Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Underdog (Tradecraft)

The First Law of Marketing is the Law of Leadership. Once you're the leader in a mature market, you take the majority market share and find yourself in an unassailable position. Your competitors fight over the fragments of what's left, leaving you sitting pretty at the top. Opportunities come to you.

Market share leadership includes such companies as Microsoft (Windows), Apple (mobile music devices) and Facebook. Your position is safe enough that you can experiment and break your model on occasion, provided you come back to it later. You have permission to make mistakes, whereas your competitors don't. It strengthens your position as you innovate.

That's the traditional marketing theory anyway. What would happen if Windows went open source? If Facebook opened up their code so anyone could make a mini Facebook walled garden? What if the iPod was a software platform and not hardware dependent? What if anyone could make a version of Dungeons & Dragons? What if one of those iterations was better than the original?

That's where we stand right now with Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition. Pathfinder owns the market, and worse for Wizards of the Coast, has co-opted the brand. Dungeons & Dragons equals Pathfinder in the mind of the consumers that matter, the alpha customers. In this unfathomable situation, you have two options. For a smaller company, they would be looking at option one, law 10 of marketing, the Law of Division.

The Law of Division stipulates that a mature market will eventually divide. Can't beat Coke? How about energy drinks? How about flavored juices? Water? Can't win at shoes? How about running shoes? How about hiking boots? How about stupid spring shoes? Can't win at role-playing games? How about the entry role-playing game? How about the advanced role-playing game?

This is not a very good Wizards of the Coast strategy for role playing games, as the RPG market is already too fragmented, too divided. It's almost like everyone has one of those soda making machines at home and no longer needs to buy Coke. There are enough role playing games available right now that I sometimes wonder if they exceed the number of interested players. A quick look at the Ennie nominees this year reveals that some key categories have 60% of the products available direct only or through Kickstarter. I expect that to continue and deepen. No corporation can survive on the scraps of the RPG world. The Law of Division is an opportunity if you're a bathrobe publisher, but not a viable strategy for a 7 billion dollar corporation.

Instead, Wizards of the Coast and Dungeons & Dragons must put the genie back in the bottle. They must press the undo button on their open source blunder. The blunder really, was not following through accepting the genie was out, but that's another story. What WOTC must do is take back their position as market leader. Here's the thing, according to the marketing laws, it can't be done. However, since they shouldn't have been able to lose their position in the first place, the rules have changed. Perhaps there is hope. Perhaps the new rules allow genies to go back in bottles. Perhaps they can create a magic funnel.

How do you do that? You don't brute force this. You don't step in as the 500 pound gorilla, of which they are, and assert your dominance. You can do this if you don't believe what I'm saying. If you don't believe in the rules of marketing, then by all means, say you were on a break. Launch your game with a massive, traditional marketing campaign. But what if you're wrong? If you're wrong, you fail spectacularly. You fail so badly people remember your name and study you in business school.

Oh no, you must play the underdog. You work it subtle. You work harder. You take careful steps and put all your energy behind smart strategies. If you're big and trying to play the underdog, you can accomplish even more. If genies go back in bottles, it's this way. It's a slow coaxing.

Everyone loves the underdog. Americans especially love underdogs and Dungeons & Dragons is quintessentially American. Go read Guy Kawasaki's, How to Drive Your Competition Crazy and you'll learn underdog strategy. It works for game stores and it definitely will work for a multi billion dollar corporation. You cannot be a 500 pound gorilla beating up on the little guy. People will hate you on principle. So you position yourself as the underdog. You set your sights on bigger competitors to show you're just the little guy, the plucky underdog. You slowly peel that Dungeons & Dragons brand label off your competitors product while everyone admires your pluck. You carefully put it on your bottle.

This leads to what I think is the brilliant yet predictable Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition roll out approach. It's subtle, underdog marketing strategy. It's such an underdog, it's so grass roots, it lacks even a name. Is it D&D Next? 5.0? 5th Edition? Nope. Just D&D. It's the Just D&D Edition. It's the promise of a clean edition without splat books, without adventures written in house by monkeys. It's the promise of a slow roll out of core only product while embracing the Internet age with free online content. No need for bombastic self promotion. We're the little guy, the underdog. Come check us out.

