Thursday, November 29, 2007
You can buy too few of an item and lose sales. You could have found me scrambling late this afternoon trying to buy boxes of Magic cards for Friday, after we had a run on Lorwyn booster boxes at the store. Customers will accept the occasional special order once in a while, but you generally need to be pretty spot on with their needs. Besides service, availability of product is a key selling point of a brick-and-mortar store.
Our Games Workshop inventory was a good example. We ramped up our inventory very quickly when we moved, roughly double what we started with. At first, we had 90% of requests, with 5% no longer available and the final 5% stuff we didn't stock that we could special order. 90% is not bad. With a GW store a mile away, 90% is death. With a GW store 15 miles away, like now, 90% might work, but 95%+ would be better.
Shorting inventory can result in a death spiral; sales fall, you stop re-ordering because sales are low, sales fall because you have less inventory and the cycle repeats. Customers learn you're not serious about their game and they stop shopping at your store. This happened recently at a now defunct local game store. The owner got the idea that special orders could save him inventory dollars and he began shrinking down his inventory until sales tanked and customers left forever. I worry about this all the time.
Buy too much of something and you obviously have money tied up in slow moving product. A good moving game will sell four or more copies each year. Now look at a company like Pressman Games, who only sell their games direct to game stores in case quantities of six or twelve. Do I really need an 18-36 month supply of a game? How about every game they make? If you want to sell me 6 copies of your game, you better assure me it's an above average seller. I would prefer no more than a six month supply, preferably two weeks (one copy of most everything). Lost sales aren't as glaring an error as overstock, but you always wonder what could have been.
One of the key functions of distributors is to keep game stores supplied with games, one copy at a time. In the case of this particular painting book, my sales of 20/year suddenly dropped to five a year. Five a year is very good, but those ten copies haunted me since late 2005, a constant reminder not to order too deeply (that and the eight copies of Oshi I still have).
You shouldn't expect a specialty store to have a lot of duplicate stock. I ran a report on my board games yesterday and I've got over 850 boxes on the shelf. How many of those are duplicate titles? I would say there are maybe twenty games that I stock deeper than one. One is the perfect number for 99% of games, since the next copy is only a couple days away. Big box shoppers find the single box suspicious. I learned this from my mother. What's wrong with this game that there's only one copy? Is it damaged? Is it no good? Is it the last one before it's gone forever? In a business where four sales a year of a product is a success, two copies of a game is a 6-month supply in a just-in-time world.
Oh yeah, and four a year is an average. Settlers of Catan probably sells 35-40 times a year. I just bought 25 copies of Blokus for December. These top sellers make up for the slow turners, the ones and twos. I usually drop single turn board games after they've sold, but so many new ones come out, there are plenty of disappointments that need to be culled from the herd on a regular basis. The unfortunate realities of the board game market is that good games can sell very slowly, yet I don't get as many special orders as I would like.
The board game department is especially prone to the "throw it against the wall and see if it sticks" method of stocking. Savvy board gamers research before they shop. I'll always give a good recommendation, but people don't always listen to me. That's a good thing too, because I know the turkeys and someone eventually picks them up, usually in December. Muggles don't listen to me. They'll buy a board game based on the cover art or the theme. I'll tell them which pirate game is good (Pirate's Cove) and which are bad (all the others!), but they don't listen. They'll buy the bad one even when I say it's bad. I know I'm not supposed to do this, but they buy the bad ones so often that it doesn't seem to matter.
There are few truly bad games out there. I usually do enough research to avoid those. Then there are games that I think are bad, that just appeal to a different audience. Munchkin is an atrocious game if you're a Euro board game snob, but it might be the funniest game you've ever placed with your D&D group. Boardgamegeek.com gives it a 5 on a scale of one to ten, a score not worthy of store presence. Those crappy pirate games that the muggles buy are bad, around-the-board, brain-dead Monopoly rip-offs, but they get bought faster than the good ones. The problem with those 800+ board games is that the bar is exceptionally high. You have to be in the top 20% to even stand a chance. In BGG terms, that's an 8.0 or better, a plateau inhabited by a dozen games or so.
I'm writing too much. This is what happens when I exceed my Netflix Watch Instantly quota.
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
With the family gone in Alaska and me suffering a cold, I've been leaving early each day to recuperate at home with my ogres. I painted thirteen since Thanksgiving, with about a dozen left, including those pesky trapper gnoblars.
I've also discovered the "watch instantly" Netflix feature. I consume mass amounts of TV when I'm sick, and since I've given it up, it means lots of Netflix. Netflix is self-limiting, thankfully, but "watch instantly" allows me to gorge on mostly schlock. Some notables: The Office is growing on me. Jeremiah is mildly entertaining, although it seems so dark and self-loathing that it's always a downer. For the most part, the free stuff is either socially relevant and important, meaning someone insisted it be available to watch, or it's the bottom of the barrel, middling stuff you may have rented in 1985.
Finally, if you're a D&D fan, you'll probably love the direction some of the new feats are taken. Remember those lame feats that only NPC's chose? Check them out now:
Benefit: When you take this feat, you gain additional hit points equal to your level + 3. You also gain 1 additional hit point every time you gain a level.
Benefit: You don’t grant enemies combat advantage in surprise rounds.
You also gain a +2 feat bonus to Perception checks.
Benefit: If you are surprised, you may spend an action point to act during the surprise round.
Monday, November 26, 2007
By the way, the current method of meddling is to tax big businesses while leaving small ones alone. Activists now understand that a large percentage of business in this country is small business, so they figure people don't mind sticking it to the man, when the man is a corporation. San Francisco targeted businesses doing more than a million dollars a year. That's big, right? Not that big.
A million dollar a year retail business is only netting an owner $80,000, doing our sales tax estimate as a profit guide. In any case, the grocers were the target and they hit the mark. I live in Richmond and people were canvassing the streets yesterday with a measure to stick it to the refineries (again). This failed dramatically last year, but they don't give up. Hey, the evil multinational is big and has money and we don't, why not make them pay more? They need to remember that in today's economy, most people are shareholders beyond what they do for a living. Anyone with a 401K or IRA should worry about sticking it to the man. You're the man too.
Back to Bags
Bags are expensive. Yes, the grocery stores pay 2-3 cents per bag, but those are those flimsy, American Beauty blowing in the wind style bags. The die cut plastic bags we use are 15-32 cents each and are meant to last a while and be pretty. Paper is not much cheaper. The real cost for us is printing, which will often double or triple the price of a bag. There's usually a minimum order of a thousand dollars or more, which is why you currently see us with unprinted bags or the old bags until they're gone. Our large paper shopper bags with handles cost about 55 cents each including printing, so we'll be using those until they're gone, even though it has the old address on it. Know that when I ask a customer if they want a bag, I'm hoping they say no. Often they'll say they'll take one in a way that sounds like they're giving in to my pressure. That's definitely not the case.
