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Subject: So You Want to Start a Game Store? Recommended Resources and Advice rss

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Paul Nowak
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Seeing a number of threads from time to time in which people ask for ideas, tips, and advice for starting a FLGS (Friendly Local Game Store), having managed one myself and delighting BGGers with my tales, and having my passion recently re-kindled by a brand new FLGS near my home, it occurred to me that a thread to compile the advice and resources would be useful one.

Thus, here it is. Please feel free to contribute resources or advice from your experience and expertise.

1) Read The Specialty Retailer's Handbook by Dave Wallace. It's a fun read, chock full of Dork Tower comics. Written by a veteran FLGS owner for a multi-store chain, it is generally only available directly from him, though some game/comic distributors sell it too. It is worth the trouble, and the book covers game and comic and hybrid shops, with plenty of mythbusting advice based on actual experience.

SJBenoist wrote:
He [Dave] asks 21.95$ (after sales tax is 23.57$).
Also, if you want to order the book directly, The Fantasy Shop St. Charles phone # is (636) 947 - 8330.

2) Join GAMA (Game Manufacturer's Association) In addition to running this little show called Origins, the GAMA provides resources including an FLGS' discussion group from which you can learn A LOT about past issues, current problems, and more - you may even find people willing to go over your business plan. The GAMA also lets you buy in to a group insurance plan,

3) Read Columns and blogs from others experience. Like Behind the Counter and Black Diamond Games' blog. User jsdougan recommended The Business of Gaming Retail

Read all the posts.

4)
LancerDeuce wrote:

I'd also recommend taking a listening to several episodes of the Paper Money Podcast: http://www.purplepawn.com/category/papermoney/ - specifically, episodes 46 and 47 which are titled "Opening a Game Store" and "Opening a Game Store Followup".

5) On a trip out of state, talk to a FLGS owner at a store that catches your eye.

All of the above should be done at the "I'm thinking about it" stage. mostly because you need to make an informed decision and secondly because you won't have time later. that includes joining GAMA and buying Dave's book - the money spent there will not be a loss, and if you must sweat $180 on those resources then you can't afford to run a game store.

1) Get population stats for your community and where you plan to set up shop. Research a LOT of locations. People watch there.

2) Build a business plan. Get others to review it. Revise. Repeat often. Get a CPA to look it over and give you local tax information. You'd be surprised how many ways you'll have to pay taxes, and the paperwork can be worse than the taxes themselves.

3) Figure out your starting costs, and add 50% to that. Calculate your burn rate. The GAMA forum was a GREAT place for all these details and making sure you don't miss anything.

4) Budget several hundred dollars for advertising each month. Make sure you spend it, and spend it wisely. Do not skimp on this, or your store will die.

5) Make sure you can afford to man the store with 1-2 people during peak hours 5-6 days a week minimum to start. Make sure you have time to place orders, receive shipments, deal with inventory, payroll, taxes, etc. While someone else takes care of customers.

6) Don't plan on bringing work home. Separate your home and personal life as much as you can. It's a losing battle, but a battle you must fight.

7) Find multiple distributors for each of your products. Issues will arise, and if you are without stock for a release weekend, you miss the sales and the new customers you could have picked up.

Once you've got a store open...

1) Make sure you are listed on Google Places, Yahoo Places, Bing, Yelp, Foursquare, and the local business directories and yellow pages. Make sure the information is correct!

2) Events, events, events! Register with Wizkids and WoTC's DCI program if you sell Clix or Magic. See if any game publishers that you stock have "where to buy" listings on their site.
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Jeff Michaud
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overtheboard wrote:
Seeing a number of threads from time to time ... it occurred to me that a thread to compile the advice and resources would be useful one.
it's asked so often (and sadly so hard to find older threads on bgg) maybe a wiki page would work good to to compile the info, then everyone can edit. a link from the wiki to this (or all the other) thread would also be good for discussion but to also then be able to find the discussion.

