Weekly Store Update – and Year in Review
Happy New Year!!! Even though most of our shipments slipped to next week we still loaded some new games on the shelves, including restock, and set up plenty of preorders last week. However, the primary focus of this update is to provide our 2020 year in review. There are some interesting developments afoot, but I'll discuss those in our regular installment next week.
Our weekly update contains interesting things that happened in the shop last week and new items we've added to the store. If you're new to this update you can skip to the bottom and see the new items, but if your're interested in some of our day-to-day operations please read on. Unlike our normal weekly update, this one will cover our annual business plan. It's considerably longer than our normal weekly update, but we want to give you a bit of a peek behind the curtain. After all, without you we wouldn't be here. Anyway, I don't have to tell you that it was a year filled with challenges, but I'd like to think we were able to adjust to them in real-time and roll with the punches. First let me show you our 2020 snapshot.
2020 Year-end Snapshot
So, that's our business in a few select categories. Instead of trying to compare my numbers with other small busineses, I am way more interested in competing against myself to see if we're growing in the right direction. I keep an eye and ear on our customers to see if what we're doing is working or not. I don't really want to talk about the numbers too much, as I think they tell their own story. Instead, I would simply like to say that we appreciate all of our customers, both old and new, and even if they don't know we're more than a faceless internet retailer, their funds help a lot of folks!
Comparing 2020 to Plan
Some things we consider our core business and will not change from year to year. This includes our focus on solo-player board games, shipping turnaround times, active communications, personalization, and secure packaging. However, there is always room to grow, and in that vein we build an annual plan. Bottom Line Up Front (or BLUF as the cool kids say) is that our 2020 went according to plan fairly well, considering...you know, that it was 2020. We've added functionality and options to our website, built up our local presence, and branched heavily into preorders. We had significantly built up our game stock, and while we still have some older games to add, our gaming foundation is solid. Our routines are fairly efficient, though we're always looking for ways to trim time. Transitioning our MTG stock to Deckbox was the most significant time saver of 2020. We're still supporting crowd funders like Kickstarter, but are becoming much more selective as we've learned regular retail is often almost identical to Kickstarter games - except much more inexpensive. So, we look for exclusives or rarities (like Kickstarter only games and European releases that won't distribute to the US) as our measuring stick. However, with no further ado, here are some highlights vs. our initial 2020 Plan:
Starting Facebook Group: While I had planned on starting a Facebook Group, there was very little interest in it. Instead of pushing it I just let it go. I probably will look at the possibility again in 2022.
Build Partnerships: This turned out very well, and we have grown our professional stable by leaps and bounds over 2019. By having these publisher and distribution partners we can get to games as they become available much easier. Through these relationships we worked out deals like providing free PDFs with physical books or obtaining give-away items like mini-expansions, which is awesome. Of course, the drawback is maintaining the growing communication complexities, but we've been able to manage so far.
Participate in Local Cons: COVID literally shut us down a week before we were going to our first Con. Now, we did participate in two virtual Con's during the year...but it's nowhere near the same thing. Our original goal for 2020 is the same, to hopefully get to some local Cons sometime in 2021 and market our business.
Produce Three New Original Products: We produced two original products in 2020; the Obelisk Dice Tower and the Grand Wooden Dice Box. However, while there was a ton of interest, the sales weren't strong enough to cover our costs. So, we didn't pursue the third product and will not push any more original product development. Now, once we can get back to the Convention circuit and folks can see these products for themselves I'm fairly confident we'll pick it up again. I might just push this to 2022 and focus our energies elsewhere this year.
Develop Military Outreach: We built a conduit to donate games to the Military in 2020. I had originally made it very complex by coordinating with USO's all over the world. However, I discovered I could work directly with the local office here on Redstone and they distributed the games to the Service with the most requests. Unfortunately, we were only a few months into the year when that was suspended until the COVID situation gets better. We're anticipating continuing this program in 2021, most likely after the summer.
Highlight our Partnerships: I was going to build a portion of the website to highlight our business partners. However, I soon discovered all of these legal issues in using other company logos in this manner. It's not that they necessarily minded, but I have to go through each of their legal teams before I can use their logo...and that's taking a long, long time. I just don't see myself with the kind of time required to pursue the thirty-some partners we have in order to make this happen. I will work this in if time presents itself though.
Name and Logo Update: We developed numerous variations of our logo in 2020, and have come to a final design in a few of them. The way I envision it, we'll have a particular logo for several different functions, from circle to square, rectangle, shield, etc., so they can be used for just about any eventuality. They will all highlight our obelisk, but be different in color and design overall. A work in progress.
Much of the 2020 plan will carry over organically into 2021. One thing I haven't mentioned yet is how much learning was involved last year, and I've become much more proficient at running and operating the website, general photography to include editing, and video production. I want to delve into 3D modeling a bit in 2021, at least rudimentary objects and concepts, we'll see how that goes. There are only four "new business" items I'd like to consider in 2021, and they all hinge on our profitability. As a rule we don't overstretch so we might have to wait, but if we secure the funding we will work them in.
Miniatures: A few of our partners are developers and modelers for awesome miniatures, including several variations of amazing dragons, board game pieces, and add-ons to roleplaying games. We have obtained rights to sell them as well, but the initial costs to obtain base supplies (resin is expensive!) is pushing this down the road. However, don't be surprised if we open up a miniatures section in the store where you can order a dragon, get it the size you like, select whole or in pieces, and then just wait for it to arrive. Not too many shops offering that!
Paint: We already sell so many awesome games with miniatures that carrying paint and paint supplies is simply natural progression. The only issue I have here is space. As we're so small I can only get into a single paint brand, and they all look so good! I will continue to compare and eventually settle on a manufacturer, but this is nowhere near as easy as when we decided to go with the Folded Space box inserts.
Merch: I've been surprised at how many requests we've had for physical Stone Valley Games merchandise, especially t-shirts. I've investigated some options, and I am pretty sure we'll be able to add shirts this year. Also, while we will continue to provide a little something with our orders, I'm thinking about making it selectable so customers can choose as they check out. That way, they can get the sticker or magnet that they want, or opt out completely.
Giveaways: We gave away three games in 2020, but I want to try to host a giveaway every month. Not only will it draw interest to our shop, but folks will have the opportunity to get a game. One of our favorites parts of this business is in spreading joy through games, so how awesome is that?
Well, there you have it, our year in review. I am continually humbled by the attention we receive, and know we appreciate not only every order, but every phone call and email we receive as well. We want nothing more than a collaborative environment where everyone is in it for the love of the game (literally) and we see that slowly growing - which is awesome! In any case, below are the Restocks, New Items, and Preorders added to the shop last week. You can click on the item to learn more, many of the products have review and gameplay videos so you can see the game in action. If you're visiting and you'd like to keep up with our giveaways, sales, new products, and articles like this one just create an account here. Once created you will be subscribed to our newsletter and become enrolled in our loyalty system, instantly earning 50 Stones that you can use on your very first order. A Stone? One Stone is equivalent to One Cent. That doesn't sound like much, but you earn 2 Stones for every dollar spent and 5 for each product review, so though it may seem small, those savings add up fast! Redeem your Stones upon checkout, and they can save you up to 10% off your cart total. Loyalty Matters!