If I Had My Own Game Store Part 7

I have seen this in practice by some of our local stores. I actually discovered two game shops via their Instagram. I was impressed by their ads, the look of their shop in pictures, and the way they present themselves. Their websites are also amazeballs. Old and new stores alike can gain a lot by building a following on social media.

Building an online presence.

I have seen this in practice by some of our local stores. I actually discovered two game shops via their Instagram. I was impressed by their ads, the look of their shop in pictures, and the way they present themselves. Their websites are also amazeballs. Old and new stores alike can gain a lot by building a following on social media.

A lot of people probably clear their email of spam/junk mail. I receive weekly updates from one of my favorite shops. If nothing else I glance through the events to see what’s new if anything. I think shops that at least offer a mailing list probably have a bit higher engagement than those who don’t.

Solid engagement and clean photos help.

Is it necessary to put something out every single day of the week? I don’t know about daily, especially if you are paying to promote posts on Instagram/Facebook (aka Meta.) I personally do things on Instagram, Facebook, Tumblr, LinkedIn, MeWe, and Twitter. I would cross post as much as I can. Having a blog might be useful, too. (Wink-wink, Nudge nudge.)

Major, huge, important Magic: the Gathering Tournament coming up? Yeah, promote that as much as possible. If the last Warhammer gathering had tables with fabulously painted minis? Post a different picture or two every week. Spotlight the artists. Recent remodel of the shop all done? Show that off. Explain why and maybe some of the before pics. But, please spend the money on posts that are (probably) going to earn some money later.

Photos of a clean shop and undamaged product go a long way, too. I have made a point to visit shops that have clean photos. Turns out the staff is awesome and the store is pretty freakin cool. (*I don’t want to name them because I visit more than one shop and I’d hate to have anyone think I’m playing favorites.)

A good, well maintained website goes a long way.

One word of caution: If you put product on the website, please make sure it’s in stock. There’s nothing more frustrating than showing up to your FLGS drooling over a new book and find out it’s not really there. Oops. “We can order it for you.” sounds a lot like I can get in from Amazon. Why did I come here?

The YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc funnel usually points people in the direction of the physical store and/or the website. Even if your website is just a few simple pages that talks about who you are; what you sell; and where you are located/how to contact- it will probably pay for itself in the long run. Some game shops do it the other way around and have a web store with a physical location that’s secondary. Back in 2020 this was a great plan.

I believe in the power of the Internet as a promotional tool, a way to engage more potential customers, and a way to collect feedback. While one can’t please all of the people all of the time, one can learn from a bad review on Facebook and do better going forward. Sometimes people won’t come back to a shop and talk about a negative experience, but they will happily lambast online given the opportunity. Everything is an opportunity to learn.

My shop has taken shape in my mind. Thanks for stopping by. I appreciate you. More to come.

If I Owned a Game Store Part 6.

Personally, I have found that TTRPG Twitter and Instagram are wonderful tools for promotion and advertisement. People in the #ttrpgcommunity talk a lot sometimes. I know I’m on there running my proverbial mouth daily and I don’t even own a shop. However, if I did…

Taking the friendly local game store and having good reviews is a force to be reckoned with.

Back in the day, (my kids just ran for cover,) we used to have business cards and retailer’s association meetings. Networking happened mostly at conventions, game fairs, and almost always in person. Having friends in distribution and other parts of the industry was super useful. It’s still important, but the media have changed.

Now most of the good networking happens on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn and even smaller platforms such as MeWe. Instant messaging and Zoom calls have replaced a lot of our face-to-face interactions. Conventions are still around, but are great for other things besides networking.

It used to be if you didn’t give out 10 business cards per day, it was time to hang it up.

Now I would argue if your social media isn’t putting up a post on at least one or more platforms per day, you’re not putting your name out there enough. Hits on your website count for almost as much as people coming through the door. Messages in your various social media inboxes are probably more valuable than snail mail unless they’re spam or trolls. Even email is kinda becoming a secondary or even tertiary medium of exchange.

TV, radio and newspaper advertising used to be the way to go. Word of mouth is still effective, but maybe not as much as it once was in person. Now good word of mouth spreads slower, but bad word of mouth is almost deadly at times. Being polite, loveable, and courteous online for retailers is almost as important as great real-life interactions.

User experience sites such as Yelp or even good old Google Maps can propel a business forward or drop the One Star of DOOM.

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I know a lot of folx do this with product reviews. A one star rating tends to get more attention than many of the five star reviews. Why do they hate it so much? I’ve had owners of a couple of different websites BEG me to change their one star review and up their rating. One promptly got the middle finger, another was willing to come to terms and be reasonable and got their wish granted.

