Friday, January 13, 2012

Is the Wargaming Store a dying breed?

Is the traditional retail model for gaming stores dead? It has been something my friend Ian and I have discussed at length and both agree that the traditional retail model is under serious threat from the internet and globalisation. The question then is this: Is that a bad thing?

I live in a town without a gaming store, traditionally I've bought most of my gaming products via Comics Compulsion in Christchurch but in recent years more and more of my business has gone online.  Now don't get me wrong, I have always enjoyed dealing with Tim and his team and they do provide good service but for more and more of my purchases I have come to rely on the internet.

Just before Christmas a comic store opened in town, so last week I drove into town (40km return trip) and ordered some BF product. They are first and foremost a comic store but have a smattering of RPG and wargaming stuff (Warhammer) and don't sell BF but will order it in, taking about 2 weeks (or so I'm told). Now I can get the same product direct from BF for the same price and in less time by ordering online or, better yet, I can order via the UK, not having to pay for shipping/postage and get the product delivered to my door in less than a week and save approximately $3 per blister! So, why wouldn't I?  (Note I did order a few blisters to support them and wish them well but can't really see me using them for most of my - rather limited these days- BF purchases) if I can get them cheaper and faster offshore.

  In the past few years more and more of my wargaming business has been going directly with the wargaming  companies- Warlord Games, Westwind Mini's, Perry miniatures, Gripping Beast, Front Rank etc or overseas based online retailers.  Some of the ranges I'm after haven't been stocked locally so I have had no other alternative than to use the manufacturers' online stores. Even so, in the modern age there is less and less reason to use a bricks and mortar retailer. I can buy Perry plastics, for instance, from suppliers in either CHCh or Dunedin at $15-20 dearer per box than I can get it direct from the likes of Warlord Games (and I don't have to pay VAT or GST). So it is getting harder and harder for the FLGS, who, as far as I'm aware, still buy their product from wholesalers (who take their cut) to compete for my business. End result is most of my, and the other local gamers, business goes offshore. Now I can hear some people say you should/ must support the local retailer or they will go bust, well truth be told the "local" retailer in 160km north or south of here. Here in NZ most gamers play at the club not a gmaing store and, in the case of TAG we are thriving without a local retailer (we have 20 plus players every week turn up to the club, not bad for a town of less than 30,000 and no FLGS!). Don't get me wrong, I do enjoy going to gaming stores once in a while. On my infrequent visits to CHCH I do visit Comics and always buy a few things but these days 90% of my wargaming spending is done via the internet. 

What's the solution? I'm not sure but I seriously believe that the old retail model if not dead, needs to seriously reinvent itself if gaming stores are to survive and compete against the internet retailers and online stores of manufacturers.

Now I know people will say you should support your local gaming store, and to a degree (much less than I used to I do) I agree but if you don't have a local gaming store then that isn't really an option is it? Also, given the current economic climate it gets harder and harder to justify paying for product that you can get delivered to your door more conviniently and often for less.

Thoughts or comments?



  1. I think you are right. The main issue I foresee with the local game store closing is they attract the younger crowd. And the younger crowd, as we know, is essential to the future growth of the games we like; especially when it comes to miniature war gaming.

  2. Yep. We were having this discussion at Southcon too. Nick and I's solution was putting a wargaming/coffee shop. Offer something that the internet can't. Essentially you are always going to lose in a direct competition with the internet!

  3. Exxactly Poochie- Tim does well (and I hope he continues to do so) by combining Comics + Wargaming & RPGs- you defintely need multiple inccome streams to be viable.

    The key woul be the odor of coffee masking the smell of the unwashed wargaming masses!

  4. The biggest barrier for a FLGS is that they are run by Gamers and not retailers. I have spent my working life in Electronics retail so I know what needs to be done to make a store work.
    For a store to work you need to sell items. For that you need people to buy. How many stores in NZ have a webstore for people in our country to buy? None do. So a store can only sell to people who can get to a store. Smaller market, lower volume of sales feed the need to increase margin to make business profitable which leads to higher prices compared to overseas.
    Maelstrom accept a lower margin and increased cost of doing business to get huge volume of sales. Thats how that company works.
    Most NZ stores will have old stock which no one wants sitting on the shelf. They don't discount it to get rid of it because they "Must make a profit!" but that stock was bought a long time ago. Its lost you money in not selling. Better to make $1 margin on it that have it sitting there costing you $10.
    I should stop now. I could rant on and on for days about gaming stores and how I would run one.

