In the the business world there exist multinational corporations with CEOs who we assume to be daunting, powerful, shadowy men. Then you have your mid-range, national corporations who always seem like they appear in every suburban mall, but you can’t find overseas. Excluding these, you’ve got your fun local joints; the places that have found a niche in your community and a warm, fuzzy spot in your psyche. Among these businesses, we find our local hobby shops, where many of us have met best friends, challenged ourselves, and spent countless hours of our waking lives. What is it that makes these shops so special to us? Moreover, what is it that a player wants from their shop?
Many of us have chosen our favorite hidey-holes for one reason or another: a friend owns it, we played our first FNM there, it’s close to our house, or they have an admirable trade-in program. As a business manager myself, I look for the same things I constantly strive to provide to my customers. However, hobby shops are often owned by passionate achievers in the field, rather than businessmen, which can lead to a disconnect between the knowledge portion of the business and the day to day portion. Thus, there are a few basic things that I feel set apart one shop from the next. For me, this is my list of must-haves before I’m willing to abdicate my search and admit I’ve found the Holy Grail of shops.
By no means am I suggesting that the shop I play in needs to be capable of performing controlled-environment experiments in stabilized settings, but I have seen too many shops in my day that unfortunately look like my two year old just finished trying to create a gourmet meal in the kitchen. It’s regrettable, too, that the more unkempt shops exist, the more the stereotype of the unkempt, unruly card player is solidified for those entering our community. Never will I forget the time I pulled up to my local shop to buy some cards, only to encounter a gentleman urinating on the side of the building. I entered to tell the clerk at the counter who responded with, “Oh yeah. That happens…it sucks.” Aside from being desirous of a shop on which nobody urinates, a clean and accessible bathroom, tidy tables, and swept floors make an immediate impression on the player. Beyond these basics, most players are understanding that a shop deals with thousands of small pieces of cardboard, but not letting your players see the sorting clutter will make a difference in the appearance of your shop.
As a player who leans more on the casual side of things, I appreciate a warm, friendly face when I walk into a store. Frequently I find the clerks to be all-involved in a conversation about the current meta-game about which I don’t understand all the nuances. As an adult with a disposable income that I would love to be throwing at you right now, a few suggestions would go a long way in making the store some extra money and making me a long-term customer. By no means, however, am I suggesting that the meta-game discussions should end permanently, but just that a little extra acknowledgement of my desire to fling money in your direction would go a very long way in getting me to return the next time I can convince my family that they want to drive an hour to look at cardboard. In future articles, we will spend more time discussing hiring and talent in stores, but there are some simple wants customers have that can be addressed immediately: a greeting in the first minute, a discussion of their needs, and a friendly suggestion at some point during the interaction.
Obviously what constitutes great selection for one player is likely to be different for another, but anywhere billing themselves as a Magic: The Gathering shop that has little discernible product of that brand is unlikely to get me to return. Personally, I’m a fiend for singles, fun tokens, and foreign boxes, so an impressive selection in these is likely to put you high on my list. When thinking about selection, I’m reminded of the time a player starting a store asked me, “What set do girls like? I want to get girls in my store.” While I appreciated the thought on his part, an overall great selection is what does it for any player. I lied, though, and told him chicks love Kithkin…
Well Timed Events
Players take time out of their schedules to come to events, so in my opinion, the kindest thing a store can do to repay that dedication is to respect the players’ time by launching events when they are scheduled. Sadly, I’ve only been to one store that managed this consistently, but you can bet when I have a weekend off and a babysitter, his is the store in which I sit.
If I’ve found multiple shops in my area that meet the aforementioned list of wants, it’s always going to come down to that “Something Special.” Sometimes it’s smelling nice, and sometimes it’s an awesome loyalty program, but it’s always that je ne sais quoi that sets the shop apart from the others in the area. I’ve been in shops with cafes attached, shops with impressive prize structures, shops with amazing websites, and shops with really, really clean bathrooms. What I would love to know is what is the Something Special that keeps you coming back to your shop? Sometimes a great specialty will make my other wants a moot point, and I’m continually curious to see the ingenuity that only locally-owned independent businesses can provide.