As much as I love sharing my brews, I also like to use the blog to reach out to you on other things I have thought about, or still taking of, about the game we all love so very much.
Almost 2 years ago, me and a friend of mine wanted to open a Magic shop. I had so many wild ideas of how my dream store will look like and how I will set it apart from the stores I play at. Through the course of studying how to best manage a local gaming shop (LGS), forecasting cash flow, analyzing inventory, strategizing event mechanics, evaluating pricing (and prizing), as well as experimenting on schedules and what to do on off-peak hours, I want to share with you what I learned (which eventually made me decide not to go into the LGS business, more on this in part 2).
Before you read onward, a bit of disclaimer: I am not encouraging you to open a shop, or give up your dreams of having your own. I am not paid by Neutral Grounds nor am I bashing any LGS as you go through this entry. I am also not an expert on business or entrepreneurship. I am just sharing my through process the same way I share my deck techs with you. Ready? Read on.
Location is Key.
When you want to open a shop, the first element that will make or break you is where you decide to put your shop. The things you need to consider immediately before you start your lease or before you sell your kidney and half a liver to pay for the commercial space are:
- Does it have ample (or at least some) Parking?
- Is it Commuter-Friendly?
- Are there Key Landmarks that will help new goers to navigate to your shop?
- Is there heavy (or light) Foot Traffic?
- Is the place Safe for your shop and for customers?
Parking may not be important for 70% of your customers and you dismiss this because heck, you can still earn money from 70% of your potential customers, right? What if you read this statement as “I will lose 30% of my customers because they can’t come here.”, will you dismiss this that quickly too? The same rule applies for restaurants, successful once have a lot of parking space which is an up side especially if you plan to capture the family market. Same goes with Magic, not having parking space can sometimes mean not having enough players to fire an FNM. Whether you can afford 2 or 20 parking spaces, evaluate your crowd and check how many of them have cars. If they can pay high gas prices, imagine how much they can spend on merchanise if they drop by your shop.
Because parking is scarce, a lot of players don’t mind commuting just to get their MTG fix. Is your shop easy to access by public transportation? Is your shop along jeepney or tricycle routes? Or is it hidden behind tight alleys or one way streets that’s difficult to get to the other side? If your place is difficult to get to, chances are people will still come to you especially those who live nearby or are familiar with the area. But if you incorporate rain, or late night pre-release weekends and your place isn’t blessed with 24 hour PUVs, you might end up shelving surplus kits until rotation.
Is your shop near a school? How about an office that employs the Magic-playing type of employees? Is it near a bus terminal or a major train station? If you can get free traffic to run across your shop, that’s a very good spot for potential customers. Key word here is potential because if you think about putting a shop beneath 5th Avenue LRT station, it won’t probably out-sell the shop we know that’s beneath Vito Cruz station. Assess the type of traffic you’re attracting. Not everyone that passes by has the Planeswalker spark.
Is your potential shop located in the safer part of the neighborhood? Some players would gladly hand over their wallet with 300 pesos meant for their entry fee and a soda, instead of getting ripped and losing their modern deck with foil fetchlands and Tarmagoyfs. The robber wouldn’t know a thing about sleeved cardboards but you will surely cry like a baby if you lose your deck to a creep. For future shop owners, please consider the safety of your customers the same way you would ensure your shop is secured.
To some, their LGS is their home away from home.
If you want your customers to recommend your shop to his playgroup, follow my ABCDEF of good shop-keeping.
A is for Air Conditioning.
Please I beg of you, make sure you have good air conditioning in your shop. Magic is a mental game and its hard to make hard decisions if your sweating from scalp to butt cracks. We live in a tropic country where we only have 2 seasons: Hot and Hotter. Invest on good air conditioning. Here’s my quick equation for your reference which I nabbed from a popular A/C manufacturer.
- 1 horse power for every 30 sqm
- 1 horse power for every 6 people
This means if your shop is 100 sqm and you plan to fit 20 people including staff at one given time, you need:
- 100 sqm / 27 sqm = 3.3 HP
- 20 / 6 pax = 3.3 HP
- Total: 6.6 HP
This means for this shop, you need at least 6 HP worth of air conditioning. You can probably go down to 5 if your shop is not facing direct sunlight, is shaded by taller buildings, or inside a mall. Incorporate as well the reduction in cooling whenever your door opens/closes and people who bathe under the sun for hours commuting and enters your shop. A shop that’s too cold and be fixed with a sweater. You can’t play cards in your birthday suit can you?
B is for Bright Lights.
Honestly, a lot of shops in Manila are badly lit. Either because their is insufficient light fixtures or the bulbs are not the right color. Stick with white LED florescent lamps and you should be fine. Some shops go the fancy route and put drop lights, pin lights and LED spotlights which is cool and dandy but remember that non-LED lights can produce a considerable amount of heat and eat up a lot of electricity. Choose wisely. Remember, after 5-6 rounds, players can get pretty tired and reading texts on cards under unkempt 3 year old sleeves can be a drag. Help us out by lighting it up!
