Friday, August 14, 2009

Dear Friendly Local Game Store Owners...

So a couple of days ago I was in Pandemonium, the larger of the two main Boston gaming stores. I browsed the used games section looking for some of the selections that people had mentioned in my earlier Horror RPG post, and while I didn't find any of them, I did pick up the second edition of Vampire: the Masquerade for $12. The hardcover is in pristine condition; I think it was purchased, left on a gaming shelf for ten or twelve years, and then handed off to the FLGS. I've been in several White Wolf games and own some of the Year of the Hunter supplements (which I think are great), but never a core rulesbook, so that box is checked off.

But, getting to the crux of my post. I'm at the counter waiting to be noticed by the guy at the register who's paying more attention to the Magic: the Gathering card ooglers that me, the customer with item right in front of him. I'm finally noticed, and when he scans my book and gives me the total, I pull a $20 out of my wallet and extend my hand over the counter and...

He's texting.

And not just "luv u 2" or "wil b thr 2nite".

He's writing sentences. His phone was one of those sliders with the querty keyboard along the long axis, so he's two-handing it and bamming away with both thumbs like he's Ben Hecht at a typewriter. I'm standing there for a full 30 seconds (after a while I actually started counting) before he finishes up - I even cleared my throat in an almost comedic display of annoyance - and he rushes to take my bill and give me my change before - you guessed it - he's back on the phone blamming away at those little keys. No "Thank you, have a good night.", or "Thank you for shopping at Pandemonium." or even a simple "Enjoy!".

Every time I hear a plea from the gaming community about how we all need to support our FLGS, I think about incidents like this (not the first I've experienced there), and I think to myself, "If the FLGS needs my money so badly, why do the employees seem like they would rather be doing anything other than taking it from me?".

And worst of all, this is a store that has had immense financial troubles when they moved from one location to another about three years ago. They had to rely on a t-shirt sales drive in order to drum up enough money to pay off the IRS and avoid a lien on the store. Their customer fan base kept the place afloat, and yet, I get ignored by an employee who would rather be texting than finishing my transaction.

So, present or future FLGS owners, a word to your employees; when a customer is at the counter, put down your damn phone and act like a professional.


PatrickWR said...

Hear hear. I worked at a very fine game shop in mid-Missouri in college, and the owners constantly drummed the age-old customer service mantra into the employees. It worked—we brought in new customers, folks who hadn't been to a game store in years, and we also managed to keep our existing customer base happy. I have been the employee across the counter many times, Badelaire, and I sympathize with you. It makes it so much harder to avoid online merchants when your FLGS is lackluster.

Joseph said...

Is Tyler still the owner of Pandemonium? I would think he wouldn't be too thrilled to hear your account; he was always a great guy and genuinely interested in the customers.

Interesting little bit of trivia; it was through a "gamers wanted" notice in Pandemonium when it was still in Harvard Square (no idea where it is now) that got Erik Mona into my Greyhawk game, way back in the hoary mists of time.

Golgotha Kinslayer said...

In an interesting coincidence, I had just--JUST--posted a comment on another blog about how important it is for companies to take care of their supporters. It's as true for retailers as it is for publishers: take care of your customers and they will take care of you.

sirlarkins said...

Game stores seem to run hot and cold; they either have an amazingly awesome staff, or seem to exclusively hire douchebags.

After years of being forced to patronize a store that fell firmly into the latter category, I'm now lucky enough to have my pick of several stores that are solidly in the former.

I'd second the recommendation to get in touch with the owner of the store. I'm not normally one to try and get people fired, but inappropriate texting etiquette is one of my pet peeves. I mean, honestly!

Darkwing said...

Sometimes the FLGS is just an ILGS (indifferent), or even a ULGS (unfriendly). The two times I've ever been to Pandemonium, it was definitely an ILGS.

Owners, etc., have to realize that they need to sell stuff first, goof off second.

And Badelaire, seriously, you need to stop patronizing Pandemonium--I've yet to hear that you've had a good experience there. It seems the store has a core fanbase of loyal groupies, and don't want to put the effort out to attract anyone new.

Matthew James Stanham said...

