Am I allowed to write about this? I don't know actually, because I've been told I don't have an inside voice and that sometimes I lack professionalism because of it, but darn it, I'm writing about this tonight anyway. You see, our industry is plagued by the stereotypes that first infected it as it crawled from its Midwestern womb and slowly took over our country. The derogatory names we were stuck with as children for enjoying the things we do; nerd, geek, spaz, dork, etc., have stuck around. The belief that the people playing those games were socially awkward and unwashed has stuck around. The disgusting belief that adults who play games are just there to be around children for unsavory reasons. Even as gaming as become more mainstream, more popular with people who are outside of the middle class suburban boys who learned to play D&D back in the 80s and 90s, there are still stereotypes that haven't been kicked, and that we, as members of this industry, sometimes go out and encourage, accidentally or intentionally. Allowing those stereotypes to flourish puts pressure on the industry that it does not need, and today I want to talk about a few ways we can fight those stereotypes, rather than encouraging them.
Long before a customer wanders into our stores they've seen it from the street. Curb appeal is a real thing, and a professional sign goes a long way to make us look like professionals. But, that sign over our doors is only one part of the signage battle. Signage in the store should adhere to some ideas of professionalism as well. I love my regulars, and they might enjoy a snarky sign about shower time and the use of deodorant, but how will muggles feel if they see that sign on their first trip into the store. How will muggles feel if they were drawn in by your building sign, but as they approach the store they can't see in because the windows are covered in faded posters and no natural light is allowed in? Signage in our stores should help to replicate the shopping experience that muggles are accustomed to in the world outside of our stores. It's an easy thing to do that makes more people more comfortable with what we're doing inside our walls.
Words and Deeds
There is a certain customer experience in the outside world that I've seen many game stores, my own included sometimes, struggle to replicate. A customer comes into most stores, shops, and leaves. Customers in too many of our stores come in, and hang around the counter distracting the employees. This can not only be off-putting to new customers, who feel like they're not part of some club, but it can also lead to behavioral patterns that discourage repeat customers. The words I've heard uttered behind the counters of game stores, by employees, or around the counter by customers, are not words that are heard in a professional shopping experience. The problem here is that employees don't realize it sometimes, and that customers don't realize it sometimes, because they're hanging around the front of the store with their friends, and this is how they talk with their friends. Their friends don't care about the F-bomb, or the bodily functions used as derogatory words, but the people who come in and shop with you, those people do care. We talk a lot about third space theory in the industry, building a community that encourages your regulars to spend time, and money, with you. What we don't talk about enough is how to treat all the people who come in, buy a new board game, and then depart to play that game at home. Those people are putting money in our tills without the need to run giant events for them, if we treat them correctly, and give them a safe space to shop, then they keep giving us that money. So I'd encourage everyone to watch the behavior of their staff and their regulars in our store. We love our regulars, but we never want them to cost us the shopper who buys six board games a year because that person now feels uncomfortable.
Who Is Our Customer?
This is a great big professional rub in the face for me these days. The gaming community is more diverse than I can ever remember it being, with people of every gender identity and every racial identity sharing tables with one another because of the awesome power of a shared imaginative activity. Yet, I see this done wrong more often, in more stores that I visited, than pretty much anything else I can think of. Does your staff see a couple come in and greet only the male in it? Is there an assumption that he's the customer and she's just along for ride? This is such a gross miscalculation these days. There are so many more amazing women working in the industry, and partaking in it as players, that when you decide the 'guy' is your customer you've alienated half a couple. You'll find that couple coming in less and less when she doesn't feel welcome in your store. Almost worse, does your staff flirt with every woman who wanders in the doors? Can I tell a story? I was out at a gaming café thingy. There was food and drinks, and a board game on the table that we were playing. When the waiter showed up he got down on one knee beside the table, and just talked to the girl I was with. He didn't even turn towards me when he took my order, just stared at her. I'm glad he didn't ignore her, as I've seen happen in other places, but his treatment of her made me uncomfortable. We need to give respect and attention to every customer who wanders into our doors, but we also need to not be darn creepers, because that's a behavioral stereotype it would be nice to get away from as well. We have a fine fine line to walk these days. We want to build third space loyalty among the people who we see frequently, but we also need to professional and courteous to the customers we don't see regularly. Gaming is enjoyed by every darn person at this point, and we need to remember to treat them all as customers when they walk in the door. When you assume one person is the reason a group or couple is in your store, you've lost.
Professional spaces are welcoming to everyone. This a difficult balance to maintain in the quest for cool and experiential, but it's a balance worth finding. Look around your stores this week, please? If you see a sign they wouldn't hang in a Nordstrom's because it's snarky and rude, take it down. It doesn't add to the comfort of your building. If you hear language that you wouldn't say around your grandmother coming from regulars or employees hanging around your counter, put a stop to it, gently but firmly. When a couple comes in this week, greet them both. Talk to them both about what games they enjoy. Remember that the game they're buying is something they're playing together, and she's not just there because he dragged her to the game store after they left Lush...