Saturday, April 17, 2010

Random Thoughts

Some things rattling about my head that would make for perfectly good blog posts for people who don't write in way too long essay format:

Game Store Road Trip. I've been contemplating the idea of heading out on the road to take a look at the best, "alpha" game stores out there. There's this common wisdom that everything you need to know you can learn from your customers and that a good business doesn't need to look back. I agree for the most part, and I rarely visit game stores nowadays (really any store), but the retailer in me is curious to see what's happening.

A trade show, unfortunately, doesn't provide much of this. Part of that is the game industry 90/10 rule, which says about 90% of sales come from 10% of companies. I don't need to see more products, I want to see ideas on how to use them. Such a road trip might take a weekend or a week, but there are some interesting stores on my list, including several regional ones I haven't visited recently or ever, such as Gamescape North, Endgame, Game Kastle and a new board game only store, Just Awesome! in San Francisco. I might need to head north after that.

Next vs. Relationship.  It's something I've hit on a few times, but a friend is about to write a newspaper article on the difference between the "next" business and the "relationship" business and why relationship is better. I'm going to wait for him to write his article so I can steal his ideas, but my impression of the debate is that a store like ours, which is intensely hands on, often feels like it would be easier without the relationships. We love our customers, but the hands on management of customer relations is a lot of work and very idiosyncratic. The business is, in fact, the relationship. That we sell games is secondary. Relationships are a lot of work, especially for geeks who would rather play games.

I'm guessing the "next" business, in which people come in and never come back, is a lot of different work. It probably involves spending stupid amounts of money on marketing for a relatively low pay off for one-time customers, customers that couldn't care less if you live or die and are just as likely to try your competitor next time. I'm guessing without the relationships in the first model, I would feel sad and alienated and quite bored with a constant stream of people I don't know. The "next" business appeal is that it sounds like a good absentee business, one I could run four or five of, strictly for the money. It's the laundromat model.

I expect to learn that "next" is not nearly as successful as it sounds due to the need to constantly hunt down new customers and that "next" customers are really looking for a relationship. "Next" is probably doomed going forward, with most "next" businesses desperately trying to establish relationships. So yeah, I'm not going to write that blog post yet.  ;)

Game Stores on Facebook. I didn't start the discussion, that happened on the Game Industry Network forum, but it has been interesting watching game store owners step up their Facebook presence. I'm still tracking down new ones and adding them to the list and occasionally updating fan counts. I'm especially interested in those with over 400 fans, since that's the territory our store is in. Stores with the highest number of fans have a momentum that other stores don't.

There are several factors, one of which is listing them (people immediately "fanned" the top stores), part of it is the efforts of the owners, since they got where they are through more interaction with their fans, and part of it is the Facebook system itself, which has a kind of exponential growth curve for pages, suggesting the page to friends of existing fans, for example. So game stores towards the top grew at a rate of 3-5 fans a day, while those at the bottom stayed stagnant or lost fans during that period. Black Diamond Games is number nine in the world for game stores on Facebook, but a lot of that has to do with shifting my marketing almost entirely to the medium. I'm a believer, if you couldn't tell.

New Website Needed. I've mentioned it on Facebook and got some mild interest, but I'm seriously looking for someone to re-design our website. I'm looking for an easy way to add dynamic content to the front page, so, after talking with other game store owners with similar sites, I've settled on Wordpress as the medium. I'm looking for a web designer familiar with Wordpress who, get this, wants to work for barter. Email me if you're interested. I want to start this project immediately. You can do this from anywhere in the world.