Thursday, March 28, 2019

Inclusivity and the Blue Hair (Tradecraft)

My store has a reputation for being an inclusive environment.

Much to my surprise.

You see, I haven't put up signs saying we're against hate or networked with the community to be more inclusive. I haven't sought out a more diverse staff or advertised in the Pink Pages. I don't have a particular store policy on inclusivity and I don't have any rules in my Game Center, as I think rules postings are only necessary when they're really, really necessary. History has shown only crazy people post rules (or make laws) when it's not necessary.

The reason why we have a reputation for inclusivity is we try really hard, now get your notebook out so you don't miss this, we try really hard not to be a dick.

When other people show intolerance, it's not a "he said, she said" issue. The intolerant person is shown the door. Because they're being a dick, not because of some political stance, rule or policy. Most of the time I'm not even there, as this activity happens in the evening hours during events. It's ingrained in the store culture, and staff are part of that culture. There's usually one trouble maker in every group (two in Magic).

As for hiring, I've realized inclusivity provides me a great opportunity to hire excellent people overlooked in a more conservative environment. I don't care about the color of your hair, your gender, your orientation, your identity, your race or even your politics, provided you can do the job well. I do want you to be clever, knowledgeable and customer service oriented. Because other hiring managers do care about all the superficial things, I often find diamonds in the rough. Note how selfish I am. Note that I am finding a competitive advantage and not making a political statement. I am not hiring lesser people to make a greater point. I am not being a good person, I'm just being self serving. Most importantly, I'm not being a dick. As with everything in the game trade, the bar is low.

I want to mention when I was doing research for my store in 2004, I visited the local comic shop, Flying Colors, with a friend. As we were leaving I mentioned, "Do I really want a life managing young people with blue hair?" That was what I saw at Flying Colors and being in the professional world, you would never see that. I had no experience with blue hair (my son later had blue hair for years) or really anyone who didn't file down their personality to fit into a corporate culture. I assumed blue hair meant trouble and weird problems and unpredictability, when in fact, blue hair meant opportunity. I really do want a life managing young people with blue hair.

This diversity grows the store and brings in a diverse crowd like I could not have imagined five to ten years ago. It's a hiring dividend, not the core value of the hire. The hobby has become mainstream. If you would have looked at my store a decade ago, it would have been the stereotypical "sausage fest" of all males, acting male, smelling male, being their stereotypical male selves and expressing their dumb ass stereotypical male opinions. I get it. You become so blinded by testosterone that you can't even smell the sweat or notice the pee on the seat. Testosterone in the air blurs the senses. That was the community, whether you liked the smell or not. For some stores that haven't adapted, this is still the community.

There was good and bad in that group, like any group, but it was an insular community, that repelled others, especially women. That is gone for the most part, or at least lessened. The hobby has spread rapidly and the customer base has expanded to all types of people and most importantly, we have been there with open arms. We didn't change, we just provided the open environment that allowed diversity to stream in, and the understanding that there will be no hostility or intolerance allowed.

Not everyone agreed. Not everyone went quietly. One edge lord threatened violence against me. As someone who's not a squishy liberal, and more libertarian (a liberal who returns fire), this had me a bit fired up. I will go down with the ship and take you with me. I bought a couple Louisville Sluggers, in case we wanted a little spontaneous staff batting practice. But like most cowards, they made a lot of threats, trolled me on the Internet for a while, and eventually disappeared.

In any case, there was no change needed for this transition, no Sluggers wielded, just an understanding we would make hard decisions to defend people who chose us as their home. If you're not a dick, how could you not? Embrace the blue hair. Blue hair is here to stay. If you really are a dick, embrace it anyway, for your bottom line. Fake it for the money.

Friday, March 8, 2019

The Game Trade Pivot

When a game hits peak popularity, it's not uncommon for it to be taken away from independent retailers in some form or another. It might be a retailer exclusive, or a publisher's attempt to spread the wealth (and power). If Target came to you after publishing a hot board game and offered you a bazillion dollars for an exclusive to the expansion, what would you say? It might kill your company, but you would have a bazillion dollars.

This morning I had two examples of pivot math, in which I needed to adjust expectations based on publisher removal of market demand. One is for Wizards of the Coast and the other for Ravensburger:

How many should I buy?
  • Saltmarsh: 30 days of Tomb of Annihilation sales (because those are my terms), with a 10% bump for growth, with this total divided in half because of removal of early release (it will be sold on Amazon the same day by idiot retailers).  I suspect Amazon gets half the D&D market. 
  • Villainous Expansion: Total sales of Villainous base game, divided by three, because it's an expansion, divided in half because of early Target release by months. Everyone who cares will already have it and coming out three quarters after our huge sales push means it will be cold.
A younger me might have decided to drop Villainous entirely and avoid it, especially after we sold 50 or so copies over the holidays as one of our top picks. That's a really small number for some larger stores, but out here in the burbs, we run shallow and wide. As for Saltmarsh, I might begin slimming down my D&D overall and start banging the drum for Pathfinder 2.0, which is coming soon. That's all counter productive though, so I just pivot and move on. I certainly won't push Villainous again or most Ravensburger games, nor will I be looking to invest time in jump starting Adventurer's League, which can't seem to gain a footing. I will cultivate my indifference. 

This gets to the problem of the game trade in general, without allies we have cold war enemies. Publishers want retailers to do some lifting for their product, but we have product PTSD. We're not willing to enter into new co-dependent relationship in which we're beaten in response to our love. So most retailers put minimum effort into promoting products and instead focus on well established events and reliable staples. It takes a tremendous amount of effort and tremendous love for these games to do otherwise. The key to success is a series of co-dependent relationships in which we don't get angry, we quietly pivot. But it wears you down, let me tell you.