I look at reviews on Google maps and other sources when it comes to restaurants. Some people drop a five star as a sort of default. The people dropping a single star usually have a lot to say. The proverbial “I’m cranked off!” letters to the editor used to carry more weight in a newspaper than a good review of a local restaurant.

But here’s the catch- A lack of one and two star reviews can mean very good things. People are satisfied with the business. They want to come back. Satisfied customers/clients sometimes leave highly detailed, very kind reviews. Those can be worth their weight in gold, especially just starting out. It’s easier to get established in any marketplace when there are loyal customers/guests/clients saying good things online and presumably in person.

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Once a business is firmly established online and in the real world it becomes a percentage game.

If a website has 1,000 reviews, 75% are four star and above, 15% are three stars, and the rest are below. That says quite a bit about the business. Many of the harsher reviews are usually isolated incidents and sometimes things a store can address.

“Bathrooms need cleaned/stocked during Magic Tournaments.”
“Staff didn’t take time to chat on Black Friday.”
“Shelves were dusty.”

These are all things that can be easily addressed with a chat amongst the staff. Maybe the next time that guest comes in, things look better. The review gets changed and upped by a couple of stars. Everyone comes away happy.

Sometimes, it’s a losing battle. Let’s face it. Especially in the online world, some people are rarely happy no matter what a retailer does. Some people are even so unscrupulous as to try to scam for free product or good reviews of another business. Sounds greasy and underhanded, but it happens. Sometimes if you do give a little extra attention to these folx, things improve. Sometimes, there’s just no winning. They’re going to have their opinion and that’s all there is to it.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

Good things come when you reach out to people.

Personally, I have found that TTRPG Twitter and Instagram are wonderful tools for promotion and advertisement. People in the #ttrpgcommunity talk a lot sometimes. I know I’m on there running my proverbial mouth daily and I don’t even own a shop. However, if I did…

I’d keep an ear cocked toward what games people are really looking at. Is there a print copy I can order into the shop? Can I point people to my store or someone I trust?

Wait. What did I just say?

It happens IRL as often as it does online. If I know I can’t provide a particular service or product, I’ll do everything in my power to find a website link, business, or phone number for someone who can. Maybe I lose a sale/client as a result. That’s life. BUT, will that person remember I went out of my way to do them a solid even though it wasn’t under my roof? Probably. And that’s the kind of positive memory every retailer strives for.

A prime example right now of keeping an ear peeled toward the #TTRPGcommunity would be the case of Thirsty Sword Lesbians. This game recently dove into uncharted waters for an RPG and won a freakin Nebula Award. If I owned a shop, I’d order in a few copies and make a display along with the expansion Advanced Lovers & Lesbians. With enough talk, three – five copies should be a pretty easy sell. More if a group or two take interest in the game.

Nebula Award Winner!
On a related note: If I owned my own shop, TOLERANCE would be the word of the day. If my game room crowd wasn't being particularly kind to the LGBTQIA++ gamers or discriminating based on age or race for example, they would be asked to kindly pack up and leave. Word gets around pretty fast if a Magic Tournament judge, Dungeon Master, or GW Tournament judge is being an ass. 

That type of crap is not acceptable in any business. I'd rather have one openly gay customer than 100 bigots. I'll take bad reviews from intolerant shmucks all day before I'll eat a review that says my store discriminates based on political preference, gender identity, race, age, etc. In short- don't be a jerk to your fellow gamers. Ever. 

Next time we’ll chat more about building on social media and websites.

I’m loving this particular topic. Thank you for stopping by. There is so much more to cover. I appreciate you all.

If I Owned a Game Store Part 5

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 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…

Spiritual/”New Age”/Wicca?!?

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.

If I Owned a Game Store Part 4

One of the most successful things I have seen done in the FLGS sphere is having a local board game club meet in the store. Basically, it’s a demo night for board games and players can get a taste of the product. With some concerted efforts in communication and promotion, stores and clubs can work together to make game nights a huge hit.

Time to look at the elephant in the room.

Board games. I used to work in a store that primarily sold board games. It was a lot of fun. The poor thing went belly up eventually, passed to a different owner only to die again a few years later. That was almost twenty years ago at about the time German style board games were really taking off in the US.

Admittedly, board games weren’t the only thing that shop sold. The owners, misguided and loveable though they were, decided to pull in jigsaw puzzles by the truckload along with all kinds of other crazy stuff. This is the game store death trap of competing with Big Box stores mentioned earlier in this series. One simply can’t compete with stores such as Target when it comes to buying power.

