Thursday, December 26, 2013

What's Your Deal?

I have a fun little bio here, where you can read about my past, but you might wonder about my deal as a game store owner. Along with a handful of minority partners, I own Black Diamond Games, Ltd., a game store in suburban California that just celebrated its 9th anniversary.

Among hobby game stores, it's likely BDG is in the top 10% in the country, or "alpha" stores, based on a number of factors, including breadth of what we carry and especially our sales levels. Also, it cannot be done outside of a high population base, so demographics is a huge factor.

Our sales level is around the seven figures range, with steady growth for nearly a decade. Sharing that is a mortal sin in the game trade, and I should be expecting the inquisition any time now. That sales number, by the way, is still just enough to feed a family and plan a future, so don't get too excited.

We got big by leveraging real money to start our store, rather than the usual shoestring approach, and when it kinda worked, we did it again, and soon, again. It's not a particularly smart move, and our return on investment, which I recommend you work to calculate out at 3-5 years with your future store, is probably more like 10 years. Like the ridiculousness of the dot-com days, we're working to build market share, plus just being kinda dumb. A long ROI is stupid because a store has little value at the end of the road. The reason to do it is to raise your returns.

There are perhaps 250-300 owners in the alpha category like myself who have similar experiences to share. Several do share, but most don't. Store owners who don't share include some retail geniuses that have sales several multiples of mine. Nobody ever talks about them, and outsiders don't recognize them as the elephant in the room they actually are. The elephants like it that way. Man, the books those guys could write.

So my one in one hundred status mostly comes from my desire to share my experiences and my ability to express it. Each of the other 299 game store owners is going to tell a slightly or enormously different story, and they could if they wanted to. We're all self taught, we all have different experiences, and we all grow from them in different ways, like an enormous game trade tree with crooked branches jutting into the sky. Clearly I don't speak for them. Some would like this very clearly stated, so there it is.

I describe my approach as syncretic, as in I steal ideas from everywhere and attempt to deploy them to improve my store. I welcome others to steal my ideas and I'll never call you out for that unless you use them in my proximity, as in down the street from me. Improvement is about process as most alpha store owners have too big an operation to do on their own, so others need to carry their vision and process. I believe we have nine, no eight, yes, eight employees. Like phone numbers, I lose count after seven. They need to do the thing in the way I do it, all the time. Getting this to work is part of training and hopefully in the future, a better system of customer feedback.

Finally, there is our secret sauce. I can't write this without mentioning the sauce. Our store is in the San Francisco Bay Area, a powerful mix of people open to ideas, cultures, philosophies with enough prosperity to do something about it. I moved here from Southern California, which has the money, but nothing else and I did it because of the cultural opportunities.

There is something special about our customer base, something unique about the Bay Area that rewards good things that tend to be a bit out of the ordinary. The people here are special and what I do here I couldn't do in most places around the country.

If I were a farmer, this would be me giving credit to the soil. I came to the Bay Area for Buddhist Studies, and we're suckers for agrarian metaphors. A lot of stores owners will tell me, yes, you're a fine farmer, but it's your amazing soil. I don't argue with them.

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