Last year, as the pandemic began to spring across borders and wreak havoc in lives, both personal and professional, I put out a PSA of sorts, discussing the current state of things at Troll Lord Games. I did this to let people know that the pandemic and the devastation it caused would not impact their orders and Kickstarter pledges (just search pandemic on my page and you can find it or go the TLG blog.)
In short, when the pandemic jumped the Chinese border into Korea, we began stocking up on manufacturing and shipping supplies, anticipating its eventual arrival here. And because TLG uses domestic sources for its manufacturing and domestic sources for shipping and other supplies, that any delays were largely of our own doing and would be manageable.
That was 18 months ago (or thereabouts, I have never really been able to track time in my head). Many things have stayed the same, but we have had to adjust some. So today, as we anticipate the release of the 8th Printing of the Castles & Crusades Players Handbook, and the year is winding down, it seems a good idea to bring everyone in and let them know how TLG has weathered this rather challenging year.
Contents: Below I talk about domestic manufacturing and our supply line, changes to our practice, the environment, and veteran programs.
I am not going to discuss Covid or its many variants, and all that that entails. This is not the place for that discussion. People must make their own choices and carry on. I will say that two of our staff contracted the virus. One suffered horribly for weeks, the other barely had a sniffle. So, it seems TLG is a microcosm of the world around it.
As those of you who have been around TLG for awhile know, we print and manufacture almost everything we do in the United States, or at times Canada (we would in Mexico if the opportunity presented itself). I have been and remain a large supporter of domestic purchases. This goes for everyone, everywhere, in every country. Wherever you live, support the locals first. It is a good philosophy. Good for your neighbors. Good for the environment. Good for everything (personally we have even begun using local butcher shops to buy our meat).
Because of this, we have suffered no shortages of any product or material since the pandemic and the economic turmoil that it caused, began. I do not see any on the near horizon.
Our softcover books, most of them, we print in house in our own print facility. We buy locally sourced paper (though the supplier is in Memphis and Illinois).
Our hardcover books, and some softcover, we print in Marceline Missouri. They assure me that they purchase their supplies locally.
TLG does this, largely because I love my country (both sides of the political divide: left and right, I love you all and your hyperbole, you worthy bastards!) but there are also business concerns:
Quality Control: We have complete control over the quality of the manufacturing. No long delays trying to sort out an issue. We smyth sew all our hardcovers and it is done in Missouri where, if there is a problem, it can be fixed immediately. This is vital to maintaining high quality books that see a great deal of use.
Delays & Interruptions: This has always been a concern for me. I read a great deal of history and know how quickly things can change, and the pandemic was just another in a long line of events that highlighted that. Having our releases subject to the whims of other countries, tariff wars, seizures, war or even being held up for any number of reasons isn’t something I wish to entertain. This is particularly important where Kickstarters are concerned. Backers have already paid for product, it is enough that they have to wait on TLG, its too much to ask for them to wait on the whims of international trade.
Environmental: Over 95% of our sales are to the U.S. and Canada (we are looking at you next Mexico)! Material produced here, with local resources does not have to clog the trans-oceanic shipping lanes. It is also produced in facilities that are subject to the laws of the U.S., which do keep factories much cleaner than many other countries.
Local Economy: It is just good for the local economy. It is good for us, our neighbors, and our neighbor’s neighbors. It helps them pay their bills, and that is pretty cool.
Cost: Does it cost more to print domestically? Yes. It does. But we are okay with that.
Manufacturing domestically is our philosophy and will remain so, so long as I am at the helm.
Domestic Manufacturing in Real Terms
Manufacturing and printing in the United States and supporting companies that do so has very down to earth, hearth and home consequences. For those who don’t really give this stuff much thought, I want to explain this in real terms to visualize it better. Lord knows it took me several years at the helm of this company before I really grasped the nature of this beast.
When you spend money at TLG, either through direct orders, buying at a retail shop, a crowd sourcing campaign, or wherever, a percentage of that purchase (ranging from 36% - 100%) goes into our coffers. Well, the coffer really, we only have the one and it is only just a jar that Tim keeps beneath the old cabin slab down by the river. That money does not sit there. It immediately goes to paying everyone who works here. There are five of us who work at TGL full time and about half a dozen artists, cartographers, and others. Revenue pays them first (and just for those out there who are mad at CEOs, I always get paid last), they take that money and pay whatever bills they pay. Your support goes right to their homes.
But your impact is much, much greater than supporting artists and writers and designers. Through TLG you have a direct impact on lives beyond our humble walls.
TLG uses local suppliers for equipment parts, shipping boxes, paper, glue, printing paper, toner, and printer maintenance. We are the largest client for one of these companies, and one of the largest for another. Both businesses suffered tremendously during the pandemic, largely because restaurants dropped off ordering menus, fliers, and posters. However, TLG’s business remained steady and strong. Book printing in our own shop was up, because of you, so we ordered more supplied, paper, etc. This helped these businesses weather this storm. You did this through TLG.
Your spending, goes through TLG and to their coffers. From there it keeps their lights on and employees working. Their employees continue to get paid to cover whatever expenses they have in their own lives.
Random Side Note: I can always tell when the economy is doing poorly, as sales reps from businesses all over the country, whom I have not talked to in years, call looking to see if I need anything.
