David Lowry

David Lowry

I know, I know, not every local board game store is like this so please keep that to yourself unless you want to promote how great your local store is because we all love the board game stores that get it and want to promote them no matter where they are located.

In my personal experience, especially here in the Nashville area and from what I am reading on many forums, this is many people’s experience across the country, maybe even the world. Board games stores have simply no idea how to woo in customers. I have heard from at least two store owners here locally that is just isn’t worth it to market to board gamers although so much of today’s marketing is free or very low-cost compared to what it used to be. I personally read this as ( I am to lazy to actually be creative, work hard and attract customers, especially since Magic the Gathering (MtG) keeps my store open. So why should I bother?)

Well that is a good and fair question except for the fact that you stock and sell board games. You can’t expect MtG to be around forever. Everything has its period of success and then struggles for many years just look at D&D. While MtG’s run has been impressive and it might be for a while still, it won’t be forever. What are you doing to do then? Be unprepared? Just assume something else will be that massive and keep your store open?  Let’s take a look at some of the issues here.

1. Amazon – This is a big reason or excuse for store owners. Why? Because we can get games for 30 – 40% off on Amazon which we can rarely do at a store. This is a legitimate issue although currently sales at Amazon are very, very low. How do you compete with Amazon? Well you don’t have to really. You are selling an experience. Amazon is not. You are supposed to be very knowledgeable about your product. Amazon is not. You are have a store to play games in. Amazon does not. You have excited board gamers to lean on to teach, spread the word and sell your product by word of mouth. Amazon does not. You have the opportunity to get a potential customers hands on the actual product and they can take it home with them right that second. Amazon can not. You have their complete attention and everything if done right is merchandised correctly. Amazon does not.

Do lot’s of board gamers buy games on Amazon? Yes of course they do. Why? Budgets. Part of this is understanding your clientele, which oddly enough, most store owners don’t from what I can see. Age brackets buy differently from each other. Stores don’t seem to understand this. In all reality, I would much rather purchase from my store than not. I am a tactile kind of person and many my age are exactly the same way. We grew up in stores. We didn’t have Amazon when we were kids. There was no internet. We like the “experience” of shopping in a game store. The feel of the box in our hands. Being able to see the artwork, read the box and have the excitement of being able to buy and open right there. Yet no store owners I see have the ability to capitalize on this, as it’s if they don’t get it. They don’t have any sales technique at all, and the kids they hire don’t even care or have any training either. It’s easy to sell MtG. You clients know exactly what they want and tell you. They are excited about it and buy consistently and are very knowledgeable about their purchases.

Many times gamers don’t know what they are looking for and/or are looking for recommendations or to find games they have never heard of. I can tell you this. When I go into a local store, when I am looking around, they just stand there and look at me like a deer in head lights or at their computer screen. Unless I ask a question, they pretty much say nothing other than maybe “Hi, let me know if you need anything.” Not one bit of effort put into finding out what I am looking for, what I like so they may possibly have recommendations, no paying attention to what games I pull off the shelf to look at for again said recommendations or even asking if there is someone or something special I am looking for such as a birthday or holiday. No comments on what is selling hot currently. Nothing. Nada. Zilch…. It’s very sad and depressing.

That is where you come in. You are the “EXPERIENCE.” That means you have to sell them on it. You have to have experience in it. You actually have to play the games….. What? I have to play the games? Yes, you have to play the games. Many stores don’t have a demo library and don’t play the games. Some do read the marketing and try to use that as a selling point which is better than nothing but it would be better to have print outs of popular blogs on games you sell for people to read to help decide their purchases if you aren’t going to get knowledgeable about the product you sell. Game store owners and staff have got to learn to sell the experience period. You must be well versed in your product and excited about it to begin with. Having a demo library if used correctly is not only a tool for potential clients to buy games they can try with no risk of not liking it, it is a tool to train your staff on the games you sell. Plus it provides a fun environment in which to work.

This a major fail in most stores. They are woefully under prepared for sales and knowledge of their product unless it’s MtG. Business owners it is your job to properly equip our staff to sell, market, learn to merchandise the store appropriately and how to interact with customers. I can’t tell you how many times I see teens and sometimes adults working in stores just ignoring people looking for games. They eventually get frustrated with the lack of any type of acknowledgement or product knowledge and just walk out not purchasing anything. This is completely unacceptable in any business.

