How Jo Smedley went from selling lightbulbs from home to creating a flourishing crime (game) empire.
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Red Herring Games founder Jo Smedley explains how she took a fun passtime writing murder mystery games for the local community and turned it into a successful business.
Red Herring Games is a brand that specialises in high-quality, DIY murder mystery games. We sell the physical games as well as props and cocktail kits - anything essential for an exciting murder mystery party.
Our games are suitable for parties of 6 or more, and we even host events for bigger, more extravagant parties.
What are the ingredients of a good murder mystery game?
The main ingredient, of course, is a good murder. It’s important to have a perfectly crafted crime, as well as a strong plot and red herrings to throw players off the scent. The game needs to be well paced in order to keep the momentum going, and it needs to have a strong, satisfying ending.
Overall, the game needs to be engaging and keep everyone guessing until the murderer is found!
Tell us why you decided to start Red Herring Games
After leaving my job at the NHS during my maternity leave, I began looking for jobs I could do from home. I began selling light bulbs, as well as working for a different murder mystery game company.
I wasn’t impressed with how they delivered their games, so I drew inspiration from my experience and aimed to improve game production and quality. I began by writing games for parents and my local church, with people eventually asking me to write more plots and scenarios.
After creating so many games, I realised I had created a formatting system to design and write games more efficiently, which would help with the success of the business.
As demand grew, I recognised the business potential and realised I could sell my games to turn my passion into a successful venture, and I eventually launched Red Herring Games in 2007.
How did the business develop and how have you coped with growth?
I originally started off making games for only about 12 maximum players when I first began, eventually, this number grew to around 20 players when the company took off.
We continued growing when we launched Red Herring Events, which brought me to a point where I created an event for around 2000 players. Growth was steady up until the pandemic when it scaled rapidly.
This created its own challenges, but we’ve learned from the experience. While we’ve returned back to a traditional growth model, we know what we need to put in place to allow scaled growth in the future and are currently seeking equity investment to make that step change.
Can you explain a little about market conditions in your industry?
There's been a large growth of people wanting to experience interactive gameplay, whether that be virtually in a VR game or offline in a more traditional setting. In fact, the global Immersive Murder Mystery Games market size is projected to reach USD million by 2031.
The industry is constantly undergoing innovations with story, gameplay, and technical advancements, which is interesting for new players. It brings people together and provides a fun social aspect that people crave nowadays, especially after the pandemic. The murder mystery game industry is projected to continue growing, and we’re excited to grow with it.
What are the pros and cons of selling on Amazon?
Selling on Amazon has been crucial for the growth of Red Herring. Being a part of Fulfilled by Amazon means our games are stored in their warehouses and having Amazon take care of our shipping and handling has helped us cut down our workload, allowing us to focus on creating high-quality games.
However, it’s important to note you need to invest time in order to make the best use of the
What advice would you give to others considering selling on Amazon?
Amazon is a marketplace that small businesses need to be on, especially if you want to gain traction.
Take your time to understand how to navigate Seller Central and make use of Amazon’s free resources to ensure you’re learning how to maximise what Amazon has to offer.
It’s vital to use strong imagery and make your listings as easy to find as possible for your customers. Using Fulfilment by Amazon is also a must as it takes the hassle out of fulfilment and is also a bonus for customers as it means items are eligible for Prime delivery.
What has been your biggest challenge since starting the business?
The drop in sales once we began to come out of lockdown was a big challenge, combined with the energy crisis, and cost of living crisis all meant we had to downsize.
We saw a massive increase in customers due to people wanting fun things to do during lockdown, and once stay-at-home restrictions lightened, we definitely saw a dip in sales. It was a big change but we’re hoping to have a better year this year.
How do you aim to attract and retain good people?
We constantly accept applications from actors who want to perform in our virtual games. We work with over 50 contractors all over the world on top of our 5-strong team in Grimsby.
What does the future hold for Red Herring Games?
We hope to grow by a minimum of 20% annually, reaching £2 million turnover in 2028. We have put a strategy in place with a key partner to maximise our Amazon growth over the next 2 years.
What is your best advice to would-be entrepreneurs?
My advice to would-be entrepreneurs is to create a unique product that you’re passionate about.
Keep in mind the competitiveness of the market - having something different will help your brand better stand out. Gather good suppliers and businesses around you who can help you with unofficial mentoring as you grow. When you get bigger, start looking for a professional mentor rather than a coach, someone who can help you grow.
Finally, take advantage of all the training offered, you never know what you don’t know until you start learning!