I own a game store with a terrible manager who I’m afraid to fire

A reader writes:

I own a small (game store) retail business and the store manager I hired to run my business sucks. The store sales have been terrible. The orders he’s been placing of merchandise for our shelves have been terrible and he’s buying way too many items that we don’t need or won’t sell and doesn’t buy the actual products we need that customers do want. He keeps the place a mess and it’s honestly embarrassing and frustrating to walk into trash and leftover food everywhere all the time. He even sucks at hiring new employees. Everyone he has hired we’ve had to fire because they’ve been terrible and he isn’t training them properly. He’s extremely lazy and has no drive or initiative to improve the store. He does the bare minimum and he does a very piss poor job at it.

The problem is there’s a handful of customers who really love him because they’ve been friends for many years. We would love to find a replacement for him, but he’s well known in the community and we are afraid that if we let him go we will take a hit in the community and lose a lot of customers. But we feel like we are already taking a huge hit with him being the manager so it’s hard to figure out what to do in this situation. He’s been with us three years and we’ve had plenty of heart-to-heart talks with him to try and boost his confidence and build him up to hopefully produce better work, but it has been fruitless.

You need to fire him; he’s apparently totally unsuited for the job and is destroying your business.

Isn’t whatever hit you might take from people upset that you fired him outweighed by the hit you’re taking right now from having a messy, embarrassing store with bad merchandise, low sales, and terrible employees? And that’s if there even is a hit once you fire him. Even people who are friends with him are probably able to see the store isn’t in great shape. Sometimes it’s really clear to people why their friend was fired.

But you can minimize your chances of fall-out by managing him in a way that preserves his dignity as much as possible. If things weren’t as much of a mess as they are, I’d suggest trying to make his departure more of a mutual decision: “We are losing money and I need you do X, Y, and Z. We’ve talked about this a lot and nothing has changed. Understanding that I need to see XYZ from you right away, meaning within the next few weeks, and given that those aren’t metrics you’ve been able to meet in the past, does it make sense to give it one more shot, understanding I’d need to let you go in a month if there haven’t been significant changes, or would it make more sense for us to start planning now for an amicable transition that gives you time to find something else?”

But given how very bad he is at the job, I don’t think you can offer him another month. Instead, I’d go with a conversation where you thank him for the energy he’s put into the store, are honest that his strengths (name them if you can!) don’t line up with what the job needs, and tell him you can’t keep him on.

Normally if you hadn’t clearly warned someone that their job was on the line, I’d urge you to do that first — giving a clear warning of what needs to change, a short timeline to do it in, and a clear statement that you’d need to fire them at the end of that time if you don’t see those changes. But in this case (as is often the case with very high-up positions), he’s in a position to do so much damage — and has already done so much damage — that you need to cut to the chase before he does more.

You should also consider offering severance. Severance is made for these situations, because the person receiving the severance typically signs a legally binding non-disparagement agreement in return for the money.

And then once this is all behind you, you’ve got to figure out how this went on for three years! Anyone can make a bad hire, but it’s worth looking at how you made this one in particular (did you check references? how did you evaluate him in the interview?) and how he ended up entrenched there for so long once the problems became clear.

{ 442 comments… read them below }

  1. Witch*

    I’m very sorry. My friends have been in your exact situation; running a small gaming shop. Those things are a cesspool of nerd gossip. But, more than any other business I think, a game store represents a public community space where people can go to mainly socialize. D&D and MtG are social games, so friend group lines get real blurry real fast.

    You’re also running a business, though, and you need to fire him. Even if that means that suddenly you have a ton more work. I know how much new product in that space costs, and I know how likely razor-thin your margins are as compared to the giant Amazon. If he’s buying a bunch of product that people want they’re going to get it online, and play online, and there goes your pop & candy sales potential from people spending 3+ hours in the store every weekend.

    1. Sloanicota*

      I wondered at first if OP might be able to offer this person some kind of role that plays to their strengths, like running a DnD group out of the store or something, but honestly I suspect it would be too toxic to consider.

      1. Lab Boss*

        It would be great if it worked but unfortunately I also suspect if the guy was professional enough to handle that kind of role change, he’d be professional enough to not be doing so poorly in his current job.

        1. GythaOgden*

          Oh yeah, that! Yeesh.

          As a woman I’ve been lucky to have had a very supportive gaming community (both video games and D&D). My first DM was a woman back in 1994, my female school friends got me into fantasy (hence my screen-name — the first fantasy book I read was Mort), and my local gaming store is female-run, but this sounds like Comic Book Guy and needs to go!

          This is what puts everyone off — from casual players, women, families buying games that the hard-core nerds tend to sneer at but keep the shop in business — and will just grind your business into the ground.

          It’s not just feminism at this point; the family board games, jigsaws and other stuff are the main merchandise that generally keeps a gaming shop afloat through Christmas sales. The game shops that came and went where I am catered exclusively to the RPG crowd and, while they weren’t unfriendly to me as a young woman, they had barebones merch and thought they could subsist on D&D and other niche products.

          In contrast, the game shop that has survived 16 years has a large range of board games and jigsaws because they know who spends the most money with them and allows them to be open for the people who buy the D&D etc stuff they also carry. They’ve changed positions several times, but have a sustainable business because they know the majority of their customers are not after the hard-core stuff but after a jigsaw for little Johnny and little Susie to do in those days after Christmas when no-one quite knows what to do with themselves. Some famous shops in e.g. London like Orc’s Nest may be able to sustain themselves through RPG and hard-core games alone (I was constantly there one summer after finishing uni, despite it being quite an expensive train ride away; I was looking for work in London but honestly I made a few day trips), but provincial shops like ours need to be a kind of more sophisticated toy shop to prosper.

          It’s good business sense to welcome families as well as women and minorities. The broader your base, the more you can afford to carry the D&D/MTG stuff, which, whatever we geeks feel about it, is a small market compared to the pockets of mum at Christmas.

          RPG.net had a really good column by a gaming shop owner who was very good at doing the right sort of gatekeeping — making sure the shop remained open to all and didn’t get colonised by the hard-core gamers. I haven’t read it since late 2013, so I’ve no idea whether it’s still up, but if you’re interested in the trials and tribulations of being a hard-nosed businessman managing a game shop, it’s an awesome read.

          1. Agent Diane*

            I am 100% here to say the manager is probably making the store intensely toxic to women and kids. I refused to use one game shop again after one of them threw a game at my head.

            OP you’ll need to invest a lot of time rebuilding the culture of your store.

      2. quill*

        I may be projecting a little but dudes like this (who pick out games they want to promote not the ones that make business sense / match customer demand) have a high likelihood of being gatekeepers.

        OP, if you fire him and suddenly see an uptick in the number of women and girls in your store? You know exactly why.

        1. PlainJane*

          That actually sounds very plausible, though I doubt he sees himself that way. Keeping it looking like a teenage boy’s bedroom (or my teenage bedroom, if I’m fair, but I know I wasn’t quite normal) is a kind of gatekeeping, particularly *this* kind of gatekeeping. It would be good to know what specific ordering and refusing to order is going on.

          1. Worldwalker*

            I would guess that the ordering is all based on what *he* thinks is fun/cool/interesting. He orders what he likes, not what is most likely to sell best. I’ve seen more than one manager sink a store that way. (one, in fact, rose to his level of incompetence and sank an entire company)

            1. quill*

              Yes, this. I mean, often their opinions coincide with “this is popular among a minority / marginalized group and I don’t have any interest in it” but if you focus too narrowly on anything you end up with a store that has one perfect customer: you.

              1. GythaOgden*

                I think this is veering a little bit into patronising stuff. Women like me participate in the hobby too (I got into it at the age of 12 and so it’s my thirtieth gaming anniversary this coming autumnal!) and buy the stuff the men buy. Too /much/ of this actually comes across as compounding the image of gaming as a white male bastion. I get the point you’re trying to make but I’ve had a possibly unusual experience over the past thirty years which hasn’t involved a whole lot of misogyny. Let’s keep things in proportion: exaggerating it only makes it less surmountable rather than moreso, and there’s no product labeled ‘for women’ or ‘for minorities’.

                I may have just been lucky and I don’t live in America, but while I’ve seen some bad business practices, I’ve seen some good ones too. In my experience, the CCG scene (Magic the Gathering, Yu-Gi-Oh) is more ethnically diverse than D&D, thanks in part to being a more visible part of the gaming community (people play CCGs in the shop and D&D at home) but maybe also because it attracts schoolkids as well as adults and that younger demographic is a bit more diverse than the older age group where I am. They’re the kids buying the niche, geeky products alongside the stuff the shop stocks for non-geeky shoppers from which they probably make the most money.

                So be careful of making assumptions in the other direction — that women and minorities don’t actively participate in particular scenes. It’s very nuanced, and going on about the exclusionary aspects of the hobby obscures the actual demographics that I’ve been a part of and makes the Comic Book Guy stuff more prominent than it actually is. When it’s working well, it is a hobby shared by a lot of people of all ages, genders and ethnicities. Don’t self-gatekeep!

                1. quill*

                  More of this is based on potential pitfalls with this dude, just trying to make OP aware of the various different things to watch out for in a manager based on common ways gatekeeping takes place behind the scenes.

                  Who knows! This guy could just be a slob who only wants to sell his favorite games. But the possibility of OP’s stock problems having a pattern is something for OP to look into.

            2. Amy Farrah Fowler*

              Yeah, I think it’s easy to get blinders in that situation. I have a lot of insight because my husband currently manages a game store. The owners seem happy with him, and he has really made a point to learn the games that are popular at his store, and to talk to customers about what they want and if he doesn’t have something that someone is looking for, he will order it if he can get it through one of his distributors.

              I think that it’s so important to cultivate a community that speaks to a lot of different people and to create an inclusive environment. If your manager isn’t doing that, then he does need to go. It will make a HUGE difference in your store.

          2. quill*

            Gatekeepers are gonna gatekeep, whether it’s because they don’t buy “girl comics” or because they spread the good word of GURPS to everyone at all hours of the day, or if they figure their buddies who don’t care that the store is an entire dumpster are the only customers worth catering to.

            (Side note, OP: clean your store and then check your decor. Is there a disproportionate number of boobs on display? Chainmail bikini posters in pride of place? Would you bring a woman you wanted to impress in here? Small children? This has nothing to do with your manager but as long as you’re cleaning house it helps to make sure you’re not excluding any clientele.)

            1. Mary*

              “ Is there a disproportionate number of boobs on display?”

              This is my favorite sentence I’ve read today!

              1. kicking_k*

                It’s true though! I didn’t like reading early Discworld books in public as a teenager, because of the weird and cleavage-filled Josh Kirby cover art. Would I have gone into a shop with the posters all over the walls? Not at that age.

                1. anti social socialite*

                  Random but hard same re: Terry Pratchett. I was hesitant to pick up the books as a teenager because the cover art was so BOOBY.

                  My dad is a huge fan. He is both very reserved and also a feminist that I figured well if he’s reading them, they can’t all be half naked women tied to posts while manly men come save them.

                  TL;DR: LWA pay attention to the decorations and posters in your store. What kind of environment are you creating? What kind of environment do you want to curate?

                2. Mac*

                  I apparently missed this era of Discworld books and am utterly baffled, because it’s not a particularly salacious series? (I mean, compared to what else I was reading at the time, which was mostly Piers Anthony… Ufff, what a dark time of my life THAT was…)

                3. Bagpuss*

                  Yes, I assume that for the early Pratchett someone at the publishers just went for generic fantasy/humour and that automatically meant lots of flesh and hardly any chainmail

                4. Kaye*

                  @ Bagpuss

                  Which, to be fair, was the subgenre he was specifically sending up with the very early ones. But I agree, the covers put me off too, and I never got into Discworld until I started going out with a huge fan. It wasn’t so much the boobage in itself as the overall busy-ness and slightly gelatinous look of it all. And then, when you looked closer, the boobs.

                5. Other Alice*

                  My entire collection (minus the last few books) has Kirby cover art. Never forget he gave Twoflower four literal eyes on the first book…

            2. kicking_k*

              Yep. Or it can be more subtle. I stopped frequenting my local comics store in my mid-twenties, and it took me a while to realise that I no longer felt welcome because anytime I went in there in business casual, I was condescended to. This hadn’t happened when I was a mildly goth-looking student. Evidently they didn’t want Normcore Girl’s business – but I was dressed that way because I had a job now and more discretionary spending money!

              1. Siege*

                Yep, I had the same experience with an LGS – when I was unemployed and dressed much more like a Scene Kid Pixie Goth, I was more welcome in that shop than when I got a really good job and had more discretionary income but dressed in business casual.

              2. Julia*

                I love my local comic shop because they’ve never treated me poorly. It’s one of two shops in the area which I’ve had comfortable shopping experiences as a woman.

                1. Teach*

                  My local game shop has our loyalty forever because they will bend over backwards to politely help my 75 year old mom find and purchase what she wants – which are usually specific MtG cards for her grandkids. This is a great business move for them as well, because she has the disposable income that college kids lack.

                2. ScruffyInternHerder*

                  Hadn’t given this a ton of thought, but now that we’re talking about it, I’m utterly in love with our local gaming shop as the shopkeeper made my young teens (one boy one girl) feel welcome and at home throughout the store. They have almost polar opposite gaming and comic interests, and they both were considered valid.

                  And now that I think on the decor, there was less boobage than I remember being a thing when I was a teenaged manic pixie goth girl myself, and a decent swath of representation there.

                  Didn’t hurt that I wasn’t given the “OMG a normacorewoman how lame” vibe, either.

                3. Anne of Green Gables*

                  I also love my local game store. The owners are a married couple. They are welcoming, approachable, and knowledgeable. Their kids are similar in age to my son so when I go in to get board game recommendations, I don’t just get generic “well the kids seem to like this one” but really specific feedback and suggestions and things like “this game is geared a little older but we adjust the rules this way for it to work for our 7-year-old.” One of them recently took a lot of time to explain the different types of Pokemon cards to my husband, and we plan to only buy from them. I really just do board games and I’ve never been made to feel less-than or like I don’t belong there.

              3. oobatder*

                Oh, yes – I actually had the opposite experience, where the manager of my local game shop once stepped into school a new teenage hire that tried to condescend to me about games when I asked a question about a new game that was out. I was a regular so the manager knew how into gaming I was, the kid assumed I was buying for my kids instead of for me, because no way 30 year old woman would be interested in games herself!!

                I share this not in an attempt to say ‘not all game stores/dudes tho!’ more to point out how that experience, with the manager quickly correcting a new hire to not make assumptions or gatekeep, solidified for me that the store I frequented was welcoming to me – which then made me not worried about recommending it to others I knew as well as assuring they had a long time customer!

                1. GythaOgden*

                  It should be possible to mention the times you’ve been pleasantly surprised. I’ve had a good run myself both in tabletop and computer gaming. Too many stories about Comic Book Guy and people are put off; stories about the positive sides of gaming are more likely to puncture that whole image and attract people in.

