Saturday, February 27, 2010


Perhaps it's an obsession with order that makes me think this way, but I believe a major part of retail is theater. The stage is literally set for a special retail experience. We work for hours before customers arrive for things to be just right. Displays must *pop* with interest and engagement. There should be no distractions. Customers should not see the inner workings of a store, arrival of new product, stains on the carpet, dark corners with broken lighting, unusual odors or employees talking to their friends. Employees should greet customers and be clean and well groomed. It's an ideal, however, as game stores are specialty stores and don't have the resources for such mass market perfection. We strive for all of these things, but often have problems in at least one area at any given time.

What we lack in resources, we hopefully make up with personal interaction and enthusiasm. A mass market store is like a movie theater, with a generic, consistent experience, but nothing compelling. That's part of why home theater has become so popular as ticket prices have gone up. A specialty store is like a community theater that interacts with the audience. There needs to be something that can't be purchased online or at the local book store. This was hard for me grasp at first, as I wanted everything to appear corporate.

It was my customers who reminded me of my proper role. Professionalism doesn't exclude the personal touch, so I have no problem talking at length with customers and getting to know them and their likes, writing a blog that shows the man behind the curtain, and generally accepting that part of our appeal is that we're not a sterile, corporate experience. I'll apologize for the dirty carpet and the giant stack of incoming boxes, but I will strive to improve.

We have a lot of work to do to achieve our theatrical goals, also known as merchandising. My last store had engaging displays, but in the rush to simplify the new store, most are gone. They took time to maintain and clean and usually required an investment of product. This was part of my streamlining phase a while back, in which I worked towards efficiency by being more like a franchise. In many cases, The Four Hour Workweek and similar books were helpful in getting our processes established, but there are "soft" areas of store management that do poorly when streamlined (more likely these soft areas need to have a better process established, like display rotation).

It's no excuse, there should be more displays and fresh ways to interact, like our miniature villages, war game demo tables, and perhaps a couple of new board game demos like we had for Blokus. Display cases need fresh content. Product needs to be displayed in innovative and unusual ways. Displays are abstract concepts in retailing. They often don't result in sales of the displayed game, but instead engage a customer with the store, increase their time shopping, which then results in increased sales. "A = B which equals C," which is hard to see if you're not working every day. Employees, therefore, see them as a nuisance (A = B, B = 0) while owners see them as income generators (A = $$$).

On the flip side, some store owners reject theater and see their lack of cleanliness, order and engaging displays as more honest. They play the music they want to hear, not what fits the theme of the store. They wear what was clean that day, rather than a uniform or other identifier. Retail theory plays little to no role in their store. They hire whoever comes along. It might be fun to work in Rob's record store in High Fidelity, but it was the kind of '90's store that could never exist in our modern world. Perhaps Rob knew this as he transitioned careers.

Ah man, that's great. That's the fun thing about workin' in a record store - you get to play crappy pap you don't even wanna listen to. --Barry