EDIT: I admit when I am wrong with a prediction, and this was certainly one of those times. Gamer's Asylum is still open in Evanston, and the store has expanded into some adjacent retail space. So things are looking up as of 7/29/2009, and I am adding this note to my original article to balance out some of the things I mention below that haven't come to pass.
Well, I dropped by Gamer’s Asylum last night. Here’s my capsule review: Keep your calendar open for a going-out-of-business sale in 8 months or so.
The store has a great location in downtown Evanston near the Dempster train station, and it’s run by a couple of friendly, talkative dudes. But I couldn’t discern much by way of a business plan; the shop was almost completely devoid of merchandise (save for a pile of “starter” Games Workshop product). The shelves were half-full and the walls were bare - not even posters! As someone who’s worked in gaming retail, this is a bad way to start a store.
The owners, to their credit, explained that they intend to respond to the community’s demands and stock various game lines, depending on their popularity. Unfortunately, this is a classic example of putting the cart before the horse. Game stores need to be stuffed to the gills with merchandise to survive and prosper. You need to surround your potential customers with a dizzying array of products – game books, miniatures, collectible junk, dice, paints, accessories, junk food – all in the hope that they’ll make just a single purchase in a given visit. Vast, herculean efforts are required to draw in new customers and keep them coming back, especially in light of the omnipresent Internet retailers.
You also can’t rely on existing player demand to fuel a store. You must constantly bring in new products and establish relationships with the myriad game publishers out there. You must read the industry blogs and literature and make sure you’re up on the latest new releases. If you do stock a given line, you must conduct demos and promotional events to draw in new players and customers.
Gamer’s Asylum doesn’t even have a Web site! How can that be in this day and age? The two store owners, for all their goodwill and enthusiasm, seem to have started the store simply as a way to hang out and talk to gamers. This is heartbreaking, because Chicago needs an in-city alternative to Games Plus (a fine store that’s just a bit too far away for convenience). Make no mistake, I will support Gamer’s Asylum and buy some stuff from them. I’ll game there and hopefully meet new players there. But I’m afraid I won’t be able to count on it for the long haul. By stumbling immediately out of the gate, Gamer’s Asylum may have lost its momentum entirely. I’ll report back when they start their 50-percent-off liquidation sale.