Game Store Operation 101 – The features every game store should have

Game Store Operation 101 – The features every game store should have

Below is a list of features that every single game store should aspire to have.

For those of you who are considering opening your own store use this list as a road map. There is far more to running a proper business than the bullet points down below but if these things are part of your plan, you’re taking a step in the right direction.

For the store owners who have come looking for ideas to improve their business this list is a great resource. Compare what you are currently providing to your customers and adopt what would work best for your business.

Not all of these features are necessary or even feasible for every store. Some may not apply to what you are trying to accomplish and that’s okay. Pick and choose what will bring the most value to you and your customers. That is actually one the key points in this article. It’s so important I will call it out up here in the intro. It’s what business is all about in the first place. The customer. Your customers are the reason your business is or will exist. They pay the bills and your wage. They keep the doors open. They should be the center of every business decision you make. Take care of your customers and they will take care of your business.

There is one caveat to that. DO NOT cater to a set of customers over another. It’s great to have a group of regulars come into your store everyday, it’s one of the perks of a game shop that you can be friends with your customers but the moment you start to alienate some of your player base in favor of others is the moment your store will begin to die. The casual crowd is typically the segment that spends the most money while the average tournament grinder will typically consume most of your time while spending very little. Treat all your customers the same. Each person who walks into your store should feel like a valued and respected patron, not like an outsider entering an exclusive club that they are not a part of.

The best way to put it is, try to be like Starbucks. The Starbucks Experience is something every game store should strive to emulate. It is the reason people will spend nearly double on a coffee even with cheaper options readily available. Every customer is greeted and welcomed and the staff learns their name and learns about them as a person instead of just a transaction. Starbucks is the third place for many people besides work and home. Local game stores should try to be the third place for Magic players.

With that said let’s hit the list. 

Ambiance

  1. Lighting – Have lighting appropriate for gaming, bright enough for people to see what they are doing and that won’t be obstructed. Don’t fulfill the stereotype of the nerd dungeon. Window frontage can be a big help with this part.
  2. Sound – Have some sort of background music playing throughout the store. It doesn’t have to be super high quality, just a simple rig with speakers around the space playing the radio or an iTunes playlist. Many businesses that expect their customers to spend more than 10 minutes in the store have music playing as it helps give the space a comfortable vibe. This is an easy and cost-effective option for upgrading your space.
  3. Climate Control – Air conditioning during the warmer months is one of the best investments you can make for a game store. Keep your establishment at a reasonable temperature and adjust accordingly. This is especially crucial on tournament days assuming you take this advice and actually have tournaments. Besides protecting your merchandise from excessive heat, temperature control will make your play space more comfortable which will make your tournaments more successful.
  4. Screens – This one is more optional than the others on this list. Having a television to watch in between games is a nice luxury to have but may not necessarily fit the atmosphere of your business.
  5. Cleanliness – This one may be the most obvious but is also overlooked a lot of the time. Keep your business clean at all times especially the bathroom. Cleaning will likely take up a large portion of time spent running the business. Sweep and mop frequently. Vacuum every day if you have carpet. Take out the trash and recycling every day. Clean up the left over debris people leave behind as soon as you can. Think like a restaurant, the server comes and cleans up the table as soon as the customer leaves. A messy or dirty establishment reflects poorly on you the owner so make cleanliness a top priority.
  6. Smokers – People smoke, it happens, you should prepare for it. Have a place for them outside and a butt-disposal device are good things to have. An addendum to the item above is the keep your exterior clean as well. That means sweeping up any butts left around. It helps to remind your smokers to be considerate of those who don’t and not to hang out around the entrance if it can be helped.

