Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Pret-a-Porter: How to Run a Business into the Ground

I've run through Pret-a-Porter a few times now. Enough to generate an opinion on the topic. Enough to understand the rules, and maybe cook up a little of the underlying strategy. Thankfully, constant failure can often be the best educator.

The lessons I received were comprehensive.

At its black venomous heart, Pret-a-Porter models the successful running of a business. And knowing the backstory of the game, it's easy to understand why.

You could be selling lemonade, or widgets, or whatever. The basic "feel" remains the same…you invest in a product, buy raw materials, manufacture said product and then sell it to potential customers. One of the places the uniqueness of fashion shows through is the design process…each product you show is its own prototype. After you have sold the line you have slaved over, you get to begin back at square one next season with brand new untested and unrealized designs.

Otherwise, the "fashion show" at the end of every quarter could easily be a trade show of any kind, with popularity measured by how well your product tests with the distributors and journalists swilling free drinks in the pits beyond the stage.

And if you like that kind of thing, and I'm starting to think I do, Pret-a-Porter is right up your alley.

Back in elementary school, I ran lemonade stands off the classroom computer like a champ. Or, at least, I felt like a champ. Chances are other kids were probably raking in a little better money over on their screens.

Unlike those black and green screened businesses of yore, however, Pret-a-Porter has no mercy. No mercy whatsoever.

If you don't follow a business plan and keep things tight through the process, this game will eat you alive and make a lampshade out of your skin. And perhaps there again the fashion industry finds a way to peek through.

If you spend too much on fabric, or hire too many employees, or invest in too much office space…you will be screwed for the rest of the game, no joke. There's no "catch up" mechanism or way to slow down a "runaway" leader. While your pals keep cranking up the profits on their larger and larger vintage and boho collections, you are going to be dodging creditors and racking up an impressive history of poor borrowing practices.

At the end of my last game, the biggest revue stream I had going was from interior design work at a furniture store. A furniture store!!!

Here's what I can tell you of the strategy, from carefully noting what I did and then reverse-engineering the exact opposite actions.

For starters, always remember margins are SLIM! The fabric you need to complete any particular design is very close to the amount you end up selling the design for. Don't try to just sell clothes and think the big payout you get at the end of the fashion show month is anything special. It is probably very close to what you started with at the beginning of the prep months, assuming you didn't piss any of it away on stupid stuff…in which case you probably have even less.

What you have to do is go after "stars". At each fashion show, your collection is compared to other players in a number of categories depending on the location. Quality, trendiness, public relations, quantity of designs, can all determine how the buyers react to your clothing line. 1st and 2nd place are going to earn some stars. 3rd place almost never earns anything.

3 accumulated stars, for instance, mean your design is going to earn 3,000 more Pret-a-bucks from the buyers because of the extra demand for that particular line. Which might make all the difference.

"Might" is a very important distinction, because what you also need to know is 3,000 bucks by itself is chump change. It's the same you might spend on maintenance for a single employee.

What you really have to do is combine these stars with QUANTITY of designs. If you are going to earn a lot of stars this round, you want to make sure you have a huge fashion line coming down the runway at the exact same time. Because the "stars" bonus applies for each design, it multiplies up quickly to a serious sum. Do this and you finally find that sweet sweet tipping point. Your business stops grinding away at bare profitability and booms up to a higher plane of money making.

With more profits, you can buy more material, complete more designs and keep the ball rolling all the way to the top.

Here are my helpful tips:

1. Get a sales agent early in the game to cut down on material costs. This is where most of your money goes each turn, and how your designs are completed. If you can squeeze just a little savings out of the process every turn, its going to equal a big difference in the long run.

2. Find a way to develop more designs. By default you can assign a worker to "gather" a single design each preparation phase (there are 2 between each fashion show). As the game moves along, workers become more and more valuable and it helps greatly to buy a building or an employee who can come up with designs off the usual track. Then you can use your workers for buying materials, finding even more designs, or just help out where needed to smooth the process along.

3. Finally, if you need to do so, take out a loan! There is nothing wrong with taking out credit at reasonable interest rates if you can put the money to good use expanding a fashion line. Bad uses of credit mostly come from borrowing money to pay maintenance costs. This is still better than taking out a higher-interest "emergency loan" later in the turn, but still generally is a sign your business is in the middle of a slow transformation from dependable revenue generator to haunted sleigh ride of destitution.

4. Maintenance costs can be killer. Especially early in the game, scooping up a building or employee better be worth the investment. A small salary or upkeep cost each turn saps your cash reserves and keeps you treading water or below. There is nothing worse than owning a building you can't use because you can't spare the money because you are spending too much money on maintenance costs each turn. And there is no bulldozer or arson option. Unlike employees who can be let go (with a severance package) poor building choices remain with you, draining your resources like a vampire, until the end of time.

With all said and done, I am looking forward to my next game. Hopefully this blog post will serve as a helpful player aid when that day finally arrives. Or I can just sputter around, throwing money in every direction. Because my previous experience seems to indicate this can be fun too. Furniture store and beret factory, here I come!

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