Plastic bags are made from oil, consuming about 4% of the worlds supply. They can't be recycled so end up in landfills or clogging waterways. As one article pointed out, there are recyclable bags available, but why use the energy to recycle a plastic bag when you can just not use it in the first place? Recyclable plastic bags are 4-5 times as expensive as non-recycled plastic bags. Paper bags are not immune from criticism either. Our beautiful white paper bags are bleached, which adds costs to the recycling process. The cost of the cheapest non-bleached bag for me is 3.9 cents, compared to a 4.3 cent for a white bag. That's why you see so many of the nice white bags, it's an insignificant cost up front. Retailers don't pay directly for the recycling costs.
I'm convinced, without having the decision imposed on me by my local government, that we should drop plastic bags. We'll stop ordering them when they're gone. We just stocked up for the holidays, so that will be six months or so. In the future I'll have to see how detrimental those white bags are compared to natural brown bags. My original ideas on bags and merchandising came from old school examples, stores that I though were classy and cool. Now we obviously need to change with the times. Customers especially will have to be more aware of the costs of things like bags, and what makes a good or bad bag. Better yet, do what a few of my customers do and bring your own bag.
Sunday, November 25, 2007
We had 12 players:
Some of our players traveled a good distance to play, but we're hoping to revive our Flames of War nights. Flames of War is our one miniature game that hasn't taken off since the move. As you can see by the photos, there are plenty of people playing and our facilities are up for the task.
Saturday, November 24, 2007
So did the Fry's customers result in sales? Not really. There were lots of people who gave us a shot, shopping the store even though they wouldn't have normally come as a separate trip. For the most part, they didn't buy anything. Many of the muggles set their kids loose in the store to entertain themselves while they relaxed before their next insane shopping trip. Highly annoying. For the most part, Black Friday was an average sales Friday with a high nuisance factor. I'm also guessing the parking situation discouraged regular customers, but as I said the game center was full, so customers found parking somewhere.
I'm home sick today with a cold, but I'm confident our usual sales patterns will prevail, with holiday sales starting in earnest in December (next Saturday). I also took they advice from Joe and others and bulked up my 40K inventory.
Thursday, November 22, 2007
It occurred to me this morning that I've vacuumed about a million square feet of carpet in the last store. That's about ten Wal-Marts. I went through three vacuum cleaners in the process, an appliance I've learned is disposable in a retail setting. I can recall how it made me feel. At first I was elated to be running my own business. Then it turned to dread, as I found myself losing money, with student loans, a family and a mortgage, yet I was stuck with this vacuum cleaner. Eventually there was acceptance, and a return to pride, knowing that this was an integral part of running my business.
The Tibetan Buddhists have a similar spiritual practice for new adherents. They do 100,000 prostrations. That's several hundred miles! From a standing position, they drop down to their knees and bend all the way over to the floor. It's an exercise in humility, yet it also channels their energies for the task at hand. It's also a great weight loss program. Spiritual practice, like retail, is all about finding meaning and value in boredom and everyday activity. There are no quick results or ultimate breakthroughs.
Perhaps a new store owner should work on vacuuming, possibly a million square feet, before opening their store. I'm imagining this would be done in their retail career, working for someone else. I'm also beginning to think there's something relevant in the task for new employees. I now consider an employee with a vacuuming problem to be a serious issue, like counting change wrong or not greeting customers. It's an attitude problem that goes beyond training.
I better stop rambling and go get some glue!
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
Rather than compete with thousands of stores fighting for their very survival, with their loss leaders and millions of advertising dollars, specialty stores that aren't in malls treat Black Friday like any other Friday. Black Friday for us tends to be a slightly lower than average Friday, although this year we're curious to see if we get any Fry's overflow. Sales in November are actually pretty good, up modestly from the rest of the year, but the early holiday shoppers are offset by regular customers, forbidden by their families to buy more stuff until after Christmas.
Most specialty stores will tell you that the holiday season is not their big season. Summer is game season, when kids are out of school and adults are looking for a hobby. It's not that the holidays are insignificant and there's no reason to prepare, December is our best month by far, roughly 30% higher than our average month. However, this doesn't compare to the Black Friday retailers who see December as 30-50% or more of their annual sales. That's a huge difference.
There are several characteristics of the holiday season specific to specialty game stores. First, the time period. Our holiday season starts promptly in December. December 1st is Saturday this year, and I imagine we'll see some good sales that day, but not great. By December 8th, we'll have spent a week and a half with moderately strong sales. By the 15th, the Saturday before Christmas weekend, we'll be wishing for it to stop (not really). Sales will now be double our average. This will continue through to Christmas Eve, with every day's sales like what we say on an average Saturday, our best day. Christmas is not the end though.
Grandma Money is the term we use to describe customers who come in after Christmas to buy what they really want. They either get money as a gift, or nowadays the growing trend of gift cards. We offer gift certificates, by the way, but credit card based gift cards are a large part of our post-holiday sales. Our regular customers, now unchained by their loved ones, are free to shop for what they didn't get for Christmas.
As a kid, I often asked for a variety of games that I never got. Gaming was not encouraged by my mother, so I mostly got things I didn't ask for. I would spend December 26th returning stuff and using the money to buy what was on my list. The same thing happens at the store. Our holiday season extends out to around mid-January, as our customer base returns, but this time with cash in hand. After mid-January, gift cards and grandma money spent, it all comes crashing to a halt, depression sets in, and we once again have to sell things to people rather than just stock them. That's when I try to go on vacation.
The big sellers during the holiday season are board games. We have over 500 of them, but there are usually a couple dozen that sell in large quantities of ten or more. This is the department that gets most of the money for stocking up. Miniature game starters, and bread and butter stuff, like D&D core books are important, but they generally don't sell so fast that we need to stock them deeper. Just-in-Time inventory still works in December, although there are always popular games that the distributors will run out of. Which ones is anybodies guess and we're all pouring over our sales data from last year to make sure we're at least stocked reasonably well on best sellers. A 30% blip in sales is very important, but you don't want to go nuts on inventory. We generally increase our inventory by 5-7%. Again, this is enough to cover those increased sales of things we'll be selling many, many copies of.
During this period we'll be re-ordering stock daily. Most of the extra help I need during the holidays is to take over for me while I receive the daily re-stock. Toys are new for us this year, and some will not be available for re-stock until next year. The Thomas stuff, especially, is a blow out category. I won't be shipping from Canada until it's fairly well depleted. Melissa & Doug stuff is all made in China, and re-stocking is already difficult. During the holidays I'm guessing it will stop completely. If you're shopping for toys this holiday season, shop early.