It has to work. It's the only viable strategy for a 500 pound gorilla.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Selling Pathfinder (and similar systems) (Tradecraft)

Another Game Store Rescue Blog Post topic is How To Effectively Sell Pathfinder. I have written about this pretty extensively already, and I've even given a talk at the Gama Trade Show, but I've got more observations to make about how to successfully carry this line.  (begin gloat) By the way, I was totally right about this stuff in 2011. (end gloat)

There are two key factors in selling Pathfinder. The first is pretty obvious, it's community. You can't sell a line if you don't have a customer base asking for it. Perhaps you don't really do RPGs, or perhaps you embraced Dungeons & Dragons really hard, instead of Pathfinder. In that second case, you're probably going to be embracing D&D Next and all its third party accessories in the coming months and you probably aren't too concerned about this topic. 

Developing that Pathfinder community, running Pathfinder Society organized play, and being an impartial "arms dealer" of role playing games is key to getting customers to engage in the Pathfinder system. If your customer and staff don't care, then move on to the next thing. I'll also mention I believe in a Pathfinder 2.0. I have no proof or inside knowledge of such a thing, but I think it's coming and the Pathfinder Unchained announcement for April 2015 is about playing around with the idea. 

The second factor is top of mind awareness. This has become painfully apparent lately and also applies to Games Workshop and their flagship game, Warhammer 40K. When the publisher competes with retailers, you must compete right back at an equal level. GW has been actively trying to siphon customers from their "partner" stores onto their website for direct sales. It's no longer a question of whether but how much they do this. They do it with new product offerings, along with pulling back product from brick and mortar retailers. I'll explain why this works for Paizo while it's problematic with GW.

Paizo has very few Pathfinder products that are either exclusive or limited, although the most obvious elephant in the room is the PDF of all their print products. However, as we now know about PDF products, they are different iterations of products, rather than replacements. You want one or the other and occasionally both, but they are different value propositions for the customer, used in different ways. Paizo also has a very good online store extremely focused on making the Pathfinder RPG experience the best it can be, chock full of accessories many of which, I jealously note, they exclusively sell. This is your competition.

When I sell Pathfinder, the Paizo store is in my competitive sights. It's not the guy down the street or Amazon, it's Paizo itself. I'll also admit I'm a bit jealous of Paizo as the company is about as perfect an expression of what they do as I can imagine. I'm a Paizo apologist, if you haven't noticed. I know their history and how they came about in their current form. The online store, the subscription model, and the direct competition against D&D with their "own" system was a desperate and brilliant attempt to save a business after Wizards of the Coast cut them off at the knees. It's a fascinating business case. 

When I say compete right back, what I mean is you must carry the full line. You do this because of what's known as top of mind awareness marketing. When a customer thinks of buying a Pathfinder product, they must think of you, every time, even before they think of Paizo. That means you must stock the full line, and with popular products, which really only include hardcovers and a few accessories, you should stock deep and never be out of stock.

If you don't have top of mind awareness, you begin to lose the whole pie. In other words, Paizo will have top of mind awareness and they'll get the bulk of your sales, since they're a one stop shop. Paizo, by the way, is very happy with you competing in this fashion, since it does seem to grow their overall pie quite nicely. Also, here's the key, by Paizo not carrying exclusives (PDFs excluded), they foster this local top of mind strategy. 

Games Workshop, however, undermines top of mind for local stores. They do this through exclusive products you can only buy direct. They do it by limiting trade product availability while still selling it on their website. They do it by driving pre-orders to their website to grab early sales. They do it by offering discounts and sales with online purchases. You can try to implement Top of Mind with Games Workshop, and I did it for years successfully, even carrying Forge World and direct items, but when a company undermines your attempts through bypassing your sales channel, there's not much you can do. Many stores are starting to drop them right now, at least until their current management team realizes their blunder or they're gone (I give it a 50/50 chance of either).

The down side to this Top of Mind, full line strategy is it's brittle. It's brittle in that it ignores performance metrics in exchange for higher gross sales. You must accept your one turn books or models in order to get your 50 turn core rulebook or starter set. You can't afford to do this with every game, so you need to pick your winner in each category to try this out. Just make sure the publisher isn't undermining this effort by competing unfairly. As a side note, when I describe this to other people in the business world, they consider this the most underhanded bullshit they've ever heard.

