AMA About running a gaming and comics store.

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AMA About running a gaming and comics store.

Postby Chad » Mon Apr 07, 2014 3:07 pm

For many it is The Dream. Running your own gaming/comic shop. Doing something your, in an industry that has provided much to you, interacting with people who are into the exact same thing you are into, and you get paid for it too!

The realities are usually much different. Long hours, little pay, customer service horror stories. What are the risks? What are the rewards? What are the realities behind running your own gaming shop?

I'd like to present you with our FtB AMA subject matter expert:

Ikoma

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Ikoma
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Re: AMA About running a gaming and comics store.

Postby Ikoma » Mon Apr 07, 2014 4:08 pm

Hello! Let's kick this off with a resume of my time as a comic/game store owner.

I got involved working part time at Captain Salamander's Atomic Comics in Provo, UT sometime in the early 90's. I did it mainly to feed my comic/game habit. I would help out with the weekly comic shipment, pull a shift or two behind the register every week, and help run tournaments and gaming events. That continued for about 7 years. Sometime during that period, the store had been sold from one friend of mine (who was moving to take another job) to another friend of mine. He tried to run the store alone for a couple of years while also working on a Ph.D. before deciding that was too much work. He brought me (and two friends) on board as partners in the late 90s and the store's name was changed to Imagine Nation. At that point, he ran the books, did the ordering, etc. I just had a more formal role at the store and slowly started to take over ordering. By 2001, he had gotten a job out of state, and sold his percentage of the store to another partner, this one not a previous friend. One of the other friends had gotten a promotion at his work and also had to back out. That left three of us. At this point, I took over all the books. We lasted until 2003 when a series of miscommunications over finances led to us missing some payments. We closed our doors in late 2003. Just so you know... I ran a store, it did well... then it didn't.

We were originally a comic book store that expanded into games when CCGs hit. After the sale in the mid-90s, the store was not any one person's sole income. All of us that owned the store also had 'day jobs' that made things much harder for us (and a little easier). After the store closed, an interested party had a great multi-hour autopsy with us as he prepped to launch his own game store/comic store. Doing so helped me see mistakes we had made and he credited it with helping him set up a new store, one still in business and thriving today (it's where I shop).

Anyway, ask away! Anything and everything.
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Re: AMA About running a gaming and comics store.

Postby BottledViolence » Mon Apr 07, 2014 4:21 pm

What was your main source of income? New/used, CCGs, RPGs, miniatures, etc...? How did the margins stack up?

Did events translate directly into increased sales?

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Re: AMA About running a gaming and comics store.

Postby IronJelly » Mon Apr 07, 2014 5:26 pm

Did you have resources not normally available to regular consumers in regard to finding rare or unusual merchandise?

Did anybody ever ask you for particularly noteworthy or unusual comics, games, or anything else? I once heard someone at my favorite shop back home come in and ask if they could get the erotic fantasy d20 book. In fact, I showed him where to order it online, but I bet with time spent working there, even more weird requests came in. Did any stand out?
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Re: AMA About running a gaming and comics store.

Postby Ikoma » Mon Apr 07, 2014 7:08 pm

BottledViolence wrote:What was your main source of income? New/used, CCGs, RPGs, miniatures, etc...? How did the margins stack up?

Did events translate directly into increased sales?


While I ran the store, comics were our day to day bread and butter. But they barely covered expenses. CCGs were the real money maker but came in big bursts. i.e. We would make a TON of money when a new Magic/Pokemon/whatever expansion came out. Then we would limp along based on comic sales. Other games just did not make a measurable impact. They would be constant performers, just not a big percentage of the pie.

A lot of this is probably based on the fact that we started as a comic store and added games when CCGs came out. There was another store (located less than two blocks from us - not a great situation) that started as a game store. They consistently did better than us at games (being the approved Games Workshop outlet helped a lot there).

Events *did* create a boost in sales. Some better than others. CCG tournaments always meant a huge sales day. Back issues sales would provide a spike RPG or mini events rarely created a boost.

IronJelly wrote:Did you have resources not normally available to regular consumers in regard to finding rare or unusual merchandise?

Did anybody ever ask you for particularly noteworthy or unusual comics, games, or anything else? I once heard someone at my favorite shop back home come in and ask if they could get the erotic fantasy d20 book. In fact, I showed him where to order it online, but I bet with time spent working there, even more weird requests came in. Did any stand out?


Back then? Yes. Almost nothing was available directly to the customer. Or if it was, it was at such a high minimum order that we had an advantage over customers. Plus, we had access to several retailer forums and used them. Right when I was getting out, companies were starting to sell much more directly to customers. Nowadays? Probably still a little even today, mostly through the same retailer forums.

Being in Utah County, porn was obviously a frequently requested item we could just not get in. But I had one guy who reached a real tipping point. It started out where he would come in and ask for porn. I would explain we legally could NOT sell it thanks to blue laws. He would come in next month and ask if we could get porn again. And it escalated. At first, he would ask about porn in general. Then he started asking about anime and hentai. Then he started asking about tentacle rape of underage girls. Really, really creepy.
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Re: AMA About running a gaming and comics store.

