AMA About running a gaming and comics store.

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

Postby Ikoma » Mon Apr 14, 2014 4:23 pm

Setting aside specific products (i.e. porn), the answer is still yes.

The first and biggest example is pull-list discounts. Lots of stores offer, and lots of customers *expect* to get a discount for opening a hold. And it's easy to see the logic behind that. "I am telling you upfront what you should buy. This is a no-risk sale. I should get a discount for that." To an extent, that is truth in that. But it's not 100% accurate and is the source of many of comic store's trouble.[1] First off, discounts have an exaggerated impact on profit margins. If I give you a 10% discount, that is a 20% or more hit to profits. Depending on volume, most comic stores get their product for ≈50% of cover. So if I paid $1.50 for a comic that has a MSRP of $3, and I give you a $0.30 discount, I made 20% less. And my other expenses (labor, rent, utilities, etc.) haven't dropped either. But it would still be worth if for some customers if it wasn't for certain behaviors - namely pull abandonment and selective purchasing - causing problems.

Pull abandonment is exactly what it sounds like. For one reason or another[2] a customer would just stop coming in to pick up their comics and also would not tell us. We (potentially) end up buying a lot of stock, not even putting it on the shelf, and then take a loss on it. [Comics have a fairly short new shelf life. Something six month's old is in the back issues boxes and not worth cover.] There are solutions to this problems but they come with their own issues. First, we tried not putting stuff in full holds. In other words, if you haven't picked up your hold for a week (or a month, or whatever), we stop putting stuff in. Problem is a lot of comic customers are NOT weekly purchasers. I know this will shock some of you that drop by every week (and we had lots of those customers) but a lot of customers would come in once a month or so. It's one of the whole points of having a pull list. You know you'll get the comics you want. And if we stopped filling someone's hold if they took a little too long in between visits (thanks to a summer vacation, or really busy school quarter, or something), then the customer would be upset. So we had a risk to manage and failure ate up our profit margin. The second solution was to require a credit card be on hold against your pull list. That way, if someone abandoned their pull list, we could just charge the card. But that created it's own set of problems. People without credit cards or who didn't want to leave their billing information (understandably). Even if they left a card, card's expired or got changed. We would try to bill the card and it wouldn't go through. A few times, we would successfully bill the card and then the person who abandoned the pull list would dispute the charge and we would end up with that headache.

Selective purchasing is when someone would come in and look through their held comics and decide they really didn't like Green Lantern anymore so they didn't want it. Great. But I had to order three months ahead. So I have the next three Green Lanterns coming for you. And those are now a lost cost. Some customers would do this all the time - particularly ones who followed artists/writers and not characters. Or they would ask us to hold a new title, and then decide they didn't want it.

The worst was the combination guys. Guys who would come in once every two/three months and then go through and pick only the stuff they really wanted, leaving us with the rest of the stack. And THEN they wanted their discount... :evil:

The second biggest issue is related to the previous discussion about game stores as hangouts. It's great when you have a devoted customer base who likes to hang out at the store. They end up spending more money. But they also have a huge impact on the culture of your store. A group of five obnoxious teenagers who haven't figured out how to behave in front of girls, how to dress decent, etc. have a real negative impact on the store. And you can kick them out. But that has consequences and repercussions as well. And it's not just teenagers, a batch of grognard neckbeards (self included) change what a store feels like. So does a dozen crazy pre-teens playing Pokemon. Any group attracts like groups and drives away others. But they don't care about the negative consequences of driving others away. They expect you to cater to them, after all, we're spending a lot of time/money here. And truth be told, you may even like hanging with that group because they love things you love. But balancing that out with the costs was a constant act.

Finally, just expectations of hours. I almost always had to throw people at when it was time to close on the weekends. Sometimes customers would get upset about that.

[1] Please note this is not as much a problem on the game side. You pre-pay for a game item we have to order and I absolutely would give you a discount. That IS a no-risk sale AND I need to give you a reward for putting your money down and waiting to get what you want.

[2] An incomplete list: student graduated from school and moved on; lost job and they kept hoping to find a new job/come in and grab everything until they just gave up; got married and the SO was not down with spending anything on comics; just lost interest in comics; left on an LDS mission.
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Re: AMA About running a gaming and comics store.

