Saturday, October 31, 2009

Toys for Tots and other Stuff

We're now accepting Toys for Tots donations at the store. This was very successful for us last year as we filled two bins with new, unwrapped (but still packaged) toys. We, of course, sell toys, but you're welcome to bring in toys you've acquired from other stores. 

Toy Dumping. In other toy news, we're trashing a bunch of toys due to the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act. Most of our toys are from a handful of large, well known companies that have shown compliance to the act, but there are a bunch of generic Chinese (junk) toys that it's time to part with. I think they're safe, but like many stores around the country, if you're not sure, you need to get rid of them. If you've been in the store recently, it's the little stuff by the front door. Logic might bring you to the conclusion that I should dump them in the Toys for Tots bins, but that sounds like trouble.

Malifaux. I'm busting my purchasing budget by bringing in the new Malifaux miniature game from Wyrd. This is turning out to be a very popular game that has been on the periphery of my radar since Gencon (I'm a bit behind the curve on this one). It's a diceless skirmish miniature game with an interesting mechanic. The theme is Gothic steampunk fantasy, You use a fate (aka poker) deck along with stat cards for each miniature to resolve actions in the game. The models are gorgeous (we already carry Wyrd miniatures). 

Since it's a skirmish game, you can make a small investment without the huge commitment of a new army game. About $80 will get you a starter box and a rulebook. We're bringing in a few army boxes on Monday and we've got rulebooks backordered (currently out at Wyrd). Check this game out and see if it catches your interest. 

Ding & Dent Auction. It's on Sunday the 8th. If you're new to this, we buy up damages and clearance items from publishers, distributors and stores and sell them at a quarterly auction. We could make more money with some sort of online scheme, but we like the community aspect of the auctions (and I'm lazy). 

A very large part of the auction is customer items. In fact, it's beginning to eclipse the stuff we bring in, which is fine by me. Please begin bringing in your auction items now. You can choose a "buy it now" price, meaning we just sell it on a table, or you can choose a live auction for your premium gaming gear. You get store credit for your goods which can be redeemed for other auction items the same day, or used for new games at the store at your convenience.

The latest shipment of ding & dent exceeded our storage capacity, so we put a bunch of stuff out on the sales floor to make room. Lots of scary Halloween games are there along with a bunch of Agricola copies at $39.99. Agricola is the #1 game online and normally goes for $69.99. 

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Cookin' Cookies (review)

My four year old Rocco is not a big game player. He loves to play with his Hot Wheels and just recently got into Legos. When we introduce him to games for kids his age, he usually loses interest quickly. Maybe that's because we don't play a lot of board games at the house. He'll sit still for an hour with me to paint a miniature or narrate his own Dungeons & Dragons game, but when it comes to board and card games, he'll just mess around and play with the pieces.

Recently he started taking a cooking class and brought home some cookies. Like many small children, he thinks cooking is an amazing thing. I know theme can go a long way in keeping someone interested in a game, so I picked up Cookin' Cookies for him. This little Fundex game comes in a small lunch box tin. For $10, you get eight recipe cards, twenty six ingredient cards, and four plastic spoons with suction cups. This is like a super easy version of the game Wasabi!  The game has been around for six years, but one of my game distributors, ACD, just started carrying it last week. Cookin' Cookies is for ages 4+.

Cookin' Cookies has recipe cards requiring five ingredients. The ingredient cards are placed face down and you take turns picking them up with your suction cupped spoon. When you get an ingredient you need, you put it next to your recipe card. When you get a different ingredient, you put it back. If you get the rotten egg card, your batch is ruined and you put all your ingredients back and start over. Whoever finishes their recipe first is the winner. Some games took just a few minutes, while a few went on for quite a while, with the rotten egg starting each of us back to the beginning. That might sound tedious, but a rotten egg card was a hilarious spoiler, especially when I drew it.

Rocco absolutely loves this game. The whacking with a spoon is obviously fun and the concept of recipes and ingredients is something most small children are familiar with and find fascinating. There was a little confusion with the "first flavor" ingredient, a wild card. It wasn't in the rules but it was easy to reason out. For Rocco, mastering this game was an important milestone, being the first time he's played multiple sessions and understanding concepts like player turns, game completion and fully following rules. Kids mature at different rates, and I'm glad to see we're finally at this level. We'll have many more games ahead of us.

