GAMA Trade Show 2018 and Friendly Local Game Store

And now, for abbreviated reviews that I should have written two weeks ago.

GAMA Trade Show 2018

After swearing in May 2017 that I was done with trade shows for a while I turned around and attended the next GAMA Trade Show. With a brand-new game room expansion and Magic’s slump giving room for the rest of the industry to catch up, I felt that I owed it to myself to give the show another chance in hopes of learning things that would help the tabletop portion of my business make sense.

The venue: The Peppermill is vastly superior to Bally’s. My base-price room was clean, comfortable, and quiet. I didn’t hear any shocking stories of used condoms under mattresses or butt-prints on windows, which were a yearly staple in previous years. The staff at Bally’s treated us as an annoying side-event, while the staff at Peppermill was unfailingly friendly and helpful. There are tables, chairs, and sofas throughout the building at Peppermill, where at Bally’s you had to trespass into conference rooms carelessly left unlocked if you wanted to have a relatively quiet place to meet with someone. There is WiFi available. Good WiFi. It’s easily the best internet connection I’ve ever had while traveling. At one point to test it I started a streaming video in my hotel room and took a 15-minute walk to the other end of the resort. It never hiccuped.

The technology: The projectors available in retailer seminars were a huge let-down, starting with (I’m totally serious) some $70 clearance-bin RCA projectors that were never intended to serve a large room. Eventually some of the hotel’s projectors were wheeled out, plenty bright even if they were the best technology 2003 had to offer, and many retailers found themselves scrambling to adapt their equipment to work. There were emergency Best Buy runs involved. Retailers, my advice if you are presenting next year: Bring your own projector, or perhaps buy a bunch of adapters and extension cables and make bank selling them to panicked presenters. You’ll make a mint.

The town: A couple of years ago a friend observed that Las Vegas is the anti-Paul: I don’t gamble, I don’t like sightseeing, and I don’t like crowds. By the end of each week on the Las Vegas Strip, I could feel it closing in around me. Reno is the same flavor but scaled way, way back. Think the Alliance Open House in Fort Wayne, Indiana, but with slot machines. Some retailers who previously used the trade show as an opportunity to write off a week in Vegas have complained bitterly. All I can tell you is that, when it looked like weather might trap us all there for the weekend, I was not worried about my comfort or productivity. Which brings us to…

The weather: Getting ready to go to Las Vegas feels to someone who lives in Tennessee like preparing to deploy to Afghanistan. Reno is a different climate altogether, with lows reaching into the 30’s at night. At the end of the week Reno experienced what I’m told is a very unusual Winter storm. The airport there is well-kept and most of us who flew out had no trouble, but there were a few cancelled flights. Retailers from California who drove over Donner Pass either left early in all-wheel-drive vehicles or got stuck at Peppermill for an extra couple of days. Much was made of the weather disaster, but I really don’t think that they’ll be likely to have these problems every year.

The cost: The price of airfare for those flying coach was significantly higher. Those flying first class found the cost only marginally higher. Many retailers who previously had nonstop flights from their hometowns to Las Vegas found themselves in Layover Hell, especially risky since most flights in and out of Reno are on American Airlines. These cost increases were mitigated by low hotel costs, waived resort fees, and two free nights comped by GAMA. There was talk of the free nights going away next year. If it were up to me, I would rather keep the low hotel cost and significantly cut back the box-o-freebies that retailers receive in exchange for sitting through a dozen hours of publisher presentations.

The verdict: Reno is a tremendous upgrade from Vegas, or at least from Vegas at the budget that an organization like GAMA wields. My understanding is that outgoing board members Travis Severance, Paul Butler, and Steve Ellis had a lot to do with the improvements in the show and the programming offered. It really can’t be overstated how big a difference was evident at this year’s show, and incoming board members will have to work very hard to have the kind of positive impact these gentlemen had on the retailer side of the show and the organization. I know that everyone crazy enough to serve on the board is going to give it their very best shot.

If you consider yourself a professional game retailer, have never been to GAMA, and won’t have to close your store to leave town for a week, you should go at least once. Was it worth it for me, personally, this year? Well, before I left I confided in my wife that I figured on a 30% chance of positive return from the trip, but that our game room expansion was such a potentially massive shift in the way our business works that there was enough upside to take the risk. Whether it pays off this year and whether I attend next year will depend on how tabletop does between now and then. I certainly don’t intend to be a passive bystander during that time, but I’ve failed at this before.

Friendly Local Game Store

My friend and retail spirit animal Gary Ray has published his book, Friendly Local Game Store. The subtitle is “A Five-Year Path to a Middle-Class Income” which goes to show you that it’s nearly impossible to horrify someone out of getting into this business. Gary doesn’t hide the grueling hard work, the disappointments and setbacks, or the crunchy math, choosing instead to present a frank and honest picture of his business and the industry, Speaker for the Dead-style. This probably sounds like criticism, but it’s not: There are aspiring retailers who will be frightened away from this line of work by this book. He’s doing them a tremendous service. Those who remain convinced that this is their calling will either internalize some of the lessons in the book, specifically the bits about capitalization and having a business plan, or they will fail.

Established retailers who have been doing this for a long time will probably find out some new things about the way Gary approaches some of the challenges of the trade, but I think that most of the value for them is in commiseration.  Giving the book to your managers will likely result in better understanding of the business, which will lead to them either cutting you some freaking slack once in a while or demanding more professionalism from your work, depending on how things were going before. I think that carrying the book in your store for the benefit of customers who aspire to open their own stores will lead to lots of them looking at you like you have lobsters crawling out of your ears. If they listen to Gary, they’ll either understand that opening a zero-capital clubhouse to give the community what they really want is a path to ruin, or they’ll open a competing store that grows the pie instead of trying to swipe slices. Many of them probably won’t listen to Gary, but this is the game trade. It’s standard in the industry.

I read half the book on my way to the show, half of it on the way back, and spent a good portion of my time with Gary in between, so it all kind of runs together, but overall I would say that the influence helped me to zero in on what I think is important in my business. We do this work because we like it and it’s mostly what we want to be doing, but at the end of the day, we have to get paid. Go work towards that.