For you aspiring store owners, if you have any love for the holidays or enjoy seeing your family during this time, don't go into retail. This is a period when store owners work every day, including late on Christmas Eve. It's also hard to get into the spirit when you're dealing with a metric buttload of customers who don't want to be in your store, know nothing about your hobby and don't want to know, and generally can't be guided to a reasonable purchase. I won't say I actively dislike these people, aka the general public, but I wouldn't do this if they came into my store every day. What you end up hoping for is a customer who walks in gazing down at a shopping list, one that you can take from them fill completely, and send them on their way. They hope for that too.
Sunday, November 18, 2007
There are changes going on in the game industry that are upsetting its very structure. The cost of oil has thrown a monkey wrench into the works and it's threatening to break the model (I hope). In econo-speak, the game industry model doesn't deal well with inflationary pressures. Everyone is feeling their costs rise substantially due to the cost of oil, fuel for the trucks and ships that move the games we play. Because of the flawed industry structure, everyone is expected to pass on these costs, except the retailer.
Starting at the beginning of this problem, the game industry is stuck in a discount/freight mode. They're obsessed with discounts, which translate to margins. Margins have shrunk over time, but the baseline margin nowadays is 50%, referred to in retail as keystone. Most store owners believe 50% is necessary for survival, although overall, across all lines, we're around 45-47%. This is considered a trend that has harmed the retail tier of the industry.
For example, When I buy a $50 board game for my store, I expect to pay $25. We've gone over this before, but there is a small profit inherent in that $50 purchase, around $4 or so. Squeeze that 5% margin by selling me that game at $27.50, like Days of Wonder does, and the store makes significantly less money.
The problem at the manufacturing end is the cost of production has gone up and they're afraid to raise their retail prices. Rather than raise that $50 game to $52.50, possibly alienating their customers, they attempt to squeeze that money out through the tiers of the industry, lowering the margins for the distributors and ultimately the retail store. In the case of Days of Wonder and their train games, they did both. The retail store can try to raise the game to $52.5o, and I often do, but the concept of an MSRP, a manufacturers suggested retail price, widely known and available, makes this difficult. How do you compete with an online discounter that sells a $50 board game at 30% off when you sell it for even more than the established retail price? I don't think it's an option.
This assumes a certain level of good will on the part of the manufacturer. The general feeling is that manufacturers are all hoping to one day lower discounts and put retailers over a barrel once the retailer can't do without their product. I think is is generally not the case, but certain companies (cough, Upper Deck, cough), deal in such predatory price practices that it tarnishes the industry and makes retailers suspicious. For example, the World of Warcraft card game had a reasonable, albeit low, discount when it first came out, but since then the margins have been squeezed by Upper Deck. You want the next release? We'll you'll pay a couple bucks more now. That doesn't exactly build good will (bastards).
Distributors have been loathe to meddle with discounts too much, because they're much more replaceable than a top selling board game. If one distributor mucks around, I can go with another, and I often do, even with the distributors that I love. There are lists of items that I buy from only one distributor because of their prices and some items go back and forth as discounts and retail prices ebb and flow. Although the number of distributors is shrinking each year, there are still a good number of options. Instead, distributors have discovered a more transparent mode of passing on their costs, shipping.
Part of the odd game industry discount structure is the use of free freight as an incentive. If you buy $300-$350 in games at one time, they'll ship it for free. The cost of shipping has gone up tremendously, leaving the distributors and manufacturers in a pickle. Shipping is no longer an incidental expense. They've been forced to adjust their free freight limits or add flat fees to their "free shipping." For example, Wizards of the Coast has free freight at $300, but there's now a $5 charge on all orders. At least this seems honest.
So what's the solution? Ah hah! I actually have a solution this time! The solution is to dump discounts and MSRPs. In the game industry, items outside of the discount model are known as NPI's, or Net Priced Items. Everyone pays the same for these items and the retailer can choose how much to charge for it. Let the market set the price. Net priced items are usually black sheep, mass market schlock, and often close in price to what you would pay at Wal-Mart. It's the industry's way of saying, "Look, you asked us for this crap, and we paid an arm and a leg because we have no leverage, so here it is dufus, do with it as you wish."
Net priced items work well, provided the manufacturer/publisher doesn't declare a MSRP. There's more than one way to make such a declaration. For example, the World of Warcraft CCG came out as a net priced item, but Upper Deck sold the cards on their website at a certain price, creating a de-facto MSRP. That MSRP put the discount at around 38-40%; total crap. Net priced items only work when everyone is on board with them.
CCG's are a good example, since all CCG's are net priced items in the marketplace. The discounts have been so marginal for so long and the online price pressures so effective in pushing down prices, that the price of CCG's vary tremendously from store to store, even in the same town. One store may sell a booster pack for $3.99, while another without much local competition or next to a school might sell it for $4.99. Boxes of cards are all over the map too, with $145 boxes of cards sold online for $5 over cost. It's what the market will bear and it sorts itself out.
For example, I sell single packs of Magic for $3.99 and boxes of 36 for $99.99. I sell WAY more single packs, despite the average cost of boosters bought by the box being $2.78. I've learned that pack customers and box customers have different price expectations. I learned this on my own, through trial and error, without a distributor telling me what to do. I learned that $109.99 is too much for a box and nobody will buy a single Magic booster for $4.19 (although you can do this with games played by younger kids). The retail price of a booster is set in stone in the customers mind, reinforced by the MSRP, while the retail price of a box of boosters is more fluid.
The toy industry is a good example of net priced items. The whole concept of discount and net priced items and free freight don't exist. There is the wholesale price. In fact, they just say the price. Everyone knows it's wholesale, we didn't just fall off turnip trucks. The price I pay for the Love Me Tender singing Thomas the Tank Engine is $10. I can charge $20 if I think a 50% margin is a good markup and my competitors are priced similarly.
As for free freight, I always pay for shipping, unless I'm getting a special promotion. I can choose to add freight costs into the price, probably adding another 5%, but I can adjust as shipping costs rise. I would be foolish not to, unless competition forced me into it. I might charge $22 for Elvis Thomas if I think the market can bear it, and when shopping at toy stores, I see the range of prices. Nobody blinks. Nobody throws a fit in the train aisle claiming Love Me Tender Elvis has a clear MSRP of $20.
Unfortunately, I don't know how the industry can do this unless the biggest distributor, Alliance, simply does it. Or maybe Hasbro (aka Wizards of the Coast, Avalon Hill, etc.) does it. It scares the hell out of many retailers, but I would welcome it.
