FLGS!

Gesundheit!

If for some reason that is your reaction to the title I will explain. FLGS is an acronym for Friendly Local Game Store. If you’re lucky you have one, but for the most part they are a dying breed.

I am surprised looking back on it that my small city had and actually still has an operating FLGS. And I don’t mean a place that also sells hobby games in addition to say, comic books, but a dedicated game store. Given I grew up in an ultra conservative city snuggled in the bosom of the bible belt, it’s a bit baffling. It’s the sort of place where people still believe D&D is an introduction to demon worshiping and Harry Potter is teaching children witchcraft through pseudo Latin. Being the one refuge of the nerd/geek/gamer culture keeps it afloat I suppose.

As I said the FLGS is a dying breed. Some blame the internet and places like Amazon, and rightly so. Mass volume and not having to operate a brick and mortar storefront makes for some seriously cheaper inventory. Over the weekend I purchased a copy of the Savage Worlds Explorer’s Edition Deluxe. Basically it’s a softcover version of the revised core rules in reader’s digest size. Mo’ Portable is Mo’ Better when it comes to RPG rulebooks. Anyhow, it was $17 bucks at the FLGS but it’s almost half the price at Amazon.

But the internet is not the sole reason for many FLGS failures, rather it is an effect hastening the end for many FLGS and comic shops. The truth is a good number of them simply aren’t able to compete. It’s a mixture of many factors. Likely the largest culprit is simple business acumen. Honestly the people who open game stores and comic shops are people with a ravenous love of true ‘otaku’ level for their hobby. A very small percentage of these people have any sort of business experience or knowledge in owning and operating a small business. It’s a trial by fire. Before the internet it was much easier for these businesses to get by, limping on the crutch of monopoly. Where else could the average person go to get gaming supplies and comics?

There was no need to rectify poor business practice or bad business models. Hell, I doubt most people even knew the severity of their position before the internet made competition global. Different entities are ravenously competing for the same slice of the pie. Unfortunately for places like the FLGS their geek target market also happens to be tech savvy and the internet is so inviting (if you’re like me you probably know someone with an unhealthy love for Kickstarter).

On the other hand some stores are thriving. The FLGS I visited over the weekend just moved into a new shop in the same shopping center. Their new location is HUGE for a game store. It is the size grocery store. Where so many have failed this store seems to not only be succeeding but thriving. Their store has three separated game play areas (RPGs, Miniatures War Gaming, Board/Card games).

One part of the equation is inclusion rather than exclusion. In comparison I used to run Fourth Edition D&D Encounters and a headed a score of RPG regulars organizing weekend games at an FLGS. At first it went well, then as we grew it became too difficult to play in the main area on Sundays due to card tournaments the shop hosted. ‘Card Flippers’ can be ridiculously loud and for some reason there is a minimum 1:1 ratio of people actually playing to those standing around. Strangeness aside, the shop reorganized (it was in dire need) and opened a space in the back of the shop for RPGs/War Gaming. War gamers had already abandoned the shop though they still shelved a respectable inventory of war gaming supplies.

And for a while things were good. The store was primarily a comic shop and such was reflected in their business practices. They were happy to provide us room to play but had no resources for our hobby. Desperately we requested inventory, upwards of half a dozen times specific written lists were requested from the community and we provided. Product was never ordered. It is regrettable but in the year plus I played/organized for the shop I can easily say our community never spent $100, for 20+ people over a year that’s insane. We essentially begged them to order product for us so we could support the store as a place to play and were consistently and routinely pushed aside.

Eventually most people in our group stopped going to the store. My weekly home group was borne from that community. I would have liked to support the store but I do not feel bad about leaving. Short of stuffing money into the store’s register there was nothing more I could do to support the store.

1336061345424 Support I think is what separates a good game store from a bad one. Provide the consumer not only goods at a fair price but service. I have no question if I walk into the game store from the weekend and tell them I’m interested in X hobby they will be able to provide me guidance and insight into the products but also who among their community plays the game. For me at least that is well worth a few extra dollars per product. I feel better about a purchase and I know where I can find people to play with if I don’t already have a group.

FLGS are more about being a watering hole, a meeting place for these hobbies than just being a place to buy products without shipping. I do enjoy my home games but I do have to say I prefer playing at a game store or another neutral location. It’s a matter of personal preference and I believe it saves a few headaches for hosts and guests. Most stores accommodate playing hours. The FLGS I recently visited is open until midnight on the weekends.

It’s worth the time to see if there’s a local FLGS/Comic Shop in your area. Take a trip and see what they have to offer. It was integral to finding/creating a group when I moved to a new location. Even in an age bloated with social media and digital friendships going to the FLGS is still the easiest and best way to find people who share your hobbies. Better yet you get to do so without first braving their mom’s basement.

How do you feel about FLGS? Have you had particularly good or bad experiences in the past? If there’s a topic you’d like to see me cover leave it in the comments.

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