While I was working at a large call center several years ago, my manager left the organization to open up his own store. Month’s later Radio Shack opened it’s doors. I had went into the store a few times, shortly after opening looking for a reason to support the store, and always left with something. I have nothing bad to say about the store, but the best thing I can say: it was adequate. Since Radio Shack closed most (all? I’m not sure of the details) of its stores, the local one transitioned into another store by the same owner. Odd Fellows Games & Electronics. They had board games! The reason I’ve chosen today to talk about this is because I went to their Board Game Afternoon Event today. Let me share my concerns, my initial impression, and my hopes for the store and the Silverton Board Game Community.
Lets start with my concerns. Silverton, where this story unfolds, is a relatively small town. From the few times I’ve been in the store, it’s bread and butter comes from two types of customers. First the obvious, Magic: the Gathering. I fully support gaming stores selling and catering to Magic players because lets be honest, it’s the only way to stay in business. My concern comes from the proportion of service it takes to support them. Players buy packs of cards, which takes no time at all. Then they want to sell, trade, negotiate, argue, and find out why they see a card on eBay for $43 and are only being offered $15 by the store. [I won’t get into the details, except to say, just because you see something on eBay, doesn’t mean it is actually going to sell.]
If you’ve ever looked at a shelf of board games without having any idea what they are, it’s intimidating. Every time I’ve walked past the shelf in this store, I’ve hoped to have a friendly clerk come talk to me about them. “What are you favorite..?” “Have you played…?” “Do you know about…?” “Who do you play with?” are great questions to determine just who is in the store, and how you can help them to want to be part of the community. Instead, I get a quick, “Can I help you?” Which I always replay, “Just browsing your board games” and I don’t get engaged again. I think the reason for this is every time I’m in, the another customer wants to trade in Magic cards.
The other type of customer that causes me concerns is the non-electronically inclined electronic customer. If you service this person well, they will be yours forever. They will also take a lot of you time every time they come in. If this person is a return customer who is patient and understanding, the staff can leave, help another customer, and return to pick up where they left off. Often though, this customer may be a new customer, who is frustrated with a cell phone, or a computer, or looking for the staff to fix a problem. This is where the store has a huge opportunity to earn that customers loyalty.
What is missed though, is that small opportunity to see interest in board games. To say that Board games don’t make a lot of money might be an understatement. On average, a local gaming store will make about $7 for every $100 that is retailed in board games. Then they have to pay their staff. Why does anyone try to make a living on selling games? I’m not sure, but I appreciate every one of them.
With these concerns, why then, do I have such hope? They appear to be very smart. My small town doesn’t have any sort of hobby community built in. The fact that this store seems to be taking small steps to not over extend themselves is great, if you’re patient. It seems like they have developed a pretty strong Magic the Gathering following. Every time I go in, there are Magic players (although I have no idea if they are just hanging out, or spending money). I’ve seen D&D sessions on their schedule, but do not know how the turn out is. And for the first time, I’ve seen board games in the schedule. I’ve only looked into events here a few times, so it’s possible I’ve simply missed it.
So, how was my experience today? I walked in and there was a row of tables with three groups of people. This was far better turn out then I expected, and I was nervous that I would be disappointed. There was one person looking through cards sitting by himself, two kids somewhere between 6 and 8 years old playing a board game with the store owner I mentioned above, and another staff member sitting with a high school aged customer and some magic cards. The staff that was sitting with the Magic Card player stood, greeted me and asked how he could help. When I said I was here for board games, he seemed surprised, but recovered well. He explained what was being played, and offered for me to join.
What was being played? Ranked 12,433 on BoardGameGeek: The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Game. The game was a trivia based roll and move game. You rolled the die, then someone read you a survival question. If you got the multiple choice answer correct, you moved forward a number of spaces equal to your die roll. The movement was arbitrary and the questions were obvious. Even the game was underwhelming, it was a good thing to see. The store owner was playing a game with children. A game that he was not selling, and didn’t have something similar to it (thank goodness). He was playing what his customers wanted. Near the end of the game, a pair of boys had started a game of Steve Jackson’s Munchkin. The children I was playing with (I took over for Jason when he had to go help a customer) were interested in learning to play Munchkin.
I was able to have a short piecemeal conversation with Jason, who seemed interested in talking more, but was called away with a customer, then another. I left shortly after the trivia game, because, while I’m excited to see interest in any hobby game, I’d rather not play Munchkin unless I’m facilitating a play group, and that’s what they want to play. As I stood up, Jason broke away from his customer for a moment to invite me back on Saturday. He explained that he’s trying to get some of his friends there too for a more adult board gaming experience. Am I going? If I can find a sitter, absolutely.
[By the way. FLGS = Friendly Local Gaming Store]