Build Sales While You Build
Set your budget. You should have already assigned a figure to this category when you created your financial statements, but now is the time to decide exactly how you’ll spend that money. If you’ve spent below budget elsewhere in the opening stages, it’s time to spend some of the surplus.
These actions concentrate on reaching the people in your immediate neighborhood. Draw a 5-mile radius circle around your store on the map. Make that the area of your local marketing focus. In urban markets, most of your customers come from that circle.
Get signs up as soon as possible. In addition to your storefront sign and pole sign, you might want “Coming Soon” signs in your window. Include your website address on the signs so customers can keep track of your progress. If you have the phone hooked up, include that number, too. You might not be able to sell anything yet, but it’s never too early to create relationships.
Create small flyers and hand them out to local businesses. Depending on the business density, you might be able to reach 25-100 addresses per hour of walking and driving around the neighborhood. Be aware that most people resent unwelcome intrusion into their workday, but also be willing to stop and talk to anyone who expresses interest.
Cost: $10-25 (more if you pay someone to do this for you)
Talk to your nearest high school or middle school about starting a game club. Offer to provide some games at your cost and help host the club, showing up once per week to play card games and board games.
For public relations activities like this, I used to hand out reprints of a Reader’s Digest article about the beneficial effects of game playing on brain activity. The impact of a widely circulated mainstream magazine’s endorsement of your store’s products and services is enormous. The image of what you do changes from The Lone Gunmen in the basement to staving off Alzheimer’s. Reprints are reasonably priced and shipped from RD, but I have no experience with ordering reprints from other periodicals (National Geographic has published a similar article more recently).
Cost: $50 to $200
If your area has any local conventions, set up a booth. If you have product to sell, great. If not, you can hand out flyers, talk to possible customers and see what the other stores are selling. You might volunteer to run a game, judge a tournament, organize a miniature painting content, or otherwise involve yourself in the con’s activities.
Attend conventions outside of your local marketing circle because people who live in your circle will drive to them.
Cost: $200 (convention table fees, food onsite, gas, and assuming no hotel expense for local cons).
You might not use radio or TV much while you’re open because of its cost, but I recommend it before opening to generate as much interest as possible early on.
These include the flyers you hand out personally, boxtoppers the pizza place next door might agree to distribute, mailouts you time to coincide with your opening, etc. Depending on your purpose, you might be able to print them out on your computer at home, or you might need to call on a professional. Manufacturers can provide you with high-quality graphics for any color ads you plan to mail out.
Hint: postcards are cheap to make and mail. Design a postcard that includes a coupon of some sort. A free booster pack with purchase of a starter deck is good, as is a jar of paint with any miniatures purchase, or free dice with any RPG.
Cost: $25 to $2,000
You can run radio ads on short notice, and run as many or as few ads as you like. You can also change your ad on short notice and with little to no cost. You won’t be able to target your geographic market or reach your target demographic very accurately. However, you can cast a very wide net and potentially reach many existing gamers who are buying their products from bookstores, online, or through other outlets.
Because of the high cost, you can’t waste anything on radio. Use it after your soft open but before your grand opening. If you use a remote for your grand opening, you’ll receive some free announcements in advance. You might time your radio advertising to run before that, giving you a month or so of continuous slots.
Cost: $250 to $2,000
Without a store, what do you show on a television commercial? While I’ve seen some answers to that question, I don’t like the value of the solutions. As with radio, you might be able to shoot a commercial after you’re open but before your grand opening.
Cable TV is very affordable, especially in the smaller markets. Also, commercial creation is cheaper than you might have heard. Better yet, you can get the station to comp that cost if you buy enough slots.
Cost: $500 to $2,000 or more
The Internet offers some excellent marketing opportunities for low or no cost. Whenever possible, link from one site to the others. Some people are interested in podcasts but don’t read blogs. Having both available helps you reach a larger audience.
Create a Facebook page for your store and search out gamers in your market. You can post photos, include a map to the store, link to your store site, etc.
Your store website should go live before the actual opening. It serves as an online brochure to provide customers with basic information about your store. It should include your address, map, phone number, contact form, and an events listing or calendar. Before you open, include deadlines on your events page, but as you approach that opening date, mention things like game releases and conventions.
Include pictures of the process as you go—installing your sign, laying down carpet or tile, building shelves, etc. New content gives visitors a reason to keep returning.
Cost: $0 to $60/month, not including Internet access
Keep interested parties apprised of your store’s progress on a blog. Your blog should have some interesting content and not just mundane stories of licenses and build-outs. Review some games or discuss game strategy with a few local gamers or your partners.
A podcast is like a voice blog, except that it’s more versatile. Gamers can take your podcast with them on their iPod and listen on the go or listen as they work. They don’t have to dedicate their full attention to reading. With an RSS feed, they don’t need to remember to check it every day.
Shoot short clips of your store’s growth as you prepare and collect them for a video on YouTube (and on your Facebook page while you’re at it).
Meetup groups for D&D, Magic and other games are always hungry for a venue to play in. Let them know that you’ll be providing one soon, and they’ll keep close tabs on you. On the other hand, don’t be a dirty spammer. Go play a couple of games.
The Grand Opening
Your store’s grand opening event is the culmination of your pre-opening marketing and the beginning of your standard marketing techniques.
Contests and Give-aways
Giving away cool loot at the grand opening is a great way to entice gamers. Instead of handing it over freely to anyone who walks in the door, though, combine it with a demo, a full game, or some sort of interactive event.
One of my favorites give-away combinations is the “you kill it, you keep it” miniatures demo. Use some common D&D minis figs or something else where you can design an interesting board with cheap figures and let anyone sit in at the table and play. Set a time limit or a maximum number of pieces to keep your cost down and let more people have a turn.
You can do raffles at every hour or every two hours. Each entry into the door gets a ticket and customers can buy extra tickets. Raffle prizes should be worth sticking around for–$10 at least. You might be able to defray the prize cost by appealing to manufacturers for aid.
You can set up a table with two gigantic dice and have visitors roll off for loot according to a posted sign. Charge a token $1 entry and have prizes worth $2-15. The crew at Kenzer & Company does something like this for their Knights of the Dinner Table live readings at conventions, with the special incentive that a roll of a 1 on the dice earns the thrower a signed copy of KoDT #1. Yes, that’s a total of 1 on 2d6.
Cost: $100 to $500
Radio remotes are expensive, but sometimes it’s not about cost but results. Bringing a radio personality to your store and letting them drive listeners to your location can kick-start your grand opening like nothing else.
Cost: $500 to $5,500, depending on the size of your market
Send out a press release announcing your grand opening to the news media in your area. If they decide to write an article about your store or mention you on the air, it’s free advertising. Interesting celebration methods (like a costume contest or a quidditch match) earn their attention.
Good luck with this one if you’re opening in Philadelphia or Chicago, but in smaller cities and towns across the United States, commercial growth is worth the mayor’s personal interest. If you spring for the radio remote and have the mayor there at the same time, you’ll attract a great deal of attention.