All of the tasks performed at a game store can be divided into the categories of clerk, manager or owner. The owner of a small store does all these tasks. That's what I did my first three years at the old store, everything from vacuuming to finance. I'm lucky enough with the larger store to be able to delegate a lot of my clerk duties. Eventually I want to grow large enough to delegate my manager responsibilities too.
Here's a brief overview of tasks:
Clerks: Loss prevention, sales, cleaning
Managers: Loss prevention, sales, purchasing, receiving, payroll, scheduling, displays, management of clerks
Owners: Loss prevention, sales, accounting, marketing, business strategy, management of managers
Dave Wallace has an excellent Manager's Handbook that goes into great detail.
Note that the key tasks of loss prevention and sales are done by everyone. Everyone sells unless the business is so large that the owners other responsibilities don't allow for it. Few game stores ever get to that level. Part of sales is preventing stuff from walking away, so loss prevention is always key. An owner may approach loss prevention more strategically, like planning regular inventories or changing product placement.
When I wear my owner hat I'm usually paying bills or figuring out finances, dealing with vendors, writing policies or procedures, developing my marketing plan or event schedule, or general business strategy projects. The main reason I think businesses fail is that owner tasks are never given the proper time they deserve. I know they often seem like a nuisance, divorced from day-to-day operations. As E-Myth Revisited says, "work on your business instead of in you business."
If you want to own a successful game store, own one because you love the idea of doing owners tasks, not because you love clerk or manager tasks. Definitely don't plan to own one if clerk and manager responsibilities seem beneath you. The brutal shock to your ego could be life threatening.
When I began my business, I fully intended to do 100% owners tasks. I thought I would be in the back room putting my plans for empire into play. I would hire clerks and managers to do the dirty work. The reality is an owner needs to understand every element of the business before they can develop policies to hand them off, if they're lucky enough to do so. The dirty work is the business. Learning and development take time and experience. Unless you're a genius or rich, you will have to quit your day job.
You also have to look at the list of owners tasks and ask yourself what you're getting our of such a job. You've created a business management position without the payoff associated with such a high stress, knowledge-based positions. As many have observed, anyone successful in this business could easily find themselves a job making significantly more money elsewhere. Most entrepreneurs, so I'm told, thrive on the owners tasks and have the trait of being nearly incapable of working for other people.
Here's a good article on Opening a Game Store.
Saturday, November 17, 2007
The miniature tables were packed most of the day with Warmachine, Warhammer 40K, Warhammer Fantasy and various collectible miniature games. Our Star Wars Force Unleashed tournament is currently underway. Turn-out has been slow this week for all events, as people begin thinking about the holidays, so it worked out well that we combined activities in one day.
Here are some photos:
Friday, November 16, 2007
- MTG - Lorwyn - booster pack
- MTG - Lorwyn - theme deck
- MTG - Lorwyn - tournament deck
- Warhammer 40k: Apocalypse
- Mexican Coca Cola
- Panzer Lehr Army Box
- Cygnar: Storm Lances Unit Box
- Space Marines Emperor's Fist
- Imperial Guard Baneblade
- Multi-Activity Table
- Warhammer 40K
- Flames of War
- Wizards of the Coast D&D
- Fantasy Flight Games
- Warhammer Fantasy
- Days of Wonder
Thursday, November 15, 2007
- AT&T (the phone company)
- Crack heads
The survey of 2,565 U.S. adults conducted between October 9th and 15th found that one third of Americans plan to buy fewer toys this holiday season, 45% plan to buy fewer toys manufactured in China, and 40% plan to buy fewer toys from brands that have been recalled.
The impact was higher in higher income groups, with members of households with incomes over $50,000 a year significantly more likely to reduce toy purchases over-all, purchases of toys made in
, and purchases of toy brands that have been recalled than members of households with incomes below $50,000. China
I've had a few customers ask where our toys are made, but only one person flat out refuse to buy anything made in China. At the moment, 100% of our toys are made in China, mostly because we've only brought in a few top brands. Games, on the other hand, don't suffer this stigma, nor are they universally made in China.
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
This was the old laptop, the creaky Thinkpad that I decided to replace this week. There was no customer data on it, and all my business data was synchronized to the server that morning. The only data I lost were some Army Builder and E-Tools files; army lists and characters. No big deal. The annoying part, besides getting ripped off for the second time in four months, is that I had to cancel my Dell order. It was still three weeks out and I needed a laptop.
I went to Fry's, since it's so close. Within about five minutes I found a Fujitsu A6030 laptop that met all my requirements. I commented to the salespeople how effortless this process had been, considering I spent an afternoon configuring my Dell online before the hassle of buying it.
Then the ordeal began. Their inventory control system had the laptop in stock, but nobody could find them. They tried to sell me other laptops, never asking what I really needed. There were big ones, small ones, fast ones, slow ones. Eventually I offered to buy another one that didn't exist. Then the floor model. Then they finally found the original one in the return department.
The laptop was 5% off the retail price because of the open box, but in typical Fry's fashion, I had to stand in line to get a sticker. Their Person-In-Charge (PIC), the only one authorized to use the sticker machine apparently, was nowhere to be found. Having played Flames of War, I asked for the 2IC, but they didn't get it. After fifteen minutes, the PIC arrived and gave me a new price sticker. It was $1.50 more! Outrage ensued and arguments about what a retail price and reduced price and open box price meant. Eventually, needing this thing and having invested my time, I bought it anyway.
On the way out, the guy who squiggles highlighter on receipts, a failed art major or something, asked if everything was alright. I was still angry, so I gave him my $1.50 story. He assured me that it was a mistake and I shouldn't be paying that extra $1.50. I told him enough of my time had been wasted and I wasn't going to go through another line for a freakin' $1.50. However, he was insistent, no sir, he tells me, we must fix this. He walks away with my receipt mumbling about a form he needs to fill out. I'm not about to leave Fry's without a receipt, knowing the merciless nature of their returns department. Ten minutes later he returns as I'm standing there highly annoyed with this open box laptop with three conflicting price stickers on it. He's satisfied, but I don't even get my $1.50.
On the positive side, this laptop is fantastic. It's fast, clean, solid, and I bought it with a cable lock so it stays with me for a while. The only trouble so far is Windows Vista, which I find infuriatingly obtuse. I've had to open up DOS prompts to find what I'm looking for. So far I haven't found the option to restore it completely to something familiar. XP had the option to make it look like Windows 2000, but I think Vista only makes it look like XP (which I always dump within minutes of setting up a new PC). I came from IT, and I'm even Windows XP certified from Microsoft (an MCSE requirement), so I like knowing what I'm doing. Vista feels much more like a Linux shell than Windows. I'm assured by my IT friends that Vista has greatly enhanced stability over XP, so perhaps it's worth it.