Postby Peetiedog » Tue Apr 15, 2014 12:29 am

Thank you so much for all these answers. I frequent my local comic/game store and have often wondered how things work from behind the cash register. Thank you for making me feel like I am not "that guy." I will be sure to not let my stack sit for more than 2 weeks before coming by. :love: :D

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Re: AMA About running a gaming and comics store.

Postby Ikoma » Tue Apr 15, 2014 11:43 am

I promise you... if you never let your stack sit more than two weeks, your FLCS will think you are amazing. We would occasionally get weird promotional items. Those ALWAYS went to the customers who frequently and regularly cleaned out their hold. Or a shipment would come in damaged (we would get a replacement shipment but that might takes days or weeks to come in). Again, the very best customers got taken care of first. And best customer does not always mean the person buying the most.
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Re: AMA About running a gaming and comics store.

Postby Burning » Tue Apr 15, 2014 2:11 pm

I guess as a follow-up to my question (and thanks for the great answer), do you have any other suggestions on how to be a good customer?
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Re: AMA About running a gaming and comics store.

Postby Ikoma » Tue Apr 15, 2014 3:00 pm

Hmmm.... how to be a good customer? I think I can come up with a general list of behaviors I would like to have seen more often. I'm gonna leave off what I hope are the obvious kind of stuff, i.e. don't steal!, try to under sell me in my own store, etc. A lot of this will sound familiar.

First, if you do have a hold, please do pick it up on a regular basis. If you can't (summer vacation, etc.), please let the store know.

Second, please be honest with yourself. If you don't have the spending cash to buy 10 titles, don't put 10 titles on hold and then pick and choose.

Third, please do hang out. But keep in mind it's a store and the employees/owners have things to do (stocking, ordering, cleaning, handling the register) besides just talking to you. I didn't mind talking to customers. I love comics/games. Why wouldn't I want to talk to other people who like the same things? But some customers can get a little... monopolising. I've seen them stand at the counter and chat with the employee while a line is forming behind them. True, this is on the employee as well. I've seen customers interfere with an employee trying to stock shelves.

Fourth, please do express your tastes. I had people complain when we didn't get enough of product A. While I certainly got ordering amounts wrong on my own, it makes it harder when I have to read minds. Of course, that's the job a store owner has taken on but you can make it easier by telling them how exciting A looks.

Fifth, clean up after yourself.

Sixth, (and this one is tricky) try not to be too negative about something you may not like to other customers you may not know. I had more than one customer come in and start browsing. When long-time customer B saw them looking at comic (or game) C, they would - unasked - storm over and loudly let them know that was SHIT! I get you don't like it. But I did my best to stock good stuff. Something you might not like might be there for others. You shouldn't lie. If someone asks your opinion, answer honestly. But even then, try to understate your dislike. i.e. "Eh, that's not really something I like" is way better than "That is complete garbage!"

Seventh, do be as positive as you want about things you like. Best salesmen I ever had were not paid by me. They would come in and gush (to me) about how excited they were that the new issue of D had come out. Next person in line would have a copy of D to purchase. I like that.

That's all I can think of at the moment.
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Re: AMA About running a gaming and comics store.

Postby goatunit » Tue Apr 15, 2014 8:05 pm

Did you find that you had any control at all over demand?

If there was a game you had in stock that nobody showed any interest in, were you able to make a big day out of showing it off, airing some kind of related show or movie, teaching people to play, etc?

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Re: AMA About running a gaming and comics store.

Postby Ikoma » Wed Apr 16, 2014 10:56 am

goatunit wrote:Did you find that you had any control at all over demand?

If there was a game you had in stock that nobody showed any interest in, were you able to make a big day out of showing it off, airing some kind of related show or movie, teaching people to play, etc?


:think:

The honest answer is I never felt like we had a great deal of control over demand. Particular in situations where we had a lot of stock we were trying to move. But that might be our failure and failings and not anything endemic of store ownership in general. I will tell you what we tried and what worked.

Try #1: Recommended lists. We would put certain items in places of prominence with signage that indicated who recommended that game/comic. I found that while this did have a slight impact (specifically on long-time regulars who knew us and trusted us), just talking to the customers had the same impact. Short term browsers did not seem influenced at all. In fact, I had a couple of customers (when asked) tell me that made them nervous about the product. The perception was that this was a cynical attempt to move a lemon.

