It's The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

It's the holiday shopping season, well, sort of. It's pretty traditional around these parts to do good business during Black Friday weekend, and then we sort of taper off until about the 10th, and then we go insane for fourteen days. Originally, this post was going to be about Black Friday, but really, I don't want to talk about Black Friday. Instead, I want to talk about the year.

Christmas Tree at Total Escape Games

Really quickly, Black Friday weekend was up 12.49% from last year, and as I write this November will end up at least 7.81%, because as I write this it is the last day of November. The last month we were down from the previous year was January, down 7.13%, and since then we've been up each month over 2016 numbers, which was our best sales year to date. March of 2016 was our worst month that year, but being up 32.19% over that number in 2017 made March a middle of the pack month for us.

As I write this we are up 1% over last year. Notice I did not say 1% year to date, I'm currently comparing 11 months of 2017 to 12 months of 2016, and we are already up 1%. If we do the same numbers in December of 2017 that we did in 2016 we'll end the year up about 10%. I suspect that with the current trends we will close out 2017 up between 13% and 15% over 2016.

 

Categories

 

Let's begin this treatise on sales within categories. I won't go into all of them, but let's talk about the top four from 2017; CCGs and Board Games each account for more than 15% of my current revenue while Miniatures Games and RPGs each clock in over 10%. The CCG category is up for me this year, which you'll want to remember when we start talking about publishers later on, and accounts for 2% more of my business than last year. As real dollars this also means it has seen a substantial increase, another thing that you'll be a little surprised by when we start talking about publishers. Board Games are up 3.5% as a revenue share in the store, and in the process moved from the third largest category by revenue to the second largest category. I believe that board gaming is the most difficult category for stores to succeed in. You have to want it, you have to work it, but if you do, people will come and shop at your store. Our third largest category this year has been Miniature Games, which was the second largest category last year. We maintain fourteen categories in the store, and only two, Miniature Games and Apparel/Toys (I stopped carrying Funko, they were no fun...), have seen a decrease in real dollars from 2016 to 2017. Miniatures are down a whopping 22.98%, I suspect on the weakness at the end of 7th Edition Warhammer 40K, and the exceptionally lousy launch of Mark III from Privateer Press. Both of those lines have righted themselves and are both healthy and growing here in the store.

Rounding out my top four categories is RPGs, which surely are benefiting from the strength of Dungeons & Dragons, but are up 21.59% over last year on other strengths as well. Paizo continues to sell just enough product for me that I don't want to scream at them, Savage Worlds has a decent following here, and we got nice bumps from Goodman Games and Cubicle 7 this year.

 

Board Games

 

I don't think we get a ton of benefit out of talking about CCGs. I think CCGs are easy to do well. They don't require a ton of curation or thought, just do certain things and do them well. So, we're going to talk about Board Games here for a while.

Best-Selling Board Games by Dollars - 2016

1. Settlers of Catan 2. Splendor 3. Codenames 4. Star Wars Imperial Assault Base Game 5. Lords of Waterdeep 6. Star Wars Rebellion 7. Colt Express 8. Betrayal at House on the Hill: Widow's Walk 9. Ticket to Ride 10. 7 Wonders 11. Pandemic: Reign of Cthulu 12. Pandemic 13. Power Grid 14. Ticket to Ride: Europe 15. Ticket to Ride: Rails & Sails

16. King of Tokyo 17. Jim Henson's Labyrinth 18. Carcassonne Base Game 19. Takenoko 20. The Legend of Drizzt

Best-Selling Board Games by Dollars - 2017 1. Dark Souls: The Board Game 2. Settlers of Catan

3. Bunny Kingdom 4. Used Board Games 5. Ethnos 6. Betrayal at House on the Hill

7. Star Wars Imperial Assault Base Game 8. Mountains of Madness 9. Star Wars Rebellion 10. Colt Express 11. Splendor 12. 7 Wonders 13. Element 14. Pandemic Legacy S2: Yellow 15. Lords of Waterdeep 16. Small World 17. King of Tokyo 18. Kingdomino 19. CLANK! 20. Castle Panic Of the top 20 in dollar volume from 2016, eight of them sold well enough this year to also break that top 20 again. Quick aside about number four on the list, Used Board Games. Used board games at Total Escape are purchased and sold all using the same product code, and the employees adjust the price based on what is on the printed price tag we use. I did this because I didn't want to create duplicate product codes in LightSpeed for "Catan (USED)" when I already have "Catan", so they are tracked as one item. We began buying and selling used board games in the last week of October, and holy heck I should have figured this out years ago, they have been a substantial value add to the business and a beautiful complement with used role-playing books.

