It’s not easy to be a game store these days. Between Kickstarter, print ‘n play, and more games either distributing materials free or directly to the customer, opportunities for revenue are becoming fewer and fewer. Add to that the presence of online retailers who significantly undercut MSRP and you’ve got a conundrum on your hands. To that degree, I empathize with the owners. That being said, there are certain costs that must be paid if a store wants my business regularly. Some of these are monetary, others are less tangible. For my ideal store, however, none are negotiable.
In reverse order, I give you my top ten indispensables for my ideal hobby game store:
10. A customer loyalty program
I’ve never been a store owner myself, but I’ve read countless articles about game store ownership stating how trying to compete on price is generally a losing proposition. Local hobby stores seem to follow this advice pretty well, too…I can’t recall the last time I saw a 1st game on sale for less than MSRP. What stores can do, however, is offer a loyalty program. It doesn’t have to be much. It could be as small as buy 100 packs, get your next pack free. The point is, it’s something. At least one local store is offering such a program, and goodness knows that when I’m looking to pick up a game right now, I find it tough to not at least consider going there because of that program.
9. Shelves stocked with stuff I want (and stuff I don’t)
When I go grocery shopping, I’m a hunter. I know where my targets are, I get them, and I get out. When I’m game shopping, though, I tend to look at all the boxes – even boxes of games I’ll never play (read as: non-painted miniature wargames)! Sure, I’m usually in there looking for one or two particular items, but seeing familiar stock on shelves gives me a bit of confidence in the store that they have a clue about the industry. Conversely, if I go into a store and don’t see some of the staples…your Twilight Imperiums, Eclipses, Pathfinder or D&D lines, Legendary, Axis and Allies, Descent, etc…then I have to stop and wonder why. They don’t need to have ALL those games…I just want to see that they actually have a clue about the business.
Oh, and for the love of Marvel movies, if you have an expansion for something in stock, have the base set/core game, too!!! #PetPeeve
8. New releases are available on release day
There’s nothing worse than being geeked up for the arrival of game you’ve been looking forward to for what seems like seven years, only to have that bubble of impending joy burst because your local game store failed to order it. Pre-ordering is the customer’s responsibility. Actually ordering the game to have it in stock on release day is the store’s. Know your role, stores!
7. Knowledgeable staff & judges
Apparently I either lied or I have the dumb. At #8 I wrote, “There’s nothing worse than…”
Hmmm…maybe #8 is the new #1?
Meh. Moving on. Knowledgeable staff & judges – both important. As a buyer, I want the store staff to be up on the latest trends in gaming, release dates, upcoming products, and events. I want to know if the company publishing the game I just pre-ordered has a reputation for pushing their release dates back, or for awesome (or poor) production quality. I want the staff to be able to recommend a game based on my likes and dislikes. And I definitely want them to be able to tell me if a game is in stock and locate it for me! As a player in a tournament or other organized event, I want the judge to not only be up on the rules, but, more importantly, be up on the participants and how to run an event. Sooo many times events have gotten away from the organizers not because of poor rules knowledge, but simply because they didn’t know their players or how to run an event properly. Both rule knowledge and people/event knowledge are critical.
6. A Website
Let me be clear about this: a Facebook page is NOT a website! That’s not to say that Facebook pages aren’t useful to hobby stores, but sometimes people either don’t have access to Facebook (particularly at work) or they simply don’t want to use it. A website is essentially your online business card. Have a URL with your store name in it (or some reference thereto). Have some pictures of your place. Tell me your address, phone number, and hours. Give me directions to the place. Oh, and give a way to contact you electronically – either via email or web form. Go ahead and list your social media contacts on there, too. But please, PLEASE…have a website.
That’s all for now. Check back later in the week for 1-5 (or, by my failed logic, 8-5)!
[Update: There’s no need to check back – part two is now up.]
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