... or maybe the admins can just pin one of these threads
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Jeff Dougan
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There's a guy at RPG.net who writes a column called "The Business of Gaming Retail" which is also worthwhile reading.
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Jackie Laderoute
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The big three Delphi forums for game store professionals are:

1. The Game Store Resource Forum - home page at http://www.gsrf.org/ - "The GSRF exists to try and assist new and startup retailers just entering the adventure game industry. It is our goal to try and help others avoid the costly mistakes of those of us who have been through the process." Although geared to newcomers, a lot of the participants are established store owner/managers.

2. The Game Industry Network (GAMA's forum). Their info states: "New Membership applications should be sent to Anika Rieske (pr@gama.org) If you would like to join the GIN, please send your first and last name plus the name of the store that you own or manage if you are a retailer. If you work for a publisher or a distributor, please send your first and last name, plus the name of the company and your position. If you work as a game freelancer, please send your first and last name, plus the name(s) for company(ies) that you have worked for. This forum is limited to established industry professionals only, and applications from those who are in the planning stages of joining the industry will be returned - you'll be welcome to re-apply once your business is up and running."

3. The Game Pro Symposium - http://www.thegps.org/ - "The Game Pro Symposium is an independent online community of professionals in the Gaming Industry. It exists to encourage the transfer of knowledge and to act as a place to discuss the games retailing industry. Through the open, professional, and informed sharing of ideas, we seek to grow the industry for the benefit of all."

There is also the fledgling PGSA (Professional Game Store Association), who also host forums. http://www.progamestore.org/

And a must listen: http://beemp3.com/index.php?q=dave+wallace&st=all


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Dan Williams
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Train yourself and your employees to be customer oriented. I used a five point plan:
1. Greet every person who comes through the door.
2. Ask if they need any help finding something.
3. After giving them some time to browse, offer information about their interest: new thing, tournament, etc. You will know what their interest is from the section they are in.
4. Ask if they need help again.
5. Say goodbye when leaving.

And here is the super secret MOAB for a sales person. A name. Learn a person's name. Take the time to train yourself to do it. Ask first. Don't be embarrassed to ask again if you forget. Then USE it. A person's name is music to a person's ears. I had a guy call in asking about something. I recognized his voice and addressed him by his name. He was stunned and told his wife. Then he came in and bought a pile of stuff. An FLGS is sanctuary, Oz, and Disneyland for many people. Make it all of those rolled into one.
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Gary Ray
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Most importantly, figure out your motivation. Why do you want to own a game store?

If it's because you think you can do it better than everyone else around you, well duh, you're probably right, but is that a good reason? Beware of winning.

If it's to play more games, it's likely you'll play fewer, and always off hours, and usually to learn some stupid game of the month you don't care about so you can sell it better. I don't believe you'll ruin your hobby by making it your business, but you'll have less time for it (oh yeah, and beware of losing your hobby).

Speaking of games, how is your game knowledge? How well do you know board games, miniature games, collectible card games, role-playing games and classic games? You don't get to pick, you must know them all well enough to sell them. Diversification is survival, not just success. Active selling is key too. Expect to hand sell a lot of stuff you don't care about to people you don't care about who think you should care a lot.

If it's to make money, hopefully you've learned by now there's no "there" there. You can make a living at it, but not a very good one. Key here: if you have the skills to succeed at running a game store, you have the skills to succeed doing things making a LOT more money. It's wickedly complex and painfully inefficient and resistant to progress. Open a Subway franchise instead and play more games in your free time. Whatever you're doing now, do it as a consultant or as your core business. It's likely far less risky than a retail store.

What's your exit strategy? One not so great thing about a game store is it's rarely worth the value of the contents of the store even when it's wildly successful. You've really just bought yourself a job, which might be great if you want something to do in retirement, but it's a dead end if you want to buy a house, put a kid through college or one day retire on your business fortune. Game stores should be this thing you rent that you hand off to the excited next guy. Are you ready to devote your life to retailing? Forget the games, you're a retailer.

Anyway, it's entirely possible that you can do it. It's possible that you succeed at it and you love it. Just be careful what you wish for.

