Over the past seven years, I've worked in four different gaming and comic stores. I opened one of my own with a partner. Some were small businesses. One was huge. I'm currently working at a game store franchise. I've seen some great business practices and some really terrible ones. I made a lot of mistakes, but I learned from them, and I'd like to share with you what I wish someone had shared with me and my partner back in 2012. When we started our business, we had no idea what we were doing, and we figured it out as we went. I don't recommend this approach
I'm happy to share my experiences with you, but keep in mind that your mileage will most certainly vary. Every situation, entrepreneur, town, and store is unique. If you're a game store owner or a patron, and you have experiences you'd like to share in the comments, I welcome your insight. Multiple perspectives are valuable.
I live in the U.S., so there may be major legal and cultural differences if you live outside the U.S. Even within the U.S., laws and regulations differ from state to state and city to city. I will not be covering any laws, except the occasional federal law in the U.S. that apply to almost everyone here. Even those can change, so always, always check legislation. I can't detail your city's ordinances or give you step-by-step instructions to writing a business plan, but I can start you down the right path and give you an idea of what to expect. I can prepare you for those weird scenarios you won't think about until they happen to you. I can help you avoid some common pitfalls. Hopefully you'll be able to learn from my mistakes without having to make them yourself.
If you have no idea how to run a business or where to start, don't sweat it. You can learn. Many resources are available for fledgling entrepreneurs, from local business associations to government agencies. My partner and I opened a new business in under two months, with under $40,000, no previous planning, and no entrepreneurial experience. We got lucky – we were financed by a family member, so we didn't have to make an official business plan or secure financing, and we were buying out an existing store, so we didn't have to find all-new fixtures or a location.
Despite those factors, it was still a lot of work. We had to research all of the laws and proper practices. We had to name the company, design a logo, and get a sign made and installed. We had to tear up and replace the carpet, paint the walls, put up slatwall, repair and rejuvenate old fixtures, research and choose a point-of-sale system, learn how to do bookkeeping, establish accounts with game distributors, and a lot more. I know, I'm not making this sound less daunting.
My point is, neither of us had any entrepreneurial experience. Between us, we had eleven years of experience working in game stores and zero years of business school, but we were willing to work hard and learn. We did it in two months with $40,000. If you think you need a business degree and a $100,000 startup fund, I'm happy to tell you you're wrong. All you need is moxy. With that, you'll figure out the rest. I'm not telling you to plow ahead on faith and grit; it takes moxy to be patient, do research, and make careful decisions.
Let's assume you've only idly considered starting a game store and haven't done any tangible research or planning. Where do you start?
Finding the Right Resources
In the United States, we have a marvelous resource called the Small Business Administration. Their website has a step-by-step guide to starting a business in the U.S. The SBA can teach you the basic steps; I'm here to give you insight about running a game store and the specific challenges you'll face in the industry. If you're not in the U.S., your country probably has something similar.
There are other government agencies to help you. For example, Minnesota (where I live) has the Department of Employment and Economic Development, the Department of Administration, the Department of Labor and Industry, and an "eLicensing" site where you can look up and renew necessary licenses online.
All these sites have valuable information for new business owners, and most of it is written in everyday language, not legislative jargon. Go to your region's official website and locate the list of departments. Look at the page(s) of any department that sounds like it might be related to business, labor or commerce. Read them. Take notes on anything that seems important. Bookmark the pages. Print them out, highlight passages, write in the margins. This is your first business textbook.
Do the same for the federal government. Here is an A to Z list of all U.S. federal agencies.
Don't be shy with the government. If you have questions after studying these websites, call them up and ask. These entities exist to answer your questions and make sure you're doing things right.
Look for help at the most local level, too. Your city or neighborhood likely has a local business coalition. Check out your local Chamber of Commerce. There might even be a co-op of local game stores in your region.
Lynda.com currently has 1,309 courses on starting and managing a business. If you don't have an account and don't want to pay the $25 monthly for a subscription, you can sign up for a free trial and watch all the videos you can in 30 days.
Once you know more about what it takes to start a business, consider the following questions:
- Do you have the time to do all the additional research and preparation that comes next?
- Is there a possibility you might start a family, purchase a house, move out of town, or make any other major life changes in the next few years?
- New businesses take years to turn a profit. How will you supplement your income if your store can't pay you?
- Have you ever worked in retail or customer service? Do you know why it's called "retail hell"?
- Do you want to do this for the next ten years? For the rest of your life?
- Is there room in your area's economy for a new game store?
- Do you have the emotional fortitude to run a business? Are you good at handling crises and making decisions?
- Do you have the physical fortitude? Do you have a strong immune system? Can you lift heavy boxes? Do you have any chronic health conditions?
These are not dealbreakers; you can still start your own business if that's your dream, but think about these things so you can prepare for your own unique challenges. Running your own business is a lot like having a child, so don't take it lightly. When you're a new business owner, there's no such thing as "off the clock." You're always mentally punched in.
However, also like having a child, owning your own business can be incredibly rewarding. It's not for everyone, and it's a lot of hard work (more than most people realize), but if you put in the effort to do it well, you can make it into a successful vocation.