                  The last thing we want to do as gamers is just reinforce an image of the hobby as a den of troglodytes. The more we counteract the stereotypical image in public, the more we can actively invite people hitherto excluded from the scene in.

                2. kicking_k*

                  Well done that manager.
                  It was definitely not all the staff in the store that I used to go to, either, but… it was enough of them.

                1. Carol the happy elf*

                  But you’re forgetting ALIEN hotties, who may have any number if whatever turns other aliens on. Boob count might be all over the map, depending on which fleet is in spacedock.

              1. Lab Boss*

                Mathematically approximately one per person, depending on the exact sexual ratio of the population.

                1. quill*

                  Okay but given the way some people draw cover art for fantasy comics / games, part of the proportionality of how much boob is around has got to be considering if any one person has impossible amounts of boob.

              2. CurrentlyBill*

                I suppose rather that raw count, we ought to consider total mamarical volume per square foot of retail space?

                1. linger*

                  For a proportion, we’d need commensurate dimensions (area/area), so something like
                  Visible Tracts of Land Area / Visible Surface Area.
                  A rough back-of-envelope calculation suggests anything more than 5% would be anatomically disproportionate.

            3. Jam on Toast*

              As a parent of two dedicated geeks, I can attest to the fact that there are local game stores I prioritize for these exact reasons when I’m shopping for Valdyk-the-SomethingorOther’s Sword of Crystal-Whatever-Its-Called and other stores I still wouldn’t shop with even if it were the last source of Magic the Gathering cards left in all of Middle Earth. I get that I’m not your typical demographic, Dude-With-A-Cult-Tshirt-and-Hoody but there is nothing more off putting – and more likely to drive off repeat customers – than Bro-tude Geek scorn. It’s fatal to any small business that relies on goodwill to thrive.

              1. anne of mean gables*

                This thread is amazing because I am emphatically not a gamer, but every single comment perfectly applies to your local bike shop.

                1. AnonToday*

                  Yeah. If a shop sneers at me because I walk in with a beach cruiser, wearing corduroys and asking about a new rear rack (and their target market is the local velodrome crowd), guess who’s not getting my business? If you’re a snob who doesn’t think people should use the bike they are comfortable riding, and their ordinary clothes, to go grocery shopping, you are harming the bike community. I’m the kind of person who uses the expensive bike lanes our city has started installing, not puts my bike on a rack to take it to the velodrome because it’s not suitable for riding on the street.

            4. LinuxSystemsGuy*

              Alison’s comment at the end about “figuring out how you got here” is interesting, because I think most of us that have spent any time “Geek Culture” can put together a plausible and likely accurate story.

              OP opened this game store and/or decided to hire a manager for it so they could be hands off. They hired the local version of Eddie Munson who ran a bunch of local games and led/leads a local cadre of game geeks. They almost immediately realize they made a mistake, but “everybody” in the community (really probably just his little group, but they’re vocal and spend most of their money on game stuff) loves Eddie, so they “can’t” fire him. Things escalate because Eddie realizes that he’s “essential”, and he keeps getting worse until here we are.

              What they need to realize is that even though it seems like Eddie’s friends are their only customers, if they clean up the store, (probably) fix the decor to be more welcoming, and bump up the game selection, the customer base can broaden. A hundred people coming through the door and spending $15 or $20 bucks on Settlers of Katan are worth more long term than ten guys that spend their entire $40 allowance on miniatures or Magic cards or whatever Eddie’s group thinks is a “cool” game. Plus a percent of those “Settlers” people will likely become the new generation of harder core customers. Plus a smaller percentage of the current hard core gamers may actually like Eddie than you think.

              1. Lenora Rose*

                I think there’s also a bunch of Geek Social Fallacy involved. “We’re geeks, we’re already ostracized* so we can’t ostracize people from inside our group!” “He’s Just Like That, if you don’t accept that and let him always be exactly like that, in all your spaces, you’re just being cruel.”

                Only now it’s also tangled with the needs of a business. This is probably why it persisted so long, though.

                https://plausiblydeniable.com/five-geek-social-fallacies/

                * Yes, geek circles are much more mainstream for younger generations and much less ostracized in general, but there are still people with the attitude nerdy stuff is bad, if fewer of them, and this impression of ostracism hasn’t gone away.

                1. kicking_k*

                  Yep. My confident young daughter was offended when someone paid her a backhanded compliment by saying she wasn’t a nerd. She says she IS a nerd and everyone should know it. On the one hand, my weirdo kid self is cheering her on, but on the other I need her to be clear that this shouldn’t become just an alternative kind of cliquiness.

              2. Minerva*

                Haw dare you besmirch the good name of Eddie Munson like that, he would be an excellent manager! Heck he was an herbal businessman himself! ;-)

              3. Don P.*

                Heard about engineering, but probably applied more widely: “When you realize an employee is essential, that’s when you need to get rid of them.”

                Also, just because I like it, Charles deGaulle: “The cemeteries are filled with indispensable men.”

        2. Baby Yoda*

          “OP, if you fire him and suddenly see an uptick in the number of women and girls in your store? You know exactly why.”

          Sounds like The Big Bang Theory where creepy Stewart scared away the female comic shoppers.

          1. Ciela*

            LOL!!! Stewart wasn’t even that creepy. One of my LGS had an honest to God “Captain Sweatpants”. Comic book girls I had never spoken to would ask me if that creepy guy was here. But yeah, the lines tend to blur. Have I taken money for snacks, sorted product, answered the phone, sat behind the counter, and run events at places I didn’t even work? Yep!
            But when it’s just the owner with no other employees, and I’m one of the VERY few regulars not still a teenager, I end up in an odd position. I ended up making myself a nametag with a title of “I don’t really work here”. So my MtG peeps got a laugh, and actual customers were understanding that I needed to find the owner to help them.

          2. Petty Betty*

            I dunno. I stopped watching BBT midway through, but Stewart seemed competent at the time I stopped watching.
            Maybe Fanboys-styled shop-running? “We don’t hawk the Trek” “then why do you have a phaser?” “So we can suss out Trekkie b**ches like yourselves… now get to stepping. Step off our land!”

            The guys from Fanboys were wrong then, and it’s wrong today.

          1. Scarlet Magnolias*

            There is a long time comic book store in CT. that I and my sons have gone to for years. They recently changed ownership but they are welcoming and always donate to my library’s free comic book day program. One of the employees was similar to Comic Book guy in the Simpsons, in that he didn’t believe that women understood comics. As an old Marvel, Dark Horse, DC, Underground enthusiastic I would put him straight while my sons watched (half mortified and half egging me on) Good times.
            We have since bonded over our mutual love of HP Lovecraft and horror movies

              1. Aitch Arr*

                No lie, I drove by that very store and whale mural last weekend.

                (I was in town for 30th high school reunion.)

        3. Canterlot*

          You said it so I didn’t have to. I was always interested in gaming but never took it up until I found a group that was mostly women and – crucially – until the option existed to buy games online.

          Things are somewhat better now. A friend dragged me to a game store a few months ago, and it was welcoming and had women working the register. But despite actively gaming on and off for (cough) number of years, it was literally the first time I’d been in a game store since I last bought dice in person in about 2010. Stores used to be filthy, unsettling, and full of creepy dudes who would creepy stare and make creepy, creepy comments and who would somehow find ways to work a rape plotline into Castle Ravenloft…

          1. quill*

            Yeah. Would not have gone to the one in my hometown on my own for the longest time. Wasn’t interested until high school and by then it wasn’t a place I would have walked into without, if not my dad or a friend’s dad, a suitably imposing male friend.

          2. Petty Betty*

            Ugh. There’s a reason why I only go to a few locally-owned stores in my area (and only because I know the owners/long-time workers). The chain stores don’t get my business.
            I’m also ruthless in my condescension of anyone who attempts to act out around me.

        4. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          From my childhood nerd experiences in the comic book shops – unfortunately sounds really, really plausible.

        5. Siege*

          I came here to say this. OP, you cannot overlook the business you’re losing by not offering a good experience not just to existing customers but to potential customers. Game shops are a place where I, as a woman, make a judgment within minutes whether I want to be there or not, and this would drive me out instantly. Whether or not your manager is the kind of toxic nerdbro who harasses women or not, my perception is that it would be very likely, and I would leave.

          The game shops that make me feel comfortable enough to evaluate my actual safety and experience are clean, well-stocked, and have employees who greet customers when they come in, because I cannot count the number of times I’ve walked into a game shop (and I am Deep Nerd, okay, I’ve played RPGs since the 80s, worked for WOTC, have several print credits in D&D books, etc) and not been acknowledged. I can’t read that the way I can at Target – being ignored in a game shop could easily mean I’m being ignored because I’m a woman, where being ignored at Target just means I’m being ignored. Walking into a pit of filth game shop tells me I’m facing a gatekeeper who might insult or harass me (or in truly fun combos both) who never mentally moved out of his mom’s basement and has Very Definite Ideas what games I should be playing, etc.

          1. Ace in the Hole*

            I couldn’t have said it better. A clean, well-kept game shop with welcoming décor, attentive staff, and a wide selection of products does not guarantee I will be treated well. However, a messy shop with rude/inattentive staff and products that clearly represent one specific taste IS a guarantee I will be treated poorly.

            Not only do those shops lose my business, I warn off my entire gaming group from shopping there. Normally I like supporting local business, but when a shop is actively hostile to the community it serves I have no regrets about boycotting in favor of ordering stuff online and hosting games in my own back yard.

            1. Bebop*

              So I’m the OP, and I am really thankful for everyone’s feedback.

              I will say this – the manager does not act like a perv or a creep. I myself am a female and I completely understand ya’lls past experiences with creepy game store employees who like to make women feel very uncomfortable. I want to stress that this is not happening thankfully.

              He just unfortunately seems way too in over his head. He doesn’t possess the skills necessary to handle this position. We have tried numerous times to try and motivate him by praising him for doing good on specific things. I just don’t think we can force motivation and initiative into his personality if it’s just not there.

              The other tricky part of this situation is, my business partner and I both own this store, but we both have full time jobs. So we are trying to figure out what to do if we decide to let this person go. We cannot afford to take a break from our full time jobs, but we would need to somehow devote the time to interviewing, hiring, and training a new manager. We feel very torn on what the right decision is.

              The other side of the coin, this manager is in school full time and should be graduating in about a year and will leave us to begin that career.

              1. AnonAcademic*

                My vote (and I have never owned a business, so grain of salt) is that “should be graduating” in “about a year” is too long. Can you let the manager go, stick up an “on hiatus!” sign, close the business for 1-2 months while you hire a new manager, and open again in time for the Christmas rush?

              2. Aurion*

                OP, a year is MORE than enough time to tank your store beyond any hope of salvage.

                Also? You and your business partner will have to hire a replacement manager once your current manager leaves for his new career. Unless you plan for him to hire his own replacement (which is a terrible idea since he has already proven to be bad at hiring employees), you will eventually have to figure out how to replace him anyway. Figure that out now before he sinks your store and business.

              3. Cold and Tired*

                Hate to say it OP, but if this person hasn’t had a career before and is who is managing your store, that probably explains a lot of why you have a problem in the first place. Pretty much no one is ready to be in a management role without actual job experience.

                You’d probably be doing your employee a favor in addition to yourselves by letting them go now. After all, all they’ve learned from working for you is “I can do a horrible job and not have any consequences so why would I change”. If they’re aiming for the type of job that requires an educational degree, that’s likely not going to fly, so it might help them to experience consequences. And you’re not an internship that has promised experience at your own personal cost! Do what you need to be successful with your own business first.

                1. Irish Teacher*

                  And if he is in school full-time and is planning on leaving soon(ish) to take up the career he is studying for, it’s very possible he sees running the shop as a mixture of a hobby and a way of earning a bit of extra pocket money rather than a real career. This is fine with the ordinary assistants – heck, people who enjoy it and will bring in business as well as working there may well be good hires – but I think for manager, you need something more.

                  The worst run school I ever worked in was due to amalgamate with another and I’m pretty sure the principal’s plan was to retire once they amalgamated and let the principal of the other school take over, so he didn’t really care. He was just putting in the time. It’s possible the same thing is happening here, that the manager just sees this as his part-time job rather than feeling he is managing a business. Which is reasonable; his focus probably SHOULD be on school. But it does mean he probably isn’t in a position to do a management job.

                  I took some roles like this as a college student, though as work experience rather than paying jobs, jobs that both got me some experience and that were fun, but I wasn’t in a management role. If he is seeing this as a bit like running a college club and the LW needs somebody to run a business, then it’s not surprising things aren’t working out.

                2. Cpt Morgan*

                  Tbh, I don’t blame him for OP’s problem when neither OP nor their business partner are invested enough to actually manage the store more actively themselves.

              4. Siege*

                I’m genuinely glad to hear it’s not happening the way so many of us have worried! As far as replacing this guy, though, could you do a soft search that he doesn’t know about and try to line up his replacement first? That will take some timing and a little sleight of hand, but you can’t count on getting a new hire in a week of vacation, so I wonder if it makes sense to try to hire and plan to let him go/each of you take a week of vacation for training. It’s not ideal, especially if you don’t have ample vacation, but that could work.

                Or if you could find someone who won’t drive it further into yo ground but wants something short-term, that could be a way to get yourself the space to make a permanent hire.

              5. Joy*

                If that’s the situation, you might be able to offer a more friendly deal, where you “let” them drop to part time/take a sabbatical/have an assistant manager, so they can focus on school.

                If they really need time for homework, they may be thrilled to help to train an assistant manager (who you hire from outside your main customer base) to handle that organizing and cleaning work they don’t enjoy or have time to do.

                They may honestly be happier and more effective if they can be in charge of just one or two sections, and they turn in draft orders without worrying about overall budget.

              6. Run mad; don't faint*

                I think you need to start interviewing replacements, with a careful eye to people with managerial experience. Ideally, in the best of all possible worlds, you two would have a discussion with this guy about staying on a few more months while you get someone new up to snuff.

                If you can’t do that, can the two of you start by hiring experienced employees who could handle the work load briefly without a manager if/when you let him go before hiring a replacement?

              7. Janeric*

                So… this person is pretty young, has no previous management experience, limited retail experience outside of your business, and very limited oversight/day-to-day presence from you guys? Uh. OK. This is a different situation than you describe in your letter.

              8. Tenebrae*

                I hope this doesn’t read as sarcastic, because it really, genuinely is not meant to be. I’m glad that your manager is not a creep and that you understand how unwelcoming game shops can be for women (and other non cis white male people).
                That doesn’t mean some of your customers aren’t interpreting it as a hostile environment. I am female and I’m queer, so I’ve got two tickmarks on the ‘you’re not a person, you’re politics’ scorecard and I don’t think I’m unique in how carefully I assess things whenever I enter a geek space. I don’t need an employee to be rude to me; if I walk in and the store is dirty and the only other people are a group of intense males in the corner, I don’t need an overtly bad experience to assume it’s not for me and I’m probably gone forever.

