Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Aiming High vs. Punching Down (Tradecraft)

I have an irrational approach to competition. It's something I learned from reading Guy Kawasaki's How To Drive Your Competition Crazy. My competitors are not other game stores, they're Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Target. I want to take down Amazon. I want to offer better service, a better selection of what's hot now, here now, and a shopping experience that delights customers. Do I succeed? Sometimes, but that's beside the point.

I do not care one bit about other game stores that happen to be in my immediate area, although there are occasions when I feel compelled to address their actions. I don't visit these stores. I don't look at their calendar to schedule events on or around theirs. I generally don't care what they're selling. Amazon is my competitor, along with big box stores.

Why do this? Two reasons. First, it keeps me sharp. It keeps me looking for technological and managerial advantages that are cutting edge and modern. The game trade has a lot of big stores and a lot of really, really small, "buy a job" stores. Rarely does the game trade have something to teach, compared to cutting edge retail (a potential oxymoron).

There are excellent processes and procedures to copy and borrow from the game trade, but I generally look for The Next Big Thing from large retailer organizations or consultants. Looking outside means I focus on being a retailer and not a game store owner. A game store owner can be a retailer, but is often an apologist cheerleader, reluctant to make money, cut under performing product, or potentially turn away a game playing customer, of whom the game store owner is but one step removed. They came from the customer base and just one misstep and they could be back with them.

A retailer wants to be selling in 20 years. A game store retailer hopes they'll be selling games in 20 years, but it might be women's shoes, because they are a retailer first and a game store owner second. Retailing is what they do, a multifaceted trade with enough variety to keep things interesting and enough to do that delegating uninteresting bits is common.

Come to the Retailer side
Most game store owners will tell you they would bail if they couldn't sell games, or possibly the games they like. When D&D 4 was flailing and I wasn't yet into Pathfinder, I had a game store owner existential crisis. If I'm not selling RPGs, why am I doing this? It broke my game store owner spirit, and I became a game store retailer.

Second reason, you can't punch down. That's a Guy Kawasaki lesson. Americans like the underdog and they hate the 500 pound gorilla. Nobody wants to see a 500 pound gorilla beating up a small dog. Picking large competitors, sometimes impossibly large, keeps me from being petty, from getting into scuffles with store owners. It keeps me focused on retailing and not game store owning.

Being the underdog also means not feeling the need to apologize for being successful (a game store owner trait). It means I can focus on serving customers, bringing in the next new product line, and expanding into other areas of retail or services needed by my customers and not responding to what my local competitors may be doing.

So what's the future of game store retailing? I think the competition is about to get fierce. Those big box competitors that you laugh at me listing as competitors? Those are my future real competitors. If Target, Barnes & Noble and the various regional chains can find a way to include tables and organized play in their stores, they will do it. They will stumble around for a while, but they will crush the legions of "buy a job" stores.

As for us bigger stores, we will need to adapt quickly. We will need capital and the right plan to grow our offerings, to grow our locations, to generally compete for real with big box. Big box wants to go to war with us. Publishers and distributors are happy to sell them the weapons. Game store retailers will weather the storm. Game store owners will not.

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