You can’t support everything. Which games do you support?
The decision to support a game versus merely stocking a game has a huge impact on that game’s sales. It’s very possible for a well-supported game to earn 5, 10, or 20 times the sales of a stocked game.
A stocked game is one that you put on the shelf. You restock it when it sells. That’s it. For me, a game like that was Amber Diceless Roleplaying. Nobody ever played Amber in the store. I shelved it with the fantasy RPGs. It never got a mention in a newsletter or front-of-store display time. I sold a few, mostly because of its novelty value. I had people come in from a long way away because my store was the only store for hours in any direction that carried it.
You support a game when you run demo games, host tournaments, and otherwise do things to bring attention to it. That includes display space and positioning, but it might also include posting signage, offering specials, giving away promo items, and other things designed to encourage game-related activity.
Which do you choose?
Supporting a game costs about the same regardless of the specific game. It varies more by game category than by title within that category. If you open a booster box to create a singles binder, it costs about the same for different CCGs, varying mostly in the number of boosters in the booster box. It costs pretty much the same to run a demo game of Twilight Imperium as it does to run a session of Axis & Allies. You can run a demo game of Conspiracy X for about the same amount of time and effort as running a Pathfinder scenario.
The least factor I consider is how much you enjoy a game. The game store owner’s personal choice is a large factor in low-volume stores, but it decreases as store sales increase past the owner’s personal sphere of influence. It can be huge. On the other hand, people can tell when you’re playing a game you hate. Don’t do that. Find somebody who likes it, and let him go crazy with it.
One difference you look for lies in manufacturer support. If a manufacturer has demo teams to help run your events, that’s a point in favor of a game. If the manufacturer offers danglers, posters, candy bars, bags of Hulk miniatures, cardboard cutouts, or t-shirts (all actual promo materials I used), then that company’s games are good candidates. Advertising that directs customers to your store is a perfectly legitimate form of manufacturer support.
Another major factor is customer demand. If you have two RPGs side-by-side, and one outsells the other, look at the better-selling game for your support time and expense. You want to push that game to reach its critical mass—the point where it becomes a drawing point for customers rather than an add-on sale for your regulars. Games take a life of their own after a certain point. Gamers work harder to recruit their friends. The game’s players spend more money. Getting one game to that point is better than getting two games halfway there.
Don’t guess when you measure customer demand. Check your sales records.
Product Line Size
The last decision-maker in determining which game to support is the value of the product’s “tail.” A product’s tail is the follow-up products that customers can buy after they get into the core game. A core RPG with a half-dozen supplements might have a maximum buy-in of some $150. A game with 3 core rulebooks and 20 supplements can support regular sales of $150 and a few customers will spend $500. Some RPGs encourage miniatures use. That means that gamers of that game tend to spend more in your store than the gamers who play an RPG that doesn’t encourage miniatures use.
The exception is a new game that’s rising in popularity. A game that starts off hot is even better than a game with a long existing tail. You will sell those customers games as they release, but you don’t have to spend big money filling up your store with slower-moving backstock.
The size of the product line is a huge factor. If you spend $20 to create a customer with game support, then it’s far better to gain $50 in initial sales than $25. Likewise, $100 in downstream sales is better than $50 in total sales.
So which games and manufacturers have those qualities? It depends on your store. Regional variations aside, you should almost certainly support Magic: the Gathering, Pathfinder, D&D, and Warhammer 40k. Warhammer Fantasy Battles, Pokemon, and Warmachine are high on the list, too.
The Balancing Act
If you fully support all of those, that’s 7 games already. And then you see the problem that small manufacturers face. You only have so much time with which to promote games. I already broke down a store owner’s weekly schedule somewhere, so I’m not repeating it here, but it comes down to this: you might have 20-30 hours each week you can spend supporting the products in your store. If you have employees, you can add a fraction of their time to the total. If you’re already spending 24 of those weekly hours in support of the “mandatory” 7 games, you only have a little left with which to support all of the other hundreds of products in your store. Some 400+ manufacturers all want that time. If you divide it equally, each manufacturer gets less than 54 seconds a week.
It gets tougher for the little guys. An extra hour supporting the big games usually pays off better than giving an hour to the smaller product lines. It is more cost-effective for you to spend 20 hours on 40k alone than 20 hours on 20 different smaller lines.
If a manufacturer wants you to spend that time (and those finite dollars, which I haven’t discussed here) on his products, then his products need to offer you more return than the competition. When it comes down to it, you have to spend your optional support in supporting games and manufacturers that support you.
In summary, prioritize your promotional time and money by length of the product’s tail, consumer demand, and manufacturer aid. Build up your sales volume with your easy sales, like Magic. Then look for rising stars with your discretionary time.