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Monday, November 7, 2011 #

Two months ago, almost to the day, I opened Big Robot Games.

This is my 4th game store (the 3rd actual Brick & Mortar store, in the 4th physical location.)

I opened my first store in 1999. It was called Roanoke Hobbies and was located in Roanoke, VA. I partnered up with a buddy from the Navy to open it. It was a really small space, in a terrible location, but the rent was dirt cheap. Even then, we built up a pretty loyal group of regulars and friends. We carried all the traditional fare: Games Workshop, D&D, Magic, etc.

After about 6 months, we outgrew the first location and moved into a space about 4 times the size. Most of our customers followed us over, since we were only a couple miles up the road. The ones that didn't... well, we didn't really miss them much.

After a while, the demands of my career along with some pretty serious differences of opinion resulted in a split between myself and my business partner. I sold my half of the shop and moved away. The shop got a rebranding and a new location and lasted for a couple years before changing ownership again and eventually dying out. It's hard work, especially if you don't know what you're getting into.

In 2005, I opened my 2nd game store: Reality Check Games, also a brick and mortar store. This one was located in Greenville, SC. Some of you reading may actually remember this one. I loved this store. The location was less than optimal, and the rent was a little high, but it worked.

This store had quite the assortment of characters... some great regulars, and some not so great. Some of the friends I made here are among my best friends anywhere. This shop was a lot of hard work and late nights. I was traveling a lot for Magenic during part of the time I owned this store, so that made things tough. The first few months of any new business are rough, and this one was no exception, but within a year it was self-sustaining and growing.

This store was open for about a year and a half before the decision was made to relocate to Minnesota. That was a tough decision, and while I don't regret doing it, I do regret the effect it had on the shop.  After debating for a while on whether to liquidate, move it all or sell it, the decision was made to sell the shop.  Unfortunately, the family that bought it didn't really have a good appreciation for how much work it was... and it crashed and burned about 6 months after I left.

I was in Minnesota for 3 years. Part of the reason I agreed to move was that I intended to open a game store there as well. I did, sort of. Retail space in Minneapolis was insanely expensive... way more for a lot less. So I decided to do an online only store. Since we were in a different state than the old Reality Check, we decided to keep the name (they had already closed by this point anyway.) I set up a site, filled it with product and started marketing it via Froogle and Amazon and via the Tech Community. It did ok. The site was largely flop, but the Amazon store did quite well. I kept that up for as long as I was in Minnesota.

A little over a year ago, I moved back to Greenville, SC. The first question on everyone's lips was... "are you going to open another game store?" The second question was usually "When?"

After nearly a year of planning (and saving) we opened the doors on Big Robot Games. That brings us to the beginning of this blog post. In the last two months, efforts have been focused on building inventory, growing a cusomter base and marketing to get the word out there.

Up to this point, marketing has consisted of:

  • Facebook Ads - I spend about $20 per week on highly targeted FB ads. I have a single campaign with multiple ads targeting different groups of interests. The ones with product logos consistently outperform those with the shop logo.
  • Sponsorships - BRG sponsors a local roller derby team, and has also purchased ad space in local yearbooks and calendars.
  • Word of Mouth - Good service and selection means people will tell their friends about us. That seems to be working very well.
  • Good Signage - You get what you pay for. A sign with 3D channel letters will get attention. Having a pylon sign by the road helps too.
  • Manufacturer Websites - get listed on every retail locator you can find. D&D, Magic, Warhammer, etc... all have tools to help customers find you.
  • Social Media - in addition to Facebook Ads, maintaining a store twitter account, a Facebook page, registering with FourSquare, etc... all drive people to you.

It's not enough to have a store full of product anymore. A good game store also needs to run events. Whether it's card tournaments, board game demos, RPG sessions, or wargames leagues... you have to give people a reason to keep coming back to your store even when they don't plan to make a purchase that day.

Not every day is going to be your best day ever. In the early months especially, you're going to have a few days that make you want to give up, lock up and go home. Use those days to your advantage... to plan new events, go through inventory, work on marketing, etc. Before long, you'll be wishing for the occasional slow day to get caught up.

Incidentally, on those slow days... DON'T go home early. You never know when a new customer will walk in and rock your world. I've seen a slow Thursday night turned upside down with a single purchase. Also, if you aren't there when you say you will be, people will go elsewhere. That might be the only shot that new customer gives you. Stick to your posted hours unless its an emergency... and if it is, leave a note. Your customers will only be as loyal to you as you are to them.

So, as I said... it's been two months so far, but in some ways it feels like I've been at this for years. Things are going good. Game sales, as an industry, are up quarter after quarter. When compared to going to the movies or out to a bar, it's some of the best value for your entertainment dollar, with plenty of replay value.


I've got a bunch of technical books I'd like to get rid of.  Some are more current than others.

3D Programming For Windows
Introducing LINQ
VB.NET Class Design Handbook
ASP.NET MVC 1.0
ASP.NET MVC In Action
FBML Essentials
Test Driven Development in Microsoft .NET
The Rational Guide To Building Technical User Communities
Expression Web Step By Step
Applications = Code + Markup

I don't really feel like dealing with the hassle of ebay (or Amazon), and I'd hate to just throw them away.

Craigslist / Freecycle both involve having strangers coming to my house....

So I'm open to suggestions.