Saturday, April 11, 2009

Buggy Whip Cat Piss Ghetto

Game stores are like buggy whip salesmen at the dawn of the automobile. There are good game stores and there are the cat piss stores that are beyond redemption. Or maybe you like that game stores are the ghettos of the industry. All of these have been used to describe game stores recently, mostly by publishers. I sense ... frustration.

First, let me say that if a game store has been around for a few years, they generally know what they're doing. Nobody intentionally leaves money on the table. Only a game store owner with a serious grudge is going to boycott a game or type of game when there's clearly money to be made. They complain, they threaten, they make grand pronouncements, and then they re-stock. It's how we do it. It's capitalism. It's awesome! Trust it a bit more.

Second, we don't order product willy nilly, shooting at the hip. That's a recipe for disaster. Those stores fail quickly. Ordering product is the single most important activity game stores engage in, and it's not done without metrics and some research, especially talking with customers. Just in time ordering makes it easy to order one copy of a game to see if there's traction. It was mentioned that I ordered only one copy of the new Pathfinder book. As it took 30 days to sell that one copy, think of it as a 30-day supply, rather than a lonely book on the shelf. A book that takes 30 days to sell is not deemed a successful release by me, gatekeeper of RPG products in the store. If it had sold on day one, I likely would have ordered one or two more, which would have been delivered the next day. It has been a long time since I've missed a new release opportunity. I will lose money and overnight books on a Saturday not to be caught flat footed. I kick myself really hard when I mis-order, so I've learned.

Third, the wise man rarely speaks. The so-called spokespeople of the industry speak for themselves and have little in common with most successful store owners. You probably don't know most successful store owners; I only know most of them by name. They don't follow the GIN, write blogs, or engage in industry dialogue. They plug away at their profitable businesses, supporting the community in their own way. I don't need to denigrate those who do speak, but let me say that they tend to drive away voices of reason and definitely discourage new thought in the industry.

Fourth, the death of the game store is highly exaggerated. I think you may be confusing the death of role-playing games in game stores with the death of the entire store. RPG sales seem to be transitioning dramatically to online and direct, with many publishers reporting 50% plus sales through these channels. As I've said before, I think this is the catalyst for a lot of bitching at game stores. Our store has seen growth in RPGs every year we've been in business, but it's the slowest growing department we have, despite strong support and organized play. We carry games from 30 different companies for an annual sales total of around $75,000. We have RPG brains on staff. We do RPGs, meaning we carry every RPG that the local community will support and we do a lot of experimentation. However, market share has tipped heavily to Wizards of the Coast, from about 50% to 75%. To be clear, this consolidation is not my problem. It actually makes my life easier. You don't need to hold my hand or give me marketing materials, just do your own marketing job and entice customers to buy your products, preferably from a variety of channels. They'll find us; that's my job.


  1. Hey, really interesting post!Particularly third par where you discuss ordering product.
    Excellent post title, too...

  2. Agreed shopworker.

    Like it or not though Gary, you are a spokesperson for the industry. That and a five-dollar bill will get you a sub at Subway...

  3. Yikes! I've got as many asterisks next to my name as anyone. I'm definitely not the norm.

  4. You know, the best thing about your store, in my opinion, other than the game space, is the used books section. I can almost always find something good there (just picked up two Gamma World rules books, yesterday).

  5. Personally, I like the buggy whip section. Playing with them makes me feel like Indy...

  6. I've heard that a lot about the used section (and the game space). If you think about it, they're the two unique areas we offer that can't be found elsewhere.

    Buggy whips are prominently displayed by the spittoons and the DIY corset kits.