Postby D3M410 » Tue Apr 08, 2014 4:32 am

Man with Amazon, comixology, and drivethrurpg, I went from spending a ton of time in the local comic/game shop to next to none. I guess most of that took off after your store closed. I know there is at least one guy in the area that seems to be staying strong through sheer force of personality and amiability and the best customer service I've ever known (seriously the guy knows my name and every comic that I've bought from him even though I've only been there 3 times in 2 years, and he knows it, he doesn't just look it up).

Anyway, I understand why so many stores choose to do the cross-over but do you think that boutique stores lose anything from trying to hit too many aspects of the geek/nerd culture at once or is there no other way to stay afloat?
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Re: AMA About running a gaming and comics store.

Postby Ikoma » Tue Apr 08, 2014 10:58 am

D3M410 wrote:Anyway, I understand why so many stores choose to do the cross-over but do you think that boutique stores lose anything from trying to hit too many aspects of the geek/nerd culture at once or is there no other way to stay afloat?


Yes, I do think they might lose something. But they might not. Allow me to explain.

We certainly did lose something when we switched from comic only to add games. It got even worse when we tried to add other stuff (T-shirts, video games, etc.). Now, I feel like we HAD to expand into games but it made it literally impossible for any one person to know everything about our entire product line. We were a small store in a relatively small community*. We were not big enough to afford a full roster of employees, enough that we could have a comic expert and a game expert (much less a mini expert and a RPG expert). That meant that I had to run ordering for ALL product lines and comics. And I could literally not read every comic and play every game and so on... So I often had to make guesses (ill-informed guesses, usually) or rely on customer input (while often useful, customers are also prone to make mistakes).

Now I can imagine a bigger store in a bigger locale (any metropolitan region with a population over a million) could afford to have the staff to know what they needed to about the full broad product line. BUT I can also imagine that that larger region can support a few specialty stores instead of one generalist store. At that point, the specific skills and talents of the individuals are probably more important than any general rules.

*Last census numbers for Utah County puts us at approx. 500k people. But 50k are under 5 years old and 150k are under 18 (and therefore cannot drive). But a lot of that is pretty spread out
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Re: AMA About running a gaming and comics store.

Postby goatunit » Tue Apr 08, 2014 1:33 pm

Do you think there would be any money in renting out expensive board games to be played in the store? I know that I personally would be interested in playing more board games if I could try them out before dropping $80+ on one.

I've been nurturing the idea of opening a sort of gaming cafe here in Memphis, with coffee, beer, and deli-style food. I would want to rent and sell board games, and stay open late (if not 24 hours).

Our three gaming stores keep lousy hours. Only two have table space available, all have lousy stock, and all are closed by 8pm. All are also poorly located. And yet, they all have managed to limp along. I have a feeling there is a real, viable market here for something a little different and more flexible.

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Re: AMA About running a gaming and comics store.

Postby Mersozz » Tue Apr 08, 2014 2:23 pm

goatunit wrote:Do you think there would be any money in renting out expensive board games to be played in the store? I know that I personally would be interested in playing more board games if I could try them out before dropping $80+ on one.

I've been nurturing the idea of opening a sort of gaming cafe here in Memphis, with coffee, beer, and deli-style food. I would want to rent and sell board games, and stay open late (if not 24 hours).

Our three gaming stores keep lousy hours. Only two have table space available, all have lousy stock, and all are closed by 8pm. All are also poorly located. And yet, they all have managed to limp along. I have a feeling there is a real, viable market here for something a little different and more flexible.


Just a though on that....if you go without the alcohol, you could attract alot of teenaged gamers, along with adults. Kids that are under-21 are dying for an interesting place to hang out at night. You'd dodge alot of regs if you didn't serve booze.
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Re: AMA About running a gaming and comics store.

Postby BottledViolence » Tue Apr 08, 2014 3:40 pm

Mersozz wrote:
goatunit wrote:Do you think there would be any money in renting out expensive board games to be played in the store? I know that I personally would be interested in playing more board games if I could try them out before dropping $80+ on one.

I've been nurturing the idea of opening a sort of gaming cafe here in Memphis, with coffee, beer, and deli-style food. I would want to rent and sell board games, and stay open late (if not 24 hours).

Our three gaming stores keep lousy hours. Only two have table space available, all have lousy stock, and all are closed by 8pm. All are also poorly located. And yet, they all have managed to limp along. I have a feeling there is a real, viable market here for something a little different and more flexible.


Just a though on that....if you go without the alcohol, you could attract alot of teenaged gamers, along with adults. Kids that are under-21 are dying for an interesting place to hang out at night. You'd dodge alot of regs if you didn't serve booze.



That depends a lot on the state. Back when arcades were a thing, a lot of them sold beer and still had plenty of teenagers coming in. The pool halls restrict it to 17 and up after 6 PM mostly to avoid the issues of underage drinking. MI doesn't (or didn't) have age restrictions on who could be in places that sold alcohol, just that you couldn't serve people under 21 or allow them to drink.

Lots of kids are dying for an interesting place to hang out at night, but that doesn't meant they have the funds to keep a business afloat. The profit margins on alcohol are pretty good, and could go a long way towards subsidizing the gaming space. Would you rather have 5 kids rent a board game and share a pizza, or have 5 people rent a board game, split a pizza, and have 3 or 4 beers each? Then if they're anything like my friends, after a couple beers want to eat again. :lol:


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