--gary

Gary L. Ray
Black Diamond Games, Ltd.
1950 Market Street, Suite E
Concord, CA 94520

925-681-0600
www.blackdiamondgames.com
blackdiamondgames.blogspot.com



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Great Post Gary!

It is very important to examine your passions and skills to see if you would be a good fit.

Some personalities might be better off doing just an online game store.

It's also very clear that you are going to be a salesperson if you own a game store.

I would suggest a lot of self examination before you start any kind of game store to really try to understand if it would be a good fit for who you are and if it fits with your lifestyle.
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I would also recommend to look at the trend of the industry.

Settlers, and many many popular games are selling at a fraction of the cost through gaming systems and smart phones. Ebay, Amazon, other discount sites will sell board games and products at or near manufacture cost.

Be aware of the board game kiosks that pop up during Christmas for 6 weeks and steal half of your sales.

Always stock the 100 top 'popular' games. Or at least the ones that Walmart and Target do not have.

Be aware of the upcoming media blitz for certain games. ie Word on the Street or Bananagrams. No one heard of them before the advertising... but that is the ONLY they were willing to buy far too often.

Hope that helps some.
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SolarFlax wrote:
No one heard of them before the advertising... but that is the ONLY they were willing to buy far too often.

Ummm... Could you restate this please? It reads as if part of the sentence got left out by mistake.

Thanks.

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claymore_57 wrote:
SolarFlax wrote:
No one heard of them before the advertising... but that is the ONLY they were willing to buy far too often.

Ummm... Could you restate this please? It reads as if part of the sentence got left out by mistake.

Thanks.


Personally I inserted one word to make it make sense:

No one heard of them before the advertising... but that is the ONLY game they were willing to buy far too often.
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GlenSS wrote:
claymore_57 wrote:
SolarFlax wrote:
No one heard of them before the advertising... but that is the ONLY they were willing to buy far too often.

Ummm... Could you restate this please? It reads as if part of the sentence got left out by mistake.

Thanks.


Personally I inserted one word to make it make sense:

No one heard of them before the advertising... but that is the ONLY game they were willing to buy far too often.

OK. For some reason I didn't think of that one...
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Steve Theobald
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Excellent reading. Although, is there an equivalent of GAMA in the UK? I am researching starting a FLGS and all I can find from a distribution perspective is Dropshippers.

Any UK pointers will be much appreciated!

Steve
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DJDeluxe wrote:
Excellent reading. Although, is there an equivalent of GAMA in the UK? I am researching starting a FLGS and all I can find from a distribution perspective is Dropshippers.

Any UK pointers will be much appreciated!

Steve

In all seriousness, Steve, the quick answer is: "Don't".
If you do go ahead you should expect, and I would suggest that your business plan should shew, minimal return (if ANY) for 5 years. I know that sounds horrific, but, after a 2-year attempt with Northumbria Games in Darlington even 5 years might suggest that I am still being grossly optimistic.

You have to develop a USP (unique selling proposition) as you cannot compete with the online sellers on price. This means providing something else for the local punters. The obvious ideas being tables to play on, cafe facilities, CCG tournaments particularly pre-release ones. I am sure that you can think of others - working with local schools, colleges, etc.
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Does any other industry have this type of situation where they are trying to sell identical boxes for 50% more than online?
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Bimm wrote:
Does any other industry have this type of situation where they are trying to sell identical boxes for 50% more than online?

Not sure if it's identical, but bookstores essentially sell the same collections of words on paper that you can order from Amazon. Same thing with music -- why go to a store and browse through racks of a few hundred CDs when you can cruise the 'net looking through thousands of songs and order individual ones on MP3 for a fraction of the CD cost?

That's why brick and mortar game stores have to provide things that the on-line stores can't: immediate delivery; quick replacement or exchange for defective parts; knowledgeable staff who can discuss the pros and cons of each game and can make suggestions based on your preferences, not simply a list of "what others bought"; a place to try-before-you-buy; a place to meet others who enjoy the same hobby and can play against them; and so forth.

