Tuesday, August 26, 2014
The Death of a Gaming Store
On April 25th, my local game store Shieldbreakers Games closed its doors permanently. We were only given a week and a half's notice, but we managed to re-claim our terrain again and keep our community together via our facebook group. This unexpected "homelessness" has us scrambling to find games at other stores and at each other's houses, and thankfully that's not going too badly. But why did this happen? What does this mean for our hobby club?
It's said the truth hurts, so while I am by no means trying to bash the gaming store that we chose as a home at our own risk just nine months ago, I feel it's almost a disservice not to point out the things that hurt their chances so that other stores can take note, and other clubs can see the warning signs to prevent them from having to go through a closing.
1. You need to carry *basic* stock for the games you are actually going to support. While this is fairly obvious, I am pointing more at the core boxes of armies, board games, etc, rather than the expansions, spin-offs, and add-ons. For example, if you chose to carry Zombicide in your store, I would expect you to have the core game and not just its Mall or Prison expansions. Not carrying common things like any Eldar products (the most powerful and popular army in 40k right now), or any non-GW super glue just doesn't seem to make much sense to me. However I'm not completely apathetic, I understand a store has to make choices on what stock they're going to carry when they open, and what stock they'll have to order. Those last two items to me however just seem like they are a given if your goal is to be a "40k store".
2. If you're going to be the only employee at your store when you open, you need to keep three very important things in mind. First, you need to be 100% attentive of all customers at all time, not just for theft reasons but to maybe influence their decision in becoming a return customer or a "regular". Second, you can't wear yourself out with running your business and playing in games (or running them) at the same time. You need to delegate, and by having things like community leaders for the different games in your store you can help relieve the pressure. If you start to lose interest in the day-to-day tasks, and become even slightly disgruntled, it will show in your dealings with your customers. And third, you need to be thankful that people are choosing to spend money in your store, be it a large or small purchase, or items from the shelf or a special order. Developing a good relationship with customers is everything to a business. Take special orders seriously, and if you tell someone you're going to look into something for them, get their contact information and make sure you keep them up to date. You're the only person doing so, so don't let anything slip between the cracks!
3. On that note, if you're going to initially buy a low level of stock and then put all your hope into special orders for anything else, you need to provide an incentive. The internet regularly kills a lot of "ma and pa" shops but it's not impossible to compete with it. Customers already know that if you're providing them with a place to play that they need to and will usually want to support you. So when people want to special order something you're not carrying, you should provide them with a reason to order it through you instead of waiting until they get home to order it online instead (where they can get it cheaper and faster). Offer a 15-20% discount on special orders and I guarantee you that you won't have any competition with the internet from people that patron your store.
4. That leads me into talking about special deals and sales. When a new edition for a game comes out or a new army is released (etc etc), try to offer bundle deals or give a steeper discount for a limited time. For example, when the next edition of 40k or Fantasy comes out I would definitely give a 20% discount an your entire purchase if you are also buying the new rulebook in that purchase. Or maybe I'll say that the new core rulebook is 20% off just for that weekend. Maybe you can also offer steeper discounts for much larger purchases to try and help people get into different armies or games. So say if they spend $400 or more they get 20% off of their entire purchase price, or if they buy a 1,500 pt 40k army, 200 pt Infinity army, etc, they get 20% off all of it. Be creative, but keep it simple and enticing. Don't be afraid to try different amounts out and adjust it to be appropriate.
5. Do NOT cave and subject yourself or your schedule to the will of some single no-name stubborn gamer in fear of losing early opening-day support from potential crowds. YOU are the store owner, and YOU have the power. If said stubborn gamer walks into your store and starts dictating terms to you early on about privileges or store rules that you are uncomfortable with, you need to stand your ground and set them straight.
6. DO pay attention to what your community leaders are asking of you in regards to your hours and specifically your stock. If you know you'll make more money by carrying certain products or by staying an hour or two later, do it. At the very least try it out for a month and see if your revenue increases. If it doesn't, you'll have rock-hard evidence that it's not justified. If you cater to your gamers a tiny bit, they might just reward you with larger or more frequent purchases.
6. DON'T argue with your more knowledgeable gamers and/or take the opposite stance just to appear to have an opinion on an issue you know little to nothing about. Veteran gamers can and do pick up on that quickly, and you don't want to cause an issue and make people upset. Just agree to disagree, or agree that you're not fully informed, and move on. Ego's should be checked at the door.
7. When a single customer has provided close to a third of the sales in your store, and organizes a very large community of gamers that they personally brought to your store, you should probably pay attention to them when they're trying to offer assistance or tips. Ignoring and mitigating them can lead to the very subject we're talking about.
So what does this mean for my miniatures club? We have basically taken to our facebook group where we organize games at people's houses while we scout out other stores. We're going to stress test stores that we think could work for us to ensure we don't get trapped again in a store that makes false promises and has unstable financial grounds. We've dealt with enough of them. We have a long way to go before we're the club that we were back at Attactix, so for now we're really just a smaller group of friends, of nomad gamers, that will continue on trying to *ENJOY* our hobbies despite the hardship we've been through.
If you've read this far, thank you for your time and interest. I'll try to post more often when I have something to post about.