That old soul Settlers of Catan just keeps holding on, despite me hearing from some other people that they barely move it. Maybe it means new gamers are still finding me, I don't know. Two big box Star Wars games from Fantasy Flight are enjoying solid sales for the second year, and ANA gives me Colt Express still holding onto the list.

From IELLO, King of Tokyo proves to still have staying power, and 7 Wonders continues to perform well. The true shocker on this list is the number three in 2016, Codenames, which saw sales fall by 70% this year. In 2017 I sold fewer copies of the Codenames family (Pictures, Duet, Marvel, Disney, original), than I sold of just the original game in 2016. We may have found the end of a good idea, and your mileage may vary. Pandemic sales have been bled off by Pandemic Legacy, so no surprise there, and some of the old standbys like Ticket to Ride: All the Varieties have seen sales slow considerably. Ticket to Ride: Germany is the worst any new Ticket to Ride has done for me.

On the other hand, 2017 gave me Dark Souls: The Board Game, from Steamforged. We went deep, and we were rewarded. Sales have slowed a little, but I suspect when we get the expansions there will again be an uptick in that core box.

We also got two things that were breakaway hits for my store, as IELLO sent us Bunny Kingdom and Mountains of Madness this year. The Elite Release for Mountains allowed us to get a good head start over online sellers, and carried it into my top 10, while Bunny Kingdom being maybe the best thing I've played this year took it all the way to third place in dollars. Depending on the holiday season is has number two within reach, but number one seems unlikely. King of Tokyo fell from 16th to 17th, but they still placed three games in the top 20 in my store this year. Outside of Asmodee, which owns pretty much everything these days, only Wizards (two titles), and IELLO (three titles) placed multiple games in my top 20. The other represented manufacturers were Steamforged, Rather Dashing, Blue Orange, Renegade, and Fireside.

Also, if you're keeping score at home, Kingdomino has the lowest MSRP on the list, so you can imagine the copies it needed to break the top 20 by dollar value. Speaking of units sold, let's take a look.

2016 Sales by Units Sold

1. Codenames 2. Epic Card Game

3. Star Realms 4. Firefly Fluxx

5. 7 Wonders Duel 6. Settlers of Catan 7. Betrayal at House on the Hill: Widow's Walk 8. Splendor

9. Boss Monster

10. Betrayal at House on the Hill

11. Pandemic 12. The Resistance 13. Boss Monster 2

14. Colt Express

15. Zombie Dice

16. Forbidden Island 17. Cthulu Fluxx

18. Lords of Waterdeep

19. Dominion

20. Hanabi 20(T). King of Tokyo

The top game by units sold was third in revenue in 2016, and is one of eight games that were top 20 in both revenue and units sold. It's the cheapest game that makes both lists in 2016.

Eleven of those games are $20 or less, and many of those eleven are under $15. We sold a lot of cheap board games with no effort last year.

2017 Sales by Units Sold

1. Settlers of Catan

2. Kingdomino

3. Dark Souls

4. Yogi

5. Bunny Kingdom

6. Ethnos

7. Hero Realms

8. Betrayal at House on the Hill

9. Boss Monster

10. The Resistance 11. Exploding Kittens NSFW

12. Pandemic

13. Splendor

14. Ultimate Werewolf

15. 7 Wonders Duel

16. Element

17. Firefly Fluxx

18. Mountains of Madness

19. Mystic Vale

20. King of Tokyo

Only eight games make the list in both 2016 and 2017, led by Settlers of Catan, which is my top mover by units sold this year. I couldn't have imagined that if I wasn't looking at the darn numbers. It's one of those things you order every week without paying attention to it, but it clearly still matters.

Betrayal at House on the Hill, Boss Monster, Pandemic, Splendor, 7 Wonders Duel, Firefly Fluxx, and King of Tokyo are the remaining games that stay on the list. I could see them all contending for the list in 2018 as well.

