Thursday, November 25, 2010

Black Friday Specials

So what are we doing for Black Friday?  We've got an overall store special:

Buy a starter set of any game and get a supplement at 20% off.
For example, a D&D red box starter set combined wth an adventure or Essentials book, Dominion with Dominion Prosperity, the 40K starter set wth a Battleforce box, or a box of CCG cards with an intro pack or tin.

What else? I've gone through our inventory and after some careful consideration, we've got some targeted offers we can send your way:

  • Dresden Files: Our World (60% off)
  • Call of Cthulhu 6th Edition (60% off)
  • Deathwatch RPG: Game Master's Tool Kit (40% off)
  • Dungeons & Dragons 4E: Adventures and Power Cards: Buy 1 get 1 Free
  • Dungeons & Dragons 3E (used): Buy 1 get 1 Free
  • Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay: Extra Dice Set  (40% off)
  • Pathfinder adventures (stand alone and adventure paths) (buy 1 get 1 at 40% off)


  • Plastic/Metal Combo: Buy a miniature set made of plastic and get a metal blister packed item for 50% off.


40% off the following:
  • Age of Industry
  • Secrets of the Sea
  • Blokus Trigon
  • Runewars
  • Runebound: Mists of Zanaga
  • Invasion from Outer Space

  • Buy 1 box of cards at full MSRP, get another at 60% off

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

5 Games to Help You Survive Your Relatives

It's the holidays. You like games. Your relatives? Probably not so much. Liking games, that is. You might play a variety of different game genres, but you're not likely to get a lot of 40K in with Aunt Betsy. Instead, here are some fun and light board and card games you might want to whip out to pass the time while you avoid discussing politics, Aunt Betsy's naked backscatter scan, or whatever new way they've found to torture you this year. I want to focus on five that should fit the bill, but also have a small bill at the checkout counter. As much as I would like to suggest you pick up a $50 game like Ticket to Ride, the risk is too high if they balk at playing. Here are five muggle friendly games around $20:

Forbidden Island
Players work together to stop the island from sinking. They've each got a role to play in this fun, stripped down version of the more gamier Pandemic. You might also get some of the kids to play, if the relatives balk, as the age for this games is 10 and up (around 8, if your relatives have smart kids). Forbidden Island will be THE family game of the year this holiday season and it's for good reason. Lots of gaming goodness for around $15. If your family is more gamer oriented, consider jumping right to Pandemic or Ghost Stories. This is a cooperative game, so if they're clearly not going to do that, skip Forbidden Island. Go directly to Saboteur.

In this card game, you take the role of dwarves mining for gold. It works best in larger groups of 6-10 players. There is a cooperative element, like Forbidden Island, but some of the dwarves are saboteurs, attempting to undermine the group by diverting them away from the gold, creating collapses and breaking the other miners equipment. The identity of each miner is secret so there's some hilarity and mayhem as players attempt to figure our what's going on. It's similar to Bang! in this way, but a bit easier to play. Consider Bang! if you've got gamer relatives, or jump straight to the Battlestar Gallactica board game for an even deeper experience as you identify whose the cylon. These are known as cooperative games with a betrayal mechanic.

This is an older card game, but it's still very popular. Players take on the role of executioners during the French Revolution, attempting to execute the high value nobles while letting the innocents go free (and reversing that for your opponents). You manipulate the line order to your advantage using various cards in your hand. It plays well with up to 5 players and isn't half bad one on one. Despite the grim game premise, game play is your fun, "screw your neighbor" type experience, while the cards are cartoony. If you are looking for a more grim game, and your relatives have a sense of humor, consider picking up Gloom, in which you force your family to suffer until you have enough points to kill them off (how I feel about watching sports, followed by Thanksgiving dinner). Some other classic "beer and pretzel" card games that mght be good picks: Killer Bunnies, Munchkin and Zombies!!!, but they're around $25-30.

Felix: The Cat In the Sack
This is a bluffing game where you play mice trying to buy the good cat in the sack, while getting your opponents to buy the bad cats, the dog or whatever you can manipulate them into taking. You do this through a simple bidding system in which you know the values of some of the cards, but not all. It's a cute, clever little game that's a staple at our board game nights. It's for 8 and up and costs around $15. It compares well to For Sale, although your relatives might find a game about real estate as repulsive as Gloom.