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
As discussed before, CCG customers are mercenary, and they'll buy product from whoever has it first or at the lowest price (or both). At our store we have weekly Yu-Gi-Oh tournaments, requiring customers to buy one pack to play. They almost all buy exactly one pack, the bulk of our weekly Yu-Gi-Oh sales. These aren't seven year olds; these are guys who drove themselves to the store.
The game industry trend with street dates now is to break them by giving product early to the mass market, then apologize, then break the date again. It sounds cynical, but it's almost a mark of pride that a company can do this and get attention. Cross Target or Wal-Mart and you're out a lucrative deal. Cross the hobby trade and you just piss people off who will sell your product anyway, as long as it makes them money.
That animosity is mostly invisible as long as that product sells itself. Where it undermines the company is when the demand for the product softens and the company would like the retailer to strengthen the brand. Organized play, game demos, product placement, the retailer honoring street dates etc., are not important for a game that sells itself, but watch what happens as the brand softens. It takes years to re-build and most companies are gone before they get the chance.
Monday, November 12, 2007
A brief update in Rich Baker's blog: he's working on the Monster Manual, specifically writing what he calls "mission statements" for various monsters. That includes guidelines to "help the DM with target designation" for monsters (like attacking the nearest enemy, or attacking whomever damaged it the most). Baker is also working on morale notes for monsters -- which "are likely to run away when they're hurt, and which are fanatical or bloodthirsty enough to fight to the death."
One of my pet peeves of D&D is the complexity of high level play. High challenge rating (CR) monsters can have several pages of description that the DM has to manage. Players often win because the DM forgot the dragon was immune to cold iron or spells starting with the letter "M." It's often player success through management failure. There's just too much information to manage.
Worse, most players desire high level play, while most DM's loathe it. Because of this, we have a constant battle of players against DM, where the player is striving for the higher levels and more experience and the DM prolongs the low-level manageability of the game. Third edition had a mid-level "sweet spot," while fourth edition designers have vowed to make every level sweet.
A mission statement for monsters not only gives the DM guidance on how the monster fights, but it makes it more logical that the monster is there at all. Tactics are critical as well. The example given at Enworld was the beholder. It's a monster that has three main attacks: bite (lame), anti-magic (powerful), and various ray attacks (extremely powerful). How do you know when to use each? DM's are confused. Players usually just run away, mostly because the thing is too dangerous and unpredictable (no defined tactics). It's a swirling ball of doom.
There is the argument that these defined tactics and purposes takes some of the choice out of the game. We get back to the complaint that D&D 4 sounds like a video game. If being like a video game means 4.0 is logical and systematic, I'm all for it. Not only does it help existing players, but it will inevitably bring new ones to the hobby.
Role-playing is such a subjective hodge-podge, that it turns a lot of people off, including other gamers. There are many miniature gamers and board gamers who look askance at RPG's because they seem illogical, subjective, soft, as if we make the rules up as we go along. If we can at least make the combat more systematic, I think the game will attract more players, maybe even the millions of World of Warcraft players, whose only gaming experience has been their predictable online world.
A more systematic game will also reduce prep time for beleaguered DM's. My observation is this: DM's are very bright. Being a DM takes management skills and resources to purchase the majority of gaming material. Such a person is capable, and capable people end up with things like good jobs, families, and community responsibilities. They are the exact people likely to quit gaming and bring down their group with them. Make their job easier, and you preserve the game by preserving gaming groups. As a DM, before I had a family, I used to put in 1 hour of prep time for every 2 hours of play, or if I was bored, maybe 1:1. Now it's something like 1:4. Make the DM's job easier to prepare for the game and we'll have more games.
Sunday, November 11, 2007
I went ahead and ordered a new Dell laptop. They're having a $500 off special this week, along with free shipping, and no interest for 90 days with Dell credit, and a $150 gift certificate. This required me to configure a fairly high end setup before they would kick in the $500 ($1,400 gets you $500 off). I found the $500 off coupon on a laptop review site.
Rather than buying a re-furbished solid business laptop that was only slightly better than my current dying model, for a hundred bucks more I got a screaming machine that should last for years. I think the only way to go with a computer is to buy (or build) them pretty close to state of the art, so it irked me that I wasn't finding something significantly better than what I have. This is significantly better:
Intel® Core™ 2 Duo T7500 (2.2GHz/800Mhz FSB/4MB cache)
Genuine Windows Vista® Ultimate Edition
High Resolution, glossy widescreen 15.4 inch display (1440x900)
Intel Graphics Media Accelerator X3100
2GB Shared Dual Channel DDR2 at 667MHz
120GB SATA Hard Drive (7200RPM)
CD / DVD writer (DVD+/-RW Drive)
Intel® 3945 802.11a/g Mini-card
Built-in Bluetooth capability (2.0 EDR)
High Definition Audio 2.0
Here's a link to a cool Dell commercial featuring the various colors.
Besides lots of "open" gaming, meaning whatever people bring or want to play, we've got a couple structured events as well. Days of Wonder has helped set us up with a Battlelore tournament. We've got extra copies of the game and prize support from Days of Wonder and Richard Borg, the game's creator. We sponsored Richard Borg at Conquest San Francisco this year and he gave us some extra Battlelore miniatures that he signed. He's a very nice guy, by the way, and an excellent salesman.
In the evening we've got a Star Wars miniatures tournament. It's not officially a board game, but hey, it's played on a regular table. It's been many months since the last Star Wars release, and this "sealed pack" tournament celebrates the new Force Unleashed set that comes out Friday.
We've got a couple of board game companies in attendance. Blue-Orange will be there with their excellent wooden children's games, such as Gobblet, Coocoo the Clown, and many others. The kids should enjoy this and it might give you some ideas for holiday presents. Tablestar will be there featuring their games as well, such as their Herocard system.
Our board game "ding & dent" shipment sold very well at our auction yesterday. About a third of our shipment went unsold. Many were duplicates of some very good games. Rather than put them out this week for regular sale, we're going to begin selling them next weekend, so convention attendees can get first shot at them.
Stop by for an hour or the entire weekend and enjoy some excellent gaming!
I used to have fancy cars, but the item that makes me feel like the movie guy is my laptop. It was once state-of-the-art. It's an IBM Thinkpad T60 that I bought as an IT consultant about 5 years ago. It cost me a small fortune, about $2500 at the time, but back then it was about geek-cred, having the most technologically sophisticated laptop, cell phone, you name it.
My amazing cell phone was a victim of the AT&T and Cingular merger. My infant son sucked on my wife's cheapo free-with-service cell phone and when I went to get a replacement, they couldn't give her another phone without replacing mine. My $300 Nokia, folding-keyboard, bluetooth, world-phone became a paper weight. Actually it became a toy for my son to suck on. What's even more sad is that my $30 replacement phone has most of the features of it's high end replacement.
