Thursday, February 28, 2013


I wrote this on the boardgamegeek forum in a thread about starting a game store. It's edited and expanded a bit here, because I can't leave well enough alone.

Figure out your motivation. Why do you want to own a game store?

If it's because you think you can do it better than everyone else around you, well duh, you're probably right, but is that a good reason? Beware of winning.

I started my store because my favorite game store went down hill after a management change (Gamescape North in San Rafael). It turned out at least one other well known game store owner did the same. Gamescape is thankfully back in good hands, but you can see where a major life decision was made almost as a protest vote.

If it's to play more games, it's likely you'll play fewer, and always off hours, and usually to learn some stupid game of the month you don't care about so you can sell it better. I don't believe you'll ruin your hobby by making it your business, but you'll have less time for it (oh yeah, and beware of losing your hobby).

I recall a horrible, sinking feeling when I realized that I didn't want to play Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition any longer. Sure, I've played other games, but D&D was my cornerstone, my linch pin, my passion. Would I still want to run a game store without games I love?  Now imagine loving that game but being kept from it, just a bit out of reach. That was my first year in business when I took a break from games to focus on work... selling games. If I hadn't succeeded, I might still be that struggling guy without his game.

Speaking of games, how is your game knowledge?
How well do you know board games, miniature games, collectible card games, role-playing games and classic games? You don't get to pick, you must know them all well enough to sell them. Diversification is survival, not just success. Active selling is key too. Expect to hand sell a lot of stuff you don't care about to people you don't care about who think you should care a lot.

You will hopefully develop The Stills Effect, where you "love the one you're with." It's something I actively practice, although times like now, when I need a vacation, it can be difficult. You don't need to know every game, but you need to know how to provide entry into the hobby. I will look like a veteran hobbyist when I sell board games to new customers, but after a year or so of shopping with me, it's likely you've gone beyond my knowledge. My job is to empower customers, not be the ever full font of all knowledge. As retailers, we try anyway, and regularly beat ourselves up for our shortcomings of not being all knowing gurus.

If it's to make money, hopefully you've learned by now there's no "there" there. You can make a living at it, but not a very good one. Key here: if you have the skills to succeed at running a game store, you have the skills to succeed doing things making a LOT more money. It's wickedly complex and painfully inefficient and resistant to progress. Open a Subway franchise instead and play more games in your free time. Whatever you're doing now, do it as a consultant or as your core business. It's likely far less risky than a retail store.

Even if you succeed, as my father pointed out when I started, there is a severe opportunity cost. If you're young, you probably lack the skills, but if you're in your 30's and 40's, you'll give up your peak earning years in a profession, provided you had one or intended to have one. You'll likely set yourself back from your peers and possibly take a notch down in your social class, which in this country means lacking access to real estate, good neighborhoods and adequate schooling for your children.

What's your exit strategy? One not so great thing about a game store is it's rarely worth the value of the contents of the store even when it's wildly successful. You've really just bought yourself a job, which might be great if you want something to do in retirement, but it's a dead end if you want to buy a house, put a kid through college or one day retire on your business fortune. Game stores should be this thing you rent that you hand off to the excited next guy. Are you ready to devote your life to retailing? Forget the games, you're a retailer.

As I've mentioned before, the job takes a high level of both passion and dispassion. Loving what you do, what you sell, but knowing that all of your babies will eventually need drowning in the bathwater. Gasp! That's a harsh analogy, perhaps embracing impermanence is a more sanitized version. All games, every game, will eventually hit the clearance bucket or better, leave with a loving owner. Nothing, no thing, is sacred.

Anyway, it's entirely possible that you can do it. It's possible that you succeed at it and you love it. Just be careful what you wish for.

1 comment:

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