Monday, May 4, 2015

(Review) Emerald Vale Games, One Year Later

On free comic book day, I spied a little flier on the door advertising a new game store in the Wilkes-Barre area.  A decade of gaming retail experience made be expect a hole in the wall with a few boxes of magic, some singles, and some ratty used stuff.   It was nice to be proven wrong by Emerald Vale Games first storefront, friendly staff, and some form of an actual business plan.  Since they had only been open for a month, I gave them an incomplete on my review, but gave them a three and a half gnome review on their six month check-up.   

So after a year (almost 13 months) in business, how is Emerald Vale doing?

First off, THEY AREN'T THERE ANYMORE.  I mean, they aren't at there original location on the San Souci Highway.  Due to space and zoning limitations, they took a new storefront two blocks away at 109 West End Rd (for locals, that's the road to the Carey Ave Bridge).  It's a recessed corner storefront that used to be a Scooter Store.  In fact, the little scooter sign is still up with those of the other storefronts, and only a hand written neon-green sign on the door identifies them.    

The new store allows some separation of the activities that the owners were unable to do with the original store.  The main room is sales and wargaming, a separate room off it is for role-playing,and a vast back room is for CCGs, board, clix, and dice game.  The back room has it's own entrance and a an adjacent garage door, which a few temporary walls were set up to create a storage room/office.

The GW display and the junk table just inside the door
They are busy: Everytime I walk into the store, something is going on.  Role-playing, Yu-Gi-Oh!, Magic, Games Workshop, and even Blood Bowl are hot and heavy there.  Events are constantly occurring over the month.
Wargamng tables and the role playing room in the back
The Store:  Oh, the store.    In a perfect world, one doesn't rush moving from one location to another the same weekend as a scheduled Magic Gran Prix or Pro Tour Qualifier event for 64 players.    Paint got applied to the walls, fixtures moved, and the lights turned on before the tournament started.  They haven't really recovered since then.   All the stock is finally up on the shelves, but with the wargaming tables so close to the rack, it's a wee bit intimate.  Even if there are no games going on, the piles of terrain and somebody's figures lying haphazard does not make a comfortable shopping experience.
The back room, chock full of gamers (and a slight smell of onion... but no B.O.)
Clientele:  A busy store means a wide selection of customers and gamers.   The few booster drafts I've attended and the one pre-release tournament have had their share of obnoxious frat boys, and a selection of people your want to negatively stereotype as "gamers," but I've also met a large cohort of genuinely nice fellows (and ladies) who just want to game and have a great time.

The store collection of games
Gaming:  RolePlaying includes Pathfinder, Shadowrun, Rifts, and probably some Fifth Edition D&D.  Heroclix has a nice following, and the DC/Marvel dice games have exploded.  Throw in a full slate of CCGs and board game events, and there's always something to do.

Games Workshop:  At six months, they had just started to develop their Games Workshop account, and something that amazes me occurred:  Stuff just flew off the shelves.   More times than I care to admit, the GW selection needed an emergency order to keep them from becoming bare.  At this point they've done a good job of keeping the core items in stock with duplicates and filling in as much as they can with the paints, accessories, and other models.
Clix, X-Wing, and Corvus Belli Infinity???
Inventory:  The shelves are brimming with stock, which outside the boardgame selection, has been turning over nicely.   I've had a pleasant experience dealing with special order, as has my non-gamer wife.  The elephant in the room when it comes to stock in a Magic shop are the singles, and again, the binders are disorganized or non-existent.  They do placate the players with a nice selection of under $50 singles in the case, and some discount boxes on the counter.  
Tiny RPG section, overwhelmed by board and card games
Looking towards the front of the store and the display case

So, after a year in business, what do I rate Emerald Vale Games on my world famous Gaming with the Gnomies Five-Gnome System?

A whopping Two and a Half Gnomes.

The sense of community is there, the customer base has been developed, and there is something to do if you walk into the door.  I bet you many of the regulars consider this the greatest store ever, and that should give Joe and Brad, the owners, a sense of accomplishment.

However, I've spent far too many years working in shops that, if we relied on our most fervent followers, we would have been out of business within a year.    I'm not interested in the 200 or so people who come in regularly.  I'm more worried about the 100,000 other people within a half hour drive.  Specifically, the "Games Workshop Mom."    Would a suburban mom with a $300 budget be willing to walk into the store, talk to a staff member, get assistance regarding in-stock items and be able to get the rest resolved through a special order?

  1. Would she even be able to find the place?  I was very impressed that the website was updated with the the new store information yesterday (it hadn't been a month ago).  A sign is a one-time (per location) expense that draws people in.  Unless they're hosting scooter demolition derby, I don't think that's working right now.
  2. Speaking of social media, I have been impressed by their effort to keep Facebook up to date with events, but when there own website shows pictures of the old store, how do I know what's current, or what they even stock now, as a first time customer.   I see an effort to set up a on-line calender of events, but it would be nice if there was physical signage regarding the activities.
  3. Back to the GW Mom, if she finds the place (and doesn't just use the GW site), she's met by a messy store, and only two employees (the owners) who would be able to help, who aren't always there. Relying on loyal (and professional) customers for support is a crap shoot at best.
Don't believe me?  I'll use my wife as a recent example.   Outside of Fluxx, she's as non-gamer as you can get, yet she had a pleasant experience at the old location to place a sizable special order for me for Christmas.  Outside of holiday shipping delays, she had few questions or concerns.

Recently, she had doctor's appointment nearby and tried to poke her head in with kids in tow.  After a few steps in, no one greeting her or behind the counter, and the current level of clutter, she simply turned around.   I might be getting tools from Sears this Christmas.

I foresee an overhaul occurring over this summer, so I hope my Very Special 18-Month Update quells these problems.

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