You spend a huge amount of time and money trying to get customers to come through your doors, but are you making one of these 14 mistakes and sending them right back out again?
Local game store customers are one of the most loyal, dedicated, and passionate groups of people you can serve and if you treat them right you can have customers for life. Screw it up and you will likely never see them again. What’s worse, they will probably take their friends with them.
#1. Your store is a mess.
This one’s huge. If you have stacks of cards piled all over your store, or your garbage bins are overflowing with food and booster pack wrappers, or your bathroom hasn’t been cleaned in a week, you’re guilty of this one. Beyond just basic cleanliness and hygiene, how you present your store has a major impact on whether your customers will return to make a repeat purchase.
No one wants to play games in a dank dungeon and the parents that bring their kids in to your shop are going to turn right around when they see a place that isn’t taken care of.
#2. You don’t greet people as they walk in.
Standard operating procedure for retail is to say hello and ask if the customer needs help. Not only will this reduce the chances of that person stealing from you, but it makes them feel welcome, which they should. You should be extremely happy that someone thinks your local game store is cool and wants to give you their money. How awesome is that?!
I know, sometimes we’re busy running events or trying to make a sale, but you have to acknowledge someone when the come in the door. Running a local game store is all about the experience, start the experience off right by saying hello.
#3. You give your regulars priority over new customers.
We all have made friends with our customers, gaming is social and we get to know each other. It’s part of what makes being a local game store entrepreneur so rewarding and fun. But those same people can easily distract you from growing your business further. If a customer walks into your shop and has to wait at the counter because your cashier is having a conversation with a regular about the virtues of their EDH deck, that customer is going to walk away. You could be losing sales and possibly just lose the customer forever.
You have one chance at making a good impression on new customers, don’t waste it.
#4. You don’t listen to what your customers want.
There is immense opportunity in the hobby niche. There are new games being published all the time. If one customer asks if you carry the Force of Will TCG, you don’t have to necessarily go and order a case of boosters right away.
But when a few start to ask and talk about it, don’t just ignore them. You may be missing out on a new revenue stream or the season’s hottest new product. Don’t be afraid to ask your customers what they would like to buy from you either. Give them a chance to voice their opinion and then give the customer what they want.
#5. Your events start late.
Starting your tournaments on time is crucial to keeping your players happy. It shows that you respect their time and the fact that they have paid you cold, hard cash to play in your store. Delaying an event for more than 10 minutes one time is something you can get away with, but once you have a reputation for starting late, that’s when you will lose customers. Starting late is part and parcel of the next way you are driving away your customers.
#6. Your events are run badly.
Being organized and running an efficient event should be a top priority. If your judge isn’t paying attention, or you forgot to start the round timer, or you change the prize payout in the middle of round 3, you’re failing at running events.
Players will travel hours to attend tournaments they know are run by game stores they can trust to run a good event. And conversely, players and thus, paying customers will actively avoid a local game store if they feel the quality of the events aren’t up to their standards.
Check out the article I wrote on how to run quality tournaments.
#7. You don’t offer enough variety.
Not just in merchandise but tournaments too. Magic is great but it still makes up only a portion of the player population. Ask around and you may find out there is a massive latent population of Yugioh players that you never knew existed who all play at the local game store down the street because you don’t offer it. Likewise with events. Standard and draft are awesome formats but you need to have a variety of events on your schedule.
Modern, Legacy, and even Vintage can be very popular formats but if they’re not being supported in your store through organized play, why would customers come to you?
#8. You run out of product.
While selling every copy of a hot item sounds like a good problem to have, you’re going to be driving some number of your customers into your competitor’s stores to get their fix. Stock outs are a difficult problem to have because the loss of sales of virtual instead of physical, you can’t truly quantify the impact of running out of something. But be assured, there is an impact. Sometimes this is out of your control, like with a controlled distribution product like Eternal Masters and other times it’s your fault.
If you don’t want to run out of product at an inopportune time you need to do two things. You should have more than one distributor you rely on to keep supplied and you need to pay close attention to your inventory. Do you know what your turn rate is? How about how often you should be ordering?
