Importing Goods For Independent Games Designers
As an independent designer/publisher the process of getting your print run from your manufacturer to you can be both a significant piece of work and a mysterious sequence of events. This blog is intended to alert those going through the process for the first time to some of the pit falls.
We imported our print run of 2,000 units from China to the UK, specifically from LongPack Games. LongPack organised the shipping for us at a cost of roughly £1,000. For those lucky enough to have worked with a manufacturer in their own country clearly much of this information will not be valid.
Your goods will most likely be shipped over the ocean, need to clear customs and then be delivered over land to your final location. Assuming all files and artwork are finalised and you have had your proof copy to check over, expect the following time line:
Print Copy - 1-2 weeks - Your proof copy will likely not be on your final card stock etc since setting up the machines to print card stock is expensive in itself. As such any responsible manufacturer will need to have you ok the final print run version which should be air couriered but still expect a few weeks after you hit print.
CE Marking - 1-2 weeks - Only once you've passed the final version can it be sent for any safety testing. EU testing or not you should send your game for some form of safety testing to protect users. (See our blogs on CE Marking for more information).
Manufacturing - 1-2 weeks - Depending on the complexity of your game and size of your print run this number can shift but 2 weeks is usual for a small run of a Kickstarter game. Your manufacturer can advise either way.
Shipping - 6-8 weeks - Your manufacturer or at least your shipping company should be able to give you a specific date here and you might get a significantly shorter time but err on the generous when planning timings around delivery. Add in a few days over your expected date when announcing to customers, our shipping got delayed for 3 days due to a re-route through Rostock. You'll need this date well ahead of time to generate an EORI number (see below).
Customs - 7-10 days - If you have everything in place this should be a fairly smooth, if expensive, part of the process. It will include arrival, unloading, checking and then loading into your logistics holding warehouse so don't expect this one to come in under time.
Final Logistics - 7-10 days - Once in and cleared your delivery has to get from the holding facility to your logistics company, to you or potentially your fulfillment company.
So, as a rough figure from when you tell your manufacturer you're ready to print and they have all the files expect around 4 months before you can start your final fulfillment.
This advice is current and specific to the UK as part of the EU, which leaves its specifics subject to change in the near future (this is being written Dec 2018 roughly 4 months prior to Brexit). However, much seems likely to remain true for the near future, or will remain true as general advice.
One thing that will remain true everywhere is that passing customs will be expensive and require some paper work.
Customs will require a few details relating to your shipment prior to its arrival ideally to make things go smoothly. Your company registration details or VAT number (or local equivalent) will be helpful, however many independent designers/publishers are unlikely to have either, we certainly didn't. In which case you will need an EORI number (again or local equivalent). The EORI number is the UK specific version of a number provided to show that your delivery has a legitimate target and has to some degree been pre-cleared. In the UK it is obtained from HMRC by following this link: EORI. You will be required to provide a delivery date, incoming port, delivery details and a HS code. The HS code is an international standard used to catagorise imported goods, its worth finding out what your HS code is whatever your local importing laws happen to be because when you become an exporter and start sending games out to international customers it will be useful to include on importing labels. Finding a category of HS number that your game specifically fits into is easier said than done. Code 9504908000 (which is the category Video game consoles and machines, articles for funfair, table or parlour games, including pintables, billiards, special tables for casino games and automatic bowling alley equipment; other; other) passed our game successfully through customs. Also note that the code for standard playing cards comes with an additional 2% customs charge in the UK so try to avoid using it unless its actually accurate.
Again this information will vary significantly by region but be prepared for significant charges from customs on importing, make sure you do your research for your local authority and budget in charges well ahead. In the UK import tax takes into account the total amount paid for your goods, including any delivery charges. Since UK import duty is currently around 20% and delivery charges from China in the thousands this can be a significant amount of money.
There are a couple of more minor charges however that you should also be prepared for. Customs will provide a period of free warehousing during clearance but when you go beyond that period (generally about 5 days, depending on delivery and unloading date) charges can be as high as £60 per day per pallet. Make certain with your logistics company whose responsibility such charges are, when they will pick up after clearance for final delivery and that all paperwork is in place well ahead of time. Finally, UK customs do not accept payment via direct means, they require a specific registered account with them to pay Customs Duty, failure to obtain such an account may lead to charges or delays resulting in increased warehouse charges. Again, your logistics company will probably have such an account that they will be willing to relay your customs charge via but such a facility is neither certain nor necessarily free, so check the situation ahead of time with both your local customs and logistics company.
As an independent designer how you are going to unload and store your games is worth giving some thought to. If you're using a fulfillment company they are likely to take over at this point but if you're not, or if only part of your delivery will be passing via a fulfillment company then this is an issue worth considering. Firstly, logistics companies may charge extra if unloading equipment is required and if it is required and not provided or booked will certainly charge extra for re-booking and warehousing for a second delivery. Depending on your home address situation it may be best to pay for unloading and storage at your home, if not most decent self-storage companies will provide both forklift facilities and unloading bays for free along with full working hours attendance to receive deliveries when you rent a storage unit.
Finally, most minimum print runs will count at least 1000 copies. Clearly weight and size will vary but be aware that even the smallest games will come in at significant weights in number. Be certain before planning storage and transport you know as exactly as possible the final dimensions and weight of your delivery.
In conclusion, importing your own production run is not as complex or daunting as it might first appear. With proper preparation it can be achieved very smoothly with little or no experience and at a minimum of cost (which is a different thing from cheaply). Next time, exporting the stuff again.