Saturday, January 15, 2011

What You Like Personally Is Unimportant.

In my 2+ years as a game store owner, this is a business lesson I learned early on, but have had, at times, difficulty enacting its Occam's Razor-like simplicity in regard to running our store.

I can cite two instances where I should have relented to customer bias sooner, and listened to my own personal feelings less.

The first involves Privateer Press' miniatures games, Warmachine and Hordes. From the moment the store opened under its original owners, Warmachine did brisk business for the store. Enough to be a major contributor to the bottom line of the store, surpassing the almighty Warhammer 40K in sales numbers some months. The store had a brisk, active organized play set-up going, and things were moving along slowly. Then, real life started to hit some of the core group for the game, so they couldn't show up to play as often. Slowly, more and more people stopped showing on a regular basis, until we were averaging two to six players on the game's dedicated night. That's not really enough people to keep a scene going, but I let it persist for some time. Why?

Because *I* loved the game. I loved playing it when I could, and I had a ton of money and time invested in my gaggle of Menites. I wanted to use my little toy soldiers of righteousness and burn the heretics to ashes!

So, after a far too long bit of this (in)activity for the game, we took a long hard look at it. The store couldn't keep dedicating the whole playing space to a game that had maybe four people show up to play if we were lucky. Sales were in the toilet for this particular night, and it just wasn't going to revive itself no matter how much I wished it to. So we killed it... ...about four months later than we should have.

What did we replace it with? Funny you should ask? My next story feeds into that...

At some ancient point in time, I played Magic: the Gathering on a regular basis. I loved the game, and so did my wife. We were never very good at playing the game, but we had fun with it, and the collecting aspect was a blast. Then I started looking around at some of our friends who played with us. These folks were making decisions along the lines of "I can either buy Magic cards, or pay rent. Hmmm... Yeah, I can live in my car for a bit..."

Once I began witness more and more decisions like that happening, I turned and looked at my wife and infant son. I knew myself well enough that, if left unchecked, I would follow these morons down the rabbit hole in an effort to stay competitive. Yeah, I needed out of this game. So I stopped buying cards, eventually sold our small collection, and quit playing the game entirely. I liked the game a great deal, but I also liked eating and living indoors. Plus, the scene for Magic at the time was full of shady people and more than a fair bit of theft, and I really didn't want to be around that.

Fast forward a decade plus later to our ownership of the game store. Now, the store had never been really heavy into the game. We were the shop that would get one box of booster packs in for a set, and then *very* slowly sell them at a rate that had that single box of booster packs frequently lasting to the next sets release. Yes... you read that correctly. We, a store that specialized in table-top games, were selling approximately one box of booster packs... 36 packs... every three months or so. We were not the "Magic" store in town. There were two other stores in the area that had pretty much locked up the scene, and I wasn't interested in fighting them for a game I no longer played or cared about.

So, just under a year and a half ago, we started getting some inquiries about us holding events for Magic. Frequently, people would ask, we'd say we were not interested in competing with the other stores in town on this, and then they'd go away and we would go back to selling our RPGs, board games, and minis. However, there were a couple of people that asked us about Magic, were told "no, it wasn't happening", and responded with "well, we don't like the way Magic is being run at the other two stores, so we'll just learn what you guys are doing here." So they stuck around and became part of our regular crew, playing the games that we played.

After a bit of time, we looked at these folks and thought... "Hmmm... these guys stuck around even though we don't play "their" game. We should do something to reward that loyalty."

So, we ran an unsanctioned Magic event and got a few people. It went well... ...more civilized than I remember the scene around Magic ever being. So we ran another event... and another... and another... and attendance for each of these unofficial events grew. So we started to increase what we ordered in terms of product for the game, and it began to sell. Eventually, I made the decision to work with WotC (Wizards of the Coast, the folks who make Magic: the Gathering) and their organized play program in an effort to get Friday Night Magic into the store. It wasn't long before we were FNM-approved and our Friday nights went from 8 to 12 folks for the unofficial stuff to 16 to 30 people a night for official FNM goodness.

Our numbers have settled since then, but they're still a steady 14 to 20. We also do a booming business in booster packs sales, as well as individual card sales. It's helped almost triple our sales.

In this period in time, one of our Magic-driven competitors shut their doors, and we have well cemented ourselves regionally as a good shop for the game. Never mind the fact that fifteen months ago, you wouldn't have found a Magic single in our store. Now, we do okay with the game.

Okay enough to replace what was once a staple game for the store (Warmachine) with the "new kid on our block" (MtG) for a casual night. No organized play... just come in with cards, find someone to play a game with, and have a good time. Our soda/candy sales for the night, plus our single/pack sales for the game do more than justify it.

So basically, in a nutshell, we held onto a game too long because of my personal love for it, and we had shut out a proven, money-making game from the store because of my personal dislike of what the scene used to be.

Occam's Razor, kids... It cuts both ways...

peace... GopherDave

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