In and Out: The Friendly Local Gaming Store (FLGS) Experience

Commentary Business FLGS

storefront for Clem's Comics and Games of Lansing, MISince I’ve announced that I’m “taking a break” from roleplaying games, I’ve spent just under $400 in gaming materials, including:

  • Malifaux miniatures, cards, and core book
  • Paper copy of Marvel Heroic Roleplaying from my FLGS
  • Paper copy of Pathfinder from my FLGS
  • Whatever Fate Core Kickstarter pledge nets me 4 books
  • Whatever Malifaux: Into the Breach Kickstarter pledge nets me both books
  • PDF of Dungeon World
  • PDF of Barebones Fantasy

So, it appears that my primary motive in taking a break is not to reboot my creativity or something like that. Rather, it is to stimulate the economy single-handedly. While the majority of the above purchases went to Kickstarter, Amazon, or eBay, I’m pleased to say that I’m beginning a transition to being excited about my “Friendly Local Game Stores.”

Today, I’ll talk about this transition, highlight some problems with the FLGS experience, and brainstorm some ideas about how to improve the experience. I’m also going to call out my Intwischa co-editors and ask them to join me in a trek to a nearby city with a handful of awesome FLGSs!

I’ll ask you to excuse today’s post in advance for going multiple directions. I promise a fulfilling climax if you keep up with me to the end.

(Parse that how you will.)

FLGS, its a gas, gas, gas!

I’ve never really been one for the whole “local” movement in anything but restaurants- and that’s largely a function of my family’s diverse portfolio of allergies and the general inability of national chains to creatively adapt to people outside the norm.

I mentioned here briefly last September that I’ve started my own consulting business. The last five months have witnessed a transformation in my attitude towards money and local economy. While I’m still climbing the learning curve on local awareness, I realize that my dependency on local clients (and my affection for them) has translated to a radical increase in my desire to be a local customer.

I’ve complained for years that my community doesn’t have a great FLGS: to wit, I can go to a place that focuses on video games, a place that has a cranky owner, a place with a selection the size of my shin-bone, a place that focuses on Warhammer and model-building, or a place that literally distributes Jack Chick tracts at its counter and does not appreciate the inherent irony. I’ve used this as an excuse in the past to buy craploads of stuff from Amazon, but my main reason for doing this was really to save a couple bucks.

The Good Neighbor Tax

Four years ago, I had to put up a new fence in my backyard. I opted for a fence that was attractive on both sides, replacing something that was downright hideous. I was shocked when my next door neighbor willingly offered to pay for half of it, even though it was on my property. Now, I’m beginning to understand that attitude a bit better.

At the end of the day, I’d rather put those couple bucks into the pockets of my neighbors. The flipside of this is that I expect the “good neighbor tax” (the extra I pay to buy at an FLGS instead of Amazon) to provide an environment that makes me feel valued as a customer.  (Hint: Giving me a Chick Tract doesn’t make me feel valued).

I spent $75 on Pathfinder and Marvel (cover price + tax); a quick search on eBay and Amazon reveals that I could pick these same books up for $43 online.  $4.25 of that went to the state, and while I could have easily gotten another gaming book with the other $27, I feel good about buying locally.

Lend Me Some Sugar, I Am Your Neighbor

My recent enthusiasm for local business does not change the fact that there isn’t a great gaming store in my community. As I mentioned in the intro, I’ve gotta drive about an hour to get to a community with a handful of great stores. While I’m glad they’re nearby, it is disappointing that I actually have to drive to a city smaller than the one I live in to get this experience. It makes a geek imagine opening his own store.

I hope the pressure of the online market will force creativity into the local marketplace, helping local shops offer services that online stores can’t compete with. For instance, I’d love to see a fee-based game renting library that had “rent-to-buy” policies, or a place that let me purchase PDFs like Dungeon World and do print-on-demand on cheap-ass paper. (Wouldn’t it be awesome if stores provided “critical cuts” of PDF games, offering POD selections of the most critical parts of the book while selling the rest as a PDF?)

Take it one step further. What if an FLGS bought a 3D printer and provided services to customers for customized minis? I’d go there for hours just to watch what came out of the machine!

I realize that any FLGS is hampered by insanely tight margins. I hope this is offset in some measure by a passion for what they do. The good neighbor tax concept only goes so far: when employees are rude and don’t act like they value me as a customer, or when I feel like the mission of providing a great FLGS experience is secondary to another goal such as selling me on a “real” hobby like huffing model airplane glue or converting me to a fundamentalist crucifier of sinners, I suddenly stop feeling so good about “going local.”  A rundown of my preferred FLGS (and F1HDGS–Friendly 1 Hour Drive Game Stores):

*The prize for “favorite F1HDGS” is a tie between Clems’s Comics and Games of Lansing and Evolution Games. I’ve linked to the Yelp page of the latter, as their domain name seems to have expired; I sincerely hope they’re still around! They sold me my first one pound bag of dice. (For what it’s worth, I don’t remember the name of the first girl I dated… so judge my priorities as you will).

Speaking of the first dice I purchased, that prize goes to Rider’s Hobby Shop of Grand Rapids. I’ve shopped at Rider’s for almost 25 years. While the store that sold me my first Basic Edition red box is now out of business (and wasn’t local anyway), another place that has been supplying roleplaying needs since I was a wee lad is Argo’s Books.

One final shoutout goes to GrandLAN. While they largely focus on LAN video gaming, I have to give them props for hosting the meetup that led to me meeting most of the rest of Team Intwischa. This is also the site of the gaming company Gaming Paper, which is exceptionally cool. So cool, in fact, that I just placed my first order after drooling over the product for a year.

Editors, please strike “just under $400 in gaming materials” from the first sentence of this article please!

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