Rolling for Initiative is a weekly column by Scott Thorne, PhD, owner of Castle Perilous Games & Books in Carbondale, Illinois and instructor in marketing at Southeast Missouri State University.  This week, Thorne talks about the basics that a game store must offer.

I was in Bowling Green, Kentucky over the weekend on business.  Bowling Green, you may have heard of it.  Population 56,598, third largest city in Kentucky after Lexington and Louisville.  Nice town.  Some very good barbeque.  Anyhow, I had gotten settled into my room and dialed on my cellphone to call the store, checking in to see how things had gone without me.  Usually things are just fine, though there is always that feeling that something has happened that I really need to be there to take care of.  That's almost never the case, though.  I have worked pretty hard to make myself dispensable at the store.

I dial the number.  Nothing.  Not a sound, not a ring.  I shake the phone, not that I expect that do to do any good but still, it couldn't hurt.  Then I look at the phone screen and see the words "NO SERVICE" in bold capital letters written across the screen.  I am in the third largest city in Kentucky and my cell phone has NO SERVCE.  Not just no bars of service but no service whatsoever.  The phrase "Lord Love a Duck" came to mind along with several more colorful terms, but that didn't help much.

Emailing the company produced some interesting results.  I was told to text a code # to the home office, then to call the technical department, both of which are rather hard to do from a cell phone with NO SERVICE.  Luckily, a friend in the same hotel was kind enough to let me use his cell phone (he had SERVICE) and I left that number with the store to call if there were any difficulties.  Of course, there weren't (I have a very good staff).

Turns out there is a lot of Kentucky that is not covered by my cell plan as I didn't pick up service again until west of Central City.  Now I have to wonder what other areas are not covered by my cell phone plan.  The company's coverage map shows that almost all of Kentucky is covered by their towers.  Obviously, it is not.  Of course, the note in fine print on the map says that the coverage map only approximates the region covered by my cell phone plan but still, there was an awful lot of Kentucky that the map shows covered that wasn't, at least on my phone.  Needless to say, I am already looking for a new cell phone provider and plan to switch as soon as feasible.

What does this have to do with game stores (or comic stores, or any type of store for that matter)?  Simply this.  When you position yourself as a specialty or hobby game store (or cell phone service provider), you lead the customer to expect to find certain things in your store (or service area covered).  They expect to find certain staple items such as Magic: The Gathering, Yu Gi Oh!, Dungeons & Dragons and Settlers of Catan.  Though Pathfinder outsells Dungeons & Dragons in our store (and a number of others), I have never had a customer come in saying "I have never tried role-playing but heard about Pathfinder and wanted to see it."  It is always Dungeons & Dragons.  I have had new faces come in asking about how to get started in Magic, Yu Gi Oh! and Pokemon.  I have never had anyone just getting started in CCGs come in asking about The Spoils.  If you are going to position yourself as a particular type of store, you need to stock the basic things your customers would expect that type of store to have, even if they turn very slowly.  I would expect no coverage on my cell phone while in a rest stop on the Western Kentucky Parkway, a relatively isolated area.  I would not expect it in the middle of a big (for Kentucky) city.

The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the writer, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the editorial staff of