  5. The only store I have bought things from in the last few years has been Acorn Models as they stock the 1/72nd vehicles and paint I use. Other than that everything has been online as it is simply easier and cheaper in the long run (Aswell as the fact you simply cant buy what I want in NZ). I've always found that stores in NZ\Aussie simply overprice everything and never, ever seem to have a sale to make it even tempting to go to their store.

  6. Alas its not only wargaming stuff we pay too much for- the price of books in this country is, and always has been, a rip off. Most of my book purchases are done online and have been for years, usually they are half the price- no wonder Whitcoulls went belly up.

    I still use Acorn for all my woodlands scenics supplies and it is one of te few online model stores in NZ:)

    The Maestrom model obviously works and I am surprised there are no online wargaming stores in NZ.


  7. Would an online store in nz work? Why online from a local shop when online is as local as your computer anyway ?
    When I started gaming you could only buy via mailorder at the then horrific exchange rates, the "gamestore" was so cool to be able to go in and finger the stock and impulse buy! If the exchange rates crash back to those levels what then for online buying?
    What shops can do, is attract new gamers as you can buy off the shelf, rather than sight unseen (so to speak).
    They do tend to sponsor events, but will not do so when they is no benefit. Why sponsor an event when the participants actively tell others to not buy from the sponsor, but from X who is cheaper? Or even turn up in the store to say the same things to their mates during a visit to check out the latest releases?
    Once the stores disappear then it is entirely up to the clubs to attract new players, not something they are generally good at. Getting existing players to do something different, no problem. You need people at club level who are personable, keen, "normal" who can liase those new players into club, organise public events and the like. Currently many clubs rely on their "local" shop to do that promoting and then benefit from that interest.
    To be honest the wargame market is not that big, so your potential market is niche, rather than mass :-)
    No wargames club I have ever been apart of has had more than 60 active (regular players, not total number) members, no wargames event in NZ ever has the large trader set up like the UK, Europe or US events.
    So we could have a blog and text based community of wargamers in future, relying on the interest of an individual to get an event organised why even bother with a club venue when you can just play at each others homes by arrangement?

  8. Good points Stephen- not bad for a one handed typist!

    Down here with no store we have continued to attract new players- and have several 10-15 year olds turning up each week. One mother has become a member of TAGs committee after bringing her kids for the past 6 months. Our club guys actively encourage young players and often run games for their benefit (wings of war, board games, cowboy's etc) and we are seeing the benefit and see them as the future of the club.

    I'm not saying don't buy local-nor would I tell someone is a shop to go get it online instead, just trying to point out that the traditional gaming shop is very much underthreat from online (and overseas) competition and perhaps the traditional model of manufacturer-->wholesaler--> retailer--> customer is passed its used by date. If the customer goes directly to the manufacturer then perhaps retailers need to do so too to cut out the middle man clipping the ticket (which we the consumers pay for). The reality is this cheaper, easily accessible competion has to affect gaming stores (and by number closing round the world) has.

    Impulse buy is pretty much all I do when I go to the game store these days but there is less and less reason for me to go to one (the tyranny of distance being a major factor too) and so more and more I get stuff direct. I see no reason to pay $50-60 for Gripping Beast plastics that I can get for $20 cehaper online. Also, most of my purchases are of metal ranges not stocked in NZ anyway- Perry, GB, Front Rank etc, so for those ranges offshore is the only viable option.

    In the case of BF product poor support of Comics over the years (frequent failure of them to supply Tim with the product ordered) meant that for stuff I wasn't in a hurry for I'd use Tim, for urgent stuff I'd got to the BF website. And I know of several other people (CHCH locals) who ended up doing the same. Hopefully these days he has better support from BF but these days FoW product is rarely on my wargaming list as I have pretty much all I need.

    I'm not saying an online store would work- but the model utilised by Maestrom- large gaming store with regular events + strong online presence= a successful business model. Would it work in NZ? Not sure but there is no way I'd open a gaming store these days- I considered opening one down here a few years back but decided not enough demand down here and that it was much easier to make money in property for much less hassle- so that's what I do.

