Insider: Adventures in Vending – Knowing Your Audience

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If there were a no- or low-context way to become happy and wealthy, everybody would pursue this model and there would be no sadness or poverty. When it comes to making sound financial decisions, following the examples of other successful people is often wise, but the only way to thrive under your own unique conditions is to carve your own unique path.

The financial side of Magic represents a lot of different things, depending on who you ask. For a Standard player right now, the cost of cards might be a necessary evil to enjoy their hobby. For a store owner, it's how they pay their rent.

The smaller your scope for Magic finance, the less you care about managing your collection and who you sell cards to---if you sell them at all. The wider that scope gets, the more legwork you have to do towards understanding your audience.

Misjudging Your Customer Base

For a vendor or a store owner, your local player base should heavily inform the way you utilize your display space and run your tournaments.

Recently I vended for a tournament that was in many respects a disaster for the store owner. The event was a 2K Legacy Elite IQ. The store regularly holds Legacy IQs with 30-ish people in attendance, so with a little promotion they thought they'd try their hand at running a larger event.

The problem was that the regular IQs already drew most of the Legacy players in the area. A prize pool of $2,000 with the entry fee they charged would require 67 players to break even on the event. Attendance was 34 players.

The idea of trying to hold a larger event is appealing. The store has the space for more players, and indeed has supported 80+ players playing in the store on more than one occasion.

The problem was that finding enough people to play Legacy to break even on a 2K is no easy task. At this point in Magic history, and given the player base in the Twin Cities area, a Modern or Standard tournament would have been much safer bets.

The store had a Legacy crowd they could count on, but only so many people could be reasonably expected to show up.

I imagine the players in attendance were happy to play in such a high-EV event, but a store can only hold so many events at that steep of a loss.

Another example of an unsuccessful event in my area was when a store tried to hold its first-ever full-proxy Vintage event. The idea isn't bad in theory. Vintage is sweet, and full-proxy allows a low barrier to entry for players.

The store ran into problems when it decided to give away a Tropical Island, with little knowledge of the projected attendance. The manager told me his Legacy crowd had been begging for Vintage, but he didn't have a clear answer when I asked him what percentage had expressed interest.

I believe that eight people showed up for the event, which is not an optimal number for a dual land giveaway.

Again, those in attendance were quite happy, but gauging interest is often going to involve more legwork than asking around---particularly if you're going to promise a specific prize.

Some Positive Advice

The question of tournament structure and prize support for the most part only applies to store owners. Vendors have slightly different considerations. Expected turnout is definitely a factor, for a number of reasons, but more than that a vendor wants to understand the purchasing behavior of specific tournament crowds.

For example, when we vended for that Legacy 2K, we weren't expecting a huge crowd and we knew Legacy players wouldn't spend much time or money at the booth.

We wanted to highlight any cool foils we had in the case, but that's not something we deal in heavily. We didn't go too deep on the Standard display, and as such we didn't end up using the space we had much differently than at any other event.

As for changing things up, we're going to have to make some decisions for the Oath of the Gatewatch prerelease. For Battle for Zendikar we vended at two different stores, but for Oath we'll be working with three.

Splitting our inventory down the middle wasn't too difficult, but three locations is going to stretch an operation our size extremely thin if we don't implement a more sophisticated method.

One of the three stores we've worked with regularly in the past, selling Standard cards and a decent amount of Modern. Another location we've worked with less frequently, which features a similar breakdown of sales.

The third location we've vended for exactly once. Here we noted players were most interested in Modern cards, as that store doesn't feature much Modern inventory.

When vending, your bread and butter is going to be trade-ins. This is why you see vendors offer bonuses on trade-in value. It allows you to increase the value of your inventory without spending any of your cash on hand.

The less attractive your inventory, the more pressure put on your bankroll. Some people will request cash for their cards no matter what, but you want to be able to capitalize on any potential trade-in.

In addition, some people will only sell cards to obtain something else in your case that catches their eye. For many players, the only way to justify selling cards at buylist is by trading into something that would otherwise be difficult to acquire.

The major concession we're making in order to split our inventory is to bring the least stuff to our most frequent store partner. We see the players there all the time, so we can expect a second shot at most of the transactions we miss out on employing this method.

There are some players who only come out for prereleases, but for the last couple sets we haven't had very busy events at this store. For these reasons, leaving too many valuable case items at this location would be a poor use of our assets.

Our Modern collection is nowhere close to stocking three locations at once, but splitting between two won't be difficult. Anything we have in excess can be split easily, with cards in short supply going to our newest partner store, and any overflow going to our oldest.

It's an easy system to understand, but one that's important to establish conscientiously. These are the decisions you'll have to make if you decide to expand your finance game to a larger physical audience.


The bottom line is, as a retailer of Magic in any capacity, you need to understand your audience as much as your business itself.

The goal of any business operation is growth, and in order to properly grow you need to appeal to your audience. The customer isn't always right, but it is always right to cater to them---that's who ultimately determines how much revenue is coming your way.

Thanks for reading,

-Ryan Overturf
@RyanOverdrive on Twitter

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Ryan Overturf

Ryan has been playing Magic since Legions and playing competitively since Lorwyn. While he fancies himself a Legacy specialist, you'll always find him with strong opinions on every constructed format.

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