Stonemaier Games - Ongoing Retailer Issues Outlined

(Re-post of the 2019 thread that was taken down on the Board Games Reddit Group)

Hey everyone!

My name is Jeff (https://www.facebook.com/TGGCEO), and for those that do not know me, I’m a retail tabletop CEO that has an umbrella of 22 companies in the US market. We are currently operating in 7 US metro markets with a variety of store formats outside of traditional metro areas. The stores vary from 550-3,000 square feet in size, but all stores carry the same core grouping of board game products. The stores range from rural Kewanee, IL (My hometown) that has a population of 8,000 people to a store on Las Vegas BLVD that carries one of the highest fixed costs in the entire sector! Our international expansion into the Asian market is beginning Q3 and I ‘hope’ to have completion before 2020.

My only motivation is to grow the brick and mortar tabletop industry to be standardized, accessible, and affordable for everyone. We opened in the middle of a recession and operate in a retail sector that has been beaten down across the country with massive publicly traded companies calling it quits every year. With the average lifespan of a traditional game store being under a year, we have to be laser focused on the community and delivering on promises. We strive to be a driving force that grows the ceiling of the industry everyday!

The current issue at hand is a US based board game publisher, Stonemaier, posting content on their official blog that is harmful to the retail sector and undermines the hard work that game store owners provide everyday. This post was made on January 17th, 2019 which references a lot of information with a tie-in to the newly released game Wingspan. There is no way to accurately breakdown this entire post in under 100 paragraphs, so I am going to summarize the issues and then provide data points. My goal is to discourage future publishers that could be influenced by Stonemaier Games to understand that posting false information hurts everyone. And that retail stores are the ones that have to absorb nearly all the negativity created by this political tone, not the publisher. The whole idea that this publisher is creating a pro-retailer narrative is the most disingenuous act I’ve seen in the last decade of operating.

https://stonemaiergames.com/an-open-letter-to-distributors-and-retailers-from-stonemaier-games/

“We need to talk…”

When this letter for open communication was posted, Jamey E-Mailed all US distributors to ban my company when I provided feedback. If you ask for feedback on a public blog post that is 80% false what do you expect me to say? The reason why the forecasting comments in this blog post are so light, is because, from what I can tell with my many years of ordering Stonemaier, they don’t care what the forecasting for demand is. It’s been the same way for every release and this one isn’t any different.

This is what happened with Wingspan:

  • Retailers were given a 10 day window from when the game was solicited to when the pre-order window ended. The average for other publishers is weeks/months of time. So on the 4th day of the solication I submitted my order with distribution for 3,000 copies of Wingspan spread over 4 distributors.

  • Within 2 weeks of that solicitation US distribution told us that Wave 1 of this game will have 0 copies for US retailers, and that wave 2 will also have pretty close to 0 copies. There was no forecast done in the slightest, there was no application of metrics, or use of past data. The decision to short this game for BGG rating/hype and MSRP preservation was made well before anyone knew about this title at the retailer level.

  • Wave 1 comes out, I received 4 copies of the game in my entire retail chain. Of course it’s distribution and the stores fault that I ordered 3,000 (https://imgur.com/0j1Br8W) and got 4 copies. I have no way to sell these and not alienate my entire customer base who wants the game. So I choose to raffle all the copies off with 100% of the proceeds to go to the local animal shelter in my hometown. (https://imgur.com/bTKvlp3) Stonemaier then ordered the ban on all my retail stores directly after I did this charity raffle.

  • Stonemaier then took over 1,000 units (https://imgur.com/AVY1aLw) of the already shorted wave and sent them directly to Amazon.com for sales. Not through 3rd party Amazon FBA sellers (Stores) but to Amazon.com Direct. So retailers have 0 copies, everyone is upset, and the missing units were pre-planned to trigger to Amazon this entire time. That information was conveniently not publicly provided until after Jamey was called out on it. Also, it was posted from Jamey directly that only 780 units were sent over only. (https://imgur.com/uEnTDPf) Also, still confused why the same post states that no copies were dumped to Amazon (https://imgur.com/KNfEvEe) and then states that 780 were sent in the next paragraph.

