It’s important to conduct an objective, honest analysis of where you stand in your local market. It tells you where you need to improve. It shows you what angles to promote in your local marketing and advertising.
For this comparison, you might feel a natural inclination to share only the areas in which you excel. I recommend that you favor your own store in your public comparison, but don’t make it all one-sided in your personal notes. Be honest, because you’re using this information to make business decisions. Lying to yourself will guide your store in the wrong direction.
Some of these metrics should not be yes/no. For example, with Games Workshop’s products, there’s a big difference between a store that splashes new releases, a stockist store, and a store that meets all of GW’s metrics for the different modules. Some stores might offer special-ordering services but handle them poorly, so a check-mark does not accurately indicate the customer experience. A better metric would have a percentage of special orders filled, which is difficult or impossible to gauge at another store.
For this article, I removed the specific names of the local stores, and I made up some entries to avoid identifying who’s who. Since I started this comparison, other stores have opened, also. The local market is even more crowded than this comparison indicates. I’ve opined that the Jacksonville market could handle up to 10 game stores, and we’re over that in number and they’re more crowded than in the geography I envisioned. It’s a lot of stores right now. Of the ones listed here, I know one will be closing soon, and at least one more has unsustainable sales, so I expect the market will correct itself somewhat in the next year or so.
The comparison groups the elements into three categories: service, merchandise, and a physical comparison. I’ll explain some of the line items. Open the PDF linked below to follow along.
Loyalty plan: It can be a simple punchcard, a feature of your POS, or a flexible 3rd-party system. The best comparison would be to describe each store’s plan in some way.
D&D Campaign Badges: My store made buttons that the crew were supposed to give to DMs who completed a D&D adventure, like campaign badges soldiers could earn for completing a tour of duty. It never really caught on, but I still think it’s a solid idea. A better implementation would be selling a set of 4 buttons or giving them away as an incentive for making the adventure purchase.
Magic Singles Kiosk. The kiosk is a customer convenience and a requirement for Wizards Premium (which should be a line item on the comparison in its own right).
GM Incentives. This program was later integrated into our regular loyalty plan, but it’s based on the need to recruit DMs for RPGs in the store. You can have 100 players, but if you have no DMs, you have no games. We made regular efforts to encourage players to take up the DM’s seat in the store, from offering bonus points to DM workshops.
FNM. I would have thought everyone did this, but apparently not.
Introductory D&D games. With D&D at a peak in popularity, people call the store regularly asking about intro games. It’s an easy way to welcome new players into the store.
Café. Some game stores focus on the café model, and it really affects the overall atmosphere in the store.
Free open play. If one store in the local market charges to play, it makes every store that doesn’t seem more attractive.
Lockers. When I sold my first store, the employee who bought it made lockers for the store. He sized them around monster boxes for the card gamers (each locker was as wide as a monster box, plus a pair of hands). They were always full. These custom-made lockers generated more dollars per square foot than any other space in the store, and they have a psychological side effect. Many gamers play at multiple stores. But if one store has their stuff, that’s where they’re going to spend most of their time.
Total Open Hours. This figure is important, but the total is just one factor. Whichever store opens earliest has certain advantages for big product launches and people with busy weekends. Opening late allows role-players to bring their game there. Game stores that close at 7 or 8 pm leave no opportunity for a role-playing game after work. In my notes, I recorded the exact hours of each store.
TCGPlayer store. Does the store have enough singles activity to support a tcgplayer store? And do they use that sales channel? This sometimes goes along with the kiosk (and should be moved to be adjacent to that heading now that I think about it), although they’re not the same thing.
With most of these categories, a brief narrative would be better than a checkmark. One store might “carry” D&D, by which they mean one copy each of the core books and the newest adventure. Another store might have every single Wizards book, plus the most popular 3rd-party books. That’s a big difference in customer experience. Obviously by pointing out all of the used categories I was showing off my store’s superior selection. Nobody else in town carried used D&D, while I had (at one point), a 4’ slatwall section for *each edition* of D&D, with room for 16 titles face-out and well over 100 spine out. Nobody else carried used minis or used board games.
Properly identified, comics should be broken out to include new and back issues and graphic novels, but since I stopped carrying comics around 2017, I wanted that section simplified.
Size. It matters. The bigger the store, the more merchandise you can fit, and the more gamers you can fit for events. Naturally, the bigger the store, the more it costs in most places, but customers don’t care about that. They want to be impressed.
Maximum seating. This figure can be deceiving. Packing card gamers in like sardines doesn’t necessarily create the best gamer experience. On the other hand, miniatures tables take a lot of room for only 2-4 gamers per table. If your store focuses on Games Workshop, you’ll necessarily need more game space than the store that lives off of its Magic community.
Exterior signage. As you can see from my notes, this isn’t a checklist; it’s a description. Channel letters are the most expensive option and are considered “the best”, but box signs allow for more customization. Wooden signs look cheap in most circumstances.
Not included: it’s a good idea to also compare fixtures: slatwall, gridwall, pegboard, etc. Do they match in color? Do the chairs match? Are they comfortable for a 4-hour gaming session? I did not include restrooms—number and location.
How does your store stack up? Do gamers have a reason to choose your store instead of another store to which they are already loyal?