When this strategy stops working, when the turns are just too low to justify the line any more (this has happened with D&D 4, Flames of War, 40K and quite a few RPG systems with me), the strategy simply breaks. The line loses what I refer to with my staff as "immunity," and the line quickly disappears in my store, either entirely or down to a "core" set of products (AKA, circling the drain). When you're competing against the publisher, core is not enough, so it's really a "zombie" game at that point, a place holder until something happens to change the situation.

Image borrowed from here (good article)

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Overcoming Obstacles

One of our Kickstarter backer rewards was the Game Store Rescue Blog Post. Eleven people pledged at that level and this is the first post in that series. The topic: Overcoming Obstacles in Getting a Game Store Started.

The first thing I thought of was it takes a lot of character. Character. Hmm.  Here's a guide to overcoming obstacles in getting a game store started by looking at the attributes in your typical Dungeons & Dragons character (using the Pathfinder SRD).

Strength measures muscle and physical power. 

I started working out before the move to our new store. I was completely unprepared for the amount of labor required in my first store. I'm probably in better shape now than I was back then, ten years ago. Get in shape before you open your business.

The hours are likely long and the stress high, so try to continue working out after you open your store. Looking at the extremely high rate of overweight game store owners at trade shows, this might be considered revolutionary advice.

Starting a store is a physically demanding process. The hours are long. You've got fixtures to move or build, many boxes to move around, and construction to manage or engage in. In fact, if you have the time and ability, you can save a lot of money by doing much of this work yourself. If you don't have the stamina or the job is too big, bring in some muscle. That's how I got to know the employee who became my manager. He stayed on for another seven years.

Dexterity measures agility, reflexes, and balance. 


You must be nimble when starting a game store. You must maneuver your way around obstacles. What sorts of obstacles? With our Kickstarter funded construction project, building codes and government requirements were obstacles in need of dodging. Being dexterous means finding ways around problems rather than running headlong into them. 

With 90% of our customers male, we were able to argue for a break on the massive number of female restrooms required. When your police department thinks your opening a gambling den, demonstrate that you're about Dungeons & Dragons and games of skill, rather than poker and games of chance. When your landlord thinks you'll attract drug dealers and a parking lot full of bicycles, enlighten them that you're not running an 80's era video arcade, but a place where kids and their parents engage in thinking games. Kids nowadays burst into flame when touched by the sun, so don't worry about bicycles.


As for balance, emotional stability will be important during this time. Writing my business plan was a roller coaster of elation and depression. You don't plan for a small business with a tiny profit margin without swaying between success and failure many times. Thin margins means success will be elusive and keeping the faith will be critical. Customers and competitors will inform you of your impending failure. Balance.



Constitution represents your character's health and stamina. 




Stamina is about sticking with the plan and keeping to your commitment. Some new store owners open late, close early, miss days, and generally act like their hard earned business is a job they really don't want. If your work habits are bad now, how will they be when you don't have a boss? Stamina and discipline, slow and steady, wins this race. One realization I had after a while is a lot of our success is just outlasting our lazy competitors.

Also, to quote Scarface, "Don't get high on your own supply." Avoid those fizzy sugar drinks and candy and eat like a real person. Just because you sell snacks doesn't mean you should live off them. I had a really hard time with this early on. Take care of your health and you're also taking care of your business.



Intelligence determines how well your character learns and reasons. 



Intelligence is about learning through planning. Write a business plan, which should include financial analysis, competitor analysis, site surveys, marketing plans, your value proposition and much more. You cannot spend enough time on your business plan. It may become your novel, a thing you pull out of a drawer and work on occasionally. You may never get out of the planning stages. That's probably telling you something. It's not a bad thing.

With thorough research will come confidence in the plan. You will be able to stick to the plan, and when you're required to show dexterity, you dodge and weave within the context of the plan, rather than wild swings out into traffic. Your business plan is the context in which you operate your business and having one will save you a lot of time and money flailing about. Research everything now and it will be easier and cheaper than scrambling later.



Wisdom describes a character's willpower, common sense, awareness, and intuition.



