[Musings of a Game Store Owner] Like a Boss Part 1

I’ve been talking for a very long time off and on with Emperor Laeroth of Implausible Nature about wanting to own a game store and be his own boss.

Because he has been nothing short of incredibly kind, generous and direct with me, I am thrilled to assist him in his quest. While I was researching, learning and trying desperately to understand my glorious Battle Brothers, Laeroth was the absolute SOUL of decency and gave me nothing but time, attention and encouragement. I’ll try to speak completely plainly, because the Emperor talked to me in plain language even a 5 year old could understand.

So, on to his questions.

1) I know that most people say that you should have funds for 1-2 years to cover expenses of living prior to starting a business.  That is assuming zero business profit and allowing the business to grow.  However, is that accurate?  If so, how did you go about accomplishing that number?  Did you save prior to?  Or did you get that as part of the bank loan (assuming you did that) you took?

I’ll start at the end. No, we did not get a bank loan. No, we didn’t save prior. We had absolutely no savings whatsoever when we began operations.

HOWEVER, we bought an existing business. It had already been running for a year and was paying its own way (but not much else); so we felt pretty good about taking it on in those circumstances.

For anyone starting from scratch, I would say you need no LESS than 6 months, if not more. If you are getting a bank loan, try for a HELOC of $25K or so. I’ll talk about why in another installment.

2) If you don’t mind me asking, what was the ballpark dollar amount that you both needed to start up?

We were an unusual situation in that we bought an existing business. Our starting cash was pretty minimal because the prior owner wanted out more than they wanted money. This doesn’t happen a lot, so don’t plan on it. In your situation, I would say 10-20 grand isn’t too far from the mark. Again, I will get to why later.

3) I anticipate having to staff this store upon opening.  Any support (in time and assistance) from significant other will be minimal due to their own schooling/career.  I’ve been told that those employees should fill any needs that I don’t currently possess.  For example, I’m fairly knowledgeable about CCG’s (i.e. Magic) and table-top games.  But I know next to nothing in regards to comic books and paper-pen RPG’s.  So hiring someone with these bases would be preferable.  However, my concern is one of trust.  Especially in a new store.  Have you had any issues with employees in your store?

I won’t lie. This right here, scares me. I would NEVER, NEVER, NEVER in a million years tell someone just starting out to hire someone. Never.

When you are staring a business of any kind, you should anticipate doing all o the work – building the customer base, ordering, stocking, branding, etc for the first year if not more. Something like 80% of small businesses fail in the first five years. The first two are more likely than not to be in the red rather than ahead- and it’s very hard to pay employees when you don’t make any money. You can always pay yourself from profits (if any) when you work for yourself, but trying to pay staff when there is no money coming in is a very tough thing to do. It’s even harder to convince someone to take a job on the idea that money will happen “sooner or later”.

Does not work with people depending on you for income. 

However, if you hire someone, make it someone you know and trust. The people that work for me and TheDude are: our son and our two semi-adopted “kids”. We don’t hire anyone that hasn’t been a member of our community for at least a year, and usually longer. We pick them, not the other way around. (IE we tell them to apply rather than them applying.) One of them is so much like a family member we paid for her wedding dress as a gift. The other is one of three non family adults I trust to drive my teen daughter anywhere. (And let me tell you, this girl is more precious to me than gold. I have been known to absolutely lose my sanity over her safety, so trusting someone with it is a BIG deal.) 

How do you find people you trust? Ideally, you already know them; and they either game or are geeky enough that gamers don’t bother them. If you MUST hire someone you don’t know- do practical interviewing where they can show you how they sell, talk to customers, etc. And then get to know them outside of work, because these people will be holding your livelihood. (But I wouldn’t hire so soon, that’s me.)

Additionally, I would not advise anyone just starting out to get into lines of business that they don’t know a lot about. It’s dangerous and costly. The lines you DO know (Magic, board games, I would ASSUME some miniatures) can probably get you started. If you do them well, you can make some nice money.

I’ll tell you a dirty secret- Magic practically prints cash. It’s well worth doing if you know anything about it. If you don’t; then wait. It will happen. Other CCGs are similar, depending on the number of stores in your area that sell them and availability. I WILL say that some of them are a royal, all out, complete and total pain in the ASS to get sanctioning and approval to run events for. (HELLO KONAMI  >.< )

Pen and Paper RPGS aren’t TOO dangerous or expensive, really. It’s just important to know what sells and not over order because those books are heavy and cost a fuck ton to store if they don’t sell.

It’s comic books that you want to watch out for. Honestly and with all truth, I would rather invest in the stock market than sell comics based on what I know. I don’t know a lot, but it’s enough to tell me I do NOT want that liability. It’s a KILLER.

Comic books have a ton of problems. The first is: Diamond.

Diamond is the only national distributor out there. Either you deal with them or you deal with tiny chump change guys that can’t get you what you want all the time. Their terms are fierce. They don’t negotiate. They don’t cut deals. You do what they say, or no comics.

What’s so bad about that? Well, that’s the second problem. TIME.

You pre-order, months (or years) in advance. You pay in advance. You HOPE that the comic is still 1) in business and 2) still publishing by the time you get them. You hope your customers are still interested and haven’t found some new shiney to tide them over while Artist X had an OD or Author Y screwed the owner’s daughter and got canned. (This stuff has happened, for real.) You hope YOU are in business. You hope they haven’t ordered online, direct with Diamond (for a DISCOUNT. Fuckers) Comics are a LOT of hoping and waiting. And they are expensive. Don’t do it man, not unless you have a crapton of money to waste.

There are a few more questions I’ll address next week, along with more details as I promised. I hope you guys will chime in and ask away, or send advice to a new owner so that Laeroth can start plugging away at his dream.

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