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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