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10 Elements of an Excellent Gaming Store
I don’t have a lot of free time. When I visit a store to make a purchase or to play, I want my experience to be enjoyable. Doesn’t everyone? Why make the trip to a store to have a bad time? I’m a customer—if I’m going to give someone money in exchange for something, I want to get the most out of it. Is that a reasonable expectation?
When I go to a gaming store, I look for these 10 elements:
1. Location. Is the store easy to find and get to? Is there adequate parking? Is it near anything else that I might find useful (such as a place to eat), or is it “convenient to nowhere?”
2. Size. In my experience, usually the bigger the store is, the better it is: more products, more gaming tables, more likely to be in business the next time I come back. Small stores aren’t necessarily bad, but they are limited by physical constraints: there are only so many product racks and displays and gaming tables you can fit into a shoebox.
3. Space. Is there a lot of room to move around and browse, or is the store jammed up? Are the aisles wide enough for more than one person to walk through, or do I need to get very friendly with my fellow gamers?
4. Hours. When—and how often—is it open?
5. Appearance. How clean and attractive are the interior and exterior? Does it look like a professional establishment, or more like someone’s basement? Is everything neatly organized, or is there lots of clutter?
6. Products. Does the store carry a good selection of 40K items (rulebooks, miniatures, vehicles, paints, modeling supplies)? Are these products consistently in stock? Does the store have games and products from other companies for those who play more than just 40K (or for gamers like me who like to supplement their 40K army with non-GW minis)? Does the store sell anything else—books, comics, etc.?
7. Gaming tables. Do they have any? How many? How big are they? How good are the tables: are they flat boards painted green, or have they been built to look like something you’d see at Games Day? Is there a lot of scenery? Is it movable? Finally, do I have to pay or enroll in some kind of “membership” to use the gaming tables?
8. Painting tables. Do they have any? How many? How big are they? Is there adequate lighting? Are there special “painting lights?” Are paints supplied by the store, or do I need to bring my own? Finally, do I have to pay or enroll in some kind of “membership” to use the painting tables?
9. Comfort. Are there adequate light, ventilation, and air-conditioning/heating? Are there bathrooms—and are they clean and well-stocked? Are there chairs near gaming tables and/or carpet to stand on? Standing on a hard floor for hours can be murder on your back, especially for us geriatric gamers. Are food and drink allowed in the store? Good stores will sell refreshments to keep gamers going during grueling tournaments.
10. Attitude. As far as I’m concerned, this is the most important. Are the people who run the store friendly and helpful? Do they provide good customer service, or is the store just some place for them to hang out, goof off, and make a few bucks? Conversely, am I going to get a hardcore “sales pitch” every time I walk in? As for the “regulars” who frequent the store: do they welcome new players, or have they formed a clique? Are they laid back, or very competitive? Have they developed and established “house rules,” or not? Finally, are they people I want to spend my free time with?
This is not to say that a store has to be perfect to be good: no place I’ve ever been to fulfills all these criteria. Certainly, money is an enormous factor: it’s hard to have a huge gaming store with lots of tables and racks full of inventory and high-quality employees if you don’t have the cash. But the best stores are not necessarily the biggest and flashiest. Sometimes little things go a long way.
Borderlands vis-a-vis my local stores
Location. I had to give Borderlands a pass on this one because even though it is far away from my house, it is easy to get to if you’re in the area. “W” is off a highway at the edge of the suburbs. “X” is near a mall in a metropolitan center, but a little off the beaten path. “Y” is in a mall in a metropolitan area. “Z” is smack in the middle of suburbia but you would still need a map or a GPS to find it.
Size. Borderlands is HUGE, about 5000 square feet, with 1500 ft. devoted to gaming products and another 1500 ft. devoted to a gaming area with over a dozen tables (the rest is taken up by comic books and other merchandise). “W” is dinky. “X” is large but doesn’t have nearly the size of Borderlands—commercial rents are much higher here in my state than they are in South Carolina. “Y” is a decent size. “Z” is small, but okay.
