Tuesday, August 18, 2015

West Coast Game Store Tour 2015, Part Four (Utah)

Before I opened my store, I commissioned a feasibility study. This was done by someone in the industry with expertise and fancy software. They plugged in my three choices of locations in the expensive suburb of Pleasanton, California. The feasibility study checked for competition (mostly my legwork), demographics and the magical ten minute drive time. That ten minute drive time was crucial, according to common wisdom. Most customers wouldn't drive beyond ten minutes for the average store (hint: don't be average).

As a last minute addition, the study included a space I drove by in Walnut Creek on the way to work every morning. After I got the study results, I learned Pleasanton was a terrible place for a store and Walnut Creek was forecasted to do much better, probably twice the potential sales. Note that I don't live in either of these places and I've commuted 30 minutes to work and back every day for ten years to have a store in the correct location.

Why was Pleasanton so bad? It's the Gertrude Stein quote (about Oakland actually) that there is no there there. It not only lacks a center, but crucial for retail, it lacks a critical mass of customers. The houses, albeit all very expensive, are spread along the freeway corridor. If I lived in Pleasanton, perhaps I would throw caution to the wind, but it's a 45 minute commute for me. It was originally chosen because there were no game stores there, and now we know why (one just opened recently). So I opened a store in Walnut Creek.

I mention this because we just left Utah. Utah has a similar "there" issue as Pleasanton. So rather than large stores, as we get in population dense regions, we get many, many small stores, and a number of locally owned chains. Visiting the good stores of Utah was a game of Wack-a-Mole. Oh, thank you for coming, but you should really check out that store!" Eventually we had to call it and move on. You could spend a week there, just visiting stores. We were there overnight.

Your new store in Utah is probably your first store.  The stores are almost all nice, but they serve that ten minute drive time, often with other stores close by, competing for Utah gaming dollars, of which, there are many. Most stores don't do everything, they specialize in what their local customers want and ignore the rest. Most also diversify into comics, which is something rare in high density regions, which confounds low density store owners. Why would you not carry comics? Because we don't have to and somebody else is locally doing just comics very well.

There are over a dozen stores within 10 miles of Salt Lake City and a couple dozen more on the outskirts.  To attempt a comparison, here are some numbers: Salt Lake only has a population of about 200,000. Oakland has a population three times higher with roughly the same number of stores in roughly the same footprint. This wide spread obviously effects the character of SLC stores. You have three times the demand from one third the customers spread out in the same footprint as a major city. That's some sketchy bistro math to be sure, but you get the idea.

The upside to all this as a store owner is there is likely something to learn in Utah if you plan to open multiple stores or you wish to serve a small community with what's likely to be your first store. If you're not in a population dense region, Utah may have something to teach you. Fly into Salt Lake City, rent a car, and spend three to four days driving around a lot and talking to store owners (call ahead).

Once again, go visit my Facebook page for the publicly accessible photos of all these stores. Lots to see! Also, thanks to the game store folks of Utah for being so gracious and open to talking with me about everything under the sun.

Ogden, UT: Comics and collectibles store with a small amount of games. They've got a Magic community. Lots of comic books, retro games and 80's toys.
 — at Hee Bee Gee Beez.
West Valley City, UT: It's a comic and collectible mall store with a Magic and Yugioh community. They're two and a half years old and they opened a second store a few weeks ago. Unusual in that they do Internet price matching
 — at The Nerd Store.

West Valley City, UT: Delightful store featuring board games and CCGs (Magic, Yugioh and Force of Will). They've got a respectable RPG section as well. The space is separated so CCG players and board game players can play in peace. Lot of retailer interest in their hand made fixtures.
 — at Epic Puzzles and Games.
Sandy, UT: Nice store, one of five. Includes a cafe! They're strong with CCGs (Magic, Yugioh, Force of Will), with a nice board game selection and the requisite RPG offerings. They also sell comics, mostly DC/Marvel.
 — at Game Haven Sandy.
Lehi, UT: One of 3 (soon 4) locations. They serve a college community with comics and a wide swath of games, including very popular Pathfinder. The only store in Utah, so far, with my favorite comic, Rat Queens.
— at Dragon's Keep.

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