Saturday, 13 October 2012

What makes a great games store

A few days back, Chris from Mark One comics and games posted this to the stores facebook page

“I think I've mentioned before my pet hate of visitors walking in to Mk1 in a brief moment of calm and quiet and declaring the whole day must be like this ... The chap who just departed seemed to take an inordinate amount of glee in observing my beloved shop's end of days so I picked at his thought processes further. (I don't know why - a masochistic streak?) I told him about our very busy morning and that the shop was in fact a healthy and spry 20 something year old business with many a plan for the future. I was told I am delusional and wasting my time and that retail in general and book stores in particular were a thing of the past. (especially in Victoria street he emphasized!).. Whilst telling him all evidence pointed me to a different conclusion, I asked him why this seemed to provide him such joy? Was he in fact the bad news fairy delivery messages of woe, crushing optimism where ever he would find it?

He didn't like being called a fairy.”

My first reaction was this

I thought, you go Chris!

Then I thought “Why is Mark One successful?, what makes it such a successful store with great longevity when so many games stores crash and burn”. Mark One, along with Jambo in Napier,  are very good local friendly gaming stores. They do a lot of things right, but they do it differently. So now I’m thinking, “what do I like in a game store”


A good store, like any enterprise needs leadership 

Several horror stories from game shops revolve around absentee owners and staff with limited authority and accountability. For a store to succeed it either needs the owner onsite, and emotionally invested in its success, or it needs an empowered and accountable manager.

The person making the orders needs to be dealing with customers, they need to understand what their customer base is interested in purchasing as well as forecasting and preparing for emerging trends. A bad store is one that gets on the band wagon way too late.

Good people, skilled people, Informed people (Not dirty students)

Too many stores employ cheap labour from students who hang around in the store too much. I like the staff at a store to be professional and to demonstrate care about the store.

If the staff don’t care about the store, pretty soon the customers won’t. If the staff are playing Magic the gathering or painting all day…. Well…. That just looks awful to a customer.

I would also like to know who the store staff are, even a simple shirt or badge to designate who the staff are and who the dregs hanging out in the store to play Magic with their friend who works there would be nice.
I want game store staff to do two things, provide good customer service and have good product knowledge…. Especially about release dates and when items are arriving. A lot of the time, when I want something, I want it on release, and I want to know when that is. 

What we don’t want to hear is “Um, I don’t know?”

This all reminds me of one of the worst game store experiences I’ve ever had. Out of morbid curiosity I decided to check out Vagabond in Hamilton. First off, the staff member was painting with 3 of his friends, not a good start. It took a while for him to show interest in someone entering the store (I got in the way of his painting you see).

We laugh at him, but if he ran my local store I would probably punch him
I asked if they had a copy of “Android” the boardgame, as it had just been released and I was interested in obtaining a copy. The “dirty gamer student employee mouth breathing space filler” responded with…. And I quote

“I haven’t heard of that, we only stock more hardcore gamer games here, perhaps you should try Toyworld”
I may have lost my cool at that point and told him precisely what I thought of his product knowledge and the state of the store. Never again will I go into a vagabond.

So in summary; don’t hire gaming muppets for minimum wage as they will stink up your store and make the place feel amateurish.

Selection… and the magic words!

For me, the magic words for a gaming store are
“I can get that in for you”

That’s all I want to hear if I’m looking for something and it’s out of stock. A store should have a good range, but stocking every item from every game range is impossible and impractical. The selection should be good, and it should be responsive to customer demand. But as a shopper I have reasonable expectations of what a store will carry.

A great store has good supply lines, can order at competitive prices, and contacts you when something arrives. Mark One goes one better.

I’m a 2000AD fan, and whenever a new trade paperback is scheduled to come out I get an email notifying me if I’m interested in ordering it. Not that my order is in stock, but that there is something I’ve said I want, and tis due out in 6 weeks and would I like it then.

I think this is great customer service and great business.  (It also makes me buy more as the prompt gets me thinking “yeah, that one sounds good”)


I don’t like dingy cramped stores, I like well lit open stores with some air circulation. Just because I smell like a ball of grease dipped in cheeseballs doesn’t mean I want my gaming store to smell that way.

Openness in a store is also about its staff and general atmosphere. If a store has a gaming table right in the entranceway that is a turn off. You have to shimmey past people to get to the product and it must be intimidating as all heck to new customers.

A store should be welcoming and you shouldn’t feel like you are intruding on some secret club house.
When non gamers walk into bad game stores,
they are feeling what you feel after seeing this pic
My partner loved going into Mark One. She has expressed before how awkward some stores make her feel with the cliqueishness of the staff and, sometimes, with the patronising nature of the staff to female customers. Her comments on Mark one were “It felt like a family store, they had a great range from mainstream comics to indy comics, hardcore game to family games, but most importantly I didn’t feel like when I walked in everyone stared at me and thought “it’s got boobs, whats it doing here”

She does not rate Games Workshop Wellington the same way and feels incredibly uncomfortable going into that shop for any reason.

Gaming Tables/Loitering with intent

I’m torn on gaming tables at the store. From one point of view it’s a great way to demo games and grow the community. From another point of view its an obstacle in the store and fills your store with sweaty gamers that can turn off casual visitors.

Mark One has no tables, Jambo has a bazillion and they both work.

Jambo has the tables behind the main shop area, so the gaming is occurring in the background. It’s like a backdrop of activity and isn’t blocking the retail aspects of the store. I like their approach. Mark One however, would have to sacrifice a good amount of space to accommodate a gaming table and I really don’t think it would work in that store.

The worst example is GW Wellington, big gaming tables completely crowding the store that are frequently surrounded by mewling children and sweaty male adult gamers. Having the tables front and centre is an eyesore but that store is a cupboard and lives off demos of games and store activities. It works for them…. But it really doesn’t work for me.

This is my personal hell
I’m leaning towards the Jambo approach, have some tables but put them at the back, away from the main store and with a nice barrier. It gives the store a gaming atmosphere without making it a roadblock to visitors.


So peeps, what do you think of gaming stores, what do you want, and what drives you up the wall.


  1. I have friends who are quite thoroughly working on plans to open a new games store/cafe in Wellington. Do you mind if I shoot this in their direction?

    Getting this sort of well thought out, well structured and presented information is what many stores need before they even open their doors.

    1. Of course Cameron, information is free and all that good stuff. Also, a games store in wellington needs to learn from WGS mistakes.

  2. Mark One should be held up as a shining beacon of how to properly run a gaming store. Anyone looking to set up a new shop in Wellington should really talk to Chris and get his thoughts on how to do it right.

    1. Although I can see Chris not wanting to share too much. With mail-order these days he is in competition with every game store in NZ. I don't think he would give away the secrets of the trade without some incentive :)


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