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Behind the Counter

In Store Gaming, and our love-hate relationship with it

by Marcus King
Jun 12,2003


In Store Gaming, and our love-hate relationship with it.

When I was a boy, the game stores I visited were dark, dank, cramped places with poor lighting and odd odors, and we loved them. The owners were strangely dressed men, usually fat, long haired and odd smelling. We teenagers feared them, and the only thing that we feared more is that our mothers would come into the store with us and meet them, because that may well mean we would NEVER get to go back. I knew several kids whose mothers would not allow them to go to our local game store when I was in high school. I spent hundreds of yours, probably thousands even, in that little game shop that was in the back room of a bait shop, playing D&D with a group of gamers that included 3 in their late 40's, several in the 30's, and only one other teenager, at an old dinner table, sitting on an assortment of broken, bent or busted chairs and stools, or milk crates. That old shop was open about 4 hours a day, and was hot in the summer and cold in the winter. Still, to us mostly un athletic geeky kids it was Valhalla.

My own retail game store is well lit, has nice fixtures, wide aisles, everything within reach of nearly all our customers, with the exception of the several wheelchair bound gamers we serve. We are air conditioned in the summer, heated in the winter, and open 70 hours a week!!! We have tables and chairs to game at. 10 tables, some you have to stand at to play (miniature games) and 7 tables with 4 chairs each.

But, at what cost? Many, many retailers I have seen come and go in my 17 years in this industry had no idea what their costs were, or how much they needed to sell to be profitable. As a result, most of them are closed. So, I watch my expenses closely.

Retailers pay a set cost for all the square feet in their store. Lets say you pay $18 a square foot per year for a 2000 square foot space. That is $3,000.00 a month. If you use 20% of your space, or just 400 square feet, for gaming, then your game area is costing you as a retailer: $600.00 a month, $7,200.00 a year, plus the cost of heating, air conditioning and lighting that area. Some will argue that you would have to heat or air condition or light that space anyway. True, but if it were filled with games or comics or other merchandise then it would be generating income, too.

So, does the game area pay its own way, or is it a money drain on your cash flow? I personally think it is not a set-in-stone type of thing, but rather is fluid, and requires constant evaluation and change to fit the needs of your store, and your clientele.

My own retail area is fluid. I can drop it down to 3 tables, increase it to 13, or anything in between, as our area is sectioned off with shelving units, and the only thing we have to do to change our layout is put away tables and chairs, and bringing out more shelving units and we have more merchandise space, and less gaming area. Of course, not all stores have that luxury. Some have a basement where they game, or an upstairs, or back room. Those layouts don't let you add more merchandise for shoppers without dramatically changing your shops security and accessibility.

So, how can a game area earn its keep? We use prerelease events for several different CCG games, such as Warlord and L5R, Lord of the Rings and Star Trek. We also do tournaments for every CCG Game we have sufficient local interest in, which is to say Yugioh and Magic. And, we do the full slate of WizKids games each month, including MechWarrior, Mage Knight and HeroClix. We also do Classic Battletech days, and 100-Kingdoms days, as well as a few RPG groups.

Our space is often a pay-to-play proposition, with tournament entry fees, but also generates more sales in sealed events such as a Magic Sealed Deck tourney or a Yugioh Sealed Booster event, or clicky-based games sealed events. But, my hope is, that most players who play in our leagues and free or open gaming events BUY merchandise while they are here, or buy product from us later because they saw it here.

Yet, I constantly evaluate our gaming area, its cost, its value and its profitability so that I am satisfied that we are achieving maximum profitability. Yes, profit. As a game shop owner, with 3 kids to put through college and one there now, I plan not only to turn a profit, but to turn a BIG profit. If I had to, I would shrink, remove, or double the size of our gaming area, if circumstances demanded it.

For you gamers, remember next time you are in your friendly local game store that the owner there has put a LOT of expense, each and every month, into the game area you are enjoying gaming in. Partly, because he wants to offer a game area for gamers like the stores of his childhood offered. Your taking the time to express your gratitude for such space will make a difference to his day.

I know, cause I'm behind the counter, too.

Marcus King

About the author: Marcus King is the owner of Titan Games. Titan Games has a large retail presence in Battle Creek, Michigan. As well as a website: http://www.titangames.com where they offer over 100,000 different game items for sale. Titan Games also attends 20+ game conventions every year, including GenCon and Origins. This year Marcus is in charge of the Game Auction at Origins. With his wife, Laurel King, they recently bought Contemporal Magazine, the 10+ year running Convention Magazine for games, anime, cards, comics, sci-fi & fantasy, and other pop-culture events.

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What do you think?

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All Counter Talk columns by Marcus King

  • On Discounting by Marcus King, 15dec05
  • Think Different by Marcus King, 11oct05
  • GENCON, August, and TitanGames by Marcus King, 29aug05
  • Another Month at Titan Games by Marcus King, 06jul05
  • The Past Week at TitanGames by Marcus King, 10may05
  • The GAMA Trade Show by Marcus King, 13apr05
  • Con Jobs by Marcus King, 08mar05
  • Don't Skip The Retailer by Marcus King, 11feb05
  • How To Open Your Own Game Store by Marcus King, 14jan05
  • The Christmas Crunch by Marcus King, 22dec04
  • Light at the End of the Convention Tunnel by Marcus King, 15nov04
  • What It Takes To Open a Game Store by Marcus King, 15oct04
  • The Big 3 by Marcus King, 13sep04
  • Discoveries by Marcus King, 11aug04
  • Con-Man by Marcus King, 19jul04
  • Turmoil by Marcus King, 16jun04
  • Business is Business by Marcus King, 12may04
  • GAMA On! by Marcus King, 09mar04
  • On A Serious Note by Marcus King, 10feb04
  • Predictions for 2004 by Marcus King, 20jan04
  • Game Retailer or Game Club? by Marcus King, 11dec03
  • The Weather Changes... by Marcus King, 11nov03
  • The Deluge of Dead Products by Marcus King, 14oct03
  • The Conventional by Marcus King, 11sep03
  • Solutions to Problems and Good Feelings by Marcus King, 11aug03
  • Two weeks in the life of a retailer by Marcus King, 16jul03
  • In Store Gaming, and our love-hate relationship with it by Marcus King, 12jun03
  • Raising a Good Retailer by Marcus King, 28apr03
  • The customer is always right (right?) by Marcus King, 02apr03
  • Introductions by Marcus King, 24mar03
  • Jumping the Grand Canyon with Pikachu and Friends December 20, 1999
  • GTS'99 April 20, 1999

    Other columns at RPGnet

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