Friday, April 17, 2015

Third Place Theory and Game Stores

I'm going on a road trip vacation this Summer and wouldn't you know it, I found a way to include some work. I'll be going through Portland and visiting Rainy Day Games and Guardian Games. In Seattle I plan to see AFK Tavern, Cafe Mox, and Mox Boarding House. In Calgary I'll visit the largest game store in North America, The Sentry Box. This trip was really brainstorming how I could possibly visit The Sentry Box. Finally, in Salt Lake City, I'll visit The Nerd Store and Fongo Bongo. I'm still looking for ideas for Vancouver. I apologize if you own one of these stores and I haven't contacted you yet.

My main interest in game stores is how they employ Third Place Theory. It's essentially creating a social environment separate from work and home, which nowadays is an unusual thing, as opposed to baseline normal decades ago. A strong part of this theory is offering concessions, food and drink that anchor people to your place. Not all of the stores on my list do this, but many do, with Seattle leading the way.

Concessions is all the rage with game stores now and they're just starting to emerge in the SF Bay Area. Gaming cafes and bars are popping up all over the country. Some of these will be successful, while many will fail. Many. It might seem logical to combine these two things, game store and concessions, but they are not at all related business models.

If you're just starting out, your chance of successfully running a game store, like any small business, is pretty small. Add a second business model into the mix and it's incredibly difficult. Some experience in one of these two areas would seem like a requirement. Why do some hybrid stores succeed then? That's the question I hope to answer. Well, no, that's too dramatic. I'm just visiting, not filming a documentary. But I hope to grok what's going on with some visits.

As for Black Diamond Games, we're ever so slowly, glacially (I'll be seeing glaciers on this trip), moving forward with expansion plans. We'll know something for sure very soon, as our property management company gave us a construction bid in our ballpark. Would I ever do concessions? I could see doing it, but I would buy that expertise in the form of an experienced food services manager or partner. Personally, I'm highly skeptical of the model, but being highly skeptical is a key part of my job description.


36 comments:

  1. Even your facebook pic is highly skeptical. :)

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  2. Stink eye.

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  3. We keep getting asked why we aren't doing what all the cool kids are doing and expanding into a boardgame cafe. The main reason is that none of the current owners or staff have any passion for, or experience of, running a cafe. Exactly the same reason we didn't move into the market gap left when the local comics store closed. Recognising what we can't do well and thus not doing it has been one of our key survival traits as a business.

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  4. My dream is to own a game store. I am currently managing a small business (golf driving range) everyday I am excited to build and grow this business and it makes me more optimistic about running my own business. I really enjoy your point of view and insight into the small business world.

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  5. You're going to let us know what you find out re: how these hybrid stores succeed, right? Inquiring minds, far from the west coast, want to know.

    And any insight into prior food experience that these proprietors had going into their ventures would satisfy a curiosity as well.

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  6. Like selling online, it's not a natural progression of the business.

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  7. Gary, my thinking is along the same line as yours and Becky Ottery's. We considered ever so briefly getting into the comic/graphic novel business, as well as video games (new and/or used). However, both are almost entirely separate industries with different supply chains, methods of distribution, etc. I decided to stick with what we know and do best, and that IF we ever decide to expand into those other arenas, we will likely hire into it.

    Along those same lines, it is also why we have currently given up on the idea of an online shopping cart. Besides all the work involved in maintaining an accurate database, news posts, etc., the store is doing well enough (+24% YTD) that we felt we were best off contionuing to concentrate on the brick & mortar aspect of the business.

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  8. From discussions online, the most successful ones have experience in their area. When they venture out of that area, they run into trouble. So you might be great at running a bar, but when you add extensive food services, you're in uncharted territory.

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  9. It's a good time to be doing what we're doing. We're up around 25% YTD as well.

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  10. Thanks and good luck! It's an odd time right now in the game trade. It's booming and I'm not sure anyone can adequately unpack the many reasons why.

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  11. Instead of having your own concessions, you could team up with a nearby restaurant, it's just too bad there isn't a good one in your strip. This is a very special case, but you would probably do really well selling bagels to the people waiting in line for the ding and dent sales. Just an idea.

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  12. OMG! Someone got the stick eye!! LMAO!

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  13. Some stores do that too. I don't quite understand how that works economically.


    If I were to do any of the various options, I would do coffee. I at least like coffee.

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  14. That was one of the many reasons why I was very resistant to that idea when it was talked about (off and on) years ago. You need the passion and willingness to expand a scope. I have no interest in coffee, and no desire to be a barista.

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  15. When you Sentry Box, TAKE A LOT OF PICS! I have always wanted to go there.

