Thinking of Opening a FLGS

There used to be a Friendly Local Game Store in my area up until about 10 years ago. Now the closest one is 40 miles away.

The owner was a gamer who decided it would be cool to own a store. For a long time there was a dedicated group of gamers that met there often to play and patronize the store. Warhammer and 40K were the only miniatures games played in the store, and it only stocked GW games and miniatures. Privateer Press was in in its infancy, so no one was playing that yet, and Flames of War was the new kid on the block. There was a lot of CCG gaming too, mostly Magic and Pokemon (For the kids. Mostly. Don’t ask…there were some creepy people there.)

It seemed to do well, but the place had its problems. Like the fact that the owner had no use for his regular customers once they had bought their armies and weren’t interested in buying more. And like the owner’s wife.  Whenever she was around she was a rather vocal and annoying presence in the store, and she loathed gaming and gamers and didn’t mind letting us all know it. Plus, she tried (unsuccessfully) to insert herself and her own choice of products into the workings of the store…for example, she famously insisted her husband carry the Thomas the Tank Engine line of wooden train sets for toddlers. (When the store closed, I’m pretty sure they still had every Thomas toy they ever stocked, and they had the whiole line. That stuff wasn’t cheap.) It was poor decisions like this (and like her habit of changing her toddler on the gaming tables) that ultimately led to people deciding not to play in the store as often. I don’t know why the owner eventually closed up shop, as he seemed to still be doing a decent business when he did (and he was a millionaire through inheritance, besides) but I suspect it was more his wife’s decision than his own. Time for him to “grow up” and all that.

So for about ten years there’s been nowhere central to play in my area. Most of the regulars splintered off into little groups, and I have no idea where they play now or even if they still do. All my friends who played miniatures games from that time are now scattered, and I’m pretty much left with a bunch of WFB and W40K armies and miniatures that never get used. So now I’m considering opening my own game store.

A bit about me: I am unmarried and have no children, so I don’t have a family to support. I own my own business and I would be able to continue operating it while running the store on the side. I am not rich by any means, but I am fortunate enough that I don’t have any problem paying my bills. In short, if I were to open a store, I would not have to rely on it to make a living. In fact, I would not have to draw a paycheck from it at all for as long as necessary.

From what I gather just from browsing the forums, this is probably a good thing; as no one seems to be getting rich owning a game store nowadays (if they ever did).

But my reasons for opening a game store are mostly selfish, and making money isn’t really one of them. Of course, no one goes into business looking to lose money, and if I was hemorrhaging cash every month I would probably close up shop fast. But I could live with a store doing a little better than breaking even, if all my goals were met.

That being said, here are my reasons:

  1. I would like to raise awareness of the hobby and promote smaller-press games and miniatures. I would like to introduce people to great game systems like Kings of War, Rattrap’s .45 Adventure, Hydra’s War Rocket, It Came from Beyond the Still, and the Two Hour Wargames stuff. Promoting these kinds of games would show people there’s an alternative to GW and that it’s possible to have a good time with miniatures that don’t have to cost an arm and a leg. (Of course, I would carry and promote GW stuff too, seeing how they’re the biggest company around and most people in the hobby play their games. Even though I don’t like their business model or their practices, ignoring them would ensure my store fails before it ever gets on its feet.)
  2. It would be nice to attract some fellow gamers. Currently I play RPGs with some close friends, but none of them are very big into miniatures games. When we get together, which is infrequently, it’s pretty much solely to play RPGs. I’ve tried to get them interested in some skirmish level games, something that doesn’t necessitate a huge layout of cash and/or time (like 40K), and I’ve had some modest success. But the simple truth is that if I want to play miniatures games (and I do), then the burden of buying and painting miniatures and buying, painting and constructing scenery lies with me and me alone. It would be nice to have other gamers who really love the hobby help out with that.
  3. I’d like to have a great place to play. Although I’m in the process of setting up a pretty cool gaming room in my home, at the end of the day, if my friends don’t come over, I don’t play. And I’m pretty selective about who I invite to my home. I’d rather play games elsewhere with people I don’t know all that well.

So it looks to me that my reasons for opening a game store can be summed up as follows: I want to open a game store as an extension of my hobby, so that I can play more games more often. Not exactly a great business model, right?

My strategy to stay in business would be to stock merchandise from games that people play already (like Warhammer, War Machine, Heroclix and Magic: the Gathering), and slowly bring in other stuff that people may not know about (like A Call to Arms: Star Fleet, War Rocket and All Things Zombie). I’d like to carry Reaper’s stuff, including their paints; and Mantic’s games in order to give people an alternative or supplement to GW’s stuff. I’d carry as much Fantasy Flight stuff as I could, and I’d promote everything with in-store demos, workshops, game nights and tournaments. I would want the store to always have something going on, whether it’s a board game, miniatures game, card game or rpg.

