Sunday, May 23, 2010

Facepalm at the Local Game Store

Jonathan at Farsight Blogger not long ago asked “Why do local gaming stores seem to want the RPG hobby to fail?” The question struck a chord, because I’d been wondering the same thing about a game store not far from me that seems as equally determined to fail as the one he’d visited. Or maybe more so.

Here in Eugene, we’re lucky enough to have four stores in the area. Close to the University and within about ten or twelve blocks of one another, there’s Addictive Behaviors, Emerald City Comics (I include it because it’s really a hybrid store, with a table and chairs area for gamers), and Evolution Gaming (the largest of the four).

Then over in Glenwood, shoe-horned between Eugene and Springfield, there's another store (pictured above). Of the four, it would seem to face the most challenges, being on the outskirts of town and not far from the dump. I’ve been inside three times. The first time was on a lark when I saw it while driving by - I stopped in for a few minutes to check it out and bought some dice there for my nephew. Inside there were several people playing Magic the Gathering. There were a few board games, but the only RPG was 4th edition. The next time I was in the neighborhood I popped in again and bought a couple of cheap WotC minis. This time there were a couple of people, sifting through Magic cards. Finally, the last time I went in, there were several people sitting in front of computer monitors they’d lugged in, all playing World of Warcraft. Now that was a disappointment to see in a tabletop game store.
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11 comments:

limpey said...

I think the only way for any retailer to survive is to make people WANT to enter your store... clean and organize the place --- greet people when they walk in, ask them politely if they need help, smile, don't roll your eyes and sigh like a martyr if they dare to ask a question... and don't ever be too busy playing a card game or chattering with your cronies to help someone who just wants to BUY something.

Eli Arndt said...

The sad truth is that too many game stores are opened by hobbyists and gamers who really have little interest or ability in the business side of things. Those that due have a business capable owner or operator seem to also make the mistake of trying to run a game store like a regular business and often end up alienating their gamer/hobbyist customers. It is a rare thing for a store to have a mixture of business savy and gaming chic.

Some of the primary issues I have seen in stores are -

1. Active disinterest in customer service.
2. Favoritism in products.
3. No or limited special order ability or the inability to fulfill those the promise.
4. Adopting store policies or marketing angles that turn gamers off or away.
5. Lack of stock (not so bad if you can do special orders).

There are more but these are the ones that have really hit me. I have had shop owners sit there and make me wait at the counter while they were busy playing a game. After this happened several times, I even started "punishing" the owner by taking my initial pile of impulse selection to the counter and then shaving it down into a second pile as he stalled on ringing me up. When asked if I wanted that pile too, I simply replied, "No, those were the things I was going to buy but decided not to while waiting for you."

I have had them promise to order me something and then either not do it, misrepresent their ability to do so, or get the order wrong and then do nothing to fix the mistake. One guy told me he could order a particular line of miniatures and after several proddings about when I could place my order, he finally told me he had to first apply to a particular distributor before he could. Another had pretty much nothing I wanted in his store but refused to do special orders because, "they were too much trouble". Another instance had a shop ordering twice as many of an item as was ordered and then try to insist that a friend of mine had order that many.

I have seen store owners chase away frequent customers because they let the stress of their troubled business be an excuse for lashing out and/or making really hindering store policies (charging to use gaming tables on an established open game night).

One friend of mine, who routinely purchased $50-70 board games and was a constant booster of the shop by running and demoing games was suddenly told to, "Buy something or get out one night". There was no explination given other than, "My store, my rules" and he was never given an apology for the rash and unfair treatment. This then had a chain reaction as myself and the rest of my regular gaming group quit that shop right away.

I have even had store owners openly profain a system or product to me or to others in the store. This was not done in a manner that equated to constructive or informative criticism but pretty much came down to, "I don't like it so it sucks and I don't think you should buy it". Then why stock it? if you are going to stock something, then you should try to find a way to sell it.

Thisi s just a short list of some actual issues I have had with stores and their owners.

-Eli

Menace 3 Society said...

The real question you should be asking is whether or not the RPG hobby (outside WotC and maybe Warhammer-related stuff) is a viable business model for a store in this day and age. I'm not saying it is, and I'm not saying it isn't, but it's true that in general, niche markets are not easy ways to make money in retail.

Eli Arndt said...

At one time it may have been a better one than it is now. I think it can still work, but you need to have a solid business mind and some serious dedication to make it work.

I don't think that a store that is a game store alone can make it though. The store needs to diversify to bring in income where gaming doesn't/can't. In addition, a store that is active in supporting the hobby beyond simple retail is a good idea as well. Leagues, game nights, organized events, painting demos, hobby classes, after school clubs, etc. are all good ideas to increase the stores appeal and customer loyalty.

A Paladin In Citadel said...

Truth be told, most of those who played F2F roleplaying games have since migrated to computer games like everquest and WoW.

Eli Arndt said...

Thisi s true, but there are still a lot of analog gamers out there as well. If anything the MMORPGs have cut down on the numbero f hack n' slash players at the table.

Christian said...

That store creeps me out. All it needs is an old van out front with "Free Candy" painted on the side.

*shudder*

Eli Arndt said...

You know, it is sort of a creepy-looking place.

ze bulette said...

It reeks of zombies. The store was open for business when that picture was taken.

Jon Hendry said...

"Thisi s true, but there are still a lot of analog gamers out there as well."

It's more a question of density. In order for a store to be viable it has to have enough gamers nearby, or else be so awesome that people come from far and wide.

1000 gamers in a small town would be awesome for a store in that town. 1000 gamers spread out across 100 square miles, not so much.

And it is a creepy store. Lesson: complicated paint jobs on your store might grab attention at first, but later on you won't want the hassle of keeping it looking fresh and clean, and you'll end up looking like a derelict squat full of people on a registry somewhere.

Pôl Jackson said...

Oh hey, you're in my town. Cool.

I've long thought that the most effective way to rate a game store would be to rate its bathrooms. The idea being, the cleaner and tidier the bathroom is, the more the store actually cares about running a business. Glenwood Comics would get a D- for its creepy, barely sanitary facilities.

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