Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Caring (Tradecraft)

What do I care about? In my business, I care about three things: I care about my employees, I care about my customers, and I care about the profitability of the business. I care about these things in that order. In the business, everything else is just details. Don't sweat the details. Sweat these other things. All else is the buzzing of flies.

My employees come first. The customer is not always right. I take care of my people. Do we have to ask why? Lets assume we have no moral compass and "because it's the right thing to do" is not a good answer. Take care of your people and their enthusiasm and happiness will result in greater productivity and will better serve the customer. Blah, blah, blah. If you fake this, it results in all kinds of corporate style perversions, like forced team building exercises and meddling in peoples lives. I suppose it's better than being a horrible tyrant and putting productivity sensors on your employees as they run around your environmentally hostile work environment.

I care about my customers. I want to build relationships. I want them to be happy long term. I'm willing to lose a sale over that. I'll send them across town or online to make them happy, but I'll also special order their $5 game with $7 shipping, if it comes to that. I'm willing to tell the occasional (young) person uncomfortable truths to help them on their path, that has nothing to do with selling games. The truth of this one is I never expected the customers to be the best part of the job, but they are. I had hoped to be the puppet master behind the scenes in the office. I hate the office.

Again, taking care of your customers is the long term correct business decision that will result in excellent word of mouth marketing and respect for your business and your opinion. That's more blah, blah, blah really. Customers know when you're faking, and similar to fake caring for your people, fake caring for customers comes off as crass and opportunistic. It's only slightly better than not caring. At least then they know where you stand. If you shop at Target or Wal-Mart, you've probably experienced the lowest common denominator of customer caring.

As an aside, there are many horrible people who will come in that resemble customers, but are not. "I don't want to be that guy, but this game is $5 cheaper at Target." Suddenly, without warning, not my customer. Buzzing of flies. "What was that you said, my good man?" These people will suck the soul from the top of your head with a cocktail straw.

The profit of the business is critical. As the leader of a corporate entity, I'm legally required to maximize shareholder value. I can actually be held liable for making decisions that do not do this. Before you freak out about all the corners I could theoretically cut, remember the first two imperatives of caring about employees and customers. There's not much wiggle room when you put it in that context. You can't fake profit, although you can hide your head in the gross like a business ostrich until profit passes you by.

Finally, not listed here because it tends to solve itself if you do everything else right, take care of yourself. Vacations are not optional. Time spent burned out can go on for weeks, months or years, and this time is lost opportunity. You have cheated your shareholders out of you functioning properly. Take time off.  Go do some gaming if that recharges your batteries. Take a trip. Do something else. You need fresh eyes every day to see where you can improve and come up with innovative ideas.

Taking care of yourself also means properly paying yourself. Oh, and pay yourself well. You absolutely, by textbook definition, earned it. That's your money. Compensate yourself for a job well done. It might seem strange that I emphasize this to such an extent, but I think it's necessary. It feels like a slippery slope to pay yourself well while negotiating down your garbage bill and changing cell phone providers to save $10 a month. But this is business. This is the point. Do the job. Get paid. Get a little somethin' for yourself.


  1. In the late 90's I worked in a little hobby store in New York. Trains, model kits, RC cars, and games. The owner there cared little for his employees (of which I was the only one for most of my stint there) and hated his customers. I was baffled as to why someone would open a shop where you're face to face with the public all day every day when you hate people. And he had true disdain for the gamers that would come in, especially the Magic and Pokémon kids (who were basically keeping his store afloat).
    About a year after I left and moved back to CA I called a friend of mine that had worked there as well. When I asked about the shop he said,"Oh, yeah, he closed down a while ago. That's what happens when you're a dick to people." Perhaps a cautionary tale on putting profit above everything else.

  2. People open stores for a variety of reasons. Some never had any intention of having employees. Part of being in small business, is often about being a bit of a miscreant, not able to work with others and wanting to be out on your own. It's not surprising that some of these people make terrible bosses.

  3. Thanks for the great post. Finding great employees and trying to take care of great employees with a decent wage has been the most difficult part of the business. If we can take care of good employees we can work on fixing the details, mistakes, etc. That will in turn take care of the customers and keep them happy as well as your other business partners. Anyways, this one hit home for me. Thanks again.

  4. " I care about my employees, I care about my customers, and I care about the profitability of the business. I care about these things in that order"

    So I guess it follows that if the store becomes unprofitable, the employees will be kept on until you run out of money?

  5. Having to lay people off is always in the back of my mind. For example, they got big bonuses this pay period and I explained that this is instead of pay raises. Pay raises are hard to walk back if times get tough, which could happen at any moment. It really sucks to lay people off for monetary reasons. It's a failure on several levels.

    That said, I'm likely the last man standing if things go sharply down hill.

  6. Asking for a discount does not make you a horrible person.

  7. Why are you asking? Do you ask at the gas station? At Target or Wal-Mart? Was there a sound or smell or lack of cleanliness to indicate we were having a Sanford & Son moment? Or is it just the assumption that the field of hobby games is so horribly devalued that it couldn't hurt to ask, since it's so brutally easy to get that discount in seconds?

    I'm not trying to pick on you, just showing my perspective in this. It's why we can't have nice things. Really, this right here. It's why game stores generally are crap. Who would built their life on such a slippery slope? Nobody twice.

  8. I agree 100 percent. The worst is when gamers play for hours for almost nothing. To play Standard Magic and pay $5 for roughly three hours of entertainment is a heck of a deal. What else can you play for hours at a business for that price and win prizes? After they are done and look at cards to often it is I can get this cheaper online. One item they could get for 35 cents cheaper online. It is a waste of time. I usually reply you can play the game online too. Or I can just sell it online. When people go to out to eat or to bars no asks for a discount. Gamers too often want to push how much they can take from a business. If I am foolish enough to sell for less than I can get for something and put myself out of business so be it seems to be the thought process. Almost like shoplifting.

  9. On the note of low-cost for play hours, how do stores tend to work with the RPG crowd? I'm hoping to market more to them, but wracking my brains for way to make it more cost effective.

  10. Having RPG events is nice, but there's no economic incentive for it, other than providing community service for those who (might) buy books from you.

    We monetize our events so they pay $5 for $5 of store credit. It guarantees an occasional sale.

  11. We actually found a way to sell the D&D boosters. Well the D&D books sell great. The boosters let me just say didn't sell for us when they first arrived. I have the group of D&D players divide up the cost of a D&D booster and after they are done playing vote on the top players. The best player gets first pick. Second gets second pick and so forth. Now the players are buying the boosters themselves also because they think the pieces are cool. Even though I opened two boosters to display the pieces the boosters were still not selling. But now that other players have figures from the boosters they want them also. Hard to explain but somehow it works for us. Granted that is just the D&D rpg players.