I had a similar bad experience at Games Workshop in London, where the guy was chatting away about the latest edition with the customer in front of me for five or ten minutes before eventually getting round to taking a ridiculous sum of money from me for half a dozen miniatures. Last time I ever went there.

Raptor1313 said...

The best I heard about one of the local gaming stores (the not so friendly one, or at least one of the owners isn't) goes like this...

Guy's getting into Dark Eldar. this guy's been a customer for about 10 years or so of the place, back when it's been at other locations. He figures he'll patronize that place rahter than just order it direct from GW.

So, he goes to the place and orders a Battleforce. They say they'll have it in on Friday, and call him.

So, he waits the week 'til Friday, calls them. They say they got a Dark Elf one in by mistake, and will order the correct one and it'll be in next Friday.

So, next Friday rolls around. Still no call from them, so he calls them. "Oh, sorry, they don't ship that any more." He asks them when they found this out. "Oh, we found it out when we called them last Friday."

So, let the guy wait a week. That'll be awesome. I mean, he wasn't trying to give you money, or something like that...

It's crap like that, that makes you change your mind about stores. On the toher hand, we have a sweet local one...that's just got room for all of 2 tables in the back, which is a shame because the owner's cool.

Astronut said...

Frankly, I've walked out of shops without buying for less, usually after making the reason very clear to the person concerned... And my regular games shop in London has lost my custom because of the way they started treating their product under the new management (I just don't want to buy stuff with that many dents and dog-ears!).

I think I'm getting less flexible in my middle age!

Badelaire said...

Thanks for everyone's comments. I sent the owner a rather lengthy e-mail about this a few minutes ago - we'll see what happens from there.

Mike Howell said...

My FLGS is a hobby/game combo store, and the level of service you get depends on whether you are helped by someone from the games department or someone who focuses on model railroad, RC cars/planes, etc. Even with the non-gaming employees indifferent to the gaming customers, I've never been ignored to the level you experienced. That guy needs to find another job.

John said...

The nearest FLGS to me is about 30 miles away, and I really wish it was closer because shopping at the local GW store (a scant 3 miles away) is a major chore.

Every time I go to GW it starts out really well. The staff know their stuff, they are enthusiastic, they give great answers to my questions, and I thoroughly enjoy it.

Then I get to the register and get hit with a hard sell strong enough to knock over a building. Name, address, phone number, have you played, have you tried, are you sure you don't want, White Dwarf sub, are you REALLY sure you don't want, this new kit is coming next month, are you ABSOLUTELY POSITIVELY sure you don't want, etc etc etc.

I don't hold it against the guys working there, I understand that they're just doing their jobs, and they probably enjoy that kind of aggressive sales pitch as much as I do, but it makes shopping there so unpleasant that I've taken to buying stuff online just because I can't bear shopping at the GW store.

It's kind of the opposite of Badelaire's problem: too much customer service can be just as bad as not enough.

eriochrome said...

It seems like every store has tis problems. My favorite store has a good location for them across the street from a college campus but a bad location for me since parking in the area is a hassle. They also do a bad job of letting you know when your stuff comes in for orders and since you have to order almost everything due to their small stock levels that can be a problem. The orders come in fast going out on wednesday and coming in every friday so as long as you know that and when the item is released for preorders you are fine.

I probably also shop at the same store as Mike talked about occasionally. I once was really mad at one of the non gaming workers for being very not helpful about the location of a special order that they had told me was in. He essentially told me to come back when one of the gaming guys was there since he could not find it after about 1 minute of looking. I probably would not shop there except that their location is pretty easy for in and out during other shopping with the family.

GW stores are always the hard sell.

jordan said...

I live in new york and to be honest, the local games workshop is probably one of the friendliest gaming stores I have ever been to... I have been playing for like 8 years and have been to 10 stores over those years and really this store is just fantastic. If anyone reading this lives in NY and has been avoiding gw because they think it will be as bad as everyone says, you are in for a huge surprise!

Akenseth said...

As much as we love these games, the fact remains that it is a business, and it needs money to survive. I think it's interesting that you mention that he was texting. I'm surprised that that person is working there, or maybe they are just really lenient when it comes to such things at that place.