The obstacles to my success, as seen by me, include:

  1. The economy. Like it or not, our hobby is a luxury. No one needs to spend money on this stuff, and with the economy in the shitter, fewer people are able to.  The price hike on metal isn’t helping anyone, really; and even plastic and resin miniatures are pricey nowadays. And that’s not even considering the biggest pig at the trough, GW, whose annual price increases certainly don’t help retailers to sell more of their stuff, and actually puts them in the role of “GW apologist” far too often. But again, ignoring GW isn’t an option, and they’re not about to change, so you’re screwed either way, it seems.
  2. My competition isn’t the FLGS 40 miles away. It’s Amazon.com and Internet discounters. Who wants to pay $50 for the latest Pathfinder Core Ruleset from my store when they can get it on Amazon for $20? Not many people. Sure, supporting the little guy is a noble ideal, but the truth is a lot of us, myself included, shop at Wal-Mart even though we know it’s bad for the economy. Because $25 DVD players are tough to say no to, as are $5 DVDs. I know I won’t be able to match any Internet discount, and I know eBay is a good source for secondary market miniatures (especially GW stuff).  So just getting people to buy stuff from me as opposed to getting it  cheaper someplace else will be an ongoing challenge.
  3. All the financing for this business venture is probably coming from me. I don’t anticipate selling a bank on financing a business of this nature. Perhaps some of you can tell me if they encountered any problems with getting a business loan based on the fact that you’re opening a store that sells (often overpriced) toy soldiers. And how much money do you need to start things up?

I am now at the stage where I will be talking to business consultants about how best to proceed should I decide to take the plunge. I would greatly appreciate the input of brick and mortar game store owners and people in the business. Please offer your opinions and let me know what I haven’t considered, what I have been woefully naive about, etc. Feel free to comment on this blog or email me at angrypiper@angrypiper.com.

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4 Responses to “Thinking of Opening a FLGS”

  1. C J Owen says:

    I think you are right about not being able to compete with online retailers on product pricing.

    The one thing that a FLGS store can offer that you can’t get online is a space to game, socialize and otherwise meet up. For example, coffee houses don’t grow their customer base because they sell coffee, they get their customer base because they offer a place to sit and do stuff. Free WiFi, tables to sit at, comfortable chairs, even large screen TV’s that have stuff people can watch while they do their laptop work. There is a similar strategy with hookah bars. Everyone sits around a hookah, smoking and eating small snacks and drinking chai tea.

    So if you could have a place that was less a hobby shop, and more of a gaming cafe, that didn’t just depend on selling gaming books and miniatures, but also served other stuff and provided something unique, it could very well fill a niche.

  2. http://paizo.com/pathfinderSociety

    Check this out, I would be willing to do weekly running this.

  3. Jay Adan says:

    My partners and I own a couple of game stores in Western Massachusetts (Greenfield Games). We started the first one in 1999 and the second one last year. Here’s some thoughts based on my own experience.

    You missed an obstacle. It’s a really important one that you need to understand completely even though by writing your post it’s clear that you understand this to a certain extent. That obstacle is your current inexperience. We were pretty inexperienced getting started though it didn’t seem like it at the time. I had worked in several stores and worked in pretty much every other sector of the hobby game business as well. Even so, we could have done with a lot more research before we got started. Learn about the retail business as much as you can. Not game-specific stuff, but go to the bookstore and grab a couple of books about running a retail business. Do it now.

    Our first store was funded completely by the owners. We didn’t take out any loans. Our first store also didn’t have much stock to start with. We looked into financing for the second store but we had trouble finding a loan that really worked for what we were doing. Second one was funded personally as well.

    Don’t even consider trying to compete with online. Just forget about it. You can’t, so it’s best just to realize that it’s not what you’re trying to do and move on from there. You are about providing a service to people in your area. It’s about creating a great environment for gamers (and others) to immerse themselves in great games. Some people only shop on price those are not your customers and you will waste a lot of time and money trying to make them your customers.

    On the other hand, the economy isn’t as bad as all that when it comes to things like games. Unless your area is severely depressed and nobody is working (and if that’s the case, don’t open a store there) people WILL find a way to pay for their games.

    As to your reasons for wanting to open the store – that’s all well and good, but consider the following:

    You say:

    “these kinds of games would show people there’s an alternative to GW and that it’s possible to have a good time with miniatures that don’t have to cost an arm and a leg.”

    And yet you’re going to carry GW stuff. You are already getting off on a wrong foot here. Why would you want to carry a product line that you don’t believe in? I can already hear you complaining to potential customers about how expensive the latest 40K release is – ensuring that this potential customer won’t spend money on it. If you’re going to dance with the devil you better hold him closer than that because to do otherwise it courting failure. You don’t have to be a GW fanboy to sell their stuff (but it certainly doesn’t hurt) but you can’t actively hate on them or, no matter what, the GW fanboys will pick up on that and if you’re counting on them to pay the bills then you’re going to fail.

    You don’t really mention anything other than miniature games. There’s a lot more that you should probably carry. Board games, family games, Magic (unless you don’t LIKE making lots of sales).

    That’s the end of my random thoughts. Here’s another suggestion, though. Read this blog – http://blackdiamondgames.blogspot.com/ He explains the business side of running a game store very well. Start at the beginning and read every entry.

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