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Insider: Good Shop, Bad Shop

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Welcome back readers! Today's article is one that's been brewing for a bit in my head.

If you're reading this you're almost assuredly a speculator (such as myself), but there's a decent chance you aren't a store owner. It's not that store owners aren't members (in fact there are quite a few of them) it's that there are far more speculators than store owners in the MTG community.

I have asked several players (especially ones who frequent only one store) what they like about the store in a hope to capture all the various qualities of the best stores. Some of these may apply to those with online stores, some may be more geared to brick and mortar stores.  The reason for this is that everyone on here wants to have a local game store that they love to go to; this is the place where you meet with friends and play a game you love, where you are safe to be yourself without the fear/concern of being judged.

My goal with this article is for all the brick and mortar store owners to see what their customers want to see in a store and what they don't want to see in order to make them more money and make the customers happier--you as the readers are free to share the ideas with your LGS's.

So without further ado, let's delve into what makes a good store good and a bad store bad.

Properties of Good Stores

Well-Stocked

This should be obvious, but if you (as a store) want to make a lot of sales you need a lot of product. Whether this means always having a backup box or two in case someone walks in to buy a box or maintaining your singles selection to match what you're customers want.

One of the biggest challenges to maintaining a good singles stock is that with the constant shifts in the Standard metagame you need more than a playset of any given card whenever possible. This works fine if you have a large enough player base that cards are constantly coming in as fast as they are going out. It's much more difficult when you have a smaller player base.

To make matters more difficult, the "hottest" Standard mythic is often difficult to convince people to trade in as many are fearful of "the next Jace". The irony is that any player looking at it from a purely financial standpoint should want to unload the cards at their maximum value.

One trick is to have a "hot list" posted near the case of the shop to inform all the players of what the store really wants and is willing to give good value on. You also need to analyze the probability that you will be able to trade/sell the more expensive staples in a timely manner lest you be left holding the short end.

It's not wise to pick up the latest blue planeswalker selling for $40 if nobody at your shop plays control. You might want a few in case you get new customers looking for them, but don't stock up on cards that people won't want.

This does seem to go directly against my previous statement of maintain your playsets. But in this instance you have to compare the risk of not having a card that you could sell for $40 and making a customer happy versus the card sitting in your case gathering dust and losing value. This is the reason I'm very big on investing in the cards you feel confidant in.

This concept also applies to drinks and snacks which are often a great source of revenue.

Clean

I've been to many stores, some clean, some not clean and I can tell you that the clean ones feel more inviting and make me want to spend more time there. This applies tenfold to store smell. I understand that the clientele of a typical comic/game store varies greatly but if a store smells clean it is far more appealing than one that doesn't.

I've been told by friends who played Yugioh (it hurt to even type that out), that some players would purposefully not bathe before some tournaments because the stench would prove distracting to their opponents. This issue became such a problem that TOs were given permission to kick/eject players for excessive stench.

While I'm happy to report that I have yet to suffer through this level of olfactory torture at a Magic event, I have definitely been hit with some strong odors while playing.

It is important as a store to keep the environment sanitary as many stores often sell food (pre-packaged) and there is still risk of people getting ill should the area not be well maintained.

It is also important if you want to pull in younger players whose parents may have to drop them off that the store look like a safe place. My parents used our LGS as a pseudo baby-sitter when I was growing up and every dollar we had went to that store owner.

This aspect goes doubly for the restrooms, which while the least enjoyable thing to clean (especially at a game store) is also critical to maintain (maybe pony up for a maid service if you hate doing it that much).

Professional

I know this one seems obvious too, but it can be a lot more tricky than you'd think.

I've been to some stores that have a uniform but most don't. I will say that I like the uniforms a lot. It lets you know who is and who isn't a store employee. It gives the store a look of credibility and professionalism.

It also serves as a way for outside observers (say parents of the younger players) to feel like the store is a safe place and highlights the people they need to talk to when 'junior' wants packs from the latest set. The same applies to girlfriends/relatives of the players who don't themselves play the game.

