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Video game stores need to change

I was sitting in the car waiting and watching a local video game store. It was a VGE store, locally run and operated. And as is on par with these video game stores, it was a hole. Old video game posters in the window with a big “SUPER NINTENDO” sign as though it was the latest and greatest thing on the planet. And a walk inside would divulge what you would expect; racks of used video games, a bin of DVDs, and random gaming crap everywhere. There’s something to be said for the hole-in-the-wall store, but it’s time game stores start to class it up a bit.

HITW StoreI used to work for a hole-in-the-wall (HITW) computer store, so I know first hand how they run and the mentality running behind them. They keep their overhead low by skimping on the environment. People come for the prices not for the store, right? In most cases true – especially given the clientelle these stores trying to get through the door. But I think it’s long overdue for a gaming store to style it up and actually have a video game boutique – a place that is a) clean, b) well lit, and c) just trendy enough to look cool but not over-styled.

What does that mean? It means you can’t let a video game person design the space. When you do that you get what we have today…with more wood paneling than you can shake a stick at. I’m a gamer and I know these stores. I can’t even tell you how many I’ve walked into and unfortunately they are like fast food places now. They are all uniform so you know exactly what type of vibe you’re gonna get and what type of people behind the counter you’re going to get. Some store needs to step up and shake things up.

BoutiqueThey need to rethink the video game store. Internet sales are hurting everyone, big and small, so they need to distinguish themselves in another way. I think that way is environment and customer service – the basics to any good (successful) retail store. Prices are important and they need to be competitive, but giving people piece of mind is very important. Plus…lets not forget the type of gamer the Wii is creating. Casual gamers. Right now these people go to Wal-mart to buy their games. For most of them this won’t change, but some might go into their local store if they weren’t afraid of what might jump out at them or what puddle they might step in.

A lot of stores let you demo games on consoles, but these TVs are usually on the counter and make it very awkward for you to ask to play and try out a game or accessory. How about we make this feature a little more approachable so people can have fun? Have some nice kiosks or some couches or something – think shoe store – where people can casually try out games.

Video game stores have also lost focus. Almost every store I go in is selling DVDs and music along with their video games and parts. Why are they selling DVDs? When was the last time you bought a DVD from a video game store? Or a music CD? People, not even gamers, go to those stores for non-video game goods. These stores need to unload the DVDs and CDs in the back alley and get back to doing and learning what they do best – video games. I want people that know games but aren’t repulsive – someone that has an inkling of socialness.

In short – We need a video game store for adults.

A place where us “old” gamers can hang out without having to deal with the new blood gamers. They need their place and we need ours.

17 Comments

  1. Thee Thee July 24, 2007

    Things that will raise the price of used video games: a) clean stores, b) well lit stores, and c) trendy designed stores. Why because it costs money to clean, light and design.

    On the rare instance when I’m in a used video game store I want concrete floors, used wire racking and a greasy guy with a 10 year old register. Actually, I just buy them online and have them shipped, but thats not the point.

  2. Brian Brian July 24, 2007

    That’s true. I don’t have a solution quite yet, but I’ll think of something. It’s all about the atmosphere, not the actual products. Create an environment where people feel safe, have fun and enjoy themselves then they will stay and buy whatever you have.

    Maybe more like a trendy bar than a shoe store. Sell food and beverage. Instead of pool tables and dart boards, have Playstations and Xboxes.

  3. Big G Big G July 24, 2007

    If you see that there is a market for it, open up a store.

    You’ll either make a killing, or find out why the stores are the way they are.

    G+

  4. Brian Brian July 24, 2007

    Thinking about it more, I will argue that it costs very little to keep your store clean and well-organized. A good coat of paint and thoughtful organizing will good a long way to making a store appear better than it may actually.

    People…that’s another story. It’s hard to hire good people no matter what type of store you run.

  5. Big G Big G July 24, 2007

    Keeping a store clean and well organized is deceptively expensive. You have to pay employees to do these things in your store. Good employees are had to find, and harder to keep.

    My payroll is my biggest expense. People cost even more than rent in the area.

    When my payroll budget gets cut, the first thing that suffers the most is keeping the store clean and keeping product in the right places, straightened and fronted.

    G+

  6. Jen Jen July 24, 2007

    I think a clean store is important. In fact, I am far more likely to stick around (and spend $$$) in a place that I am not worried about catching fleas in. That said, it is expensive and because they assume that it is mainly young men going to video game stores, managers don’t place much importance on cleanliness or decor. But really how hard is it to slap some paint on the wall and keep chewing gum out of the carpet?

