We're in the final stretch now! No matter which winter holiday you enjoy, from Yule to Christmas, Kwanzaa to Hanukkah and everything in between, the time for family and giving is upon us! Another busy week here, with numerous restocks, new games, and preorders laid in the store, and we've drawn the winner of our board game giveaway! We have some store news to share too, so why not pop in and check it out?
Happy Holidays? A bit generic, right? Sure, I might have been born in the remote northern Wisconsin wilderness, but over 25 years in the Army taught me many things. One of the most important lessons is how we are all so very similar - regardless of religion or politics or which winter holiday we celebrate... or if we don't celebrate any at all. Being with so many different types of folks all focused on a singular goal imparts a lot of important lessons. So, while our family celebrates Christmas, we appreciate and enjoy everyone's holiday experience! What a wonderful country!
So, Happy Holidays and welcome to our weekly newsletter! I'm Eric, and my wife Wendy and I own and operate Stone Valley Games. If this is your first edition let me show you around a bit. Our newsletter is broken into two sections. The top half contains news, generally a lot about our store, but other gaming news that we notice pop up during the week too. The bottom half lays out the Restocks, New Items, and Preorders we added to the store last week. Overall, the newsletter is not too difficult to navigate, so let's get to it!
BOARD GAME GIVEAWAY WINNER!
For our December board game giveaway, we went with Journey: Wrath of Demons a magnificent miniatures game that has an MSRP of $99.99, weighs just under seven pounds, and has a good rating on Board Game Geek. We figured we might as well end the year with a bang, right?!
Well, we have drawn the winner and it is Jerry Carver from Athens, Tennessee! Congratulations Jerry! We will have that game heading out on Monday, and you're so close it just may make it by Christmas! How cool is that?!
It seems we're always working on the webstore! After all, there's always something to be improved, and last week was no exception. One very noticeable change for cell phone users is the double rows to display games in the category pages now instead of the single or triple row. This will allow folks to see things better than the triple row and be faster than the single row. Additionally, each page currently loads 50 items. I may cut that back to 25 or 30 for slightly faster initial loading times and leave it 'scroll and go' for page progression. I'll see how the double row setup works for a bit before I decide on initial page load.
You may have noticed that I'm always working to get the site easier to browse. So, a Google search might bring someone in, but once they are here I want to make things interesting enough to stick around for a bit. With that in mind I've been considering significantly editing or removing our intros in each of the category pages. On one hand those explanations are an extension of us 'showing people around', especially newer board game players. On the other hand, if someone knows the difference between 'thematic' and 'strategic' than it's an extra scroll for them to get to the games and not very helpful. There are always Pros and Cons, am I right?!
In making shipping more flexible we added another shipping option too, namely USPS Retail Ground. Overall, it is more inexpensive but slower than Priority Mail. Hey, more customer options are a good thing!
Also, in the background we are working on compressing the images even more. While they are already made for web viewing, we use so many photos in our webstore, especially the category pages, we figured we'd give it a try. We started working technical solutions last week and it should be rolling through over the next week or two. At the end of the day, it should give us a bump in site speed too - especially for handheld devices.
RETAIL REALITIES OF INDIE PUBLISHERS
One of the most rewarding parts of owning a gaming store is the flexibility. We don't have to go through a board of directors or worry about shares or any of that. We can make the business decision in real-time. Our bottom-line financial goal is to make sure the store remains viable while always providing a high level of customer satisfaction.
We acknowledge a lot of creativity emerging from the relatively unknown independently published folks working so very hard to have their voice heard in the gaming community. We really want more folks to be exposed to these creative talents. Not too many places to find these games either, as the big chain stores tend to avoid indie publishers. While that puts us in a unique position to highlight these lesser-known products, a lot of these indie titles just sit on the shelves for years. And years. So, it's not always the best business decision. Hence, the retail realities of working with indie publishers.
I've been giving it some thought, and I see some universal problems. Some indie products don't tie to a popular IP. So, for RPGs, if they don't align to D&D 5E, or Old-School Essentials, or Pathfinder, or Savage Worlds, etc., many people will just pass them by. Heck, we've had Crypt of the Shadow Lord on the shelf since 2019, and it's a really neat scenario. However, on the flip side, there are IP focused indie projects that don't seem to hit either. Like the line of fascinating 5E Limitless Adventures products, some of which allow DM-less adventuring. A lot of great content, but they just aren't gathering the audience they deserve.
Board games have slightly different problems. I think ratings and reviews have a huge impact. I've noticed a significant number of sales going to those games rated well by Sit Down & Shut Up and the litany of other big reviewers. First problem here is Indie games generally don't bubble up to the premier reviewer attention. Perfectly understandable as there are so many highly marketed IP games out there to keep these reviewers busy. To compound the problem, a lot of the indie games don't even have enough player reviews in Board Game Geek to rate there either. So, the games just kind of hang out there unheralded and unheard.
Don't get me wrong, we do have some brave customers check out these lesser-known indie games and RPGs, but it's quite the minority. To be fair though, from the customer's perspective there is only so much money and so much time, so learning an odd new RPG system may not seem to be worth the sunk cost. Or braving uncharted waters to try an unrated or unreviewed board game may lead to a waste of time and money if it doesn't click. Those are completely understandable reasons!
To help balance our business viability while supporting independent publishers, we have a set number of indie titles in-house. As they sell out (since they are generally short release runs) we will fill in the empty space with a new title. That helps us from overextending into an area that could potentially get us into trouble. It also helps us to continue providing folks books and games here that customers haven't seen in other stores. Win-win!
Also, I recently realized we could be part of the problem too. While we do carry the items, and the games are detailed the product pages, we haven't really 'highlighted' them. You know, we do have a few social media outlets and can work better at getting the word out. I will try to help market our independently published folks better in the future. Maybe a quarterly bump, or their own webpage, or an interview with the creator to get to know them... This will give me something for me to think about. At the end of the day, especially as I can recognize the problems, I would love to be part of the solution! Stay tuned to see how this evolves over time.
We hadn't done one before, but we're thinking hard about setting up a year-end sale. It will help us clean out some inventory before end-of-year accounting processes and give folks a chance to grab a game at a great price. I may also combine it with our 'dented 'n dinged' sale. While we keep a dented n' dinged section here for local customers, I hadn't shared it with the webstore before. I just haven't been able to figure out, for liability purposes, how to sell a dented game with the clear understanding that it cannot be returned due to damage. Well, there is always the 'not eligible for return' language, I guess. In any case, I'm still working through it all, but we will let you know in next week's newsletter what we've decided. If we do something it will sometime during the last week of December. More to come on that!
THE WRAP UP
Okay, enough news for this week! Below are the Restocks, New Items, and Preorders added to the shop last week. You can click on the item to learn more, and many of the products have review and gameplay videos so you can see the game in action. If you're visiting our page 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!