The Dream of Evergreen
The Dream of Evergreen
Many publishers dream of their board game going ‘Evergreen’. That elusive unicorn that marks a game as ‘always restock’ in a retailer's mind.
Let me guide you through one retailer's decision making and we will reach our goal of distilling the magic of how to create an Evergreen.
When you think of Evergreen games, many people think of the recent classics of Catan, Ticket to Ride and Carcassonne . And while that is certainly true, many newer titles exist that retailers regularly restock. New entries from the past five years include Root, Scythe and The Quacks of Quedlinburg. More recent entries from the past few years include Parks, Wavelength and Wingspan. There are many new games that can arguably be included on any Evergreen list and most of them have one thing in common: a small box size.
It is easier to jump onto the always restock list if your game is small and cheap and preferably both. Games like The Crew and Cartographers were restocked, as no brainers, before they won major awards; they are small and cheap and, with a quick explanation, they easily become impulse buys.
So how does a mid-weight Euro, or your typical big box game, make it onto the Evergreen list?
Finding a niche!
Reprinting smart and fast!
Talking to Retailers!
While not all retailers are as addicted to data as I am, they all tend to make reorder decisions based on statistics. Whether they bother to run the sales report or not, sales stats and turn rates are key decision indicators. It's our job to know what is selling in our shops and you can be sure that we reorder stuff that sells. Many retailers also track who buys what games via loyalty programs and online store pickup systems. They know who the leaders of their local communities are and they know what they have been playing. Retailers have access to decision making data that publishers, who sell through consolidators and distributors, can only drool over.
It is not just stats that make decisions. Retailers will fudge the numbers if they have a soft spot for a publisher. Keith is one of the most awesome people I have met. Roll Player often gets a soft tick when I am doing restocks, even when the sales numbers may not quite justify it. So it is important to build a relationship with your customers; whether they are retailers or players. People will rally around a brand they love. You can build that loyalty by taking any opportunity you can to connect with a customer.
By continuing to engage with your community you inadvertently continue to market your game. Having a marketing plan beyond Kickstarter is essential for Evergreen status. You cannot rely singularly on word of mouth or a positive review. Evergreens are created by continued sales momentum and ongoing marketing is the key to achieving sales consistency.
Consistency of sales over time is key to becoming Evergreen. It is the sole differentiator between being the hot game and the auto-restock game. Many publishers achieve this consistency of sale with a plan of expansions and addons. Marketing a new expansion also keeps the base game in the attention of the consumer and the attention of the retail store sales member. You want that staff member thinking of Spirit Island when a customer asks about co-ops and regular expansions will certainly aid in that.
Finding your niche can be very important in achieving your goal of Evergreen. Spirit Island was not the first co-op but it filled a niche for a crunchy co-operative game experience, and when the Pandemic purchasers came back for their next game, Spirit Island became an Evergreen. Cartographers was not the first flip and write but it was the first I played that had any meaningful player interaction. It found its niche and went immediately into its second print run.
The print-run dilemma is the greatest challenge to any publisher. Nothing kills a hot game like selling out with a restock seeming a distant date on the horizon. Unless you are Wingspan players move on to the next great thing. If your game is great, they will eventually circle back around and your game will probably sell but you lost momentum that could have been fixed if retailers and distributors could have restocked in time. On the flip side, this industry is littered with garages full of unsold games. Games that would have been easy to sell but the marketing did not quite resonate, the theme was a bit stale or the timing was off. Don't be the publisher that cant make their next game because their warehouse is full with the last one. The time to reorder that print run is when sales velocity picks up, not when it sells out and, certainly, not before you first start getting reorders. It is hard to get the timing and size right and, if your game is great, players will preorder and we will be willing to wait a few months. The best way to get an idea of sales velocity is to talk to retailers. They have the live up-to-the-minute data!
Talk to your retailers! If they know the game, they can sell the game. Retail store owners and staff are influencers. They literally get asked their opinions about games for a living. Answering questions like, ‘what game should I buy next?’ is what they do; every single day. They do not have quantifiable numbers such as views or likes. Instead, retailers have sales numbers. Need to know whether your retail channel marketing spend was a good investment? Retailers can provide the exact sales numbers you need to calculate that ROI. And do not forget to take a look at your own direct-to-consumer sales. The geographic customer data might just back up what retailers have known for years; educating retailers about your product results in sales, inside the store and emanating around it. This is because an educated expert game store staff member's recommendation has power in these communities.
Your path on the Dream to Evergreen begins with communicating with your communities. Keep your partners informed about stock statuses, youtube reviews, attendance at conventions and keep in their face. Sometimes retailers need a poke to reorder and sometimes you need to be inventive with how you follow up. Let them know what is in stock and where and when the next print run will arrive. Remind them that yours is the hottest 7 player game going around and, over time, keep checking to see if your game is still selling for them. Keep promoting your game, keep talking to your retailers and the sales data might just say ‘Evergreen’.
The beautiful image is from the game "The Evergreen Bandana Game" by Northwest Corner Goods. - https://www.nwcornergoods.com/