Saturday, June 18, 2011

Free RPG Day Isn't Free...

I am a shortsighted business owner. In many ways, I know that. I have practically ZERO formal education in retailing/marketing, yet, here I am running a game store. How’d I get here exactly? That’s a story for another time.

The last few years, there has been an “event” called “Free RPG Day” put together by Impressions Marketing. It involves RPG manufacturers providing Impressions with free “teaser-level” product, which Impressions then bundles up and ships out to retailers.

Now perhaps my understanding on how this all works is a bit off, but it seems the only people getting anything for free are Impressions and the “customers” picking up the free items from stores. It certainly costs the manufacturers money to produce this product and then ship it to Impressions. It costs the retailers eighty dollars a “kit” for said bundled product. It even costs Impressions money in labor and materials to ship the kits. However, I refuse to believe it costs Impressions eighty dollars to put together and ship each of these kits. Fifteen, twenty, even thirty-five dollars I would believe as far as actual shipping and handling costs are concerned. Not eighty… not even close.

I had a conversation with a customer about why I don’t currently participate in Free RPG Day. His whole take is that advertising costs. He’s right. It does. However, I can think of other ways to drive traffic to my store for eighty, one hundred sixty, or even two hundred and forty dollars that can drive traffic to my store that will MAKE me money on that DIRECT investment. Heck, given the weekend, if I could have gotten them, I could have bought another display of the MtG: Commander decks for what each one of the Free RPG Day kits costs. Those would have turned around almost immediately to roughly double my money. Instead, Free RPG Day would have me handing money (in a different form) to customers in hopes that they may someday hand me money back.

Giveaways suck as a marketing tool. Their investment-to-return ratio is staggeringly poor. Too often you get people you’ll never see again (except to get more free stuff) wandering in to get free stuff, all the while you are hoping that some new potentially repeat customer wanders in and discovers your establishment.

For the same money, I firmly believe a store could set up its own RPG Demo Day, give away anything it wanted to (including slower moving product), and still come out ahead monetarily, with new customers to boot.

My general thoughts are that “Free RPG Day” is an event in the same way that “Valentine’s Day” is a holiday. It’s an event manufactured by an industry designed to make someone money… …but in this case, the only someone making money is the middleman.

I could be wrong, and my understanding could be off, but my gut says that I’m not…



  1. Its always struck me as an odd promotion, as well, because depending on who you talk to online, the promotion isn't handled consistently.

    Some game stores (obviously that have more money to burn) will hand out one of everything that a given customer is interested in.

    Others will hand out a random item (which seems to be rather pointless of the "customer" ends up not really wanting the item).

    Still others have come up with a "lottery" for the contents of the kit, meaning that its less "Free RPG day," and more "Random Chance at Winning some Product you May Like" day.

    It may be crass of me to say, but as an outsiders, it's looked to me for a while to be one of those things that "looks good" whether it does any good or not. In other words, publishers participate because they want to look like they are supporting local retailers, even if the numbers aren't there to really show that they have done anything to help the retailer out.

    In the end, handing out free stuff once per year doesn't seem like its overcomes obstacles like store owners that ignore their customers, only stock stuff they want to buy, refuse to order stuff for their customers, are too busy to provide customer service, or actively bad mouth most of the product their customers seem to want.

    Which is why I love Armored Gopher, because Dave will give his opinion in well modulated tones, bend over backwards for his customers, and do a lot to keep people coming back to a community, not just showing up to buy stuff once in a while.

  2. Wow, does seem a very bad deal for the retailer... Betting if you ere wanting you could come up with MUCH better ways to spend $80 to promote your store... Say a MTG card prize for a tournament... Here I assumed it was like tournament support and something the manufacturer or distributor sent to the store...