Dungeons & Dragons Starter Set (Red Box)
Do I dare suggest D&D for a family gathering? Yeah, pull it out. This is a stretch, and you're likely to only get interested teens to give it a try, but you might just start a family tradition. This new $20 D&D starter set is their best one yet. It's not perfect. It's not going to play itself or allow you to learn the instructions in five minutes like some of my other suggestions. However, if you've played D&D 4E, or really want to learn this new system, you should be able to get a lot of value out of this box set and easily introduce new players to the game. Making characters is part of the fun, but you might want to have some pre-generated if you think your audiences attention span may be limited. Consider leaving the game behind if you find a lot of enthusiasm. Everything you need to play is in the box, just make sure you read up ahead of time. Paizo is talking about having a Pathfinder starter set for next years holiday season, so consider waiting if that's your flavor.

Other games that come to mind: Mille Bornes (because my family played it as kids, you probably have a game like this), Citadels, Carcassonne and the ever popular, but $42, Settlers of Catan.

Let us know what you plan to play this holiday season with your relatives.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Limited Edition

Here are some of the "limited" items we have in stock. These are things that won't be back again or won't be back for a long time. It might be useful if you've got your eye on these as holiday gifts or were planning to pick them up after the holidays, with aptly named "grandma money."  Don't delay.

Castle Ravenloft is out of print and won't be back until 2011. The follow-up game has been delayed until next year, so this is THE D&D board game for the holidays. It's also our best selling board game of the year and wildly popular in the store. We stocked up as best we could and have about a dozen in stock. They won't make it past mid-December.

Fire & Lightning duel decks for Magic: The Gathering were released on Friday without a lot of fan fare. They're a little pricey ($35) but will be in huge demand over the holidays. Stores have sold out across the country on release day. We haven't hyped this release at all, so we've still got about ten. Previous decks are in high demand and this is one of those items that makes a great gift, but is hard to justify as a personal purchase because it lacks utility (you can't use most cards in organized play). It's high on the pretty scale though.

Beholder Collector's Set contains four of this iconic Dungeons & Dragons monster miniature. We originally were told we would get 6, then another distributor came through and we got a total of 12. Then we pried 12 more from WOTC's fingers, so we'll have these for a bit longer. Like the Fire & Lightning deck, it's really cool, but hard to justify for yourself. Gift fodder.

Orcus: Prince of Undeath. I stocked up knowing we would have these for the holidays. They're out of print and will likely be worth a small fortune soon. We've got five at the standard MSRP. The closest comparison is the Colossal Red Dragon which goes for $200-300 on Ebay. Again, a really cool model that would make a great gift, but hard to justify personally.

D&D tile sets are limited print runs, and many are gone or are going away soon, such as The Dungeon, the first D&D Essentials tiles. These are useful for D&D and Pathfinder and have been hot sellers. Also, Paizo GameMastery tiles have been going out of print for a while now, with the first twelve or so very hard to find. Paizo lets a lot of their older products go out of print.

Each year, GW comes out with a limited edition miniature case for the holidays. This year it's the Monster Figure Case, a giant case with pluck foam to take care of those one off miniatures that just won't fit anywhere else (where my Lord of the Rings Mumak will eventually go). We've got three left and won't have them again when they're gone. Again, not cheap, hard to justify as a personal purchase, but if a loved one has a model that just won't go away because it just won't fit anywhere, or your gamer shame is driving you to hide your Ork Stompa from the in-laws, this one is for you.

Necromancer Island is a Smallworld promo. Smallworld is a guaranteed big hit this holiday season for a number of reasons and we have a handful of this promo available for sale. Online sites sell it for $12-20 or bundle it with a copy of Smallworld (which everyone who wants this already owns). We've got a few left for $5.

What else? There will inevitably be a hot holiday game, often promoted by some newspaper, website or other source that accelerates a games sales well beyond normal.  We won't know what those games are or what inevitable games will be sadly unavailable until we get closer to the holidays.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Replicative Fading

We're now the number two game store on Facebook with 1,300 fans. It's a list I conveniently keep, with over a hundred game stores. That's a lot of fans, but has it resulted in a lot of sales? Umm, no. What it has done is replace a lot of costly advertising with cheaper, much more time consuming advertising. It's a revolution in savings, but not revenue. It's fantastic in communicating with our user base. However, the bottom line is, just like customers driving by a store, having a bunch of peripherally interested people is not terribly lucrative. Lets take a look at how I get these fans.

