1 Way to Beat the Online Competition

May 27, 2015 | 2 min to read

The modern era of coffee began at 1st Avenue and Pine Street in Seattle, Washington.

In the late 1980s, while competitors designed their spaces to shuffle customers in and out quickly, Starbucks took the exact opposite approach.

Inspired by Milanese coffee culture, Howard Schultz positioned Starbucks as a place to slow down, meet friends, converse, hold a meeting, and conduct an interview.

The original location turned out to be the first of 22,000, and today's game stores can learn a lot from their success.

Why?

Because the Starbucks approach drives sales organically, and there is no digital equivalent.

What Brick-and-Mortar Does (that Digital Doesn't)

The Third Place is the important place, because that's the one they want to be at. —Steve Nemeckay, Amazing Heroes

The ascent of Starbucks is the most famous example of applying "Third Place Theory" to business.

The theory goes like this: "third places" are the nerve centers of a community, the social venues outside of home (first) and work (second).

It's where people go to decompress: full of conviviality and laughter, free of judgement and pretension. It's open to all, yet all feel privileged to join. Everyone's presence is important, yet no one feels obligated to be present.

That's something traditional retail seldom offers, something ecommerce is incapable of, and something companies from Panera Bread to Life Time Fitness to Uniqlo have found unprecedented success with.

And it finds a natural ally in gaming.

What Live Gaming Does (that Digital Doesn't)

There is no comparison, in my mind, between the joys of getting together, of the face-to-face enjoyment and banter.— Ray Oldenburg, pioneer of Third Place Theory

Successful game stores provide an irreplaceable face-to-face experience by applying Oldenburg's principles of the third place.

Some features of "a third place" retail store are relatively obvious and relatively easy to implement: the hours are accommodating, the décor is unpretentious, food and drink is available.

But some of the crucial properties of a third place are largely intangible, and require strong "soft skills" to provide. Such as:

The regulars are a bigger draw than the host

Build a friendly staff and a friendly community, using the same tactics: recognizing good behavior, encouraging creativity, leading by example, and investing in those players that help draw in new ones.

Players feel a sense of investment in the space

Involve your players in the execution of events and success of the store. This can be as simple as regularly soliciting feedback or as elaborate as the mentor program at Golem Head Games.

Barriers to Entry Are Low

Make sure your store feels welcoming to all not only through how you structure events but how you handle the community. Offer multiple formats and events, including casual formats and a new player-friendly event, at your Friday Night Magic. Reward participation and sportsmanship, rather than just top finishers, at your events. Act as a liaison between regulars and newcomers: introduce them around, hook new players up with veterans for guidance.

Plenty of stores are finding success with these principles. Golem Head Games. Face to Face Games. Game Wizard/Blue Sky Hobbies.

Keep an eye on WPN.Wizards.com/Articles for more examples from around the WPN!

By Matt Neubert

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