Contact Sales is hands-down the quirkiest British publisher, developer and distributor of boxed PC games around – which other firm has its own pig milling about outside?
Dominic Sacco visits its office and warehouse to find out how it sold more than 300,000 units of titles like Euro Truck Simulator 2 last year…
Somewhere hidden in the beautiful British countryside, there’s a charming house beside a lake – the kind of place you’d take the family for a weekend away.
As I walk up the gravel path, I can’t quite believe it’s actually the HQ of one of the only independent boxed PC game publishers in the UK.
I’m soon greeted by Contact Sales’ ‘customer relations manager’ Jessie the dog, along with MD Robert Stallibrass (pictured, right) and head of marketing Richard Barclay (left).
I follow them into the building and Jessie jumps onto an old armchair opposite the entrance before laying down. There’s a poster of Train Simulator 2014 on the wall. Outside a pig called Diana scratches her back on a fence. This is not your typical games publisher.
Inside, it’s a far cry from the usual staid office environment – it feels more like an old friend’s house.
Don’t get me wrong, this is not a small-time bedroom business either – Contact Sales sold, packed and shipped some 329,000 PC games last year, turning over almost £3 million, with retail sales of more than £5 million.
The business has grown ten per cent each year for the past couple of years.
It develops, publishes and distributes boxed games (through its own Excalibur label and third-parties) – from simulation titles like Euro Truck Simulator 2 to indie hits such as Terraria – direct to Amazon, Game, Dixons Retail and more.
“I think part of it is people waking up and saying, ‘Oh, simulation games are quite a big market. Maybe we should be stocking some of them,’” says Stallibrass.
“The other thing I find really amazing is the people who say, ‘I’m only going to do digital.’ Bollocks – you’re missing out on 50 per cent of the [games] market. Why wouldn’t you put it in a box?”
His own passion is reflected in Contact Sales’ customer base.
Their audience ranges from children aged seven to 12, to adults over 35. One YouTube video of a player pouring concrete in Construction Simulator has amassed 500,000 views.
Barclay adds, jokingly: “Sometimes we’ll get a customer on the phone saying: ‘I’m calling you now because my wife has gone out – can you take my debit card details down quickly.’”
Stallibrass comments: “It’s rare you can phone a company and get a personal service these days. We just had a European retailer ask us about stock availability for four lines they want to take, and they had an email back from me in five minutes.”
Later in the day we visit Contact Sales’ warehouse – complete with its own forklift, duplication equipment and packaging machines – where its games are sent around the world, including territories new to the business such as the US, Japan and China.
Warehouse manager Charles Spackman recalls a record order from a new European retail customer last year: “They ordered 14,000 units and needed it turned around in three days. The region-specific version had to be created from scratch and we had to rework a lot of pallets.”
Stallibrass adds: “It had to be there by 1pm on Monday, we got it there by 10am with a dedicated van. That’s the difference: our customers are so bloody important to us. That was a big order – we moved Heaven and Earth.”
The company also receives requests from industrial firms seeking professional simulation training products.
“The answer is; we could do it, but a lot of these people want us to do it for nothing, which always makes me laugh,” says Stallibrass.
Jokes aside, Contact Sales is serious about the happiness of its customers – and its staff.
“I hope if you ask my staff, they’d say: ‘Yeah I enjoy working at Contact Sales. It’s bloody hard work sometimes but a good laugh’,” Stallibrass adds.
“I think it’s something important – that people enjoy what they’re doing.”
As I leave the warehouse and say goodbye, I’m absolutely certain they do.