The down side to this game are the materials. The cards are plastic coated and should hold up well enough, but the plastic spoons are trouble. One of our four spoons had a bad suction cup right out of the box. Rocco broke two other spoons messing around with them (he hid them under his bed, so he wouldn't get in trouble). Rather than a simple, push in suction cup, the spoons have a small pin that affixes the suction cup to the plastic. I've read about other parents having the same problem. Even with broken spoons, Rocco was happy to play the game by picking up the cards with his hands. The spoons are a cool gimmick, but not essential.

Cookin' Cookies
by Fundex
Ages 4+

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Lies, Damn Lies ....

I was looking at some of our customer statistics yesterday and thought I would share. Some of the answers might be insightful. People ask me questions about them regularly. How many regular customers do you have? What's your average transaction? What I don't have are customer demographics, like age and gender, but my general impression is that we cater to young adult men. We don't throw around the term "gamer porn" for nothin'!

68% of our sales come from regulars. Being a regular means that you've been here enough to decide a paladin club card is in your interest. This number tells me important things, such as I should market quite a bit to my existing base, that I should work to get new regulars, and that I shouldn't put a disproportionate effort into attracting the general public.

Half a percent of sales is the amount our top customer spent in the store over the last year. I mention this because although customer service is paramount, nobody, by themselves, keeps the doors open.  Half of the top ten this year weren't in the top ten last year, but all were long term customers. Customer interests ebb and flow. Some people move away, die, get married, or lose interest, so standing still is not an option. Stores need to continually build their base. As an aside, I think it's never a good idea to identify or rank your customers, including rewarding them. I did this once after reading a magazine article on client relationships and it caused nothing but trouble. Everyone is your top customer.

$800 is the average lifetime sales of our regular customer. It's twice as high as the industry average I've heard thrown around. A top ten customer might spend ten times this amount. The average customer has come in 24 times over the last two years, an average of one time a month. This tells me that the answer to "what's new?" is what has come out in the last month. The tendency for us is to rotate new stock when space becomes an issue, rather than a particular date. Perhaps if we can't keep something on the new shelf for a month, we need a bigger shelf? Top 20 customers come in, on average, exactly once a week.

Game space and events are unimportant to half of our top 20 customers. You will never see them in the back and thus, they are less known to other customers and staff. This also tracks with our event emails, with half of respondents never opening event emails. That said, the other half of those top twenty customers are in at least once a week and take full advantage of our facilities. Game space has been a big issue for me because it seemed to take a disproportionate amount of time. The good news then, is that it's useful for at least half of our top customers.  It's not disproportionate at all!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Anniversary Party Photos

Our anniversary party was a huge success. We had a couple hundred people show up to celebrate our 5th anniversary with games, food and fun. The trip tip was outstanding and the door prizes were pretty amazing too. Some of the highlights: Games Workshop donated a Baneblade. Wizards of the Coast gave us an autographed copy of an R.A. Salvatore novel, with the author thanking the winner for supporting Black Diamond Games. Alliance gave us a bunch of 15th Anniversary Magic life counters, each worth about $100. Those were just the highlights!

Besides the great prizes, I want to thank all of our volunteers. Our RPGA coordinators did all the cooking, slaving over the grills for hours to bring us some excellent tri-tip, hot dogs and veggie burgers. Our volunteer game coordinators kept the games going all day long. Finally, our excellent staff were all on hand to help out, doing all of the prep work and clean up, as well as the heavy lifting along the way. I'm mostly a bystander at these things!

Below are the photos I took from the party:

Playing Race for the Galaxy

Our BOGO table. New games were added throughout the day!

Our GMs (Grill Masters)

Lots of miniature gaming all day long.

The game center was packed all day.

Playing Endeavor.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Game Store Motivation

Today is our five year anniversary at Black Diamond Games. It has certainly been a roller coaster ride. I've had some ideas floating in my head about what I would tell prospective new store owners. Lately there seems to be a  lot of enthusiasm for opening shops, perhaps some optimism as the economy seemingly recovers. Rather than post the usual business start-up advice, I thought I would look at why you would want to run a game store, at least from my perspective.

First, understand the difference between the two types of small business startups. There's the MBA driven startup where you attempt to acquire millions of dollars of other people's money to create some sort of product or service to then spin off or sell to the highest bidder. The second type is a privately funded (mostly you), shop or service provider in which the owner wants to carve a niche out of an existing trade. These second type of startups are considered lifestyle jobs. I hate that term, but it's true.