Another major aspect of professionalism and honestly the one that is neglected the most is the language allowed. I realize Magic players are generally teenagers or older so the occasional swear word is almost expected, but that doesn't mean it needs to be accepted (and this is coming from someone who swears...a LOT).

Tempers flare and people get angry that their opponent top-decked the one out in their deck or that if they didn't draw six lands in a row they would have won easily and they want to swear, but that doesn't mean you (as the store owner) can't warn them for saying it. The same goes for off-color jokes (whether they be racist/sexist/dirty).

As a store owner you are expected by the parents of the individuals who attend your store not to participate in those jokes. You can easily offend some of your own patrons which is a good way to make sure they (and their money) don't return.

Promotes a Social Atmosphere

Some people go to certain stores simply because that's where their friends go. Stores are places for many people to hang out with friends (again in a safe and non-judgmental environment) and as a store owner you want to promote this.

I realize you don't want people just loitering (potentially taking up space for paying customers), but for the most part I haven't seen this be a huge problem. It also helps that many stores sell drinks/snacks which people buy when they get hungry/thirsty. The longer they spend there the more likely this is to occur.

Inclusive

The aspects that attract people to Magic are often the same ones that can ostracize them from other social environments. When I was in high school I played Magic with my friends while we waited for the bus stop and in the orchestra room. It was pretty obvious that the majority of our fellow students didn't understand our love for a card game and that made us easy targets for bullies.

I truly doubt that has changed much in the past 12 or so years. Thus, the game store needs to be the place that these people can go to and feel included. They can talk about their hobbies/passions without fear of ridicule.

People can still be ostracized (even by others who were themselves ostracized) and some people just rub others the wrong way. As a store owner/employee it's still your job to make them feel welcome.

We have an individual who frequents my favorite LGS who takes far more time than he should for any given turn. This issue becomes a major problem when we play EDH games, however, I can happily say that the store owner still encourages him to play and we just found ways to occupy our time (I trade with others during his turns).

Strong Communication

It's critical to communicate your tournaments, prizes, stock to your customers. Many stores send out emails or have facebook groups to let players know what they are offering. You need to be clear and concise about what you're doing as well as make your announcements well in advance.

This will prevent players from driving two hours to your tournament only to find out it's being held somewhere else or has been moved to another date. I recommend two months before a GPT/PTQ and at least three weeks before any other tournament. This will give players with weekend jobs time to request the days off.

You would obviously want to send updates as needed but an email once a week to your customer base is a good way to make announcements without coming off as "spam".

Works With Their Competition

I understand that it seems odd to "work with your competition", but what I mean by this is that there is likely a chance that the other stores in your area may attract a different crowd and thus demand will be different.

If you're the ultra-competitive Standard store you need all the high-end Standard mythics, but maybe the EDH cards rot in your case. Whereas, the store across town specializes in the casual crowd who are happy to trade in their $30 Standard staple for some packs.

You should establish a repertoire with the owner across town and send the EDH staples you can't unload his way for some of his Standard staples he can't unload.

This also holds true for big events. It's quite possible that one store may be able to get a PTQ, but may not have the staff available to properly run it. In that way the two stores could team up to provide overall better customer service and both make a good profit from all the players who grind those events (many of which won't be regular customers anyways).

Runs Large Events Well

The best stores are the ones who regularly run bigger events and run them well. I've been to PTQs run well...and some run poorly. The same goes for pre-releases.

It's important that you keep these events as close to the schedule as possible. You don't want to be that store owner who won't hold an event five minutes for the guys who called to say they're running late due to a major traffic jam, but at the same time you don't want to be the store owner who says an event starts at 1:00 and regularly starts it at 2:00-2:30.

This also means making sure you have adequate staff for these events. I realize most store owners are also players and they want to enjoy the game that they make their living off of just as much as the next guy. But when all your employees are playing in the event, there's no one to properly run the store and players don't want to wait on you as you have to get up and go help a customer out.

Appeals to All Types of Players

A good store will appeal to all types of players. While it's often difficult to assimilate casual and competitive players into the same environment, it's critical to do so.

