6 of whatever it is they’re offering, and you can get a free copy. Naturally, you don’t want to be as aggressive with this “free” product as you are with the truly free, no-risk offers, but it’s not unreasonable to expect $300 per year worth of incentives through these programs. If you actively search for these offers, you could find twice that much.

Demo Material

Many manufacturers are content with you putting their box or book on a shelf and restocking it when it sells. That’s a little simplistic and short-sighted, but it happens. For many products, that’s an appropriate level of support. You can’t give everything a full-court press.

The best manufacturers provide some sort of support after their game goes on a shelf. They offers organized play options to help you sell their stuff—leagues, tournaments, or whatever. Their games are not just fire-and-forget. Some combined effort from you and the manufacturer can increase sales tremendously.

Upon request, these companies offer demo copies of their games. Sometimes these games are marked “demo copy” so you can’t resell them. Sometimes they come without the packaging—all the components are just shipped in a bag. Often, it’s a normal copy of a game.

Without being abusive, I estimate that you can get $500 worth of games each year through programs like this.

Special Events

If your store is just opening or changing hands, you might throw yourself on the mercy of manufacturers and ask for promotional material for a grand opening. You might get flyers, brochures, or premium items like buttons and t-shirts. A few generous manufacturers will offer gratis copies of their games or books. You can give them away in drawings, use them for demos, offer them as prizes in mini-games (a big game-show style wheel of prizes is popular) or whatever.

Selling these items makes you a real jerk. Their value in generating goodwill and word-of-mouth advertising for an event like this can be worth far more than the one-time cash benefit.

You won’t do one of these events every year, and when the economy is tight, manufacturers are very reluctant to hand out freebies for these events. The quantity you can receive varies with your size, overall spending and effort. You might expect $200 worth of material but hope for $500 worth.


Ideally, manufacturers will call you or e-mail you to find out if you’re interested in their goodies. Some don’t. They blanket mail everybody whose name they can find. While some of this stuff is junk not even worth giving away, you can get some real gems on occasion. The quantity varies from year to year and depends on your overall visibility within the industry, but this product comes to about $200 worth each year.