Ten Thoughts for Ten Years (PART 1)

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Whew.

That was a hectic few months.  For those that haven’t been following along, we celebrated our 10th Anniversary last month.  I basically used the occasion as an excuse to do all the things that I was meaning to do.  We updated our Stronghold Membership program (it needed it), we rearranged our store, we brought in 10 new product lines, we had sales, draws, an auction, and all kinds of other hype and celebration.  It was a lot of work, so much so that I barely had time to pause and actually take in the fact that Black Knight Games is ten.  A decade old!  As I took some time away with my family this week I finally got to reflect on our place here and now, how we got here, and where we are going.  I have assembled ten thoughts for ten years, here are the first five:

1. Turns out the gaming business is actually a business
One thing that has become apparent to me is that compared to most industries, the games industry is full of amateurs.  Whether it’s the retail side, or the manufacturing side, most people get in to the business because they love games – not because they are great at business.  Now, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t excellent business people in the industry, there are, but even most of them probably started off in over their heads.  I sure was.  I was only 24 when I opened Black Knight Games.  I certainly planned, I certainly did my best, and I certainly worked my ass off, but I was absolutely a noob when it came to the finer points of business.

I learned my lessons the hard way mostly, through failures.  I got in situations with my taxes, overextended myself, made mistakes with inventory, and didn’t even always handle the scheduling and running of events well all the time (something I felt was my forté going in).  Some of these mistakes were minor, some nearly sunk us.  But, ten years later I can confidently say…that I’m still a noob.  I still haven’t a perfect vision of how to run a profitable business, but I am starting to figure some things out, and even better – I now know where to go to figure a lot of things out…

2. Games Stores DON’T have to be enemies
It is absolutely true that when I first opened I viewed other stores as threats.  I think a lot of people assume that game stores are arch-rivals, and certainly in some places they are.  But in the ten years that I have run Black Knight Games I have learned that other stores can be a healthy resource, they can even be allies.  I have a fairly good relationship with other stores in the area, and a great relationship with some.

Enric owns a MTG-specialist shop down the road, literally one block from us.  His singles selection is great, it’s better than ours.  He was open first, and despite our proximity, here we both are.  It turns out that there is room in this town for the both of us.  The reason is this: in a niche business like ours when you have multiple shops that offer something of value you grow the gaming community.  It doesn’t really matter what my market share percentage is when the pie is growing.  I don’t have to see others fail to succeed.  And it helps that we’ve never resorted to aggressive tactics – we don’t undercut each other, we don’t trash-talk each other, we don’t intentionally schedule at the same time.  In fact we’ve always been friendly, we’ve even coordinated in the past to avoid double-booking.  I hope his business continues to succeed, because I think he fills some gaps that keeps our community strong.

The same goes for other shops in the area.  We’ve got two great board game cafés in town (Mancala Monk & Gameopolis), growing the local community every day by getting more people to try games in an easily accessible environment.  I’ve got Logan over at Dungeon Comics, who is a solid game store owner, and is someone that I have worked with a few times and it always a good guy to talk with.  Beyond the Hamilton area I’ve dealt with the owners of X Planet, The Dragon, Game Chamber, and others on many occasions – even running inter-store leagues and championships with them.

By focusing on how we can build a bigger and better gaming community we make room for us all.

3. I’m NOT the first to be here
I’ll never forget the first time I sat in a GenCon Trade Day seminar, the room was full of other game store owners from all across North America.  I had NEVER really had a lot of communication with other game store owners at the time, and it felt weird to be in a room with so many people that shared my exact profession.  These people all cared about how to get MTG players in their store, how the new FFG terms would affect them, and what the best way to store terrain was.  Cool.

Since then the world has really opened up for Game Store Owners.  What used to be a somewhat lonely career path has really grown over the past five years or so.  There is a wide network of Game Store Owners who run seminars at GAMA and GenCon.  It was incredible discovering a whole world of people who I could actually learn from.  Now there are many message boards and Facebook groups filled with game store owners sharing ideas, looking for advice, showing off successes, and practicing their (our) favorite pastime: complaining.

There are also a special few who have become role models.  Owners who happen to be very generous with their time, and also own and run exceptional game stores.  Gaming meccas in their own cities.  These individuals have given me something to aspire to, and a road map to get there.

4. Just Keep Swimming
Something that I have realized about myself is that I need to always (ALWAYS) have a goal.  Which means I can never really reach it.  I’ll never be ‘done’ with Black Knight Games, because the second I take the foot off the pedal is when I sink.  It is key to always have something new to be working on, some exciting change.  It gives me something to be excited about.

And change is good.  It keeps things fresh, and the changes we make are usually improvements.

Our tenth anniversary was a big example of this.  It was the excuse I needed to make some changes, and to kick myself in to doing some things I had been thinking about doing for a long time.  But now that it is over I can confidently say that there are more and more things that we are aspiring to do.  If you’ve read this far I feel it’s fair to reward you with a few sneak peaks: currently we are working on dealing in used and vintage video games.  We’re looking to unveil a new community out-reach program to assist teachers and community leaders in creating and running gaming groups in schools and clubs.  We are looking to add even more items to our store-brand ‘Strongbox’ gaming accessories.  And, we are still (yes still) dreaming of getting a liquor license.

5. Gaming with a beer in your hand
That reminds me of a fairly big moment in our history, one that I would like to look back on a bit.

Four and a half years ago we moved to our new location.  Some may remember that we ran an indiegogo fundraiser where customers could get cool swag in exchange for helping us raise some money to make the gaming area awesome.  A little known secret about that was that the indiegogo campaign actually cornered us in to spending twice what it earned us, but still it was a great way to subsidize the cost a bit and include our community in the process.  It was pretty fun too.  The campaign offered stretch goals like TVs, and a Foosball table.  The last stretch-goal that was hit was that we would seriously look in to getting a liquor license which would allow those that were old enough to attend game nights with alcohol.

It was the only stretch goal that we didn’t knock out of the park.  That being said, we absolutely did as we said we would do, and pursued it hard.  It turns out that a big part of getting a liquor license is tied to food.  You are required to be able to offer your patrons food options.  These can’t be snacks, they must be hot-food.  To handle hot-food properly you need a kitchen, which requires space, and lots of equipment…you can see why this didn’t happen right away.  So we spent a couple hundred dollars, and hit a dead end.

Since then though, the thought has never fully left my mind, and I have been looking at ways that we might fulfill this condition.  Perhaps selling frozen food that could be microwaved would count.  Perhaps we could handle a small oven, or panini press.  Perhaps we could meet the conditions by partnering with another business.

Well I am happy to say that the first step towards this ultimate goal is now done.  We are now a registered food establishment, licensed, and paid.  This allows us to do more with food, and drops one barrier.  We still can’t quite do the ‘hot food’ as required because we don’t have a kitchen.  But now we can try some things that I hope will ultimately lead to fulfilling the conditions of the liquor license.  The dream lives on.

Join me shortly for more rambling thoughts in Part 2 shortly

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  1. […] PART ONE I discussed how the ten-year mark gives one an opportunity to reflect on how we got here, where we […]

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