Not only does it increase your potential player base, it provides outs for different types of cards. The casual players will trade in their hot Standard cards and the competitive players will trade in their foil casual all-stars.

Properties of Bad Stores

Weak Prize Support

I realize that as a store owner you need to make money and the desire to maximize profits will always be present. But providing weak prize support for a tournament that people payed to enter is the quickest way to piss off your customers.

Last week I attended a GPT with 24 entrants (at $10 per person). The prize support was $20 store credit +3 byes for the GP (1st), $15 Store Credit (2nd), $10 store Credit (3rd-4th), $5 Store credit (5th-8th). All the players were upset/grumbling that the store took in $240 in cash and gave out $75 in store credit (which is probably more like $50 in prize). Several mentioned not playing there again.

If you own a store it's critical to develop a good reputation when it comes to prize support for your tournaments. It's also important to let people know what the prize support will be before the tournament. Nothing upsets people more than finding out that it's an "all or nothing" tournament in the last round.

Unfair Trade-in Policy

I expect this one to get the most heat. I understand that as a store you need to have a good profit margin to stick around. After all, you don't know what will sell out and what will rot in your case all the time, so you need to cover for the flops.

However, some stores feel they can offer a pittance on cards just because they are a store. When you offer way below typical buylist prices, you may get cards from people who don't know any better, but those people eventually learn and then they resent you for "ripping them off".

I remember the week Dark Ascension came out, one local store (now unsurprisingly out of business) wanted my Sorin, Lord of Innistrad. At the time it was retailing for $40, and since I wanted to unload them I was thrilled. He offered me $10 per copy when SCG was buying them for $25, I promptly refused, he then bumped it up to $12.50 per copy because he knew someone who wanted them. I gathered my cards and walked out.

He came to me months later and asked if I had any Bonfire of the Damned's. I told him that I did but wasn't going to trade them to him, when he asked why, I referred back to the Sorin incident. He was never able to keep a good single selection and eventually went under.

Another caveat to this is keeping the policy equal. I realize that there is often a desire to give some customers preferential treatment (which I've actually received and was grateful for), however, this needs to be handled very carefully.

If someone regularly trades in cards you really need it makes sense to give them a good deal so they'll keep doing it. However, it would be quite awkward if the guy behind them wants to trade in some of the same cards and gets upset when there's a discrepancy between what you just gave someone else for his cards.

In that case you could set up a "trade-in tier" program that gives customers better rates after they've traded in so much. This would still allow you to "pay more" to your preferred customers, but keep the playing field level because it alerts everyone to the policy and may encourage them to trade in more to reach higher tiers.

Another aspect of this is when someone who doesn't know much about cards' values comes in trying to sell them to the store. It boggles my mind when store owners brag to me about paying near nothing for some highly valuable stuff. I understand all you see is dollar signs, and the potential profit margin might even make you giddy, but you should still explain to them the cards' value and offer fair prices.

This type of policy makes you the "trusted" store and will encourage others to bring their stuff to you first. After all, if you walked in not knowing that the shoebox full of cards you got when you were a kid is now worth $1000 you might have expected $50 and been happy getting $100, but when you leave with $600 you're thrilled and you'll go tell your friends (who also played) that they should bring their old cards to the store you just left.

Negative Towards Other Stores

I understand all stores are technically in competition with each other, but when you say bad things about other stores (even if they are true) you come across poorly. A smart store owner will work with his local competition and bad-mouthing them is the surest way to keep that from happening.

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David Schumann

David started playing Magic in the days of Fifth Edition, with a hiatus between Judgment to Shards. He's been playing Commander since 2009 and Legacy since 2010.

View More By David Schumann

Posted in Finance, Free Insider

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7 thoughts on “Insider: Good Shop, Bad Shop

  1. Okay. Here goes for an essay (quit reading while you are ahead)….

    I’m going to break one of the rules stated here, in hopes of a reasonable solution. I just started up a small b&m. I have heard from many players that the other shop in town was run by an owner with poor social skills. The owner has repeatedly insulted myself and others whom I brought in. The trades and buy prices are horrible. Now that I’m open, I have tried my best to communicate with the owner of my competition.

