In my Growing the Hobby RPG Blog Carnival wrap-up, I shared my thoughts about growing the hobby. While I talked about it from the industry and hobbyist perspective, I realized I left out a crucial component: the retailer.
The Mighty Have Fallen
Before the internet and online discount retailers like Amazon dominated the book trade, the brick & mortar hobby shops (and a few mail order companies like Wargames West) were the bridge between publishers and players. The Friendly Local Gaming Store had a secure place in the hobby ecosystem. Where else could you buy plastic polyhedrons?
Simply put, retailers can no longer count on retail to be successful. Why would I use [increasingly expensive] fuel to drive to a hobby shop to pay full price plus tax for the Pathfinder RPG Core Rulebook ($50) when I can have Amazon ship it for free after receiving a hefty 37% discount ($31.49)? Or spend $10 to get the PDF instantaneously (or download it illegally for free)?
I don’t. I would recommend that everyone else saves their money too (without dipping into piracy).
That’s not saying I don’t shop at my FLGS. I just don’t go there to buy books or boardgames. I go there for things they don’t stock at Amazon: obscure gaming accessories, cheap or rare second-hand products, and other gamers. Though I do admit I frequent the FLGS less often these days because I’m not finding what I want. These days I just go to Half Price Books more often than not.
Laying New Bricks
How can Friendly Local Gaming Stores maintain relevancy? One half of the equation is hobby shops providing services that gamers cannot find elsewhere and then supplement those services with products most likely to garner impulse buys from gamers utilizing these services.
The other half of the equation is fostering a community of local gamers that uses the FLGS as its base of operations. My friend and colleague, Jonathan Jacobs, spoke about building tribes recently at Nevermet Press, which I think is particularly relevant.
Make the shop an event. Every night. I’m not saying to hold events (though that’s part of it), I’m saying the store should be an event. Everyone should want to hang out there, because that’s where stuff happens.
Provide gaming space. There could be several tiers of space. The general area could be standard banquet tables that are free to use on a first-come/first-served basis. Then perhaps some larger tables separated by dividers to minimize noise that require a small fee per hour. Follow that up with a couple dedicated rooms for more seclusion (and higher fees).
Provide loaner games & accessories. Allow patrons to check out 3D terrain, miniatures, dice, battle mats and markers, or other paraphernalia. Again, have several tiers of fees by renting pre-painted plastic minis and paper terrain on the cheap (or free) while offering premium professionally painted miniatures and cast terrain. Hell, allow patrons to rent entire Warhammer armies for a session!
Run demos and teach games. Have a standing offer to demo any product (yes, that means you’ll need to know what you’re selling!). Put on the glitz and use the accessories you offer! Get support from the publishers, as they often have [volunteer] demo teams available. Let me see that expensive boardgame in action. If you get walk-ins involved in a game, they’re more likely to make a purchase.
Embrace technology. Have some workstations available where users have access to DDI. Let patrons print character sheets cheaply. Lock down external ports/security and provide access to a large library of PDFs (after addressing any legal concerns); have some tablet devices to read them on wirelessly. Make console, LAN, and MMO gaming available.
Turn over lots of impulse buys. Cater to gamer hunger & thirst by selling water, soda, snacks, & candy. Barring any issues with the Health Department, sell large things like microwaveable meals or pizza. Have plenty whatever you’re demoing that day in stock. Create high demand from normal products with added value such as autographed copies.
Support second-hand markets. Buy and sell used books, novels, games, or movies. Create a collectible card/miniature game trade in service. Perhaps provide some consignment sales.
Reward customer loyalty. Create a loyalty program. Offer discounts to members and let them accrue points to redeem for free stuff. Implement a GM or Demo Team program that earns them free rentals or snacks. Have quarterly gamer awards. Let your patrons know you appreciate their business.
Bring star power. While it’s a little harder to pull off frequently, if you can manage to bring in designers, artists, or other personalities related to gaming (not just tabletop gaming here), it can be draw crowds (and sell books if there are autographs going on). This will obviously take some social networking on the owner’s part, but it’s not impossible.
Incorporate other hobby events. If there are local conventions, run a shuttle service from the store to the event. Have pre-con or post-con parties. Hand out flyers or otherwise advertise at the event. Organize your own convention!
Participate in the local community. Get an area at the county fair. Hand out small trinkets at the parade. Make your presence known in the local community by getting involved in cultural activities and festivals. Run some German-style boardgames with beer during Oktoberfest. Sponsor some community service.
Network, network, network. Meet your patrons. Get to know them. Meet publishers, designers, and artists. Employ all the social networks. Partner with personalities and run contests (Gator Games is really good at this). Join the appropriate associates and talk with fellow proprietors. Share knowledge!
But What Do I Know?
These ideas just sprung to mind as I was writing the Growing the Hobby carnival wrap-up. I know what I’ve presented are not new concepts, but I think many hobby shops are letting good opportunities slip by. I don’t own a store, nor have even worked at one, but looking at it from a patron perspective there is so much more my FLGS could be doing to get my business.
What do you guys think?
Growing the Hobby Series
- Carnival Kick-off (Questions)
- Carnival Wrap-Up (Industry & Hobbyist Observations)
- Reinventing the FLGS (Retailer Observations)