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Thursday, March 04, 2010


Steve Cole reports:

For a small publisher, getting into distributors is a tough battle, but it's the only way to get into stores. They have so many publishers to pick from, they don't want to be bothered with one great product from one tiny company. Their cost of accounting makes the deal not worth it. The consumers and stores only spend so much money a month, and the wholesalers are already getting all of that and don't need your game to get it, so they don't care much. The wholesalers don't need your game to make as much money as they make, and carrying your game just means some stores are going to buy fewer of games the wholesalers already carry.

My free book on the industry may give you some information: http://www.starfleetgames.com/book/
One common mistake a lot of publishers make is to just pick some"discount terms" out of thin air, and the wholesalers don't like the terms and ignore you. I've seen several companies fail that way without their ever realizing why they failed. My book has a term sheet that is used by a lot of other companies (I got it from somebody ten times as big as me) which wholesalers will accept (if they accept your games).

If you can get into Alliance (the toughest sell of all) you don't really have to have the others (but they're nice to have). They might talk to you on a flooring basis, which is basically consignment. ACD is almost as good. Either will make your games available to every store.

Basically, you just keep phoning one wholesaler at a time, send them a sample, call back, and ask them nicely to pick up your game.

If that doesn't work, your only way into distribution is to get somebody else to get you in there on the back of their system. You have two roads there.

1. Consolidators. I never used them and don't keep up on which ones are still in business, and the ones that are probably have all of the manufacturers they want. Basically a consolidator is a company that fits into the tiers between manufacturers and wholesalers. They represent a lot of little companies. A wholesaler can buy the "one great game" from ten or twenty companies all in one box on one invoice. The consolidator will take a percentage. They'll hold some of your inventory, but not much, and they won't pay you until something sells, and they might even charge you for storage. Some consolidators went out of business without paying manufacturers. You should join the GPA as those guys can tell you where to find consolidators. Pitching to them is only slightly easier than pitching to wholesalers.

2. Find another game company that is already selling into distribution, make friends with them, and have them slip your game into distribution through their books. My company, Amarillo Design Bureau, Inc., did this for Majestic Twelve Games as part of a wider deal involving the use of their game system and my background. Alliance took the deal because I have flooring with them and they don't care if I send them a few copies of an oddball product because they don't pay me until the games sell. Maybe there is somebody who is a friend of yours and would do it. A friend of mine who runs a much smaller company than mine has a deal with Mayfair and gets his game into wholesalers through their system. I have no clue how he managed to make that deal, but it works for him. I am not saying that "oh, sure, I'll handle that for you" but you can always email me off the list and maybe I might (after I know what your product is) suggest somebody who might help you.

One warning. Getting into a wholesaler does not automatically get you into any stores. The stores are going to have to ASK the wholesalers for your game. (When a store makes its once-a-week call to the wholesaler, the wholesaler might have one minute to pitch two or three of the 75 new products that came out that week. You won't be one of them.) You can pay Alliance to put an ad for your game into their "music on hold" system so the retailer hears your ad while he's waiting on hold for his rep to pick up the phone. It might work. You can mail things to stores, but they get ten of those a day from us manufacturers and may or may not read them (think "not" in this case). You can buy expensive, full-color ads in the trade magazines that stores read, but my experience is that stores do not read the ads. Your best bet is to get a booth at GTS where you can talk to 150 or so stores. The second best bet is to join GAMA, get the free list of retailers, and start making phone calls. Cold calling is a painful task but does get you a new store or two out of every 50 or so calls.

Good luck!