    So far, the customer base has received my store well. Very well. I have a SMALL square footage and packed it with as much product as I can. I have gone into the competition’s store many times and have offered to carry their business cards, flyers and other advertisements. I openly refer my customers to the competition when I don’t have what they are looking for. The owner is rarely in the other shop, so communication has been difficult. The player base doesn’t like the employee either. They say the employee is rude and snide. I leave messages, call and stop in when I can. I honestly want to help the community and our small village can support both shops. But I hear the remarks made by the shop owner when a customer refers another to my shop, within hers. I have heard of the other shop calling customers “drug dealers” and refusing “dirty money.”

    I just don’t know what to do. It would be nice to have a good relationship with both the owner and the community, but I don’t know how to go about it. On the one hand, the community keeps trash talking the other shop in mine. I do my best to tell them to stop, but it then comes off as if I am on her side (which I would like to be)…

    I am not directly competing with their events. I offer drafts on Sunday. They offer drafts on Fnm. I do Standard for Fnm. I have tried to make sure that the other shop is well known and that I offer different options for the players. My player base likes all the Legacy and Edh staples I have. The other shop has a thriving Standard player base. It would seem to me that we both could be happy. There is another shop in a town ~5 miles away. I have seen my competition’s owner in that shop yelling at the owner of 5m for “not selling at top dollar, matching Scg’s pricing.” It is almost ridiculous how terrible this person is at the market. Do I continue being nice? Or do I ignore the other shop and continue with my own business model? I just don’t know what to do…

    Back to your article, I do like the idea of a uniform. I could get behind that. Thanks for that tip. Another tip I would give to store owners is to bring somebody aside if you have a problem with them. Don’t out the person for poor hygiene, etc in front of a group. Also use the compliment sandwich. I know most people understand this, but many people who have shops don’t have previous management training. A compliment sandwich is where you start with a compliment, then the critisizm, then immediately follow with another compliment. This way the person doesn’t feel like you are attacking them.

    This post is great, and a must read for any shop owner, current past or prospective.

    1. Sounds like people like your shop the best. I say screw the other shops and just put them out of business, especially since you already tried to extend an olive branch to them and were rebuffed.

    2. First of all, it seems you’re being the reasonable one here. I agree with many of the things you’ve chosen to do, you probably went a little farther than I would have taken it in regard to trying to work together with the other shop.

      I would ask, how long has the other shop been in business? Perhaps the owner has had a monopoly in this area for a long time and feels very threatened by competition, particularly competition that is undercutting his prices? Not saying that attitude is right, but it could explain some of the things you describe.

      When others are bad mouthing the other shop in yours I would still always ask them to please don’t do that. Explain to them why not: you’re not sticking up for that other shop specifically, you just don’t think it’s right to do that to others when they can’t even defend themselves. Maybe also ask the more vocal people doing this if they have any comments on your shop to share. Who knows, maybe they have some thoughts on your shop too that they might be vocalizing elsewhere and I think you’d prefer to know what is being said. Possibly it could be a good play to encourage people to make suggestions on how to improve the other shop to the employee/owner of the other shop, though I can also see scenarios where that might bite you in the ass.

  2. I agree with Justin. While it’s a great idea to have a good working relationship with fellow store owners in your town, some people really don’t understand this and there’s not anything more you can do (in fact you’ve gone above and beyond on this front). In the end the players will decide which stores stick around and the most important thing you can do is keep them happy.

  3. Nice article. Since I’ve started running the Magic business out of one LGS here I’ve noticed many of these aspects. When people come in to trade cards who don’t know any better, I always try to help them find the rares in the bulk and stuff like that, because that reputation is tantamount, and I’ve had several people come into my store (even though it’s more of a hassle to find a time I’m there), because they’ve had bad experiences elsewhere.

    I also have no problem directing people to other stores. After all, I even write for one of them (Wizards Asylum in Norman), and have a lot of friends there. We’re like 30 minutes apart, so even though we’re technically competitors it’s been friendly.

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