Behind the Counter
Think Differentby Marcus King
Behind the Counter
Think Differentby Marcus King
The Game Industry is different than most "businesses" in that those people who open game stores are different than most people who open businesses.
If you wanted to open a Subway Sandwich Shop (TM) then you would have to have a chunk of money, a good location, go through some qualifying process, an educational process and training, and likely need a bank loan on top of all that. I didn't pick subway to pick on them, but rather because I knew a guy in the Army who opened one, and retired from the Army to run his shop, and I was aware of the process he went through.
However, you can open a game store with almost none of that. If you can rent a space that is zoned "Commercial" you can start with almost no money, no training, no experience, and no real plan other than to do it your way.
Now, some would say that is the charm of the game industry - that you can break in with nearly nothing. I would not really agree with that - but as my Platoon Sergeant used to say - "That is the terrain in which we find ourselves deployed".
In such a situation the importance of research is paramount. The resources available today are much better than they were when I first opened my store in Anchorage, Alaska, back in 1986. Today, there is a trade show, distributor open houses, online forums, written guides and other resources to assist a game store owner.
Brian Guenther, a well respected retailer, runs an online forum called the GSRF (GameStore Resource Forum) which is designed to assist people in the prep phase, and early stages of opening their own game store. This forum offers advice for things ranging from picking a retail location, to picking a distributor, to choosing inventory that will work for them. Potential, and new owners, of retail stores can get advice from a couple dozen experienced retailers. It is simply the best resource available to a new, or potential, game store owner.
GAMA (The Game Manufacturers Association) has a "Mentor" program as part of it's program. This program matches up an interested party, needing advice on various things in preparation for opening their own stores, with an experienced retailer from another area. The Mentor program has been around for years, and such one-on-one advice can be invaluable to any new business owner.
THE GIN - a forum I started a little over three years ago, is administered by the current owner, Steve Nicewarner, a retailer from the Carolina's region. The GIN is the Game Industry Network, and has over 500 members, including most publishers, nearly every distributor, and over 300 retailers, who discuss all sorts of business, and related, topics in a forum style setting.
Open Houses: Both ACD and Alliance Game Distributors offer annual "open house" events where dozens of publishers and manufacturers gather to show off their wares, and talk with attending retailers. Such open houses offer a few seminars for educating retailers on various topics, and let retailers take a break, talk shop with fellow retailers, meet face to face with their sales reps, meet the designers and owners of various game companies, and more. Any retailer within several hours drive of their distributor should attend any such event they offer.
And, the Crown Jewel of the industry: GTS - the GAMA Trade Show.
GTS is an annual event in Las Vegas, Nevada - usually in March (sometimes April) GTS offers nearly three dozen seminars, over a hundred exhibiting publishers, free meals, presentations by Wizards of the Coast, WizKids and many other publishers, and more. GTS is a 4-day event, and worth every penny of the $75 attendance fee that retailers pay to participate. GTS is, literally, the reason I am still in business - after over a dozen years of floundering around trying to figure it out on my own, I attended a GTS in 1999, and learned so much that my annual sales more than doubled the next year. The seminar track is simply the best chance a retailer has to get a business education in our industry - and over 500 stores attended last year. I cannot recommend it highly enough.
Dave Wallace, a retailer in the Saint Louis area, who owns multiple stores in multiple states, has written a couple guides for retailers, covering everything from hiring employee's to what discounting means to a retailer in such a niche industry. Mr. Wallace's guides should be required reading, and are available from most distributors.
The resources today are largely the efforts of retailers - even the multiple seminars at GTS are done by volunteer retailers who devote their own time to helping others. When I owned my chain of Quick Lube Oil Change Centers - I can promise you that the same atmosphere of owners helping owners did not exist. In fact, I am fairly confident that in most industries, one shop owner does not offer help to other business owners - they view each other only as competitors, even if not in the same market.
And, that - just that - is what makes our industry better. Retailers really do help each other - publishers help the retailers, too - in many cases to a great degree. Distributors treat retailers as their partners - not just their customers - and attempt to educate, and assist, retail shop owners.
At times I get frustrated with my choice of vocation. But, things like this - the way retailers help each other, the way publishers support retailers, the way distributors take an active interest in supporting their retail customers - are what really keep me in the business of games.
If you want information about any of the forums or programs I mentioned here, contact me by email directly at: email@example.com