That leaves all of the the niche board games. There has also been a massive bloom of what are called “Deck Building Games” in recent years. These are basically TCGs that knew they couldn’t compete with Magic so they made it an all-in-one affair and put it in a box. Then they sell expansion boxes. It’s a good marketing strategy.

The same phenomenon is becoming a trend with RPGs. These board games follow in the footsteps of Talisman and Hero Quest (both of which have also seen a revival) where you have one game with pregenerated characters in a dungeon style environment battling their way through multiple scenarios. Basically someone smashed an RPG campaign into one box and provided minis and dice along with it. Personally, I miss Heroscape.

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Have I mentioned sales yet?

No, I have not. Here’s the problem I see with board games. They take up a lot of space and don’t necessarily sell all that incredibly well. They’re usually a larger ticket than other things in the shop and the prices from the distributors make it less appealing. Competition with the Big Box stores can be fierce on mainstream games such as Monopoly and its hundreds of variants. There is more money to be made elsewhere in the shop.

There are a couple times per year when board games sell well. The first is November through January. Everyone likes to take a board game home for the holidays. Family gatherings- go figure.

The other good sales time is when people know they are going to be indoors for long periods of time. We used to call it “winter” here in Iowa, but the last several years have been progressively more mild. Maybe the popularity of board games is geographical? I haven’t been to Europe where pub culture is alive and well.

The other down side to board games is in order for them to sell successfully, people have to often times experience them first. I think most of us prefer to play a round or two of any given board game before deciding to buy it. That means the store trying to sell the game must have someone on hand who is knowledgeable about said product and a demonstration model has to be available. How many FLGS owner/operators are free to do so?

Club play.

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One of the most successful things I have seen done in the FLGS sphere is having a local board game club meet in the store. Basically, it’s a demo night for board games and players can get a taste of the product. With some concerted efforts in communication and promotion, stores and clubs can work together to make game nights a huge hit. This is also true for RPGs and miniatures wargames.

The only things required for club play are a semi-regular meeting time, space to play, and an organizer. Okay, and people, but that usually sorts itself out with some communication and promotion. Having the regular meetings in the shop are a huge bonus because the product is in the next room if people want to buy a copy. (Although the shop also has to be open for that to work. Just sayin.)

Taking it on the road.

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This sort of a gamble. Sometimes taking a board game or two to a gaming convention pays off. People become introduced to the newest, shiniest board games at a particular convention and have to have it. The only kicker is how many other dealers brought it with them? Is the company who created the game present with their stack of copies? (Those folx jump for joy when they sell a copy because it’s huge profit with no middle men in the way.)

Smaller, local conventions sometimes offer a better venue for board game sales. There are also specific non-gaming conventions such as the Pork Producers Convention or the State Fair where specifically themed games might do well. This is always a gamble of time, help, and profits. If you can spare the manpower and pay for a dealer table, it might be worth the effort.

Taking board games on the road to gaming or sci-fi/fantasy conventions is a gamble. How many RPGs, dice, M:tG booster boxes, comics, etc could one have brought instead that take up the same amount of space for far more product? Is it better to sell one $60 board game with 40% markup than 30 packs of Magic cards at $3.97 ea at 50% markup. (These may or may not be realistic numbers nowadays.) I can pack three or four booster boxes of cards in the same space as the board game. There’s the dilemma.

The verdict.

If I were running my own little FLGS I might devote a small amount of space to a few board games. I would be extremely picky, however. I would pick things aimed more toward the RPG and Deck Building game crowds. Obviously anything sold at Target, WalMart, Costco, etc is right out. I would ramp up the board game inventory a bit in October and then reduce it back to maybe 20 or 30 different games in January with the notion that specific games can be ordered via customer request.

If I had an expert in my friends group willing to set up a board game club night, I would help promote whatever he/she/they would want to showcase. The only thing I would ask is to have some idea of what they were planning to play so I can get one or two copies on hand for people interested in it. Oh, and make sure the gaming space is free that night. Magic Tournaments and D&D Adventurers League take up as much or more space. It’s all about scheduling.

Next time we’ll talk about diversification.

I mean in terms of the business. What do you sell on top of games, cards, dice, minis, meeples, and snacks at a game store? Oh, you might be surprised at some of the crazy cool stuff people have come up with over the years.

Thank you for stopping by. I hope you’re enjoying this little foray into the retail side of the game industry as much as I enjoy discussing it. I appreciate you.

