Small producers – use them, or lose them

On Monday we were greeted very sad news that Fenris Games were closing down at the end of February. If you read the full story (which can be found here) it tells a tale that is becoming familiar – of a small company that has been facing increasing financial pressures with dwindling sales, to the point where it is no longer viable.

The bitter truth is that, in our current hobby, which allows us to build fantastical areas to fight across, waging war in campaigns forged in our imaginations, many companies that enable us to pursue our dreams by supplying the figures and scenery with which to do so face the day-to-day harsh modern reality of desperately trying to make ends meet.

Let’s be honest here – whilst much publicity is given to those larger producers who can afford it, a significant amount the creative lifeblood of our hobby lies with the myriad of small manufacturers who produce a wealth of products in the small workshops, garden sheds and even kitchen tables around the world. For every single Warlord Games, there are dozens of these smaller companies producing a plethora of diverse goods for every genre, and in every scale, we could ever want.

It has been said that we live in a ‘golden age’ of the hobby, often labelled as such because of the huge choice that the average gamer has before them when it comes to who, what and where to buy their models, scenery, rules etc. That same choice also indicates a huge challenge to the producers – how to stand out from the crowd, how to differentiate themselves from the rest, and how to make any form of living whilst doing so.

The people who choose to do this are talented individuals who decide to spend either their spare time, or possibly their full time, exercising their gifts in creating toys for the rest of us to play with. Many do it first and foremost out of the love of doing what they do, which given the average financial reward for their efforts, has to be their primary driver.

Some would argue that whilst perhaps of passing interest, whether or not a company thrives or fails in our hobby is of little concern to us. Like everything else, the manufacturers face the whims of the capitalist market economy – Darwin at work in finance. Indeed, late last year the editor of a large hobby website went as far to say that the hobby might indeed benefit from a ‘culling of the herd’ – a somewhat callous remark made with relation as to whether companies could afford (or were willing) to pay to advertise on his website or not.

However, all it takes is to visit a wargames show and chat to the people behind the trade stands to discover that each of these small companies, perhaps faceless on the internet, are run by engaging people just like you and I, people who are passionate about their hobby and want to use their creative talents to the benefit of us all, and in doing so hope to get – justifiably – some financial reward. These are people who are trying to pay their mortgage, put their kids through school or simply put food on the table – just like you or I would expect to do in the jobs that we do, day-to-day.

England was once described as a ‘nation of shopkeepers’. If you make a comparison with what has happened on the high streets of Britain with the gaming hobby, we have seen the multiple choice of small shops in the high street slowly dwindle to be overtaken by supermarkets – yes offering cheaper prices, and the convenience of everything in one place – but at the cost of quality and variety. The same could very easily happen in the gaming hobby.

But we can make a difference in a simple way, and it was the heading of this piece. If we want to keep these producers around, and keep the choice of goods available, we HAVE to be prepared to use them. Perhaps spend a little bit more of our own hobby budgets on items that are maybe a little more expensive, but of superior quality, or a unique design. We don’t just pay for metal, resin, plastic and paper. We pay for the creative mind and artful work of hands and fingers behind what was made.

If we don’t do this, then the simple reality is that we will be seeing many more of these stories of closure in the future.

In the meantime, Fenris Games are still taking orders until 31st January, so if there is anything in their catalogue that you have been wanting to buy, but putting off committing to, you have a couple of weeks to rectify the situation, before everything is gone…perhaps for good.

 

5 Comments on Small producers – use them, or lose them

  1. A very kind & thoughtful article. Sadly it’s nothing new. In 2014 I wrote an article on the subject for Miniature Wargames following a comment in WAS – htpps://blog.vexillia.me.uk/2014/07/latest-miniature-wargames-article.html

  2. Home School Dad // January 17, 2020 at 14:18 // Reply

    True that. Life circumstances can be such that self employment is the only option for some.
    Such as with me, and even then only part time.
    Not easy trying to make money part time selling non essential items in a niche market.
    Especially when your products are niche within that niche.

  3. I’m not sure that the cost of the supermarket can fairly be described as “quality and variety”. I would argue that this is exactly what we get from them compared to the small grocers of yesteryear.
    The problem with the value of small and (where relevant) local retailers and manufacturers (like me) is that it’s one that is implicit rather than explicit. Supporting such businesses is good for the community at large rather than for the individual standing at the checkout. But the ones who make purchasing decisions are individuals rather than communities. Small businesses (like mine) have to haver imagination, passion and energy (and most of them have these qualities in spades), but they also have to have a business plan, commercial acumen and a head for figures. And I think one-person businesses struggle most with these latter qualities. I know that if I go under, the only one I’ll be able to blame is me.

  4. You’re correct when you say that a business can onlye xist as long as it has customers willing to buy the goods.

    When I visit a con, I will mostly buy from smaller-scale businesses. You have to support them if you want to have them around.

  5. As a small producer ourselves, and being friends with many more across the hobby, we understand the financial pressures that such people are under.
    Having to do most things yourself takes time and energy, and the financial rewards are very slim. A 5% dip in sales one month can mean not paying your bills, having to put products on sale because cash flow is king in small business, which in turn wrecks your margins for that short term boost. We know producers who have sales simply to meet the gas bill. These producers are one bad month away from having to chuck it in and get a ‘proper job’.
    In the short term all we can do is appeal to all you hobbyists to put some cash across the trade stands of the small producers at shows. To order from them online and not get in a tiz if they don’t have the delivery times of Amazon. I once waited nine months for three gorgeous trolls from Fenris and it was worth every single minute. Support their kickstarters – a marvellous, yet dangerous tool for small businesses to create new ranges and realise fantastic projects.
    In the longer term though we small producers have to re-examine our business models. Casting in our sheds, writing in our attics, hoping friendly local games shops will stock our stuff, and relying on shows to sell physical product is a model is that we cannot expect to compete with the big boys.
    We have to consider how we can leverage all the new technology out there. Most of us have websites and some of us have webshops – the latter of which eats up far too much time for a one-man band – which is a start. However, we now live in a world where 3D printing is coming into its own, and print on demand is reaching decent quality levels.
    So should all those really talented sculptors, who spend two thirds of their time coaxing recalcitrant casting machines to produce product, re-skill and go digital?
    Should authors like us dump our printers, stop packing and sending out physical products, and instead do a deal with one of the big POD companies, or just go entirely digital?

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