Out of the Box Games has opened up a second store, this one in the greater Grand Rapids area. This is great news for the gaming community because this is a great STORE, not just a great GAME STORE. However, it didn’t occur to me initially that the opening of Out of the Box would have side effects.
1. Schuler Books & Music
Schuler Books on 28th Street has typically been a robust venue for gamers in the Grand Rapids area. Their venue has often had 30+ people who would RSVP on the West Michigan Tabletop Gamers meetup (WMTG). Since Schuler Books sells board games, this was a great boon to their Wednesday night sales. In exchange for these sales, Schuler Books offers WMTG members a nice 20% discount on board games.
Then Out of the Box Games (OotB) opened up in Kentwood, about 5 miles from Schuler Books.
Last week, someone on the WMTG meetup asked if people were still meeting at Schuler Books? The response came back that all of those meetups were moved to OotB. With one fail swoop, Schuler Books lost its gamer base. The migration appears to be complete and swift.
I’m not sure what Schuler Books’ contingency plan will be. They may be able to weather this storm and still serve the gaming community because they are well established and respected in GR. But to weather this storm they will need to be much more knowledgeable about games than they were before. Schuler Books had relied on the WMTG to handle the meetups and the technical side of board games while Schuler’s merely supplied the venue. Going forward, Schuler’s will have to handle the technical side to compete.
I can see Schuler Books’ offering a niche venue for Grand Rapids. Children game events? Senior game events? I don’t know what exactly, but there are some opportunities that Schuler’s could pursue.
2. Whitecap Comics/Outer Limits
White Cap Comics on Cummings Avenue along with their sister store the Outer Limits on Burton Street will have to undergo substantial changes just to survive.
Here are the problems.
- There is no play area at the Outer Limits.
- The parking space is nonexistent (Outer Limits) to bad (White Caps).
- White Caps is difficult to find while the Outer Limits is unworthy of being found.
- The hours at White Cap comics vary from day to day and are not conducive to a gamer’s lifestyle.
- The discount White Cap gives to gamers is a punch card system that amounts to about 12% or less.
- White Cap Comics does not use the WMTG meetup.
White Cap Comics does have a nice selection of games. And it is a nice GAME STORE albeit not a nice store (more of a mediocre store). And they seem to have a loyal following of gamers. Their floor space includes many tables for gamers. It would be unfortunate to lose such a gaming resource. But unless substantial changes, I cannot see a scenario where they survive.
Here are some ideas that would send some of my OotB money their way:
- Become the gaming experts about some facet of the hobby. OotB is really good in a general sense. If you cannot compete with them in location or ambiance, you will need to be THE roleplaying store or THE Magic: The Gathering store or what have you.
- Have gaming events that other local venues aren’t doing. They will have to be creative here because Big Kidz Games, Grand Lan and OotB have much of the gaming hobby covered.
- Bigger discounts. The “get a punch for every $10 you spend–10 punches you get $15 off” amounts to about 9% to 12%. Even Schuler’s demolishes that puny discount.
- Augment the business with something in place of or in addition to comics. Comics stores cannot survive. Apparitions Comics off 28th Street announced they were closing their doors just weeks ago. If they cannot make it, then White Caps will have to retool also. Mainstream Toys that the department stores don’t carry (like high-end Legos) would be an idea.
Even if they jump through all or most of these hoops, I still don’t see their small Outer Limits storefront surviving. Consolidation of their two stores seems almost inevitable.
3. Big Kidz Games
Big Kidz Games will suffer some of the issues that both Schuler’s and White Caps will suffer.
- Big Kidz Games is an active venue on WMTG but should see a decline in participation due to OotB (like Schuler’s).
- Big Kidz Games relies on game sales to stay afloat but will probably take a hit due to OotB (like White Caps) .
Big Kidz Games is very knowledgeable about miniature wars and Magic: The Gathering. This gives them a niche to survive. OotB only dabbles in those areas. This will be Big Kidz Games avenue to survival. If the M:TG and mini wargaming community in GR remain strong, Big Kidz can stick around. If the gaming community migrates to a more general gaming atmosphere, Big Kidz could be in trouble.
4. West Michigan Tabletop Gamers
WMTG is trying to be synonymous with the Grand Rapids gaming community. And to a large extent, WMTG has been successful in this regard. Overall, the Grand Rapids gaming community will be greatly served by Out of the Box’s new store in Kentwood. But will WMTG be served by the new OotB location?
Initially my response would have been a resounding “YES!” But now I’m not so sure.
The last newsletter from WMTG came out in late November. (These newsletter are emailed and published monthly). The newsletter had this to say:
$10 MEMBERSHIP EFFECTIVE MARCH 1
When groups grow and become more successful, the costs of maintaining them increase.
There has always been a suggested donation of $10 per year from the members, and
WMTG is grateful to those who have generously given. But now, to keep up with
growing group expenditures throughout the year, WMTG will be making this annual $10
fee mandatory starting March 1, 2015.
Please be assured that these dues will go toward the continued growth and improvement
of the group. This will also mean new events and occasional tabletop prizes to be given
away to WMTG members. Please feel free to contact Brian W. Lenz (founder) if you
have any questions regarding the implementation of the mandatory dues starting in
Requests for money are always tricky. I can tell that a lot of time and effort went into writing that blurb. It was a very nicely written request for membership fees. And if the meetup needs the funding, then the gaming community in GR should pony up if they want the WMTG to continue to exist.
But does the gaming community in GR want the WMTG to continue to exist?
There are 561 members on the WMTG meetup as of today. There will probably be over 600 by the time the March 1, 2015 deadline hits. But the actual number of hardcore gamers is much, much lower. I’d estimate it at about 125 to 150. And these gamers may question why they are paying $10 to the WMTG when they can game six nights a week for free at Out of the Box. It almost seems punitive to charge $10 to be a member of the meetup group when you could (and often are encouraged to) bring your freeloading buddies to the WMTG gaming events.
I’m not sure how draconian the WMTG is going to enforce this mandatory $10 membership. I am not paying it. If they boot me out of their group, then so be it. Membership in the WMTG is not required for me to go to Out of the Box anyway. And I think there will be many others who feel the same way. We will only pay $10 a year if we are getting value for our $10. With OotB so close, what value is WMTG going to provide?
5. Muskegon Area Games
So what effects will the opening of Out of the Box Games in Kentwood have on the Muskegon Area Gamers? Well, seeing as how it is 47 miles away from The Gaming Annex: not much.
This new store is another 20 miles farther away than the Zeeland store. Plus there was never much “competition” between Out of the Box and The Gaming Annex. The only competition was for the hearts and minds of the gaming community in Spring Lake and Grand Haven. We’ve had people from Holland and West Olive inquire about gaming with us but I typically send them to the OotB store in Zeeland–not because I don’t want to game with people from Ottawa County but because they probably don’t know that closer venues are available. If someone from GR inquires about The Gaming Annex I will have no problem letting them know about closer gaming options like OotB.
I think I speak for most of the Muskegon Area Gamers when I say that I am very happy for Jeff and his success with Out of the Box Games. I hope that the Kentwood store does so well that he can justify opening a store in Muskegon!