How Third Place Theory Changed My Store

October 11, 2016 | 3 min to read

In our ebook, Getting Serious about Casual Play, we mentioned “Third Place Theory” as an idea that could help game stores differentiate themselves from online competition. When Ramoñ Nogueira, a WPN member in João Pessoa, Brazil, read the book on the WPN site, he decided to try out the tenets of Third Place theory in his store. Without a huge investment in space or materials, he was able to revolutionize his store atmosphere in ways that immediately strengthened his community and his business. Here’s his story.

Even before I opened my store, without really knowing it, the idea of the Third Place had made a big impact on my life.

Some years ago I was struggling with depression due to personal and professional hard times. I didn’t want to be home. I didn’t really want to go to work. These were things I did out of necessity.

Then I started teaching a student who played Magic: The Gathering. Through him, I came to find a new community.

At the time, there wasn’t a game store in my area. Instead, Magic players gathered in a supermarket food court. That became where I wanted to be when not at home or work.

It was my Third Place.

Time went by, a game store opened in my town, and the feeling only grew. I’d take my newborn son along with me to the store to meet players, have lunch, play some games, and trade cards. I looked forward to meeting up with my Magic friends, not for the competition, but to test new ideas and play whatever deck I would like.

Years later, I myself became a store owner.

Of course I wanted to provide people with a nice place to meet and play. But when you’re busy running a business, sometimes obvious things pass you by.

I had forgotten exactly how important community had been to me as a player.

I was thinking more about the products than the people.

But then I read the WPN article about Third Place theory.

My focus completely shifted.

I shared a summary of the concept in our store’s Facebook page. I made a commitment to my players to “live by it” from then on.

I encouraged our customers to come to the store not just for events, but whenever they felt like letting off a bit of steam.

I started thinking more carefully about what customers would need in order to spend quality time at the store. I came to the conclusion that we chose to be in places outside of home and work, in order to be entertained.

So I started looking for ways to actively entertain my customers.

I made an effort to create a casual atmosphere that was friendly to all levels of players, with events that offer flat prize structures and incentives for newcomers.

We strived to make it a place where anyone can bring their family. I myself have a 5-year-old son. Of course, I want him to feel at ease in my own workplace. And if I can make it a comfortable place for my own son, I can rest assured my casual players will feel the same.

At first I was always present at the store, talking to the customers. But as the store owner, I couldn’t hang out with my customers all the time. Instead, I set time every day for my employees to interact with customers, to better understand their needs and interests.

The changes were a huge success.

We started having people asking to celebrate birthdays and other events at our store.

We became much more than a gaming store; we became a place where people would gather.

Of course there are challenges, especially when it comes to balancing the needs of the "competitive" players in our mix. However, I've helped them understand that the more we can make Magic about casual entertainment, the more players we can draw into our community. After all the size of the prize pool is directly related to the size of the active community.

In order to keep this going, we make an effort to constantly communicate with our customers through social media and other tools.

As long as we are interested in our players, they seem to be interested in being in the store and that mutual commitment has helped our store to thrive.

Store Stats: Mulligan Geek Store

  • Location: João Pessoa, Brazil (Population: 720,954)
  • WPN Level: Advanced Level
  • Age: 18 months
  • Size: 70 square meters
  • Website: www.mulligangames.com.br

By Ramoñ Nogueira