Then comes the fun part- Product.
Product choices can make or break a game store. This is where business minds superior to mine can probably chime in. The most basic concept, especially starting out, is to balance overhead with profits. If it’s not going to sell sooner rather than later? Hold off on ordering it.
Floor space is critical as well. A full Games Workshop spread takes up a lot of space and requires game room for tournaments. Magic the Gathering requires very little counter space (minus single,) but lots of tournament room. D&D is always kind of a gamble because of the massive amount of competition with other retail sources. If you devote a ton of space to miniatures, you lose space for other product. Then there is a matter of peripheral products such as dice.
Below is my list of product considerations:
- The first thing FLGS owners must generally accept is it’s tough to find decent distributors willing to really work with small businesses. I mean, everyone wants to cut deal with big box stores such as Target, Walmart, or Costco. The big boys are going to order pallet loads of product and get pennies-on-the- dollar deals. The big box stores move pallets. FLGS move one or two units at at time and then reorder.
Independent owner/operators usually get a pretty rough deal unless they have a ton of money up front. Sounds mythical, but not totally impossible. The unfortunate thing is, middle men like to make big money. Most game publishers will jump for joy at direct orders, but who has time to contact dozens of different manufacturers to secure one copy here and two copies there? The same goes for booster boxes of cards and boxed board games.
- To GW or not to GW? That is a huge question. Games Workshop is an awesome company, and they are super helpful with retailers. BUT, if you want their support, you have to play it by their rules. Some of their rules are pretty insane. They like to make it so if you’re selling their product, that’s all they want you to sell, ever.
If you’re a GW store, their product has to be placed prominently up front. There have to be regular events. Tournament armies must be painted. The store must order X amount of product per week. It just goes on and on.
The alternative is to not be a GW store, but then you can’t carry any of their official product. There’s money to be made selling $250-$300 boxed sets, plus paint, rulebooks, White Dwarf magazines, terrain accessories, and tons of miniatures. Have I mentioned how they like to charge pewter prices for plastic figs? It’s enough to make a guy want to go out and buy a 3D printer/scanner and make his own. (Not that I’d be officially suggesting anyone do that.)
It is possible not to be a GW store, but being listed as one has just as many or more benefits. It’s a similar situation to Magic the Gathering and other popular TCGs that have the potential to bring in hundreds or even thousands of dollars when done correctly. Where do you want to make the money?
I used to be big into GW. I love Warhammer 40K. I played Necrons, Orks, and Blood Angels and dabbled in several other armies. WH Fantasy armies were Undead and Bretonnians. As a retailer, I sold a TON of Space Marine minis and Chaos everything. Boxed sets were a big ticket, especially the basic games. I also sold and played a lot of the little games like Necromunda, Blood Bowl, and Battlefleet Gothic. There’s a LOT of money in GW if done well.
- Oh, I mentioned Magic, didn’t I? Love it or hate it, Magic is a strong seller. (The biter old school Old Grognards all cringed just now.) The most beneficial thing I’ve ever seen a game shop do is have a regular Magic expert on staff pretty much available daily. Cards sell extremely well and really don’t suck up much space.
There’s a catch to Magic. Single cards are finicky and complicated, especially to the untrained seller. I like Magic, but the nuances of specific cards are way beyond me these days. Buying, trading, and selling cards is big business on this end of the industry. The value of single cards goes up and down monthly. Having cards specifically priced in a display case requires a heap of upkeep.
- Roleplaying Games: Personally, this is my “why” in terms of owning a store. I’m an RPG guy in my heart and soul. But selling them for a living is not the same as designing and running games. It’s tough on the retail side.
RPGs can take up a ton of space. The markup in terms of prices is usually not the best depending on the distributor. Turning product into profit is a big challenge when you’re competing with Amazon, other Internet sources, other FLGS, the pdf market, and even game companies themselves.
I would love to have a good way to turn huge RPG profits in this day and age. If I’m being honest, it’s just not there right now. The smartest decision I’ve seen from other FLGS is to carry the basic, core book for any given game and signage that explains you can have the store order specific sourcebooks/modules.
There’s a couple of exceptions. First is D&D. Again, there’s a lot of competition. Short of selling below MSRP, dealing directly with WotC, or having a ton of product that might be beautiful shelf lining for many years, I’m not sure what else can be done.
The second exception might be local interest. If you have a solid Call of Cthulhu group that comes in regularly? It might be worthwhile to expand that section be a few books. Another exception is Pathfinder. It’s a big draw, much like D&D complete with all the pitfalls of selling it.
Other RPG systems worth keeping more than one book on hand include, but aren’t limited to :Monster of the Week due to its small volume of product; FATE due to its narrow selection of books; Shadowrun due to popularity possibly; anything with a tv or movie tie-in might be worth having a couple of books; finally, I recommend Dungeon Crawl Classics for the OSR fans who want something cheap and endless hours of fun.
- Wargames other than GW are another potential pitfall. If you have a local wargaming and strategy club, there might be some specific recommendations from them. Otherwise, Battletech is a really great game and crowd pleaser. It’s one of the only games to ever give GW a run for their money in the US, and it’s not that close. But, miniatures wargames can be a huge draw as long as one is careful with product overhead.
- Miniatures in general are a big draw. They can take up a ton of cabinet and display space, sit for a long time, and sell for big money depending on where one finds them/acquires them. Back in the old days, our local FLGS in Des Moines, IA had a big cabinet full of painted minis on commission in some cases. Nowadays, pre painted figs come in a variety of ways from booster packs to single painted (usually large) figures from talented artists in the community.
This is sort of a sticky wicket in the same way Magic singles are. One can devote tons of space, time and effort in stocking them or sell unpainted figures/boosters sometimes in bulk. Paizo, Wizkids, and some other companies also sell huge dragons and other monsters already painted and boxed. Lots of space, big sales, but also a big gamble. Always asking, “Will it sell?”
- Pre-Owned merchandise is another major issue to look over. Roleplayers will tend to try to dump a lot of old books during an edition change. (Not me, but some people do.) Personally, I don’t recommend buying or trading for much of anything but modules/adventures. Adventures can be used with other systems or editions. The catch is not giving away the farm for things that probably aren’t going to move very fast.
Again, TCG singles or even full collections have the potential to be big money deals. The kicker is how fast will they sell. A case full of cards doesn’t do a heap of good if no one is buying them.
Miniatures, as I mentioned before, can possibly be a big deal. Fantasy minis never really go out of style. Games Workshop frowns on sellers peddling product other than theirs, but I think most retailers keep it quiet if they’re selling other products. Used GW products are usually a big no-no unless they’re well painted current figures. I’ve gotten jammed up on GW in the past when suddenly units change in terms of types, figure bases, and size.
Then there are all of the peripheral products such as dice, dice trays, journals, and wargaming supplies.
We’ll talk more about product tomorrow. I’ve given this a lot of thought over the years. I love that people are making their own dice, printing their own minis, creating their own dice bags, and even dice towers. Profitable endeavors are another story, especially from a brick-and-mortar perspective.
Thank you for stopping by. I appreciate you. Please take care.