  7. Brian Brian July 25, 2007

    Good people are always hard to find but keeping things clean is just not hard. Cleanliness and organize boil down to nothing more than time. Yeah, you’re paying your employees by the hour, so time is money, but they’re going to be there anyway — so if they’re not helping customers or have other specific tasks, they need to be cleaning and organizing.

    It’s not the cost of organizing/cleaning, it’s the cost of people. Which is my point – actually doing the cleaning is cheap and not hard. Getting people to do it and do it well…that’s another topic entirely.

  8. Big G Big G July 25, 2007

    That’s my point… It’s the cost of the people. The tasks themselves are not difficult.

    You have to balance having the right number of employees in the store vs. your sales. No retailer can afford to have staff that “is going to be there anyway”, especially a small store. If you have too many people scheduled, your payroll is going to be too high a percentage of your sales.

    I still maintain that the first thing to suffer when you’re trying to reduce payroll costs is keeping the store neat and tidy.

    The employee’s job, first and foremost, is helping customers. If you run on a skeleton crew, you keep just enough staff in the store to help the customers. That is the job that is necessary to make money. Having enough people on hand to keep the store clean as well will cost extra.

    I imagine that a used video game store operates on a pretty thin net margin (not gross margin). Honestly, I don’t know how those guys can survive these days. A dirty store is just an indicator that the market is barely enough to support keeping the doors open, and little more.

    G+

  9. Brian Brian July 26, 2007

    OK…so you have a skeleton crew – let’s say 3 people. One person always on register, a manager, and another person working floor to help customers.

    What does that floor person do when there aren’t any customers? You’re not sending him home. So he is “there anyway” and he is who you can put to work cleaning/organizing, even if for 20 minutes before the next customer walks in.

    Video game stores are even worse. They probably don’t have 10 customers a day for a regular 9-5 business day. And there’s only usually ONE dude at those stores. That guy is sitting doing nothing for seven hours out of eight…so let’s say 5 good hours of doing nothing. You can do A LOT in five hours…that’s more than enough to clean and organize. So then what? You improve what you have – constantly – and work towards the next big step.

  10. becky becky July 30, 2007

    seriously, how much do those “dudes’ make working those shifts? 8 bucks/hour at the extreme highest?

    Are there supervisors who ARE ABLE to dedicate their time micromanaging these employess while they are running the whole place by themselves basically?

    Do you think that the employee, especially when alone, will, on their OWN, “clean” anything but the videos off the shelves for their own use?

    I hardly think so… If anything, they are doing the bare minimum that the owner can pay them for and nothing else… and the owner, who is obviously suffering business wise as is, has much bigger problems to worry about if his store looks like crap!

  11. Jen Jen July 30, 2007

    At my job, we have a cleaning calendar and each day there are about 3 things that have to be done. We are assigned a job each day and we have to initial it. If it isn’t done, the boss knows who should have done it and if they don’t do it the supervisor needs to reprimand them. And I do not make much more than $8/hr myself and I do the cleaning that I am expected to do even when I am alone. I wouldn’t ask one person to clean the store top to bottom but small jobs here and there shouldn’t be that difficult.

  12. Brian Brian July 30, 2007

    OK…

    I don’t believe managers *have* to micromanage anybody. Sometimes it’s necessary, sometimes it’s not. I’m one that believes the supervisors have a big hand in determining if their employees need micromanaging. There are exceptions, but if you give your employees the right opportunities they won’t need micromanaging anymore, regardless how much they’re making. Everybody wants responsibility and challenges.

    And I never said anything about any sort of “suffering” business-wise. I’m not assuming anything about the money situation at a video game store, I know it’s not a lot. But as a customer I shouldn’t know if the store I’m in is hurting financially or not. Just by walking in the door I should have confidence that the store has what I need and that they’ll be there tomorrow.

    Presentation if everything. Period. Nobody wants to be in, let alone shop in, a store that “looks like crap” when they can go across the street or down the block for the same thing. Even if 95% of people that walk through the door don’t buy anything, I’d rather have them come back often and not buy anything than not come back at all. Chances are they’ll buy something eventually and it also puts that store at the front of their mind when they think of needing something. A clean and nice-looking store makes me want to come back just to window shop if nothing else. It’s like rock and roll — it really doesn’t matter how good your music is; if you have a good show and good characters, people will believe it, buy it, and like it.

    When everyone has the same product, you need to provide something different than everyone else. These video game stores have an opportunity to be a real one-on-one store — and most of them are — but no one over the age of 15 wants to go in there to shop because it’s disgusting and kind of creepy. What you get out of the experience is not worth the trouble when you can go elsewhere to find the same thing even if you’d rather not give that other place the business.