The bottom line is that stock outs are forcing your customers to go somewhere else to buy the products that you could easily be selling to them.
#9. You (or your employees) aren’t knowledgeable about the products you sell.
Your customers and hobby gamers in general are very passionate about the games they play. They know when someone doesn’t have a clue about the finer details of the game they are talking about. If your selling Magic but you’ve never played a game yourself personally, you customers are going to take note.
The one thing you have to keep in mind when running a local game store is that you are selling an experience as much as excellent gaming products.
Your customers come to your store to buy their games because of the experience, and that includes the knowledgeable and hopefully friendly staff helping them out. You don’t have to have a deep understanding of the intricacies of every game you sell, but you or your employees should at least know what you’re talking about.
#10. Your website sucks.
This is a common problem many local game store owners have, either you don’t have a website and are entirely relying on your Facebook page to send you customers or your website is just plain terrible. Maybe you set it up yourself a few years ago and it’s an ugly mess of unresponsive HTML or maybe you haven’t updated it in 9 months. Both of these things are bad.
Having a website is an important part of your marketing strategy, check out the article The Bulletproof Marketing Strategy For Game Stores in 2016 for a breakdown of why, but it can also actively send your customers away if it’s giving them a bad impression of your business.
There are so many great options for building a decent website now you really have no excuse. Setting up WordPress and installing a decent theme can be done with nearly every major web host with just one click. Check out Bluehost for a reliable and inexpensive option, it’s the host I use for this site that you’re reading right now.
Or if you’re really tech phobic, check out SquareSpace. They offer a nice drag and drop interface so you can build a great looking website without any technical knowledge at all.
#11. Your Facebook page sucks too.
I’ll refer you back to the The Bulletproof Marketing Strategy For Game Stores in 2016. If you rely on your Facebook page to send you customers but you never really update it or don’t use it to inspire conversations, you shouldn’t even bother. Beside the fact that the organic reach of a Facebook page is gradually approaching zero, your page is not doing nearly as much for your game store as you think it is.
#12. Your prize payouts are too low.
This mainly has to do with trading card game tournaments like Magic and Pokemon. Card players can count, they will do the math on your events. If your FNM costs them $5 and you only pay out $2.50 per player, those players are going to notice you’re pocketing half the entrance fee.
Now, no one is saying you shouldn’t make a profit, you are running a business after all. But you should be looking at your lower cost events as marketing rather than a real money maker. The point of running events is to get those customers into your shop so you can sell them stuff.
Card players are very value conscious. If your prizing structure isn’t as appealing as your competitor’s, you will lose some number of players and a proportionate amount of opportunity.
#13. Your prices don’t reflect the market.
You can price your products however you want. If you want to discount your products into oblivion and eventually run yourself out of business, that’s totally up to you. Likewise, if you want to sell Magic cards for 20% over SCG prices, you can but your going to alienate your customers and make them feel like your gouging them.
Buying from a local game store is usually an emotional purchase, customers buy games because they want to create great experiences and ultimately have fun. If your prices are higher than the market/your customers “feel” they should be, your value conscious gamer customers are going to look elsewhere.
At one time you could price your inventory whatever you felt like, but the age of Amazon and e-commerce has created a global market, and you need to take that into account.
#14. You aren’t managing your community.
Gaming is a social activity and that means interacting with people. And sadly, some people are terrible. A certain number of your customers are going to be toxic influences within your community. These are the bullies, abusers, harassers, and all around crappy people that ruin the experience for everyone. If you aren’t actively managing your community and curating the experience they are having, these kinds of people will eventually drive out the good ones.
And the hardest aspect is that you may not even see how much damage the toxic people are doing. Humans have a difficult time seeing the absence of something. The people who are leaving your shop because of a bad experience, never to return probably aren’t even on your radar unless they told you on the way out.
This is hardly a comprehensive list of all the ways you could be losing customers but it’s a good place to start. The best thing to keep in mind at all times is that the experience is paramount. Always be asking yourself if the experience can be improved because if you can craft a great experience for your customers, you won’t have to worry about losing them.