About half our fans come from organic means, like telling folks in the store or our very successful (in getting people to fan) Facebook advertising. The other half, however, come from what I've discovered is the quickest way to get new fans, targeting friends of fans. The ads target friends of existing fans within a certain parameter, like 20 miles. Unfortunately, what I'm seeing is very quick growth of those types of fans, which also means high additional costs as those people fan our page. There's nothing wrong with them, they're just not terribly engaged with the page.

Basically what I'm saying is fan counts are crap. Don't chase them. Don't worry about them. Worry about providing solid content to your existing, organically grown, fan base of active users. 100 active users is far better than 1,000 passive fans, who like replicating clones, get farther and farther away from the original intent as the advertising process continues. John's brothers cousins uncles pool cleaner is not my target audience because he thinks games are cool. Some companies are actually selling this social media replication strategy as a business model. Weak.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Less is More (Holiday Planning)

The big retailers are predicting a pretty good holiday season, and the economists (who we now know are completely full of crap), believe recent retail numbers indicate the same. The retailers are what interest me. They're finally dialing in what the average consumer is looking for in the new, post-boom economy. We only encounter these consumers once a year, in December, so I've started paying extra attention to the big stores after getting seriously blind-sided in 2009 (despite great sales).

Last year we experienced what a lot of big retailers already knew: we had too much inventory and not the right mix. We had stocked up for a hesitant but still feeling wealthy 2008 consumer, but ended up with a skittish and impoverished 2009 consumer. It should have been obvious. All I had to do was check my own balance sheet. However, our sales don't correspond with the feelings of the general public. Hobbyists were fairly unfazed by the recession, at least those who still had jobs. They changed their buying habits, but they still bought. We had some national crisis moments that tanked our sales, but in general, they were up in 2009 by quite a lot, with 2010 very healthy as well.

Big retailers this year are hopeful because they've burned through all their dead inventory and have fine tuned their offerings. I would like to think we've done the same thing, or at least plan to. A lot of big stores have discovered that focusing on fewer things and even shrinking their stores provides a better shopping experience and saves a bunch of money. It's all about the bottom line now.  Gross sales and market share are for suckers (remember the dot-com days?). Game stores could learn from the big boys. Dead inventory is an impediment, and I'm constantly balancing selection with efficiency. Do I really need five lines of paint brushes and every D&D product, or could I actually make more money with less? The new mantra is less is more. We'll be cautiously heading into the holidays and stocking up only when warranted. Overstock is for the gross sales crowd.

Changing size is something we're working on as well, hopefully adding some significant space without significant cost. If that doesn't work out, there's a chance, a couple years from now, that we right-size the store in a different location. I'm hoping it doesn't come to that, but the savings out there right now are astronomical. I've been joking lately that the only real money in game stores comes from rent negotiations. 

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Nom Nom Nom

The game store-cafe concept is all the rage right now. If I had to do it over again, I would seriously consider it. It's probably like other game store hybrid models, in which the sum of the parts does not equal the value of the whole. In other words, from what I'm told, a really strong game store will always beat a hybrid store in sales performance. Still, there's something tantalizing about the coffee shop model, especially having customers during the day. Customers that are not primarily men between the ages of 18-45 (our core).

That said, I know nothing about coffee shops and only a little about coffee. My coffee knowledge: I like it. "I like it" is already the failed business plan for most game stores, so I'm smart enough to know I need to do more research, bring in a partner, or shut the hell up (my current favorite, despite this post). One old friend even offered to come up with the funding if I did the business plan work. I'm honored, but still need to think more about it. I can't help thinking there's a change in the wind. I'm just not sure it's the smell of coffee.

This brings me to our snacks. Some stores have this grandiose idea that snacks and drinks are some sort of huge investment. They're a nice add-on, but not worth breaking a sweat over. Here are our snack sales; far more fragmented than drink sales. The Kit-Kat is the our local champion. Got a favorite?

Friday, November 5, 2010

Imperfect Information

I'm increasingly frustrated and irritated that I can't get information to customers, despite the amazing digital tools at our disposal. Facebook, direct email, in-store flyers, an online schedule and good old word-of-mouth all assume that what we have to say is important to those we're trying to say it to, and they have the mental bandwidth to absorb it. Inevitably, these efforts are met with failure, despite our best efforts. However, I have to remember that the entire process of retail, the entire economy, really, is based on imperfect information.