A game store is a lifestyle job when compared to the motivation behind the MBA startup. Nobody starts a game store to get rich or innovate in some interesting new way. You can run a really good store, with excellent customer service, and some minor innovations, and you may even scrape by making a living at it, but it's not going to make you the money you could have working any other professional job. You also don't get the high risk, high reward ratio of the MBA startup. It's high risk (for you) and low reward. In other words, it's financially irrational. Just know that going in.

Second, understand why you want to start a game store. Hating your current job is a really bad reason, as is coming into a bunch of money. What I found after owning my own business, is that I really like being a small business owner and working for myself, but ... it wouldn't have required owning a store. If you're tired of working for the man, before taking a vow of poverty and tying up every dollar you and your family have in a game store, investigate if you can do what you do now for yourself. Be the man. You may even make more money at it, eventually.

Games are great, but a good store owner generally plays fewer games because of their time constraints with running a business. Wanting to play more games is a bad motivation for owning a store. In my case, I could have quit my IT job and lived off savings for several years while building my client base. I would have had a LOT of free time to game. If you've got money to open a store, you've got more than enough money to try something like consulting, or even going back to school.

Third, plan. Write a business plan. If you can't organize your thoughts in a business plan, your eventual business will probably be equally scattered. A business plan also forces you to understand the finances of a retail store as you project your sales. Once you've got a plan, carefully choose your location based on how it will fulfill your plan. If you've got a solid plan and capital, you should be looking for the perfect location to implement that plan.

I can't tell you how many stores I've seen over the past five years that just make no sense when you consider their location choice. It's a tragedy when you consider all the money they wasted. My store is 25 minutes from my house. Why? Because my local demographics are all wrong for a game store and the nearby communities of Berkeley/Oakland are over saturated with stores. Research said Walnut Creek/Concord needed a good game store.

Finally, understand what owning a store entails. I've heard it said many times before, but try to work in a game store for a while. If you think this is beneath you, you have no idea what's in store for you. Owning a store is a fantastic adventure, but it's an adventure in humility. You will personally vacuum hundreds of square miles. You will be the guy who cleans up the puke in the bathroom. You will work long hours for little pay and your customers will insist they do you a favor by throwing money your way. You will be brought low. You will take a vow of poverty without the support of a spiritual community or the knowledge that you're making the world a better place. The only people who will understand you are other small business owners. The only reward, really, is the satisfaction of a job well done; a job done your way. But you know what? That satisfaction grossly outweighs all the negatives. You can't beat being excited about going to work every day, of loving your life, of being healthier because you have more happiness in your life. Just make sure there's no other way to accomplish this than owning a game store.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

New 40K Magaforces

These are due in December. I haven't seen anyone do the math on these yet so:

Space Marine Megaforce
Predator $41.25
Rhino $30
Dreadnought $41.25
Tactical Squads $35x2
Assault Marines $26.50
Scouts $20
$229 value for $175
24% Savings

Ork Megaforce
40 Ork Boyz: $22x4
Warbikers: $35x3
Trukk $30
Lootas/Burnas: $22
$245 value for $200
20% Savings

The question is whether this is a generic enough combination to be desirable. I think it is, with plenty of bread and butter units. These would make pretty solid gifts for anyone starting or expanding these armies.

We are, of course, taking pre-orders on these at the store.

Friday, October 23, 2009

5th Anniversary Sale

We usually do some sort of sale for our anniversary party, and this Sunday will be no different. What is different this time is the extra huge savings. All red tag items in the store are buy one, get one free. What does this include? Lots of stuff. All of our left over Ding & Dent from our last auction will be brought out (stuff already marked down 40-70%). All of the clearance board games, including about 75 we just added, are included too (marked down 40-50%). Five years worth of used role-playing books are all red tag, so stock up!

Since we haven't used red tags for over 18 months, this also includes older product still on the shelf. There's a lot of this kind of stuff floating around, so while you're waiting for your number to be called for those thousands of dollars worth of door prizes, peruse the store and see what you can find. It's a scavenger hunt! We only do this kind of thing one day a year, so don't miss it!

Attached is the flyer for the party:

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Cautious 2009

We were walking around the store last week, trying to figure out what would be the hot board games for the holidays. We were mostly at a loss. There were one or two obvious hits, but not a whole lot. It's not all doom and gloom, our overall sales are way up; more than we should have expected from this year. But from what? It turns out to be from expansions of existing games. The same is true for our miniature games, with very strong sales for no reason other than ... strong sales. We saw no new concepts or games for the year (Arcane Legions still being an unknown), but instead, a bunch of expansions of existing games. Hot new miniature games have been notable, but only sales foot notes, as good as they are. Role-playing boasts the same problem, a new D&D edition last year, but the hot RPG book of 2009 has been the D&D Player's Handbook II. Yep, another expansion of yet another edition.

