So, as a retailer I frequently hear people complaining about the product available in the mass market. Such and such game isn't available to me, but it's at Target, or I can't get this game restocked, but Barnes and Noble has it. I've never found it productive to participate in those discussions, because the mass market is what it is. In some ways, I find the deep stock of games at Barnes & Noble to be useful.
Wander into your local Barnes & Noble and ask a few employees to explain Azul to you. You'll most likely get blank stares. Barnes & Noble is the perfect example of what not to do with a category, especially a category as wide as board gaming.
But channel checks have value. Ultimately I'm in a customer service business, and sometimes the best way to service a customer is to send them elsewhere. During the early days of X-Wing we were sold out, but B&N still had the stuff because of the inefficiency of their supply chain, and Target has a slew of mediocre games that were exclusive to them, and for licensing reasons sometimes people want that mediocre game. If I know Target has it I can help my customer by sending them there, and I'm okay with that. As a curator of knowledge it's okay with me if that knowledge helps my customer buy something from someone else. That's a result that is good for the customer, and that makes the customer happy, and they'll come back.
So, inspired by that other website that now charges people to see something as easy to put together as a channel check, I started swinging through my nearest B&N and Target about once a month, about a year ago. It's helpful to know what those local stores are stocking and selling poorly. I don't wander to Facebook and complain about it, because that does no good. I don't call CEOs and whine about it, because that does less good. I just wander to B&N and Target and see what they're doing.
So, what did I find at B&N on Friday? (Barnes & Noble, 92nd and Sheridan, Westminster, CO.) I found eighty-one different titles that I have carried, might carry, or do carry. They were spread across 40 different publishers, but six of those publishers, and 28 of the 81 different games, come from Asmodee owned publishing houses. They make up a bulk of the Barnes & Noble selection.
Among other companies represented pretty heavily on the shelves you'll find IELLO; Welcome Back to the Dungeon, Mountains of Madness, Big Book of Madness, Kanagawa, King of Tokyo, and Oceanos. I'm a big believer in IELLO, and I like this selection being at mass. They can build brand loyalty with this selection at mass, and then I can sell things like Bunny Kingdom, Decrpyto, and Fairy Tile. Two big hits from Plan B were on the shelves; Azul and Century Spice Road. Again, these have the consumer awareness to succeed as mass, and I don't find much sense in complaining. They're in my store right now, and selling well because we know how to sell them.
Sagrada was in stock at B&N, as was Santorini, two things that were hard to get for a while, but they're both in my store right now, so I don't have much reason to complain. Set and Five Crowns continue to be products we carry, and they move without effort, so they feel right in mass market.
Many companies were represented by a single game, including Fireside with Hotshots, Renegade with Scott Pilgrim, WizKids with Rock, Paper, Wizard, and North Star with Evolution. I was surprised by how little Fireside was in my local B&N, as I was accustomed to seeing Castle Panic there as well. The same is true of Renegade, my last check has Lanterns and Lotus at the local B&N as well, so to see a lesser representation felt weird. Both of those titles still do well for me, but neither just moves itself. Arcane Wonders was also represented by only one title, Onitama, a game that still does well on my demo tables.
Shrinking margins meant the end of Cryptozoic in my walls, so I can't speak to how the titles they have in B&N are doing for me. Maybe they've made the decision to focus on mass at the expense of specialty retail, and each company is allowed to make that decision.
So, today I'd encourage everyone to do a channel check of their local big box stores. You see, valuable information can be gained, and it's helpful to know what big box is doing, and understand if what they're doing is having an effect on your business. I think big box is here to stay, and when it's not big box it will be online, so knowing what they're offering and how you can be better than them is a useful exercise. Go check them out, you may just discover a product you're missing.