The big mover, as I mentioned before, is Codenames, which doesn't crack the top 20 in sales in my store. It does sneak into the bottom if I consider the five current SKUs as a single product, but then I'd have to do that with Imperial Assault, which goes and runs away with the number one spot then, and King of Tokyo, which probably moves into the top five.

Unlike 2016 this list doesn't see the dominance of super-cheap games. Four of the top five games in 2016 were $20 or less, and only two of the top five so far in 2017 are in that same price category. We love Yogi around here, and are stocked deeply as a our preferred stocking stuffer for the holidays, so it and Bunny Kingdom could be first and second in units moved by the time the calendar flips to 2018.

 

Publishers

 

I maintain a relatively arbitrary number in my head that determines how relevant a publisher is to my success. I won't share that arbitrary dollar number with you, but I will tell that you 2016 I had 31 publishers/manufacturers meet that number.

In 2017 that number was down to 30 publishers or manufacturers. (I'm using both publisher and manufacturer here because we're talking about across the store now, not just board gaming, as you'll see from the forthcoming lists.) Five of the relevant partners from 2016 fell off the list, and only four companies rose to take their place. Let's talk about some big movers here.

The five companies who became far less relevant within my walls in 2017 are Battlefoam (down 92% as I cleared them out earlier in the year), Battlefront Miniatures (down 91% because I ran a clearance on Flames of War last Christmas), Brotherwise (down 49.3%, and I'd have to do some research to find out why, maybe for a future blog), DEX Protection (down 55.19% due to supply issues), and Upper Deck (down 30.95% because this year I made a greater effort to support the companies that support me, and they don't).

The four companies who earned their way into relevance are topped off by CMON, who was up a whopping 1023.93% for me this year. That's worth talking about. Godfather, while not what I expected it to be, sold some units, Ethnos moved like absolute gangbusters, as you can see from the Top 20 lists in units sold and dollars. Rounding out those numbers has been the strength of Massive Darkness in my store. The vast majority of those numbers can be traced to the trust that I now have in CMON, trust I didn't have through most of 2016. They're a company doing things right, and a company I'm thrilled to have a partner in my business.

That wasn't the largest percentage increase though, as that honor belongs to Goodman Games, up a stupid-looking 4,160% (yes, you're reading that right). After GAMA we started stocking Dungeon Crawl Classics pretty deep, and we've absolutely been rewarded with sales, even if I still haven't gotten to play yet. :( Pirate Lab is up 404% over last year, but that 2016 number isn't a full year of sales, we started carrying their product sometime after GAMA as well. The final company on this list is Renegade. I've said before that Renegade has felt soft to me this year, but it's possible I've just been totally wrong because I remember the number of units I moved of Lotus and Lanterns last year. But, Renegade stayed under the arbitrary number I think of as relevant last year, and is over it this year, with a 68% increase in revenue in my walls.

Among the companies who remained relevant on both lists there are some things that stand out. Let's look at a short list of companies.

IELLO is up 122.38% for me year over year. That can be traced to the two big releases from them that have done for me this year.

The Army Painter is up 129.85%. It's amazing what a beautiful standing rack can do for my desire to stock and sell your product.

That's it. Those are the only two companies who were on both relevant lists who have seen their sales at least double in my walls from 2016 to 2017.

Some other companies on both relevant lists were up for me as well this year, let's give them a shout out.

Alderac Entertainment up 45%

Fantasy Flight Games up 22%

Games Workshop up 11%

Studio 2 Publishing up 7.65%

Vallejo is up 62%

There were also some companies that just bottomed out for me this year, while still remaining in the relevant column in both 2016 and 2017.

Corvus Belli fell 72.5%

Gale Force Nine fell 58.2%

KMC Card Supply fell 42.25%

Looney Labs fell 35%

Rio Grande fell 51.28%

Steve Jackson Games fell 41.1%

Steamforged Games fell 45%

The Steamforged one is interesting to me, as Dark Souls is my best seller by volume, but the loss of my Guild Ball community has gutted the bottom line for them as a publisher, at least in my house.

 

The 1% Crowd

 

It's time to talk about the giant-sized elephants in the room. We are diversified as heck these days, with hundreds of publishers competing for our attention. With the sheer number of products in our stores it takes a real big company and a lot of good product to account for 1% of our revenue.