Five years after I bought the laptop, it's still as powerful as most budget models, or at least it would be if it wasn't so nearly broken. The motherboard only reads half the memory, so my 1GB of RAM only works as 512MB. The two PC-card slots, still referred to in painful acronym speak back then, only has one working slot available. The near final straw is the keyboard. The "e" key doesn't work well. It's probably sticky from one too many IT lunches eaten at my desk so I could leave my soul-sucking job 30 minutes earlier.
I'm shopping for a Dell, most likely a refurbished Vostro laptop. As most of these computers are only slightly more powerful than my aging Thinkpad, it's hard to justify the expense unless that "e" goes for good. Half dead also means half alive.
Saturday, November 10, 2007
Attendance was pretty good for the first time, about 20-30 people. If we had relied on customer supplied items for auction, it would have been disappointing, but there was enough store stuff to make it worthwhile. About a third of what we sold were ding & dent board games we had just received. Another third was a customer's collection of 20 boxes of mint condition role-playing games. The last third was where we had the most flavor: customers brought in old Warhammer and Chainmail miniatures, war games from days past, miscellaneous role-playing books. Some of this stuff was junk and got no bids, while others surprised even their owners.
Best of all was when the owner of the item stood up to pitch their game. They gave honest reviews of how their game gave them endless hours of fun or how it might make a great gift, implying it probably wouldn't be fun for gamers like us. There was something real and endearing about the process. There's some love there when gamers talk about their games.
Many of the auctions were in lots of multiple games. Although we frown upon people selling stuff in the store (that's our job), I heard afterwards that there was a lively post-auction trade, a kind of secondary market. Auction winners were selling off the odds and ends of each lot that didn't interest them. Many treasures were found this way I was told.
People were concerned that we weren't making money at this. Some suggested we charge a small entrance fee to bid on items. Don't worry about us. Here's how it works: Joe sells his 40K collection for $100 at the auction. John buys it. John pays his $100 to the store. The store then gives Joe a $100 gift certificate for his auction item. Joe then buys $100 of 40K with his gift certificate, because he can't help himself. The store gets the gross profit from that $100 sale of 40K. In this case, $45. It was one of our best sales days ever.
Friday, November 9, 2007
This Saturday is Black Diamond Games first in-store auction. We're featuring thousands of dollars of "ding & dent" board games starting at 10% of their retail price. Bid on a Tide of Iron board game starting at $8 or Settlers of Catan at $4.
Bring your own games or painted armies to auction off or come and pick up some bargains! Got an old Warhammer army you're not using? Sell it at auction for store credit so you can buy stuff for your current game, or toys and games for the holidays. You set the minimum bid and control the type of auction.
We also just received 20 boxes of mint role-playing games from many different systems, also starting at rock bottom prices.
The auction starts promptly at noon with sign-up auction items. The live auction will proceed a little later. If you have stuff to sell, please arrive no later than 11am (we open at 10am).
See you at the store!
- John Nephew, who was being smeared for designing irreverent card games, won his election in Minnesota.
- An interview with Gordon Brown's attorney about what happened with the mistrial and where the case goes now.
- Not an update, but Winona Ryder will play spock's mother in the new Star Trek. Growing up lusting after her, I would have hoped for something a little sexier. Ok, I saw that, stop judging me! ;)
D20 has meant a book was compatible with D&D 3 or 3.5 (sometimes unclear which). You could drop it directly into your D&D game. OGL was usually used for games with D&D ideas in them, often for books that had alternative class advancement, like Conan or Thieves World. They've both been used for purposes other than this, like D20 products that were compatible with other WOTC games or OGL used for unrelated licensing and distribution of a game product. For example, Spirit of the Century contains an OGL license but has nothing to do with D&D or Wizards of the Coast. Confused? Don't worry about it. OGL will mean D&D compatible, whether it has an actual logo or some clever marketing text (yet another online debate).
Now the question all the game publishers are wondering: Where is this OGL license? They're depending on it for D&D 4 compatible (OGL) products for next year. Personally, I'm ambivalent about their desire to get product out by Gencon. Gencon is a big marketing event for the industry that I think has more hype associated with it than substance, especially for us here in California. As a marketing event, it comes at the end of "game season," which is pretty much June-August. RPG publishers have a history of hording their releases for Gencon rather than spreading them more strategically throughout the year, the kind of behavior that has led me to diversify my store into areas other than games. The problem is that most small publishers use Gencon as the end-all be-all of their marketing efforts. They haven't progressed as a business far enough to have a real marketing plan other than to print all their new stuff for Gencon and sell it out to alpha-gamers. Ugh, grow up already.
As for barriers to entry, I don't see the change to OGL forcing small publishers out. There was a rumor floating around that OGL content would have to be printed in a box with green ink on each page. It sounds ridiculous, until you realize it would kill off all the small garage publishers that couldn't afford color printing. Devious, if not completely ridiculous and implausible.
As a role-player and a store owner, I personally would like to see a lot of creative people stop chasing the D20/OGL tail and go out and do something more creative. I mean really, seven years ago there was a lot of stuff that needed to be done, and there are still standout hits in D20 like Ptolus and Book of the Righteous. However, do we really need 4.0 versions of that stuff? Make your own game. Start a magazine. Do a small press project. Create affordable card sleeves that are always available. It's like what I heard from one industry commentator about the Hollywood writer's strike: expect a lot of new novels to come out this time next year.
Finally, as a game store owner, I'm hoping publishers don't think a 4.0 release means a reset when it comes to sales of secondary source material. I will be extremely choosy on which OGL product to carry. We'll probably be discussing the "periodical model," again, which is when I treat a product like a magazine. Get a couple copies, sell them, and when turns slow, drop them forever. OGL products will need to stand out even more than before. They have to attract customers with the new licensing scheme who already have a history of being burnt. Like now, they'll have to overcome the WOTC rampant release schedule sucking up all available gamer cash. It will be the companies with a solid D20 track record that will get to play: Green Ronin, Goodman Games, Paizo, etc.
Most anticipated RPG product discussed in my store: The Dresden Files.
Good article by Monte Cook on OGL and the industry.
Thursday, November 8, 2007
Someone interested in opening their own store asked me about startup costs. The first thing I must do is the obligatory discouragement. Small businesses fail at an alarming rate. The average retail business makes about a 7-8% annual return, while a stock market investment of that money will earn you about 10% over time and is vastly safer, albeit kind of boring. You'll work long hours for years making little money before there's anything resembling a payoff. My advice is if there's anything you could possibly do other than this to bring yourself happiness, do that, even if it's spending tens of thousands of dollars on an around-the-world multi-year tour. It will still be cheaper. Now let's take a look!
