Small Business Saturday Blog

Red Herring Games – Case Study

Wednesday, October 24 at 23:12

I’m Jo Smedley, Managing Director of Red Herring Games. I launched the business 11 years ago now, while I was at home with two toddlers. I’m now operating from a high street based office with four staff and three office dogs (not all mine!).
When I moved into the area in 2000, I was helping with a church youth group who wanted to play a murder mystery for one of their evening meetings. There were no age appropriate scripts for them to use, so I wrote my own. I test ran it with the parents, who all loved it and wanted more. After four years doing this I went on maternity leave with my first child and decided I didn’t want to go back to the NHS to work.
I thought about running a coffee shop – and applied to the bank – but they turned me down as I had no start up funding available. Friends of ours who ran a website business suggested I try selling the murder mystery games I had written and within a year I had written enough plots to launch my own firm.
Eleven years down the line, I have over 100 titles to my name, 15 other authors writing scripts, and over 30,000 satisfied customers!
Money wasn’t so much a challenge as I was fortunate in that my friends helped me get started on-line creating the business for a share of the sales. This worked really well and gave me the start I needed. I had to juggle children and writing, customer care and nappies for the first few years, and meeting upfront costs would have been impossible. The hardest challenge for me in the early days was feeling legitimate. Was I really running my own business? Was I able to charge what I wanted for my products? Were they worth the money? etc. After that, it was all the legals … there was no start up advice to be had and I was trading a few years without realising I needed to be ICO registered or have certain legal things in place.
I was very fortunate to join a business networking group locally who helped me learn all the business basics and also give me confidence in myself. I had a great accountant who steered me over the vast accountancy issues, and was able to get free and informal advice from the other businesses in the networking group so that I found out about things as I went along. I had some great pricing and marketing advice in the early stages of my business and with regular contact from these informal business mentors my business took flight.
As an ecommerce business, I explored selling on marketplaces like Ebay and then Amazon within the first few years. Amazon didn’t take digital products – but that was all right as within three years of trading I’d moved from selling only digital products to physical ones. When I joined, Amazon sellers needed their own bar codes, so my first requirement was to register with GS1 for bar codes, and then print all my products so that the bar code became integral with the printing. We’ve had several versions of the games, as the product has improved in look and appearance as our business grew and gained small scale manufacturing equipment. Once I had the product up to a saleable physical level, then came the challenge of learning how to export using Amazon, a process we started with in 2013 and which has seen sales skyrocket, especially in our winter peak season.
More recently, we explored Kickstarter as a pre-order funding scheme to help us launch a brand new product to market, and already we’ve seen more and more USA based customers joining in with the subscription box.
I would suggest all small businesses explore export as soon as they can. Leveraging overseas sales will increase your income faster than just focusing on the UK alone. There are lots of advisors within the DIT who will help you export. Don’t think you can’t. You may need to modify your product or your approach for the overseas market, but there are very few businesses who can’t export in some way. We export both design services and physical products, providing writing mentoring and custom design work overseas. It’s not something we went into business expecting to do – but it’s something we did within the first week of launch. That’s export.
I would suggest businesses explore marketplaces like Amazon. The world of web is changing and people are lazy and tend to shop on marketplace sites now rather than hunting the entire web for what they want. You will increase your visibility and marketing if you can access well known market places. Yes, they cost money to join, and yes, they eat into your profit margin – but if you sell more, you still benefit. The trick is pitching your pricing correctly to absorb those extra costs.
I always suggest businesses get involved locally and nationally with small business groups and support. This could be on-line or face to face. You learn so much by hearing from others. Keep an open mind and apply anything you think could help your business.
Don’t forget to check out the competition – it’s healthy to see what works and what doesn’t. There’s nothing new under the sun, and the chances are someone else will be doing what you want to do, or something similar. Find out what they do that works. You can use this to help you with marketing, design concepts or develop your product in different ways. Obviously you don’t want to plagiarise or copy! But if you see something someone does that works well, why not try the same thing to boost your own product; and if you see a gap in the market your competitors have missed – exploit it!
When you just start out in business you need all the friends and support you can. It’s tough running your own business and the more people you can have around you for moral and emotional and business support the better. It’s not plain sailing and in all businesses there are peaks and troughs. You just have to make sure the troughs don’t sink your business, or ruin your health. The troughs are when you’ll find the benefits of having small business support around you.
What are we looking forward to in the future? We have got new product lines developing all the time. In 2019, we hope to launch our first ever board game, which we’re currently working on with the help of Ingenium Games. We’re also looking at developing unique software to our business that will open up new export markets. We have a head full of ideas and not enough time or resources to develop them all … every year holds a new challenge and excitement for us as a result. We had no idea our subscription box idea would take off as well as it has. As the customer base expands for this – our whole business sales dynamic will see massive changes and our usual seasonal cash flow issues will be a thing of the past enabling us to grow the business in new and exciting ways!Read more about Red Herring Games on their website.

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