In 2016 that group included 15 partners in my business. Here they are, alphabetically. Asmodee

Chessex (holy hell that's a lot of dice sets)

Corvus Belli

Days of Wonder

Fantasy Flight Games

Games Workshop

Paizo Publishing

Privateer Press

Reaper

Rio Grande Games

Steamforged Games

The Army Painter

Ultra Pro

Wizards of the Coast

WizKids

Four companies fell off the list in 2017, and we've mentioned both the problems with Corvus Belli (I lost my Infiniti crowd) and Days of Wonder (where Ticket to Ride is moving far fewer units), but Rio Grande fell way below 1% this year (down 52%, which I may have mentioned above), and Steamforged fell below 1% despite the strength of Dark Souls: The Board Game.

Only one company gets added to that 1% crowd so far this year, and we've discussed the tremendous growth I've seen from CMON in my store this year. That growth led them to join the 1% club, which only has 12 companies in it right now. With the success I've had with Bunny Kingdom, and the stock levels I have for it right now through the holidays, I expect IELLO to just barely slide into this group and make it a lucky 13 companies when I check these numbers at the end of the year.

 

Wizards of the Coast

 

We can't really move on with life until we talk about Wizards of the Coast. I've already mentioned that CCGs make up 20.55% of my sales this year, and you would think that would be on the back of Wizards of the Coast, but this year we also had Star Wars Destiny being very good to me. Within my four walls Wizards of the Coast is down 19% this year, and Magic is down as sealed product (6.05%) and as a singles product (6.01%). Magic accounted for only 85% of my CCG sales, which is the lowest in the store's history, because of the strength of Star Wars Destiny (a strength that I am afraid may be fading if we're being totally blunt).

With Magic being down, and my store only carrying two games in the CCG category, I'm looking at two things. Magic is down a significant number of dollars, but the CCG category is up 13.57% this year in real dollar sales. That's all Destiny, which I can't plan on riding again very hard.

Finally, Wizards of the Coast, as a publishing house, is down 18.67% in my store, but Magic, as a percentage of total Wizards of the Coast sales, has barely changed as a percentage of my Wizards of the Coast sales. Magic was 56.92% of total Wizards sales in 2016, and 56.31% of total Wizards sales this year.

Dungeons and Dragons has remained relatively flat 2016 to 2017 in total dollars, but the slow down in D&D board games (outside of Lords of Waterdeep) has meant that as a publisher they have become less valuable to me. Last year saw the release of Widow's Walk, and this year that was followed up with Betrayal at Baldur's Gate, which is have moved about 10% of the units that Widow's Walk moved.

Wizards of the Coast, as a publisher, was 38.24% of my total revenue in 2016, and is down to 30.75% this year. They are not only the largest percentage loss among publishers, but also the largest dollar loss by a significant amount. Magic accounted for 94.42% of CCG sales in 2016 (closing out some random stuff, and a tiny Destiny shipment accounts for the rest) while Magic accounts for only 84.3% of CCG sales in 2017. Also, as a random note, let's remember that despite these huge losses in revenue from Wizards, as I write this blog post we have already surpassed the total sales for 2016, and it's the last day of November.

 

Wrap

 

You've heard some talk that the end is nigh, I've even said it here. But, I want to share encouraging numbers. Percentage of Sales Change from 2016 to 2017 January - 7.13% Down February - 17.75% Up

March - 32.19% Up

April - .42% Up

May - 15.74% Up

June - 8.4% Up

July - 10.49% Up

August - 5.91% Up

September - 16.19% Up

October - 18.45% Up

November - 10.21 Up

This was a strong year for the trade, but I sincerely believe it's getting harder and harder to succeed at this. You have to be more careful about what you buy, and how much of it you buy. You have to choose the revenue streams that work for your store. For me, that means choosing to support companies who have chosen to support me. As I've better identified those companies, like IELLO and CMON, it's allowed me to increase revenue from companies that are doing some of the value protection that is important to the health of a brick and mortar retailer.

I hope all these numbers were informative. I'm more than willing to answer some questions, but you'll never get exact numbers out of me, just percentages. :) Hope you all are having one fantastic holiday, best of luck during this season of joy and giving.

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