2. Marketing – Many owners have told me it’s just not worth it to market to board gamers. This is a slap in the face to me and all board gamers. First of all, we don’t just buy board games, we buy role-playing games, MtG and all sorts of other games as well. So you are missing out on ancillary sales with the very limited and negative attitude. I have to assume that since a board game store owner decided to open a business that SELLS games, they would want to sell as much merchandise as possible and not just get by in sales, so attitudes like this have NO BUSINESS in their store period. Every person is a potential customer, and for every one of us you piss off by staying asinine things like “they just aren’t worth it” means we tell all our other board game friends what you think of us, so now not only did you lose any board game sales, but you lost RPG sales, MtG sales, Miniatures sales etc…. You alienate your audience thinking you are a smart business person but many of you have never, ever put a REAL CONCERTED long-term effort into winning a board game crowd. You think posting of Facebook is advertising but yet you still really only cater to the MtG crowd. You are seriously lacking in any marketing experience. You very rarely post consistently and think one or two posts a day is enough or a lot. You don’t post board game events, rarely try to put any on and have no idea whatsoever in how to reach your potential audience. You don’t put yourself out there to the local community. You actually believe that until they come to you, you aren’t going to waste your time, money or effort on reaching out to them. And you plan on staying in business how long?

Demo’s – At least locally, they almost non-existent. I know one guy who consistently demo’s games for a company he works for but only does it at one store. That isn’t his fault though. The stores themselves are not setting up demos. How ridiculous is that? You have a free board game teacher to help sell your product who will come teach your clientele a game for FREE yet, you don’t utilize it. You don’t contact publishers to help get this rolling. They help promote it, they probably bring at least a couple friends on average, people who may never have been to your store, who may buy something at your store and yet you sit there doing nothing. This is possibly the most under utilized tool out there and it is pathetic. An actual expert on games to use for free and you don’t pull them in at all. Astounding to say the least. This is also a great way to train your staff on games you sell, even if no one comes to the demo but your staff. The more knowledge they have, the better job they will do.

Personally, again I said personally, I have never seen a local game owner participate on any of the board game groups on Meetup.com. They rarely participate on Facebook and usually only if they have something to post about a recent arrival but yet never learn to engage people or potential customers. They don’t participate in local game nights, they don’t participate in the board game conventions. You don’t engage on twitter or anything else. You just exist and expect a website, a couple Facebook posts and I guess some people’s desire to find a store will bring you customers. Yep, that is a sound marketing strategy if I ever saw one.

Learn to engage your potential audience. Understand all facets of your audience and know they aren’t just geeks that play games. Learn to look for new places to market, potential clients to attract, educational opportunities. Clubs, schools, libraries or anything you can tap into to grow your business and the hobby. It only helps you, it never hurts you. Learn to be creative and plan fun events, put twists in them. Capitalize on popular geek days, movie releases or anything for crying out loud. Not one store locally even tries to do a thing for International Table Top Day. Really?

Tell me…. Is this how you gain the customers trust, support or loyalty? You basically do nothing but yet you expect them to spend money in your store and spend more than if they went to amazon and got just as much experience there as they do from you. Do you see where I am going with this? Is this insulting? Yes it is. But it is true. Your basic day-to-day store operations don’t count towards this. That is what you have to do to run efficiently. Marketing is a whole other ball of wax entirely.

3. Follow Through – What do I mean? I mean do what you say you are going to do. Don’t say you are having a game night and then don’t. Don’t tell people that you are having a game night and then close early but only announce it on Facebook 20 minutes before it is supposed to start. Don’t tell people you are going to stay open late and then close at normal time. One store here is FAMOUS for the last two. Don’t ask people to support you, promise you are going to do things, ask them to help and then just don’t ever mention it again. You are a business owner, be professional. If you change plans, tell the people involved. If you switch game night, tell the people involved. If you want people to support you, do what you say you are going to do. The hours you post you are open, you better be open. Unless it is an EMERGENCY. You run a business. Don’t make people drive 30 miles to come to your store only to find it is closed because you had to help your wife study for a test. Staff your store appropriately period.