Provisions

  1. Location – Starting out your location is one of the most important choices you can make so choose wisely. It’s a careful balancing act between rent costs and future earnings. If possible the ideal location has parking for your customers who drive as well as being close to foot traffic. Due to the nature of selling games, being located near a school can be a boon as well as cause headaches depending on how much you enjoy dealing with younger customers. This is one of the biggest decisions you will make starting out. You should consult a real estate agent and have them help you look for a location appropriate to what your business is trying to accomplish. They can also probably get you a better deal on your lease than you could get on your own otherwise. If you already own a game shop assess your current location to see if it is actually the best place you can be. Be aware of your surroundings. The neighboring businesses can become an asset if you can work out a way to collaborate. Nearby restaurants could offer discounts to your customers in exchange for your recommending them, that sort of thing.
  2. Snacks/drinks – Take advantage of your captive audience and sell them food and beverages. Pop, chips, and chocolate bars are pretty standard. You can stock other options if you feel your customers would be interested but having a selection of snacks to start with is nice steady stream of profit you should capitalize on.
  3. Utilities – This is another optional item that will depend on space and desire. Having a fridge/microwave/coffee machine are nice luxuries to have if applicable. This adds versatility to your establishment. A coffee machine or Keurig machine (ideally) can be kept behind the counter and will pay for itself in a very short period of time. Paper towels, napkins, and disposable flat ware/cups/plates can be useful as well.
  4. Chairs/tables – This one is critical if tournaments or play space is part of your business plan and can really set you apart from the competition. Customers will end up spending a lot of time sitting at your tables during an event. High quality tables and chairs will not only improve the player experience but will also give your business an atmosphere of professionalism. Consider the furniture in your play space as an investment. If you skimp on this area and go for the cheapest options your players will notice and many will not spend their valuable time at your events. This is part of treating your customers with respect. A proper business provides value to the customer so investing in making their experience better is part of the deal.

Product

  1. Singles – Having singles for sale is one the most profitable income streams for a serious Magic establishment. It is one half of the economic engine that can drive the success of your business. Tournaments are the demand side of the equation, single sales are the supply side. Not many other industries have the ability to control both the demand and supply of their wares. The needs of the player base will vary by location, but the idea is simple: try to stock as many format staples as possible while leaning into the most played formats for your shop. If your customers play standard, go heavy on standard singles. It will be more apparent over time as you get requests for cards. Card prices are at your discretion but keep the internet in mind. Star City Games is essentially the top end of the market so it’s pretty difficult to go higher than them. Whatever metric you choose to price your singles with be consistent and up front about it. Keep your display cases organized, clean, and tight. Keep organized boxes/binders of sets, that way you know where to look when asked. Part of the singles trade is buying cards from your customers. This is something every shop that sells Magic singles should do. As part of your operating budget, have money set aside explicitly for purchasing collections the same way you would buy merchandise from distributors. If someone requests a single that you do not have, make the effort to get it for them. It will let them know you care enough to do it.
  2. Boosters – Keep the current sets in stock whenever possible. If you are able to get some of the older packs that’s a bonus. Some of the more popular older sets are Urza’s Saga, Zendikar, Onslaught, Future Sight, Mirrodin, Darksteel, Alliances, etc. The older boosters will not move as fast unless there is some sort of incentive to buy them so don’t stock too many as it will tie up your inventory.
  3. MTG Booster Pricing – The closer you can sell boosters to MSRP the better. Sealed products have a fairly low margin due to distributor costs and player expectations. Add to that the fact that players can buy sealed product on the internet. This means there many constraints on what sealed products can be sold for. I think the best policy is to price similar to what stores in the local area typically charge while offering a discount on buying a booster box in its entirety. Your prices should be a little higher than what can be had on the internet but not so high that your customers will scoff at them. Just remind them about shipping costs. Do not price lower just to compete with the local businesses. That will merely create a race to the bottom where everybody loses. It’s one thing to compete but don’t price yourself out business.
  4. MTG Misc./Other Products – Having a good variety of product is great, if you have the shelf space to support it. Sleeves, deck boxes, cardboard storage units, binders, and playmats are all excellent accessories to carry. MTG event decks, fat packs, starter packs, deckbuilder’s toolkits , vs. decks, intro decks, Shards of Alara foil boosters, commander decks, FTV items: these all have their place but it’s the same with any product you sell as a retailer. Experiment and see what will sell and what won’t. Use the 80/20 rule and figure out what 20% of the products you carry produce 80% of the profits. Do this often and don’t get bogged down with a tonne of products that don’t turn over.
  5. Other CCG’s – Diversify your product line. There are multiple CCG’s on the market and some of them are quite popular. It is best to listen to what your customers want in this regard. If there is already a market in your area for Yugioh or Pokemon then they are possible revenue streams that can be taken advantage of. An excellent way to get new players involved in a game, Magic or otherwise is to demonstrate it and allow new customers to get interested before they invest their hard-earned money in them. Demos work great for video games as they can generate excitement without the upfront cost. Introducing a new player to game they have not tried before is a great way to create a loyal customer and to connect with them personally.
  6. Other Games/Genres – It’s extremely rare for a shop to succeed carrying only one product line. Conveniently enough there is a multitude of products that overlap with Magic. Mentioned above there are other TCG’s and CCG’s. There are about a million different board games. Comics, miniatures of all sorts, video games, role playing games, books, collectibles, costume pieces, art pieces, clothing, the list goes on and covers the spectrum of geek culture. Don’t be afraid to open yourself and your store up to them. There are lots of things you could carry in that regard – the idea is to work with what your demand is. If you have a lot of Warhammer players, it may be beneficial to set up a Warhammer display case, start carrying figures/kits, paints/brushes, etc.
  7. Promo cards – This is a special section that goes with an item down below. Wizards of the Coast will periodically send out promo cards for FNM, new sets, Game Day, etc. These are to be given away to your customers. Use them for prize support for events, raffles, whatnot but do not sell them. That explicitly goes against the spirit of the promotion and could cost your business its status in the Wizard’s Play Network.

