The hotel block for GAMA closes six days after you can first see this, and today I just want to talk about all of the things that GAMA has done for me, and the things it can do for you too! (And talk a little bit about preparing for the GAMA Trade Show in Reno.)
I attended my first GAMA four years ago, after two years in the business and not attending GAMA. First, I'd never recommend that approach to anyone. I wish I had gone to my first GAMA seven years ago, before I started doing this. Why is that? Well, quite simply, it's because I've learned so much at every GAMA Trade Show.
GAMA is an educational masterpiece, and while some people say the benefit is immeasurable, I'm forced to gently disagree with them. I came out of GAMA 2016 wanting to refocus on my RPG department. After steady increases I saw it take an 8% downturn, and by being honest with myself I was able to understand it was because too much focus had been placed on "The big ones" and not enough had been placed on all the other great games out there. We returned from GAMA with the primary goal of fixing the RPG section, and now it contains hundreds of new titles. Following that 8% decrease it saw a modest 2% increase from 2015 to 2016, and a 22% increase from 2016 to 2017.
(That number includes the five sub-categories of RPGs I track; RPG Books, Used RPG, RPG Minis, RPG Accessories, and RPG Dice.)
Before GAMA 2017 we identified our board game department as the one most in need of our attention. Too many titles were being released, and poor ordering (completely on me, own your mistakes people) had left us with too much of some things and not enough, or zero, of important things. The section had seen consecutive years of double digit losses in gross sales, and that was unacceptable. Refocusing on board games, what to order, how much to order, better demo practices, allowed us to take the 2014/15 double digit loss, and the 2015/16 double digit loss, and reverse them both in a single nine month period following GAMA.
Today I can look at the net profits in the RPG section and know that it paid for GAMA many times over, and I can do the same with the board game department in my store. Despite complaints that you can't measure the value of the GAMA Trade Show, my spreadsheets and charts kindly disagree with you.
Ready For GAMA?
Here are some things I think are important to do before you attend your first GAMA.
1. Plan your Trade Show You'll see the site book in advance on the GAMA website. There will be descriptions of every seminar available to you before you arrive in Reno, and I think it's important to plan your day. You should be getting ready for GAMA with some set goals in place. What does your store need to do better? Is there a seminar in place that can help you with that?
Every retailer to retailer seminar is offered twice, so if you see two seminars in the same time slot that you want to attend just turn the page on the calendar, they'll be offered a second time. Premier presentations are offered once or twice, depending on the publisher, and while some publishers will have two seminars scheduled, they might be two different seminars, not repeats.
Understand which publishers are important to your business before you arrive at GAMA, and make sure that you take the time to see their presentations. You need to attend a premier presentation in every time block to get your GAMA box of goodies, so just plan on several hours in that hall.
Come to GAMA to learn.
2. Don't skip GAMA meals
Your GAMA ticket came with meals. Sometimes those meals at Bally's were nigh inedible, and sometimes they were barely edible. I can't tell you what the food will be like at the Peppermill, but you're not going to these meals for the food. Choke down enough calories to make it your next meal, and talk to people.
Different people. New people. These meals are some of the best face to face time you'll get with other retailers during the show. Listen to conversations, participate in conversations, exchange business cards. Build your own personal network of retailers who are similar to you. I don't look at any of your as my competition, membership in GAMA makes you part of my family, and most retailers feel the same way I do about this. We're happy to share best practices, we're happy to talk about things that have worked or not worked for us in the past or in the present.
Come to GAMA to network.
3. Don't Miss Events I get it. The temptation to leave the Peppermill and experience some amazing part of Reno can weigh heavily on some of us. I'd remind you that GAMA is not a vacation, and you'll get more out of this show if you don't treat it as one.
Monday night from 6:30 PM to Midnight is Launch Party and Games Night. Every year I find some new board game on a table in there that I play, I enjoy, and then I come home and sell the ever-loving heck out of.
Tuesday night at 7:00 PM is the annual meeting of the GAMA Retail Division. In that meeting we'll make cool announcements and elect new board members. If you're a retail member of GAMA you will receive a ballot for those elections when you pick up your badge. You want GAMA to do more cool stuff? Take the time to attend that dinner and vote.
Wednesday night we get another game night, it's another great chance to find those upcoming releases and know about them before your customers do.
I think these events are MUST attend at GAMA to really be involved, and those game nights are educational opportunities we don't get often, a chance to sit down with publishers and really understand the best way to demo a certain game.
Come to GAMA to experience.
4. Pack Appropriately
I will bring a large suitcase, a small suitcase, a rolling suitcase (for my giant laptop if I need to get anything done) and a shoulder bag (for my small laptop that I use for presentations) with me to Reno. That's excessive, but that's how I pack most of the time.
The important part of that whole thing is a shoulder bag. I will be tied to my obnoxious shoulder bag with its IELLO luggage tag the entire show (but it has a luggage tag because I've left it behind in a classroom before, if you find it my cell number is on it) because it carries the things I need; my water bottle, business cards, a backup battery for my cell phone, anything you hand me, and chocolate. For me, that means Toblerone, but the point I'm trying to make here is that GAMA can run your blood sugar down pretty quickly, so try to prepare for those instances by carrying whatever your snack of choice is. Pack a water bottle, you'll find water all over the place, but you'll be much happier if you just carry it with you all the time.
Oh yeah, and try to leave some space and weight available in whatever luggage you bring. You will be leaving with a lot of stuff you didn't arrive with. It gets so bad at some shows that I leave a little note for housekeeping to please enjoy these board games I couldn't pack to take home.
Come to GAMA prepared.
5. Come to GAMA with the right attitude.
It's easy to complain. I know, I've been guilty of it from time to time. You know what though, it almost never accomplishes a darn thing. I'm old, but I've found that I get more done when I approach my publishing partners with respect, calmly share my concerns, and see if there isn't a solution that works for both my publishing partner and myself.
I last failed at this in early December. I was overly argumentative and placed the blame on a publisher for something that was happening that was not their fault. I destroyed a professional relationship that was important to my business and a friendship I valued. I can't ever apologize enough for my behavior despite regretting it deeply and wishing I could do something to fix it. All I can do is acknowledge I made a gross and horrific error and allow things to run their course. I am sorry, but sometimes that just doesn't fix things.
So, don't do it. :) You won't enjoy this feeling, I promise.
So, bring productive ideas and a good attitude with you to GAMA. It'll make every interpersonal relationship you have on every level much more pleasant.
Oh, and let's just be honest for one second. If I'm sitting in a seminar and a retailer just wants to argue with a publisher in front of other retailers and make a spectacle of themselves, I write them off. I won't deal with them at all anymore, because we should all be better than that.
Hope to see you all at GAMA next month! I'm getting really excited for the show! There has already been the awesome announcement of the early release Decrypto from IELLO, and there will be more early release and GAMA exclusive announcements made at the show!
Couple these amazing new benefits with past benefits, like two tickets to Origins Game Fair included as part of your membership, and some things that we have in the works, and the 2018 GAMA Trade Show, and the year following it, are shaping up to be just amazing for us as an industry.
Come to GAMA and say hello! Let's all continue to grow this industry in a healthy fashion, together.