Thursday, October 7, 2010

Sins of a Game Store

Sins of a Game Store

The big gaming news around here is that the Game Parlor in Woodbridge is moving to a smaller store. The current store has a lot of miniature gaming space as well as considerable space for card games and board games. It was not uncommon for the IFL to run a 40k tournament there and have upwards to 30 people show up and for there to still be room for other games to take place. Combine this with the store being clean, decently stocked, and off of 95 and it was a good combination. This store managed to foster and give birth to several gaming groups and was a great addition to the community.

Even though the store managed to give a great gaming venue for many people it failed to make enough money to stay in its current space. Going to the Game Parlor in Chantilly compared to the Game Parlor in Woodbridge was like night and day. While Woodbridge had about 50% more gaming space it would often times be quite empty whereas Chantilly would be quite busy. Outside of Tuesday night and the odd Saturday the Woodbridge Game Parlor often seemed barren and underused. I understand that Woodbridge is less populated and that Chantilly is quite busy because it is in a more densely populated area. All the same, I believe there were many things that both Game Parlors could do better.

First, it would be nice to have a sale once in a while. If you were ever in the market for an early 90s computer flight stick at origianl retail price you can happily go to the Game Parlor. There is a lot of stock of Void, Starship Troopers, WarZone, Chronopia, Battlefield Evolution, and tons of other games that won't ever move at full retail. I've seen the stores reorganize space so they can make room for new product and instead of tripping over themselves to reorganize and dust off their Legions of Steel figures they try new ones to fit everything in the store.

It isn't just about a sale, however. I have literally had instances where I wanted a specific model kit for something, such as some out of production Starship Troopers, and found them on eBay for several times their original MSRP. Instead of buying them online I'd go into the Game Parlor and get them at a cheaper price. Being a flakey guy who has more time to come up with ideas and plans than I do to painting I've then sold some of these same kits on eBay and made a decent profit. It seems to me that there could be many items that they have in store that they could sell online without losing any money. I'm sure there's someone who really wants those Chronopia figures. Basically, I feel that they do not use their considerable inventory to their advantage.

I feel that this problem has lead to another issue in how well they stock items that people actually want. There seems to be two reasons to shop at a local game store instead of online. First, it's nice to support the store you play at so it'll be open tomorrow. Second, it's convenient. There are many times where the Game Parlor won't have a product I want for weeks at a time and they make ordering it a hassle. I'm not talking about hard to get items or old items, but instead I'm speaking of wanting the new Cygnar book for WarMachine and things of that nature. My politics are such that I have no problem wearing a shirt with Eugene V. Debs on it but I understand the marketplace enough to realize that maintaining space for stock that won't ever move while not stocking items that do move only works in the Twilight Zone.

All the same, the stores still have a lot going for them. Unfortunately, customer service is no longer one of those attributes. A few years ago the staff were polite, well informed, and prompt. Things are different now. Game Parlor has moved to a system where you can only play in the store if you spend $20 on product or purchase a day pass for $2. It's there to stop freeloaders, of whom there were many, from purchasing everything online and using the store to game. I don't mind this fee but they have been exercising it poorly. At Chantilly, this has never happened at Woodbridge, I've felt harrassed about showing proof of my right to be there. When I'm annoyed three times during the course of two 40k games to prove that I've chipped in my fair share it's annoying. When it happens after spending over $100 on models it becomes offensive. Unfortunately the staff at Chantilly can be a little too interested in talking about models and it can be annoying to hear complex back stories of their D&D characters and ideas for what they would do for their miniature armies if they had the money. Chantilly is still better than Woodbridge with staffing.

At Woodbridge you'll be ignored. I literally spent 15 minutes at the counter trying to purchase items the other week. One employee was busy with World of Warcraft and told me to wait while another was out on a smoke break. This is fairly common there. Half the time I actually purchase something there I'm told by a certain employee that what I'm purchasing is lame or not fun or otherwise bad. I've never been bothered to show proof of paying the table fee but that's largely due to being ignored.