                1. Radical Edward*

                  Same here – I second this, hard. It’s good to know this employee isn’t actively hostile to customers who aren’t his friends, but that’s not going to stop someone like me from putting him in the ‘maybe’ column and cutting my losses. Especially if his friends are often hanging around when the store is open; regardless of whether their behavior is actively hostile, a group of men loitering in a game store can be off-putting by default when the backdrop is a dingy, cluttered, ill-kept interior. It sends a very specific message that I learned not to ignore as a teenager.

                  I can’t count the number of times over the last *mumble* decades I have excitedly entered a new-to-me gaming/comics store only to immediately stop short in disappointment, surrounded by a sea of single-property merchandise. That lack of variety coupled with a lack of staff attention is all it takes to send me back out the door, never to return (unless I hear through the grapevine that ownership has changed, perhaps).

                2. Siege*

                  This is what I was describing in my comment too – an unwelcoming store is not a place I trust I won’t find a gatekeeper. He could be the nicest dude on the planet and the filth and understock would drive me out before I ever met him.

                3. 2 Cents*

                  Yep. There’s a gaming store my husband LOVES and I refuse to go into because it smells of teen boy, it just feels dirty (because it is), smells like a toilet, there are large mannequins featuring large cleavage at eye level (it’s just a lot, and I’m not a prude but come on), and when you walk in as a female, everyone in the place (because it’s usually only guys) stares at you. It’s very off putting. I stay in the car now, gladly. In other stores, I go in an occasionally find something interesting to spend money on!

              9. Jackalope*

                I will push back a little bit on one of your comments here, OP. You said that the manager isn’t acting like a perv or a creep, and that’s really good. But it’s still possible that he’s driving away your non cis straight white male (CSWM) potential customers. If, for example, he’s only buying games and associated merch for games that are more often enjoyed by CSWMs, and ignoring other games that might be directed at different audiences (not to say that non-CSWM people wouldn’t play those other games too, but if he’s not ordering merch that’s got a more diverse appeal); if game nights tend to be cliquish tables with him and his friends (or are only for advanced players, etc.); anything like that can possibly drive away non-CSWM customers even if he’s not being creepy.

                1. Morning Flowers*

                  I also wonder, OP … how do you *know* your manager’s not being a perv or creep (or just misogynist)? From what you describe, you have very little opportunity to observe how he behaves, and most misogynistic behavior in retail is (a) subtle / hard to prove, (b) not done where the Big Boss can see if the Big Boss is a woman, and (c) not reported to upper management because it’s not worth it to any individual woman to make a stink (easier to just shop elsewhere). What’s more, a young, “unmotivated,” inexperienced man like you describe the manager to be might (a) not *realize* how he’s treating women or that they have reason to avoid the shop, or (b) might not even think of women as potential customers. He doesn’t have to “like” making women uncomfortable to be *doing* it.

                  What I’m trying to get at is, whether your manager is sexist or not, it sounds to me like the setup you have doesn’t give any feasible, reliable way to be sure of how your manager’s actually behaving. Maybe you have a lot of detailed info you haven’t gone into that changes this assessment, and if so just ignore my comments, but if I put myself in the shoes of a potential customer for your store, “Don’t worry he’s not like *that* that” doesn’t reassure me in light of the other details I do have.

                2. Ace in the Hole*

                  Morning Flowers has an excellent point. LW, I’m really glad he seems okay and non-creepy in his interactions with you. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean anything about his behavior when you’re not around.

                  Unfortunately I’ve seen this happen first hand. I (a woman) work in a male-dominated field. While I’m not technically management, I’m a senior employee with a lot of influence. All the guys I work with are totally respectful to ME and around ME… but some of them have been truly awful to entry-level women we hire. It was a real shock to hear these junior women describing harassment from men who have never said anything remotely inappropriate in my hearing. Whether or not it was a conscious decision, they kept themselves in check around me because they knew I had a lot of power over their jobs. As soon as the power dynamic was reversed, their inner creep came out.

                  Some guys don’t respect women. They just respect power/authority, and are able to overlook the fact that a woman holds it.

              10. Beth*

                Okay, so he’s leaving, either a year from now or now. To me, that sounds like you might as well fire him! Yes, it will be rough in the immediate present until you get someone hired. But that’s either a problem for now-you or a problem for a-year-from-now-you, so you’re going to have to deal with it either way. At least if now-you handles it, you’ll be able to get your store going in the right direction.

              11. coffee*

                If you don’t have the time to hire & train a manager, would you be better off selling the store? Just wanted to float that idea.

              12. Mac*

                Hey, OP! So here’s my 2¢. I’m a female-presenting person who has always looked younger than I am. I also am philosophically opposed to hierarchical structures in general, and am more comfortable with a supportive, positive-reinforcement management style whenever I’ve been in management positions (which sounds like it might vibe with you as well).

                I have noticed that when I am managing/training people, the only times I’ve had real problems are with cis-het dudes who aren’t openly hostile or creepy, who are in fact likeable and friendly– but who all the same just WILL. NOT. DO. something that I need them to do as a very basic requirement of the job, no matter how many times I sit down with them and explain why it’s important and necessary. So, this is just to say that misogyny is insidious and takes many forms, and sometimes that form can just be a guy passive-aggressively not respecting his female boss’s authority.

                As for your dilemma about hiring a new manager, why not brainstorm all the local businesses you *do* think are well-run and see if there’s any way you can leverage that pool of local talent? Either by talking with other business owners about whether they have recommendations of promising workers who just need more hours than they’re able to provide, or by talking directly to managers you admire to see if they’d be willing to consult for you in your hiring/training process. Or, as a last resort (and I would only do this to big chain stores, not to other small businesses) maybe just try and poach someone from another store by offering them a lot of autonomy and a humane work environment and competitive pay.

                Good luck!

              13. Baffled Teacher*

                So unfortunately it sounds like no one in this equation is giving this retail business the full-time attention it needs. Fire your manager—or, as someone suggested, if you think it’s possible, transition him to assistant manager under the reasoning that he’ll be leaving next year—and hire someone who has a) retail management experience and b) the ability to make customers welcome above all else. You can tell them what they need to buy. Customers can suggest what they need to buy. They can research what’s popular. You don’t need subject area expertise. You need a manager.

              14. danmei kid*

                He doesn’t have to be an overt creep to drive women away. A store that is unkempt and disorganized triggers “this is not a safe place to be” vibes. That’s enough to send me out the door with my money still in my pocket. Heck, just looking in the window, I would not even go in.

              15. Trivia Newton John*

                Hi BeBop: I hate to be the Unopopular Voice here, but I have more questions:

                1. How much does keeping store open/alive matter to you and your business partner? I can’t figure this out because being torn about it sounds like you don’t want to really do anything, you just want this person to go away and a new magical person to run your store without you having to do something more?
                2. If the answer to my first question is “we love this store and it is our baby and we absolutely want to keep this store open and we understand we need to put in some hours way above what we’re used to in addition to what we do with our full time jobs/lives” (or anything similar) the next question is: well then, what are you and your business partner willing to sacrifice in the short term in order to make that happen?
                Are either/ both of you willing to:
                (a) fire your store manager effective immediately and manage the store yourselves while you find your replacement manager?
                This would mean taking PTO from your full time jobs, and/or working evenings and weekends in addition to your full time job(s). This means for at least a few weeks, you’re going to be tired, you’re going to miss out on a lot of “life” stuff, and it’s not going to be super awesome, but sometimes you have to do this kind of thing.
                (b) are you willing to take evenings/weekends/a few days of PTO to review resumes, interview potential store managers and call reference checks?
                (c) do you have a very well written job ad up on any job sites clearly spelling out qualifications? How soon will this be up and running if no? Could you post about it on social media in circles where you might find very qualified candidates?
                (d) could you reduce store hours so that you’re only open evenings/weekends or Thursday through Sunday or something for the next month, if it’s you and your business manager running things while looking for a replacement or hire someone temporarily to be there during the workday hours and either you or your business partner are available to jump in every evening/weekend shift until a new manager is hired?

                I know not everyone will feel like this but I guess if I was worried about the business I love and I own failing because of a horrible manager, I’d start looking into taking some PTO days from my job and explaining to those I love that things are going to be crazytown busy for a little while, but I have to do this for the good of the business need to step up in order to fix this mess.

              16. Rain's Small Hands*

                How tied in to the gaming community are you? Can you find someone through those connections who is more qualified – and currently not working – to take the job interim? Like a retiree. Or someone who had a career and then stayed home with kids and now the kids are in school. You have a part time manager now, you may even be able to keep him and just put an “adult” in place to handle hiring, training, inventory, and getting the store running properly – more of a “Interim COO” to see you through the last year of this guy and bring in a new manager.

                Someone said something along the lines of “a messy gaming store doesn’t feel safe” – this guy could not send out creeper vibes at all, but gaming stores are – as you can see from this thread – notoriously for being uncomfortable for women and queer people. So you need to make sure that even if this guy is safe as houses, the store itself feels safe. If its cluttered and messy, it doesn’t. That’s non-negotiable and perhaps where you start with this guy in the meantime – the store need to be clean and tidy within a week because otherwise, it doesn’t feel like a safe space for our customers.

                Also, are you making money – or at least breaking even? Pouring money into this business while you are both working full time is not good. If you are breaking even, keep it running. If you aren’t, shut it down. You’ve been running it for a few years, it needs to be breaking even at this point – and perhaps making a little on top of that.

                This thread shows that there are a lot of geeks out there – you need to find one who will work for presumably peanuts (or maybe with a stake in the business), who has some experience in managing, and preferably retail, and who has time.

                Also, don’t depend on this guy leaving to pursue his career in a year. If he graduated today, depending on his field, he might find something immediately. But if his degree is in History – he may find working at the gaming store is a good place for now. And who knows what the market will be in a year for new graduates in Computer Science or Business.

          2. InsufficientlySubordinate*

            Spot on. I imagine some games might not be ordered to if they have a sensitivity editor as that seems to be a “gross guy” hot button right now.

          3. AnotherLibrarian*

            Well said. This is such a real thing. I shouldn’t have to work to get the attention of the person behind the counter to ask where the Pathfinder books are and I do not want to get into a debate about why I should be playing DnD. Just direct me to what I asked to see. That’s all I want.

          4. Zennish*

            Yep, I personally wouldn’t shop there. Also been gaming since the 80s, had friends that worked for Ral Partha and White Wolf, etc. There are many (at least in my experience) Gen-X gamers who have ample discretionary income, and will avoid places like this. My spouse and I will happily blow more than wise amounts of money on a game and supplements just because it looks interesting, but we aren’t going to shop somewhere that looks and smells like some high school kid’s basement D&D lair.

            1. Hannah Lee*

              Oh, the smells! I’d forgotten about the particular smell certain game stores, and music stores, have. The smell alone can serve as its own particular “go away, no girls allowed” flag.

          5. Luna*

            I dunno, I am a videogame playing woman in my 30s myself, and I never really felt like I had to ‘decide’ if I felt welcome in a store. I honestly prefer it if I don’t get immediately greeted or an employee teleports to my side saying, “How can I help you?/Are you looking for something specific?” Fuels my anxiety and I feel pressured to ‘buy something or else’.
            I prefer to go in and see what they have, before asking for something specific that I couldn’t find by browsing myself. But then, I don’t think I ever really came across gatekeeping because I am a woman… I know some people have previously told me on the internet that I’m not a ‘real’ Zelda fan because I don’t care for Ocarina of Time, Majora’s Mask or, since its release, Breath of the Wild. But that had nothing to do with my sex or gender.

            1. AmberFox*

              Luna, I bet you have had those “decide if I’m welcome” moments and don’t realize it. There’s a lot of folks on this thread that are speaking of moments of real intentionality, real decision-making, but for me? It’s just a feel. It’s a “is there anyone in here but me?” or a “oh my god there are so many teenage boys talking about their OP builds at high volume here” or “everything is sticky and there’s a SMELL” or just plain old “that is a LOT of half-naked anime chick art.” I almost never think “I feel unwelcome or unsafe” – there’s always some other reason why I don’t really want to go there again.

              And I’m with you on not wanting the sales pressure, but… it’s also weird to be the only customer in the shop and not at least get a “welcome in!”, which I suspect is what people are more expecting.

              1. Luna*

                The “That is A LOT of half-naked anime chick art” thing doesn’t bother me much, honestly.

                I recall a time when my mom and I were buying DVDs because there was a huge sell and she caught up with me in the anime section.
                She looked at the DVD covers and said, “That woman needs to finish getting dressed.” I told her she had to be a bit more specific because a lot of DVD covers for anime involve a degree of skin showing. (I believe the DVD in question she was talking about was Elfen Lied)

                1. AmberFox*

                  It depends for me. My threshold for “a LOT” is pretty high, because I’ve been to gamer and anime cons and some things are just background noise now, but there legitimately is a point at which I do just go, “…This place is either for horny guys or – no, it’s just for horny guys.” A 30-ft display wall of body pillows printed with mostly-naked, barely-legal-looking anime women with O-faces, for instance, is a bit much.

        6. Zap R.*

          Yeah, the comic book store my husband used to go to had one of those managers who let his friends hang out at the store all day and socialize. The one time I was in the store, those friends got real creepy real fast.
          We never went back.

          Not saying that the manager in this situation necessarily has creepy friends but in my experience, the most virulent issues in gaming/nerd culture are upheld by people afraid to call out their friends/popular people in the community.

        7. Books and Cooks*

          “OP, if you fire him and suddenly see an uptick in the number of women and girls in your store? You know exactly why.”

          This is EXACTLY what happened in our friend’s comic shop.

        8. My Cheap Ass Rolls*

          I think you can extrapolate that to the number of any marginalized group, especially marginalized groups in nerd-dom. I’d absolutely start taking a look at what kinds of people are hanging around, and what kinds of people aren’t, and how that might change once he is no longer there.

          That likely won’t change overnight, because he may have alienated some people who have now basically crossed the shop off their “safe place to be me” list, but the word will get out eventually. Look to your social media presence and work on demonstrating that you are a place where women and other marginalized groups can come without worry.

          Signed, the girl who stopped playing M:TG in college because the local comic book/gaming store became gross in so many ways.

          1. Stuff*

            To this day, I am often the only woman present at M:TG events, if not one of only two, and since I’m not a particularly great player, I feel like a walking “This is why women shouldn’t play” stereotype, so I just don’t play much anymore. Not to mention, since I am still learning, it was highly suggested to me that maybe I should stay out of the local game store’s games at my skill level.