Does it really matter? A few years ago, you could sense the lust for the new, the desire to throw something against the wall to see if it would stick. The now defunct WizKids seemed to have a lock on this model after getting a few solid hits early on. Wizards of the Coast reminded me of Microsoft, with two core, profitable products that supported wild speculation into many other areas. Most of those product lines have been abandoned at this point. I recall groaning at trade shows during product launch meals for such notable games as Dreamblade, Hecatomb and Sportsclix. Nowadays, a solid expansion is more welcome than a new game. Don't swing for the fence, go for a double.

Customers haven't seemed very interested in branching out of their comfort zone either. They want a distraction, preferably a familiar one. As the recession began, innovative new products were coming out of the pipeline and they died horribly on release. That "flight to quality" meant customers wanted their games improved, not changed too dramatically. They did not want their cheese moved.

While 2008 was a year of safe retreads, 2009 has been an even safer year of solid expansions. The danger in this lack of grand innovation is the same danger I face daily in my business. You don't want to become too complacent or too risk averse. You want to keep your edge and try new things, with all the risk that entails. You don't want your customers to lust after the new while you're still complacent with the familiar, or they'll cease being your customers. Perhaps we'll see more risk taking in 2010. You go first.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Planestrike Battle Report

It all went horribly wrong..... The Eldar, sensing the potential devastation of the Imperial Guard artillery, sacrificed their own transport ships by crashing them out of orbit into the defender's base. There was no turning back now. The first spaceship took out the voidshield on the skyshield landing pad, under which hid four Basilisk artillery vehicles and a Hellhound flame tank. The second space craft smashed the undefended skyshield to bits, raining down rubble onto the vehicles hiding beneath it. The third and fourth space craft rained down nearby, destroying three of the four Basilisks and destroying the weapons on the Hellhound and the main guns on the two Leman Russ Executioners. Two squads of guardsmen and their commander were squashed as well. Only a single Basilisk remained fully functional out of seven vehicles, along with a handful of men. Then the fighting began.....

This was my first Planestrike game. I planned for it over the weekend and it was pretty much over before it began. Still, we made the best of it and decided not to play strategems for our next game. The "Crash and Burn" attacker strategem was overwhelmingly devastating, and a little disheartening after surviving the initial firestorm completely unscathed. We both knew the game had gone off the rails a bit after the attack, and this was before turn one. Below are some photos and a layout I made ahead of time.

I used Visio to lay out roughly where things would go. The big decision was to use the height of the skyshield to hide a bunch of vehicles. Then by using the voidshield stategem, I protected them from the initial bombardment. Unfortunately, the "Crash and Burn" strategem ripped right through it. Other considerations: making sure my commander's building was within 12" of all the other buildings, so he could issue orders. Having lanes of fire for all the main guns. Reinforcing obvious targets with overwhelming firepower.

Sniper eye view. These guys worked great, sitting atop a non-objective building and harassing the Eldar. They took out about five guys during the game, earning their keep.

The men are actually inside the buildings, but they're left on top because they look cool.

Vehicles hiding under the skyshield.

As the game began....

Post "Crash and Burn"

Advancing Eldar

It became clear to me that the way things would normally work is the attacker would either focus on taking out my vehicles or taking out buildings. This Eldar army had many bright lances, but with my vehicles mostly neutralized, they could focus every turn on hitting buildings, usually resulting in "stunning" them into inactivity. The buildings were what was left of my firepower, so it was an effective strategy in neutralizing my army. The remaining basilisk was the most effective unit in the game, and as the no man's land filled up with Eldar, I was really wishing I had more of them left.

Thanks to Armando for a good game!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Anniversary Party Next Sunday!

The day is quickly approaching: Black Diamond Game's 5th anniversary party is Sunday, October 25th. I can't help thinking about the tri-tip sandwiches, but the best reason to come is the camaraderie. Stop by and say hi to us and hang out for a while. We're featuring a full day of gaming, including two adult board game tables, a kids gaming table (along with free balloons), a Dungeons & Dragons table, and two tables for miniature gaming. We'll have some specials going on, of course, but you'll have to come to find out exactly what (mostly because I haven't decided yet).

