The Fine Line
By Bruce Freeman
Back in high school, Eric Poses walked a fine line with teachers who didn’t know he was going to be a successful game entrepreneur or they might have appreciated his wit and imagination a little more. Even Eric didn’t know he was going to make a career of games when he started thinking about questions that spark long conversations. By then, he had matured into a pretty serious guy with a degree in history from Emory University who interned for the Jimmy Carter Presidential Center researching and briefing Carter and others on events in Cuba and El Salvador. His initial question queried: If you became President of the U.S, what is the first thing you would do?
Yet that question, and the many that followed, marked the beginning of All Things Equal, Inc., which Eric formed in 1996 to market his first game, “Loaded Questions”. He had been working as a copywriter and writing questions on the side when his boss offered to finance the process of turning Eric’s questions into a game. At that moment, Eric realized that if others were willing to invest, his idea might really be worth something. So, instead of accepting the offer, he quit his job and immersed himself in the toy business, calling well-known game companies for advice and subscribing to trade publications. He found a company that reviewed new game ideas for a nominal sum, but the report from the reviewing company wasn’t positive. For the first time, Eric Poses caught a glimpse of what he was up against, but he didn’t let it demoralize him; he turned the negative review into the determination to prove the experts wrong. Continuing to improve and refine Loaded Questions, Eric Poses took everything he had, $23,000 saved since he was a child, and invested it into designing and producing his first production run of 5000 games.
This is the moment where determination met innovation. Eric tried printing a brochure and sending it to stores, but soon learned that stores are deluged with offers of new games. He realized that he needed to speak with storeowners’ in-person. Eric’s answer to the sales challenge: Road-Trip! Eric got in his car and embarked on a 35 city tour. He would pull into a coffee shop on the outskirts of a city, find a phone book and call all of the independent toy stores. Next, he would buy the local newspapers and call the editors to pitch his story. Then, he would visit each store and tell the owner that if they took his game, he might get them some publicity in the local paper. This strategy worked in 18 of 35 cities, to the benefit of all. While on tour, his Mom called and told him that a friend of a friend knew someone who was an executive at Toys R Us. Eric made an appointment and soon landed his first major sale of 7,500 units. Parlaying his experience with the local papers to a national level, he received coverage in both The Wall Street Journal and USA Today. But Eric Poses didn’t stop there; his next sales idea was to approach non-traditional outlets including Barnes and Noble and Borders. He leveraged his connection to Toys R Us while still remaining loyal to the independent toy stores and the rest was history. Today, All Things Equal ships over 100,000 games annually.
Professor Bruce’s Words of Wisdom
Any small business person trying to break into established distribution channel walks a fine line between being persistent and annoying. Knowing how to walk that line can mean the difference between success and failure. For Eric Poses, finding the common ground between independent toy stores, local newspapers, and his game, is the kind of innovative publicity strategy that becomes entrepreneurial legend. How did he do it? Eric believes he learned about talking with people at the Carter Center; you get things done if you speak diplomatically, gently and persuasively, without taking “no” for an answer. By the way, on his road-trip he took the opportunity to drop Loaded Questions off for President Carter. Later, he received a thank-you note from the former president who was looking forward to playing the game on his next vacation. Sounds like Eric’s next game should be entitled, “The Fine Line!”
Break into new markets by parleying potential retail sales into publicity and vice-versa.
Could This Work For Me?
Publicity is often overlooked as a sales tool – it couldn’t hurt to try.