Thursday, March 01, 2007

Another One Bites the Dust

Yesterday was the last day for another local game/comic store. At LEAST 4 gaming stores in the area have closed since we opened--most within the last year. The game industry continues to have a hard time surviving and stores continue to close. I'm not going to mention the name of the store, but they were in Menomonee Falls. The store was opened 6 months to a year longer than mine. The owner was a pretty nice guy too, so I felt kind of bad for him. But knowing what I know about how the business was run, I can see why he was unable to survive. I'm going to discuss it more in my next column. To put it simply for now, I think he fell victim not only to the decline of the (non video) game market, but also to the "hobby" mentality so many game stores fall prey to. The store has to be a BUSINESS, not a place where you can play games with friends and give away stuff to make people happy. While it might seem nice, it's a recipe for disaster.

I have had gamer folks email me and a couple even came into the store, looking for advice on opening a comics/game store. I also had a "consultant" call me because a game store in his area was looking to possibly ad comics into the mix and he wanted some market information and advice that he could use to help the business owners. Several of these people seemed to not have any kind of idea how to run a business, even though they claimed to have read all of my "how to open a comic book store" columns on Sequart. Some had crazy ideas about merchandising, some just had no personality, others no business experience or training--almost all seemed like they wanted a game store because the one they liked closed or because there wasn't one close to their house and they needed a place to hang out with other like-minded gamers. This is not the mentality of a successful business owner in today's market.

To be honest, often mixing a gaming store and a comic store don't work. We had in-store gaming early on in Neptune's history and for a while it was what kept us open. But the good crowd of kids eventually discovered girls and left and then a bad crowd came - a crowd that would plug the toilet, shoot spitballs at our windows, shout, smell bad, read comics & not buy any, swear and just generally make us unhappy. At Christmas time one year we stopped the gaming for the holidays - and discovered how nice it was to not deal with that. That's when we made the decision - we'd have gaming in January and that'd be it. Sure, some people squawked about it, but it was the best decision for us. We filled that "wasted" space with racks for more merchandise and increased our sales in comics and graphic novels tremendously.

While we still carry some games, they are not our main business, just mostly a convenience item for our comic customers that are also game players, and some local folks who bought games from us from the beginning. And we do not have any more in-store gaming--unless you count Craig having a couple of guys over to the store after hours once in a while to play Star Wars minis. Every once in a while someone will come in from "back in the day" and ask if we're going to do gaming again and we say, "no." Once it was gone and the initial guilt left we never looked back. We are a comic book store and that's our focus. While at first glance they might appear to be a good combo, I don't think they really are. If someone already has a successful game store, I would not advise them to add comics and if someone had a successful comic store I would not advise them to start in-store gaming. Each type of store has such a vast variety of merchandise as well as related merchandise to sell that it just makes more sense to keep within that than to try to ad something completely new that neither you nor your current customers nor your staff know enough about. That's not to say that similar business practices don't apply - they do. Both game and comic stores face lower discount levels than most other retail businesses. Both stores have to buy product up front with no returnability and hope they can sell it. Both businesses have to deal with on-line competitors. Both have "fan-boys" and "geeks" that shop there, as well as the casual buyer. In many ways they are a similar business model. And yes, there are many stores that have both and do quite well. However, there seem to be more that do and fail, at least lately.

Check out my Sequart column on the subject - I hope to have it up by next Tuesday and I'll put a link to it here on the blog.

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