    In the past I have had DoD & TAGCON sponsored by Comics and have always supported them. This year I have not approached Tim for support as I do not feel I support him enough anymore too justify/warrant his support of us. It is also interesting to note that our DBA comps (and some of the CHCH comps) are sponsored by overseas (miniatures)companies.


  9. You have no idea how long it takes, and how much work spellcheck does.

    Your local club has picked up the ball in attracting people, which is what clubs will need to do more of I think in future.
    Local shops are caught in Catch 22. Hold lots of stock (costs money), order as asked (never on the shelf when I want it)
    Maelstrom is located in one of the densest population of wargamers in the world and promotes those items it has in stock. BF is achieving a similar situation in NZ, online store, regular events and promotions.
    Dystopian games in NZ is a current example. Why should I buy from a local importer who is making effort to promote it, when you can buy it online cheaper after having a look at his stock?
    I think wargames stores in general are under threat.GW will continue to mass market sell, like many toy companies. BF will use their website and promotions to work their products. In general wargamers have always ordered online/ mailorder. In the UK people apparently save up for their purchases for the likes of the wargames events like Partizan. It is a specialist hobby and thus will always be specialist sales as well.

  10. Given that Tim continues to thrive- and long may he do so- his model of comics & rpgs/wargames works well for him and he is continuing to attract players to & develop the hobby in CHCH- the infantry aces and 600pt games doing alot to new players for Flames.

    Not an easy business to be succcessful in these days though

  11. Having a website and webstore has two major advantages over not having one.

    It’s advertising on a global scale. Not just your local gamers can buy and experience what its like to purchase at your store.
    Increased market. To succeed in retail you need to sell product. The more people who have a opportunity to buy your product the more product you can sell.

    To say all people are price driven is incorrect. It does play a major factor in peoples decisions but it isn’t the only one.
    1. Price
    2. Range
    3. Availability
    4. Store experience

    Are the key things you need to be good at in retail.

    Price is the tricky to get right. Too low a price and you cannot make enough money for your business to succeed. Too high a price and you cannot sell your product. You need sell your goods at the price the market is willing to pay for them.

    Basic retail math things:
    Price of goods sold – cost of goods = First margin
    First margin – expenses = True profit

    Expenses is a broad term and I can go into detail about what that includes. The most important thing is to make any True profit you need to sell your goods.

    Example 1: Item 1 sells for $100, cost is $60, its say for the example is that your expenses are $10 per week in this hypothetical example. So:
    100-60 = 40
    40-10= $30

    Example 2: Item 1 sells for $80. So
    80-60 = 20
    20-10 = $10

    Example 3: Item 1 is priced badly (assume its shelf price is $150 and doesn’t sell). So:
    0-60 = -60
    -60-10 = -$70

    It’s clear from example 3 is that you lose money having your goods too expensive, Example 1 is great if you can sell it for $100 in your current market. Example 2 is where a lot of game stores fail. Its better to sell your item for less than ideal price and still make a profit than in example 3 where you lose money.

    That is just one item in a very basic example. Getting your prices wrong over an entire store has serious implications. The key is getting the sale in the first place. And a larger market = more sales.

  12. 2.Range:

    Range is simply getting the right products for your market. If no one wants what is in your store then its just not going to sell for what you need to turn a profit. This is where having a larger market is very important. If you have on your shelf a game where the local players do not want to play or they have bought enough where they need no more figures then another part of the country is where you need to target your advertising. A webstore helps with this and is the cheapest and best option to enlarge your market.

    3. Availability.
    You need products to sell. Having to order in everything is death to a retail business. A customer in 2012 is not going to want to wait to get there hands on the things they want. If its not on your shelf another retailer who does gets the sale. But the reverse is true. If the others are out of stock and you have it in stock your get the sale. A webstore with inventory will get these sales.

    Real world example:
    When Dystopian Wars was first released we Wellington games decided to start it. However no retailer in Wellington sold it so on the internet we went. Maelstrom had sold out of most of the core units so only two got forces together. Months later I found out that Hobby Hub had a huge range of stock but by that time we had all moved on to other games and other systems. If Hobby hub had a website with a webstore that would of generated 5-6 fleets worth of sales.

