Gauntlett: Does the Compleat Strategist often have a presence at conventions?
Kilbert: Yes! We go to two conventions a year, PAX East in Boston, and we do Comicon in New York. We've tried cons way back when, but we stopped; it can be very tedious for us. But when PAX opened up a presence in Boston we felt it would help our Boston store to attend and raise our profile. We started going two years ago, and we're very happy with PAX. The same guys who run that have been trying to get us to do Comicon for years, and finally three years ago we gave in!
Gauntlett: Were you born into retail?
Kilbert: Myself? No. I'm a retired New York City schoolteacher; retired fifteen years ago. Before that I would go to the store on weekends or whenever I had a day off and work in the store. My brother works there full time.
Gauntlett: That must be a pretty punishing schedule.
Kilbert: Took a toll on my life, I guess!
Gauntlett: Do you play games yourself?
Kilbert: I could, but my life has always been so complicated I just never seem to have the time. I enjoy Napoleonics and American Civil War board gaming, and I enjoyed figure painting when I had the time. Right now I just don't have the time for any of that!
Gauntlett: I know that each jurisdiction has its quirks; what's the one thing about working retail in New York specifically that surprises you?
Kilbert: We never know where people are going to come from. We get people from all over the world who show up out of nowhere and we're amazed by the pull of our store. That someone can show up from Bosnia and say, "I've been looking for the Compleat Strategist forever! I've always wanted to come here!" We have a huge number of people from Brazil, people from Australia, from New Zealand, and I can't imagine that people from so far away should come to New York and make us their first stop. But they do! They're always willing to recount their stories, to tell us, "I just had to come here, I couldn't be anywhere else, and I have this empty suitcase that I intend to fill up here at the store."
Gauntlett: What do you think is the biggest challenge facing the brick and mortar store at the moment? Is it the internet, something else?
Kilbert: The internet, number one, definitely. We can't compete on price, not with our overheads. That's the first, but the second is related to that. It's very discouraging when you're talking to a customer on the shop floor and you've convinced him you've got the right product for him, but he checks his phone and says, "I can get this $15 cheaper on the internet. I'll see you, goodbye!" That's very discouraging!
Gauntlett: Do you host gaming in the store?
Kilbert: We do! We have a game room in our basement with ten tables, and we have ongoing gaming every Thursday night and every Saturday. It's very busy down there! Last Saturday we had people playing X-Wing, D&D and Pathfinder, and Heroclix all at the same time. They had fun!
Gauntlett: To wind up on a fun note: I know that everyone who works in retail has at least one crazy story. What's yours?
Kilbert: There's so many of them, I don't know where to start! Back in the old days we had a hobby shop that was nearby, and it sold balsa wood. We never did, we made it a rule that we didn't want to compete with them. So we had a customer that came in who wanted balsa wood, and insisted that we always had it. We kept telling him, no, try the other place, but he insisted that we always had it before, so why didn't we have it any longer? Finally I decided this guy is ripe for it, so I told him to go in the shop down the street and ask them for balsa wood, but to make sure when he got there that the balsa wood was very fresh. He looks at me and says, why do I want fresh balsa wood? I say to him, if it's not fresh it won't work right, so to make sure to get it from the back room, not to buy anything from their sales floor. Then he queries me further, and asks, how do I know if it's fresh or not? I say, put a piece in your mouth and take a little bite out of it. If it crunches, it's not fresh, so don't take it.
Now, we knew the guys at the hobby shop. So he goes over there, but I forgot that I had done it. When their store closed, their guys usually came over to our place and we went out for a few drinks. This time they come over and tell me this crazy story about a guy who comes in, biting balsa wood! Then I remembered what I had done to them ...
There was one time when a customer comes in, sees a beautiful painted regiment of Highland Guards, Napoleonics, that were painted, and he wanted to know how he could make the tartan pattern on his soldiers, and I say, buy tartan paint! Just paint it right on!