Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Store Identity (Madison IV)

Part of that Madison technology discussion...

A new store needs an identity. What's it about? What will you sell? Who do you want to attract as customers? You want something general, but something with personality. You don't want to specify a narrow product range unless you're certain that's all you want to sell, and all the money you want to make. Gary's Miniature Haven sounds like the perfect place to buy your miniatures, and nothing else. You may want to sell nothing but miniatures, but customer demand will determine where you eventually focus. The Dunge0n of D00m sounds like it might be a fun, but my mother wouldn't walk in the door. You want to avoid appearing to be a niche game store and you want to avoid alienating potential customers. You also may wish to avoid making it personal. For example, I don't want myself included in my store identity.

This I wouldn't include, but I don't mind posting it here:
I don't want Gary's Games, the corner store where you'll find the shopkeep Gary wiping down the counters and talking shop. I want Black Diamond Games, a potential enterprise, where you'll find excellent, well trained sales people who consistently help with your every gaming need. That person might be me. That store might be part of a chain of game stores or just one store, but I want it to feel professional. You may wince at the idea of a franchise for your store, but a well run franchise does more things right than it does wrong and is more of a model to emulate than despise. I wince whenever someone is speaking on their cell phone and says, "Yeah, I'm at Gary's." I want them to feel comfortable with my store identity.

Logo and Identity. Once you have a comfortable identity, you need a way to visually express this. Graphic designers are the people you want to go to. You could spend hundreds or thousands of dollars for logo design, but there are online resources that I would recommend instead. Sites like designcontest.net will host a logo design contest for a small fee. You tell a private forum full of graphic designers from around the world your business identity concept and they will attempt to come up with logos that meet your approval. You pay the winner a small prize, perhaps a few hundred dollars. You get to see them try different things and you get to hone your identity by presenting it to a group of people. You'll want to use this logo on everything you can get your hands on, from your sign outside, to shopping bags, business cards, store receipts, staff shirts, yellow pages ad and in store signage.

Email and Website. There's no reason nowadays to have an AOL or hotmail address if you own your own business. Before the store I ran my own web and mail server at home, but I'm not in IT anymore, so that makes no sense, even for me. "Hosting" of these services is very inexpensive. For example, I use Yahoo to host blackdiamondgames.com. For $12.95/month, I have email for up to 10 employees and a website, all under the domain blackdiamondgames.com. Yahoo appears nowhere in my identity and the service is far superior to what I could provide myself and about the same price as electricity for a server.

Your Website. Websites should include basic information such as a short explanation of what you are, your mission statement, directions to your store and contact information. Later you can add more dynamic content, like a schedule of events, photos and information about past events, and new releases. Who will design your website? Sponsor another contest or contact the designer who won your logo contest. It's often fairly inexpensive to have them create a template with your store identity. Your ability to manage and update your website will determine how dynamic you'll want the content.

Community Building. Websites are fine, but they're static billboards of content. Consider a more dynamic approach to your content where you can interact with your customers. A web forum is another service you can have hosted inexpensively. Forums are great for posting events, talking about dynamic content like new releases, and interacting with your customers. If you've got open gaming, it's perfect as an opponent finder or scheduler. With a forum, you have to be open to feedback from your customer base. New stores need to remember customers will try to pull your store in every direction, attempting to make it fulfill their vision. You'll have to be firm with your vision to pull off a forum in the beginning.

Blog. A more one-sided dialog that still invites comment is a store blog. Customers will be fascinated to hear about your store as it comes together and it can dispel many myths about game stores and running a business. If you're not comfortable posting a lot of dynamic content to your website, you can always use your blog for this purpose. Blog sites are free and can be semi-customized with your store logo and identity. Depending on what you discuss, you might want your blog only loosely associated with your business, especially if you talk about things other than the store. If you believe your personal identity should be separate from the business, a blog actually works against this.


  1. "I wince whenever someone is speaking on their cell phone and says, "Yeah, I'm at Gary's.""

    Which is something I'll cop to, but at this stage of the store's existence, is that such a bad thing? All it means in my particular case is that it's shorthand with people I know for "I'm at Black Diamond Games, which I know to be run by my friend Gary." I've also heard people refer to the store as "Black Diamond," "BDG," or "the game store."

    None of it means that the store has no identity. It means your customers are comfortable enough with your establishment, and have discussed it enough with their friends/relations that they can use a type of shorthand to refer to it.

  2. You should really take your own advice on that blog thing...

    Seriously though, putting The E-Myth Revisited aside for a moment, I don't think it's a bad thing to have BDG informally known as "Gary's Place." If anything, that just says that your personable enough that people remember your name even though it's nowhere in the store's official marketing.

    It doesn't prevent you from instituting the processes needed to turn your store into the turn-key operation that you want it to eventually become.

    The time to be concerned is when you hire "Bob" to manage full time and it becomes known as "Bob's Place."

    This is not necessarily a bad sign, as it can be that Bob just turned out to be as personable as you were, but it can also be because the manager is perceived to be the owner because he or she is acting like the owner in inappropriate ways (such as making personal use of company resources on a regular basis).

    As for naming, I'm totally with you that the more generic it is the better. Save the specifics for the subheading. The LGS here is a good example. They are called Gallery of Champions. Fortunately, the name works for gaming, because when it started it was Gallery of Champions Sports Cards and Memorabilia, or something close to that. They didn't deal in gaming at all. If they had been called John's Sports Cards Shop instead, they would have been SOL as they moved into Magic and later other gaming, eventually all but dropping the sports cards and memorabilia. They would have had to have completely changed their name, instead of just dropping the last half of it.

  3. Perhaps this would have been a good place to plug your graphic designer who works for free...

  4. Actually, this would be a good time to plug the graphic designer at BDG (to be known henceforth as "Gary's Miniature Dungeon of Thomas the Tank Engine and Eternal Damnation Store"), who does wonderful work - and who should be making lots of money for doing it.

  5. Jess does a great job. She's like having a bard in the party.


  6. WHAT!!!
    Like having a bard in the party?
    To me that equals completely worthless, thanks to our Iron Crown campaign. But I'm sure you were instead referring to the extremely talented and helpful nature of bards. Seriously though, I would like to start taking on more freelance work so please don't hesitate to direct people to me for such things.