I remember one time a few months ago going into the local Wal-Mart to pick up some supplies for making some terrain (specifically Foam Core). I grabbed a bunch of the stuff, got my other goods and I got to the checkout. The cashier couldn't get the Foam Core to scan. After a few minutes of asking questions to their coworkers and trying to get the product put through the register, I was told that I could not purchase this today because it wasn't in their system. I even offered to pay the price of the more expensive black stuff so I could take it with me, but apparently they didn't want to take my money.

Conversely, I keep a PDA Phone that has a slide out keyboard with tons of information on it I use for work every day. Often times I will pull it out to look something up for a customer, contact phone numbers, use the calculator or to even do scheduling.

Badelaire said...

Another quick update: I received a very apologetic letter from the owner last night. He told me he spoke to the employee in question and assured me that it would never happen again.

He also agreed with me that top-notch customer service is the one thing that can possibly keep FLGSs alive in the Internet business age, and for that service to slip is inexcusable.

I'm pretty busy today, but later I hope to write him a quick reply thanking him for his response.

Also, very interesting to see how a number of commenters here talk about Games Workshop stores as being perfect examples of bad customer service. There was a GW store in Harvard Square for a few years (it's not there now) and the few times I was in there, it was hot or cold; either they swarmed me and didn't leave me alone, or they saw I was there to buy what I wanted to buy, and they barely spoke to me.

John said...

I'm sure some GW stores are better than others, that's just the nature of... you know, reality.

And I don't mind being sold a little bit. Many times I've gone to a store and ended up buying more than I had planned on because a really good clerk has pointed me to things that weren't on my radar - but also because they realized I was receptive to it. Salespeople need to learn that if your first attempt to upsell someone fails, repeated attempts are just going to piss off the customer.

I'll definitely check out the GW in New York next I'm up there, but down here in Philly our options are unfortunately limited. I used to get stuff at a comic store that had amazing customer service, but they're pretty much phasing out GW. So to the interwebs I go...

Admiral Drax said...

Hullo. That was nice of you to take the trouble to contact the manager. Thousands wouldn't.

Being British I'm used to relatively poor customer service, but a genuinely friendly games shop really is a thing to treasure.

With regards to GW, my old store (in Norwich) were generally friendly enough and not too pushy, especially one of the managers (I think) called Chris...but the best service I ever got from GW staff? - Fox Valley Mall, in Aurora, IL. They were great, and I could've chatted to them all day.

Avoid the GW store in Berlin. It's pretty unfriendly.

Da_Sub said...

Badelaire, glad you got some sort of good resolution out of contacting the manager.

On the subject of FLGS and GW, if you are ever in Brisbane and near the MT Gravatt shopping centre don't hesitate to pop into GW there. Hell it is 20mins from my place to get there when I could just slip down the block to my local Toyworld (which stocks Tamiya, GW and Revell stuff but are very much indifferent). If you do pop in Jeff and the lads tend to take good care of customers without too much upselling. Always have a good experience there. Also if you have a burning need for a game they are the local battle-bunker so lots of tables.

I have also heard that Ace Comics and Games at Annalee is pretty great but it is a bit out of my way, although there is apparently a really good range of figs from other companies there.

Lastly I am not sure if they are still there but a few years ago when I was on a two week business trip to Rockhampton (Central QLD), there was a really good shop in the main street called Capricorn Coast Hobbies (or something like that), they had a really extensive range of stuff, including alot of OOP goods.

Two places I tend to avoid like the plague is GW Brisbane City, as they are too indifferent to all their customers and also Hobbyrama on the Northside, they never seem to keep good levels of stock in their modelling gear and it takes a couple of trips to get what you want.

Anonymous said...

Pandemonium's staff is...difficult to deal with sometimes. Not to be mean, but they're fairly typical poorly-socialized hardcore fucking nerds who happen to work in retail, rather than skilled/sensible retail workers who happen to be nerds.

The owner is such a friendly guy that I genuinely dislike saying such things, but it's a bit like a parody of a nerd store. Which is fine as long as you're in the relatively narrow band of people it's built to serve, I guess.