            1. Mari*

              If you’ve got the cards, try Commander as a format, and see if there are any local play groups near you – Commander (not competitive or ‘CEHD’ as much) is highly welcoming, is often more interested in fun than skill, and has way fewer issues with ‘female’ players – anyone gives you a hard time about being ‘a girl’ in the format, just ask if they’d say that to any one of the six women on the Commander Advisory Group (the folks who help shape the format)!

              Oh, and for the record, you’re at a formal event and someone makes a vicious crack like that, shoot your hand in the air and yell ‘Judge!’. Verbal Harassment is specifically outlawed in the JAR (Judging at REL events) rules, and the consequence is disqualification. Period. Well… technically a judge can have the offender booted from the venue, not just the event, but that usually requires a second offence.

        9. TooTiredToThink*

          I am so glad that so many other commenters have said exactly what I was thinking. As a woman, there’s one FLGS that if the owner is in, I’m fine. If he isn’t, I typically walk out. And I much prefer the FLGS that’s about an hour away because they explicitly welcomes *all* boardgamers.

          If you are worried about losing customers, think about attracting new customers. Come up with an event that might bring in a group you don’t normally see in your store.

        10. bookartist*

          Came here to say this. This person is keeping customers out of your store; once he is gone and word spreads, you will at least have people coming in to give you a(nother) shot.

        11. No evidence*

          There is absolutely no evidence of this in OP’s letter. Why would ypu even raise it?

          1. Lenora Rose*

            Read ALL the other comments about people with this experience in geeky hobby stores.

            The OP has commented that *she* doesn’t think this is the case with her store manager, and I believe her, but if I hear “Game store” and “bad employee” it is the FIRST place my mind goes to.

            1. Luna*

              Which sounds pretty prejudiced. Like, the FIRST thing you think is “They are horrible to women”? Not even “Bad location” for the store or even “Bad management”, nope, it immediately *has* to do with biological sex and/or gender identity.

                1. Luna*

                  A stance based no experience is fine, as long as you can still keep “This is just based on MY experience, that does not 100% automatically mean it’s the case in every other situation” in the forefront of your mind.

              1. Lenora Rose*

                And frankly, a lot of gatekeeping isn’t *just* gender, although that is a major factor. Just being too clean cut and mainstream-looking, too new to the games, or liking “the wrong games” will often cause this type to turn on men and boys who don’t make the grade, as well. (Someone elsewhere notes that he remembers groups who would be utterly ruthless to a 10 year old who was new to a game. That kind of thing hurts, too.)

                (and these types will make exception for certain girls who proved themselves and use that as their shield against the accusation)

                But again, *this* time it sounds like if gatekeeping is an issue (per buying too many of his favourite games and not enough or any of other popular ones) it’s secondary to other kinds of bad management.

          2. MCMonkeyBean*

            Yeah, I am very confused at how this thread is going. I know there can be issues with gatekeeping in stores and communities like this and I’ve definitely experienced it myself, but the overwhelming tone of responses here seems to be saying that somehow *must* be the case in this store with this employee even though there is no reason at all to believe that.

        12. Morning Flowers*

          WORD. As a lifelong female gamer who once locked eyes with a (male) younger cousin and said, “[Cousin], people like you are why people like me don’t play Magic,” let me just say … [Cousin] would have thrived in the store environment you’re describing. It suiting him would also keep 5 of his relatives away, 2 of whom alone would replace his spending, for sure, in any given month. I buy games off Amazon.

        13. G Porcupine*

          I feel like every woman I know has been to, and then left, a game store like this one. (And a comic book store, too.) And everyone talks about this — my partner is the local warcor and where their group plays was chosen for cleanliness, employee & owner attitude, and lgbtq+ friendliness. Everyone within driving distance who is the least bit interested in tabletop gaming knows exactly why they play where they do, just as all the board game people within driving distance know which board game shop is clean, well-stocked, and friendly, and all the comic book people know which comic book store creeps can’t trap women in the aisles and the cashier won’t gatekeep.

          Almost everyone within driving distance of the LW who plays games has an opinion about this store, I guarantee it. LW not only needs to fire this guy, LW needs to rebuild the store’s reputation, and that’s going to be hard, but it’s definitely possible. The current owner of the local good board game store bought the business from a hostile weirdo who never met a dustbunny he didn’t like, and the store is now gorgeous, pristine, and more popular than ever.

        14. GythaOgden*

          Oh yeah, that! Yeesh.

          As a woman I’ve been lucky to have had a very supportive gaming community (both video games and D&D). My first DM was a woman back in 1994, my female school friends got me into fantasy (hence my screen-name — the first fantasy book I read was Mort), and my local gaming store is female-run, but this sounds like Comic Book Guy and needs to go!

          This is what puts everyone off — from casual players, women, families buying games that the hard-core nerds tend to sneer at but keep the shop in business — and will just grind your business into the ground.

          It’s not just feminism at this point; the family board games, jigsaws and other stuff are the main merchandise that generally keeps a gaming shop afloat through Christmas sales. The game shops that came and went where I am catered exclusively to the RPG crowd and, while they weren’t unfriendly to me as a young woman, they had barebones merch and thought they could subsist on D&D and other niche products.

          In contrast, the game shop that has survived 16 years has a large range of board games and jigsaws because they know who spends the most money with them and allows them to be open for the people who buy the D&D etc stuff they also carry. They’ve changed positions several times, but have a sustainable business because they know the majority of their customers are not after the hard-core stuff but after a jigsaw for little Johnny and little Susie to do in those days after Christmas when no-one quite knows what to do with themselves. Some famous shops in e.g. London like Orc’s Nest may be able to sustain themselves through RPG and hard-core games alone (I was constantly there one summer after finishing uni, despite it being quite an expensive train ride away; I was looking for work in London but honestly I made a few day trips), but provincial shops like ours need to be a kind of more sophisticated toy shop to prosper.

          It’s good business sense to welcome families as well as women and minorities. The broader your base, the more you can afford to carry the D&D/MTG stuff, which, whatever we geeks feel about it, is a small market compared to the pockets of mum at Christmas.

          RPG.net had a really good column by a gaming shop owner who was very good at doing the right sort of gatekeeping — making sure the shop remained open to all and didn’t get colonised by the hard-core gamers. I haven’t read it since late 2013, so I’ve no idea whether it’s still up, but if you’re interested in the trials and tribulations of being a hard-nosed businessman managing a game shop, it’s an awesome read.

      3. Fae Kamen*

        It’s a small business, so they may not be able to afford making up a new position for him even if they wanted to.

    2. Some Dude*

      Also, the handful of loyal customers who hang out in the store probably don’t buy as much as the hundreds of curious customers who might get into gaming but are totally turned off because when they go in it looks like someone’s basement, they are ignored or are made to feel stupid because they want a game that appeals to newbies and not a game you need to invest 100 hours into before it makes sense or starts to be fun.We don’t all have the time to play Twighlight Imperium!!!

      I am into comics and video games and board games, and I am grateful for the shops near me that make an effort to be inclusive to newbies and non-nerds. I go to those places instead of amazon because they are nice to visit and the staff is helpful.

      1. Rocky*

        Agreed! Shout out to a little game shop in Petone, Wellington. Clean, accessible displays, and I was greeted by a young woman who was very well-informed while not in the least evangelical about her preferred games. We had just wandered in to mollify my youngest who was tired of op-shopping; ended up spending about $100 on a few interesting card games. While they had a gaming table in the back of the store, it was clearly an adjunct to their function as a retailer.

        1. Carol the happy elf*

          My first husband, back in the ’80s, loved those dark, flickering fluorescent “dirty basement” gamer stores; I always felt that he needed supervision in them. (Or they needed a health inspection.) Dusty stuff on dusty shelves, huge jars of gaming dice with more sides than a politician who wants to please everyone. Dirty floors, pizza boxes (with crust pieces) under the game tables, a tower of soda cans, a pyramid of beer cans, fast food bags, ketchup packets stomped on the floor for last weekend’s blood splatter contest.
          Since I had had a double mastectomy, there wasn’t a real boob in the whole shop. Plenty of cleavage (and nipplage) on books and posters, though.
          Dead flies on the windowsill, spiderwebs in every corner.
          The only clean merchandise items were comic books in plastic bags.
          After I left Husband 1.0, (the failure prototype,) someone else had bought the store. When I took my new teenaged stepson there, he assured me that I must be talking about a different store, because the one he liked was bright, neat, and they even had archival cotton gloves for people who wanted to look at the expensive vintage merchandise. The weekends were game events, with nice tables and trophies. There were socially inclusive books and games, and even good music.
          The bankrupt owner had been bought in out by a family, and they even put in one case with fresh baked goods and a cooler with sodas. It was run like a business, not a “frat house vs. the geek in Grandma’s basement.”
          Video game arcade, but well-lit and safe for girls.
          I rock at Centipede!

          Seriously, OP, this might not be the way you want to take it, but your creepy geeky employee is costing you business nevertheless.

        2. Silmaril*

          @Rocky, I think I’ve been to this very shop! Agree, clean and welcoming environment, not didactic about What One Ought To Be Playing – I too spent a fair bit of money there as a result…

          (For context: I’m a woman and have very little tolerance for the “smelly frat basement” vibe, especially in a retail setting.)

        3. Zeus*

          No way, I was also thinking of that shop in Petone when reading this story! I love it there, it’s very welcoming to newcomers. Kia ora!

  2. Kel*

    There’s a solid chance this person is ruining the environment for EVERYONE other than the few friends he has as customers.

    1. MuseumChick*

      100% this. I was a bit of a gamer girl in the early/mid 2000s (played a lot of WoW). And people like this, I would never go back to a store with a worker like that. The best game shop I ever went to was clean, with professional staff, etc. I ended up spending a lot of money with them over the years.

        1. COBOL Dinosaur*

          I started playing WoW in open beta. I tried it again a short time ago and it’s lost it’s appeal to me. The game is now all ‘easy mode’ with players being to buy a top level character. Nobody even plays any of the old content because they all start out at whatever the top level is now.

    2. Escaped a Cult*

      100%. My partner and I love MTG and stopped going to one of the LGSs by us because the manager was clearly trying to keep an event to his friends/regulars. When we go to other places, we tell others to stay away from that store because of the exclusion. OP, if there’s a way to also address the firing publicly as well, I would recommend it.

      1. Venus*

        I have seen “Under new management” hung up at local shops that kept the same name but wanted to make it very clear that they knew there were big problems and they were working to fix them. OP doesn’t have to say “We fired X” so much as “We are so excited to welcome Y, who brings their experience in A to bring the store in direction B who wants your feedback on your favorite games that we should stock up on”

      2. Sleepy Alpaca*

        Oh wow, I could have written this! We moved in early 2021 and the LGS seemed really nice back when events still weren’t happening, and the owner was basically the only one in the store. Then in-person events started back up, and I think I got through half of a commander league before giving up. I could just tell I wasn’t wanted there – it felt like my husband and I were being… freezed out? At some point we found out all of them (a few of which are also employees) were a friend group that existed even before the shop did. It really gave off the vibe of wanting to just play kitchen table magic with their friends but with all the prizes you get from playing at a shop…

      3. whingedrinking*

        A friend and I did a thing where we “exchanged experiences” and then recorded a podcast about it. I took him to a punk show on St. Patrick’s Day weekend; he took me to MtG night at a local game shop that he had frequented before going away to grad school. (Note: I am already a big ol’ nerd, just not a card game nerd in particular.)
        When I went, there were a few young kids, including some girls, in the group, and everybody seemed to just be happy to be there and play. Overall I found it fairly convivial, which surprised my friend. When I asked why, he admitted that it had previously been a lot more serious and competitive – you’d never see a grownup going easy on a ten year old just because he was a kid, for example. I said that sounded kind of unpleasant, and he said it could be a bit, but at least it wasn’t the *other* card shop he knew of that did Friday night Magic. He’d only been there a couple of times because, as he put it, “I may be an awkward shut-in nerd who loves MtG a little too much, but even I draw the line at hanging out with smelly creeps.”

        1. MigraineMonth*

          I have a friend who manages a game shop that’s surviving COVID times because they had invested in serious air circulation in before times for to accommodate their more odiferous clients.

    3. Worldwalker*

      Absolutely. If you read my big long post, there’s a store I just don’t go to anymore because it’s such a dump. It’s got a manager like this. I’d rather go 60 miles to their competitor in another state.

    4. Mid*

      Exactly.

      Many moons ago, I took an interest in a Very Big Card Game, and decided to attend some meetups at a local game shop. The environment was very unwelcoming, especially to a young LGBTQ+ person who looked female. I tried to speak up, but realized that one of the worst offenders was BFFs with the manager of the store, and the manager of the store didn’t take kindly to any criticism of any of his friends.

      So, creepy behavior and outright harassment and discrimination was allowed to continue at that store. “Everyone” in the community loved the shop, or rather a very vocal group of gamers that weren’t on the receiving end of the harassment. Everyone else attended once, maybe twice, and then never came back and resorted to other venues for cards, games, and meetups. Most game stores will also order stock for people if they request it, and this store was the same, except that the workers who placed the orders would be sure to make snarky/judgmental comments if you requested the “wrong games” which caused the same issue as the OP, that the store was stocked with things that only a certain group wanted and lacked a lot of things that a broader audience would be interested in.

      Eventually someone opened up another shop that was local-ish enough that the people who didn’t feel safe at the first shop all migrated there, and suddenly the first shop was left with very few customers, because even the people who didn’t have creepy comments directed towards them weren’t super comfortable with that culture. The first shop accused the new shop of “stealing business” (not sure how, because the pricing was similar at both places, new shop wasn’t massively undercutting anyone) and the manager and owner had a now-deleted internet meltdown about how unfair it all was that the woke police were ruining their lives, etc etc. The core group of people loyal to that store never took a moment to reflect as to why everyone was jumping to this new shop, which was owned and managed by a woman and made it clear that creepy or harassing behavior was absolutely not tolerated, that listened to customers and didn’t make them feel judged for wanting certain games, that made a space that was welcoming to beginners and walking in didn’t feel like you interrupted someone’s friend hangout time. I wasn’t sad to see it fold.

    5. pope suburban*

      Exactly. This guy sounds like what Captain Awkward calls a “missing stair,” which is to say a toxic or harmful person who has insinuated himself into a group so that everyone else feels they have no choice but to get by and try stepping over/around him. This is sadly common in geek/hobby spaces (Though I hope that’s changing; I hail from the dawn of the internet when Geek Social Fallacies were rampant, so that’s my personal context), and it really does a disservice to the communities as a whole. Tolerating this kind of person shuts new people out, because who wants to be around someone who is so unpleasant? I think we see it a lot in traditional workplaces too, where bullies manage to stick around long enough to be accepted as some price of admission. Inevitably, these workplaces lose talent and take a big hit to morale, when it’s really not a law of the universe that jerks have to be kept and coddled. Cut the guy loose and see what happens- I predict that the few people he might alienate will be well overshadowed by the people who now feel welcomed and well-served.