    The general public doesn’t care if they buy the items at a small store or big chain. They care about price and experience. Bad experience means I don’t come back. Poor value means I don’t come back. You could add convenience to that list, but I will go slightly out of my way to find something I want just so I can get it locally – especially if I need it right away.

    And lastly, employees should never be alone, ever. There should always be some sort of supervisor person at the store, even on the slowest day. Not just to keep tabs on employees but to handle customers if it gets to that point. By all rights the customer should rarely see the manager. They need to deal with the floor staff first and only see the manager in extraordinary situations, be them good or bad. Direct interaction with the manager on a regular basis undermines the floor staff’s ability and credibility and the result is a floor staff that never gets any better.

  13. Big G Big G July 31, 2007

    That pretty much sounds like everybody that comes into my store that wants to impart their little pearls of knowledge to me about how simple the solution is. From “You should just to through and reorder this whole section here” to “You need to hire more help” to “You need inventory control” or some other buzz word they’ve read in an article somewhere.

    They think that because they’ve shopped before, they’re experts in retail management.

    There is a lot that goes into running a retail store. Much of which you never will see. Painting the walls, keeping floor spotless, and keeping the shelves neat and tidy is just one small part. I’m telling you from experience (from trying to turn around a store that was struggling long before I took over), not simply expressing an opinion. When budgets are tight, these are the first things that begin to slide. It’s a big indicator that “hole in the wall” used video game stores can barely keep their doors open, let alone actually compete.

    Absolutely you’re going to know if a store is “having financial trouble” when you walk in. Especially if the store in question is a small business instead of a large chain like Target, Walmart, or CompUsa (who just closed all their stores). Why on earth would you think that “You shouldn’t be able to tell” Business, just like people, can only live above their means for a little while before everything falls apart and they go bankrupt. In an ailing store, spending money on enough help to keep the place sparkling clean qualifies as living above ones means if sales and margins don’t support it. It it comes down to eating dinner tonight, or paying a high school kid to come in for an hour to sweep the floor, I have a feeling I know which the owner will choose. If things are that tight, he probably had to make the same decision the previous day, and the day before that, and so on.

    If you don’t believe me, draw up a business plan for the video game bar you described in the article above. Do some sales projections, look at your overhead expenses, come up with some estimates for your payroll. Don’t forget to factor in taxes and insurance.

    If you think you could make a go at it, let me know. I’ll help. Maybe you can make it work where others have failed. If you can do it better than the mom-and-pop shop around the corner, go for it.

    In the mean time, suck it up and spend your money there. They’re not in “win customers away from other stores” mode, as you seem think they should be. They’re apparently in “Keep the doors open, and dinner on the table” mode.

    Priority to the owner could probably be summed up like this:

    Continue living indoors.
    Continue eating regularly.
    Keep shop doors open.
    Have something on hand to sell when somebody straggles in.
    Have an employee to help customers find items and ring sales.
    **Sweep the floors and make shelves pretty***

    G+

  14. Big G Big G July 31, 2007

    By the way… I do agree with pretty much everything else you said in your last post.

    G+

  15. Big G Big G July 31, 2007

    Bah… I have to correct an error… CompUsa Closed half their stores recently, not all.

    G+

  16. Brian Brian July 31, 2007

    I agree with your owner priority list without a doubt. I know it costs money to run a store, which is why I don’t want to start my own. And I know being a manager is hard, which is why I don’t want to be one.

    I don’t think local stores are trying to steal business from big stores, they are just trying to survive. I just think stores like the video game stores can jazz it up a bit. Style up the joint and see if it works – its about time to buck the stereotype. I just think a few hundred dollars can go a long way and not break the bank.

    Plus it just gets down to that I, if I was an owner-employee, would not like to spend my day sitting in a game store that is covered in wood paneling, has faded posters in the window, dim lighting, and feels like a garage. I figure if I don’t like that type of feeling, then my customers probably don’t either — but that all depends what type of customers you’re trying to get, and I would want to get people like me.

    I think Big G’s store is a lot different than the case I’m trying to make because a hardware store serves everyone – from contractors to senior citizens – so you don’t have the leeway I imagine game stores having. When you’re trying to target a very specific group of people I think you can be more flexible in your ideas and solutions.

    (We’ve shied quite aways from the fact that I was complaining about my experience as a customer in video game stores. It had nothing to do with business management, but it’s that’s half the fun.)

  17. colinT colinT June 15, 2010

    I definitely agree with this entire post

    For the most part, they do need to change, badly

    However in my area we only have 2 major game stores, Both being Gamestops. They are really nice and always have a few game demos for each console, people are always nice there.

    But I have seen some bad ones around too, Im just lucky with where i live.

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