Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Overcoming Obstacles

One of our Kickstarter backer rewards was the Game Store Rescue Blog Post. Eleven people pledged at that level and this is the first post in that series. The topic: Overcoming Obstacles in Getting a Game Store Started.

The first thing I thought of was it takes a lot of character. Character. Hmm.  Here's a guide to overcoming obstacles in getting a game store started by looking at the attributes in your typical Dungeons & Dragons character (using the Pathfinder SRD).

Strength measures muscle and physical power. 

I started working out before the move to our new store. I was completely unprepared for the amount of labor required in my first store. I'm probably in better shape now than I was back then, ten years ago. Get in shape before you open your business.

The hours are likely long and the stress high, so try to continue working out after you open your store. Looking at the extremely high rate of overweight game store owners at trade shows, this might be considered revolutionary advice.

Starting a store is a physically demanding process. The hours are long. You've got fixtures to move or build, many boxes to move around, and construction to manage or engage in. In fact, if you have the time and ability, you can save a lot of money by doing much of this work yourself. If you don't have the stamina or the job is too big, bring in some muscle. That's how I got to know the employee who became my manager. He stayed on for another seven years.

Dexterity measures agility, reflexes, and balance. 

You must be nimble when starting a game store. You must maneuver your way around obstacles. What sorts of obstacles? With our Kickstarter funded construction project, building codes and government requirements were obstacles in need of dodging. Being dexterous means finding ways around problems rather than running headlong into them. 

With 90% of our customers male, we were able to argue for a break on the massive number of female restrooms required. When your police department thinks your opening a gambling den, demonstrate that you're about Dungeons & Dragons and games of skill, rather than poker and games of chance. When your landlord thinks you'll attract drug dealers and a parking lot full of bicycles, enlighten them that you're not running an 80's era video arcade, but a place where kids and their parents engage in thinking games. Kids nowadays burst into flame when touched by the sun, so don't worry about bicycles.

As for balance, emotional stability will be important during this time. Writing my business plan was a roller coaster of elation and depression. You don't plan for a small business with a tiny profit margin without swaying between success and failure many times. Thin margins means success will be elusive and keeping the faith will be critical. Customers and competitors will inform you of your impending failure. Balance.

Constitution represents your character's health and stamina. 

Stamina is about sticking with the plan and keeping to your commitment. Some new store owners open late, close early, miss days, and generally act like their hard earned business is a job they really don't want. If your work habits are bad now, how will they be when you don't have a boss? Stamina and discipline, slow and steady, wins this race. One realization I had after a while is a lot of our success is just outlasting our lazy competitors.

Also, to quote Scarface, "Don't get high on your own supply." Avoid those fizzy sugar drinks and candy and eat like a real person. Just because you sell snacks doesn't mean you should live off them. I had a really hard time with this early on. Take care of your health and you're also taking care of your business.

Intelligence determines how well your character learns and reasons. 

Intelligence is about learning through planning. Write a business plan, which should include financial analysis, competitor analysis, site surveys, marketing plans, your value proposition and much more. You cannot spend enough time on your business plan. It may become your novel, a thing you pull out of a drawer and work on occasionally. You may never get out of the planning stages. That's probably telling you something. It's not a bad thing.

With thorough research will come confidence in the plan. You will be able to stick to the plan, and when you're required to show dexterity, you dodge and weave within the context of the plan, rather than wild swings out into traffic. Your business plan is the context in which you operate your business and having one will save you a lot of time and money flailing about. Research everything now and it will be easier and cheaper than scrambling later.

Wisdom describes a character's willpower, common sense, awareness, and intuition.

Oh Wisdom. You've already gone against common sense in this endeavor, so does wisdom still play a role? Of course. With a solid plan in place (Intelligence), wisdom is about being shrewd and aware of what's going on. You are not working in a cubicle, you're on the front lines of humanity. There will be people who will try to take advantage of you. There will be opportunities that are only presented once. There will be a lot of penny wise, pound foolish situations that you'll need to reason out. 

Starting a business also means you need to understand what other people are looking for from you. Many just want your money or your goods, but what does the landlord really want? They want stability. Mine admitted they never thought I would last my lease, but I had a fat bank roll in the beginning, so what the hell. The city has a vision and a plan of their own, a family friendly, crime free view that I now represent, but didn't as an unknown entity. The police department doesn't want to be called every time you have a Yugioh tournament or someone breaks in to steal your Magic cards. 

Intuition is where you apply your business intelligence to project future success. Every time I order a product, and I order many thousands of dollars a week, I'm relying on business intelligence and intuition. What is my sense of the landscape? What are my feelings about the direction of my store, my customers, and a game system? How does that translate into commerce? Especially in the beginning, you will have no business intelligence, so you'll be working your psionic abilities hard to predict the future. Don't discount intuition. It's real.

Charisma measures a character's personality, personal magnetism, ability to lead, and appearance.

Guess what? You're in sales! Sure, sales will be about 10-15% of what you actually do in a day, but it all comes down to sales. Put everything else down. Talk to your customers and let your personality shine. Wear a clean shirt and shave every morning and put on deodorant. If you're not personable, fake it 'til you make it. 

Small talk is about listening and asking questions about other peoples interests. It's a large part of my job and now a large part of yours. You will inexplicably become a leader in your local community. You may resist it. Your business will become "Your Name Here's Store."

In the end, your success will come down to your charisma and your report with customers. Everything else can be forgiven. Your milk crate fixtures, your leaky toilet, your blinking overhead lights, and your pen and paper point-of-sale "system." All of that can be overcome if you just listen and be personable. If you can't do this, don't open your store. If you absolutely think you're an "operations guy," behind the scenes only, then small business is not for you. But if you can let your personality and passion shine, you'll be rewarded by your customers many times over. It's the secret of this job and why we keep doing it. It's just lovely.

Then go fix those other problems your customers overlooked.

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