[Musings of a Game Store Owner] Like a Boss Part 3- STAFF

Running a store takes a lot of work. I’ve talked about it before, but sometimes I have to really spell it out in clearer words or demonstrate it in a way that I haven’t talked about before.

Having employees doesn’t always reduce the amount of work you do- sometimes it increases it by a whole lot.

Question – Staff

So…I’m highly concerned about the staffing issue. I understand that there will be A LOT of work involved. That most of it will, and should, be placed on my shoulders. My lady-friend just isn’t able to provide immediate support in that beyond occasional help for the reasons I gave. We’re trying to get her through her Masters and into her career and that will take the bulk of her time. However, I expect a LOT of time and effort will be placed on me. I don’t know of any stores that opened with a single person running them.

I do. All but ONE store I know of started with just one person running them. Most of them started up with weekend and evening only hours because the person running them had a day job in addition to running the store.

In our case, TheDude worked as a prep cook at a breakfast restaurant. He got to work around 5 am and worked until 1 or 2 pm. Then he drove over to the store and worked the store from 3pm-11. Then he’d drive home, take a nap, get up and do it all over again.  That’s 16 hours a day. He pulled this kind of schedule for over a year before he was able to quit the “day job”.

A store within an hour of us had a similar situation. The owner worked a 9-5, and then worked his store from 6-10pm. His weekends away from his day job were taken over by working his store. He routinely had 70 hour workweeks before he had enough saved up to quit his job.

A different store not far from us had a great financial situation to start, but still operated with a single guy running the counter for almost a year. That person was an owner, working 60-80 weeks on a regular basis until he and his partner hired a part time employee. The owner is still working “8 days a week”.

Those are just a few examples. It is not uncommon whatsoever to run a new store solo while it is just starting out.

The big thing to think about when opening a store is what your life is like and what your goals are. If you need a job to pay your everyday bills, that’s fine. There’s no judging here. But you have to consider when the store will be open, and plan for that. If your SO is going to be in school and you are working a full time job plus running a store, the time for you and your SO to see each other will be scarce.

If you are just running a store, and not working any other job, that’s ok too. You might have some free time in that case. However, be aware that most gaming fun times happen during the evenings or weekends, and that can often intrude into personal lives. (It doesn’t have to, but it’s always possible.)


So ok, despite all these examples, you want to hire someone. Cool, no judging. (It’s not something I would suggest, but do what works for you. Please remember that when you hire someone, you don’t just have to pay them. You have to set aside money for taxes and insurance as well, and report and send them in on a regular basis. Not paying taxes and insurance is a sure way to get yourself in trouble. Additionally, most states require that you set aside money for unemployment insurance in the event you have to let your employee go.)

Hiring someone is tough. Ideally, you want to hire someone that has similar ideas  as you about the way you want your store to operate, and you want someone that knows a product line or subject that you don’t. Best case scenario, whatever it is – sells. It’s nice enough to have someone who knows about L5R cards, but if they don’t sell, it doesn’t make a huge impact on your business.

When we hire, we hire for fit, but we do look for sales ability and product knowledge. We can teach sales and knowledge if there’s some talent there, but we can’t teach someone not to drive us up the wall.

Even if you hire the perfect fit, you still have to manage them. You still have to set forth expectations of dress code, how to treat customers, how to deal with campers, what side work you want them to do, and more. Management conversations are usually based on the relationship you have with the person you’re managing. We had a hard time managing our son for a long time, because he was our son. Things have improved lately and he has been easier to deal with. You may hire someone who is very easy going- but that might mean they don’t do sidework. That stuff isn’t glamorous, but it has to get done! (Sorting Magic cards. Sweeping. Straightening shelves. Stocking the restroom. Potentially CLEANING the restroom. Putting away terrain. All of this is side work that has to get done to run a nice place.) On the flip side, you may hire an industrious person, and all the side work is done, but customers end up waiting to be checked out because the employee is up a ladder dusting or something. You have to balance all the things that need to happen with the realities of who you hired and what their capabilities are.

As aside: It’s very hard to be an absentee owner, especially of a small business. I would suggest that you would be in the store at least half the time, if not more. There are a lot of reasons, but the biggest is: it’s your money and your hide on the line. Be invested in it.

I got the impression in one of your notes that you had lived in this area previously, but if I am wrong; I apologize. You asked about trust, and it’s hard to tell you how to find someone you can trust. I said it before, and it still holds true. I would suggest you hire someone you already know and have some sense of respect for. In a perfect world, they should be someone who can tell you when you are being stupid and you won’t get too mad about it. You need someone to tell you when you’re making mistakes. If you have a friend or acquaintance in the area that fits the bill, then hire them. But if you’re new to the area or you don’t have a ton of friends, your situation might be tougher than most. This sort of segues into the next part of your question.