    4. Store experience:
    This covers everything that happens in the store and during the transaction. A well stocked and well lit store who actively grows the hobby is ideal. For a webstore to do the same you need to make it easy to find the products you need. If a store has both physical and webstore then the experience and style of site should match. Customer service is a personal thing and a badly experience will lose you sales more than items 1,2,3.

    This is just cracking the surface on what a store in 2012 needs to get right to be successful. Our country is small so we need to increase our stores Market. Don’t think the local city, think our entire country. The first store to do this right will dominate gaming retail in NZ. It’s an opportunity that cannot be ignored.

    I will leave you with a real world example:
    I wanted a unit of Fennblades for my Warmachine/Hordes Troll army. My local store failed at Price ($110 NZ which is about $40 over RRP). Maelstrom and Wayland games both failed at Availability. All stores had Range correct as I wanted the product they sold. Comics in Chch had stock at a price I was willing to pay ($79) a few emails later and I had bought the goods without even stepping into the store.

  13. Just to add my 2c belatedly (and btw Stephen - I was introduced to wargaming by a mate @ primary school, got most of my hobby contact via magazines from the library, and bought my gaming stuff from models shops and department stores. Clubs were there too but I was a bit young for that!) - Lintman is spot-on about the store elements.

    Lets leave price out of it for a second here (I think that is one of those justifications too often used to avoid hard reflection), and think about the rest. Since it is story time, I have one that combines multiple elements from the above. I have actually made a special trip across town to go to Comics to buy BF stuff, only to have to order it in.... but I cannot order it from them because they have no catalogs and their best suggestion was that I go home, look it up on the net, at y'know - a webstore - (I wish I was making this up, at least now I could have looked it up on my phone) and then make another trip back in to order it. The salesperson didn't seem to find anything out of the ordinary in what they were suggesting, even when I queried it to make sure I had heard correctly.

    I think a blog based network of gamers who play in their own homes seems like a capital idea but don't we already have one? It's not like all of these different models mentioned are strict alternatives.

  14. I must admit I get 90% of my stuff from online sellers like Maelstrom and Wayland, maybe 5% on auction sites like trademe or ebay, and maybe 5% from 'local' stores... As you say why would I pay more to buy it here in NZ when I can get them online cheaper than stores here and shipped for free?

    The only thing I routinely buy from local stores are the paints as I am not prepared to wait for paint, if I run out, I want a replacement pot there and then... BTW I HATE the new GW style paint containers - the lids dont stay open for you to dip you brush in, and if you force them back the paint all runs down the back of the paint pot, and thus all over your hands when you close the lid after use... grrr - someone at GW should be shot!

  15. Interesting blog and comments. I'm a UK based retailer and we trade from a bricks and mortar store as well as online. I'd agree with much of what has been said previously. My view is that people will travel to a b'n'm store even in the UK if the range is right. We stock everything in the Warhammer, Warmachine, Flames of War, Dystopian Wars, Malifaux and the main historicals like Warlord and Perry. To get a view of the inside of the store check out
    If you travel 50 miles to my store with a list of a couple of dozen Warmachine models you want, and I can supply all of them off the shelf, you'll probably come back. If a couple of items are on an order that's due in within the next few days and I deliver them free by mail in the next week most people are happy with that.
    Where stores come unstuck, and I suspect its the same the world over, is when they've only got two of the two dozen items you want. You'll then question the cost of the journey and your time and are unlikely to do it again.
    How does WarGameStore compete with UK based internet retailers? First off we are one, albeit in a fairly small way. Secondly we do what very few retailers do and that's invest in stock on the shelves. if you've checked out the Google virtual tour referred to above you've now got some idea of what I'm talking about. That amount of wargaming stock costs the sort of money that most stores are not prepared to invest. If you can't offer it in stock today you'll never get a customer to visit twice. WarGameStore is primarily focussed on being the very best bricks and mortar store we can be. We do internet retail as well but not on a scale that compromises our store service. We've now found that many store regulars also order online and many online customers come to the store once they realise what we have here.
    Traditional retail is alive and well.