Sunday, March 22, 2015

Fresh Eyes (Tradecraft)

My trip to the GAMA Trade Show this year was with a good friend of mine who owns a newer game store in Minnesota, as well as investing in Black Diamond Games. He runs a mean Pathfinder wizard as well. Helping him navigate this first show provided a fresh perspective on the game trade. The big question with any decision was: Is it worth it?

My GW sales rep, Daniel, painted this model.
We're fans as well as business people, which
helps with the frustration.
For example, Games Workshop is a constant pain in my ass. It's a company that gives with one hand and takes with the other. So did I tell him to avoid Games Workshop? Umm, no. In his circumstances, there was absolutely no logical way to avoid setting up a new account. As much as I like Privateer Press, I couldn't possibly consider them the go-to miniature company. Their line is too scattered, their intro products not quite coherent, and their tools and paints constantly unavailable. I think a new store with discipline will be more successful with GW. I think that's just a fact.

We talked about why I complain about these various companies. We complain because we care. The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference.

Every new company we saw went through a similar analysis:

"What about that card company?"
"We do well, but their boxes are sold at wholesale prices online on release."

"What about these cool board games?"
"They sell just ok, but they use Kickstarter. Avoid most of them because of market saturation."

"What about these cool dice?"
"Yes, I love them. They're never available through distribution. You'll need to go direct."

"Should we even bother with Reaper miniatures?"
"Tough call. Here's the facts."

"These guys?"
"Poor discount."
"These guys?"
"They lie to us."
"These guys?"
"They bring in problem customers."
"Those guys?"
"Yes, but they sell mostly direct."

I had him take pictures of everything I thought he should carry; mostly board games. His $10,000 bank roll was tapped by the end of the day.

These various game trade weaknesses are actually game trade strengths. It's like the big box stores are giant health care companies who only want healthy patients, but the game trade? We do hospice work. We take all comers. We'll take your sick, your dying, your economically troubled. We'll hold their hands all the way to the end, when they leave us holding the (colostomy) bag.

Going to the show with fresh eyes also let me consider older options I had shut the door on. For example, opening a second store went from a bad idea, to a preponderance of evidence suggesting its inevitability.

It comes down to a couple factors. We're in year six of a game trade expansion. Is there a bubble? If you think there's a bubble, you behave differently. You don't expand. You don't take on excess debt. You are cautious. You can certainly have a six year bubble, as we know from housing (which had a 20+ year bubble). However, at some point, your mind switches from bubble to long term trend and you start making more aggressive decisions. That's where I'm starting to lean.

Assuming we're in an expansion trend, there is a good deal of evidence that suggests an experienced game store owner can hit the ground running. It took me years to become profitable in my first store. It was exhausting and I will not willingly do that again. How about 18 months? I've seen three experienced retailers open second stores and nail it in 18 months. It requires knowledge, discipline and a lot of experience, but not as much capital as I blew gaining those things the first time. I have no doubt I could be one of those guys. I'm not saying I'm going to open a second store, but I no longer have barriers, thanks to a fresh perspective.

Oh, and I'm more comfortable with long term leases thanks to this thinking. A decade in a "do over" situation seems like hell, but a decade doing what I do now? No problem. That's the hope with our current location, a long term lease with expansion money.


  1. I have locations in mind, as well as the possibility of buy outs of existing stores. None would be a convenient drive from the store.

  2. Where's the store in Minnesota? I'd like to give it a visit.