The last problem that both stores have is a peculiar one. The owners don't seem very interested in games. The store never sponsors or runs events. The space in the store is there for clubs and other people to organize. On the one hand this is great as it allows clubs a lot of freedom in organizing events and the store is good at making sure clubs don't step on each others' toes. On the other hand it isn't very good for business. I went up to play in a Magic the Gathering pre-release at Dream Wizards in Maryland and the store organized it. There were close to 60 players in the Sealed Deck tournament and afterwards I believe they ran 5 or 6 Booster Drafts. With just those events they probably came close to selling $2000 worth of product. While there I picked up a figure and some paint as well and I'm sure I wasn't the only one. Both of the Game Parlors have a lot of space and instead of scratching their head wondering why they aren't busy they could take the initiative and run events to use that space. Not to mention that store run and sposored events is more welcoming to new players. Existing clubs can be intimidating for new people to try to play in.

Don't get me wrong, I like the Game Parlors. They are good stores. They are well lit, clean, and have great gaming space. I'm just worried that they are doing a lot to push away players and have in turn made the Woodbridge store unprofitable which will further hurt people that play there. I know a large segment of the IFL is going to have a hard time finding a new place to play and that will hurt that club considerably.

In comparison the Game Vault in Fredericksburg is in an even more remote area, has a smaller store, is not as clean, but maintains a devoted customer base. The owner is wonderful, will special order items, offer discounts, and will stay late to make sure players can finish games and tournaments. She has really tried to actively foster the community down there and the people I know who live near it are very loyal to that store. Even Dream Wizards always appears to be fairly busy whenever I visit despite being filthy, having a bathroom that makes me want to gag, and employees who are incredibly rude. They sponsor and run events and this seems to bring in people.

The owners of Game Parlor seem complacent and seem to blame all of their problems on the crappy economy. I'm sure that's not helping but they aren't doing all they could to remedy the situation.

My recommendations for the store are this:

1) Try to put items that are not moving on sale and set up an eBay store to slowly start phasing our product.

2) With this new space try to better organize your product and then consider moving to a smaller store. I don't not think I am being optimistic in thinking that the store could sell a lot of product online and through sales and move to a store 2/3 the size and that no one would notice the difference.

3) Encourage pre-orders! Island of Blood was $100! If they offered it for 20% off and took pre-orders and then advertised the day it would arrive as a day for people to trade off Elves and Skaven and rulebooks they would have done very well for themselves. It would have brought new players in and let them meet active clubs and this would pay off in the long term as well.

4) Encourage large purchases. I've asked before but when I start a new 40k army I like to buy a lot at bulk. If they offered some discount for this I would purchase from them in a heart beat. I still do, honestly, but it seems simple to me that if they can make money for doing nothing more than taking my money and giving me product when it arrives than they are making out. I understand that putting items for sale that take up shelf space is difficult, but if all they are doing is acting as the middle man than it costs them nothing and they still make money.

5) Run events and endorse them! It's great that they have open space for clubs to fill but if they were to Friday Night Magic and organize booster drafts I know I would and others would go. The same can be said for other events. The IFL runs a lot of events there that are just for the IFL. That's crap! They should tell us to open it up to all players and they should advertise those events in store and online.

6) Have an online presence. There is seriously no reason not to encourage, through discounts and 'atta boys, active players to post on DakkaDakka and other websites endorsing the store and events that take place there. If nothing else if they took an active role in events people would feel more loyal and customers would do it anyhow. Huzzah Hobbies seems to be doing this well.

They have a great space and a great selection of product. If they work better to foster community and to help players find groups and to encourage groups to grow the store would be stronger and players would be happier. Much of what I'm talking about above, especially when it comes to organizing events, can be done by customers. I know Eagle and Empire encourages players to run events by giving the organizing person discounts but they also advertise those events. As far as I can tell that store manages to exist almost solely on Flames of War and a lot of this is due to their willingness to organize events and hand them off to customers to run.

I apologize for the long post, but in summary the Game Parlor is a good store that could be a great store and a more financially sound one with small changes.

Be seeing you!

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