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  16. Neither of us wanted to make coffee drinks. My mindset has changed since then. It's not that I'm willing to make coffee drinks, but I'm more willing to hire specialized staff for that purpose.

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  17. Vancouver and it's surrounding areas have a few stores that have a Third Place you may want to research into visiting:

    Players Wanted Games & Collectibles (http://playerswantedcollectibles.com) (I'm part owner of this store and would love to meet if you come by)
    Board Game Warriors (http://www.boardgamewarriors.com/)
    Magic Stronghold (http://www.magicstronghold.com/)
    Drexoll Games (http://drexollgames.blogspot.ca/)
    One Stop Shop and Games (http://onestopshopstore.crystalcommerce.com/)
    Craving For A Game (www.cravingforagame.ca/)

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  18. We teamed up with three restaurants that have takeout nearby. They offer 10% off to people who order food from our phone. We feel it's a great way to keep people in the store as chocolate bars and pop just doesn't cut it sometimes.

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  19. As long as we are agreed that I am not making coffee...

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  20. As long as we are agreed that I am not making coffee... It's all good...

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  21. Oh, I forgot Storm Crow Tavern. It's only my list. I'll check out the others. Thanks!

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  22. You and me both.

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  23. Gary when are you going to be in Calgary? I work at The Sentry Box so maybe I can arrange a tour for you

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  24. That would be great! I'll be there August 14th.

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  25. We opened Meeples Games in Seattle just about a year ago specificly to be a Third Place in the community. We are doing exactly what you are trying to learn about and we're new. I know you have your itinerary, but we'd love for you to stop by. We're different from Mox in many ways - we're more of a neighborhood store in an amazingly supportive neighborhood.

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  26. Thanks. It looks like it! We'll try to stop by.

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  27. CategoryOneGames.comApril 19, 2015 at 9:59 AM

    I'm not sure why you chose those two Salt Lake area stores. This is my area, I'd like to say hi to you while your here. You should go to EPIC or Game Haven. Both have multiple stores but their bigger stores are not far from each other. Nerd Store, I'll be shocked if they make it past the next couple of years, they highly overprice their comics, especially if they are signed and do just a bit of gaming. It's basically two brothers that have a mall store with little to no retail experience. Fongo Bongo, still shocked they are still around, they have a small store area up front and then a large gaming area in a small town and didn't have an anchor business in their shopping center for a long time. Both EPIC and Game Haven are in between Nerd Store and Fongo Bongo.


    EPIC has 3 stores and is the biggest Magic store in the state. Game Haven has 4 stores and is probably the best overall gaming store in the state, covering multiple CCG's and board games. They also do a bit with new comics and nothing with older books. They are moving so I'm not sure where they will be when you get here, if they will still be in their current location or in their new store that is 3 times as big.

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  28. I'm going to a number of struggling stores that are not necessarily the biggest or best, but are interesting. What's interesting about Epic and Game Haven?

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  29. CategoryOneGames.comApril 19, 2015 at 3:28 PM

    Both went to a franchise direction. Both have grown their business and taken business away from already established stores like Hasturs which is your traditional big game store in the Salt Lake area.

    I'm just surprised if you said you were coming to SLC that you would choose those stores to visit unless they had already contacted you for help. I don't necessarily know what is interesting about those two either.


    HeeBeeJeeBees in Ogden would be a larger priority stop, it's like a museum type of store that has 3 locations.

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  30. I know almost nothing about the SLC game store scene, so all the information helps.

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  31. Looks like you'll be passing through Reno on your trip. Drop by Comic Kingdom if you have a chance!

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  32. If you are in Vancouver, the 'top' B&M game stores in my mind are:

    - Drexoll Games (the longest running store)
    - Craving for a Game (very popular Surrey store)
    - Strategies Games (on Main St.).



    Magic stronghold has a new location which I understand is doing well, though I haven't visited it.


    We're also based in Vancouver of course, but as an online store; unless you're vaguely interested in seeing a warehouse; I doubt would be of interest to visit. Not that I wouldn't mind catching a cup of coffee though if we are both around :)

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  33. Check out Game Night Games in SLC - was in several years ago and it was a solid store, good lending library and good night time traffic. Not sure if they do the food thing or not.

    http://www.gamenightgames.com/

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  34. I'd second that! I'm aiming for the boardgame(ish) cafe space myself (in Australia) where there have been a number of successful ventures for $5 entry to access the library.

    Always keen to listen though - so looking forward to your tips Gary.

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  35. If you're in Portland on a Friday night I'd like to invite you to stop by Guardian Games and play PFS with us.

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  36. Hey thanks,


    Appreciate it. It doesn't fit my (now set in stone) schedule though.

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