Red Herring Games: Navigating a Business During a Pandemic

Red Herring Games: Navigating a Business During a Pandemic

Ever wanted to gather your friends around a dinner table and accuse them of murder? Hopefully, your friend group dynamic has never actually got that dark — but that is the general concept behind Red Herring Games’ murder mystery games! Groups get together, dress up to fit the setting of the game — from the Orient Express, to a 1920s house party — and play the characters assigned to them in order to guess the murderer in their midst. 

Red Herring Games are masters at this concept and have won numerous awards for their murder mystery games, including the Small Awards: Home and Away Award. They were named one of the 2016 Top 100 Small Business Saturday winners which led to them exhibiting at No. 10 Downing Street (headquarters of the British Prime Minister).

However, the onset of COVID-19 obviously made group gatherings difficult and had a huge impact on any business models based around hosting events. We talked to the “Chief Candlesitck Wielder,” Jo Smedley, about how having a WordPress website has helped them to navigate the pandemic. 

Jo Smedley, Courtesy of Red Herring Games.

Why did you first decide to use WordPress for your business website?

We switched to WordPress a few years ago when we redesigned the website — for the fourth time! We don’t sell a standard product, which meant we needed a shop that could have a lot of information pages as well as the ability to check out. We wrote a big wishlist for our website designer and WordPress with its plugins did nearly everything on that list — and was far easier to maintain and use from our side than the other platforms we’d used previously.

How do you find using WooCommerce as your payment method? 

WooCommerce has been really easy to use and it’s never caused us any issues. We sell both physical and downloadable products and it handles delivery of both really easily.

Courtesy of Red Herring Games

As well as selling products on your main Red Herring Games site, you have a website called Cosy Killer, dedicated to a subscription-based murder mystery game. What are the advantages of that? 

Subscription products level out the peaks and troughs in our seasonal business (Christmas is our busiest time). It’s been our biggest development in the last three years — and we’ve been able to take our subscription site from a standing start to trading at a similar level to our main business within just three years. That isn’t to say we haven’t put a LOT of marketing into it, and advertising costs have been high too — but it’s grown exponentially.

Courtesy of Cosy Killer

What is your marketing strategy for promoting your sites?

We use a combination of SEO, paid-for Google AdWords, Facebook ads, and more traditional, free, social media posts, email campaigns, and piggyback marketing for the other services we offer in with the mail order. We’ve also worked in tandem with a lot of other small businesses — inserting flyers into their mail order or running competitions together. The blog is also a useful method to communicate with potential customers. We often signpost to articles we’ve written on the blog to support our subscription business puzzle solvers, or for those on our party business who are looking for more information. It also helps SEO page ranking.

Courtesy of Red Herring Games

How have you adapted to the difficulties posed by COVID-19? 

We had no idea how COVID-19 would affect our business and spent the first four weeks of the outbreak seeing refund after refund going through the account. If it hadn’t been for the government grant at the end of March I wouldn’t have had enough money to pay my staff wages. We spent two weeks rethinking our website strategy and made some changes to our WordPress site.  

In early April, things turned around dramatically and we saw sales in a six week period that were equivalent to an entire year’s worth of sales in the business! It was crazy! We have always sold downloadable games, but up until the outbreak we’d seen a massive shift from people preferring the boxed sets to our downloadable versions. During the outbreak, no one was visiting shops and the fact all our games were downloadable was suddenly a massive advantage as they enabled everyone to play remotely while in lockdown. The simplicity of our WordPress website meant we were rapidly able to revise our website for this virtual landscape and capture these sales when we needed them. 

We’ve also seen a big shift in our event bookings, with more bookings for virtual events than ever before — and again — that’s all thanks to us being able to revise the information pages within our website quickly to follow that new trend.

Courtesy of Red Herring Games

Is there any advice you would like to offer new online entrepreneurs? 

The best advice I can give is not to overstock. Stock is cash you can’t use. You might think something will sell really well, but if it doesn’t you’re stuck with that cash tied up in stock too long and it’ll cause your business cash flow issues. Although you can be tricked into bulk buying because the numbers look good — it’s actually better to buy in smaller quantities and see less profit in order to keep your cash flow healthy.  It’s even better if you can buy only once the orders are in — so look for suppliers who will work with you to ship on demand. That way you don’t hold the stock yourself. It may be the difference between making a 20% or a 50% profit on an item — but that’s 30% cash you’re retaining in your business.

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