"Mom and pop" stores can survive (and thrive) by providing items and services that the big chain stores don't carry because the margin is too small. Board game stores that do something similar for their target market can also make it, even in this bad economy.

The key is simply: You have to provide the things your customers cannot get anywhere else.
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Steve Theobald
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Hey, thanks for the info Charlie.

I guessed that it would be the case, as options are very limited. I did have an idea along the lines of an internet cafe, networked games, tournaments, etc.

The unique selling point is the tough one. I thought about encompassing RPG Books, sessions, etc also, but I may look at an online store first and see if its a viable option to continue.


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Price is just ONE factor among several, such as service, convenience, and community support through events -- the last turning out to be most important. The Internet and Internet discounting is not an automatic game store killer, it's just a competitor. That said, I don't know anything about what it takes to run a game store in the UK, but I do run one in the US.

That Unique Selling Point (I like that term) doesn't have to be revolutionary for a brick and mortar store. It DOES have to be pretty revolutionary if you do an online store, since all you generally have to work with is price, and price is no basis for a business model. Some stores, like Amazon and smaller ones like the Paizo Publishing site, cross the boundary and also offer vital customer support, and soon for Amazon, great convenience. I don't run an online store because I haven't come up with a viable USP. An online store is not something you just *do* because you can. Many people are astonished that we don't have one, as if it's a natural extensions. It's not.

Still, only 10% or so of US commerce is done online and there's an interesting resistance to online purchasing from many brick and mortar consumers. No amount of online discounting is going to dislodge a great percentage of my customers. Also, although online sales are growing, they've stayed constant at a steady percentage of overall commerce, suggesting it's not the brick and mortar killer first thought.

The BSP (Big Selling Point) for my brick and mortar store is rather simple in concept but frustratingly complex to implement: a store run well, as in clean, well lit, well stocked with a slavish attention to new releases and customer requests, knowledgeable staff, and community support through gaming events every evening until 10pm. I believe we have 14 of them and growing.

I would start with a plan. A reasonable game store should see profitability in 18 months to two years. I admit, mine struggled for more around that previously stated 5 year mark, but I was swinging for the fence, with a much higher capitalization, big loans and larger plans, but we're also seeing larger rewards now.


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Blackdiamond wrote:

I would start with a plan. A reasonable game store should see profitability in 18 months to two years. I admit, mine struggled for more around that previously stated 5 year mark, but I was swinging for the fence, with a much higher capitalization, big loans and larger plans, but we're also seeing larger rewards now.


Some random thoughts:
I do think that 18 months - 2 years is optimistic. Although, to be fair, I suspect that the location will have an impact. You need to assess who your target audience(s) is/are and make sure that your offering meets their expectations. I suspect, e.g., that you will have more success in an area where there is/are universities/colleges of further education. (Spare time for hobbies and reasonable levels of spare cash - after drink, accommodation and food that is! ) Obviously, little or, preferably, no local competition helps. However, it doesn't always work out: I wanted to set up shop in Durham but shop rentals were far too expensive.
If you can get a location where you live above the shop this may help keep the apparent shop-rental costs down.
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*Note this is coming from someone who has never owned a game shop, just has shopped at many*

Something not explicitly mentioned here which I think is important is to not be locked into what turns into the downward spiral I see many game shops have of put games out at X price which is higher than the market is willing to pay->people complain about prices->store gets defensive about needing to make a profit->people are turned off to the store->store gets more bitter and/or shifts focus to only CCG'ers and other types that spend lots of money->board gamers leave completely.

I'm not saying focusing like that can't be a successful strategy, but if other types of gamers feel like they're 2nd-class citizens, they're driven away.

Some features I've seen at good stores I've been to (not every store has had all of these, but the more, the better):

1) Don't bother really trying to compete on price with big online stores, just do better than Barns and Noble. The ones which I see do best are best-served by fighting on other fronts than price.

At the same time, understand that some (many) people are going to say, "but I can get that for 1/2 the price online!" and understand that you need to have a good answer to that to make your patrons want to spend a bit more money to buy from you.

