Friday, August 12, 2011

Store News

Spotlight: Fantasy Flight put us in their retailer Spotlight column this month. This is a really neat idea, and one I haven't seen before in the game trade. This is something one of our (now two) trade groups should be doing. Usually retailer rewards are "pat-on-the-back" internal awards that nobody really cares about.

I've thought about writing a column about why there are no "real" retailer awards for the game trade, but the answers are pretty simple. Publishers can produce a beautiful product that nobody cares about (we call them art projects). They can win awards that have nothing to do with any sort of economic success. Retailers, on the other hand, exist solely to satisfy the demands of their local customer base balanced against making profit.

What that looks like depends a lot on the size of your base. How you do it is often an issue of scaling customer satisfaction with profit. You can have vastly satisfied customers and go broke tomorrow. You could be doing a couple million in sales a year and nobody notices you because you don't pander to the "community." Scale of your operation depends very much on your sales base. An innovative retailer in North Dakota won't have the resources, the flash, the presence of one in Manhattan. They can be innovative and interesting in their methods or process, but the shock and awe won't scale. In other words, it's an interesting question with boring answer.

New Employee: We have a new female employee, our first in a couple if years. Please welcome Cassie when you see her.

This is a bit of a departure from how we normally hire as Cassie has extensive retail experience we hope to tap to improve the store. She's more retailer than gamer, although she does play games, so it's an experiment to see if we can transplant a retailer into the game trade and back fill the geek factor rather than teaching retail. Teaching retail doesn't have overwhelming success in my book, so this is worth trying. In exchange, we can hopefully pick up some much needed retail processes.
Having a woman on staff again (our fourth technically) also breaks us out of our testosterone groupthink.

The Game Trade Narrative: Here's the narrative I'm hearing from the game trade, something I've been picking up after the hugely successful Gencon last week, with attendance up over 20%. Before the recession there was a great variety of product, with many little publishers able to make the game trade their primary occupation. The recession came and consumers cut back, sending many of these publishers back to day jobs and reducing variety in stores.

There was a "flight to quality," a term that small publishers hate, as consumers bought sure things and clear winners. In other words, with reduced disposable income, they cut back to essentials for their hobby. As the economy stabilized (I didn't say got better), and money flowed back to the hobby, dollars went to those "flight to quality" winners, so that the bigger game companies now get a bigger share while the smaller companies languish.

My narrative is slightly different. What I see, and I might be alone in this, is an improvement in our sales and thus I take more risks on bringing in a wider variety of product. I'm back to trying out things that look cool with no buyer in mind, albeit in far more moderation than before. I used to do a percentage of purchasing, which bit me hard when the recession hit. Now it's just a few things here and there.

I'm seeing customers come in to buy these things, which sometimes lead to entire game systems. In other words, I see customers and normality returning to my store. I don't see any other way to grow a business though. You need to test the waters all the time. I'm told that's just me though. If you have a store, what do you see? If you're a customer, are you taking more chances on interesting stuff or have your dollars ended up with a few core game companies?

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