For every European board game publisher Spiel Essen is the biggest event of the year, every year. The situation is no different for NSKN Games. In fact, we spent most of our last two months doing almost exclusively Essen preparations: ordering and buying furniture for the booth, printing advertising materials, connecting with people who will demo game and… well, the list goes on for a whole page written in a really tiny font.
And since I’ve already mentioned advertising, it’s time to tell you a great story about how things can go from good to bad, then to worse, then to complete nightmare, and how thinking outside the box may (or may not) get you out of trouble. This is a true story!
Do you know those nice, big banners hanging from the ceiling at various fairs and conventions, those which are visible from far and make your booth stand out? Well, it was high time for NSKN Games to order some of those, as a celebration of our 6th presence in Essen.
At first we looked for a solution in Europe. We quickly realized that ceiling banners are not as common as we had thought and making them takes either a ridiculous amount of time (3-5 months) or they come with insane prices.
A dear friend suggested that we look for a manufacturer of such items in China and even provided a link. I took upon myself the task to get this in motion and in less than 3 days we decided on the size and shape, we got the template for the art, contacted the supplier and paid the invoice, which came with a nice discount. The timeline we planned to get the banners in time for Spiel was relaxed, more so than we could have hoped for. Happy days!
Hick-up no. 1
We got the artwork ready in no time and submitted it via a very nice web interface, happy cross off one of the many things on our really long “to do” list. The next Friday close to end of business day we were informed that the template on the manufacturer’s website was wrong and we have to modify the art according to some instructions in Chinese! We tried both Google translate and angry email, but ahead of us was a long weekend wait. Next Monday we got some instructions in English, and remade the art. It turned out OK. Manufacturing was next.
Hick-up no. 2
After 4 working days to complete the production process, we requested some photos of the final products just to make sure that everything was made properly. The next reply came the next week, just to let us know that our packages had been already shipped. No big stress at that time, just that weird feeling one gets when things do not go according to plan.
In our naiveté, we thought that as long as we can track the packages and we see real progress nothing could go wrong. With air shipping it was all supposed to be done in less than a week. Even when we dealt with customs which took another week, nothing seemed really wrong, as we had planned with enough time to spare.
The heart attack
Last Friday, just as we were getting settled in our seats at the office, TNT delivered two really large packages with our banners. The original plan was to take them straight to our warehouse and add them to our Essen shipment, but I thought it would be nice to have a look and figure out the assembly procedure. This was supposed to be the fun part of the day. Boy were we off mark on this one!
So… I am opening the package, it’s heavy, maybe too heavy? At a fist glance the colors look good, red and white as they should be. We quickly figure our how to assemble and then start pulling the banner out of its casing. The first letter I see is a “V”. Wait… There’s no V is NSKN Games or in Strawberry Studio! I quickly pull the whole banner out and it is.. this:
That was the heart attack moment. Upon further scrutiny, the second package contained no banner, just more pipes for assembly. It’s less than 10 days before we leave for the fair! Nooooo! Is this really happening?
Memory lane. During my first training in the oilfield – very stressful line of work – a top manager asks my class a simple question: what is the first thing you do when things go really wrong? No, you do not look for solution, you maybe curse, pray, but one thing is for sure: you panic.
So this is what we did – panic. We’re not TEC Lighing and our stuff is (sadly) not made in the USA. Long break.
I immediately reached out on Skype to our Chinese manufacturer, tried to stay calm and explain in simple English what the problem was. The first answer was…
Fast forward, 15 minutes in the future, skipping angry conversation. They figured out that since we got the wrong banner, TEC Lighting must have our banners. To add insult to injury, we googled them and they are from California, USA. That is 6000 miles away from our office! 6000 miles! After much debate, we were granted access to TEC delivery data and it was like getting an antidote for poison – the delivery address was in Belgium and it came with a contact, an actual name. Sadly, no email and no phone number.
10 shady internet websites and a questionable subscription later, I got the phone number of our contact and potential savior. The phone rang, there’s a voice, speaking English. Great. We’re saved. Or are we? “I haven’t been working with TEC Lighting since July”. Oh nooooo! But wait… “I am still in touch with them and I know of this package”. Long story short, some package which they thought was their banner arrived recently. “Let’s move this whole thing to email”.
Over 10 time zones and 4 countries (our new contact person was out for holidays or business in Switzerland), we figured out that we can exchange packages if our banners were still in Belgium. Why would they not be? Because Belgium was just stopover on their way to California.
Last Monday we got the confirmation that (hopefully) our banners are indeed in Belgium and we can arrange shipping them to Poland. That was easy. Now they’re on the way to our office and we we’ll get them on time. “Stress free?”, you might ask. Well, not really. The people on the other side of Europe refused to open our packages, thus we can only assume and hope that the factory in China simply swapped our banners and the mistake was not a lot more extensive.
We get to find out tomorrow. Happy days!