Oh Wisdom. You've already gone against common sense in this endeavor, so does wisdom still play a role? Of course. With a solid plan in place (Intelligence), wisdom is about being shrewd and aware of what's going on. You are not working in a cubicle, you're on the front lines of humanity. There will be people who will try to take advantage of you. There will be opportunities that are only presented once. There will be a lot of penny wise, pound foolish situations that you'll need to reason out. 

Starting a business also means you need to understand what other people are looking for from you. Many just want your money or your goods, but what does the landlord really want? They want stability. Mine admitted they never thought I would last my lease, but I had a fat bank roll in the beginning, so what the hell. The city has a vision and a plan of their own, a family friendly, crime free view that I now represent, but didn't as an unknown entity. The police department doesn't want to be called every time you have a Yugioh tournament or someone breaks in to steal your Magic cards. 


Intuition is where you apply your business intelligence to project future success. Every time I order a product, and I order many thousands of dollars a week, I'm relying on business intelligence and intuition. What is my sense of the landscape? What are my feelings about the direction of my store, my customers, and a game system? How does that translate into commerce? Especially in the beginning, you will have no business intelligence, so you'll be working your psionic abilities hard to predict the future. Don't discount intuition. It's real.



Charisma measures a character's personality, personal magnetism, ability to lead, and appearance.



Guess what? You're in sales! Sure, sales will be about 10-15% of what you actually do in a day, but it all comes down to sales. Put everything else down. Talk to your customers and let your personality shine. Wear a clean shirt and shave every morning and put on deodorant. If you're not personable, fake it 'til you make it. 

Small talk is about listening and asking questions about other peoples interests. It's a large part of my job and now a large part of yours. You will inexplicably become a leader in your local community. You may resist it. Your business will become "Your Name Here's Store."


In the end, your success will come down to your charisma and your report with customers. Everything else can be forgiven. Your milk crate fixtures, your leaky toilet, your blinking overhead lights, and your pen and paper point-of-sale "system." All of that can be overcome if you just listen and be personable. If you can't do this, don't open your store. If you absolutely think you're an "operations guy," behind the scenes only, then small business is not for you. But if you can let your personality and passion shine, you'll be rewarded by your customers many times over. It's the secret of this job and why we keep doing it. It's just lovely.


Then go fix those other problems your customers overlooked.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Kickstarter Lessons Learned

Since our Kickstarter funded, I've been asked to write magazine articles, speak on a blue ribbon panel (whatever that is), and talk about my experience on a podcast. I did the podcast, but the other opportunities were more about sharing my experiences so other small businesses could replicate our success. I don't believe we conventionally succeeded with our Kickstarter, so I'm not inclined to sing its praises and claim mastery.

What we did was fund raise, tapping friends and colleagues for money. About a third of our funding came from colleagues in the game trade. A lot of our funding came from calling in favors and begging for cash when it was clear the campaign wasn't working. Still, there are some take aways from this that I think will be helpful.

There have been thirteen game store Kickstarters, of which only three have reached their funding goal, including ours. The other two include The Raygun Lounge by Gamma Ray Games, and the more recent Endgame Cafe by Endgame in Oakland. What do these stores have in common?

First, they were established. They all had existing communities to draw upon and business track records showing they tended to do what they promised. Endgame has been around for 13 years and has a stellar reputation, Black Diamond Games (us)  has been around for 10 years and is generally well respected, and Raygun, the youngest, was at 3 years when they ran their campaign a couple years ago. I don't know much about them, but the cesspool that is Yelp gives them four out of five stars.

The other nine failed projects were primarily new stores. It's highly unlikely a new store will be able to tap any sort of local base to accomplish such a project. When we talk success, we're also talking in the $28,000-$48,000 range. That, friends, is actually not a lot of money for a construction project, and by all accounts, doesn't cover the full costs of any of these projects.

Second, all stores were to build a new space. Endgame is planning to build a cafe to host local events and provide food and coffee drinks. Raygun went from seating for sixteen people, really not a legitimate game space, to a much larger event space with food and a bar. Black Diamond Games plan to go from a respectable 64 seats to 121, with no addition of food or beverages.

Third, as was pointed out to me by Robert Pace, who tracks these campaigns, projects for food related projects tend to be more successful. That's also a principle of "third place theory" in which food and drink play a prominent role. If I were to do this over, I would study third place theory pretty extensively and make sure I was ticking off all the boxes.