I hate to emphasize the amazing prize drawings, but the door prizes are pretty special this year. We've got over $1,000 in door prizes, with a lucky winner drawn each hour. Most of the prizes are unique items from distributors and manufacturers, cool stuff you can't buy in stores. Five years is pretty special in business, if you don't mind me saying, so I wanted to make sure our prizes matched. Thankfully, our partners agreed and provided a ton of great stuff!

Friday, October 16, 2009

Hand in My Pocket

I'm having one of those weeks where I grumble about everyone who has their hand in my pocket, especially the state. It's no wonder so many business owners are Republican when you start considering how invasive government can be in small business.

Also, I know it's almost taboo to mention this, but if you want to support your community, consider shopping locally more this holiday season. We're now seeing the result of budget shortfalls across the state. California is virtually bankrupt and the decline of business here is one of the factors. Unemployment follows that. People are not just spending less money, I think they're buying more online, usually from out of state, often without paying sales tax. A trend I'm noticing is customers who have a baseline for local sales. Anything under, say $40, they'll buy locally. Anything higher and they'll buy it online. It takes a buzz saw to local business.

When you support a small business like ours, you pay sales tax that helps the state (if you're not paying tax online, you're evading it), but you also keep me in business so I can pay those obscene California business taxes and fees I'm complaining about. You also support me personally, so I can pay my ridiculously high property tax bill (I know they're much higher in other states), which supports the local schools, public transportation, rebuilds sewers, and a host of other county wide projects. There's my income tax and the taxes paid by my employees as well. My rough estimate is for every dollar you spend in our store, about 11-12 cents goes to state and local coffers. Keeping people employed locally has a big effect as well. When you consider employees, my guess is about 25% of the money you spend locally gets put back into the California economy. It jumps to about 45% considering all our expenses.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

New Releases at the Store

Tactical Miniature Games
  • Warhammer 40K (Friday): Space Wolves Battleforce: 20 Space Wolves from the wolf pack, 5 scouts and a Drop Pod.
  • Forge World: Space Wolves land raider doors, Space Wolves rhino doors and front plate.
  • Warmachine: (Tuesday) Retribution Mage Hunter Strike Force Unit, Retribution Mage Hunter Commander Unit, Retribution Nayl Character Solo, Retribution Dawnguard Sentinel Officer & Standard Bearer.
  • Privateer Press: Grind (Tuesday). In Grind players customize a team of steamjacks—10-ton, steam-powered mechanical robots—and battle to move a large, spiked ball into their opponent’s goal. The game comes with several highly detailed plastic components, including six Runner steamjack figures, four Crusher steamjack figures, 32 interchangeable weapon arms, two spiked pillars, and the Grinder ball. Also included are a full-color game board, 11 tokens, and custom dice.
  • Flames of War (Friday): Hell's Highway, Sandbag Emplacement, US Parachute Rifle Company, US Parachute Field Artillery Battery, AAMG on stand (x4).

  • Strategy & Tactics #259

Board Games
  • The Aventurers (AEG): A fast-paced thrilling run through the Temple of Chac, the Mayan rain god. As your intrepid adventurers delve through the ruins, they will face deadly traps guarding the ancient relics they prize.
  • Arcana (AEG) (card game): Each player represents one of the great guilds of Cadwallon: the guild of Blades, the guild of Ferrymen, the guild of Thieves, and the guild of Usurers. Based on the number of players in the game you have a certain number of 'Stakes' areas. Players battle for control of cards that come up in each stakes area each turn.
  • Carcassonne: Wheel of Fate (Friday): Full replacement for the base game and expansion to the original base game. It includes 72 tiles, consisting of 63 tiles released in the original base game, 6 from Inns & Cathedrals, 1 from Traders & Builders and 2 from King & Scout. It also includes a special replacement start tile which depicts the Wheel of Fortune, a new mechanic unique to this edition of the game.
The new start tile is the size of 16 tiles, arranged in a 4×4 square and is built using some of the tiles removed from the base game. Nineteen tiles from the game have numbers printed on them allowing players to randomly spin the Wheel of Fate (between 1 and 3 spaces around the wheel). Otherwise, a player may choose to move a pink pig animeeple one sixth turn around the wheel if they decline placing a follower that turn. The results of the Wheel vary depending on which of the sixths of the wheel the pig lands on. Results vary from forcing all players to remove a follower from the board to rewarding the player who moves the pig with three bonus points. There are six outcomes in all.