  • Then the general public finds the Amazon units and calls Jamey out on social media forums. The reply is “A distributor sent the units, we had no control over it.” It was found and verified with 2 US distributors that the units were sent to Flat River Distribution. This company doesn’t sell to game stores, and is setup with Stonemaier only to channel games directly to Amazon. It literally says on their mission statement, “Full-service provider of warehousing and fulfillment services to a variety of eCommerce retailers throughout the United States and Canada.” To 100% verify this, I had 3 owners call them and try to set up accounts to purchase games and all 3 were told, “No, the service we provide for most publishers is Amazon Direct shipments.” If you sell to a distributor that pretty much only sells to large eCommerce, AKA Amazon direct, then you can’t claim you have “no control over it”. (https://imgur.com/2BalCM7)

So in the end, there was no forecasting done. Pre-order numbers weren’t taken into consideration and there was no partnership to even start a forecast. An article was written asking for open feedback, and stores that provided the feedback had their comments deleted and Stonemaier communicated to US distributors to ban them from purchasing products. Hundreds of customers flood my retail stores confused and annoyed seeking answers, and my operators have to absorb all this negative feedback. It makes the store look unorganized, incompetent, and unable to handle demand. And the blog posting insinuates that parties other than Stonemaier had control over this, and it was a mutual dropping of the ball. That is completely and entirely false.

Game Demos -

The largest US distributor of tabletop games hasn’t had a demo available of Scythe ever. (https://imgur.com/NHTOBcp) In fact, Stonemaier, is one of the only larger publishers that doesn’t provide demos readily available to stores. The only way a store is getting a demo of one of their games is to buy one at regular distribution cost and pull the wrapper off. They have never sent a single unit under my ownership a demo game ever. 7 US metro markets, never once.

Game Printing -

Since Scythe has released, I have opened 31 brick and mortar retail stores. Not a single instance was Scythe available at US distribution for those store openings. (FYI - MSRP was also raised $10.00) So why do my stores have Scythe at openings? Because I have to purchase hundreds of them and sit on them for months because this is the only US publisher that markets based on scarcity. Every year for the last 3 holiday seasons Scythe has been unavailable for re-order and Amazon.com (Direct) has had the title in stock. The publisher has been doing the same cycle of retail store scarcity shorting and then auto load Amazon Direct/SM Direct so the price can’t be discounted with natural market conditions due to scarcity. When I opened my location on Las Vegas BLVD we had X30 pre-order copies of Scythe: Fenris sitting here without any channel to buy base Scythe for months.

Pro-Retail Tone -

I don’t want anyone to think that Stonemaier had an isolated incident with Wingspan. (See attached) Last year, we had an extremely bizarre communication with Jamey regarding his game My Little Scythe. It was marketed to the store community as extremely limited, so I went in for 1,000 units of the game. When it was released, there were so many copies that Jamey did his Amazon Direct trick and moved an enormous amount of product to that channel. At the time Stonemaier had a MAPP agreement which limits how much a retailer can advertise a discount to the public. So this game had 30+ Amazon FBA sellers, most likely other retail stores like mine which also bought as many copies as they could based on the initial communication, which he threatened to ban if they violated his MAPP agreement. But he then didn’t hold Amazon accountable at all for the MAPP agreement, so there was a 0% chance that any retail store using Amazon to lower their inventory could sell a single copy of the game. We brought this to his attention (See attachment again), seeking a creative solution, and he said, “It is not my responsibility to solve your inventory issues or cash flow problem. This is the last message I will reply to. Do not send me another message.” (https://imgur.com/lI8lZCz)