My own observation is you need to offer a significant improvement over your current offerings. If you're happily playing in our 64 seat game center, you may not see the value in adding additional seating. You're getting value already. It's not a significant value add, and in fact, may be disruptive to the value you're already receiving. If you're going to do a Kickstarter to add space, add something more significant than more of the same; perhaps a soda fountain, coffee shop element or snack bar.

When we considered our Kickstarter campaign, we figured our target audience was based on the Pareto Principle, the 80/20 rule. Based on our research, 20% of our customers use our event space. Those people would care about this project. What we got instead was what I call the Altucher Rule, which is what happens when you get 20% of your 20%. That, as you can imagine, is a much smaller number (This rule is also used by Seth Godin as the core group of clients for whom you want to tailor your service).

Fourth, our rewards were weak and I would suggest putting them at the market value to attract the other base we were looking for, everyone else online who knew about us and wanted to help. Our custom PDF Pathfinder adventure was $25, which assumed you were contributing more than the value of the PDF to help the store, since the market value of such a thing is perhaps $10. That's great for fundraising, but how many more people would we have gotten if we had priced it at $10?  The costs of providing more PDFs would not have gone up. Could we have had a much wider draw, those who kinda wanted the adventure and were willing to help?  With only 18 backers at that level, my guess is yes.

So those are my four big take aways: Be established, offer a significant value add over what you currently have, consider concessions, and offer rewards at the market rate.

What else? As part of "be established," make sure you've exercised all your social media muscles. We are heavily reliant on Facbeook, with nearly 5,000 fans of our page along with 500 people on our direct email list. We aren't active on Twitter, online forums, nor any fan based mediums. I am very active with the game trade community, which is how we eventually succeeded.

Our problem with communication was our dependence on Facebook. Communication was very expensive, and I spent well over $1,000 on promoting campaign posts.  Worse, results were intangible. It was difficult to see who was sharing, what was being said, and if our message had any reach whatsoever. That's the walled garden of Facebook. It's an area in which we need to improve, and that's after spending tens of thousands of dollars investing in Facebook as our core marketing medium. Make sure your social media strategy is multi faceted.

Thanks again, especially if you were one of the 224 people who supported our project!



Saturday, June 28, 2014

Expensive (Tradecraft)

Expensive means you don't think it's a good value.

Perhaps you don't find its utility high enough to justify the price. Perhaps you can find it cheaper elsewhere.

Expensive does not mean it costs a lot of money. A high price tag has nothing to do with whether something is the value judgment known as expensive. A Bugatti Veyron Grand Sport for a million dollars is not expensive, it's a bargain at half the MSRP. Whether you value it or not is another issue.

Expensive also has nothing to do with whether you can personally afford something, although carrying a high priced item is something a retailer needs to take into account.

From a customer perspective, this "expensive" personal problem nonsense rubs me the wrong way. Too expensive compared to what? How are you measuring that value? From a retailer perspective, we, as a group, tend to avoid high priced items for fear of it being "too expensive."

This is reinforced by the price pressures put upon us by the Internet. My feeling is the higher the price, the more likely a customer will seek it cheaper online. There is a sliding scale in my mind. I see this continually at the low end, as we sell card sleeves to people who have never bought a Magic pack from us, or when I sell far more of a $30 expansion than I sold of the $99 parent game.  This, quite frankly, is soul crushing if you think about it too much.

We should, I think, have a broad range of prices for our broad range of customers, but man, the negative reinforcement is huge. High priced items try my patience, as I deal with customer astonishment. It's one more reason why we can't have nice things.

It's an especially good reason to market your store up market. There will be customers who are not happy shopping "The Gap" of games, which is what we've been called, who would prefer The Android's Dungeon. That's fine, there's a dungeon for them somewhere. You want the other customers. Plus most Dungeon customers will put up with that annoying smell of Pine Sol and smiling staff.  If there is a shrinking middle class, retailers may need to choose sides.


Sunday, June 22, 2014

Events (Tradecraft)

Lets take a really basic look at in-store events.

Do you need events? 
The short answer is no. You can run a straight retail store. That store, however, will need to be a highly disciplined, highly diversified affair that caters to the broadest selection of customers possible. This is significantly different than an event driven store, since events tend to super charge certain games while appearing to marginalize others.