2) Friendly, knowledgeable staff. Staff that greets people upon entry. Staff that knows at least a little about every type of game they sell, and have some kind of system in place to easily find out details about when products are coming in and their price.

No one is going to be an absolute expert about everything and if someone is really into one niche area, they'll probably know more than the staff, but at that point, they probably don't need a ton of info beyond release date and price. Make sure there's at least 1 person in-store at all times to be able to walk a n00b through any area of gaming in the store.

Staff should offer info about what's going on in the store (promotions, upcoming events, etc.) and offer help. This is a daunting hobby to get into, make it easier.

3) In-store events for all types of gaming. The best ones I've seen have events almost daily, each for different types of gaming (CCG, Board, Miniatures, etc.). They don't have to be giant tournaments (although for those who are interested, it's not a bad idea to have bigger events once in a while if you can get sponsorship!), just space, tables, and people ready to play and teach. No, this won't directly get you money, but it gets more people into the hobby, which will hopefully get you money later.

One of the more innovative examples I've seen of this is a game store which runs a board game club which charges $1 per month to be a part of. Those dollars are saved up and when there is enough collected, a game is bought from the store and added to the closet that is open for everyone in the club to play. It is a cheap and small barrier of entry to gaming for those interested and adds value to being there to play games, as there is an ever-growing collection of games to play on-hand.

4) Think of other ways to make money beyond just selling games. Another store I've been to sells drinks and small snacks and does so very cheap. I feel bad about going to a store and not buying anything, so at least when I go there, I get something to eat/drink so I'm helping contribute to the cause.

5) Make everyone feel important. Yes, I said it before, but I'll say it again. Yes, we all know that us board gamers are not where you're going to make the most money. But when we come into a store, treat us the same as the cash cow CCG'er who came in 10 mins before us. And if there's a board gaming night, don't dedicate 3/4 of your table space to CCG'ers and shove the board games over onto 1-2 small tables. People will notice and stop showing up. We may not be buying the volume others are, but we have friends and might be able to get them into your store as well.

6) Have specials, don't be afraid to discount instead of letting merch rot on the vine. Nothing is sadder than going into a game store and seeing games which you can see have been sitting there for years, have a few layers of dust on them, and nothing new that you actually want to buy. After a while, realize you were just wrong on stocking a game, mark it down, see if you can at least recoup your cost on it, and keep turning over stock. People will notice you keep having new selection and be more willing to come in more often to check out the new stuff instead of thinking, "eh, I know what's there, why bother?"

7) Embrace the internet. You don't need to sell online if you don't want to. But the internet is powerful enough of a tool that there's no excuse not to use it to drive people to your store. I don't mean putting up a simple facebook page and maybe a store website, followed by an update every 8 months to 1 year, I mean have a calendar of events. Have specials. Have things where if you get coupons/codes from your various platforms, there are even small discounts and have those change over time. Make your site one that people have a reason to go to, so you stay on their minds, and are more willing to come in, hang out, play, and shop. This is unfortunately one I never see done well.



Hopefully this all helps people trying to get into what looks like a very difficult business to enter into.
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The five factors plus your stocks equals good gaming retail business....
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Hi

Does anyone know the distributors in these countries: Germany and France?
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Lloyd Brown
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Hi, I'm Lloyd Brown. I write the Business of Gaming Retail column mentioned above.

I'll be glad to help with any questions anyone has. For general questions, I'll refer you to the (so far) 60 articles I have up over at rpg.net. I'm also duplicating them on my website, lloydwrites.com.

Lloyd Brown
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Michael Elliott
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I would like to insert a bit of advise here. If you want to have your own successful game store it is not as "hopeless" of a scenario as I have read in these posts. I will concede that it will take hard work. But by Zeus there are no better people positioned to succeed in this endeavor than gamer's themselves. The sale of the product... the product knowledge is essential. The corporate cogs don't have it and do not have the devotion to obtain it.

