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So You Wanna Be a Game Store Owner...?

I get really popular e-mails.
The first asks something along the lines of, "I was thinking of opening a game store and was wondering what type of advise you could give me."
The second usually asks something like, "What's it like owning your own business and stuff."
So I figured that I was give the long and short of everything this week to make things a bit easier and clearer for everyone.  There is a lot of information on this subject.  There are also a lot of opinions.  I guess I just have to figure out where to start.
One more thing before we get started though.  I would like to preface all of the following by saying that I am not trying to discourage anyone from getting into our business.  I am discouraging people that don't need to be in our business to stay out.  Stores opening and closing doesn't help our business, it just hurts it.  It hurts it a lot.  I'm being as serious and honest here as possible.  Take it for what it is.
First, let me be completely serious and say, "FINISH SCHOOL!"  For some reason people believe that owning a game store takes no skill.  They think that any guy with an understanding of gaming game run a good store.  That's so far from the truth that I can't even laugh at it.  It really makes me pity those people.  Give yourself a serious moment and think about it.  If that were the case, wouldn't everyone run a game store as a side business?
I would recommend taking a couple of business courses as well.  I would consider a management course or two.  Maybe even take an advertising class.  I would also recommend a class on taxes if you can find on in your area.  These seem like simple things, but I can tell you that things you learn from them do have practical uses.
Most of you don't know this, but I am basically five courses short or so of having a degree in commercial art and advertising.  I would have finished if the whole store situation didn't come up, but that's another situation altogether.  Regardless, I can tell you without a shadow of a doubt that many of the things I learned in those courses has come into use.  I sometime do wish I had a couple more business classes though.  Thinking about it more...maybe something in marketing.
Once you've got your education out of the way, it's time to start setting things up.  You need to have a plan laid out.  I don't mean a simple plan either (no, not the band).  I mean an elaborate plan.  Something like a five year projection.  And when you make it, be realistic.  Whatever you think you will need to spend, increase that number by 20%.  Whatever you think you will reasonably make, decrease that number by 20%.  Also, plot to use part of your loan money to live on just in case.  (Oh yeah, most businesses are started on pretty big loans for those of you that don't know.)  Then go back and rework your chart.  Then if the numbers work out, your predictions MIGHT be viable.
Be completely honest with yourself at this point.  You aren't going to jump in and make millions.  It doesn't work like that.  You have to be aware that you don't make much in our business.  I'm not saying that you can't be comfortable and eventually live well off of it.  But don't expect serious dividends for the first four or five years.
Assuming you find a way to get the startup cash (or capital in business lingo), you will need to decide what to buy next.  By the way, most stores will need $20,000 + to get started decently.  Some get as much as $60,000.  Damn, getting off track again.  Oh yeah...your newfound money.  You have to decide what to buy with it.
What was your first thought when I said that?
Just think about it.
If you thought about what games to buy, you probably aren't cut out for handling the business end of this industry.  This money have to buy shelves, cash registers, ponit of sale systems (or POS), racks, tables, chairs, etc.  And then, after those are purchased, you can start deciding what to put on them.  That's when you can start thinking about what games to buy.
This is an even tougher process.  If you know nothing about business (which I hope you did if you took those classes I told you about) you are going to have a hard time figuring out what displays and fixtures you will need to be successful.  You'll also have to decide where to put everything to maximize sales.  There are a lot of things to consider.
It's tough.  You almost have to learn to be closed minded and open minded at the same time.  You have to learn which of your customers to listen to and which ones put it nicely, to not listen to so much.  Your decisions can directly reflect how much money you make.
I also hope that you are a people person.  You're going to have to deal with lots of folks in this line of business.  You'll also have to take on a lot of new responsibilities.  Just toady in my store, let me think about what roll I played:
Customer Service Rep
Online Rep
And that was just today.  That's not including the times I have to be the book keeper, window washer, mail person, etc.  Oh, and those of you thinking you will hire someone, think again.  Most stores don't have the capital to allow themselves to hire some on in the beginning.  The owner fronts a lot of the work.
It's very common for stores wanting to open their doors with an employee or two and not be able to afford them.  Also, if you pick some employees, don't automatically pick from your friends.  If someone else that's better qualified comes take them.  Your friends have to understand that bidness is bidness.