Second Random Side Note: At the beginning of the pandemic, TLG used five local suppliers for our print shop and mail room and several in adjoining states. Two of those have not survived and have gone under and a third moved their operations from Little Rock to Memphis.
This is the same for the large printer we use in Missouri and the smaller one in Pennsylvania. We’ve poured a small mountain of money into their coffers, that in turn goes toward their employees, buying supplies from other producers and their employees and so on, all the way down to the young clerk, selling food at the market.
This is capitalism. Ours is a minor market of which you are a vital part. There are no lobbyists supporting these businesses, nor government officials helping them, there is nothing but the commerce created and hard work. And the root of that commerce is you.
This is one of many reasons we print domestically. And one of the reasons, if you can, that you should try to support companies who manufacture stuff in your local community, state, and country. It is just better for everyone.
Sidenote: And this is important, all the sales reps at these businesses and the owners in several have reached out on numerous occasions to thank us for our business, something they had not done often before. That is telling. And of course, I tell them, they need to thank you guys. You are making all this possible.
There have been two major changes at TLG because of the unpleasantness. I will briefly outline them.
Supplies: The supply chain has been a wreck for over a year. Though we purchase everything domestically, there have been delays in delivery. The longest we waited was about six weeks for 2-inch boxes. After that brief foray into not having 2-inch boxes (it is why some of you got 3-inch boxes with just one book in it), I had Todd change the ordering pattern and double the order of everything. For instance: we went from ordering tape in bundles of 22 rolls (I think) to 36 rolls and now in bundles of 144 rolls. When we dip below 50 rolls of tape, we will order again. We do this with everything. It is why we have several thousands of shipping boxes. So, this has necessitated us spending more upfront and piling this crap all over creation (actually I’m pretty good at storing crap so it is all nicely stacked away in the print shop).
Printing Delays: Covid hammered our larger print partner, where we have our hardbacks printed and they have suffered so many absences that their print time went from 3-4 weeks to 5-7 weeks. I suspect that they have had the same issues with getting supplies. Even though it is local, there are all kinds of problems all up and down the chain.
In short, we purchase deeper to cover possible shortages on shipping supplies (which is actually a good thing, because when you order deeper you get a bigger discount) and we have had to adjust our release schedules by a few weeks.
The Three R’s Recycle, Reuse and Read more C&C
We take to heart Davis’ much used phrase “Don’t s*** where you eat” and do our level best to recycle and reuse. Here are things we do to make that happen:
• We take all shipping boxes that come to us to the print shop, and cut them into packing strips that we use to better secure the books you order. Those who have ordered will notice these little strips in their boxes, basically quadruple boxing books. By reusing these boxes, we save a little money in packing which we spend on…
• Packing peanuts. Our packing peanuts are made from corn starch, so are static free and completely biodegradable. They are easy to use and if a sudden wind picks up in the pasture and carries them all over God’s creation you don’t have to worry about your Pa hollering at you for polluting his pasture (just a random observation). You can also make a mush stew out of them, which Mark Sandy did one day, but the taste was abhorrent so we do not recommend it.
• We only use plastic bubble wrap if another shipper sent it to us. So on the wild chance you received that in a package it was reused.
• Shipping boxes are ordered locally, many made locally, cutting down on shipping fuel and cost etc.
• All scrap paper from the print shop, scrap from making boxes, etc, goes into a bin and sent to the recycling center here in Little Rock, where I assume it gets recycled (I’m not sure what to believe in after reading about the crash in ’47 though). Some of the excess paper we make into note pads for the office staff where we try to make notes about things we are going to forget to do.
We do what we can to leave our little corner of this marble a little cleaner than when we found it.
As a veteran myself, the son of one and brother to two others, I try to keep myself abreast of the issues that that community of brothers and sisters deals with. There is little TLG can do. In the past we have offered free product, print and digital to any service members in active theatres, we continue to do that. If you know anyone serving in any branch of the U.S. Armed Forces stationed in an active theatre, let us know, we’ll ship them books. We also offer all Veterans a 50% discount on any purchase made through our store (all six branches and Guard and Reserves). Just holler at us for the code. Also, if you or a loved one is part of a group that uses RPG material to help Veterans cope with the many issues they struggle with, please let us know, and we’ll send books free of charge.
These men and women gave their all. We have not forgotten that.
We have 2 outstanding Kickstarters, the Players Handbook, 8th printing which should be shipping to backers in the coming weeks and the NPC Almanac which we hope to have out in December. Beyond that we just launched one this week for the C&C Castle Keepers Screens (https://www.kickstarter.com/.../castles-and-crusades...). All of these, including the screens, are printing domestically and we should see no delays for all the aforementioned reasons. We have all the necessary shipping supplies, from labels to boxes to fulfill all of these without a problem.
It has been a wild and difficult year. Many of us have suffered losses we never wanted to face, nor even thought possible. With a little luck and a lot of hard work, we’ll continue to provide games for your table and fun for your family and in turn, please remember, you are fueling a whole microcosm of businesses and the people that labor there.
Sincerely. From us here at TLG, and all our suppliers and printers, Thank You.
As an aside, I got my new HeroQuest box delivered today. I had no idea that FedEx delivered on Sundays.