You must pick your spots in life, time is limited. If you have devoted the majority of your time to games why not use that knowledge? There are tricks to making a store that includes niche games successful. The games that have the most passionate followers (War hammer is my best example) present a challenge.I constantly refer to this game because it is hard to make profitable. Sales are not high volume. Game play takes huge amounts of space away from your retail floor. However game shops that have compensating (mainstream) lines of product are able to include this product up front and over time build the clientele to make it a profitable department.. (Forgive me, my POS system calls categories departments) A profitable category.

Dedicate a corner of your store to the high volume stuff. Consider adding video games! Oh boy...lots of laptops clicking the page away now.. If your still here, listen. There is no shame in carrying the stuff that can float the rest of your business in the name of keeping your offering alive. I am experienced at opening game stores that have available all of the niche (or what I have some to refer to as the passion titles). I'm talking paper game heavy. They support other categories with the sales of mainstream video games to allow for advertising and bill pay. If you keep your doors open and stack your product...you WILL build the clientele. Watch how many of these mainstream gamers you can easily convert into niche gamers. I hate to see established game store owners attempt to discourage others saying it is too difficult when they themselves have succeeded and are enjoying the fruits of owning their own game store. To me its just another Barrier to market entry.

You will not become a millionaire owning a game store. GRANTED. Gamers though are idealistic. I don't think most gamres that wish to open a store are looking to become millionaires, and it is an insult to discourage them based on that assumption. If you can make a living building and succeeding at your hobbie... at legitimizing what you love... then I say go for it... Live Your Dreams!

Michael Elliott, MBA
Owner GameStart Stores
www.gamestartstores.com
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A wrench in the works that must be mentioned...

One issue that is becoming more of a problem is the increased polarization of publishers into exclusive distribution deals.

None of that might be an issue for an FLGS that is well established, but for a newer store, it's a serious problem.

Why? Because most distributors require a certain level of buying before discounts kick in. If a store is forced to divide its purchases between distributors, it may potentially disqualify itself from those discounts. That's a decision some FLGS owners don't want to have to make. The alternative is that the discounts are kept, but only because certain publishers are forced to go unpurchased because they chose a different distributor.

Case in point, Queen Games has an exclusive deal with one distributor (ACD) while Days of Wonder is exclusive with another (Alliance). This may force a newer, smaller FLGS to have to choose between the two. Now imagine that one of those publishers has a smokin' hot new release—and it's the publisher you DON'T carry because you can't jeopardize your purchasing discount with your main distributor. Gee, do I choose between carrying Escape: The Curse of the Temple OR the new Ticket to Ride maps?

Not a fun decision to have to make. And making it is something of a no-win for a newer store.
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Jamie Lynn Dunston
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This is a great thread. I'm an employee of my established FLGS but have been offered an opportunity to become a partner. I'm weighing it carefully but I am leaning towards taking it, because I'm in the unusual position of having a stable income from my spouse that would allow me to put in the time for little or no return. Also, I adore all forms of gaming, including the "game" of trying to make a business profitable in an uncertain economy.

The business lost money for several years but is under new ownership and has gone from being seriously in the red to breaking even in eight months. Part of this involved moving to a new, much less expensive, location. I'm still paid hourly for now (though if I become a partner that will end) but I have a lot of leeway in planning events, managing the store's website and facebook page, providing marketing (my previous position was freelance writing & consulting), and providing input what we should stock and how much of it (within a tight budget). So I'm interested in the community's opinion on a few things:

1) Should I take the partnership, or should I remain a wage-earner with a lot of influence but no real decision-making power?

2) I want to take our brick-and-mortar business online. What is the online marketplace like? Will it help us turn over our older stock faster, or will it just give us another thing to keep up with every week?

3) MTG is our biggest money-earner right now. We are very competitive on price (20% off MSRP all the time on everything) and hope to make it up in volume, but in order to do that we need to drive business to our store. We have a fairly reliable base of boardgamers but many of them have been collecting for years and don't really need to spend more money with us. How do we recruit new boardgamers who are just starting to build their collections?
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