This Tabletop Tuesday, I’m taking a break from board game reviews or RPG discussions to focus on something else. I want to discuss tabletop gaming stores, aka “Friendly Local Game Stores” or FLGS.
Specifically, after some miserable experiences recently, I want to provide some suggestions on “What not to do if you work for, or own, an FLGS.”
Please understand that I am in no way a business owner; these opinions are primarily from the point of view of a customer. That being said, as a friend and regular of no small amount of staff or owners, I’m not ignorant of the behind-the-scenes and minutiae of game stores.
So, please – if you own an FLGS, work for one, are friends with them or are just a regular, consider these words. They might help change a store from an off-putting experience that smells of stereotype and drives business away to a successful shop that’s an inclusive center of community gaming.
Do Not Disparage Any Game
If you’re selling products on your shelf, you should want to encourage them all. Yes, that even goes for those particular games of which you’re not personally a fan.
If I walk in to buy X-Wing models, I don’t want to hear the cashier go on and on about how Armada is “so much better” than X-Wing. If I’m purchasing an X-Wing product, it’s obvious I enjoy that game, and belittling it not only disparages something I like it also insults me.
Could you imagine buying D&D books only to have the cashier rant about the series and promote Pathfinder? Or maybe I’m picking up accessories for an iPhone, and the staff on the floor are talking poorly about Apple products and customers?
If you run a business based on selling items, you should not only sell them but also avoid insulting the customers buying them. It’s OK having your own tastes and preferences, but the moment you put on that shirt and get behind the counter, you’re a neutral party meant to do business.
FLGS people – kindly keep your personal opinions to yourself, unless specifically asked. And even then, choose your words carefully, because that could be the difference between making money or losing a customer.
Your Store is Not Your Personal Playground
I know some people out there are going to say, “How dare you tell me how to run my store?!” If you’ve invested that much money, however, I would hope you’re running it like, well, a store.
I’ve been in far too many FLGS that are mostly a personal gaming space, meant for the owners or staff to play with their pals. At some point, some friends said, “Let’s buy a game store! We’ll make money just sitting around and playing games all day!”
Usually, what they end up with is a place with minimal product (what the employees play), questionable cleanliness (like a damp basement), and lacking in customer service. There are times I’ve stood patiently at a counter, items in hand for purchase, only to be ignored while the staff (in full view of me) sit there playing games.
The days of stores that are just employee hang-outs, skating by on the occasional large purchase, are gone (if they ever existed). If you’re a game store, then you need to sell stuff, not pay expensive rent for a massive playground.
And you definitely need not alienate every stranger who walks through the door, glaring at them like they’re somehow trespassing in your “territory.”
Make Your Space Inclusive
Let’s face it, just like the board game and RPG community, FLGS often have the same stereotypes. They’re all shadowy places usually staffed by pale dudes with no social skills (or hygiene) and a lack of decorum or consideration.
Luckily, for the most part, that isn’t true – except when it is.
As mentioned above, this isn’t your personal playground, it’s a store, and you’re going to have all sorts of people wandering in. If you want to succeed, you need to be as welcoming as possible, even if it’s just a nod and a smile to whoever walks in.
Also, regardless of how some think or act, there’s no place in this industry for bigotry anymore. It’s time to watch your language, be open-minded (and accepting) of the diversity of humanity, and broaden your customer base.
That also applies to those hanging out – you may have to police the words and behaviors of your clientele. It’s far better to exclude a few offensive individuals than drive other customers away.
Be a Community Center
I’ve witnessed a lot of game stores in my 35 years of gaming, from the hole-in-the-walls that bought and sold used books to large warehouses that host massive playing areas and events. The one commonality of those that have lasted the ups-and-downs of the industry is community.
I don’t just mean a group of friends coming together for their own thing – cliquishness is not cool, and that crosses over with my discussion about “personal playgrounds.” What I’m talking about is becoming a place where people from all over can come together for fun.
The best thing about tabletop games, from board to war to role-playing, is the social aspect. A store that works as a center of community provides the best platform to capitalize on that aspect.
My current favorite FLGS does just that – it’s a store where locals and visitors can come and play whatever they like.
You’ll find regular Magic players drafting next to a table where shoppers walked off the street and decided to try Pandemic. Teenagers laugh over a game of D&D, while the staff referee the latest season of Blood Bowl.
If you make your shop more than just some shelves of product, but a welcoming center of gaming, with a thriving community of all types of gamers (and people), you’ll be more than a gaming store. You’ll be a Friendly Local Gaming Store, and you’ll succeed where so many other empty storefronts have failed.
So please, I know I’m no business expert or shop owner, but I’ve learned enough over the decades to see what works and what doesn’t.
Stop being so exclusive, from badmouthing the very products you sell to ignoring customers who stray into your “personal playground.” An FLGS needs to be friendly and welcoming, where everybody feels comfortable (except, maybe, “that guy.”)
Most importantly, you need to be the kind of place where everyone, from board to card gamers, wargamers to role-players, casual to hardcore, all find a place where they can come together and have fun.
Do that, and you might see yourself change from a struggling store to a thriving center of gaming. And, of course, attract a lot of business in the process!
As my FLGS says, “Keep calm and game on!”