  • Giro d'Illalia Board Game (8.0 on boardgamegeek) (Friday): The centenary Giro will be a memorable stage: the track will go through important Italian cities such as Venice, Milan, Rome, Naples, Florence, Boulogne, Genova putting all cyclists (above all Lance Armstrong back at his first Giro) under pressure from the first week on the Dolomites.
The game is a spin off of Leader 1 but will focus on the most famous Italian bicycle race. Box contents: 21“route” hexagons, 1 “general classification” hexagon, 15 riders (5 teams of 3), 16 “general classification” tokens, 1 peloton (to be placed on the card stand), 1 “peloton leader” token, 1 twelve-sided “peloton” die (with stickers of 3, 4 and 5 values to be attached), 1 twelve-sided “events” die, 36 “feed zone” tiles (12 yellow, 12 red, 12 green), 1 “energy table” block, 11 tokens (3 “feed zone”, 2 “bonus time”, 6 “mountain climb category”), 12 reminding tables, 15 special cards.
  • Carcassonne: The River 1 Expansion (Friday)
  • Wool Rules (Friday)
  • Gloria Picktoria (Friday)
  • Click Clack (Friday)
  • Enuk (Friday)
  • Giro d'Illalia Card Game (Friday)

Role-Playing Games
  • Eclipse Phase RPG
Humanity stands on the cusp of a new age, with accelerated technological growth converging toward a singularity point, promising an undreamt-of future. Despite the ecopocalypse and social upheavals on Earth, humanity has conquered the solar system and partially terraformed Mars. Advancements in biotechnology, nanotechnology, artificial intelligence, and cognitive science have transformed our lives.
  • Savage Worlds: Realms of Cthulhu
  • Earthdawn: Kratas City of Thieves
  • Traveller RPG: Supplement 5 - Civilian Vehicles
  • Battletech: 25 Years of Art & Fiction
  • Battletech: Masters & Minions
  • Dungeons & Dragons - Primal Power (Tuesday)
  • Dungeons & Dragons - DU5 Sinister Woods tiles (Tuesday)
  • Dungeons & Dragons - E3 - Prince of Undeath (Tuesday)

Collectible Miniature Games
  • Arcane Legions Starter
  • Monsterpocalypse: Monsterpocalypse Now starters, unit and monster boosters.
  • Heroscape Wave 10 Special Collection (Tuesday)
  • Star Wars Miniatures: Galaxy at War - Booster (Tuesday)
Collectible Card Games
  • Yu-Gi-Oh: Ancient Prophecy Special Edition
  • Magic: Duel Deck Garruk vs Liliana (Limited) (Tuesday)

Monday, October 12, 2009

Building for Planetstrike

I'm home sick today, so I won't get to play in my Planetstrike game tonight. Before Nurgle struck me down, I spent the week getting my fourth basilisk built and painted, along with a last minute addition of a second bastion for the store. I say the bastion is for the store, but I really painted it up because my guys would look cool standing on it. Andrey, who works at the store, did a fine job building it before my quick paint job. One advantage of owning a store is I can hand an employee a box and say make this.

As the defender in my Planetstrike game, I get to add any scenery I want. On top of that, I can run a crazy force organization chart which includes six heavy support vehicles. It's an Imperial Guard dream come true. Basilisks are marginal in the new codex, but in Planetstrike, hiding behind a bunch of walls and buildings, they're pretty good (although I fear that initial firestorm bombardment). So if one is good, four must be great!

Armageddon Pattern Enclosed Basilisk

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Forge World Update

After a week of selling Forge World, we've gotten the kinks out of the system and it looks to be a successful program. In fact, I'm now comfortable taking special orders for the stuff, although you'll need to do it through me directly, as opposed to the staff, since pricing is very tricky. Hopefully customers can handle this one-off process for a one-off product line. I'm looking to place our next order sometime during the next week. Popular items: Vendetta conversion kits, Hydra kits, tank commanders.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

How Rent Works (Tradecraft)

If you're starting a business, you might think you rent a commercial space like you rent an apartment. You pay month to month or a six month lease, the landlord comes over to fix your sink when it backs up, and you do a little vacuuming when you want to leave. First, let me tell you that it's possible that's your scenario, but highly unlikely. Also, retail leases are vastly different depending on where you are in the country and your landlord.

The first thing to know about commercial leases is they're generally long term, usually three to five years. This is actually the biggest liability for our business (and my life!). So what happens if your business fails after the first year into a five year lease? You might have been smart and acquired enough cash to run your business debt free, but you now owe hundreds of thousands of dollars on your lease. Since no landlord lets your corporation or LLC sign exclusively on a lease, you're on the hook and now have to declare personal bankruptcy if you can't arrange for someone else to take it over.