What you need depends on your costs and how much you want to make. The short answer is this will cost you between $60,000 at the low end to upwards of $100,000+ at the high end. To figure out what this number is for you, you have to figure some important numbers.
First, what are your fixed costs, aka monthly expenses? This includes rent, salary (always pay yourself, always), utilities, insurance, advertising, office supplies and regular expenses you think you'll accrue on a monthly basis. Now that you have that number, multiply it by 12 to get your annual expenses. Let's call it $8,000/month or $96,000/year.
Second, what one-time expenses are needed to get started? "FFE" stands for furniture, fixtures and equipment. You'll need a desk, a computer, gaming tables and chairs and various equipment to sell your games. Fixtures will be determined partly on your available space and your inventory (done next). Lumped into this category for simplicity is any build-out expenses you may have, such as carpet, paint, new walls, wiring, lighting, etc. This also will vary dramatically based on the size and condition of your space.
Third, inventory. How much do you need? Inventory is your economic engine. It's what creates the money needed to run the business. There are some very rough formulas to figure this out. First, take your annual monthly expense number. The sale of games needs to cover this number to break even. You don't get all that money, only 40%; 60% is your cost of goods, including credit card fees, shrinkage, etc. Then we'll assume you'll sell through that inventory a number of times per year. At first it will be slow, like two times, but your goal is four, with a likely scenario topping out at three. Let's plan on three. This sounds like gobblygook, so let me give you an example:
- Annual expenses: $96,000 (your monthly expenses multiplied)
- Annual gross sales needed to pay for this: $240,000 ($240,000 times .4)
- Inventory at cost needed to acquire $240,000 in gross sales at 3 turns: $40,000
($240,000 divided by 3, times .5)
Once you have your inventory number, based on your expenses and your aspirations, you can go back up and plot our your fixture numbers. Inventory will also determine the size of your store, which also ripples to fixtures and related expenses, such as rent and utilities. As a side note, you can't just plunk down $40-60,000 in inventory and be done with it. It has to be brought in gradually as you know your customers wants and needs. It's very different from store to store, otherwise people would be able to make it with game store chains. It's very nuanced.
As a last step, take your fixed costs, now that you've figured out the size of your store and have scouted several locations, and multiply them by six. These are your startup losses, money you'll piss away while trying to bring your store to profitability. It will likely take you 18 months to be profitable. That six months is a rough number that you'll spread over this period, graphing out your sales as they hit your magic profitability number. In our example, that's $48,000 that you've just lost. It's gone forever with the hopes that you'll pay it back with your profits later on.
In this example:
Startup losses: $48,000
That's a California store, with California expenses with a decent salary for yourself. Don't have this much? First, consider if California is the place for this store. When I started I figured I could move to a nice town in the Midwest, buy my house with cash (based on my home value at the time) and have all the startup money I needed.
You can also tweak your expenses to lower your startup costs, such as a place with much cheaper rent, for example. One game store owner I know won't pay more than $1/sq ft/month for his space. His new store is in the middle of nowhere, but his daily break-even number is a quarter of mine.
Your salary is a big variable as well. Don't drop it out of the equation, but make sure you're not paying yourself too much, and make sure you can live off that for the length of your lease. Remember that this salary includes many, many hours of unpaid sweat equity. You can't decide in six months to hand your salary position over to someone else because they won't do those extra hours (and much more).
Fixtures are highly variable. This is a decent fixture budget, but you can save as much as 50-75% by going used or buying much cheaper ones. One option is to buy used fixtures and slowly upgrade them as you have available funds.
My guess is this $100,000 game store could be done for as little as $60,000 if you really worked on cutting costs. Done elsewhere, maybe much, much lower. Buying someone else's business is the best bet, especially some new guy who just made it to profitability but is burned out.
Tuesday, November 6, 2007
Here's its replacement:
La Crosse Technology WT-3126B
12" Aluminum Atomic Clock
Aluminum case and White Dial
Automatically sets to exact time, accurate to the second
Automatically updates for daylight saving time (on/off option)
4 time zone settings
You put a battery in it and it sets itself using radio frequencies, including updating for daylight savings time. What blew my mind is it only costs $25.
Perhaps we'll auction off the Time Spiral clock at Saturday's auction at the store.
The local small town authorities spring into action and arrest the bad man on a bundle of felony counts. His legal case goes on for three years, during which time the counts against him are slowly dropped, and new charges are thrown in the mix. As the case progresses, the prosecutors change their facts, add new indictments, and drag their feet. You can see the costs add up in the articles as they progress over time, first $20,000, then $40,000 and now it's up to $80,000. The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund helps him on this, with the comic community sending donations of cash and artwork for sale at conventions.
Then today they agree not to mention Lee's atttitude upon arrest (he was a little annoyed) or history to the jury (they've gone after him before) and surprise. The prosecutors mention these things, likely in an attempt to get a better jury for themselves, and the judge declares a mistrial. Back to the drawing board, with a new trial promised and additional expenses wracked up. They're now down to two misdemeanor counts and the total is likely to hit $100,000 by the time he's done. I wonder if that poor girl has recovered from seeing Picasso nude?
Anyway, I just gave the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund $10 for Gordon Lee, because it pissed me off. You might also consider the same if you're also a bit annoyed.
Here's the page with Picasso.
The scene in question showed the first meeting between Pablo Picasso and Georges
Braque. Picasso is depicted in the nude on three pages in reflection of historical fact.
It's definitely "adult", but hardly pornography.
Monday, November 5, 2007
It's set up as a "low" markup from the original price, meaning we get a buck or two from every item you buy.
You could even buy a clock for the game center....
Sunday, November 4, 2007
The grand re-opening was fantastic! The SCA stole the show with their beautiful outfits and exciting battles. KKDV was there for several hours, driving new customers to the store and awarding prizes to lucky wheel spinners. We gave out big bags of prizes every 30 minutes. The hot dogs were great too, thanks to Topz who catered the event for free!
For the most part this was a celebration for our regular customers. They came in to check out our new space, get some food, play some games and do a little shopping. It's immensely satisfying to give something back, even if it's some food and a bag of stuff.
- Free food! Hot dogs from Topz and popcorn free for all attendees.
- Big bag of prizes given out every 30 minutes! Includes miniatures, role-playing games, board games, shirts, Magic cards and more!
- SCA Demonstrations. Knights in shining armor fighting with their swords, medieval costumed dancers, displays of armors and weaponry.
- Live Radio Broadcast. KKDV will be broadcasting live starting at 1pm. Bowl for prizes live on the air!
- Face painting and balloons for the kids.
- Open gaming in our new 1,000 square foot game center.
