Aug 12, 2016

How I Thrive in a Small Market

Dan Ruffolo of Dan's Books & Games has attracted nearly 200 unique players in a town of less than 20,000 people. Here's how he does it, in his own words.

Aug 12, 2016

How I Thrive in a Small Market

Dan Ruffolo of Dan's Books & Games has attracted nearly 200 unique players in a town of less than 20,000 people. Here's how he does it, in his own words.

When I first opened my store two years ago in the small town of Cobourg, Ontario, I didn't envision that in less than two years, Magic would single-handedly make my Advanced-level business highly profitable, drawing players from over an hour in each direction.

So what allowed me to bring in nearly 200 unique players in a town with less than 20,000 people?

While the usual advice on topics like know your product, build your community, provide great customer service holds true in small markets as well as large, I've found a number of things to be particularly useful in growing a business in a smaller market.

Don't Just Build a Community, Cater to It

When you're the only store in a small market, you can still count on players actually reading your schedule. So cater it to them.

One of the first things I did after opening was give surveys to every Magic-playing customer who came in. The survey asked which formats they would like to play, as well as which days and times they would like to play them. My event schedule has evolved over time thanks to their feedback.

If more people want Modern, do more Modern. If more people want Standard, do more Standard.

Switch it up so that people who do shift work still have access to their preferred formats at least some of the time.

In a small market, every regular counts, so do what you can to accommodate them and their schedule.

Foster Your Casuals

In a small market, my biggest obstacle to reaching Advanced was the 32-player event. I found it difficult gathering enough players on the same day at the same time for a ranked event.

So I changed my focus.

Instead of trying to convert my casual players into competitive ones, I fostered my casual crowd by creating a casual night. My competitive players were happy to relax with Commander or playtest their decks and my casual players enjoyed coming to play in a crowded store full of like-minded people.

This change of focus helped me reach my first 32-player event which happened on one of these casual nights. Now, attendance for these casual nights has remained consistently in the mid- to high-twenties.

Leverage Your Limited Product

As a Core-level store, allocated product will be fairly limited—a couple From the Vaults, smaller amounts of premium sets like the Masters sets, etc. You will likely have more demand than your supply can support.

Use those products to engage your customers and increase event activity.

For From the Vault: Angels, as an example, I used one of the five I was allocated as first prize in a tribal angels tournament. All players played angel-themed decks, and the winner got a From the Vault: Angels. It was very popular and very successful.

Treat Your Small Community as a Resource

One of the biggest advantages (yes, advantages!) of having a small community in a small market is that strengthening that community is much easier.

Everybody is far more likely to know everybody else, and there will be friendships, rivalries, and good-natured competition that you can use to make your store a better place.

I strengthened my community with a unique offering—a big, comfy recliner chair. Players who win a given format are crowned "champions" of that format until the next event where that format is played.

At that following event, they get to play in the recliner for the whole event and do not have to change tables between matches. The competition that rose around the prestige of playing in the chair was worth a hundred dollars in prize support.

It can sometimes seem like an impossible task to get a local store in a small market to Advanced level, but if you spend more time listening to your community, giving them what they want, and understanding how to use their dedication to your advantage, it won't be long before you start eyeing Advanced Plus and thinking about how to make it happen.

Store Stats: Dan's Books and Games

By Daniel Ruffolo, Dan's Books & Games

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