Try #2: Game days (teach people to play/demos/etc.). This had great effect... on a certain percentage of the people actually in the store that day. This was great for games with long term small purchase business models and incentives to play in public/against random opponents (i.e. mini games or CCGs). We would hook a small crew who bought into the game. They would start playing and making those small regular purchases. And that would translate to new players. But the model did not work for RPGs or comics or anything.

Try #3: Showing movies/TV shows to sell specific comic characters. We just were not set up to show a movie. I mean, we set up a TV with a DVD player, but we didn't have room to set up chairs and do a real showing. We did participate in a couple midnight showings of superhero movies (X-Men & Spider-Man) but it didn't really translate. A: We had NO control over what movies were coming out and when. B: We sold tickets at the store, but the movies were obviously shown at the theater so very few new people got funnelled back to the store. In retrospect, an idea I would like to try would be to give free tickets to a midnight (or special showing) to customers who spent a set amount of money on comics with those characters in them. Basically, encourage people to try out a character by using the movie as bait, rather than try to use the movie as the hook itself.

Try #4: Sales. We would see huge demand on the say of the sale, but I rarely saw continued demand afterwords. For examples, a couple of times, we deliberately over-ordered a new #1 and sold them at essentially cost (i.e. 50% off). Blew through all copies. But our sales of issue #2 were rarely more than I had anticipated prior to the sale of #1. In other words, we had a huge drop off.

I think any store that had more resources could have advertised and used that as a medium for driving demand but I've heard from other store owners that doesn't always work.
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Re: AMA About running a gaming and comics store.

Postby Triggerhappy938 » Mon May 05, 2014 1:54 am

Got any stories about particularly problematic customers/groups of customers?
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Re: AMA About running a gaming and comics store.

Postby Ikoma » Mon May 05, 2014 3:21 pm

Sure. Tons. Whether customers are cool or not depends on how you look at it. I would estimate that 10% of our customers were 'problem' customers. Another 10% were amazing customers. And the other 80% were... well, in the middle, with ups and downs.

Those problem customers were problems in a few different ways.

There were the shoplifters. Almost always kids (for us, other businesses might be different). They wanted something. Didn't have the money for it. They tried to take it anyway. Teenagers were one thing. But young kids were so frustrating. We found it hard to get the cops/parents to take an eight-year old shoplifting seriously. My favorite were the teenagers who would try to steal something and then sell it directly back to us... our price stickers still on it.

There were the anger management issues. We had a couple people who got themselves banned from tournaments for... well, inappropriate behavior doesn't seem a strong enough word. One guy lost it on some kid who read a card wrong in a release day tournament. One guys literally threw a temper tantrum, knocking everything off the table when something didn't go his way. Another guy took CCG trash talk way over board and then just claimed he was 'trying to get into his opponent's head'. There are more examples. Typically, this was either an older guy (usually divorced - go figure) who would lose it after a few people he did not view as 'competitors' beat him -OR- a younger kid who would come in with a deck he had [A]downloaded from the internet and [B] spent hundreds to put together and then got it handed back to him by a better player with a 'weaker' deck.

There were the stealth competitors. Guys would come in and set up at a game table with binders of singles and sell directly against us. Or try to take orders on whole boxes so they could order through a distributor and get a better deal. And then get upset when we asked them to leave.

There were a few (and I really can only think of three) hygiene issues. All were ridiculously shy and introverted. Too shy to even come out to tournaments or such things. I really thought they all had some kind of hoarding/mental issue but had no idea how to really help them. This was also where the only female problem customer I had fell.

Finally, there were a few sexist idiots/sexually inappropriate guys. Guys that would be all tatted up with naked women can come in and try to talk up staff about the sexual adventures and conquests or the porn they had just watched... with no regard for whether there were kids and/or women around. Or whether they were grossing the hell out of the staff (or me). These guys just had no filter and thought everyone watched/did the same strange stuff they did.
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Re: AMA About running a gaming and comics store.

Postby Lord Foul » Mon May 05, 2014 4:57 pm

Ikoma wrote: I would estimate that 10% of our customers were 'problem' customers.

:shock: 10%? Wow! That seems incredibly high. One in ten of your customers was a problem in some way. I don't know why anyone would consider this as a business venture?
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