A friend might be a little more delicate- or maybe not. 

Question :While restricting the product that I handle will greatly reduce the amount of “work”, as well as feeding into my knowledge base…would it be enough? As I noted before, I love CCGs/TCGs. I love table-top games from companies like Games Workshop, Wyrd Miniatures, and Fantasy Flight Games (and could learn Warmahordes, etc). And I like to play board-games. But would that support the business? Would that allow me to grow it? Also…as I noted in my questions – what would make me stand out from the next game store if I just had those things? I can give exceptional service and knowledge. However, there would be nothing unique about me. I want something that says: HEY! I’m going to Implausible Nature (funny enough, I’m wanting to make that my store name too). Brainstorming right now on how do to that, but even my hybrid ideas would take additional staff. Paying them is definitely a legitimate concern. I guess I might just have to bite the bullet and assume that I won’t be able to do that right away.

Well, you are asking two different questions here. The first is: what would make you different? The second is: would my specialties support my business?

I don’t know the answers to these questions. I think some market research would be very beneficial for you. Most market research can be done by yourself, without spending money. However, you may have to pay a search firm if you want answers you can’t get on your own.

I suggest checking out the Chamber of Commerce and the Economic Development groups of the major town(s) you desire to open the store in. Find out as much as you can about the metro area you intend to operate a business in. Sample data you should look for:

(make sure you include suburbs or non-metro areas that are within 30 minutes of your location)
Number of homeowners
Number of college degree holders
Average income of the area

If there is a college or major university, you want to include statistics about that group as well.

Number of staff/faculty
Number of students
Transportation lines (ie: car, bus, bike, train etc) near your intended location
Average income of the faculty
Average income of students
Does the college or university have gaming groups? How hard is it to tap into them?

You will also want to look at the competition. See what they offer, and what works for them. Try to get to know the owners, if at all possible. Most FLGS owners are very nice folks and want to grow the gaming community. They might be able to offer you advice about the area that I have no way of knowing. IE: December, January and February are dead because it’s cold. Or, no one goes to XYZ area because there are shootings there. Or, there isn’t enough business to support another store.

If you hear this- especially from more than one source, look at the numbers. See if they are right. They are probably trying to save you pain and heartache. Most of the time they are not trying to keep you from your dream; they are trying to save you a lot of time and trouble. (Yes, they care about their bottom line- but dividing a community that may not be robust is going to harm it for EVERYONE, not just them.) When you are done doing your research, you should know the area and its gaming scene well, and have a much better understanding of what is and isn’t possible. You should know whether the area will support another store and what you can do to be unique.

(Just an FYI, right now, the CCG and board game model is working fairly well for a pretty big chain; but I can’t promise that it will work for you in your area.)

Question/comment: Glad to get some info on the comics, as that pretty much confirms my lack of desire to carry them. I’ll let some of the other larger stores in the area handle them. They’ve been around for years anyway.

This might be helpful to you. WHY have they been around so long? What are they doing right? Can you learn from them? Use the resources you have available and make smart decisions.

Question: Do you have an online presence?  What about an online store (e.g. Ebay)?  If so, have you been successful there?  If not, have you explored it and why did you choose not to go through with it?

I hate this set of questions with a passion. I have a website. (You should check it out.) I have a very active Facebook presence. I have a great ability to reach people through my personal network which goes far past my geographical region. (My Facebook page shows a guy from Texas wearing my shirt in Virginia, as an example.)  But the business does not have an online store.

The long and short of why we don’t have an online store is: it’s a lot of work. The things we want to sell online (MtG) are the hardest to inventory. (If you own more than 100 MtG cards, you know what I mean.) We have an extensive collection of cards (over 1M) and the concept of cataloging them so they can go into Crystal Commerce’s system or so we can use Square’s new online store is pretty daunting. But once we get them into the system, there’s MORE WORK.

Someone has to check the online ordering format.  They have to make sure the item hasn’t sold in the store yet. Then they have to pull the item requested. If it is Magic cards, they have to take pictures of the items before shipping and then package them in such a way that they don’t get damaged in transit. They have to ship the items. Then they have to file the invoice and proof of shipment so that we have evidence in the event there’s some issue down the road.

Someone has to do that work. Just based on the business we have now, the BEST way to do this work is to do it when we are not open, so the work can be done uninterrupted. If we don’t want to spend more money on staff, that means myself or TheDude has to do this work. I think I have already explained the number of hours we currently work (and I have a day job for reasons), but adding more work to that schedule wasn’t one either one of us wanted to do.

In the comments last week, there was a discussion about the math behind discounts. I would like to elaborate on it next week. I think that will cover all of your questions fully and hopefully give you something to consider and move forward with. Again, I encourage further questions and comments. 

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