Second, most commercial leases don't cover inside repairs. When my sink is broken, my landlord tells me to fix it myself, or he'll send his guy over to fix it and bill me later, both of us knowing he charges outrageous amounts for this service. At the same time, I'm responsible for "common area maintenance" or CAM charges. This includes things like fixing the roof, painting the building, plowing snow if that's an issue, and mowing the lawn. It's highly discretionary on the landlords part and can include nearly anything, billing you later at the tune of thousands of dollars beyond your agreed upon rate. My own property manager has this little scheme where they subcontract CAM work to their own subsidiary. Part of their management fees is a percentage of the cost of this work, so they're constantly painting poles, trimming hedges and dusting the eaves. It makes me fume.

Finally, how much do you pay for space? It's highly variable, again depending on where you are. About a quarter to a third of your projected expenses is a good guideline. A couple dollars a square foot per month and fifty to seventy cents per foot in CAM charges is about average in the SF Bay Area. We've got 3,300 square feet, so you can do the math. For half this rent amount you can get a light industrial location out in the sticks. Store owners in other parts of the country would be aghast at those numbers.

Will rent go up? Absolutely and it's part of most contracts. Our first property gauged it on a regional inflation rate, while our new property has an annual rate of 4%. That kind of sucks now that the country is contemplating deflation. As you can begin to see, this is all to guarantee steady, long term income for commercial property owners. It lets them ride out recessions and short term economic trouble, provided their clients don't default completely.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Armageddon Pattern Enclosed Basilisk

I was going to write a post on how rent works (yawn), but the bassie is just too pretty. This model was interesting. It's a bit like a jigsaw puzzle where the pieces don't actually fit together but you can clearly see the picture. It doesn't come with instructions, but with about a dozen parts, it was no big deal, although I couldn't have done it a year ago. It also assumes you've put together so many chimeras that you can do it in your sleep (I've got 10 chimera chassis', so I can).

Most of the parts are for the highly detailed interior, which I promptly hid by gluing on the rear door. The model went together using several sub-assemblies that needed to be clipped and trimmed to tightly slide into place. As with a lot of Forge World stuff, this model is somewhere between a kit and a model. A model you simply put together while a kit needs your creative input. The recommended age for Forge World models is 16, the highest age I've seen for anything in the game trade.

Overall it's a very pretty design, but I couldn't help thinking this $90 kit would have been cheaper if they had kept it simple. My costs were reduced by quite a bit when I realized I had the chimera chassis from an aborted enclosed basilisk project. The Forge World kit comes with all the chimera sprues (but no decals). This means I can re-sell a complete chimera in the store, which should save me about $30.

The next step is contemplating stowage. There's an excellent article on the Forge World site where the modeler went nuts with accessories and stowage. Unfortunately, I think it detracts from the hard, slab sided look of this vehicle, so I may run it very minimal. Also, when it comes to artistic composition, my other basilisks (I have three) have lots of stowage, meaning when they're all together, it's perfectly acceptable to have a more bare bones one (or you could argue it the other way).

I'm hoping to have it ready for Monday's league game. We're talking about playing Planetstrike, so I could conceivably field all four of my basilisks if I'm a defender.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Some Stuff

Reviews. The FTC says bloggers must disclose compensation, including free product. I do get review copies of books on occasion, but all of my reviews have been of items I've purchased. Feel free to send me review copies or even money to review your product. I'm talking to you, Forge World.

Forge World! We've started selling it in the store today. I ordered about 90% Imperial Guard and 10% Space Marines, but they only sent me the IG stuff. Included in the order is my next project, the Armageddon Pattern Enclosed Basilisk. I talk about this thing so much that if you Google it, my blog posts will come up before Forge World!

Open Late Sundays: We're temporarily staying open late on Sundays until 10pm. This could be especially useful for open gaming, since there is only one "open" night available now, on Saturdays.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

The Franchise Myth

One of the important things I learned this year was how some of the popular business books I was reading were just wrong for the game trade. E-Myth Mastery and The Four Hour Work Week teach the theme that small business owners should aspire to not actually work in their businesses. The have become victims of their business and they should be lying on a beach somewhere or in the case of a game store owner, playing in the back all day. Build your business as a way to do what you love, as opposed to your business being what you love to do. Business advice and process then become methods on how to create a kind of franchise that you can hand off to your employees while you follow your passion.