Schedule & Events

  1. Schedule – Have one. Stick to it. Start your events on time. It really is that important. A 5-10 minute leeway may be given from time to time if people are running late and call, but try to be as punctual as possible. Create a calendar of events for your store. Ideally, you want to have something for people to do every day. There are multiple formats and the more you can support the better because that means you have another format you can drive demand for in your singles stock. Magic isn’t the only option and doesn’t need to occupy every day of the week. If the player base is present for another game you carry, support that game. Encourage your customers to come out to your events. Sometimes all they need is a reminder and a call to action, the more people who show up the better. Also don’t be afraid to drop what isn’t working and try something new. Once you figure out what you want to do and when, have printed copies available in your store and post it on your Facebook page and/or website.
  2. Tournaments – Assuming your business has play space to support tournaments, and you really should, they should act as way to support the rest of the retail operation. As stated above, for most competitive players tournaments are the reason they will buy Magic cards in the first place. Competitive players like to win most of all. Give them a way to express this desire and they will give you their money again and again. Variety here is key. In order to attract the most customers into playing in your events have a variety of competitive options available. FNM’s and prerelease’s for the more casual crowd interspersed with more high stakes/high rewards events aimed towards the typical Spike. For more info see my posts specifically written about running tournaments here and here.
  3. Tournament Pricing – There are two ways to price your events. The first is to look at tournaments as marketing and run them at cost to cover expenses. Keep entry fees low while also limiting prize support. The second way is to increase the entry fee while simultaneously increasing the prizes. This way leaves more room for the business to make a direct profit from the entry fees. Which model you choose will depend on the format. There is a lot more room in event structuring in Constructed tournaments where players bring their own cards than there is with Sealed or Draft. There are lots of ways to go, but the bottom line is you need to provide enough value to your customers to get them to play while maintaining your profit margin, but don’t go overboard. It’s much better to start high and come down than it is to start low and come up.
  4. Prizes – For weekly tournaments you should always go with either booster packs or store credit as prize support. Only give out cash in larger, less frequent events. Having a fixed value on prize support with all your events will go a long way in establishing your reputation as an excellent tournament organizer.
  5. Judging – When you hold a sanctioned event, there has to be a judge, or the tournament organizer will be the acting judge for the event. It is imperative that whoever is judging an event know what they are talking about and is nice about it. They have to be friendly, courteous, and knowledgeable. As the business owner you may not necessarily even play Magic. That’s fine, perhaps even better since that way it allows you to be dispassionate about the game but at a minimum you should understand the rules. If you can act as a Rules Adviser or even a full-fledged Judge during your events you will have a large advantage and be adding value to your events. If not you personally, it would be optimal to have someone on hand who can do that for you. Either an employee or a volunteer.
  6. Pairings/round time – Have a timer setup in a spot that is visible from the entire play area with a buzzer. People need to be able to see how much longer they have. It will help your tournaments run efficiently and quickly and allow your players to manage their time better. Post pairings in multiple visible places for large events to prevent crowding and keep the flow going. Never alter pairings under any circumstances unless you absolutely have to.

