I love the days leading up to Christmas, panicked shoppers who can't find the gift they were looking for are now just looking for something cool. There are thousands of products in my store at every price level, so I can serve that need for them, because I'm surrounded by neat stuff at many price levels.
Of couse, December also kicks off what I refer to as "Annual Complaint Season," the time of year when everything is someone else's fault. It's the same exhausting pattern every year, with shortages of key products at the most important time of the year.
We play the game every December, as retailers go looking for the suddenly hot game that isn't in stock at any distribution source, and then some retailers complain loudly every year that publishing and distribution are out to get us and they shipped it to someone else and they're bad for our business. I get it, I really do, and I wish things were different, but to imply that distribution and publishing are doing this on purpose isn't just borderline crazy, it's tin-foil hat, Taylor-Swift-as-Illuminati, nuts.
Can we all agree on something here, today? Can we?
Can we all agree that Fantasy Flight and Alliance are also sad that there are 28 FFG SWX products that are out of stock? Does anyone here think that Hasbro is looking around a warehouse that has no copies of Xanathar's Guide to Everything and they're happy about that? Do you really think that Plan B and GTS Distribution are happy that the GTS website shows zero copies of Azul in stock? Do you think that CMON is happy that none of us can get The Fifth Ingredient Are there going to be enough copies of Charterstone to get us through until close on Christmas Eve? I kind of doubt it. Wouldn't all of us love to have some more copies of Sagrada?
Is this a bummer for us? Yes. Is it a bummer for consumers? Yes. But you really only have two choices here.
1.) Buy stuff earlier. I mean it, if you want to plan for the holidays start that planning a lot earlier. Stock up on the things that you want to push for the holiday season, and start doing it sooner.
2.) Make something else hot. I keep preaching it, and I'll keep preaching it. The hot toy doesn't have to be your hot toy. The coolest damn board game in your store is the one you say is the coolest damn board game.
Do you need some things to push you over the finish line? Do you have some demo tables looking for a gorgeous product that you can sell the heck out of these ten days before Christmas? Here's a list of some really cool things in stock through at least one of my three distributors.
(Great demo games currently in stock somewhere, presented alphabetical by publisher, with a product number you can search through most distributors.)
Onitama - Arcane Wonders (TE02ON) Kingdomino - Blue Orange Games (03600)
Photosynthesis - Blue Orange Games (06001) Ethnos - CMON (ETH001) Potion Explosion - CMON (PTN001)
Clank! In! Space! - Renegade Game Studios (00594)
You need some big sellers that maybe don't look great on a demo table, or are just too big for a demo table but move like hotcakes? Here's some of those.
Massive Darkness - CMON (MD001) Pandemic Legacy Season 2 - Z-Man (ZM7172 or ZM7173)
You need something smaller? You looking for that add-on buy at the register? I've said it before, and am happy to say it again, but Yogi (Gigamic, GMYO) is available and it the world's easiest $12 stocking stuffer sale ever.
How do I choose these games? I work with publishers I trust. I buy from distributors I trust. I believe that most publishers, working with less than perfect information, attempt to do the best job that they can to fill demand for their products. They don't want to be out of things this time of year, because they want to make money. Now, they certainly want to be out of things on 31 DEC and not pay taxes on that stuff, but they don't want your store shelves to be bare now, they want you to be able to buy this stuff.
The same is true of distribution. They want us to be able to buy all the things we want to buy. They don't want us to be unhappy about stock levels that show zero. They also don't have perfect information, and they work with publishing partners who have neither unlimited cash nor unlimited manufacturing capabilities. Distribution and publishing both get to deal with the joys of not having any darn clue what we want to buy, because as a tier we're notoriously bad at getting them preorders in a fashion that helps them to plan a print run.
Our partner tiers are doing what they can because it's good for them if the holiday season is good for us. There is no conspiracy to cripple our stores. Rarely do our publishing or distribution partners do something malicious. Our publishing and distribution partners are not largely incompetent.
I'm not saying that none of them are incompetent. I'm not even saying that none of them are ever malicious. I believe some of them are incompetent. I believe some of them behave in a malicious fashion from time to time. I also believe that in those cases I do what's best for my business and I stop working closely with those companies. Recently I took a publisher from thirty automatic reorders, nearly their entire catalog, to six automatic reorders, and I took those six from two or more deep to one deep. We will carry those six games, offer special orders for the expansions, and spend less of our effort moving their product. Maybe that will change in the future, and maybe it won't, but I currently believe that publisher to not be a partner I want to support at the level I used to.
So, in this, the season of trusting, I just want to say a couple things.
Stop complaining that everyone is out to get you and ruin your business. If you truly believe that a company is out to ruin you and your business than choose new partners in our industry. Seriously, if you think that a publisher or distributor is too incompetent to properly serve your business, stop working with them. If you believe that a publisher caused malicious harm to your business, stop selling their product.
There are more than 170 publishers and 40 distributors in our great trade organization. If your current distributors are to blame for your problems, find new ones. If the publishers you're currently working with aren't good enough to fill your needs and don't support your business, pick new ones.
God knows I've done the same. I pick the publishers I'm going to support based on a variety of criteria. I've switched distributors, and fired distributor reps, when I didn't think the relationship was working. The secret here is to find the relationships that work, work with the people you trust, or move on to the next one.
If you simply can't find enough partners in this industry you trust, maybe it's time to look in a mirror.
(Random note - The complaining about Asmodee in Canada is totally warranted, I'd be extremely displeased if I was a Canadian retailer...) :)