Space. Borderlands has plenty of walking-around room. “W” is crowded. “X” is a smidge tight in spots, especially during tourneys. “Y” has no problems with space. “Z” gets a grade of C because while there’s room to shop, the gaming area is tight.
Hours. Like most places, Borderlands and “W” have shortened hours. “X” and “Y” win this category because they’re open later on weeknights. “Z” has been known to have after-hours gaming (which helps to boost its grade), but they don’t always open on time.
Appearance. Borderlands, “W,” “X,” and “Y” are neat, clean, and are well decorated. “Z” can be cluttered.
Products. Borderlands has a full range of products, and they carry other stuff (mostly comic books) as well. Being an independent retailer, they offer products from different gaming companies, and if they don’t have it in stock, Stan will happily order it for you. “W” has a so-so range of products. “X” carries a good selection, but is not as extensive as Borderlands. “Y” carries a full range of GW products, but sometimes you won’t find what you’re looking for, like bottles of Chaos Black, which should always be in stock. “Z’s” product range is limited by its small size, but they carry a good portion of GW stuff as well as products from other gaming companies. You can also find more obscure stuff there, stashed away in a corner.
Gaming tables. Borderlands has over a dozen large tables, and most of them are visually beautiful and tactically challenging to play on. You can come by any time the store is open, crank open your miniatures case, and get to it. No registration, no fees, no hassle. “W” has one very small table and a few regular size ones, and the scenery is no better than what I have at home. “X” has many tables, but the scenery is nowhere near as nice as Borderlands. “Y” has no available gaming tables. “Z” has two small tables and some very nice moveable scenery.
Some of the tables at Borderlands...
...urban ruins (above) and swamp (below)...
...as well as desert.
Painting tables. Borderlands has places with plenty of light where you can sit and paint. Granted, it’s nothing fancy, but at least it’s available. Neither “W” nor “X” nor “Y” have available painting areas. “Z” has an okay painting area, but it is too close to the gaming tables. Make sure you aren’t doing any fine detail work when someone bumps past you as they move one of their units across the board.
Comfort. Borderlands has a well-stocked, clean public restroom. Best of all, it has candy (M&Ms, chocolate bars, things like that) and cold sodas for sale at a ridiculously low 50 cents each. When my friend Pat and I were there for Fall From Grace III, we were on the “Borderlands Diet”: eat a big breakfast before the store opens, narf down candy and soda while gaming non-stop, and have a big dinner after the store closed. Perhaps not the most nutritional plan, but it meant we didn’t have to take breaks for food. As fellow attendant Paul Hill said, “Food is a crutch.”
The gaming areas in “W” and “X” are not carpeted, which can be hard on the feet when you stand for a long time, playing. The bathroom are clean, but there are no refreshments for sale. “Y” has light, heating, air-conditioning, but no public restrooms or refreshments. It is in a mall, however, so those are nearby. “Z” has sodas for sale, but is not carpeted, and you have to drive down the road to find a place worth eating at. Doesn’t suck, but not great, either. At least you can use the bathroom, though….
Attitude. The staff at Borderlands is friendly and knowledgeable: they’ll ask you if you need any help finding something, but won’t try to give you a big sales pitch. They’ll also bend over backwards to procure your special order and will stay open late for gaming. The regulars are friendly and laid back as well.
At “W,” they don't make any special efforts to welcome gamers; 40K is a side venture for them. Staff at “X” are capable and professional, and can accommodate special needs. The employees at “Y” give you a hard-sell script that I don't care for. The folks running “Z” are a bit too laid back for my tastes; they need a more business-like attitude.
While the elements I've given can
help you analyze a store, ultimately, what determines the quality of a
place is their commitment to customer service. If the people who run the
store put the customer first, they can’t go far wrong and they will have
a much better store for it.
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© copyright October 2002, by Kenton Kilgore.
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