Sunday, June 18, 2006

Friendly Local Gaming Store (FLGS) startups & shipping costs

Yesterday, I also heard about a new game store that is going to open shortly up around the Jones Road area. While cross-pollination and competition between game stores helps the shopping crowd get a better experience, it also generally makes one or both stores go under. Follow my logic...

I think the Houston Gamers probably spend 30 grand on board games a year. This includes the 5 or 6 guys who drop a few thousand, plus all us "couple hundred a year" folks, plus all the Magic cards, Heroclix figures, comic books, and concessions. I think we are spending about 80% of the actual game money online. Catch that? We are funneling 6 grand to local stores and 24 grand out-of-state somewhere.

A few years ago when no game shop wanted to cut discounts and you could get free shipping and 55% off from a dot-com internet shop to order one game at a time, the figure was closer to 90%. Unfortunately, these days with President Jimmy Carter at the helm, gas prices have made shipping crazily expensive compared to the good old days when I slapped $10 bills on the counter down at the post office to mail 65-lb. boxes across the country for $8.25 and could then buy a comic and soda with the remaining $1.75.

I could be off in those estimates on store business, maybe by a lot.

Anyway, most geeks hate conflict, so they'll avoid whatever shop is being more vocal and rude about the other (here's a hint, owners: don't tell your customers your personal problems or gossip about the competition. One, it's rude. Two, it takes the focus away from building rapport and selling more games. Three, you might need the other guy to buy up the rest of your inventory, so don't make him mad!). Even if the Houston Gamers are splitting 6 grand instead of 3 grand between a couple of stores, adding more stores will dilute the cash flow even further.

A game-store owner I know said his break-even point every day was $500 in gross sales. Sure, that was a year or two ago and he was open 7 days a week. Even figuring for inflation, and presuming I'm wrong and we really spend double that amount, we're probably giving the stores about a month each of required break-even sales. Is it small potatoes? Depends. Us board gamers like to show off, and it's a lot easier to grab someone and get them to play Ticket To Ride than to grab someone and fold them into your 8-hour session of Dungeons & Badgers. On the other hand, RPG enthusiasts spend tons of money on worthless handbooks for fat kids pretending to be elves, and I mean that as someone who's got upwards of $250 in GURPS manuals alone. Books are easier to store, and more fun to buy... very few people buy Amun-Re to enact weird solitare games.

Even with that, most gamers aren't buying much at their FLGS (friendly local gaming store). They'll grab small games, candy bars, individual CCG booster packs when they need a fast hit of crack (*see item #4 on this page), and sodas.

Anything else, they're headed online, for the 25-40% discount they can still get shopping around. Of course, these days you need maybe $150 to get free shipping.

Would you rather pay $40 plus tax for Ticket to Ride in the store, pay $36.65 to Funagain (and need to hit $150 total to avoid shipping), or pay $27.75 at

Before you answer that question, you might want to read's current shipping policy:

"We have lowered our shipping prices for large orders when shipping UPS Ground. If you order $100 worth of games (that is before any shipping charges are added in) we will deduct $5.00 from our shipping price. If you order $150 worth of games we will deduct $7.50, and if you order $200 worth of games we will deduct $10.00 from our stated shipping price. This deduction now happens automatically within our system.This new shipping policy is for domestic, continental USA orders only and only for UPS Ground orders." Oy, that's going to be harder to comparison-shop.

This isn't a dig at any of the options. I have purchased from both Funagain and Timewellspent in the past, as well as from Thoughthammer. Uh, I think I got free shipping on all three of those orders, but only by ordering stuff for a couple of friends (again, taking money out of the mouths of the FLGS owner's kids).

Gotta watch the gimme-gimme mentality, as it's easy to go crazy buying online: the last time I made a big online purchase, I was enthusiastic about the first few games I put in the box and played the ever-living daylights out of them. I had a half-dozen I ended up not playing for a few months. Some that I bought on impulse turned out to be duds for my gaming groups, and I didn't get to play 3 others for more than a year. They didn't hit the table because DUH, I was playing awesome games already.

Penultimate anecdote - I'm all over the road here, swerving around:

Out of the 3 Magic booster boxes I bought on Ebay to split with my friend Tim, only 1 of the sellers actually came through in a timely manner and delivered what I wanted when I wanted it. Sure, I saved, oh, maybe 10 bucks. That was totally worth waiting a month for some comic book store jerks in Corn Country, USA to receive product that they sold before they got it, then shipped to me in a box with 5 sheets of tissue paper as protection. That is not an exaggeration. Honest truth, 5 sheets of tissue paper in a big box with room for the card boxes to roll around and get scuffed.

To hell with that, and to hell with those country bumpkins (I grew up in a neighboring state. The real problem wasn't that they were hicks, who at least would be obliged by their honor code to refund my money as soon as they realized they didn't have my game. It's that they were comic book store clerk geeks, traditionally regarded as amoral, bitter virgins, and truly didn't care when or how my product arrived). Both my FLGS owners know what's up, so they sell booster boxes for $85 plus tax. Retail price on them is $142.50 or so. If you call them, they can tell you how many boxes they've got, and they'll hold one for you until the end of the day.

Last question: Where are we going to play? The online store can't put up card tables in their storefront/mom's basement.

Answer: In the store with the best environmental conditions. I used to tolerate a lot, but these days, I need a non-smoking room, and there'd better be a working toilet that's got running water in the sink, not standing water/urine on the floor. Ideally, I'd leave without fantasizing about hitting the other patrons in the store so hard that they go into geosynchronous orbit, high above the earth. There should also be no overpowering smell of nerd sweat, cat pee, or any combination of the two.

In all other types of businesses, this is a given, but not at game and comic stores. Sometimes you don't cry when the FLGS goes under, because they deserved it.

If you do find a local store you like, yes, buy their products and don't a dick about it. If you can't, buy online and don't be a dick about it. See how it works? Either way, move on and enjoy the games.

Next post: Oh, man, I could really use a copy of Power Grid right about now...


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