After-Action Report: RapierCon

Introducing FLGS

I’ve learned a lot about game retail since I bought my store. I’ve considered re-entering that arena several times under different circumstances, and I’ve recently come up with a situation that allows me the best of all worlds. I can keep doing what I’m doing and still be a retailer. I’ve started a company called FLGS. If you’re not already familiar with the acronym, it stands for Friendly Local Game Store.

The company includes two partners—me and a friend I’ve known since ’97 or ’98. Phase I of the plan calls for the two of us to work conventions only until we bulk up to a certain amount of inventory on hand. Working only at conventions gives us a few critical advantages. It allows us to work around other obligations. There’s no rent. We don’t need to commit to a $100,000 commercial lease. We have no employees to pay. I’ll share more details about the exact figures later, but let’s just say it’s way cheaper than most of the plans I get paid to write.

The Convention

RapierCon has a decent history—8 years or so. It’s a small con, with between 200 and 300 attendees. The convention sees fairly low turnover. It’s the same faces every year for the most part. The core attendees are members of a miniatures-based game club that sponsors the con. They play Games Workshop games, but historicals are their forte. Old white guys are the norm.

As it turns out, that’s my old customer base. I knew I’d run into a lot of faces I knew. I could even place most of the names. I was not wrong.

I figured it would be small enough and casual enough to make a great shake-down cruise.

The Good

Knowing a lot of the attendees by name (and army in many cases) helped. Many people came over just to say hello. They might not have made a special trip to the table otherwise.

For the opening cash, I opened up my wallet and broke into a change jar. Between the two I had $150, which I figured would be plenty. Most transactions would be electronic, through Square. Of the cash, some would be exact change, some would be with small bills that would provide change for future transactions, and some would be large bills that needed change. A trip to the bank turned it into the denominations I wanted. Now that’s fixed and that money stays with the cash box for re-use. Easy peasy.

The Bad

We set up late at the convention. That was my fault. I made an assumption about what time the event was due to start based on previous events, and I was wrong. So we missed out on a few hours of sales. As it turns out, the convention hall was nearly empty during that time. We probably didn’t miss out on much sales. After all, those people were still around later, and there were no other vendors with our product mix.

We weren’t able to hang our signs. We didn’t have double-sided tape. We had some duct tape, but it was apparently very old. The adhesive simply didn’t hold. The sign fell down several times, and then we gave up. In retrospect, we should have been able to secure them to the front of the tables, but I just thought about that.

We didn’t get as much merchandise as I wanted and so didn’t get the fixtures I wanted to display them the way I had planned. More inventory would have generated more sales. Better display would have generated more sales.

I’d hoped to add some surplus D&D Miniatures from my own collection, but I didn’t find time to sort them before the convention. I have a LOT of minis. I had a decent collection already, and then I bought out the personal collection from the guy who bought my old game store. I think he claimed it was over 2,000 figures. I have many figs set aside now. They fill a medium-sized box. I’m guessing I have 500 or more figs in there for sale. I’ll keep culling my collection for another week or so.

The Lessons

The con kit needs double-sided tape for hanging the sign. And scissors.

My neighbors with the awesome dice game are graphic designers by trade. They had beautiful banner signs that they purchased for cheap. They were full-color and cheaper than our one-color vinyl crap. I’m going to learn where they had those made and improve our image.

We had planned to have extra people available if sales required it. It went smoothly. We did not need them.

We need a price gun and tags. Or dots and a pen.

I intend to run a game next time, if possible. I’ll let players keep the D&D miniatures that I provide for their characters and coupons for free dice with a t-shirt purchase.

Our t-shirt prices were variable based on size. We’re going to average them out (in our favor, of course) and charge a flat fee. I don’t like the idea of charging big people more for their clothes. There’s no point in making them feel self-conscious about their size like that.

The convention host said he preferred cash for the table fees. Not “required” cash. Next time, I plan to offer a mix of product for prizes and some cash. That could save anywhere from $15 to $75.

The Numbers

Our sales goal was an ambitious $1,000. I say ambitious because the convention was going to have 300 people or fewer. Anything more than $1/head is a good convention, and setting a goal of over $3/head would be high for many people. Personally, I was unhappy with anything less than $1,000 after several years at my store before, but this situation was going to face several disadvantages versus that one. For one, we had much less inventory to choose from.

We spent more than I would have liked on books, but it was on short notice and the main point was to bulk up to a “critical mass” of inventory. We spent $600 on the books and $185 on 3 booster boxes of Magic. We had some dice on hand and purchased some dice bags for $200 (it was a bulk buy). The main edge we had was a consignment deal to sell t-shirts from a humorous t-shirt vendor with an established local presence.

We also bought some goods, as we had planned. We bought some Games Workshop and Magic at the convention. Some of the bulk books we picked up had some collector value. We pulled those aside before the con to sell later on eBay.

Fixed Expenses
Fictitious Name Registration: $75
Incorporation: $75
Sign: $45
RPG titles: $600
Dice/bags: $400
Magic boosters: $185
Purchases at the event: $55
Cash box: $0
Opening cash: $150
Total: $1585

Event-specific Expenses
Table fees: $130
CoGS: $465
Travel: $0
Food: $0
Parking: $0
Total: $595

Convention sales $800
eBay sales afterward: $425

Total Income: $1225
Total Expenses this con: $595
Positive cash flow this con: $630

So after one event, we’ve recouped nearly half of our total investment and still have plenty of merchandise to sell. In fact, we’ll have more than we started with, because the entire plan revolves around reinvesting our gains into inventory after paying for our fixed costs. That $630 is going to buy more games. We’ll also have those D&D minis I mentioned.

Our next event is coming up in a month. The convention has a completely different flavor. There will be girls there. There will be young people there. Many of them will be cosplayers. There won’t be a bunch of old grognards. However, there will be more people—around 900 attendees, based on recent trends. We’re counting on less sales per person because of the different flavor. Fortunately, it’s also local, so we won’t have any travel expenses.

Our sales goal is $2,000 for this one. I don’t plan to do a report after each event, but I’ll be glad to let you know how it goes in the forum if anybody’s interested.