      1. MsM*

        I’m glad to see the Geek Social Fallacies being brought up, because I suspect they’re playing a big role in the perception that this guy can’t be fired without losing everyone he knows as a result, or worrying that firing him will be seen as insufficiently understanding of his own personal challenges.

    6. Elizabeth West*

      Absolutely. I’ve no doubt there are a lot of people staying away because of him. Once word of his departure starts spreading through the gaming gossip line, they may start coming in or coming back.

    7. Sylvan*

      Yep. I have the impression that he’s seeing his workplace as a place for socialization that he can tailor to his interests, and he’s not there to work.

      1. Not One of the Bronte Sisters*

        Exactly. He’s treating the store as his own personal mancave, rather than the retail establishment it’s supposed to be.

    8. higeredadmin*

      Why I patronize my very inclusive, family-friendly local comic book store. A whole room of kid’s comics so adult content is kept separate, they carry a lot of independent comics that are more representational, not one boob poster anywhere, clean and friendly, and best part we can bring the dog in! I agree totally with the above thought – think about who you are missing as opposed to who you are losing.

    9. This is Artemesia*

      I would be afraid that a soft firing like Alison suggests would simply. give him time to steal, trash the store, further undermine the business. Having him gone tomorrow seems wiser but it means the OP has to be in the store every day for a while before s/he can hire someone more reliable.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        To be clear, I agree and I’m not suggesting a soft firing in this case. (From the post: “But given how very bad he is at the job, I don’t think you can offer him another month … in this case (as is often the case with very high-up positions), he’s in a position to do so much damage — and has already done so much damage — that you need to cut to the chase before he does more.”)

        1. acmx*

          You’ve sandwich that portion between two larger paragraphs about preserving his dignity, talk about giving clear warning (which the writer has done) and included the possibility of a month notice Your answer combines better management of the situation early on with the should be done in this specific scenario. Removing the middle 3 paragraphs leave a more direct answer to the writer’s situation.

          1. Avian*

            I appreciated all the paragraphs you’re suggesting removing. If you read them she makes it clear she’s talking about how her advice on this letter differs from what she would normally recommend and I found it interesting to read the contrasting approaches and her reasoning. To me this is part of what I like about AaM, we get a broader examination of an issue than in most advice columns.

            1. Carol the happy elf*

              Sometimes, preserving a jerk’s dignity will actually protect your plate glass windows and help prevent everything of value being sold on the internet because jerk has a copy of the keys, and a grudge.
              It’s usually better to be the grownup, even though a harsh firing and a blistering non-reference is the stuff of sweet fantasy.

    10. Nanani*

      THIS.

      The people who go “phew, that guy’s gone, I can go to Game Store” quite likely outnumber that guy’s friends.

    11. Dust Bunny*

      I bet those friends aren’t actually buying that much. Losing them probably doesn’t mean a lot of lost income.

      1. InsufficientlySubordinate*

        That was one of my first thoughts. Bet they don’t buy much at the store, they’re just using it as a clubhouse.

        1. AnonInCanada*

          … and scaring away real potential customers in the process. Just like what teenagers hanging around the front door at the 7-Eleven do: who wants to go in there if they feel intimidated?

    12. Julia*

      Definitely. I’ve been going to my comic shop for over 20 years because it was the one place that had was welcoming to women. I tried a bigger shop 5 minutes away and left because the staff and customers were rude and hostile to women. I constantly promote my comic shop through word of mouth because of how well it has treated me over the years.

      If you find it embarrassing to see a messy shop think about customers walking in and seeing it. You’ve put time and effort into helping this person be a good manager but they don’t seem to be willing or able to do that. Try not to think of the handful of customers you might lose and instead think about all the customers you’re currently losing. The new manager you hire could also have a presence in gaming communities and be able to bring in new customers. You can host gaming events in your newly clean shop.

    13. Starlike*

      I would bet, if the store is otherwise so badly run, that he has the loyalty of those customers because they get freebies from him. It may actually improve business quite a bit to have them gone.

    14. AnotherLibrarian*

      Yes, this is a high probability. You need to step in here. Yes, you might make some enemies, but you may be surprised how many people will be grateful.

    15. just some guy*

      Reminds me of back when smoking bans were introduced for pubs/clubs in Australia. The industry was up in arms about all the regulars who they’d lose if they were no longer allowed to smoke in the venue. But they got a whole lot of new custom from people who were happy to go to a pub/club as soon as they could do so without getting a lungful of smoke. I’d hope for the same thing here.

  3. WellRed*

    Omg. Fire him already! Heart to hearts and confidence boosting? What?! Maybe consider selling the business altogether to someone who can run it properly or closing it and cutting your losses. Trash and food all over a store? I’ll never go back and will tell everyone else to steer clear.

      1. Sloanicota*

        Yeah I don’t see signs that this is an issue of low confidence TBH. That’s a very well-meaning mistake for OP to make. It sounds like this is an employee who is too comfortable screwing up.

        1. LB*

          To expand, when I was very new to work I made the mistake of thinking people like this just needed explanation/ persuasion/ discussion and they’d do the right thing.

          Your employee isn’t confused or too unconfident to do the right things. He’s not interested in doing them, and you haven’t made it mandatory.

    1. Witch*

      > Trash and food all over a store?

      Okay in their defense their customers are likely younger who treat their store as their living room. Yes, clean. Yes, often. But this is a management issue they’re experiencing, there’s no need to abruptly declare them as failures.

      1. Other Alice*

        I spent a lot of time in a gaming store since my teens and I’ve never seen food or trash tossed around. None of the owners/managers would not have put up with that kind of shit.

        1. Delta Delta*

          I think the real issue is the food and trash, not the kind of store. If I went to buy a pair of shoes or some office supplies, and there was food and trash strewn around the store(s) I’d leave.

          1. Jack Straw from Wichita*

            Except that gaming stores are just as much a place to gather and play as they are a place to buy games. Lots of food and rink sales at the last one (admittedly this was 15 years ago), so much so that the owners made more of a profit on pizza by the slice and renting a large room out for private gatherings than they did the games.

            1. Clobberin' Time*

              I have been in plenty of gaming stores that sold snacks or even light meals, and none of them – NONE – tolerated anyone leaving trash or leftover food lying around. Sometimes a patron might drop a napkin or a candy wrapper or whatever, but that was an occasional thing and it got swept up – not “all the time”.

              This, sadly, sounds like typical Geek Social Falllacy can’t-exclude-anyone nonsense, and the OP doesn’t understand yet that including missing stairs is a passive way of excluding just about everyone else.

              1. Irish Teacher*

                I watched a video once – it was talking about online communities, but probably applies to physical ones too – that said either no rules, everybody is welcome or really strict rules, everybody must conform or they aren’t welcome, tend ironically, to end up the same way. Both end in echo chambers, for obvious reasons in the second case, nobody else is allowed, but in the first case, it is too easy for a group of obnoxious people to take advantage of the “we can do what we like here without being banned” and alienate everybody else, who then leave.

                And in the case of a business, both are going to limit the number of customers you get.

              2. MigraineMonth*

                This. LW, if you haven’t memorized your Geek Social Fallacies, go back and review them. You need to be more comfortable kicking someone out–both in business and socially–if they won’t meet minimum standards. “Some people really like them” isn’t a good enough reason to tolerate this kind of behavior.

          2. Antilles*

            The type of store plays into it in terms of how much cleaning you need to expect/plan for. A gaming store is naturally going to need more upkeep than an office supply store because nobody walks into Staples with a soda and bag of chips, planning to spend a couple hours there.
            But of course the answer isn’t to leave the store dirty, it’s to have your staff clean more often.

      2. Cool Tina, Train Conductress*

        lol the people who spend real money at game stores are mostly gonna be adults. Many of them adults who aren’t male/white/straight/cis, and who’d associate that atmosphere with the grognards who think Milestone Leveling is a sign of the end times, will throw a fit if you play with crits on skill checks, and won’t stop complaining about “wokeness” ruining gaming.

        1. Stuff*

          Okay I’ve been a tabletop gamer going on 15 years, now, and I do not know what Milestone Leveling refers to, or what the controversy regarding crits on skill checks is.

          1. Ev*

            Milestone leveling is leveling a character after they’ve gone through what the GM determines to be an appropriate amount of narrative experience, rather than by counting XP.

            1. Canterlot*

              I maintain that the only way to level your character is with GOLD. See, you loot a dungeon, assess the value of the treasure, get out the xp tables…

              You whippersnappers don’t know nothing about character leveling.

            2. Stuff*

              Oh I’ve used that in D&D as a way to avoid counting XP and maintain party balance. I didn’t realize it had an actual name.

          2. A Penguin of Ill Repute*

            My understanding is that “milestone leveling” means that rather than each encounter having a set XP amount that progresses toward your level-up, the DM can determine that you level as you reach/accomplish certain things.

            As for crits on skill checks, IIRC (don’t have a book at hand) the rules are actually that a 20 on a skill check simply adds your modifier, it’s not an instant success the way a 20 on an attack roll would be. Since all rules are negotiable, it will vary from table to table whether this is followed or not.

            1. Stuff*

              Thanks. By the way, I love how both of us just implicitly understand that we’re discussing the rules of Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition, without that ever actually having been stated.

              Though now I’m trying to remember whether or not D&D 3rd Edition had natural 20s on skill checks, because that was my first edition and I honestly don’t remember.

  4. MuseumChick*

    Here’s the find, you are not his friend. You are his boss. You have to make choices that are in the best interest of the business. All he is learned in these two years are there are no consequences for his actions. Imagine if you had fired him a year ago? It’s likely at his next job he wouldn’t be leaving trash and food all over the place. As I customer I would NEVER go back if I saw that. You are literally chasing away customers all so this guy doesn’t get his feelings hurt. The best thing you can do for him is fire him and make it clear why you are firing him.

    1. Anonym*

      Food & trash all over would make me wonder about any COVID safety protocols being followed. Current times take it from gross to concerning.

      1. MigraineMonth*

        One of the gaming stores in my city has exceptional COVID precautions; they installed a great ventilation system in Before Times to keep the store from becoming too… odiferous… during day-long gaming tournaments.

    2. GammaGirl1908*

      Not only are you not his friend, but you also are running your entire business with more consideration for this “friendship” than consideration for your business. As a business owner, sometimes you need to run your friendships like businesses, instead of constantly running your business like a friendship. You’re the boss. You are in charge. You have the power to get rid of him. Use it.

      Do you want to keep your business or do you want to keep your relationship with this jerk?

      Echoing others — yes, you may take a hit when you lose this guy and some of his friends, and yes, getting rid of him won’t be pleasant, but it will be a short-term pain for a long-term gain. The small hit you will take from losing this guy likely will be more than made up by the people you will gain who currently are not your customers because they don’t like the guy or how he is running the store.

  5. Lab Boss*

    OP: It sounds like you’re being held hostage by the Geek Social Fallacies (which is a great article I strongly recommend Googling). Geek and Game Store culture can often put an undue importance on friendship and loyalty, and it’s a fair concern that some of your customers will see it as a betrayal if you fire their friend. But it’s not like you’re going to be risking your healthy and growing business by alienating this guy and some of his friends! You said it yourself, you’re already taking a hit by keeping him around and he’s doing you no favors. Game stores already struggle against the stereotype of being dirty, smelly, and full of cliquish staff who only want to interact with their friends. All of that PLUS the fact that he’s doing a poor job of buying and selling means you need to cut ties, accept that you’ll lose some regulars over it, and focus on getting the store healthy. Best of luck to you, I know it’s a tough niche. (Source: Two great friends both owned game stores and I’ve spent a ton of time helping out in them and seeing them take customers from the town’s other game store that was always smelly, grungy, and unwelcoming).

    1. danmei kid*

      “Game stores already struggle against the stereotype of being dirty, smelly, and full of cliquish staff who only want to interact with their friends. ” THIS. THIS IS WHY BRICK AND MORTAR GAME STORES GO UNDER. It’s why out of the 4 stores within an hour drive of my house in a major metro area I only ever stop by 1 on rare occasions and get everything else from Amazon or eBay.

      The environment is already predisposed to seeming unwelcoming (whether that perception is earned or not) to outsiders. Your store and your staff need to be open, clean, organized, and appealing to everyone. Right now it isn’t and it will kill your business if you can’t make some drastic changes, fast.

      1. MigraineMonth*

        When you’re up against Amazon, you need every edge you can get. For a gaming store, that means being a place that attracts curious non-gamers and being a place where gamers of all stripes want to spend their time and money.

    2. Em*

      This is why I love my LGS. It’s run by a husband and wife team whose first thought is their customers’ comfort in the store. I witnessed them bounce a group of men with a snarky attitude who had sat down at a table reserved for a women’s game group and said “we’ll move if anyone comes in.” The owner replied that new customers would NOT feel welcome to sit down if the table was occupied by a group, and promptly moved them despite a lot of complaining. The table filled up with new, paying female customers and the annoying guys left.

  6. Jellyfish*

    In my experience as someone who frequents game stores, management and employees make a huge difference. I stopped visiting a shop with an excellent concept and great products because management was noticeably terrible. I stopped visiting a shop where the employees were allowed to behave in a sexist manner, and that one eventually got a wide-spread reputation and closed.

    On the other hand, there’s a comparatively small game shop I regularly visit and support because they are clean, friendly, and helpful. In this subset of retail, employees make a huge impact on the business. Fire the bad manager. Improve your shop!

    1. Witch*

      Yep, yep, yep. Gaming spaces are rapidly trying to get rid of bigoted and cliquish thoughts and behaviors at the table, but that’s going to be led at your store by YOU. You are the owner. It’s down to you to maintain the reputation of your business.

    2. Lilo*

      Yes. As a female tabletop gamer, cliquey stores like this absolutely tend to be toxic to women.

      1. quill*

        Yeah, I was wondering: OP, you say this guy is well known, but in nerd spaces a dude being well known to the community is not always a good thing! I’m assuming you’re also a dude, in which case – all you knew about him before hiring was everyone knows his name, or he was a friend of a friend – you probably don’t know if his reputation sucks among women within your community. And if it does, you’re scaring away half your potential customers.

        1. Free Meerkats*

          Yeah, Randall Garrett was well known throughout the SCA and SF communities. And he was probably one of the creepiest creeps I ever met in either community. Ask any long-time female fan about him; his go to upon meeting any conventionally attractive female was, “Hi, Want to f***?”

          His only apologists were other creepy white guys.

        2. Mac*

          Elsewhere in the comments the OP identifies herself as a woman. My pet theory is that this guy isn’t the hits-on-everyone type of creep but just the doesn’t-take-a-woman-seriously-as-an-expert-in-her-own-field kind of creep.

