Service From the Ground Up

Write it Into Your Business Plan

Last month we discussed the benefits of marketing your business from a service-focused approach. Independent retailers often have the ability to gain this advantage against large chains and mass market retailers, but not all of them take full advantage of this edge. If you want more information about how to leverage this advantage for more sales, this is it.

The Real Basics

These things are so fundamental that they almost don’t need to be written down. Almost.

  • Have change on hand. You don’t want to lose a lot of money if you get robbed or burglarized, but you want to be able to make change for the customers who use cash.
  • Take credit cards. With probably 75% of your transactions being electronic, it’s safe to say you need to take credit cards. It’s no longer optional. Take the full range.
  • Greet customers at the door. Even if you’re busy helping another customer, something as simple as “Hello. I’ll be right with you” goes a long way.
  • Prices. Customers hate two special things in stores. One is not being able to find prices. You’ll prepare for that by pricing your products where people can find them. Price books on the front instead of the back. Use signs to make it easier. If you carry dice singles, label their prices clearly.
  • Ring up quickly when there’s a line. The second thing people don’t want to do in a store is wait in line. Set your POS up so that you can enter information quickly and accurately. Go through your upsell dialogue while you’re ringing things up rather than waiting for the popup you know is coming.
  • Finally, say “yes.” Whenever you can. My rule of thumb is that if it’s not a safety or security issue, then comply with any oddball requests you get from customers.

Hours of Operations

Staying open late and opening earlier costs more in labor, but it allows you to reach customers whose odd work hours don’t allow them any other time to visit. It’s a service that allows you a broader reach.

Consistent Contact

Customers tend to shop on the same days of the week, and if you have a different clerk running the register each time, you won’t get a chance to make that personal connection with the customer. Schedule Bob the Board Gamer on Tuesday nights when you run Board Game Night. Schedule Chris the Card Gamer on Friday night when you run Friday Night Magic.

POS Cheaters

If you have a decent POS system, you can set up upsell reminders, often as popups when certain items are rung up. For example, if you ring up a World of Darkness game, you can have the system remind the clerk to suggest 10-sided dice. Here are some other suggestions

  • Magic boosters → Card sleeves
  • Starter army box → Army rulebook
  • Starter paint set → Primer and sealer
  • RPG Core rulebook → Dice
  • GM’s Book → GM Screen
  • Your system should also create reports showing the percentages of each upsell. You can track by employee to see who’s following through on it and who isn’t. You can track by item to see if you’ve made a good connection.

    Customer Records

    You might be able to remember every detail about a customer, but not everyone on your staff will. Anything that you can record for other people’s use is good. You might set up a record of a customer’s games played, games sold back to you, nights of the week he plays, who else he plays with, how long he’s been playing, etc.

    Your sales records already show you some other information, like his average purchase, his total purchases, how often he makes purchases, and other data. Keeping more detailed records can provide you with opportunities to make a bond with that person. When he comes in the door, you can ask him how his job interview last week went—-if you remember, or if you wrote it down when he mentioned it. You’ll repay that investment in time by encouraging that customer to return to your store more often and remaining in the hobby for a longer period of time.

    Product Knowledge

    You don’t have to know everything about every game. What should you know? This list covers probably 80% of the questions you’ll field in the store.

    • Coming releases. You should know without reference the next release date for the next Magic set, the next Warhammer rules revision and other major releases. You might want to keep a schedule for releases of lesser importance so that you can refer to it at need.
    • Compatibility. Is this 40k blister pack usable with the current rules? If you steer a customer wrong, it’ll cost you credibility. Don’t guess—find out.
    • Core titles. What does a gamer need to play Pathfinder or GURPS? Have a short list ready at hand when somebody asks.
    • Tournament formats and allowed card sets. What expansions are allowed in Standard right now? Which cards are banned in Vintage? Know the legal and disallowed sets for your most popular card games and the general tournament guidelines for any other games you support.
    • Dice. Learn your major games: D&D and Pathfinder use the standard 7-die set, World of Darkness uses d10s, Hero system uses d6s, and Games Workshop’s minis all use buckets of d6s. Look at the first few pages of whatever else sells well for you or ask somebody who plays it and be ready.

    It’s a bonus if you’re proficient in the rules for one of the popular game system, because you will get questions about rules, too.

    Special Orders

    If you use multiple distributors (and you should), you might place orders several days a week. That gives you the advantage of being able to place a special order for a customer with one of those distributors on several occasions. If a customer asks for something on Monday and calls back to check up on it Friday and there’s been no movement, you didn’t impress him. If you can say you’ve already placed the order, and it should arrive later that day, then that’s a little better.

