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The Customer Doesn’t Care About Your Burglar

Adam Gauntlett | 1 Nov 2011 10:00
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I managed a gaming store. No, I won't tell you its name. This was the late 90s, when collectible card games (CCGs) were like unto tiny cardboard gods and the internet hadn't quite succeeded in changing retail forever. We sold board games, tabletop RPGs and card game ephemera from a small mall store in the UK. The building was 1970s concrete classic, the kind of place that hadn't been designed either with customers or shopkeepers in mind, so the architect probably won a design award. Our customer base was university students and young professionals with money to burn.

This was the late 90s, when collectible card games (CCGs) were like unto tiny cardboard gods.

Within months the store was dead.

I'm going to tell you how it happened, mainly for your rubbernecking-at-a-car-wreck entertainment, but also as a warning. Some of you will go into retail; some may end up owning your own place. Best of luck to you. Try to avoid our mistakes.

First, never screw your regular customers. These are the repeaters, the ones who come to you again and again with money in their pockets. They keep you afloat, when everything else fails. If they leave, you might as well shut the doors.

So if your business model depends heavily on CCGs, and half your regular customers try to reserve the latest release, make sure you get in enough to satisfy demand. In this case it was 7th Sea, a card game that was wildly popular once upon a time but has since vanished down the rabbit hole. The latest Vesten set was due. Half a dozen of our regulars had expressed keen interest, and had asked for boxes. They wanted complete card sets, and that meant each of them needed at least two or three boxes of boosters. Cash value for us was huge. So of course we only received two boxes total from the supplier, with no expectation of more.
A pre-order is, of course, a little different, in that you get the cash up front. We hadn't done that. We'd taken orders but no money, so we owed no-one. It was the disappointment that was the problem.

Now here's a Judgement of Solomon: do we break up the boxes and sell individual boosters on a first-come, first-served, or do we keep the boxes intact and hand them to the first regular to walk through the door? Nobody was going to be happy, but which would upset the least amount of people? Breaking up the boxes ensured that most people would get something, though nobody would get a complete set. Handing them to a regular meant that only one person would have the cards, but it would keep faith with that person at least, and perhaps pacify (if not satisfy) the others.

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