Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Zombie Planet

Some of you may be wondering what Zombie Planet is like. It's only the best game store I've ever been in. One of the reasons I'm so stoked to be here is that I have a plethora of games at my fingertips. So expect a lot of game design advice over the next two days....

I was here at the beginning, when George opened Zombie Planet. George wanted to open the store in order to have contact with the end user. Eden Studios, for whom I used to edit, would be run out of the back of the store. In fact, I named the store. George wondered what he should call the place, and I said "too bad you can't call it Android's Dungeon, like from The Simpsons." But, I realized, we could do a name like that; so I came up with a table listing all the fantasy nouns in one column, and all the sci-fi nouns in another column (You could roll on it.) Dragon's Battlestar. Alien Dungeon. You get the idea. George picked Zombie Planet.

All day long, I could hear gamers commenting on games. You can't buy this kind of feedback. Someone didn't like this game because it was too crunchy. Someone loved the same game for the same reason. Games either rocked or were "ass", for all kinds of interesting, and sometimes stupid, reasons. Many times, I would stop work, get up, and ring up a customer's sale. So I worked for Zombie Planet and Eden. It was an education.

I come up here as often as I can, for the experience (and the employee's discount). I usually take over a table in the front of the store, and make it my desk. (In fact, George is unpacking the comics shipment next to me right now). Everyone knows that when I'm in town, this is my area. I hold court here, chatting with friends and laughing entirely too much. I pile up my intended purchases, but I also comb through the shelves and pile up RPGs for research. Zombie Planet is very much like my own, personal game library. George knows I'll restock the shelves. I'll also help customers when they come in, because I like having that personal contact with the end user. I also hit on the cute gamer girls.

I cannot adequately describe to you the impact of walking into this store. But I'll try. I wish I could take pictures and upload them, but I'm having trouble uploading pics right now... The first thing you notice when you walk into ZP is the profusion of stuff. It's overwhelming. Behind the cash register is the wall of TCGs. In front of the cash register is the display case of card games. This just goes on and on and on.... For a good ten feet. To your right as you enter is an island covered in the latest board games and graphic novels. In the front of the store is an alcove of miniatures (paints from three different companies, hobby tools, cases). The miniatures then wrap around the rest of the right hand side of the store. I count four different miniature companies on the racks... It's just stunning. It's like you've been smacked in the face with a dead fish, the riot of color.

No matter where you look, there's something. The board game section, which is the size of my living room, is in the back of the store, is stacked with board games from floor-to-ceiling. Need an RPG? The RPG section has everything. I walk around the store, just picking up stuff up until my arms are full. Do I really need the Battleship Galaxies game? No. But damn, it looks so cool, I've got to have it. Most of my shopping experience is piling things up on a table, then going through everything to make a final decision. (Do I want this or that? Do I want that more than the other?) I haven't even gotten to the nick-nacks scatttered all about; the mugs and novels and t-shirts and action figures. And there's a second floor for comics and organized game play. And this is where we come to the salient point of this article.

George's store is so successful because he stocks everything. He stocks things you don't even know you want until you see it. George realizes that this is a book store. He tries to have at least one of everything on hand. When he sells something, he reorders it, often that same day. If you like Flames of War, you know that George will have that obscure tank miniature that no one else stocks. That's why you come here. If it doesn't sell for six months, he doesn't care. Some day, he will sell it. If he needs shelf space, he'll phase things out (by selling it on eBay, or putting it on sale in the store).

Even though the store is filled to bursting, everything is organized. There's a section for every category. Moreover, he spotlights things, like new releases. Right now, I'm looking at the Zombie Outbreak game, Ghosts of Albion, a new Palladium book, Battletech, Shadowrun and Dark Heresy new releases. They're in the center of the floor, where you can see them as you walk in. Certain books are placed face out; this is important because even thought it takes up more shelf space, it easier for the consumer to see. So Savage Worlds is faced out. Pathfinders and DC Adventures -- faced out.

George devotes much of his second floor to organized game play. This takes up significant floor space. However, when he holds events (tonight is the Hulk Heroclix release), he also sees significant sales. Because the gamer just got ass kicked in the Magic tournament, and he wants more cards. Or the D&D guys see that there's a new release. Or the Warhammer kid decides that he's finally going to get into 40K... George supports the community, and the community ends up supporting him. He's ready for the impulse buy.

Right now, for example, George has stopped unpacking comics and gone to his computer. So he can check the gaming boards and see what's hot. Are people suddenly talking about the new Savage Worlds release? George thinks "Do I need to stock more?" His staff is well-informed. Not just about the games they like to play, but about many games. In fact, his staff plays many different kinds of games. George might bust out a copy of the Game of Thrones board game, because he wants to play it, and they'll spend a night giving it a try. This way, when a customer asks about it, the staff can provide informed opinions.

George also insists on the little things. All his employees say "Hello, can I help you find anything today?" when someone comes in the store. When you check out, you get asked if you're a preferred member. And, you get directed to the on-line store to print out the latest store coupon for your next visit. George spends money on promotional bags, because his customers appreciate having big shopping bags for their large purchases.... He takes the customer's needs and desires into account.

So, what makes Zombie Planet so great? Inventory. Organization. Diversification. Sales techniques. Customer service.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I see a gamer girl that needs my help...

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