Also, you can't worry about internet discounters.  It's not worth competing with.  They work off of much smaller margins.  The also have less overhead.
Oh yeah there's that word too.  Overhead is the term used for the general expenses a person or company has to pay every month.  This includes things like internet, phone, electricity, etc.  You have to set up all that stuff too.  But anyway, people come in and discount themselves right off of the business.  They make so little profit, they can't live on it and their store gets closed.  The problem is then, you have a bunch of players wanting a place to play and a cheap place to buy because that's what they are used to.  They won't find it, become disgruntled, then....ah well.  Long story short, it's pretty silly of an idea. 
Oh, I almost forgot.  There's the store itself.  Where is it going to be?  You'll have to go through some lease negotiations.  You need to look at a lot of buildings.  You need to figure out which is best of you and your situation.  You'll need to read over LOTS of paperwork with a fine tooth comb.  It can be along process, but it must be done.
So yeah, it's a pain in the rear.  People are going to tell you that you are wrong and crazy for carrying something or not carrying something.  You'll get criticized by someone for one reason or another.  It comes with the territory.  People like to complain about businesses.  Gamer customers like to REALLY complain. 
I think this is where I point out to all of you guys that think it's an easy job that it's not.  Where's that time where I get to, "sit around all day and play games"? That's not on my things to do list on any day.  Once all the above is done, then their cleaning, dusting, rearranging, etc. to be done. 
I'm sure all of this makes me sound bitter.  But the truth is, I'm not.  I'm not super happy with it, but I'm definitely content.  If someone walked in today with a $15/hour job that's guaranteed for 30+ hours for at least 3 years, I'd sell my shop and go to it.  I treat my store seriously, like a job.  That's what it is, no matter how you look at it.  Those that don't aren't near as successful and aren't in business near as long. 
Goodness gracious.  This is all just the tip of the iceberg.  I have a neat game though.  Whoever wants to ask me more questions about owning a store, feel free to ask.  I will use the questions in a column next week or the week after.
So get to asking.
Let's switch gears to a lighter note.  The time where I get to play games.  I'm taking a day off to go play cards.  That's not something I get to do often (I've had a total of 10 days off for myself in the last 4 years -- not exaggeration). 
We are having a team sealed event this weekend in Dallas.  It's the last PTQ in our area for the team Pro Tour.  My team consists of myself, Jonathan Pechon (fellow Pojo writer) and Jason Krysak.  We have done well s a team and expect to be drafting at the end of the day if our luck holds up.  Anyone interesting needs to go to .
Also, don't forget that the Fifth Dawn Pre-Releases are just around the corner.  This looks like possibly the most interesting Magic set to date.  It's going to make for some crazy sealed deck and draft events.  I'd also expect a lot of the sets cards to make their way into standard.  Don't forget to check out your local prerelease events.  I'll be at the Dallas event like I always am.  I'll be selling stuff, but I will hopefully be playing this time around as well.  I will be signing autographs if you ask nicely, but I'll only sign creatures.  Preferably dragons, but any creature will do :)
I have an alternate game pick of the week to try out this week.  If you haven't given it a look, try out City of Heroes.  It's an online multiplayer super hero game.  It's just like playing in a comic book.  It's fun stuff.  You get to create everything from your powers to your costume.  It's definitely worth checking out.  If you want to find me to play with, I'm on the Champion server and I go by then name of PowrDragn (no surprise).
My card of the week this week is Electrostatic Bolt.  In the past few months, this card has pretty much just become better than shock in almost every way.  It's quickly become one of the definitive cards in the format.  IF your environment is full of artifacts and small creatures put some of these in your deck.
I don't really have a good and bad play of the week this week.  I've been a bit sidetracked and I also didn't get a ton of responses.  It's probably a glut of City of Heroes going to my head. 
In any case, I'm going to leave you guys there for this week.  I'll have a ton more things to address and talk about next week.
Send me e-mails asking me questions about my store and/or running one and I will use those for next week.  Also, remember to send me your good and/or bad plays of the week.  I do still send prizes for those.
Until next time,
DeQuan Watson
PowrDragn on IRC
PowrDragn on City of Heroes (champion server)

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