Molly runs Flying Leap Games and has designed the Million Dollar Doodle, Wing It!, and Wing It! Beyond.
You can watch the interview below:
Getting into Retail
The first stores that Molly got Wing It! into were all either local, located in places she visited a lot, or located in places she used to live. She got into 11 stores in four states this way, but it wasn’t until she went to the GAMA Expo that she sold out the first print run of Wing It!
GAMA is the Game Manufacturer’s Association and they run both the GAMA Expo and Origins Game Fair. GAMA Expo is a convention where retailers, publishers, and designers come together to go to panels, demo games, and socialize. Origins Game Fair is a more consumer-focused convention held in Columbus, Ohio.
After going to GAMA, she went from having Wing It! in 11 stores to 60. The next 200 or so stores were a result of cold calling and personal visits. For the personal visits, Molly took a number of extremely low-cost trips to different regions.
Trips To Retail Stores
The important part about her trips was to make them as cheap as possible. A great way to make the trip cheap is to extend a work trip or vacation that you’re already taking. For instance, it was really easy for Molly to combine a trip to Seattle for Pax West to then add in some days to visit a ton of stores in the area. When choosing a region, you’ll want to choose major cities that are really accessible or close together. For instance, if you go to Southern California, you can go to 4 major cities relatively easily. Molly spent 3 weeks in Southern California as part of a family trip and managed to go to 40 stores. She had friends and family that she could stay with and managed to take cheap flights to make the trip really worth the effort.
When choosing a location, think about the following:
Can you get any free lodging by staying with friends or family?
Are there a good number of stores in the area?
Can you combine the trip with a convention or another trip
Another good location to visit is Salt Lake City, which has a large number of stores. When Molly went, she managed to go to 20 stores in four days. Another trip that Molly recommends is combining a trip around Ohio with going to Origins Game Fair.
You can look on google maps for stores by searching for game stores or comic stores. But you shouldn’t just find the stores, you should also research them a little bit. For example, if a store has more than 200 reviews, it’s most likely a great target. If the store is really focused on Magic: The Gathering, they probably deal more with that than board games. That’s not to say that a store that focuses on Magic: The Gathering won’t buy a game or two, but is selling a game or two worth driving 30 minutes to and from the store? You have to think about the value of your time.
Before you go to the store, you’ll want to call and verify the game owner or the game buyer will be there when you plan to go. You should also ask what time of day is a good time to stop by. If they don’t have a specific time that’s good, try to stop by during less busy times. If a store opens at 10 AM, they’re unlikely to be busy shortly after that unless there’s a special event. Stores are rarely busy in the early afternoon, as well. Finally, don’t forget to call when you’re on the way to verify that the game owner or buyer will still be there so that you don’t waste your trip.
Regardless of who you’re talking with when you visit the store, you’ll want to try really hard to make a personal connection with them. Treat them with respect and take your time talking to them. If they offer to show off the store, take them up on it. Ask them about the store and the business that they do. Chat with them about industry things. You can’t just push your games on them, you have to treat them like they’re a person. Putting in the time means that they’ll be way more likely to take your calls in the future.
You’ll also want to be able to demo your games when you visit the store in a really short period of time. Molly can typically demo 3 short games in 20 minutes. You want to show off your game, but keep your demos short; you can summarize the purpose of the game and its mechanisms. You’ll want to show the retailer how to do a few-minute demo so that they can gain confidence that they can also demo and sell the game easily. It’s really common to have a retailer hand-selling the game, so if they know how to express that the game is quick, easy to learn, and really fun, they can easily sell it.
Appealing to Retailers
Beautiful art is really important to retailers, especially on medium- or heavy-weight strategy games. If you have a party game, it should look like a party game and have something that’s appealing on the cover. Party games usually have one main focal image on the cover. Cuteness can definitely be a great selling point, too.
It’s also really great when the theme and mechanisms really work well together. Games that are thematic are a lot easier to talk about. Different themes or unique mechanisms can also be terrific selling points. Even more, it’s great if you can tell how to play the game by reading the back of the box. If it’s easy to imagine yourself playing the game, it’ll be a lot easier to sell the game.
Having a free demo copy can be really important for retailers, as then they can play the game and have some first-hand experience with it. If you can’t afford to give away free demo copies, you should try to make a small demo version of the game so that people can get a feel for it.
When you’re talking about your game, you want to start on high-level things like talking about the objective and how you play. You’ll want a quick one-sentence description that’s easy to remember. You’ll also want to share your successes, like how many copies of the game have sold through Kickstarter and at conventions. Molly recommends not using adjectives. Sure, she thinks her games are awesome and fun, but she’s also the creator, so her own positive words don’t make her games come across as special. Instead, you can use quotes from reviewers to help sell your product.
Before you make a sale with a retailer, you’ll want to contact them within one to four weeks after you’ve met them to remind them that the meeting happened. Once you’ve made a sale, you’ll want to reach out every two to three months. You want them to remember you exist, but not contact them enough to be annoying.
When you talk to the retailers, you’ll what to ask about how they’re doing. The call shouldn’t be just to talk about you and your games, you’ll want to maintain that personal connection. You can ask questions like: how are party games selling? How did things sell over the holidays? Build the relationship beyond the sale. If you treat the retailers well, it’ll be a lot easier to keep up with the relationship. You don’t want it to feel transactional, as that relationship will be a lot harder to maintain and it won’t feel great for anyone.
Molly once did an experiment with cold-calling stores in certain regions like Texas, Florida, and Arizona, which were all places where she didn’t anticipate being able to take trips in the near future. She focused on stores in major cities and told the stores how well Wing It! had done in other stores. She also always offered a free demo, as the free demo usually paid for itself with as few as 3-4 sales. Molly managed a 49% conversion rate, which was lower than her rate when going to the actual stores but cost a lot less than traveling.
If you’re afraid of cold-calling, just know that the first call is the hardest and it’s easier when you’re offering a free game. The owners usually like the attention and knowing that you care enough to take time out of your day to call them.
Proxies: You can try to find a proxy to help you sell games, but no one is going to be as passionate about your game or know as much about it as you will be.
Board Game Cafes: You should go into board game cafes with low expectations. They generally don’t have many games to sell as they’re focused on food and/or drinks, and you won’t know how much they emphasize the cafe vs the games without actually visiting or hearing from someone who has first-hand experience. Think about your time costs and make sure you focus on the places that focus on board games.
Distributors: Greater than Games taught Molly recently that they meet with distributors to teach them how to sell games. Molly has mostly focused on working directly with retailers instead of distributors, but distributors can definitely help you sell a lot of games.
Just remember that, regardless of what you want to do in this industry, someone else has done it before and can coach you. Most of the coaching is free, you just have to reach out and ask for help. It’s definitely worth it! You can grow and get better a lot faster and easier with help.