- Warmachine tournament on our new terrain tables
- At least 10% off everything in the store!
50% off all used games and role playing books
30% off all Mayfair board games, including Settlers of Catan!
30% off Reaper miniatures
20% off role-playing games (including Dungeons & Dragons)
20% off miniature games terrain (Miniature Building Authority, War Torn Worlds, J&R)
20% off Flames of War (30% off clearance items)
Come join us in celebrating three years in business and our new location!
Across from BMW of Concord in the Fry's shopping center
Saturday, November 3, 2007
The last session of the day was short players, so I played the dwarf cleric. It was classic (but fun!) bad play. The overly curious halfling rogue opened the forbidding sarcophagi of the ancient dwarven lord and it chased him through the dungeon and killed him. The party split up and at one point two characters fought monsters at the bottom of a chasm they had fallen into while another one was attacked by the ghost of the dead halfling. It all ended well with a tough boss fight. Characters fell and were healed and the casters ran out of spells. It was a touch and go finish but it ended well. I haven't run my own D&D game for several months now due to the move, so it was refreshing to get to play again.
D&D is what got me into running a store. I would have been perfectly happy with an "adventure" game store of the 90's, before the Internet, when "game store" meant fantasy store. It was when game stores had a lock on the market and they could be as quirky and personality driven as anything you've seen. It also meant they could skimp on service, cleaning and other essentials, but you know, I never noticed.
Today fantasy games, meaning role-playing games are a small part of the game store scene. For us they were a healthy 15% of our sales (now around 10%), not including dice and miniatures. RPG's in general have been in decline of late. The rise of the last edition of D&D rose up a lot of small, creative companies and crashed them down on the rocks again when the speculative D&D "D20" bubble burst. Customers soured on anything not "official" D&D and a lot of creative people left the industry, leaving a sucking vacuum.
Anything not D&D has had an uphill battle, while anything D&D but not "official" content has had the D20 stigma hurting its sales. There have been a few exceptions, mostly new editions of old stuff. For us, Warhammer Fantasy has done moderately well. Mutants and Masterminds, World of Darkness, Shadowrun and several innovative games like Serenity and Savage Worlds have emerged from the muck. The small press scene has made a lot of smoke and a few small camp fires. Of several dozen titles, I've seen three break-out hits: Burning Wheel, Dogs in the Vineyard and my favorite, Spirit of the Century. "Break-out hit" means they sell as well as any D&D book, the baseline for RPG success.
Despite minor successes, D&D dominates RPG sales, around 60% for us and another 10% in D20 supporting material. This is true of most stores, if they have a variety of RPG products. The rest of that 30% is divided thinly between many different game systems. It always brings up the game store question, could we sell D&D only and drop the 30% of games that take up 80% of the space? I wouldn't because I love them, not necessarily a good business decision, but I've talked to new game store owners who plan on it.
In-store D&D games are a mixed bag. The dirty secret of in-store D&D games is, uh, well, they don't make any money. The DM is usually saddled with making most of the purchases while players buy a book or two and maybe some dice in the beginning of the campaign. Then the buying dries up and you hope they'll buy a Coke or a candy bar on ocassion. This is compared to miniature gamers who constantly add to their armies or card gamers who buy packs of cards to expand their decks after getting walloped.
In-store D&D is community service, while in-store miniature gaming is a profit center. That's why you'll rarely see a Saturday D&D event or Friday Night D&D. D&D gets week nights, slow times, afternoons. Still, I get excited watching them play. I giggle and laugh as the party splits up or when the young player tries to negotiate with a dragon. There's something special in a role-playing session that I don't experience by pushing little men across a terrain table. World D&D Day celebrates this.
- The old format wouldn't do numbered lists.
- All numbered lists were converted to bullet points.
- It was pretty annoying.
It's also more in-line with our store colors.
Friday, November 2, 2007
I used to believe that you build your store and the local customer base determines the mix based on sales. It's a mix that's localized and organic. Now I've learned that there are more factors. Granted, having the local Games Workshop store close has been a great boon, but other miniature games are doing amazingly well too. It's the game space. Selling role-playing books is fine, and anyone can play Magic with their friends, but miniature games seem uniquely suited for game store play. The special tables, terrain, opponents, and a ready supply of troops in the store make for a combination that I dismissed before the new store. I was the cranky guy asking, "Don't you people own dining room tables???!!"
Before I start talking about revolution and paradigm shifts, it was just one month. I've learned that retail is unpredictable and full of surprises. There are some obvious losers from last year too, although the winners offset them immensely.
Collectible miniature games are a pale shadow of what they once were. Stars Wars miniatures was our core game since we opened. It's been abandoned by our child customers almost entirely. D&D miniatures suffer from the role-playing game slump. Whiz-Kids pirates is down to a crawl and is probably nearing it's inevitable end. PocketModel never caught on. Sales of these game are down 73%. Their numbers are now competing with snacks, where once collectible miniatures was our top department. They've become an add-on sale, like cheap mints. This is a regional phenomena and when we start lamenting the appearance of a new collectible miniature game, know that the segment is a non-starter for our customers. They've got collectible malaise.
Role-playing, as everyone tells me, is in a slump. That explains our 30% drop in sales. As I look around the department, nothing jumps out at me as worthy, except for a few hot small press titles, like Spirit of the Century. Battlestar Gallactica RPG has been overlooked, I think, but that's about it. There is a fatigue here, brought on by the D&D 4E announcement, plus it's just not the season for them.
Collectible card games just don't seem worth the effort. After all the work to promote Magic, Yu-Gi-Oh, Naruto, and World of Warcraft, all of which now have organized play in the store, sales are flat. The premise goes like this: Miniature gamers play their game in the store, don't do as well as they like, check a book and realize they need new guys for their army, and buy them off the shelf. Card guys know of a new release months in advance, pre-order online to get their $145 box of cards for $80 and occasionally buy a booster pack or two at a local store when forced to (like tonight). Who would you rather have in your store, twelve guys who spend $4/each on a booster pack, or $30/each on a medium size miniature box? It's not that there isn't money in cards, it's just not being spent with me.
Toys got off to a respectable start. They're a quarter of the store and accounted for 6% of our sales. That's not great, but it's a bit like starting another business. People need to know we have them. I'm having supply problems already, unfortunately.
Comics remain an anomaly. We haven't gotten rid of them. In fact, the trade paperbacks are steady sellers. This is a bit odd. Here's what's been happening: I complain about the amount of time needed to research comics, then I don't spend the time doing it, but comics continue to sell respectably anyway. Perhaps they don't take as much time as I thought. Our strategy of stocking evergreen, classic trade-paperbacks is working. The problem is there's nowhere to go beyond that.