Saturday, March 8, 2014

Game Store Resources (Tradecraft)

What You Need

 If you're starting a game store, I think you should seek out resources from four areas:
  • Specific Game Trade Resources
  • General Retailing Resources
  • Business Plan Resources
  • Ongoing Support
Specific Game Trade Resources
There are two books you should read before doing anything else. The first is an older book, and harder to get, but it's the foundation of many successful game trade retailers. 

A Specialty Retailers Handbook: Games and Comics, by Dave and Kelli Wallace. There are some core chapters in this book that will save your business, especially the ones on negotiating your lease and the perils of discounting. The book isn't online, but you can get it by calling The Fantasy Shop at 636-947-8646 or If you get a chance to see Dave Wallace present at a trade show, schedule your trip around him.

The second book was recently published by Lloyd Brown and is called Game Retailer Guide. It's a comprehensive guide to running a store with over 300 pages of information. Nobody needs to write another general game trade book now that Lloyd has written this monster. Get this book. Get the Dave Wallace book too, because Wallace goes into a lot of important detail you don't want to miss. 

Behind the Counter: Read these articles by Marcus King, who has been in retail for over 20 years. I've been to several of his seminars at GTS and you want to listen to what he says. He's the most tenacious retailer I've ever met and all his accolades are hard earned. 

Read This Blog: There's a lot of it, and I think you'll get the best value by working your way backwards. That's because you can see my mistakes after I make them instead of before. "Wow, I really think toys is a great way to diversify my destination store!"will come after, "God, I'm so glad all those toys are moved out now." You have 1,465 posts to wade through over seven years. You don't get to see the monumental flailing in my first three years of business, so don't get discouraged when you flail.

Starlit Citadel: More good business posts. I honestly don't read a lot of blogs, but I take the time to read this one when there's a business related post.

Deadly Fredly: Fred Hicks of Evil Hat has a business blog from the publishing side. This will absolutely help you understand the scope and feel of the game trade. He posts numbers and makes assumptions, something I like to do.

Finally, there is a plethora of game trade wisdom out there from those who keep their mouths shut. Seek out and find them.

General Retailing Resources

You should read business books, especially about retailing. The game trade can give you tunnel vision and you are primarily a retailer now, a small business owner, not just a game store owner. Read far and wide. 

Why We Buy, by Paco Underhill is your guidebook on store layout and customer experience. Read this book. Read it again. Buy a copy for every employee or your spouse. Why We Buy uses research to understand how people shop, and as a store owner, you need to listen carefully. It talks about things like the decompression zone (the transition zone in your store), what direction people in Western cultures turn to when they enter the store, traffic flow, how to avoid the "butt brush syndrome," proper lighting and cleanliness. If you buy only one general retailing book, buy this one.

Notes I made in the back of my copy of Why We Buy while on a plane to a trade show 

Other Retailing Books
The thing about the game trade is it's very specific and even books specifically on retailing are not specific enough. Thus the recommendation of the Wallace and Brown books above. Still, here are five that I found interesting, in order of usefulness:
There are more general business books, for example: Guerrilla Marketing, The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing, The Anatomy of Buzz, and The Experience Economy, but those you can read on your many vacations away from your business. Ha. Right.

Business Plan Resources

You can find business plan books in every book store, but honestly, they kind of suck. I bought one, back in the day, but I didn't use it. If you're not much of a writer, by all means, steal a template from one of these books, but the majority of business plan information can be found online for free.

You absolutely must write a plan. The research is the plan, so take your time. Questions will come from your plan and you can use the resources mentioned to obtain answers. Don't rush it. Gather as much information as possible because it will absolutely result in a better chance of success. Build your compensation into your plan, rather than attempting to figure out how to feed yourself and your family once the business is going. 

The big secret of a plan is that sales projections are all crap. Nobody knows what their sales will be, but you can certainly nail down your expenses with research. I'm good at sales projection but I was way off with expenses. 

Once you've written your plan, crunched all the numbers, gotten very sad that it doesn't appear to work, have found a way for it to work once again, and you're certain you've got it figured out, seek out the Yoda of business plans, Jim Crocker, and ask for a copy of his. You will weep. Seek him out on the swamp planet of Facebook (see below).

Ongoing Support

On a daily basis, there are several private game store Facebook groups you should join. This has mostly take over from the GIN (Game Industry Network) as the source for information. Get on the GIN too, but Facebook is where it's at:
The Gama Trade Show (GTS) is an annual game trade extravaganza. Although it's the show for the game trade and retailers, it's very much a publisher organization, Gama being Game Manufacturers Association. Many retailers will tell you GTS saved their businesses and many of the people mentioned in this article regularly present at the show. It's next week in Las Vegas and if you've got a new store, closing for a few days and making a mad dash to Vegas would not be unreasonable.

Finally, I just want to thank all the people mentioned in this post. They've saved my business many times over with their wisdom. Remember going forward that this is a tiny trade, usually with companies run by individuals. If you've got a problem, it's possible to ask and sometimes things get fixed. There are only a few mindless corporate entities in this field, so try to work things out with the willing. You'll find they'll remember your efforts to help them improve later on when you need a favor.


  1. Gary---

    Have you written a book on game store ownership success yet? You've certainly got sufficient material from your blog, I would think.


  2. Makes sense, and it's a nice corollary to "how to earn a million dollars in the games industry" ;->


  3. CategoryOneGames.comMarch 9, 2014 at 9:41 PM

    I'll throw a few more at ya for Comic Book sellers
    ICV2 for Comic Book Sales and News - - The columns section is really good by retailers talking about the business side of selling comics.

    Game Head looked like it was going to be a good site and then died quickly after it's launch -

    Gary has mentioned the book The E-Myth Revisited and I would highly recommend it as well.

    I recently bought both the A Specialty Retailers Handbook and the Game Retailer Guide. Both are excellent to read and get information from.

    Gary I read your blog from front to back, having discovered your blog around November 2012. I remember you getting toys and talking about how great they were and thinking to myself, those are going to kill him. Then seeing posts later that you were getting rid of them ASAP. It was a great study of seeing things you did, thinking they were bad and then seeing you quickly change course. I've also seen so many things you tried and really loved them. I remember when first starting this that you didn't have much game space and didn't do Magic singles for so long and I thought how much you were doing it wrong, but then reading along, you got there and now it's key for you.

    I greatly appreciate your continued blogging and I am always excited when you post. I've taken so many things from your blog and when I eventually get a storefront, I'll apply so much of it. I've been an eBay seller since 1998 and have had my online website since 2006. I've gone through highs and lows like yourself. Each time I read your site I get more excited for an actual store and my wife has to calm me down from it usually.

  4. Thank you for the mention Gary. I love your blog, I find it just as interesting to read and one that I recommend all the time to people to read.

  5. Great post. I've been running a game store for 3 years now and many of these were known to me, some were not. Always looking for more places to learn something new, hence my reading of your blog.