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Are You Really Supporting Your Local Store?

12.02.04  This article is written mostly in response to a bunch of old readers.  However, I think a lot of you new readers could gain something form it as well.  Several weeks ago (somewhere close to two months I think - need to check the archives) here in The Dragon's Den, I asked readers to write me to tell what they do to support their local store.  I was trying to find out a lot of different information.  Unfortunately, what I suspected was true and the results (even though they should have) didn't surprise me.  

This is a subject that I cover a couple of times a year.  Each time I try to give you new information from different perspectives.   I know that the readership of this site and this column change regularly.  Because of this, I feel the need to get the information out there on a regular basis.  But, in typical fashion, I want to address the subject a bit differently again this week.

I got quite a few letters over the course of a few weeks discussing the subject.  The most popular response I had was something along the lines of: "I go to my local store to play, but I buy from (insert place here) because they are cheaper."  That's a bit sad.  It's not sad because people buy from somewhere that's cheaper.  It's sad because these people actually consider this supporting their local store.

Now, I will admit that I'm a bit sensitive to this.  The first, and probably the most obvious reason, is because I own a store.  That's not really it.  I think the reason I am sensitive to this subject is because I deal with both retailers and consumers on a daily basis.  Retailers keep trying to find more ways to get people into their store.  Consumers keep trying to find the cheapest prices.  So, simply solution should be for stores to drop their prices and players would shop there more.  

Unfortunately, this is not a viable solution.  First of all, retailers can only do so much to get consumers in their stores.  Let me rephrase that.  The AVERAGE retailer can only do so much to get consumers into their stores.  Many game stores are in smaller cities.  This causes a problem with volume.  If a store were to sell through 200+ booster boxes of a particular game, like some websites, then it would be no big deal to sell their boxes at $10 over cost.  

For an example, let me use my store.  The Game Closet is roughly 3,000 square feet.  That's a reasonably sized store.  Of that, my retail space is about 1,650 or so of my square footage.   In that space, I sell some 30-50 different product lines at any given time.  Then you have to break down each of the individual product codes within those items that I sell.  On any of these lines, I may sell one or I may sell 50 in a week.  We are in Waco, TX.  The Greater Waco area has something in the ballpark of 240,000 residence, with the City of Waco itself having somewhere around 120,000 or so residence.  Our store has four different workers, not counting judges or staff that we use for special events.  Then there are standard overhead costs; employees, utilities, rent, advertising, product costs, and even things like buying more fixtures, tables and chairs.

Now, take all that in for a moment.  To put things in proper perspective, we need to look at an online store.  First of all, let me say that there are SOME online stores that run retailer establishments, but the truth is, those stores make very little in the way of retail sales, OR they have a retailer store just to stay in good standings with some manufacturers.  That's neither here not there for purposes of these arguments.  Most of online establishments carry somewhere in the ballpark of 10-20 different product lines.  Most of them don't have anything to worry about space wise, they just have warehouses or garages that they store product in.  I've even known of some that didn't even have product on hand.  They would process orders and then get the product from the manufacturer and send it out.  Many of them have no more than two or three regular employees.  General costs include, but are not limited to payroll, product costs, web hosting, and advertising.

I hope you're all with me so far, because the next part is where things really standout.  Your local retailer is more likely to be knowledgeable about the products that they are selling.  I know that I get several phone calls a week at my store about game rules.  We get calls about recommendation for building armies or decks.  The sad fact is, I know that some people have called us for information as many as three times in a week, and then used that information to go buy their products from an online store.  And I'm not na´ve enough to think that I'm an exception to the rule.

What about tournament play?  I know that the online stores don't provide these.  Those tournaments do a lot of things.  They give you a way to win prizes.  They give you a way to meet other players.  They give you a way to trade cards that you no longer want.  And honestly, product demonstrations should fall under this heading as well.  Your local retailers are constantly showing off games and explaining them to people.  This helps grow your gaming community and ensures that your game isn't going anywhere anytime soon.

Your local store has to carry a larger product line, because they couldn't survive otherwise.  With all the costs that go into their day to day business, they need to have a larger customer base within their immediate area.  They don't have access to millions of customers at any given time.  They can't count on selling 100 or 200 copies of one item.  Your local store is also carrying more than the just the hot items.  Your local hobby store has gone out of their way to build a sense of community and build up a game.  It's very sad when you consider that many small time hobby stores, have catered to players, got players started in games, special ordered things for players, and even had special events for players, just to see them go online to start buying their product.  