Point blank it is not our job to buy from you. It is YOUR job to develop a customer base. That means a prolonged and very serious effort in reaching out, marketing, event planning and giving your potential customer a reason to be there. Give them a reason to buy from you and be loyal to you. It is no ones responsibility but your own. You opened the store, not them. For many of you, it is just plain laziness. For others it is lack of know how. For others still, it’s just plain unprofessional-ism.

4. Kickstarter – Some owners feel that Kickstarter has made a difference in their business and they won’t carry the games, thinking the game has already reached it’s market, but that really isn’t true. Why? Because there are so many Kickstarters that the board gamer’s can’t afford to keep backing every Kickstarter game. This means many will slip through the cracks and they will want to purchase them later. There is business to be done here and if the publisher is offering a good deal to the retail store, you should seriously consider it, especially if no other store in the area carries Kickstarter games. Learn to see the potential and how you can turn it into a positive for your potential customers. Know your customers and in this case, know your competition.

5. Respect Your Board Gamers – What do I mean by this? It means, if you have a board game day, make sure they are the focus no matter how small the group is. The last thing you want to do is push them into some corner or other room so you can make room for more MtG players on the board gamers day. They should have priority no matter what. More than likely, you are having multiple MtG game nights a week. They get more than their fair share. When it is board game time, make them feel special. Focus on them and no one will be offended or made to feel like they aren’t important.

The bottom line is that we want to be made to feel welcome in your store and even appreciated. If you are a store owner and you think we aren’t worth the effort than you can be sure, we won’t feel the need to support your store with our hard earned cash, especially when we can save much more online, not to mention the cost of gas and stretching our already strained budgets. Remember, you aren’t the only one thinking about money.

For the board gamers. It is for you to reach out to your local stores and show them interest in board gaming nights, games to buy, general support and excitement. Like one might expect, owning a business is a very difficult job. It is time intensive, money intensive and very often it feels like you are banging your head against a wall and you just can’t make anyone happy. Many customers, come into stores, look at prices or games and then get immediately on their smart phone and order it Amazon. Right there in the damn store. That is very, very uncool. Support and praise your local retailer and show a genuine interest in their store. Share their promotions on social media. Help grow their awareness in the local community. Take pride in your local game stores!

If you happen to play games at their store, you sure as hell better be buying games there. At least a few a year, at least. Why? Because they are supporting you. They are giving you an experience, a room for you and others to game in and you know what? That costs them money. Not only did they have pay for the furniture you are sitting own and probably still owe money on, they have to pay insurance the liability of you. It costs electricity, more AC as warm bodies fill the space, cleaning your mess that you don’t clean up. Don’t even get me started on this especially you young MtG players who leaves your open wrappers everywhere or cards you don’t want or food bags. Clean up after you selves. The $2 you spent on cards doesn’t pay them to be your maid.

Board gamers should be worried about their local game store. Many are closing due to low sales and you will have no place left game if you don’t start supporting in numbers. As much as it is their responsibility as board game store owners to draw in sales, it is your responsibility to the hobby and the board game community to help keep it alive and thriving. If you have budget issues, I would ask you don’t sacrifice the board game store for one extra game in your collection. Shop local as much as you can. However, don’t give our money to stores that just don’t seem to care. It is very much a co-existence. They stores should care about your business at least as much as you care about supporting them and the hobby.

I previously wrote an article called Hobbyists Shouldn’t Open Game Stores as well addressing this issue. There is so much more I am not writing due to time and well, I get paid as a consultant so there is that. Make this business a fun one, an engaging one and something you look forward to everyday, not just because it’s games you love, but because of  the experience you gives makes happy people customers that will pay it back tenfold with word of mouth, sales and social media promotion.

Let me tell you something you all know but don’t want to either admit or deal with. This is NOT an overnight thing. This will take a lot of time and a lot of effort, but it should be worth it in the long run if you actually care about your business and your customers. You will not turn you sales around in one month, three months or maybe even six months, but you will turn them around if you are driven, persistent and disciplined. The three things most important to any successful business.

Let us have a call to arms on both sides and bring the hobby to new heights like we have never seen before. That is a win for everyone, stores owners, gamers, publishers, designers, artists…. Everyone.

Game on!


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