The problem with these types of books, I think, is you'll actually harm your business as you attempt to remove yourself from it. They assume that your business is consuming your life, that you should instead work on your business instead of in your business. There is certainly some good advice here, and everyone should attempt to own their schedule and work as much as they like, but the end premise, like a lot of things, goes too far.

Customer service is in the details and streamlining processes eliminates the exceptions that makes small business relevant. Sure, you get a consistency of experience, which every business owner should aim for, but you also create a system that doesn't respond well to change, which is a small business top strength. Exceptions are the bane of flow charts and processes. Many of the changes we made this year, related to listening to customers, would not have been implemented in such a scenario. They're too messy for a franchise. They come from intensively working in your business.

These books do have value however. As I mentioned consistency of experience is a core business value and these kinds of books tutor you on how to do that. Special orders come to mind as a key failing point of most retail stores. Some don't do them. Most do them poorly. A few get good consistency. As you've seen in my past posts, it's the hardest thing to do, as you're chaperoning a product across the spectrum of the game industry to be placed into the hands of your customer. It's remarkably difficult and mistake prone, but essential for customer service.

The other value is actually controlling how many hours you spend in your business. Many store owners are reluctant to delegate and work ridiculous hours, unnecessarily. Perhaps they've been ripped off by their employees, or have trust issues. Maybe they just don't think they can afford to do it, which might be true in their scenario. Books like these preach the value of handing off work to capable employees, and focusing on training them to do that work through clear processes. However, I think if you're tempted to delegate all your work, you might want to consider if you've lost interest in your business. The phrase from a book I read decades ago comes to mind: Do What You Love, The Money Will Follow.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Best Quarter

We've had a phenomenal third quarter, punctuated with some amazing products, like Space Hulk and Magic 2010. September is usually a back-to-school month, but this year we saw the Summer momentum continue. Board games and collectible card games both saw double the sales of last September. The credit goes to our well oiled machine of volunteers who keep board game night, Friday Night Magic and Yu-Gi-Oh on track. It's the volunteers and the events they run, week in and week out, that have proven invaluable for us. The store really couldn't function without them.

Sales for the year remain very strong as well, up 10% from 2008. With all my bellyaching and theorizing about doom and gloom, it's almost embarrassing. It makes me wish I had spent more time reading game books rather than trying to divine the economy. What a lot of stress I caused myself! I have to say I'm also optimistic for the rest of the year, driven by some hot games in the pipeline, including Magic Zendikar, which released today. One of the more perplexing questions we were asking this week, while walking around the store, was which board games would be the big hits this year. We're still scratching our heads, as most of the big hits have been expansions or have been out since Fall of last year. Board games are on fire, but usually you can pinpoint the source of the heat.

The 2009 mindset is definitely different from 2008 when it comes to sales. 2009 is when we rolled up our sleeves and focused on the basics. This motivation came from pure fear, which turned out to be useful when directed creatively. Before this year, I still felt we were this little boutique store, with quaint interests that happened to propel us forward. We had ideas about what we wanted to be, and attempted, sometimes in vain, to mold the store in that image. This year we took time off from expansion and big projects and tried to truly serve our local market. This might sound obvious, but I think most store owners, deep down, form a vision (or not) that includes just the games they want to, or have to sell, rather than serving their base. I don't think we fully served our base until this year, when we got down to brass tacks. My new loves, forged in 2009 is serving customer niches and paying off debt. You can actually feel it in the air when you're fully committed in this way. It's like a well oiled machine. Previous years seem as alien as dot-com companies I used to work for.

This service mindset doesn't mean making stupid decisions to please customers, like excess inventory. It means really listening and serving markets regardless of personal feelings. It's about building markets that didn't exist before, as opposed to shuffling existing customers from one game to another. Our collectible card market was an obvious example, with sales of single cards being very successful, and still growing. Serving the D&D 3.5 market turned out to be important, even though that version is out of print. Buying used books and re-selling allowed us to stock that game again. Stocking Games Workshop bits and Forge World items is something we've recently developed to serve the 40K crowd, although I admit it's fun and sexy.

Until this year, I've never felt the need to delve down to this level of customer need. There was always someone else to do that. I want to be that someone else! If you pay attention to business media, there has been a return to fundamentals that promote this kind of behavior and it gives me faith in the American economy. I have to think other business people are doing the same.

Forge World Hydra Kit. This is the hottest artillery piece in the new Imperial Guard codex, but it's only available from Forge World. We've got them on order.