When I opened my first store, there was no event space. Ten years ago, having no event space was a reasonable thing, so the advice I got was you don't need it. Everything sold equally well. No category was more than 10% of my sales. RPGs and CCGs were equal. There are advantages to a no event space store.

For example, you can close up and go home early. You're a retailer, not an event coordinator, so when it gets dark, go home and be with your family, or go play games as the gods intended, at your kitchen table. If you have trust issues, if you can't have employees there without you getting an ulcer, if volunteer event labor makes you nervous, this is a model that can work.

Consider a slightly higher profile store location to take advantage of casual walk in customers. Be in a resort community, a college town on a main street, near a military base, or by a convention center.

If you don't have events, you absolutely must, without a doubt, master retail. You must use open to buy, turn rate analysis, sales per square foot analysis, and you must carefully monitor product demand online, as your best source of information, customers, will be a weaker amplifier than in an organized play store.

Events are also messy, figuratively and literally. Besides the literal mess, the stains on carpet, the bathrooms in need of plunging and constant cleaning, events bring human emotion into the mix. You must deal with sportsmanship, customer on customer crime, and the heightened sense of entitlement we're all used to seeing nowadays. If this sounds intolerable, events are not for you.

The good news is if you can do this, if you can master retail without events, if you ever do have events, you will be head and shoulders above your peers (provided you apply that same discipline to events). I've seen it many times and talked to other retailers in this boat.

In zen archery there's this thing called karabiki, shooting the bow without an arrow and learning technique and care for equipment until your teacher says you're ready. Zen retailing is selling merchandise, focusing on fundamentals of retail management, working to keep your store clean, well lit and safe, without events. I talked about vacuuming one million square feet before moving on to my event based store. This pays off later. Those who do this are better retailers because of their training. When all you have is inventory and space to manage, you master inventory and space.

Why you should have events
Event space is expensive. My store has 1,000 square feet of space which costs me $2,500 a month. Do my increased event based sales justify $2,500 a month?  This is a third of my rent, and rent is a third of my expenses, requiring a roughly 23% sales increase when we take into account cost of goods. Does event space increase my sales more than 23%?

When we moved from our nearly no event space store to our custom built event space retail store, something interesting happened. I figured we would need to increase sales 60% to cover the additional costs of the location. I did what any straight retailer would do, I figured out the income I would need and worked backwards through turn rate analysis to the amount of new inventory necessary to hit that number. And then I failed miserably.

The new inventory I purchased was an attempt at diversification, a dangerous activity when you're not entirely sure of the demand. My 60% increase in inventory bombed. Dead. The first year it turned at a staggeringly low, one time. Year two was one point five. It took me three years to cycle it all out. A lot of it got shipped back on a giant pallet. But I was still in business. Why? Because my event space drove sales well over 60%. Profitability came when that dead inventory was turned into useful stuff, which took time, but it was the events that kept the store in business.

Third place theory
Third place theory studies the social environment between home and work (or school). Third place psychologically allows individuals to find meaning and decompress in this in-between zone. Making your business one of these third places is deciding to assist these individuals, build a community and put up with a lot of "third space" variables that don't exist in a straight retail environment. It's an ideal place for small business, as big business is weak on these soft skills and can't possibly deal with them.

Check out these variables from the Wikipedia article on third space. You'll see they typify the good game store with event space: 


  • Free or inexpensive
  • Food and drink, while not essential, are important
  • Highly accessible: proximate for many (walking distance)
  • Involve regulars – those who habitually congregate there
  • Welcoming and comfortable
  • Both new friends and old should be found there

These are the fundamentals you want to foster in your store for that 60% increase in sales Remember, I only needed 23%, so there's profit in there somewhere, profit you can realize if you manage your inventory properly and have well managed events utilizing third space principles.

Again, if you're a misanthrope, if you've got a social anxiety disorder, or if you can't delegate because of trust issues, event space is not for you. You may go home early and turn off your phone. You win at retail, at the lowest tier.

For everyone else though, not only does it drive sales, but it builds that third space community. This community builds itself for the most part, provided you're doing all your retailing correctly and you follow the guidelines in third place theory (either intentionally or not).