      2. Anonym*

        Hope this isn’t too off topic, but my partner is a long time regular at a gaming shop, and while I’m not a part of the community, I used the bathroom there and noticed pads and tampons available, just out with everything else. It made me so happy I decided to buy something I didn’t need just out of appreciation! I knew it was a good place, recently bought by good folks (community members), but that just hit home. I’m welcome there.

        Not coincidentally I’m guessing, they have a very strong MtG community centered around the store, and seem to be going strong. Also, they’re clean and well organized with friendly staff!

        1. GythaOgden*

          That’s great :). I like that sentiment. It’s not gaming related at all, but there’s a newsagent near the station I use every day that is sparkling. The floors are gleaming, everything’s neat, and in a place that sells food and drink it’s imperative to get to any spills. They obviously do. I go there precisely because they make the effort to keep it clean.

      3. Con Dar*

        Seconded! I prefer to support the local shop, but if it’s unwelcoming to women I’ll just go buy off Amazon and save money while I’m at it. Please consider how this person is most likely impacting your culture and send him packing!

        1. ferrina*

          Yes yes yes! If I have to put my game face on just to walk into a store, that’s too much emotional energy for a shopping trip. I don’t want to have to justify why I’m there or prove that I know enough/am nerdy enough to be there. I just want a pleasant shopping experience with pleasant customer service and a pleasant environment (read: clean, well-lit and well-organized). It’s why you can find me at BOTH of my local independent bookstores at least once a month. It’s why my local yarn shop (LYS) is going strong. The LYS had the added barrier of the stigma of knitting being an “grandma hobby”. They went out of their way to make it easily accessible, whether you dabbled or were traditional or were experimental- they actively promoted different events geared toward an array of audiences, they had levels of classes, they built community, they hired people who built community, and they didn’t tolerate gatekeeping. They’ve been around over a decade and even had a national celebrity drop by last year.

    3. Minerva*

      Absolutely true. It sucks when a gaming/comic book store’s staff falls into the “creepy pervy nerd” stereotype.

      Of course that is not the case here, but in the same vein OP needs to focus on how the manager is driving business away through his practices, and how no matter what there will be a period of time where the reputation will need to be rebuilt.

    4. Dust Bunny*

      I’m not a gamer but I’ve been treated condescendingly by guys at music stores (guitar shops, mostly) and I don’t buy from them again. I’d rather buy locally but I won’t if the dude at the counter asks if the strings are for my boyfriend or tries to tell me I don’t want [thing] as though I don’t know what I’m doing when I didn’t ask for his input. I imagine guitar cliques and gamer cliques are not dissimilar in a lot of ways.

      1. AnonBikerGirl*

        Same with mountain biking, which is a very male-dominated sport, and precisely why I avoid the store that’s near my house and drive for an hour to get to a store that treats me like a normal customer and not like a moron who doesn’t know what they’re talking about simply because they’re female. Sir, I assure you there IS a crack in my rear shock and it needs to be replaced, don’t tell me things I know it couldn’t be because I’ve been mountain biking since you were in nappies.

      2. Siege*

        I think any male-trending hobby is like this. I mean, I frequent a lot of women-dominant spaces like local craft stores, and I cannot imagine that my local papercraft store would treat a dude who walked in as badly as a lot of male-dominated stores treat women who walk in. Some of that is undoubtedly societal pressure – don’t be rude to the guy who might actually decide to kill you – but the attitude of gatekeeping in those spaces is much more limited to “this specific clerk can be rude to men” and not “every clerk at this store is rude and mocking to men”.

          1. GythaOgden*

            We need way more in crafting in general. Knitting, crochet and other needlecrafts need to be treated with as much dignity as gaming, biking or sport.

        1. Dust Bunny*

          I am a crafter and I’ve known some really clique terrible women but haven’t seen them treat men badly. If anything, the worst crafter women seem to pander to men even more, which is just another form of being terrible but not one that’s meant to intimidate. Men in crafts get what feels like an outsized amount of attention and praise that women in male-oriented activities don’t seem to get.

      3. Jack Bruce*

        Yes! I visited a local vintage guitar shop and asked about tube amps and the older guy who clearly didn’t feel I was good enough to play bass asked me if it’s cause I wanted to look cool. No, I wanted the tone, you jerk. So I’m never going back and told my friends never to go there either.

        1. Jack Bruce*

          oh and I’m afab so it was definitely gender related, also the only women in the shop were at the register selling strings, not helping people with instruments.

        2. Dust Bunny*

          Ha ha ha many years ago I bought an amp to use with a mountain dulcimer, which is an instrument that seems to actively defy amplification. I stumped a whole series of guitar-shop bros on that one. (I did finally find an older acoustic guitar amp that worked, but it was pure luck that the shop had it for sale.)

  7. Person from the Resume*

    To be fair, LW, you also suck at hiring employees (cause you hired this guy) and you are not going a good job at firing underperforming employees (cuase this guy should have been fired about a year and a half ago).

    You need to fire him now. You should also examine why you thought the way to improve his performance was through heart-to-heart talks with him to try and boost his confidence and build him up to hopefully produce better work. That’s not how you get an employee to improve. You provide feedback where you name the problem and tell them they need to do better by a certain date. You work with them if they need training to do better, but the store need to be clean with no trash and leftover food everywhere all the time doesn’t require training or further explanation.

    This guy doesn’t care at all about your store. It sounds like he’s running it into the ground or at a minimum doesn’t care if he runs it into the ground. Fire him now.

    1. KayDeeAye*

      Well…the OP sucked at hiring this *particular* employee. That doesn’t mean they’ve made the same mistakes every time. As Alison said, a bad hire can happen to anybody. Where the OP made their big mistake is not correcting this situation long ago. And yeah, the guy has to be fired, like, now. Kindly but quickly!

      1. MsM*

        I mean, they keep delegating at least a portion of the hiring to him despite the fact that’s never worked out, so…

          1. pope suburban*

            I get a strong whiff of “first-time business owner” from them. My previous job, which happened to be on a hellmouth, was bought by a guy who’d left banking not long before and thought it’d be neat to buy a business in his hobby with that golden parachute. It…did not go smoothly. Like, it went badly enough that we got recommended to go on Undercover Boss (He declined, which bummed me out because holy cats, we needed it). Just being passionate about something is not enough, and even if you spend a lot of time and money within a hobby community, that’s only going to teach you about a pretty narrow wedge of what it is to work in the industry. We ended up resolving this, insofar as it was ever resolved (We had a few total jerks like this employee, one of whom we never did get rid of and a few others who were way too hard to dislodge), by hiring a business consultant. He explained to our boss that being conflict-avoidant to that extreme was not sustainable. and that certain boundaries need to be held to succeed in sales and in business. Granted, our LW seems much nicer than my old boss (He was just a prejudiced nightmare in his own right), but I see the same patterns, and these patterns will torpedo the business if they’re not corrected. Step one is getting rid of the guy who is alienating your customer base and messing up your cash flow and stock. Chances are that won’t be the last stop, but if LW takes this advice to heart, this could be a learning opportunity that will turn things around for them and their shop.

          2. Lenora Rose*

            She said she’s working full time elsewhere and can’t take the time off that job to do interviewing for this store. Why she can’t stop working elsewhere and manage her own store that she owns, I don’t know, though I can think of definitely legit or legit-feeling reasons. (Medical benefits, the other job is keeping the store afloat, the income dip between “my own store manager” and “my nice white collar job” is too big for her expenses…)

            Still, she made this bed, and frankly I think the easiest answer might be just that; if she wants to own the game shop, then instead of hiring a third party, do the management herself.

    2. Clobberin' Time*

      Remember how people were commenting in another thread about ‘fantasy businesses’ that we’d never want to run in real life? Well, this jerk is living the dream. He gets to run a gaming store, but somebody else is worrying about all the boring stuff like making rent and paying taxes. Meantime, he gets paid to hang out with his friends all day and order the games he likes to play.

      1. Irish Teacher*

        Given that the LW mentions in a comment that he is still in college, I wonder if he is seeing this more as running a college club (and getting PAID for it!! How cool is that?!) rather than a real job. If he is graduating and planning on leaving in another year, it’s likely that he isn’t that committed to the business or its success and might just see this a little hobby job that gets him a bit of extra money for socialising or whatever (which as I said elsewhere would probably be fine if he was just an assistant, but not when he is the manager). Of course, there are many college students who have to work to cover more than just their socialising, but we don’t know whether this guy fits into the “has to work to stay in school” category or the “parents are paying his fees and work is mostly to get a bit of experience” category or anywhere in the large middle ground in between and it may be that he falls somewhere on the more privileged side or even DOES need a job but has friends who fall on the more privileged side and thinks that is a normal attitude to take towards work.

  8. Minerva*

    If this was written 10 years ago I would think you were a friend of mine.

    1. No one is irreplaceable.

    2. If you have a good store, him being well known in the nerding community won’t make a difference. It seems his practices are actually making it harder for you to provide the product your customers want.

    3. You assume that being well known=being well liked enough to harm your business

    But yeah, use Alison’s guidance to soften the blow as much as possible (maybe include some sort of ongoing discount for X period of time as part of the severance, particularly on the items that he thinks you need but you don’t? Sound like he’s buying more for him than for you/the store.)

    1. quill*

      2. If you have a good store, him being well known in the nerding community won’t make a difference. It seems his practices are actually making it harder for you to provide the product your customers want.

      This. You’re probably the only gaming store nearby for most people, or at least the only one that has extensive stock or community space. If the place is functional and provides what people want and can’t get at a chain retailer, there will be people who use it.

    2. Mid*

      And for 3. Well known could very well mean actually harming your business. There are some well known people in tabletop gaming in my community, and a lot of people avoid them. Some of those are great, ranked players that do cool programs to introduce kids into gaming, and those same people are also notoriously terrible to women and LGBTQ+ and non-white people in the community.

      1. Minerva*

        Extremely true. In the case of my friend’s store, his manager was very well known, but not very well liked outside a particular little clique. My friend paid the price and his store went under. I wanted to support my friend, I could not stand to go into the store due to the creepy manager who hired his creepy ass friends.

        Unfortunately friend only focused on the business creepy guy brought in with that particular clique, because it was just barely keeping him afloat at 1st, and totally missed out on the women/families/newbies that the dude was driving away.

    3. GammaGirl1908*

      Agree that being well known =/= being well liked. I’m not part of the gaming community, but I taught group exercise for many years. There absolutely are gyms where I will not teach / substitute / belong because some jerk manager or coordinator that I encountered 10 years ago is there now.

      Ohhhhh, I know that guy all right, and that’s not a compliment. He’s not famous, he’s infamous.

    4. Smithy*

      I like the idea of building into the severance a longer term discount – or perhaps ability to buy items/place orders for items “at cost”?

      I don’t know a lot about the finances of the OP or this business, but I imagine the margins aren’t such where the OP would be able to offer a large severance that they’d be able to aggressively enforce in case any “bad mouthing” occurred. Therefore, when sticks aren’t going to be as useful – carrots are good to think about. Giving him a longer term discount in addition to a payout (in exchange for XYZ), may do a lot to keep him frequenting the store which in term may enforce the concept to his friends that on some level he’s still approving of the store.

      While there may be someone people who will hear his version of events and stop going to the store, if he’s still seen shopping there….as part of a wider community it could be a good way to show the good faith effort being made by the owner.

  9. Aggretsuko*

    This OP needs to read “Twenty-One Truths About Love” by Matthew Dicks, in which the narrator/list-maker has a manager of his store that he can’t stand.

  10. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

    Yep, 100%.

    My experience – I was the guy they hired to replace the popular guy. Wine store, not game store, but the situation was really similar. Too many different wines, no coherent organization, way too much Italian and not enough from the southern hemisphere, not clean & neat, no signage, etc.

    There were a few grumps who huffed and puffed and didn’t come back. But after 6 months of hard work I’d turned the place around with better staff, lots of good signage, less clutter, better selections, etc.

    1. Lab Boss*

      Commenting just to agree and ask you: Isn’t Alton Brown’s Evil Twin just “Alton Brown when he’s hosting Cutthroat Kitchen instead of Good Eats?” :D

      1. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

        LOL.
        I haven’t done it in a while, but I once ran my photo through one of those “which celebrities do you look like” sites, and I was a mix of Alton Brown, David Hyde-Pierce, and a young Mcauley Culkin. AB is the better personality match.

        1. Lab Boss*

          Pitch: McCaulay Culkin co-hosts CK with Alton Brown, and all the sabotages are inspired by Home Alone traps.

            1. Lab Boss*

              I’ll get right on that. Just let me quit my job and hitchhike to Food Network headquarters with my cocktail-napkin episode pitch and some gumption :D

  11. PlainJane*

    I think this may depend on how small the community is. If it’s a neighborhood in a city… yeah, you probably don’t have to worry about the fallout overmuch. But I grew up in a small town (about 4000 when I was little, down to 3000 now), and if a business fired a local favorite, the business would die, and the person who owned it would be shunned. It wouldn’t be a small concern.

    I’m not sure from the letter how much of this has been addressed with the manager before, and how much has just been suffered in silence. Before hitting the firing button, maybe just walk in and say, “We’re going to do this and I need you to order that.” If he refuses or is recalcitrant, then it’s going to be an issue. But maybe he just doesn’t know games as well as OP thought when he hired him, and some remedial education about what sells would turn things around. (Again, this is if you’re in a place where the community would absolutely Not Have It if there were disciplinary action.) Just say, “We’re taking a new direction”–though it isn’t, it’s what you meant to do all along–“and this is what’s GOING to happen as we move forward–the place is getting a facelift and we are getting rid of the clutter, food will only be consumed in the staff area, and we’re going to be the new go-to place for the games that are hot right now.” Maybe he’ll even say, “You know, I don’t think I’m up for that; maybe it’s time to find a new manager.” (A long shot, but a possibility that would solve the problem.)

    1. Elizabeth West*

      I don’t think the OP has the luxury of trying this; they’ve already talked to him multiple times and nothing is working. He’s destroying the business. This is retail so continued failures can have an outsized effect on profitability. It’s okay to fire him now.

      1. PlainJane*

        I missed where he talked about it multiple times. To me, the letter came off as, “I’m really frustrated because I can’t do anything about it.” Maybe I’m missing something, but it sounded like they hadn’t actually brought the subject up at all.

        1. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

          This is all we have:
          > He’s been with us two years and we’ve had plenty of heart-to-heart talks with him

          So we don’t know that LW actually uttered the words “The store must be cleaned every day” or anything like that. Did LW ever actually say “Order 10 of this thing and don’t order any more of that thing” and the manager blew them off? Or was it more like “It would nice if…” stuff? Some people really just don’t get it that a sentence like that is actually a specific task being assigned.

          I also wonder who “we/us” is — LW’s business partner? Spouse?