If I Owned A Game Store Part 3

I’m not joking when I say a person can literally go bankrupt buying dice these days. There are so many sizes, shapes, and flavors of clickity clack goblin math rocks on the market it’s not even funny.

There are a lot of nuances to game retail that many people fail to consider, especially early on.

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I’m not joking when I say a person can literally go bankrupt buying dice these days. There are so many sizes, shapes, and flavors of clickity clack goblin math rocks on the market it’s not even funny. Yes, plenty of pro manufacturers to go around. And then for an added bonus there are so many artisans making their own beautiful creations. Let’s talk about Dice.

I’ve seen sets of dice made from moon rock that retail for hundreds of dollars. I’ve seen other stones and crystals cut into polyhedral dice that run close to $100. That’s a lot of money to have sitting around in the shop waiting to sell. Honestly, I don’t know how FLGS owners really feel about that.

It’s kinda like that $100 Magic: the Gathering single sitting in the case that might end up being a tournament prize eventually. It’s pretty to look at, but do I really want to shell out that kind of money as a customer. I get a set of solid obsidian dice, or I can buy a pack of really high quality resin dice that look exactly the same as obsidian for around $12. Hmmm…

The dice market has become more complicated over the last decade or so. I can remember a time when there were four major dice manufacturers: Chessex, Armory, Gamescience, and Koplow. Now? I follow dozens of Instagram accounts for dice makers. Etsy shops all over creation. I can buy one pound bags of random single dice on Amazon for $30-ish.

A pound of dice broken up and sold as single dice for $0.99 is a pretty shiny profit and it’s pretty much a guaranteed add-on purchase for a lot of gamers. Sets near the checkout for around $9.99 are a similar purchase. There’s money to be made selling dice in a FLGS, but it’s important not to drop too much money on them going in if I want to stay in business for more than a week.

Tasty math candy, but DO NOT EAT THE DICE!

Dice Accessories are another growing market over the last decade or so. I’ve watched it grow from simple felt lined wooden trays to leather and felt trays with snaps that fold flat when not in use. There are dice cases, vaults, and compartmented dice bags now. Heck, there are even dice towers and dice jails to be found.

Again, there are plenty of folx out there on Amazon, Etsy, even Ebay that have their dice-related wares up for sale. But, that leather dice case/play mat for $14.99 is awfully tempting as an upsell for the retailer. Dice freaks like me have a hard time saying “no” to cool stuff like that. The black leather one had to come home with me. As as retailer I think it’s best to approach all of the cool dice accessories with cautious optimism and balance sales with product line expansions.

A well-lit case near the cash register is probably the best place to sell dice. The more out of sight the math rocks are, the more likely they are to get stolen before they sell. It’s tragic that someone would do such a dastardly thing, but it happens.

Another interesting thing I would do in my FLGS is try to get one of those huge Chessex bins to allow people to customize their own sets. I saw one of these at The Source in Minneapolis MN and bought more dice than I originally went in there for. That’s also where I picked up a very nice set of Dungeon Crawl Classics Dice. It was a good trip up there. Can’t wait to go back. That bin really stuck out from a seller’s point of view, though.

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Dice are one of those things that sell pretty darn well at conventions, as I recall. People forget their dice and D&D starts at Table 13 in ten minutes! What to do?

“Ack! Oh, wait. Jeff’s Game Box sells plain $5.00 dice sets in the Huckster’s Room. Just go grab some and be right there. You can also get a cute Dragon Baggin for $14.99 to put them in. Shweeet!”

I’m telling ya, dice and dice accessories can really come in handy in the right place at the right time. I’ve been there on both sides of that discussion. Even at conventions where gaming isn’t the focus, it’s possible to sell dice and dice games. I worked for a company that kept selling out of LCR and Pass the Pigs at the International Pork Producers Expo at the Iowa State Fairgrounds. Turns out people want something fun to do after they’ve been grilling pork chops all day.

Next time, we’ll talk about the elephant in the room. Yup. We haven’t discussed selling boardgames yet. Lots to talk about there, too. Setting up a FLGS is a LOT of work mentally and physically. Planning ahead is the key to success.

Thanks for being here. Please stay cool and hydrated. I appreciate you!

If I Owned a Game Store Part 2

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.

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.

If I Owned a Game Store Part 1.

Before product even walks in the door, one simply must have a substantial amount of money to gamble on such a business. Yeah., It’s a gamble for the first several years. Restaurants and coffee shops are the same way along with many retail businesses. Oh, and did I mention it’s a pretty good chunk of capital?

Okay, how many gamers have had this dream?