Interactions

  1. Customers – This is the most obvious and most often overlooked. You need to spend time with your customers, get to know them by name. If they have questions, answer them to the best of your abilities. If they have concerns, listen and act if applicable. If they want to learn something and you can teach them, do so. Like it was stated above, your customers are the reason you can open the doors of your business each day. Treat them right. Maybe you already have this mindset and that’s great but do your employees or partners? Do your customers for that matter? Take that attitude of the customer experience and impart it into your employees as well as your customers. Be aware of the needs of your community and take the time to show them you care. Teaching people how to play games is enjoyable for all parties involved; take the time. This will repay you in so many ways in the long run. You won’t like all of them, that’s fine; we’re all human, just care. Care about making the people that are supporting you better people.
  2. Online – Have an online presence and use it to your advantage; it’s a digital world and the era of information. The vast majority of the US has a smart phone and most of your target demographic is on Facebook & Twitter; get connected to both! It’s the easiest and cheapest way to stay connected to your customers. Have your schedule on your Facebook page, post tournament results on your website, share pictures and updates. It is another way to keep your customers connected to the lifeblood of their store and it’s one of the ways you can go from being a game store to a LGS and a community.
  3. Inclusiveness – Your business should be welcoming but be particularly careful about creating a private club atmosphere that could drive away new customers. Make a concerted effort to include every person who walks through your doors and make them feel welcomed and valued. Acknowledge everybody who enters with a friendly “Hello” as soon as they have gotten through the decompression zone if possible. It’s very easy to fall into a conversation with your regulars about something they are excited about to the exclusion of someone new coming in for the first time. You know what they say about first impressions though. If a new customer enters your store and they feel ignored, that will likely be the last time you see them. Remember, be like Starbucks. They know what they are doing in regards to customer service. The flip side of this is to fire your customers if it becomes necessary. If one of your players is making your store an awkward or uncomfortable place to be, they need to be told to stop. If they don’t stop, they need to leave. Being a good store owner sometimes means curating your customers as well as catering to them.

Financial

  1. Logs – Keep all of them. Keep accurate receipts, transaction histories, employee hours, and everything necessary. If you have experience as an accountant, great! Use it. If not, get an accountant and let them take care of the books. That’s one of the major perks of owner your own business. You can outsource the work you don’t like to do. Look at your store’s profit /loss statement. Record cash flow, keep track of inventory, report depreciation properly, don’t throw away receipts, and know which is big money, loss leading, and useless transactions to cut the loss. Keep your costs under control, keep track of profit per product, and be willing to cut off something that is draining the business financially.
  2. Customers – Create a database of credits and debits for your customers. Keep track of store credit for each person. Allowing customers you trust to open a tab, by giving you a form of identification to open the tab and getting it back once it is paid for, allows for a much more fluid experience overall. It’s also a decent way to get to know the names of your customers and build a rapport with them.

This is not necessarily the most comprehensive list and I’m sure more could be added but it’s a good place to start. Read through it. Digest it. Keep it in mind when contemplating your future or current business.

If you are a Magic player who is interested in the business side of Magic but not necessarily planning on starting something of your own, what do you think of this list? Is there anything you would add that was left off that you would love to see at your LGS? If so share, share with them this article and tell them what you think. Feedback from customers is one of the best ways for a business to improve. They want to serve you better after all.

If you are a store owner already, write a comment down below and let everybody know what has been working for you and what hasn’t. Both are equally informative. Share your experiences with the Magic community and we can make it a better place.

If you found this content valuable, please share and comment down below. Also check out some of my other posts and subscribe for more. Find me on Facebook, Google+, and Twitter and connect with me. I would love to hear from players and store owners alike.

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Thomas Traplin
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