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Things I Learned in Other People's Stores

So when last week's blog post went live I was actually on vacation in Seattle. I don't know that I should ever use the word 'vacation', because while I was out of my store I never truly check out of this industry. Sure, I saw the Museum of Pop Culture, the Chihuly Glass Museum, the Seattle Art Museum, the Olympic Sculpture Garden, and the Bainbridge Island Art Museum... Wow, I looked at a lot of art last week.

My favorite vacation store on this trip.

But while I was gone I also looked at game stores. During the trip to Seattle I ventured to three game stores in the city of Seattle and one on Bainbridge Island. I go into other stores on vacation because I believe the hunt for perfection never really ends, and I think I learn something in every game store I walk into. So, let's talk about what I learned in Seattle this past week. Some of them are old lessons, but we can always use the refresher. The first trip to a game store in Seattle took us a location that was primarily a comic store. The front of it had some board games in it, which we looked at, and then we poked around some graphic novels, and then we poked around board games again. I'd guess we were there somewhere between twenty and thirty minutes, and from this store I was reminded a very valuable lesson; greet your customers. The employee on duty never looked up from their cell phone, and never said a word to us. I don't know if my staff ever reads my blog, but they should know that is a firing offense. (Seriously...notice the lack of a smiley face...) For a not large gaming selection I was actually impressed with how well curated it was. It's not the store you go to if you want something obscure from a year ago, but if you want an evergreen title, or something new and hot, he had them. I suspect he had some of them because he made no effort to sell them, so they sat there waiting for someone who knew exactly what he was looking for. Friday passed without a game store, but there was a lot of art. There was even this cool picture. I really like how she framed both of us in this reflection of Chihuly glass with the Space Needle in the background.

Saturday after a day of site-seeing we visited one of the board game cafes of Seattle that was recommended. I absolutely loved the cafe staff, they were enthusiastic, the food and drink came quickly, and while the queso wasn't spectacular, it was decent. What did I learn here? Mostly I learned that as awesome as a cafe staff can be, in the case of this particular store they're not responsible for selling thing. What I learned here was simple; product knowledge matters. I can't tell you about every product in my store, in particular every board game, but I can tell you about the ones on my demo tables, and tell you about the things I'm excited about and enjoying. So teach your employees the products you choose to put on demo tables. I'm sincere when I say I don't do this well enough. I put them out there and don't spend enough time making sure they know these games, just expecting them to learn them. I hope my employees are looking forward to staff meetings on early Sunday mornings where I make them play board games... I loved the play space at that cafe, and enjoyed playing board games and having a beer, but much like the first store we visited I wondered if the fact that they had some things I'm out of stock on to be related to the lack of selling that was taking place. We then made a trip to another highly recommended board game cafe a day or two later. Holy heck did I enjoy their retail space. It flowed perfectly, I felt like I had a natural course around the entire store that made sure I saw pretty much everything in the room. I loved the colors, I loved the flow. It was an absolutely beautiful retail shopping experience. On top of a near perfect layout the staff was friendly and knowledgeable on the sales floor. Seemingly every time we touched a product on the floor we were asked if we knew about it, and I think I spoke to three, maybe four, different sales people. We stayed here for about three hours, including eating a meal in the cafe, having a couple drinks, and playing some games in their beautiful cafe space. The service here was pretty much the opposite of what I received on the sales floor, and that was the only truly disappointing thing on this trip. This was also where I began to wonder about the effects of the minimum wage in Seattle. I have nothing but anecdotal evidence gleaned from a week of eating in Seattle, but Holy Maker, everything is overpriced. The food was just okay, and about $4.00 overpriced across the menu. It was a bummer, but as I look back it I find it was true of every place we ate out, and I can't figure any reason other than the minimum wage in town there. Finally, our very last game store trip took us out to Bainbridge Island. We didn't know that Calico was there when we decided to day trip to Bainbridge, but I'm so glad it was. First, after stopping at four game stores, Calico Toy Shoppe was where we finally found a cribbage board. We had searched three game stores and the toy aisle at two drug stores, and played cribbage keeping score on paper, before we finally found an awesome little travel cribbage board, or any cribbage board. Having been annoyed because I couldn't find something as basic as a cribbage board, I need to carry cribbage boards... Can we just talk about Calico for a second though? It was an absolute treat to visit, a visual joy, a customer service treasure. The work that Elisabeth Dahl and her staff are doing on Bainbridge Island would be sublime in any zip code. Their primary square footage is devoted to toys, and the selection of educational product was beautiful to behold. I've had the fortunate experience of standing in dozens of game stores, and this is one of the finest I've ever had the pleasure of visiting. Bainbridge is beautiful, and well worth at least a day trip if you are in the Seattle area, and Calico was the perfect little treasure to discover there. It was my favorite store of the trip.

On a beach in Seattle.

Let's wrap this up with a question for my publishing friends (and a shameless photo share from a beach in Seattle). I was on this trip with my girlfriend, who works in the industry, and during these game store trips I couldn't stop myself from laughing constantly. She couldn't walk through a game store without straightening up products that had her company logo on it. At one store she straightened and faced the boxes for Mountains of Madness. At another one she made sure Bunny Kingdom was attractively stocked. In both cases I was sad because I'm waiting for restocks on those product, but it's okay, I understand that those things happened. Finally, at another store she straightened up their very well stocked KOT and KONY displays, and I just couldn't stop myself from laughing. So, I have to know, publisher friends... Do you do this anytime you walk into a retail store on vacation? Or do you just not walk into retail stores on vacation? Next week we talk about demo tables, because someone recently asked how we pick the games that get put on the demo tables...

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