(BTW, did I hear correctly the other day that Pandemonium just incorporated Your Move Games up in Davis?!)

Christopher said...

My name is Christopher, I've been working with Tyler for about 18 months. When I started, the store was ready to go under. I put in my blood, sweat and tears to get things going, and so has our part time staff.

I've redesigned the website, spiced up the newsletter, brought in about 1,000 new Magic players, and Tyler has brought in hundreds of new readers.

There's a lot to be said about the Your Move Games merger that we should make public that we haven't yet. I promise that once we're able to, we'll explain exactly how that happened and why I truly believe it will be to the service of the gaming community.

I've put in a lot of time to coordinate what looks like a path that might lead Pandemonium to success. We're not begging our customers for money yet, but we're still running extremely hot.

I screwed up. I'm the one that was texting inappropriately. It doesn't matter that it was a work related e-mail to the Manager of Your Move regarding operations, or that it was time sensitive. I didn't take the time to just communicate with the customer, explain what was going on, or just put the damn phone down.

I publicly apologize to the longtime customer that has experienced this level of service. (and I will update the website as to what's happened as well)

I've put in my own cards, my own time, I work salaried so Tyler doesn't have to pay me overtime. (I put in an average of 70 hours per week in July). I consider myself a servant to the community and I've been acknowledged my many people as part of the reason Pandemonium recovered from the brink of bankruptcy. I don't want to have it all fall apart. This is not the normal level of service, in fact Tyler and our team have put in more effort with the feedback we received to improve the experience. that our fan base receives.

Badelaire said...

Wow, 20 comments deep and a post from the employee in question (ok, who's the sneaky one who passed along the column...?).

I'm not going to get into it here - I'll reply to Chris privately (as an aside, he e-mailed me as well, which is appreciated). However, publicly as well, thank you Christopher for commenting here on a not-very-flattering column with some not-very-flattering comments. That does take some balls, and I salute you for it.

Darkwing said...

It was nice to apologize, but your apology came off as very defensive. If you had said:

"My name is Christopher, I screwed up. I'm the one that was texting inappropriately. I didn't just put the damn phone down. I publicly apologize to the longtime customer that has experienced this level of service."

Then that would have been fine, and sufficient to make me think that an effort would be made to address the issue. But the rest of it is you essentially defending the poor customer service by making excuses. The time and effort you put into the store may be laudable, but if you have to break your back to keep the business afloat, that goes with the territory. If you then screw it up by giving a customer a bad experience, that's your fault, and frankly, a customer doesn't care about how much work you put in whenever that customer is not there. A customer just wants a good experience, not explanations or excuses.

Christopher said...

To Badelaire: It might not always seem like it, especially when we're stressed, but every customer does matter. If you're upset, it's our responsibility to reply and evolve with each member of the community, no matter how active or passive they may be. The experience you want out of the store may be different from out target market, but that doesn't mean that you aren't a part of what's been built. It also doesn't mean that you should be ignored either.

to Darkwing: I'm going to be defensive. I'm not ever going to try to say what I did was right on that account, or that what I did is justified in any way, or that the act should be defended. I dropped the ball. Lastly, I think at least a minority of customers care about the amount of work put into a store. I've seen what happens when you focus on just the experience and sales. Just a 2 cent comment, if that.

We really do value feedback. This was harsher then I generally like feedback to be, but it helps. There's many points brought up in this thread outside of customer service, and I'd be interested in continuing conversations with anyone that wants to provide further feedback. I can be reached at

Hopefully we can move past this as an isolated incident, and we can continue to grow as a center of New England Science Fiction.

Drathmere said...

I just went to the store a few days ago and had a really good experience. It made me feel really good to be in a geeks geek kind of place. I am not sure who helped me, but he was nice, and quite patient with a bunch of little kids trying to decide what CCG packs to buy. My only complaint was that they were out of brushes! I am really happy with the store and the staff. The basement looks like a good place to game.

Badelaire said...

@Drathmere: Glad to see you had a good visit there. I've never played 40K at Pandemonium, but they do have fairly regular meetups at the store. I've added your 40K Blog to my 'roll; some nice looking work there.