The concept of imperfect information is counter intuitive and completely escapes some people, especially those who believe the Internet is the ultimate killer of brick and mortar stores. Imperfect information is the grease of commerce (it's not money). According to this Wikipedia article on perfect information,
"it would practically mean that all consumers know all things, about all products, at all times, and therefore always make the best decision regarding purchase. In competitive markets, unlike game-theoretic models, perfect competition does not require that agents have complete knowledge about the actions of others; all relevant information is reflected in prices."
In other words, if we could see everything and every possible permutation of the economy, like in a game of chess or tic tac toe, retail would be an endeavor handled by a handful of Internet discounters, entirely based on who had the lowest price (perhaps Amazon's goal). Imperfect information may be highly inefficient, but the fuzziness of that data makes it possible for businesses to survive, especially small ones. It's fuzzy for everyone, including my competitors.

Back in the real world, retailers and all businesses struggle to get their message to their customers, most of whom are completely overwhelmed with messages, most of whom shop at their store for myriad reasons retailers only vaguely grasp. The Internet crowd will claim they're all computer illiterate Luddites, but that assumes price is paramount and perfect information is at hand.

Where one shops is often about human connections, personal conversations, perceived staff expertise and a sense of community. Price is only one factor. My own relationships with vendors are not entirely based on price and availability. They're often based on fuzzier things like hard earned loyalty. My credit card processor is a high school friend. My insurance agent is a local gamer buddy, and my main distributor spent months of weekends getting me set up while the competition simply mailed catalogs and credit applications. I have to say, I'm richly rewarded by these relationships, despite their imperfection. I might find a slightly cheaper credit card processor, but can I Facebook the CEO when my system is down? Will my insurance agent show up at 7am on a Saturday morning after a break in, like mine did? Will the sales rep at my next supplier work to understand my business and look out for me or is he a keyboard pounding monkey?

What we really seek as business owners is that personal connection with our customers. In analytical terms, it's a way to cut through imperfect information so customers listen to us. Not everyone wants that kind of relationship, which is why it's, well, imperfect.

Monday, November 1, 2010

The Helpful Customer

With the holidays fast approaching, I've been thinking about all the great help I get from our customer base in initiating new players into games. Sometimes this even involves help on the sales floor. Some store owners will glare at those who get between them and their customer during a sale. "Come not between the Nazgul and his prey!" they seem to hiss. My approach is a bit more philosophical. With over 6,000 items in my store, and about 20,000 available, there is a really good chance you, the customer, know more about some things than me. I am happy to defer questions to the knowledgeable customer. However, it's better if I have an idea of how that interaction will go down. Sometimes I find myself rescuing the customer from a well meaning volunteer. Here are some guidelines for being helpful in any store:

  • Keep it Positive. The tendency is to denigrate a product or game system to elevate what you're trying to emphasize. "D&D 4 sucks; play Pathfinder." There's no need to do this and what happens is you permanently shut the door on what might be of interest later, possibly later in the conversation. As you get older, you realize the "nevers" of your youth might have been a little extreme at the time. Going back to something once you've declared it sucks is really hard. However, you can declare something unsuitable for a customer's needs based on the criteria they've given you. That's changeable.
  • Ask Questions. You need three bits of information at the very least: What do they like? What is their capacity to play the game (usually age)? and Who will play with them? Price is not an issue yet. What we're trying to do is determine, in a perfect world, exactly what would be best for the customer. If someones son wants to play a war game, that leaves about 50 games on our shelves. If the recipient is 8-year old Johnny, we now have just a handful. If he's playing only with his uninterested mom, that narrows it down to one or two. Price might play a role then.
  • Include the Sales Person. Integrate your discussion with the sales person and you've gained an ally in the sale (and otherwise) and have impressed upon the customer that everyone is working towards their best interest. "Gary is right that Sentinels are mostly for casual play, but in an army themed around fast attack, they do very well." (I don't like Sentinels, you do, and we've agreed the product is fine but might not be suitable). 
  • Keep it Simple. It's the sales person's job to suggest accessories and up-sell useful items. Try not to burden the new customer with too much information or the fact that a serious player will spend hundreds of dollars beyond the initial purchase. Maybe they will, maybe they won't. Want to start 40K? Try a starter set. The sales person will likely recommend some glue, clippers and a paint set. However, if you suggest all this plus a couple hundred dollars in models to make your ideal army, the customer will flee.
  • Know When to Stop. If you find the sales person getting irritated or in some way wishing your interaction to stop, get the hint. Sometimes there are factors you don't know, like the age of the shopper, their budget, the list you didn't notice in their hand, the fact they're a return customer, or a bewildering number of other factors. Be helpful, but not intrusive. Know when to hand off the customer to the sales person.
 That's about it. Thanks for the help!