This is the season when we get requests for every game that ever existed. The customer played this cool game in 1983 and they've decided after 30 years that they would like to now own it. That's one long tail. The easy answer to give them when we don't have something is no, and as Christmas gets closer, their capacity for patience for a longer explanation diminishes. However, that longer answer, if it can be given, often results in a sale of another game. You are showing expertise. Perceived expertise is at least half of why we exist. Along with convenience, expertise makes up our value proposition.
I've made that further research into a flow chart. This is what I try to do with every call or request. Do I have it? Can I get it from my distributors? If not, what the heck is up with it? That final bit of "deep research," which is really an extra minute or so online, often leads to suggestions for alternative games. Most rookie clerks don't get past step one, a simple stock check. Some of my veterans don't either, which I want to change.
The flow chart seems complicated, but all of this can be done very quickly, especially if you set yourself up ahead of time, as in having browser tabs open for each of these places. Lets look at how it plays out on the phone.
The customer calls looking for The Ungame, possibly the worst game ever made, with a generous boardgamegeek rating of 2.67 out of 10.
Customer: "Do you have The Ungame?"
Staff: "Let me check, it will just be a minute." Thankfully eye rolls can't be seen over the telephone.
Checks in our POS and can't find a record.
Checks the ACD/Alliance/GTS websites, conveniently open in browser tabs, and can't find it.
Staff: "Our suppliers don't carry it, would you like me to do some quick research to see what's up with it?"
Checks boardgamegeek and sees it exists and there are several used copies for sale on Ebay.
"It appears to be out of print. Your best bet is to search for a used copy on Ebay."
To show off your retailer fu, you can see that The Ungame is classified as a storytelling game on BGG, and you might tell them you've got over 1,000 (or your number) board games in stock and they may enjoy a similar game, like Once Upon a Time. You don't have to be super accurate, you just need to entice them to come check out the store.
If it's not on BGG, I've learned to check Kickstarter. While most games from the past live on BGG, Kickstarter is the future of a lot of board games, so you can get a glimpse ahead in time with your crystal ball. If it's on Kickstarter, you can send them in that direction or tell them you may carry it later. It's a great way to gauge interest in the dwindling number of Kickstarter games we're bringing in.