The toughest part of owning a game store is making money.
The first time I walked into a dedicated, friendly, local game store I nearly fainted. It absolutely blew my mind that a store could be dedicated to selling just RPGs, minis, wargames, board games, and accessories. It seemed too good to be true.
I’d seen book stores that sold a few RPGs. I’d seen comic shops with a few RPGs on the shelf. I knew plenty of mail order catalogs that included RPGs. Games like Battletech and D&D practically started selling from the back of comic books. The first time I walked into a legitimately games-first shop was mind blowing.
The kinda sad reality is, most of the ones I first went to are gone now. I can name a couple that are still around in some form, usually a smaller space. I still often wonder how anyone can make enough money selling just games and game accessories to stay in business even with the uptick in sales from the popularity of Critical Role and Covid.
A successful store often has diverse products.
My favorite comic/game shop in the whole world started out as almost strictly comics and branched out into RPGs, Games Workshop, board games, trading card games, anime, and lots of other cool stuff. They survived for almost three going on four decades in a college town doing many of the things I’ve described in the other articles from this series.
I love comic books. My love of comics is what got me interested in the DC and Marvel Superheroes games of the 1980’s. Most comic shops branch out into cards (sports and/or TCGs,) statues, action figures, music, anime/manga, posters, and other comic related merchandise. Many of them even sell some candy and soda pop. I even know one comics place attached to a coffee shop that used to have board games available to the customers.
Since the RPG industry kinda mirrors the comic industry in many ways, it makes sense for them to branch out similarly. I’ve been in game shops that started selling more comics, for example. I’ve been in one game store that went all-in and carries music, games, comics, action figures, LEGOs, Nerf guns, T-shirts, books, snacks, dice, and disc golf supplies. While their RPG section is mostly D&D and otherwise a bit lackluster doesn’t matter to my kids who go in for Transformers, LEGOs and Nerf guns.
Things I’ve seen other places do.
One of my favorite pastimes when traveling is to seek out as many gaming establishments as possible. I’ve seen a pretty wide variety of expansions in terms of the spaces and products offered. Some of them are brilliant and others, well, maybe they’re interesting but…
We’ll start with what I think is the most bizarre crossover- “New Age” and/or witchcraft (Wicca) supplies. I’ve been in a couple that sold crystals, jewelry, incense, books on Wicca, tarot, palmistry, philosophy, and so forth. Remember that old 1980’s stigma about D&D players worshipping Satan and summoning demons in their basement? Love you guys. I know you’re harmless, but is this really the message you want to send? Come in for the games, stay for a tarot reading?
It’s sort of a bummer because I’m very much into a lot of “New Age” stuff myself. I consider myself awakened, not woke. In other words, long after the trend dies, my beliefs and practices will remain. I’m down with anyone at my gaming table. Would I sell that sort of product in a game store? Probably not. I’ve also been in one “New Age”/spiritual shop that had some RPGs in with their regular product.
Coffee: saving lives since the day of its discovery.
I’ve mentioned the coffee shop idea already and I think that has a lot of merit. I used to work for Caribou and some of us used to kid around about starting our own establishments. I definitely think it would be a blast having a game room attached to a restaurant with lots of space for everyone to spread out.
I have seen the extreme version of this in use. I know of a game shop that is attached to a restaurant. They’re more of a board game establishment and their main focus is food, but game night is pretty exciting there.
The even more extreme of this ties into an old D&D axiom, “You all meet in a bar.” This shop literally has a bar next door. Obviously they had to separate the two to prevent underage individuals from purchasing alcohol, but it’s an interesting business idea. Lots of beer and pretzels gaming going on there.
Disc Golf, skateboards, and sports cards.
I’ve been in more than one shop that sold Magic: the Gathering right alongside disc golf supplies. I know a fair number of skilled gamers who also participate in that sport for exercise and fresh air. I would not have guessed it would mix as a business model, but they do okay.
I don’t know what the skateboard and/or bicycle shop industry looks like these days. Skateboarding, rollerblading, and rollerskating used to be really popular back when I was growing up. But is it still popular in 2022? Not so sure. Some places have branched out into gaming as a way to help stay afloat I’m guessing.
I know of at least one place that started out selling sports cards, branched out into Magic, and then started carrying D&D, dice, etc. When I worked in game shops we had customers come in a handful of times every week asking if we sold/traded in sports cards. I’ve always found it to be a whole separate affair, but I guess there are places making it work. Good for them.
Model rockets and things even further out there.
If you’ve ever been in a Hobbytown USA store, you know they sell a bit of everything you can imagine. I don’t really consider them a game store per se, but they do carry some pretty spiffy game stuff that many places don’t have. They also have models, terrain supplies, and paint/glue for any miniatures project you can come up with. They also happen to have model rockets and RC cars/drones/aircraft. Good times.
Then there’s what I can only consider the freaky category. I know a game/comic shop with a privately owned tattoo parlor in the back. I guess it’s easy to research the art you want to wear if you didn’t know already.
I also know one place that started as a comic/game shop that moved away from comics and games to sell tobacco water pipes, t-shirts, various tobacco rolling supplies, vapes, and possibly some other things we can’t mention for legal reasons. They’re still around, though. They must be doing something right.
One the far less adult end of the spectrum is kid’s parties. I know a place that rented out their game room for kids’ parties. I don’t think the place made a ton in crossover sales, but it guaranteed money on the off hours/times Magic tournaments and GW events weren’t going on. We scoffed at the idea at the time, but I think some of us Old Grognards can see the wisdom in it now.
The last one I’ll mention is an obvious one that I think would be overlooked. I know this lovely game store that also runs a book club and sells a fair number of sci-fi/fantasy novels. They also carry a few romance books and other things in their book section that are highlighted by the club. I think it’s a good way to go.
Things I could see myself doing.
If I had my druthers, I would have a huge game space. I could see having a handful of walled-off private game rooms to rent out to roleplaying groups. I would pretty much insist on having a night dedicated to a board game club. Obviously we would have Magic tournaments and GW events. Those are all non-product, in store events.
One of the other things I could easily see having attached to my game store is a convenience store or snack bar. Most gamers retain some sort of junk food addiction. Chips, soda, candy, even hot pizza by the slice and maybe hot wings would be on the menu. Anything to save on trips out the door to retrieve food would help. Prices would have to be pretty reasonable, though.
The idea of a coffee bar appeals to me, but it would be pretty low-key. I could see it as sort of a next door side business to supplement the game shop. Part of the appeal to a coffee place is it’s non-gamer friendly on top of keeping the game store staff functional.
I think it would be wise to carry the various RPG related comic titles that aren’t mainstream. Marvel and DC are a mainstay of comic shops. I would market the comic section toward Critical Role and other D&D related comics. I would also consider GI JOE, Power Rangers, Transformers and a few other comics titles. Much like RPGs, a lot of that business is going to rely on distributors with reasonable prices.
Lastly, I could see keeping a few gaming related t-shirts, wall scrolls, and posters on hand. Not turning the place into a clothing store and keeping costs down would be heavy priorities. On the other hand, ordering “gamer sizes” up as far as 3XL, 4XL, and beyond would also be something I would look into. My experience is most places tend to not stock the larger sizes and miss out on some t-shirt sales as a result.
Next time, we’ll discuss web marketing and advertising. Taking the FLGS to the rest of the world.
Thank you for stopping buy. I really appreciate your support. By support I mean just viewing this page or other parts of the site. Thank you.