          1. Elizabeth West*

            True, so maybe they could try being very blunt about it ONE TIME and saying, “We have talked about [behavior] and it’s still going on. The job requires X, Y, and Z. If you feel you cannot do this, we will have to let you go.”

    2. Dust Bunny*

      If the business can’t survive without a specific toxic employee, it’s already not sustainable. Either toxic employee holds way too much power and the store’s reputation doesn’t stand on its own (either without Toxic Employee or because Toxic Employee has effectively sabotaged it), or there simply isn’t enough need in the community for the product/service. LW might be able to counteract this buy bulking up online presence/sales or something, but rigt now LW is making a deal with the devil.

      1. PlainJane*

        True. I just didn’t want the politics to be dismissed out of hand. They’re a real factor that OP is dealing with, and can’t just be brushed aside by “But it shouldn’t be like that.”

      2. Irish Teacher*

        And the LW has since mentioned that this manager is at college. If his friends are also college students, it’s quite possible at least some of them will move away once they graduate or may lose interest in gaming/have less time for it when starting their careers. So they may be losing a few of these customers just to natural life changes soon enough anyway.

    3. Generic Name*

      So the answer is to have a crappy manager who can’t run a business and keeps the store in a way that is embarrassing and reflects badly on you? I disagree. I don’t think it’s worth it to have a store if that’s the case, frankly. No store is better than a terrible and embarrassing store. At least in my opinion.

      1. PlainJane*

        Oh, no. It’s to say, “Things are going to change,” and take a hands on approach and make sure the manager knows what’s wrong (it doesn’t seem clear from the letter that this has been done). And to not take, “Oh, I don’t want to” as an answer. Just “This is the way things are changing.”

    4. Tania*

      If the population is so ignorant and reactive that they’d shun a place for addressing this level of appalling management, in favor of supporting someone who cannot do their job at even the most basic level, the answer is to close the store and get out of the town ASAP, not to stick around mollycoddling this loser to appease these idiots.

    5. WellRed*

      You know what else dies? Small communities that engage in insular thinking and shunning.

        1. Please Mark This Confidential and Leave It Lying Around*

          Yeah, I’m from a small town and wow, the crap and nonsense people put up with with a smile because when it snows 5 feet and the power goes down for days, you’re gonna need each other. But if you are in a decent-sized city you can jettison this guy *and* his friends and still come out ahead.

      1. PlainJane*

        Oh, yeah. It’s bad. But if that’s the kind of community it is, there’s going to be trouble.

    6. New Jack Karyn*

      If he was just mis-ordering stock, or training new staff badly, that would be one thing. I could see having one more serious sit-down with him and enforcing some changes. But he’s not even keeping the store tidy. This is not a person who wants to do a good job as a store manager.

      1. PlainJane*

        I tend to agree. But if you go in and say, “This is what’s happening,” and he decides he’s not into it, then maybe the situation could be resolved without any attendant drama.

    7. Jessica Fletcher*

      But it doesn’t sound like the manager is broadly a favorite in the community. He just has a few friends who hang out at the store sometimes. It doesn’t sound like the whole town loves him.

    8. Nina*

      ‘well known in the community’ can mean ‘known to be a kind and welcoming person who is not a dickhead to new/female/POC/visibly queer players including players of games he’s not personally super interested in’ or it can mean ‘known to be a creepy gatekeepy trashbag of No Fun At All and is the subject of multiple whisper-network warnings’.

      1. PlainJane*

        I admit, I was more thinking, “Youth pastor with lots of connections who’s only buying ‘clean’ stuff, and he’s the son of a Selectman and has dinner with the head of the local BBB every week.”

        1. Nina*

          oh you mean the community in general, I admit I read that as ‘the [tabletop gaming] community’ lol

  12. quill*

    OP: when you hire someone to replace this guy, do NOT use whatever route you used to get him. Get someone with store management experience regardless of whether they’re “a gamer” or super knowledgeable about your stock. Your new manager does not have to be a member of the community: a good manager will grow familiar with the community over the course of learning the job.

    1. Elizabeth West*

      This is excellent advice, OP. And for god’s sake, DON’T hire any of his friends!

    2. Jake*

      I’m conflicted here. The only reason I go to a game shop instead of the almighty Amazon is that I can talk about the games with the clerk. If this is a small hobby shop, there is a decent chance the manager will be the only one there most of the time. The moment I realize the staff can’t talk about the product, I’m gone.

      That being said, the folks who spend a lot of time in the shop are probably not the best hire either because their opinions will be skewed towards what the people who hang out in the shop want, and they are frankly a small portion of your revenue.

      It’s a really tricky spot.

      1. Evan Þ*

        Yeah, this. When I go to a game store, I want the person there to be someone who knows and enjoys games.

      2. quill*

        I mean, you should probably hire someone who can become familiar with the merchandise and remember what other customers have liked. Ideally someone who could actually familiarize themselves with some of the merchandise over time. But it’s overall more important, in my opinion, to have someone who has experience in keeping a business afloat (especially after this previous manager) than someone who can have a conversation about Warhammer.

        1. No Longer Looking*

          quill, with all due respect, your advice would be spot-on for most retail establishments, but we (gamers who patronize FLGS aka Friendly Local Game Stores) are deadly serious when we say that hiring a non-gamer WILL NOT FLY for a game store / hobby store. You absolutely should prioritize store management experience over game experience but you must (MUST) also have someone who enjoys and can talk about the hobby. It really is singularly important in this environment, it is a strong component of why we pay 10%-30% more at the game store instead of ordering online, and is part of why hiring a game store manager can be such a challenge.

      3. Nesprin*

        Effective manager with limited knowledge of community is much easier to fix than knowledgeable community member with limited managerial ability.

      4. Just Another Zebra*

        But you can learn product and inventory easier than learning to be a good manager, IMO. Of course it’s nice to have someone who can “shop talk” with. With the right person, that will come. But what OP needs is a manager, not another Head Gamer.

      5. anti social socialite*

        I think this is where a strong cover letter would be a determining factor!

      6. Lab Boss*

        Yeah, if OP is stuck between “bad manager, good game knowledge” and “good manager, no game knowledge” he’s screwed. He’ll have to look for someone with a balance, probably SLIGHTLY skewing towards the “good manager” side. Established gaming veterans are less likely to rely on the staff for their recommendations, so you could get by with someone who only knows about 1 layer deeper than your average casual gamer.

        1. Lenora Rose*

          Well, you definitely need to hire someone who has spent at least some free time playing games, and is willing to do more, or reading reviews or watching let’s plays, to get up to speed, and is able to recognize people who come in who know their stuff, and ask for their perspectives. A person who hates the product or thinks the product doesn’t matter will get it all wrong. But a person who has barely gotten past trying Catan as an adult, and mostly thinks of board games as Monopoly and Sorry from childhood can learn when to pitch Azul and when to pitch Terraforming Mars quicker than a person who doesn’t think managing a store means occasionally CLEANING IT UP.

        2. Parakeet*

          OP has mentioned elsewhere in the comments that she’s a woman. I mention this because I notice that several people are assuming the OP is a man even though that’s not usually the cultural norm on AAM.

      7. AsPerElaine*

        I think if OP goes the “effective manager but not super familiar” route, it needs to be someone who’s willing to learn not just what games people want, but what types of playstyle a particular game has, and what people like about it. I don’t necessarily demand that the store clerk have played any particular game, but a store clerk who can say, “Oh, that one’s been very popular recently, it’s a worker placement with some engine-building aspects” is one of my LGS value-adds, in the same way that I like to be able to ask a bookstore clerk about books.

      8. SongbirdT*

        Right, for a niche hobby shop like this, OP would be best served by an experienced retail manager with some exposure to the hobby versus an experienced hobbyist with some exposure to retail. It won’t necessarily be easy, but it will be worth it.

        That said, if OP hires an experienced manager who is a novice gamer, but who understands that they’ll need to play and learn and be fluent in the products eventually to be successful, then you can make a plan to cover the game expertise gap in the interim. Maybe hiring on a handful of experienced games to act as concierges during peak hours or during events when new folks might come in.

      9. Critical Rolls*

        Disagree. A good retail manager can talk about the product anywhere they work within a very short period of time. And I would far rather shop someplace clean and welcoming that is run by the numbers while the manager gets comfortable than some gatekept dump that won’t carry 5e because 3.5 is clearly the superior edition. (5e is good. Fight me.)

        1. No Longer Looking*

          5e is good. 3.5 is superior. It’s strange that there was no actual fourth edition though, isn’t it? Unless you count Pathfinder of course. ;)

          1. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

            Clearly, they are using Fibonacci numbers for numbering – this also explains why what is and isn’t first edition is so hard to pin down….

      10. Raida*

        I feel like a good manager – or staff member for that matter – just learns the subject matter.
        My mate has run fast food, emergency vet clinic HR, tax accountancy admin – she just learns what is needed, is friendly and welcoming, and does the job so very well.

        If she was put into a game store? By the start of the second week she’d be able to tell you about the last turn of a MtG event on the previous Friday night, show you a folder of “if your friend likes [common game] they might enjoy…” for gift buyers, say how she’s really enjoying learning new games gosh there’s so many what’s your recommendation?, the store would be so friggin clean and she’d welcome everyone coming in.

        And she’d do it all without bias.

        Disinterested staff suck. Super knowledgeable staff are great. Staff who are helpful and are clearly making the effort – appreciated. And the next time I go in maybe she says “We played Tiny Epic Dinosaurs on the weekend it was great, thanks for the recommendation!”

      11. J*

        I’m of the mindset that the retail staff should be the most enthusiastic about the product in these niche stores with the manager being excellent at managing. The manager should work with the owners to learn about the products and market niche, apply the higher level parts when hiring staff, and continue to learn about the products (including future products not currently carried) from the retail team, customers, owners, and industry news. I don’t think they should be completely ignorant to gaming but this is a store that has fallen behind and desperately needs a new manager with management skills.

        The owners don’t seem willing to manage so those duties need to be found in a reliable manager. This might mean hiring more support staff, and with the churn rate that could end up being a temporary bump while the manager gets up to speed on the industry. I’ve been an office manager for law firms, government agencies, a startup, a nonprofit…all were industries I could learn about and be up to speed on to the public within 3 months. The management skills I’ve developed (people managing, project management, bookkeeping, legal guidance to follow, inventory control, etc.) took months to years for each task.

      12. TootsNYC*

        but is this guy, or anyone like him, going to be able to provide that? Someone like him is probably only going to be able to talk about the games HE likes.
        Someone who knows they need to learn about games will be more likely TO learn about games in order to be able to talk about them.

    3. Julia*

      A game shop needs to have someone who is familiar with games. I go to my local stores for staff that are knowledgeable about what I’m buying.

      One of the many problems with this current manager is that they either aren’t knowledgeable about games the customers are interested in or don’t feel like buying them.

    4. TootsNYC*

      I’m so glad to see this comment. I wanted to make it as well.

      Get someone who can run ANY retail store. Let them research “games that sell,” etc, because they’ll do a better job than this guy.
      First, they’ll understand retail business.
      Second, they won’t be overconfident about their expertise in the subject matter, and they’ll turn to outside sources to decide what you should stock on the shelves.

    5. Jessica*

      The internet can provide everybody with lots of knowledge and advice and guidance about the latest games, but it can’t provide a clean well-run local store. It’s also perfectly possible that there are gamers with managerial skills and experience out there, but LW should think about where/how he’ll recruit in order to connect with them.

  13. Worldwalker*

    The problem is not that he has insufficient confidence.

    The problem is that he has *too much* confidence — confidence that he can do (or not do, in this case) whatever he wants and nothing will happen to him.

    I’m getting the feeling that by “game store” you mean the hobby type rather than the computer type. There are two of those within range of me — one about 25 miles away and one about 60 miles away. I go to the one 60 miles away because the one 25 miles away is, not to put too fine a point on it, a dump. It’s dirty, it’s dingy, the staff (when they notice you exist at all) don’t know what their products or prices are, and they are always out of what I’m looking for. OP, if your store is in Georgia, I’m one of the customers who shops at your competitor in another state. It used to be a good store, but in the past few years it’s taken a nosedive with JATO assist.

    You sack the manager and what’s the worst that can happen? His buddies stop shopping there? They’re not going to drive 60 miles the other way to get what they need (and how much do they actually spend, as opposed to hanging around chatting, anyway?) There are a lot of people like me, though, who don’t make a fuss … just give up in disgust and quietly shop elsewhere. Fire the manager, take over running the store yourself until you can hire a replacement, work with said replacement for a month so you can be sure they’re the right person for the job, and the customers will come back. And the manager’s buddies? No loss.

    1. Jake*

      Yes. And to be clear, I think that people driving even 25 miles to a game store means that store is pretty exceptionally good because… Amazon is a 1 minute log on away! You have to be INCREDIBLE to draw customers from that far, and having a dirty store is the easy way to indicate that you aren’t incredible.

  14. idwtpaun*

    OP, I have some experience in this business so I understand why a store manager that builds the store’s core community is important, but it can’t be the only factor. Besides, a store manager had to be able to foster other playgroups and not just get their own friends to come in.

    It’s a lot of work! Which you know, because the work is not getting done. A messy place will not inspire people to hold their DnD/Warhammer/TCG sessions there. And a great store manager needs some savvy with regards to which products to stock.

    I don’t know where you are located in terms of people having other options for play space, but the internet is full of stories of people describing their LGS as a stagnant swamp and lamenting that they don’t have anywhere better to go, you don’t want to be one of these places.

    1. quill*

      Yeah, OP: especially if you want to make any money using the shop as a game space, you have GOT to ensure that this guy isn’t running off potential gaming groups.

      Take a good hard look at the demographics of who actually plays in your store: if it’s just this guy’s buddies, you have a problem that nobody else looked at your game space and thought it would welcome them. If you still have other groups, freaking talk to them about how they feel about the environment.

  15. AG*

    OP, it sounds like a textbook situation that is unique to game stores. Those terrible hires, did they graduate from regular customer to employee? That happens often in LFGSs. Does the manager have a similar story? You probably know there are a lot of game store employees who are really invested in the hobby, but see their employment more as “getting paid to enjoy their hobby”, rather than “getting to work at a job related to their hobby.”

    The inventory he refuses to buy, and the inventory he buys against your judgement: He has his own opinion about what games or products are good, and what are garbage, and he is pushing his tastes on the store, isn’t he? Hobby gamers have a very skewed view of what games are good, or in demand. These are textbook LFGS problems. I am saying this confidently because the behavior you are describing is stuff that specifically happens in LFGS kind of game stores (that’s why I keep using that acronym).

    Why do you care if you will lose customers if your store doesn’t carry the product that sells well?

    And don’t worry about losing customers anyway. You are right, game store customers are tight knit, and word gets around. So when the problem manager goes away and store gets itself together, people will notice in a positive way. There are customers out there who are already talking about your store’s problems and your bad manager (possibly the customers that like your manager also). Give them something positive to talk about. And also think about the current customer base you have. In game stores, you often get one group of customers and other customers are turned off your store because of them. Make sure you are not pandering to bad customers and keeping other, good customers away.

