Good customers make for good retailers. Simple as that.
The average retailer has a LOT of hurdles to overcome just to make it to the 12-months mark. They need adequate investment capital (which most do not have) and some luck in finding the right product mix early (doesn’t do anyone any good for the retailer to have 20 copies of WARHAMMER on the shelf if they don’t PLAY it in his area). Plus, they need to have the right hours of operation, some good luck finding out all the little things early enough to help. Things like how to not waste your advertising budget, how to correctly use their capital buying inventory correctly, how to get a good rate on their credit card processing, and even how avoid getting screwed on their lease!
Now, supposing that the new retailer got all that reasonably right, and they can attract some customers, do some business, and pay his bills (thus, sustaining his ability to pay the rent and utilities), the retailer still needs the good guidance of quality customers. So, it takes a lot of skill and luck just to get into the position to receive help from those customers. And, then the retailer must meet those customers, and be smart enough to utilize their imput.
Customers: you know, the guys and gals who will maybe play in the store, encourage others to do the same. Those who will become regulars. Gamers who will not bemoan the prices, not beg for discounts from their new “friend” the retailer. Customers who will not let others take advantage of the retailer, too.
Early in, back in Anchorage, Alaska, in the late 1980’s I was lucky to get some good customers. Guys and gals who played, taught and talked up the games we sold. Customers who helped me select the new merchandise we were going to start carrying. Those who helped me arrange the shop, build a counter, carpet the floor, hang pegboard, build magazine racks, and even answer the phones. It made a HUGE difference for me to have that quality of customer. An “ally” in the retail store, tried and true. One was a dentist, one a lawyer, one a housewife, one a college student, and many others.
They helped me in every way (even catching shoplifters). It mattered to me. It made a difference. Today, with a lot of gamers treating games like a commodity where the only consideration is price, it is even MORE important to a retailer that they get the “right” crowd in their shop early.
In my travels going to conventions, buying private collections, and being a gaming geek that I am, I’ve visited a lot of other shops.
Years ago I visited a shop that I could recognize was doomed, even though it was only open 6 or 7 months; this particular shop, the manager was so bored that when I walked in he didn’t even look up. He was actually sitting on his stool, reading porn, and smoking a cigarette. I was about to leave, still un-greeted 5 minutes later, when the owner walked in.
The bored manager shoved the porno under the counter, stubbed out his butt, and (for the first time) looked over my way. When he didn’t recognize me, he looked very surprised, and now followed me around the shop, watching my every move, waiting to see what I was going to steal.
Finally, the manager went on break, and the owner walked over, and introduced himself. His face was tired, and he looked weathered. The lines around his eyes speaking volumes about his troubles. As we talked about an upcoming product, his “regulars” (perhaps irregulars would be a better term) came in.
4 guys, one with a “Fuck you” T-shirt on, which had overlapping food stains on it some probably a week old. Another had ripped jeans that had stains on them, and wearing only a vest, showing lots of tattoo’s and hair on his chest and belly.
The group pulled up chairs at a gaming table, one lighting a cigarette, and started their pre-game warm-ups, which mostly consisted of ethnic jokes, and farting loudly.
As I got ready to leave, I asked the owner about the allowing smoking in his store, and he mentioned that it was the “consensus” of the gamers who came in, even though he, the owner, did not smoke. As I said, this was years ago – before such things were just plain illegal in a public place.
I saw a half sold box of Yugioh Boosters that we can’t keep in stock, and I asked him how he got them. He said that they were his first box, and he hadn’t sold much, as the younger kids don’t come in much.
No Kidding, I thought to myself, wondering what parent WOULD let their Yugioh aged child come into such a place.
This particular store is located between a record shop and a coin shop, both of which had “No Smoking” signs on their doors, and both of whom were VERY busy, with people coming and going.
As I left, I saw one child who got out of a brand new looking minivan pointing to the game store, and his mother vehemently shaking her head no, simply dragging her 7 or 8 year old child into the grocery store at the corner.
How differently this could have been. That shop, in a busy district, with clean windows, a friendly staffer behind the counter, good lighting, and clean floors, filled with good display’s, and smelling FRESH instead of polluted by cigarette smoke, could be doing $250,000 in annual sales easily.
But, I am guessing here, that the “right” crowd of customers didn’t get to him first, or perhaps were pushed out by the rowdy, cursing guys with the personal hygiene problems.
The following day, in another town not 50 miles away, I was at a store that was a MESS.
From the outside a nice sign hung over the doorway announcing the name of the game store. On the door, a computer printed sheet of paper that said “Please excuse our mess, watch your step, and come on in!”.
Inside, a man and his wife were wearing identical shirts, kind of cute, I thought, till I realized that this was their “Uniforms”. The place smelled of fresh paint and new carpet. I asked how long they had been open, and they said a year. Remodeling, I inquired? As they could afford to, they replied.
The racks were not full, but the selection was okay. About 1000 blisters of miniatures, about 200 RPG books, some comics, some used video games, dice, paints, brushes, tools, and some boxed games. The store was extremely well lit. I asked if the lights were new, and they said that the lights were 13 months old, that those were the first improvements they had made.
They asked if I needed help finding something, and I said I was a retailer from Michigan, trying to steal idea’s. As they looked a little put off by that, I further explained that I was looking for good idea’s for my store, and was not looking for a new place to move my store. Relieved, they went back to work.
I found a Used games I knew were worth a lot more than they were marked. I asked if they did any eBay, and they said yes. I pointed out to them that the two boxed games marked $5 each were going to sell on eBay for close to $200 or so each, and that I recommended that they auction them off. The owners were genuinely thankful for my information, and the husband went to immediately look up the prices on eBay. Returning a couple minutes later, he expressed his thanks, and that I could have 25% off any purchase I wanted to make, as trade for the information on the items I had pointed out to them.
A guy came in and said he had the stuff, open the back door. They started carrying in 6 sheets of slatwall, and I wondered where they would put that, as their store already had a BUNCH of pegboard hung on two walls.
As I left, with a purchase I did make, they were painting the last wall they had to do, and were planning on replacing their pegboard with slatwall, to make the shop look even better, and their employee was the guy who went to get the slatwall for them (who evidently volunteered a lot at their shop).
Years later I visited their shop which was doing well.