[Musings of a Game Store Owner] Where Can I Get Some More Plastic Crack?

As a game store owner, I hear all kinds of jokes about being the ‘crack dealer’ and how it’s so hard for my customers to resist…

We love it, and enjoy the joke to it’s fullest. What a lot of our customers don’t understand is that we have dealers too…

Our dealers are distributors. Our dealers reach us in a variety of ways- email, phone calls, direct trade magazines and more. Email has become huge- TheDude gets no less than 50 a day with sell sheets on new products and information on upcoming specials. They call at least once a week (sometimes more- we got a new rep from one of our smaller distributors who has not yet learned calling every day isn’t wise) and often make deals to help boost their numbers.

Something that a lot of folks don’t know is that while we get a discount on what we buy, we’re restricted to how much by the distributor. They set the prices, and if we like a product that doesn’t get a good discount, we gotta PAY to get it just like you do.

Distributors are able to sell lots of games to lots of people at pretty good prices, and give more geeks opportunities to play games they have not heard of, or seen reviewed and want to try, as well as expose designers and companies to the masses.

I knew that when I announced I was going to talk about distributors, I would pull from a series of emails I wrote to one of the HOP readers a couple months ago- there’s just a lot of good shit in it, and why do the work twice?

Here’s my rundown on distributors, aimed at a small store just getting started with a few other comments thrown in:

There are several distributors you’ll want to know about. Alliance and ACD are the big guys for geeky games. The differences are going to be twofold: who your rep is; and what products you order. When you are just starting out, you will probably want to make an order or two with each to get a feel for what they offer and who you deal with. The discount amounts are not going to affect a small store very much at all to begin. You can get NEARLY anything you want from either, including MtG and GW. The discount won’t be great on these, but until you grow, it is not worth trying to get a dedicated account with those companies as the amount you need to spend will kill your business. There are some companies that are only distributed through one or the other, but those shouldn’t be a huge issue for someone starting out. They’ll both have a minimum order for free shipping (usually $300-$500) and will have either an Excel sheet of product or a website to order from.

Two of the big guys. There’s more out there. 

It is my FIRM opinion that a sales rep makes all the difference in who your distributor is- if you get a crappy rep that doesn’t listen, tries to push things on you; doesn’t respect you or just doesn’t care- move on. Conversely, a rep that “gets it” that you are a new store with a  limited budget and very little room to “take chances” will be a HUGE asset because when they make recommendations, you can feel more comfortable that their ideas will help grow your business.

For the most part, distributors are the “middle man” between manufacturers and  the FLGS. It’s pretty rare to deal directly with a manufacturer or designer, as distributors have the ability to buy in bulk, at a discount, and offer national exposure that a single FLGS just can’t give.

There are two major exceptions to that rule- WotC and GW.

As you grow, you will get to know WotC (Wizards of the Coast). They own the MtG market outright and will determine how much product you can buy, sell, when, how etc over the life of your business. Getting an account with them and buying direct can and will help your business if you plan to be a serious WoTC seller at all. They call affiliated retailers “Premiere Stores” and have levels according to how much you sell. This will only matter a little to you right now as you try to achieve any store level status. Gateway, Core and Advanced (also called Premiere) are the different levels, and you want to work towards the Advanced/Premiere once you get your foot in the door, because that gains you access to more product and better support later on. Achieving “Core” status will be a big plus for you after you get started. Anything after that is gravy.

WOTC is hit or miss. You get assigned a rep according to geography and have NO say in that matter. Some reps are great, and some are terrible. I won’t lie, our rep isn’t our favorite. If I didn’t see the need for the discount to benefit my business, I would not deal with them much. Other reps are great, so it just depends. They are not always very good at explaining the different store levels, how to achieve them, or the discounts available. If you’re not sure, please ask and I’ll see if I can explain it to you- because it really matters. WOTC’s discount is worth all the headaches that come with dealing with them (in my opinion). 
WOTC also determines the amount of product you can buy, according to a bunch of details I only sort of understand. It mostly has to do with sales, but other factors such as attendees at tournaments and special launch day events factor in as well. 
The last thing to know about WOTC is that many of their policies are completely out of line with the rest of the industry. An example is their burden of proof for physical/”brick and mortar” store – they’re very in-depth in their requirements. They also refuse to deliver product to any location other than the brick and mortar store you put down as your operating location, so if you have a day job and can’t be available for deliveries, you may have to depend on a friend/family to wait for their delivery guy.
When they talk about levels, WOTC will tell you everything is about attendance and nothing to do with sales. This is only SORT of true, once you get started. After you host your first couple events (where WOTC will limit your allotment of cards available to purchase pretty seriously), your “allowance” of cards is determined by attendance AND sales according to market. The more people you have in your store and the more sales you do, the more cards they allow for the NEXT release. If you have any Magic crowd at all, you want to have great attendance and sales so that you can get a higher allotment and then have bigger events the NEXT time. 
GW also sells directly to game stores, as well as through distributors. Yes, we’re a GW Store. It took us a long time to get there. In order to get certain discounts, you have to maintain certain stock levels- and yes, it’s a lot. It’s probably 2-3K worth of stuff, so it isn’t a cheap “let’s go” sort of thing. There are two kinds of GW materials (Direct and standard) and there is absolutely no rhyme or reason to what is in which level- but you can only get Direct through GW, rather than through another distributor like ACD or Alliance. That difference of “direct” is what drives a lot of hobby stores to deal with GW rather than someone else; because the discount difference is small. 
So that’s the big rundown, in a nutshell. Got questions? Lemme know. 

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