    Best would be ordering daily from a distributor a one-day ship away and having it for him by Tuesday, then calling or e-mailing that customer when it arrives. It’s great when you can fill special requests within 24 hours.

    Outline your special order policy ahead of time. How do you track who ordered what? How do you track these items when a delivery comes in?

    Some distributors allow you to place an order immediately online. They’ll hold that item in a shopping cart until your next scheduled order. If so, you can do that right away when the customer asks for it at the counter. With this system, nobody forgets to order it later.

    You can use paper or a spreadsheet to track special orders. I’ve seen a list form that identifies the product, the person ordering it, and the customer’s contact information. I used a pad of paper I had printed for a couple of cents a sheet that included the same information. The list is easier for comparing to a delivery when it comes in; the individual sheets are good for taping to the product to track it until the customer picks it up. They’re also good for writing in individual items you want to promote. Stick a special order form into each bag with the name of the product you want to promote written in ahead of time. Include a release date. Customers then simply write in their name and contact information and hand it back to you.

    Rewards Program

    Last month we discussed the broad strokes of a customer rewards program. Let’s develop it in more detail.

    Base plan: 1 credit for each $10 in purchases. When you reach 12 credits, you can turn them in for a single purchase of $10 or less.

    Fair enough. Simple enough. What questions could arise?

    Are credits transferable? Can families combine credit? How do keep track of it?

    Let’s look again and make it better. Instead of earning generic “credits”, call them something specific to your store. If the majority of your sales come from role-playing games, call them experience points. If it’s cards, call them “sideboard points.” Credits are transferable and families can combine credits. You track purchases automatically through your POS, marking off credits as they’re used in your customer notes field.

    This tracking requires you to track customers. You can track them by name or by unique number, like a phone number. Phone numbers change, though, so names are best. Make up a dummy name so that you can ring up people who refuse to give you one.

    You can also outsource this work. You can get plastic cards for customers like Best Buy or other large companies do. Expect to pay $500 or more for these plans. I also don’t recommend them for starting companies because they put the burden on tracking on the customer. That means cash for you, because it means that fewer of your credits will be redeemed. If you want to offer customer service, remove that work of tracking the credits from the customer when you can. In the early stages of the company’s development—and possibly as long as you own it—the value of the gain in customer purchase frequency should exceed the value of the cash spent in redeeming these credits.

    Avoid flat discounts, even if you plan to recoup part of the loss of income with a fee. Games Workshop has stated that their customers spend an average of 5 years in the hobby and spend $1,500 over the course of their game play. At $300/year, if you give somebody a 10% discount, you’re losing money unless you charge a $30 fee—-which nobody will pay. Flat discounts are the easy way to set up a rewards program, but they’re lethal cash killers.

    One thing you might want to do is periodically post your Top 10 customers. Encouraging competition among these people for amount spent can be extraordinary. It’s not a good idea to post the actual figures, though—some people become very self-conscious over how much they spend, and if you let them know what the figure is, they cut back their spending.

    Game Room Management

    Having game space is not enough. You need to manage it. The game room is a marketing tool. You don’t let your customers design your print ads for you. You don’t let them set your prices for you. You don’t let them determine what goes on in your game room. Otherwise, you’re under-utilizing one of the most expensive marketing tools you’re paying for.

    That’s not to say that you choose who plays what. Managing your game space is all about filling it with gaming opportunities. In previous articles I described three main game room activities that form your basic toolbox: tournaments, leagues and demos. Focus on those.

    To sum up that material, here’s the quick version. Find or recruit product champions. Schedule events. Encourage participation in those events. Get feedback from everyone, and in turn give your feedback to the vendor who provided the volunteers to help make the process better for everyone.

    For open play, set policies that encourage maximum attendance and lots of play. You might require that your staff anyone who wants in to join their game. Structure your game room rules to convince people to stay, join in the fun, and spend money.

    Special Programs

    For a while, I experimented with a program called the In-Stock Guarantee. I offered a discount if somebody wanted to purchase certain core items but I was out of stock. “Never a wasted trip” was the slogan I used to go with it. The point was to encourage gamers to come into the store for a game they wanted rather than calling and asking about it or holding off until their next planned visit. I dropped it because I wasn’t following through on it very well with updates and maintaining my signs, but that’s the sort of program that gives your customers a reason to come in.

    The cost was minor. I stocked a little more deeply on items that sold frequently anyway. I had a distributor on one-day ship, so I was rarely out of anything more than a few hours. I think I gave away $3 in total discounts.