Imagine if you worked on commission.  If you had a customer come up to you asked you about your item, you would do your best to try and make a sell to that person.  You would show them why the item was good.  You would show them all the features of that item.  You would try to explain why they need to buy that item from you.  After doing all of that, how would you feel if they went to a fellow employee and purchased that item the next day?  That wouldn't be to great for you now would it?  

Think about the company you work for.  If every person that your company got through the door decided they were going to buy a product you sell from some one else, your company wouldn't be in business very long.  Your company knows the customer better.  The competition doesn't.  Your company goes out of their way to meet the customer's needs.  The competition won't.  Your company actually treats the customer special.  The competition doesn't.  Your company introduced the customer to a bunch of their current friends.  The competition didn't.  Your company runs special events for the customer.  The competition doesn't.  Your company even knows exactly what the customer wants when they come in.  The competition doesn't.  But unfortunately, the competition has a lower price then your company on a particular product.  Apparently, everything that your company provides for the customer isn't worth a couple of dollars.  

Now, read that last paragraph over.  Replace every instance of the words "your company" with "your local hobby store."  If you don't understand the frustration of retailers after that, I don't know what to tell you.  Honestly, your every dollar you spend holds more weight with your local store than it does with an online retailer.  If you quit spending in your local store, they will have to close their doors in no time.  Believe me, I've had many readers write me about such instances.  If you stop buying from an online store, they will survive.  They will simply move on the next hot product and find new customers.  

I know that some of you are saying, "I at least buy snacks and drinks when I go to my local store."  That's great.  I'm not even being facetious.  That is a good thing.  But you know as well as I do that stores don't make it on selling cokes all day long.  But for those of you that can't bring themselves to spend money in their local store (and I HIGHLY encourage you to buy there) here is an interesting breakdown for you to look at.  Store owners and manufacturers alike feel that these are things customers can do in their store to help them with their business and to help keep games alive:

40% Make purchases
20% Bring in friends - spread the word
15% Help demo and show games
10% Participate in events
10% Playing at the store

Obviously, making purchases at your store is the highest priority on the list for retailers and manufacturers.  Even manufacturers in our industry see this as an issue.  Many of them have gone out of their way to have special programs that you can only participate in by going to their local retailer.  Everything from t-shirts to tours to promo cards have been used to get players into stores.  So whenever you can, why not help your local store out and buy a booster packs or something small the next time you are in.  Every purchase helps.

The next item of importance was spreading the word.  Our industry is one where word of mouth is the absolute best advertising out there.  You most likely play games with other people.  Or you may know people that play from somewhere.  Tell them about your store.  Bring them in to look around.  Get them involved in something there.  Increasing awareness and potential customers can sometimes be a bigger help that making direct purchases.

Helping demo and show off games is important as well.  The store can demo stuff all day long, but an avid player with enthusiasm for what they play is always going to work better at producing interest in a product.  This can get someone interested (increasing sales) and can save time on the retailer.  If it's successful, I'm sure the retailer wouldn't mind giving you a kickback or some other small compensation for your efforts.  

Participating in events is important.  If your store has a website, use it regularly.  I know that our website has a message board and we encourage everyone to use it.  If there is a contest going on, try to participate.  If there is a special even on a holiday or something for your game, show up to play if you are in town.  All of these things can help build community and awareness and help extend the life of your favorite games and your favorite stores.

And finally, play at your store.  If they provide play space, show up and use it.   It shows people that there are others interested in the games they like.  It keeps others excited.  It helps make the store look busy.  And there are a lot of benefits to you.  Networking among the local player community is always a good thing.

Well, I think that's a good stopping point. Besides, I'm wearing a hole in this soapbox.   I hope that I gave you all enough to think about.  I hope you guys support your local hobby stores a lot more.  This holiday season looks to be a tough one for small retailers, so don't forget about your local store.  I know that several in our industry shut down after January of last year.  Let's do our parts to try and make sure that doesn't happen again.  Keep stores going.  More importantly, keep games going.

Until next time,

DeQuan Watson
a.k.a. PowrDragn
PowrDragn at Pojo dot com

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