I firmly believe that legitimacy in a certain market is about not just having the current, hot, product. To be a legitimate source for a certain market segment you have to have enough variety in that segment to become top of mind for the casual consumer.
I think of this in terms of book stores frequently. Barnes & Noble is top of mind because there are literally thousands of books in stock. If you open a book store and only carry the current and past New York Times Bestseller list you are not a book store, you're Target.
This same thing holds true across the various market segments that we as retailers put our fingers in. You're not a board game store with twenty titles. You may not even be a board game store with a hundred titles. I think of myself a board game store because there are more than six hundred titles in stock at any given time. This number may pale in comparison to some of our colleagues, and I'm okay with that. I curate a mix of current and hot with evergreens and we're happy with the mix. I am not a CCG/TCG store at all, as we do Magic, Pokemon, and Destiny in sealed packs, and singles for only Magic and Destiny. We dabble in the category and ignore dozens of products annually. We are not the haven of miniatures players in Denver, as we support Warmachine and 40k, but not much else.
Two years ago, working with my best friend, the incomparable Tim, we set out to provide legitimacy to our role-playing department. In 2015 we carried Dungeons & Dragons, Pathfinder, and Savage Worlds. We dabbled in stuff like Star Wars and a small number of other random things, but they were haphazardly curated and irregularly reordered.
Let's look at some numbers! We love numbers!
RPG Sales By Year 2011 - 100% (We'll use this as the baseline) 2012 - Down 18%
2013 - Down 9% (from 2011 baseline) 2014 - Down 1.5% (from 2011 baseline) 2015 - Down 12% (from 2011 baseline) 2016 - Down 8% (from 2011 baseline)
It's important to note that during this time the store was raising its annual sales total in each and every one of those years, and RPGs weren't pulling their weight. There was a period of time where I debated pulling the plug on everything but four lines. Role-playing was something that I was well-versed in when 2nd Edition was a D&D thing, but I didn't have the bandwidth to devote to turning it into what it could be.
Tim though still has a passion for role-playing, and together we set out to fix the department, and in 2016 began the process of legitimizing our operation. The last two quarters of 2016 accounted for nearly 70% of our role-playing sales during that year, and we were on our way to being a legitimate role-playing store.
2017 - Up 15% (from 2011 baseline)
The store is currently up 8% over all of last year, with 15 days left in the year. RPGs are up 15% from the 2011 baseline number we established and 24.83% from last year, and they still have 15 days left in the shopping year as well.
Being legitimate isn't just about how many dollars we're generating, it's about where we're generating them as well. Despite a near 25% increase in RPG sales from 2017 to 2016, the two biggest dollar generation RPG lines are nearly flat to last year. Wizards of the Coast is up just barely, an amount that can be thought of as about six core books. Paizo is down from 2016 about four core books. Those real dollar figures took Wizards from 40% of my RPG sales in 2016 to 32% of my RPG sales thus far in 2017. The Paizo change moves them from 24% of my total RPG sales to 19.4%.
Put another way, in 2016 the big two RPG publishers accounted for 64.83% of my RPG revenue. While the total revenue between the two is nearly flat, they now account for only 52% of my total RPG revenue. When I run a 2015 or 2016 report breaking apart RPG sales by manufacturer I get a report that requires far less than one page of PDF from Lightspeed. When I run that 2017 report I get a nearly two page report. Much like the board game market, the RPG market has so many beautiful products in it right now.
What did I spend to make those changes?
About $1,000.00, over the course of about two months. While we kept restocking the things we were happy with we worked the research network, scoured the internet, and checked every source for RPG discussion we could find. We added a handful of things from our normal distribution sources, and we placed two decent-sized orders with IndiePressRevolution, the home of random RPGs that maybe you haven't heard of.
We had considerable success this year with Ryuutama, Cats of Cthulu (now available from regular distro sources), the Cubicle 7 Dungeons & Dragons products (the Lord of the Rings setting in the current edition of D&D is brilliant), and with the products of Goodman Games, who were given some devoted shelf space and a marketing push with their own POP display (which was up for about three months before space considerations made it necessary to take down). Branching out into small publisher RPGs provided some width to the department, and that width meant that players again began to look at us as a place they could get cool RPG stuff.
The addition of used RPGs to the store also provided a new revenue stream and put some really cool things into stock without spending a ton of money on them.
If your goal is to be a full-line game store I think you have to be dug into the big four departments; collectible card games, board games, roleplaying games, and miniature games. You don't have to do every item in every one of those sections, but you have to do enough of them that you're top of mind in your local area.
Becoming top of mind in a department means new foot traffic, and more foot traffic means more sales.