Sunday, August 22, 2010

Strategy and Demographics

It might seem that I just can't stop talking about Facebook and how it helps the store, but the insights it provides are useful. The demographics section of our fan page has been an issue of concern and celebration for most of the year. First, I have to think it's representational, since we focus so much marketing effort and money in that direction. Sure, there are a lot of industry people who follow it, but as our fan (customer) base increases, those people become statistically less relevant. Second, I know not everyone is on Facebook and there are plenty of folks who get our Facebook posts via Twitter, but that's a small number of people and I generally know who they are. It's what you learn when you talk to your customers (they've got their own demographic).

So what has been the take away from this?  I call it my life boat problem.  Lots of men, but not enough women and children. Some of this is natural based on what we provide, but I think we can do better. I've mentioned it before, but it's very easy to coast in the game trade. You can play to your adult male base and ignore new hobbyists, especially if you've got activist game stores out there doing the heavy lifting or excellent local conventions. We have none of the first and a varying degree of quality of the second. Without these outside drivers creating new hobbyists, a region can die. There are vast swaths of this country where there are no game stores, where the closest store is 90 minutes away, or where game stores are wretched shells of their former glory (I just visited Southern Calfornia - shudder). That's tragic. It might sound like a sappy song, but the children are our future, both as hobbyists and as a business.

Older gamers often fall away from the hobby so we need the young'ins to enter it. Our biggest success here has been our Young Generals program. It's our kids only 40K event that places an expert hobbyist with a small group of kids. Young Generals is just a start and we would love to have additional programs in the role-playing arena and board games. Our board game group is already family friendly, but a more focused kids group would be ideal. If you know kids that are interested, or if you would like to volunteer for an event like this, let us know.

We're also focusing more on games for kids. Childrens' games are the biggest area of growth for us right now. We've been bringing in high quality games from Haba and we'll continue that trend as we approach the holidays. Another big Haba order goes out this week. Selling kids games is hard without a lot of foot traffic. Hobbyists like to get their kids into these high quality games, but most "muggles" will gasp in shock when they see a $40 board game for a five year old. They're used to low quality (inexpensive) games with ridiculously inane game play and it's hard to break them of that. There are some good "gateway" games, so we'll continue the fight.

We also can't forget Yu-Gi-Oh, which brings in 50-60 kids weekly. They actually have their own Facebook page, since they're primarily "mono gamers." There are about 60 Black Diamond Games Yu-Gi-Oh fans out there too.

Having a store friendly to women is part two of the life boat problem. We do a better job than most. Our store is consciously laid out to, at the very least, not repel women. It's professionally cleaned, the fixtures match, and the music is pleasant enough (movie soundtracks). I don't want to paint women with too broad a brush. There's mom friendly, and then there's female hobbyist friendly. Putting the scary war games and D&D towards the back of the store (it's passe to complain about devil worship, but war is alright), having a mom's lounge with comfy chairs, and having ADA compliant aisles for strollers is mom friendly. Keeping the bathrooms clean and addressing gamer funk is the primary concern of the female gamer.

Our biggest complaint from female customers is not having enough staff for assistance. Most veterans are on auto pilot, whether male or female, and generally need little more than a greeting when they enter the store. It's the new folks, especially the board gamers, mostly women, who need hand selling or else they'll walk out. If we can't provide that, we've lost to the online store. We've actually increased our staff hours quite a bit after these kinds of growing pains. We can't really afford it, but I see it as a necessary investment for the future.

What about older gamers? The big question: Is there a "boomer like" demographic bulge of gamers who started playing in the '70's that will continue to play into their late 40's and 50's? There's a lot of nostalgic interest in the new D&D red box starter set at the store. This is the crowd I'm talking about. I'm in this category and I wonder. Will I be playing with a younger crowd as I get older, or will my friends, now in their 40's, continue to play? We're now playing with their children at the table, which is actually kind of nice. Still, I'm hoping the lack of 50 year old gamers in our demographics is either an issue with Facebook (I think not) or a hobbyist crowd, from the booming days of fantasy gaming, that hasn't reached maturity yet. If it's the latter, hobby gaming might actually be in better shape than most thought.

Have I missed anything important? Is my Male, 35-44 year old demographic clouding my judgement? Let me know.

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