I imagine it’s probably more common that one would think at first. The Friendly Local Game Store is as much home to many fond memories and good times as it is sweet, sweet dice and cool products. But the reality of the FLGS is that it’s a business first and a place to have fun second. I think a lot of gamers forget that fact.

I’ve had the privilege of working in three such stores over the years. I’d go back tomorrow if I could. Four kids plus my wife and my health issues don’t make for an easy schedule at a retail establishment of any kind, to be honest. To tell the truth, I wouldn’t hire me knowing about the health stuff.

I don’t think a lot of gamers really understand what goes into keeping an FLGS running.

Before product even walks in the door, one simply must have a substantial amount of money to gamble on such a business. Yeah., It’s a gamble for the first several years. Restaurants and coffee shops are the same way along with many retail businesses. Oh, and did I mention it’s a pretty good chunk of capital?

Without actually dropping a whole business plan here (I could,) let me see if I can some of the stuff one would need backing for up front. We’re talking before product. Trying to get a small business loan for a game store? <cringe.> I guess one could certainly attempt it?

The brief list of things that come BEFORE product and game rooms.

This is some serious overhead. I haven’t looked a prices on this stuff lately, so I’m not going to list dollar values. Basically, any time you start a business, you have to do some research.

  • A space. It might be an entire building or a space in a strip mall. Probably not cheap. Mall rent is dreadful iirc and our mall situation in Des Moines is pretty grim already.
  • Research. Games stores are a retail destination, meaning people are coming in for something specific as opposed to a restaurant or a grocery store that are more of impulse decisions. Finding a proper spot that has good traffic flow and reasonable parking is key. Ever seen a big Magic the Gathering tournament? Space is a must, both inside the building and out in the parking lot. And then one must balance it with the cost of the space. Complicated? Yes.
  • Paint and shelving. Fixtures, cash register or other way of accepting payments, possibly carpet, lighting and glass cases. It adds up fast, especially anything custom made or all glass/metal. Prepping the space is key. Oh, and game tables, chairs and bathrooms. Pray there are at least two or three publicly accessible restrooms either in the building or very close by.
  • Advertising, web presence and social media. This is actually a full time job for someone. The owner is already going to have his/her/their hands full with all of the fun details above plus product, employees, customer relations, etc. This part of the process is actually more stressful than some may realize and a heck of a lot more costly. BUT, if you’re not making new contacts and building an email list? You may as well close the doors before you even start.

    It might even be a case of begging, borrowing, or stealing help in exchange for product or favors down the road. Gotta save money somewhere, but advertising might not be the best place to do it. I’m not suggesting anything shifty under the table, but maybe an exchange of favors helps out a bit here.
  • I mentioned employees. Unfortunately, one is going to need people to do all that work setting the place up, stocking shelves, fielding customer questions, actually selling things, and cleaning. Otherwise, the owner/operator(s) is going to have even more to do. Even with family and friends pitching in, it’s a LOT of hard work. Unless you have a ton of money in which case you hire people to do all that stuff. (Never in my 30+ years in this industry have I seen someone do this.)
  • Then, once all of that is in place, there is also the monthly upkeep overhead of paying the lights, phone, internet, and possibly water/garbage if it’s not included with rent. Having access to a good dumpster for the first month or two is going to be necessary between all the construction and moving product in. The doors aren’t even open and the whole thing is already losing money. Ain’t it great.
  • I forgot a big one. Signage. If gamers don’t know they’ve arrived, they’re probably relying on Go-Ogle not to lead them in circles around a shoe store two blocks away. Something big, flashy, well-lit, that screams “We have your game!” is preferable, but probably not cheap.
  • One of the often overlooked boons to a fledgling game store is finding a good artist willing to help with logos, signs, and social media/web marketing. Most of us will delete an email before we even open it if we know there’s nothing exciting to look at inside. Solid art, flashy photos, and good ad tactics go a long way toward promoting a business. But, again, not terribly cheap most of the time.
  • Somewhere in the middle of all this or possibly in years leading up to it, there’s the notion of going to conventions, trade shows, expos, sometimes even flea markets. There are two objectives to almost any social gathering such as the ones mentioned. A vendor can sell product and/or make crucial connections, networking with other vendors. Sometimes even the idle gossip is worth the price of a ticket. BUT, all of this costs money, too. Hotels, vendor space, product, labor, and food all figure into the budget on top of time.

I just realized I’m doing a brain dump of everything I know about the RPG retail business.

To be continued tomorrow. As you may have guessed, I’ve put a LOT of thought into this subject over the years. It’s always been fascinating to me all of the little steps that are involved.

Thanks for being here. I appreciate you. See ya soon.

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