C is for Card Stock.
An empty shop isn’t nice. Imagine going to a 7-11 and see empty shelves, old stocks hanging, a soggy banana, a broken sundae machine and a Slurpee machine with a sign that says “still freezing”. As a shop owner, you have to make sure your patrons have a selection of items they can splurge their money on. At the end of the day, you are open to make money. If you are seeing your inventory dropping, make a timely order. If you don’t plan to open boxes to display singles maybe you can venture into consignment and sell other people’s cards on your shelves.
Because we all get our stocks from Neutral Grounds, we can’t help it if customs break down and delays our orders for weeks or months. However, you can compensate this if you think a particular block is getting a lot of hype (e.g. Dominaria), maybe ordering more or close to your shop’s limit might be a good move, and perhaps order less for not-so-good sets (e.g. Kamigawa). You can also sell items that are not carried by NG like life counters, cool dices, consigned custom playmats (act as a liason and partner with an artist/manufacturer), nice sleeves, deck boxes or other nifty trinkets that we all love. More merchandise means more selection. More selections mean higher chances of selling.
D is for Drinks.
I don’t get it why a lot of shops keep their drinks hidden. I learned from college in my marketing elective to always display visual temptation so buyers will accidentally buy what they don’t need. Drinks on the other hand is a very important factor in keeping your players hydrated, playing, and cool. You don’t need to hire a barista to concoct exotic drinks which is just powders mixed with a pound of sugar. Simple sodas, energy drinks, water, juice and ‘diet’ colas from the supermarket is more than enough selection to keep your patrons refreshed. Remember we live in a tropical country? Capitalize on this. The profits on drinks may not be huge if you look at it but the profit compounds over time. Sometimes people would even step in to buy a pack or 2, some sleeves and grab a soda. I’m Chinese so I like milking my customers dry so any chance I get to earn my customers’ money before he steps out the door, I’ll do it. You should too.
E is for Ergonomic Fixtures.
99% of us don’t care if the table is made from plastic, wood, or a rare endangered tree. We just want it wide enough for our playmats not to overflow, long enough to sit big and small players nicely, high enough for tall people not to bend over but not too high for kids to need high chairs. As for the chairs, we want it to be sturdy enough to carry full size men without slipping or breaking. Always get chairs with backs. If you plan to use stools because they are more space-saving, sit on one for 6 hours and come back to me with the same suggestion. Magic is a game played sitting down, please invest on good, sturdy, comfortable chairs.
F is for Food.
Some shops in the metro offer cooked food which is a good idea because most tournaments happen in the evening, around dinner time. But during my personal brainstorming, I didn’t want a wet kitchen that can prepare hot cooked food. Magic is played with the hands and I hate it when my opponent just dipped his fries in ketchup and sucked on his salt-covered fingers then proceeds to cut my deck. Keep the food dry with minimal preparation. I like shops that have visible snack bars where you can grab chips, candy bars, chocolates, and cookies freely and pay at the counter. The ability to choose what you like to eat feels awesome. I used to play commander and these games go for hours and you will be surprised by how much chips and cookies 4 players can devour over the course of a game. If your patrons want hot food, your shop will probably be near a fast food chain, a convenient store, or a corner burger joint anyway so they can get their meals there. The bonus here is your inventory for perishable goods will be close to zero, you won’t need a chef, you save your kitchen space for more tables, and your store is cleaner with less rodents and pests.
The last thing I want to share with you is by far the most important.
Your shop must be a community.
In Manila alone, you will have a Magic shop every 5 kilometers running the same events on the same days. It will not be enough to just take a piece of the pie. You need to make your own pie and really make new customers. Run “how to play Magic” events outside welcome seasons. Encourage your patrons to bring their siblings and give them a free pack if their siblings buy some stuff. Encourage families to come in (since parents usually buy the cards for their kids). You can have your loyal patrons but loyalty these days are fickle. If you can anchor your patrons through all the above, and add value by incorporating your shop into their personal lives, then you are headed in the right direction.
That’s it for now. If you like to talk more about this, feel free to talk to me. I learned a lot from interviewing shop owners here and abroad, and learned a thing or two from Freddie as well who owns NG. He’s a great resource if you plan to open a shop.
Stay tuned for part 2 as to why I didn’t push through with my dream shop!
Ciao! Hope you enjoyed reading today’s entry.
Excellent write up. I once had a very in-depth conversation with my wife about opening my own game shop. In my early life, I worked for a comics/game shop and saw all the things that worked and what didn’t. Like you, I to had sat back and did all the research, looking at the locations of every single game store, comics store, etc… in the area in an effort to determine the best possible location. Then came the research on property rental fees, parking, pretty literally the same thing you’ve outlined here. I had come to a determination that setting up a game store in my immediate area would not work. There is already a significant amount of competition and GOOD competition at that. Additionally, the most ideal spots were very expensive to rent a storefront.
Like you said, the dream can still come true, just may require relocation.