I’m sitting with $20,000 cost in My Little Scythe, and no ability to sell them. So we apply the ‘hide price’ feature on Amazon which doesn’t violate any policy, and we can compete with Amazon on price. So then Jamey pings us back and says he changed his entire MAPP agreement so that the end result was we were NOW violating it regardless of using the ‘hide price’ feature on Amazon. From my perspective, The entire policy line was altered so Amazon could be protected in it’s sales, and I wouldn’t be able to sell a single unit of the game. Even if you price match Amazon direct, at least from our studies of watching 1000’s of sales across many different 3rd party sellers, Amazon will still win 99% of the sales. So even if Amazon was sitting at the MAP price and 3rd party retailers matched that price, they would still be sitting on units. In many cases Amazon was sitting under the MAP price anyway. I immediately contact 2 of my corporate attorneys and both said the policy line was poorly written and can’t hold up legally. We attempt to reach out to Jamey and he refuses to communicate with anyone. Then 2 weeks later I get a random note from a distribution partner saying, “Wait no one told you that the MAPP policy was taken down?” So there was such a hardline stance on this issue and then he pulled the entire policy down, and didn’t notify me about it. I also want to just re-emphasize, I bought a product under one policy but the policy was changed after the purchase. (https://imgur.com/YYYIFxZ)

In conclusion,

There was a policy written by Stonemaier on 4/19 and sent to me on the 26th by a friend at distribution. The policy is here:

https://stonemaiergames.com/retailer-and-distributor-communication-policy/?fbclid=IwAR0PozF9iRYxC4ovgSww81BST2jk_Bvemjk0gwHLibRVV-vaWe0vHq56CXw

Jamey ordered the universal ban of all my stores months before this policy was posted, then used the policy retroactively to justify the ban. And this policy was posted 4 months after he publicly asked for feedback in the Stonemaier blog post. Jamey has not reached out to me regarding this issue, or any issue I’ve had. Even this posting has the same passive aggressive tone that we have come to expect, with the same underlying false comments. “Stonemaier Games welcomes constructive criticism from retailers and distributors – We are accountable for our mistakes and shortcomings.” In all my experiences providing constructive criticism to Stonemaier Games, it has been received with messages such as “Do not send me another message” (https://imgur.com/lI8lZCz) I don’t mind the public relations buffering but these are posted to bring his image upward when his actions don’t align with the outlined points.

Jamey feels that it’s acceptable for all of our thousands of customers to not be able to purchase his products at our stores. He feels so strongly about it that if a distributor sells games to us that he will also ban or severely punish them as well. This affects the entire retail market for board games, retention of customers, and communication channels with customers across the US. If Stonemaier Games doesn’t want to be pro-retail brick and mortar store, that's fine, just sell directly to Amazon through Flat River and stop pretending you welcome the constructive criticism that retailers provide. I am here to provide fact based evidence and show that there is more to the story than canned prescribed public relations blog posts…

“Lets talk…” Indeed. Anytime, in a public or private forum and I’ll be there to represent retailers. If anyone else needs more information or dialogue around the issues I am an open book!

Image Attachment Information:

Communication sent to Jamey to work on resolution to the corporate ban issue -

(https://imgur.com/gS7bBa6)

(https://imgur.com/NFBgZnw)

After a week of no replies, other communication sent with team CC: -

(https://imgur.com/3ML7Gct)

My last shot at the glory! -

(https://imgur.com/2Ux1BGa)

My Little Scythe Entire Thread -

(https://imgur.com/Nb5DJLK)

(https://imgur.com/dmqcjrs)

(https://imgur.com/oQN8bVF)

(https://imgur.com/lqwdjVP)

(https://imgur.com/aURT7cS)

(https://imgur.com/2cEWexn)

(https://imgur.com/UusdUjV)

(https://imgur.com/wpujThl)

(https://imgur.com/d4p8zOp)

(https://imgur.com/0Lc04jQ)

(https://imgur.com/uC717UM)

(https://imgur.com/yoJF83Q)

(https://imgur.com/c3zzdfZ)

(https://imgur.com/pZ2Cenh)

(https://imgur.com/xgfNWQk)

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