A Store of My Own
This Saturday I wrote about a new game store that opened in my town. It’s funny that this store has so recently opened and offers the amenities that it does as a recent series of articles on House of Paincakes had put my mind towards opening my own store. Not seriously, mind you, more in the vein of how after watching Mr. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead we all imagined how we’d survive the Zombie Apocalypse. Still, Loquacious’ articles are an interesting and honest take on the realities of running a store and it made me think about how I’d do it.
Steal From My Betters
The first thing I’d do is leverage every scrape of industry knowledge I could find. I would contact every store offering the games, environment or services I was interested in and take as much advice as they were willing to give. The first store on my hit list would be Myriad Games. Not only is Dan Yarrington creating the tidy like game-store-empire in New England but Game Salute is specifically designed to help other retail stores.
Be Active Online
In addition to the undeniably necessary web-presence I would make sure I had an active blog for my store. Yes, I’m a blogger so I’m biased but even if you only make one post a week about what cool stuff came into the store and what events are coming up. I’d go further than that and write or solicit articles to drive interest in my stock. Let’s say enough people asked about Infinity that I decided to stalk it. Well I’d make sure that I had an introductory post or two up on the ol’ blog.
The advantages of a blog over just using Facebook or other social media is that it drives traffic to the site and hits people who aren’t into social media. As rich as Mr. Zuckerburg is there are people who don’t Facebook or not enough to really follow a Facebook page. A blog can use plugins to promote new posts on all the social media channels.
Special Orders and Online Shopping
Traffic to the site would be important because if I’d invest (if I could or once I could afford it) in an integrated POS and webstore and I would let people order for in-store pickup via the webstore with no shipping.
Speaking of in-store pickup I would also have a section of my counter marked for special orders. At the very least it would outline my policy and procedure for special orders with friendly posted notices. If I could I’d have cataloges or even a computer for people to browse through. I always prefer to purchase things in store over ordering online and I’m also one of those people who lets having to ask about special orders stop him from asking about special orders.
In Store Gaming
In-store gaming is a question that doesn’t have an accepted answer, it seems. The biggest question is whether you should provide gaming space or not. In my dream store I would have a large open area for this. The next question is whether to charge for the space or not. I’ve thought the most about this in my daydreams and I think that there is not correct answer. For me the answer is not to charge and this is why.
Most of the stores in the area offer some sort of gaming area although some are more obvious than others. I don’t know why any store which offers gaming space wouldn’t have large signs saying they offer gaming space but I don’t recall seeing any signage. I’ve only played in a couple of stores so I can’t speak for them all. Those I have played in didn’t charge for the use of the space.
There are currently three gaming cafes in the city that I am aware of and I believe a fourth is coming soon. I did not count these in my early count of twelve gaming stores. I’ve only been to one but they all charge a flat $5 per person which includes access to large (800+) game libraries. This means as a game store offering bring-and-play in-store gaming that wants to charge I’d be in direct competition with gaming cafes which offer game libraries and in some cases food services while pricing themselves above the free spaces that comparable game stores offer.
The problem is in-store gaming costs money. There’s a monthly rental cost for the floor space and time and money sunk into making terrain for the space to consider. There has to be some benefit to having the space and there are two strategies that I can see that, alone or in combination, would be successful.
Grow the Audience
The first strategy is to work the in-store space to drive traffic to the store. A static schedule where a set group meets on a certain day to play their games doesn’t bring that many new people into the store. This is the same group of customers week after week and the return on that investment would not be worth it. I would try to fill my schedule with demo and introductory games, seminars and release parties.
If there’s a game that people are looking forward to I would open up a copy and get people playing. I would have “Learn to play _____” nights where the classic gateway games are available for new players as an introduction to the hobby. I would invite local clubs to host recruitment nights at the store. The catch is this would take a good chunk of time for someone to run all this stuff. I have a solution for this, but first the next strategy.
Now let’s be clear about things for a second. We are talking about a theoretical and “fantasy” gaming store. I would have a ridiculous amount of space for gaming. Even The Kessel Run’s cavernous space would pale in comparison. This idea needs a lot of space.
My second strategy to making my in-store gaming area profitable would be memberships. I would have a separate members-only section with members-only terrain. I would sell one-day, monthly and yearly memberships to this section. Included in membership would be access to a game library (since I’m opening games up for Demos and whatnot) and potentially a member’s discount on products. This would help pay for the space but would open up a new kind of resource.
When I was a young, broke gamer with too much time on my hands I spent far too much of it hanging out in my local gaming store. I love to talk games and would often engage fellow-customers in conversation. It wasn’t unusual to be mistaken for staff. Game publishers frequently exploit these enthusiastic customers with special “outrider,” “pathfinder,” “pressganger” or “warcor” programs. I’d do the same, providing free months of membership to those customers that provide exceptional service to the store. This would include running the events I mentioned above.
How about you? What would your ideal store offer? Does anything come close where you live? Give me your favorite store or your pie-in-the-sky store ideas in the comments. You can also reach me on Google+ or Twitter. Don’t forget to subscribe as I have a clarification on my recent Firestorm Planetfall post.