Friday, April 13, 2007

Monkeys Shouldn't Run The Zoo

I'm a huge believer in supporting your local game store. A HUGE believer. And so are a lot of people out there - but local game stores are still closing all over.


People are fast to blame the internet - it's cheaper, faster, more convenient.

But I think a large part of the problem is that monkeys are running the zoo.

A Game Store owner has to wear several hats, each of which critical to the success of the business.

The first hat they need to wear - the most important hat - is that of Businessman. If you don't approach your game store as a business, then you're already out of business.

Far too many game store owners open game stores for the sole purpose of getting discounts on their gaming products. Their goal isn't profit, it's expanding their own collections. If they can turn a profit in the process, so much the better - after all, the more they sell, the more they can buy for themselves! The owner of this type of store will typically provide discounts to all of their regular customers or buddies.

The organization of the store will be haphazard at best. The stereotypical game store has stacks and stacks of games and books spread at random throughout the store - this stereotype exists for a reason. Most Game Store owners don't know what to stock, so they either stock everything, or else they'll stock very little. They won't carry mass-market games, reasoning that customers can get those at Target or Wal*Mart.

Customers who walk in may not be noticed for several minutes if the owner is playing a game at one of the game tables. Checkout is the same way - you can stand for ten or more minutes waiting for the owner to notice you before you can spend your money.

Allow me to contrast this with Phoenix Games, my local game store.

Brian at Phoenix is a businessman. He likes games, he likes gamers, but Phoenix is a business for him.

People who have keys to the store get a discount, and that's about it. The store is bright and well-lit. He carries both mass-market and hobby games. As he explained to me a few months ago, "If Joe Average walks into a Game Store and doesn't see Monopoly or Life, their first thought is, 'What kind of Game store is this?'" He also uses the mass-market as a tool to point customers at other (better) games. For customers who enjoy Pictionary, he'll suggest Squint, for example.

He hasn't bought every RPG book availalable, either. In fact, he only carries Wizards of the Coast's RPG lines (Dungeons and Dragons and d20 Modern). He can special-order other products, if needed.

If a special order causes comment or a lot of interest, he'll sometimes start to carry it (a good example of this is Battleground: Fantasy Warfare, which he started carrying last week).

He'll also regularly check the front page at BoardGameGeek. Along the lower left-hand side of the page, there is a list of "Hot Games" - these are games that people are interested in and are looking for.

Brian has also given thought to his organization - studies have shown that customers will tend to walk in about four paces and then turn right. So, to the right, are the family-oriented games. At eye-level are colorful or otherwise eye-catching games.

Elitist Game Snobs (like me) will go through the whole store and will find the hobby games which are located to the left of the entrance with little or no difficulty.

High-theft items (collectible card games, for example) sit right up next to the counter. More expensive board games (such as Twilight Imperium 3rd Edition) are on higher shelves where small children can't get to them.

The store is carpeted and clean - Brian cleans the carpets at least once a week and polices the trash several times daily.

Customers who walk in are always greeted within seconds of their arrival. On those rare occasions when Brian is playing a game at the front table, he'll make sure that the other players know that he may need to break away to help customers. And he'll let the customers know that he welcomes interruptions (because he does). When a customer approaches the front counter, Brian will usually beat them to the counter and be ready to help them.

Those of us who game at the front table are also reminded (regularly) that we cannot block access to the games. We need to sit close to the table so as to avoid blocking the aisles, and we need to watch our language. We also need to be polite to customers.

I'm not saying that online stores haven't hurt the Local Game Store - they have - we need to make sure that we lay the blame accurately. Many game stores have put themselves out of business long before the internet had the opportunity.


  1. Anonymous6:21 PM

    Glad to hear he's stocking Battleground.

    Any news on a new location for his shop?


  2. I've bought everything so far except for the Humans. On payday, I'll have them.

    No news on a location, yet. I'll keep you in the loop.