Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Gama Trade Show Follow-up

Now that the bills are in, orders received (most never arrived) and I've had time to digest information, the question my wife asked yesterday was whether GTS was worth it. I would say yes, but probably for different reasons than most. First, there was nothing that caught my eye this year, as the game trade booms on collectible card games and mines the depths of the deck building game model. Second, I'll mention the surreal and often astonishing disconnect I had with the droning on about the glory of Kickstarter. The dialogue at GTS is about a year behind where it needs to be, but then again, it's essentially a show for game manufacturers and what do they have to lose? Other than reputation and their brick and mortar support model. But on to to the good stuff.

I'm in my ninth year of owning a game store and most of the basic challenges are behind me. My current issues are things like improved management of people and processes, deciding strategic steps on how to expand, and models for how to run a successful store well into the future. I can always fine tune things (the majority of what you get at this show), but my job as an owner is to do the heavy lifting, the strategic thinking, rather than improve already functioning processes, which is a lot of what I do, but kind of a waste of time and not where success lies. I don't usually talk about people, but here are a few that stepped up to share their wisdom publicly, so I suppose they're fair game for public praise.

When it comes to inspiration, I need to see successful people, doing what I do, longer, and with bigger results. What can a store owner accomplish in 15 years? 20 years? 30 years? A good example of that was the industry award winning store The Sentry Box in Calgary and its friendly owner Gordon Johansen. The Sentry Box is a 13,000 square foot wonderland of gaming and has been the set for the independent movie Lloyd the Conqueror as well as the site for a wedding, because some people love that store so much they want to marry (in) it.  It's rare that a veteran store owner like Gordon attends a show like GTS, and even rarer when they let you peak under the hood. If you can point and say, I want to be like that, it's the first step towards reaching such a goal.

The Sentry Box does the huge store well, with modern processes and procedures, strong inventory management, well run events, and an eye towards the future that includes embracing the latest technology. Many stores this size are what I would call legacy stores, or shock and awe. They're from a pre-Internet past, have no replicable business model and are basically artifacts created by eccentric owners. That's thankfully not Sentry Box, the first truly large and dynamic store I've seen, and it left me deeply impressed and inspired.

Inspiration came from Dave Wallace, as usual. As I mentioned, he touched on high level esoteric, strategic stuff when he gave a seminar on building a better manager. He was also candid on his business model and how you might step away with a general manager handling much of an owners responsibilities. Dave is also a cautionary tale, which makes his voice even stronger. He can tell you what happens when you do it wrong, because he's done it and recovered, building up to nine stores, semi-retiring, but having to come back and pare it down to three, including firing his own brother. A common response to uncomfortable truths from successful business owners is perhaps they just got lucky. That's not Dave Wallace. You know you're listening to hard won wisdom. He's the business equivalent of a cancer survivor whose now running marathons. You should listen to those people.

Marcus King blew us away with his new Troll and Toad store in Kentucky. It took me seven years to reach the sales goals he achieved in his first. He might claim it was a fluke, but he's been running game stores for decades and I don't believe that. What I believe is if you know what needs to be done, know what mistakes to avoid (probably because you've made so many of them), it's highly likely you'll succeed on your next run much faster (failing much faster is fine too).

For me, it's a reminder that the past doesn't have to dictate the future. Expansion or new ventures don't have to include the same painful learning experiences, there are new and interesting painful learning experiences ahead. That's an enormous motivator for a store owner, because honestly, I won't open another store if it involves the same lessons as the first. That's why when I go to my happy place I rant about opening a sandwich shop rather than another game store.

Besides these game trade giants, it was great talking with various store owners throughout the show. Some knew me by this blog and they thanked me or gave me their impressions on how they might tackle an issue or problem. I should start every post by saying, "this is just one store owner and there are many opinions on how to do stuff." For every insurmountable problem, you can almost guarantee there's a store owner who has found a solution. Hearing those solutions and gaining that inspiration is the main reason I go to GTS.

My trip back on US 95. These signs make me smile. Possibilities are endless.

1 comment:

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