Just a side note, third place theory traits are the same traits game retailers discuss incessantly at the expense of retail fundamentals. Why can't we monetize our space like a bowling alley? Snacks and drinks are so labor intensive (or our only profit center), can't we skip (or rely on) them? Why can't I put my Magic warehouse store out in the boondocks by the car dealers? Customers complain about "regulars" talking to staff at the counter, what should I do? What do I do about cliquish behavior that creeps into various events? How do I get the freeloaders to leave/buy or more new people to come? Then there are the fine tuning elements of third space event management, like reporting events, pricing, and many other variables.

Events and third space theory can absolutely dominate game trade conversation, trade show seminars, and the general consciousness of retailers. Personally? I find the skills to be soft, the problems to be confusing, and my ability to quantify and maximize them to be maddeningly difficult. Big box retailers agree with me, which means it's a small business opportunity.

I delegate my events. It's the area of my store I have the worst grasp on, the area I have to rely on good staff to manage. When everything is in order, but sales are down, I start asking a lot of event based questions. What have you heard? Why aren't they showing up? Are we priced competitively? It's also why when our community responds to our needs with overwhelming support, I'm both stunned and enormously grateful.


Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Pivot

Our expansion Kickstarter funded Monday night! We raised $28,493 from 224 backers. We will net about $19K when it's all done. I can now focus on the store again, after 60 days of digital pan handling. That's the amount of time the entire staff focused on this project, time taken away from core store issues. Most stores, including ours up until a couple years ago, are not on a program of constant improvement. When we take a long break from that, I can feel it.

The potential failure of the Kickstarter weighed heavily in this regard, a massive distraction from the core business mixed with potential "brand erosion" as we hit up our customers for money with no guarantee of success. Brand value and brand erosion were real factors in this Kickstarter. You can read about it in this article about our project, by Scott Thorne. I should also mention we have a great deal of respect and gratitude for our customers, including those who didn't pledge. You are still our focus, something this sideshow distracted us from.

The project was expensive. There were $6,000 in sunk Kickstarter costs and $10,000 spent on exploring the construction, a project ongoing since last Summer. Failure meant we had lost $16,000, some of that debt. By succeeding, hopefully the distraction will be forgiven when we launch our new event space. The money will sort itself out too. For a while, I was considering how to disengage from this project, selling my car to get out from under the construction loan if the Kickstarter hadn't worked. Thankfully I'll be keeping my car.

There was personal soul searching as well. After ten years, I decided I was ready for the Next Thing. That Next Thing would be this expansion. If the Kickstarter failed, the logic went, the customers were voting against expansion as the Next Thing. That meant I would need a new Next Thing. So mid Kickstarter I was considering all kinds of alternatives, mostly in the realm of a second business or second store.

While in the Kickstarter doldrums, I pitched a new business plan to a good friend and business partner of mine. With much love and care, he told me to stop, talking me off the ledge and putting me on the path of fund raising. While most Kickstarters are Internet based and use that medium to raise funds, we had backers I knew, with phone numbers, and existing relationships. The active fund raising resuscitated the project and changed my attitude. When my friend pointed out that fund raising was inherently political, it all started to make sense. The Kickstarter, personally, was a re-election campaign.

Nine backers pledged at the Game Store Rescue: Blog level. Once the funds are reconciled, I'll be contacting those nine people to figure out what they want me to write about. When I've asked people to submit topics in the past, I usually get wildly interesting ideas, both specific and general. I look forward to this.

We also sold all five of our Game Store Rescue: Remote Consultant tiers, along with one On Site pledge. I'm looking forward to helping those stores and the insights I'll gain from the experience. You'll also see some game stores listed on our Order of Knighthood wall as well, when that's up, including on of my favorites, Gamescape North.

A good number of publishers will be up there, including our largest donor, Paizo (Pathfinder RPG). I owe Lisa Stevens and Erik Mona a special thanks for their support. Atlas Games was a big contributor. Wolfgang Bauer at Kobold Press, was essential in helping hunt down an author for our Pathfinder adventure. Amber Scott is busy writing Into the Pit right now. Gabriel Vega's Pacificon had a clever matching fund marketing program.

As a blog side note, we hit 1,000,000 page views this week, a number I've watched creep up for years. It's meaningless really. Nowadays, page views are primarily spam based, which is unfortunate. I removed the "top posts" link, since it had become largely irrelevant.

Thanks again!