    1. HufferWare*

      All of this. OP needs to understand that his competition is not another small game shop, it’s Amazon. What OP is providing (or could be if he didn’t have this albatross manager) is much more than a place to buy stuff, and it’s success depends on a welcoming, CLEAN, safe environment for people to explore these hobbies with others. How useful are a “handful of community members” if they aren’t buying anything or contributing positively to the community within your shop?

        1. quill*

          Pretty sure it happens with secondhand books/ niche subject books, jewelery supply stores…

      1. Jellyfish*

        Good point. A relative worked at an independent yarn & fabric shop, and the demographics were different from the nerd stores I go to, but the drama was the same.

        Her first employer closed because a poor manager was allowed to run the shop into the ground by only catering to the hobbies she liked and the customers who played along.
        The second place fired a long time employee when that person got out of control, and there was a noticeable improvement.

        Any small hobby-based retail environment needs to be something special to compete with online and big box retailers. Employees and atmosphere will make or break it, and this dude is breaking your store, OP.

      2. Jake*

        Its probably only unique to community type stores where people actively talk shop while in the store.

        It actually operates similarly to small town, locally owned hardware stores.

      3. Ann O'Nemity*

        This happens in many types of hobby stores! Regular customers love the hobby so much they end up getting jobs in the field. This doesn’t have to be a bad thing if you have good management and a good hiring/selection process.

      4. Some Dude*

        I worked at a record store and a book store pre-digital days, and it was the same. We were snobby nerds who were into niche things no one liked, and we made people feel dumb for liking stuff that everyone liked. I’m sorry.

        1. Lenora Rose*

          My favourite bookstore ever opened a third location that was bigger than their second and more convenient for me to get to then their large main store.

          I went there several times, and… Some genres I liked were fine, but in my main genre, I never seemed to find as many of the authors I liked as I did at the smaller store. Then I learned the store’s buyer for that genre was ordering to his tastes, and his tastes alone, and not being responsive to general trends. All became clear. Same store, same clean build, similar colours and layout, and STILL less interesting to me. (My only frustration was that when that third store location lost money and sank, they closed both it AND the second smaller location I really liked, which was in the black but not enough to make up for the big red of the third.)

      5. MigraineMonth*

        Pretty sure it happens in any hobby-based store with a strong community bent. Anywhere passionate devotion to the hobby is more important than management skills and turning a profit.

    2. Jake*

      YES!!!!!!!

      Plus those players are only a small portion of revenue for those businesses anyway. Usually, most revenue comes from customers who literally never play a game in the store a single time.

    3. Important Moi*

      Way back when buying music was mostly limited to physical stores, I stopped going to a Record Store because the staff criticized my taste. The Record Store sold CDs and cassettes too, but you get what I’m saying.

      1. Aitch Arr*

        We asked for Mojo Nixon
        They said he don’t work here
        We said if you don’t got Mojo Nixon then your store could use some fixin’

        *runs away*

    4. AnotherLibrarian*

      I don’t think this situation is 100% unique to game stores, but I think there is a perfect storm of a hobby rife with people suffering from the Geek Social Fallacies and a niche area that has narrow margins. However, I do think you’re right- the gaming community is small and gossip ridden- people will talk and you can recover from this, especially if you behave graciously with the unfortunate firing.

    5. AG*

      Yeah, I’m obviously wrong on this being unique to game stores. There definitely are some workplace dynamics or practices at play here though that don’t apply to most businesses, but to this type of business. I think everyone is spot on that the customer dynamics are more major in hobby type of stores than in other places.

  16. Laure001*

    You won’t lose the gang of players. The shop is their HQ. They will commiserate with the guy, they will tell him they’ll never put a foot in the store again, and they will be back the next day.

    It’s even possible they’ll ostracise the guy and keep the shop.

    1. Jake*

      Yes. Plus, most game shops don’t make their money off the main players anyway. It’s the many many many customers that show up once a month and drop 100+ bucks at a time. Those are the backbone of most game shops, but its easy to lose sight of the 100s of those people when you’ve got 10 people spending $500 a month at the shop and spending 20 hours a week hanging out there.

    2. I'd Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

      Also, as others have said, it’s entirely possible that they’re aware their friend is kind of a crappy employee, or even that they’re not especially close to that guy and cozying up a little extra because of his status as gaming store manager. Basically – they have to interact with him in the store, so they may as well be friendly.

  17. BethRA*

    I used to work in a coffee shop that had a horrible, toxic assistant manager; one of the owner’s reasons (read: excuses) for keeping her was that she had been a long-term fixture in the community and “customers enjoy her.”

    Turns out, those customers were mostly just afraid to cross her, and played along with her schtick, and were much relieved when she moved to a second store.

    (and yes, I am still bitter after all these years for what our boss let her get away with)

  18. HufferWare*

    His being friends within the community means nothing if your store doesn’t stock the items people want to buy or if your store is dirty and unwelcoming. Fire him yesterday and focus on all the NEW customers you can attract now that you don’t have a rude, lazy slob running your store.

  19. kiki*

    Sometimes it’s really clear to people why their friend was fired.

    Even if it’s not clear now, once you take over or get somebody decent in the role, it will become clear that they weren’t doing a good job. Be kind, offer severance, and offer to give a decent reference (if you think that’s possible). Tell them they’re always welcome in the shop and that you’re sorry it didn’t work out. Don’t speak ill of them to anyone who comes to the shop. You may lose a few customers who are closest to the store manager and very loyal, but in all likeliness most people know your employee wasn’t doing the best job and will be happy to see the store under better management.

    1. Sara M*

      Yes to all this. Preserve his dignity as well as possible, but get him out of there!

      Another female gamer here. We absolutely recognize a “boys club” store that doesn’t want us there. If we can, we shop elsewhere.

    2. Petty Betty*

      Yep. I mean, he could even be telling his “friends” (and I use that term loosely) that he’s the only reason their favorite items get stocked (and is probably lying through his teeth). When he’s gone and their items continue to show up week after week, they’ll realize he was lying and continue to come back.

  20. irene adler*

    But wait!
    He has had no reason to change – there’s been no consequences for his bad behavior and laziness. Sure, a heart-to-heart talk from boss. But no PIP or suspensions or anything along those lines. Why should he change?

    Would there be hope for this guy to change if he was given a short deadline to meet new sales figures? For example, explain that revenues are not enough to keep the shop open. Revenues need to increase by, say 50%, from now on. Or the place will be shuttered by the end of the year.

    The method to accomplish increased revenues will be: daily cleaning of all customer and customer adjacent areas. Hourly tiding up of the shop. Expand product lines per your directive. Cease purchase of any items not selling. Any current employees will be trained on proper customer service.
    I would think that even those who are friends with this guy would be interested in the new, popular products. And in a shop that is kept clean.

    If nothing else, establish new ground rules for whomever replaces this guy so his practices don’t repeat themselves. And have a probationary period in case the replacement doesn’t work out.

    1. Raida*

      Any current employees will be trained on proper customer service – this needs to be clearly defined, with policies and a feedback mechanism, and LW needs to be willing to do that training themselves.

    2. linger*

      OP’s later comments suggest that:
      1) OP and co-owner are necessarily hands-off, as both have full-time jobs, without enough free time to conduct their own hiring. This goes a long way towards explaining why Employee is still there.
      2) Even so, Employee may be only slightly less hands-off than the owners, because this is not Employee’s intended career, and this job is being fitted in around their study. This partly explains why critical functions such as stocking and cleaning of the store are being neglected. The existing clientele is likely drawn from university-based gaming clubs to which Employee belongs.
      3) Employee has no motivation to change in any meaningful way: they’re out next year regardless, once they finish their degree.
      It may well be that Employee’s eventual replacement should be someone else active within the same gaming groups, but this cannot be their only criterion. OP will need to look at factors including: the candidate’s breadth of gaming interests, the candidate’s encouragement of inclusivity within the gaming community, and the candidate’s actual experience in retail.

  21. Jake*

    I’m a board game geek, and one who frequents the local shop quite a bit, but I’m certainly not a part of the local “community.” However, I do spend over a thousand dollars a year in this shop, so I’m a pretty substantial customer.

    Please get rid of this manager. The plethora of customers like me that keep your shop afloat will greatly appreciate it. If you lose the 5-10 whales that frequent the shop and spend a ton there, it’ll be outweighed a lot by the number of customers like me that will not leave, and will feel more welcome.

    Far and away the most important thing to me as a customer is that I feel welcome, there is a variety of product on the shelf that is interesting, and the staff knows what they are talking about when I talk shop with them. It sounds like he’s failing at #1 and #2, which means I would literally just go to Amazon.

    That’s the rough part about your business. At any given time, I can easily get anything you offer on the internet, so you have to keep me happy to drive to your shop, and a mess is one of the easiest ways to drive me away, but even worse, not having the right stuff on the shelf means I CAN’T support your business, even if I want to.

    1. Rain's Small Hands*

      We just went to our local game store with a list of three games to possibly buy for a game night this weekend. They didn’t have any of them and we left empty handed – they’ll be delivered today through Amazon. There are SO MANY games that its impossible to stock them all (our local game store has a huge footprint). But because they are welcoming (after a 2019 exposure of a sexist, homophobic manager caused them to reevaluate their staffing and inclusivity and fire their long time manager), we will be back to check before we hit the buy button on Amazon.

      That same store 25 years ago I seldom went into – though my husband did. It definitely gave the impression that “if you aren’t like us, you aren’t welcome” and us was white, male, straight, without children. Women entering the store were either glared at or treated like objects that exist for the pleasure of men. My husband was oblivious to why I’d sit in the car and wait for him to shop. And yes, making the space more accessible to all types of people meant making it cleaner. Better lit. With a more diverse selection. A helpful staff Not just getting rid of the chain mail bikini posters.

    2. AsPerElaine*

      I’d also question whether he’s effectively doing #3, to be honest. Someone who refuses to buy the games I want to play probably isn’t willing to talk to me about them, either.

    3. Tenebrae*

      Exactly! I have a couple of local game stores that are warm and welcoming. And because they’re nice places just to visit, people wander in regularly just for fun and are on the spot to make spontaneous purchases because they’re happy and they like the store and they saw something neat that they weren’t looking for.
      “I don’t need more dice but those are such a pretty shade of pink!” “Oooh, that game has an expansion book. I guess I could get it online but it is hard to flip through a PDF when I’m in the middle of a game. . .”
      And all those $15 and $20 purchases add up.

  22. L2*

    In my spare time, I’m a Magic: The Gathering judge (I run tournaments for stores and do what I can to promote healthy environments for organized play). Stores with employees / culture like this are large barriers to expanding organized play. The “regulars” who put up with all the problems are also probably driving away a lot of business. If you want a clubhouse, you’ll miss out on LOTS of repeat traffic. Sounds like you want to change that, which is GOOD!

    Listen to women in your community. High probability there are none to listen to. The barriers to spaces like this are a thousand micro aggressions that are death by papercuts for folks who are marginalized in gaming spaces.

    1. Con Dar*

      1000% this. I went to a MTG draft night at my local shop ONCE. I am an adult woman (mid-30s at the time) and everyone (including STAFF!) treated me like I was either an idiot who had no idea how to play or a curiosity that they stared at and made confused faces.

      Don’t keep staff that mansplain games or gatekeep in any way, including what offerings are stocked. I know we’re all beating this dead horse and *assuming* this guy is also sexist, but it sure quacks like a duck!

    2. Raida*

      I couldn’t get my sister to play board games with me because of… the smell.
      Of the other customers.

      One or two? Meh that’s fine.

      But twelve tables of dudes staying for nine hours, you walk in at 10am you can taste the air? She was leery of all board gaming events after that even at other stores!
      The girl players would wear clean clothes and deodorant and have showered, some of the boy gamers would wear the shirt from yesterday, and spray on some Lynx once they already smelled bad. One of them was told not to get excited because he’d gesture with his arms – and his armpits *stank* bad enough you could tell when he moved. hooooboy

  23. Delta Delta*

    From the headline I’m a little unclear – is the bad manager also a co-owner of the business? If that’s the case, that’ll make things more difficult than just firing him. If I’m reading it wrong, I’m joining the chorus of urging you to fire him.

    Even though he’s got some friends who come in, are they a good and stable source of business? Do they drive the bottom line? If you lost their bit of business would it hurt? It also seems like what others are saying may also be true: you may have a larger market you’re missing because the manager is a) gross and b) only willing to stock what his handful of friends buy. You may be in a community that has a far wider audience, and you’re missing that by letting this guy continue to run the show.

    And yeah, you may have some bad press for a little bit. Maybe a way to combat that would be to roll out some re-branding/new inventory/new events/etc (if you can) so that you’re controlling the public narrative when he leaves. (I’m not in the gaming community so I don’t know if this is how it works or if it’s feasible – just an idea)

    1. New Jack Karyn*

      That’s a good idea–once they have a new person in place, roll out the ‘Under New Management’ banner and host a few events. Especially for the games this guy isn’t ordering for, and are popular.

      If you don’t have one, consider adopting a code of conduct for employees and customers. Explicitly stating that your store will not tolerate X, Y, and Z behaviors and language might go a long way toward building the space you want in the community.

  24. Free Meerkats*

    People outside the Geek-O-Sphere tend to think that the Simpsons’ Comic Book Guy is a parody. He’s not, he’s representative of a too large segment of Geek-oriented store owners and managers.

    I’ve been shopping in LGS Since Avalon Hill brought out Panzer Blitz. The ones that come and go are typically run like yours is being run; the ones that stay around for decades are run by people who aren’t like your manager. If you want to be in business for another two years, DTMFA (to quote Dan Savage.)

    1. CarolynM*

      Comic Book Guy is tame compared to some real life examples I’ve met! LOL After years of just putting up with it, I found a really good store where I felt welcome. I had been going there for a while when the shop owner actually called me over to join a coversation about a title he knew I read! It felt like an out of body experience – me – a “GIRL” – was the EXPERT on the topic!!!!

  25. Wilbur*

    Maybe the employees you or he hired aren’t terrible. Maybe they were fine, and your store is just a terrible place to work with a bad manager who can’t/won’t train them.
    You’ve got too much of the wrong merchandise, your store looks unclean and unwelcoming, you can’t find/keep employees, what do you have to lose?

  26. Jack Straw from Wichita*

    I don’t even need to know you or your specific situation to know that you have just as many people (if not more) who don’t come to your store because he’s the manager as you do people who do come because they’re his friends.

    1. The OG Sleepless*

      Yes, agreed. I’m not a gamer, but I’ve been a part of more than a couple of small businesses who had employees like this. They either stayed forever and poisoned the business, or they were fired. When they were fired, a few of their friends went with them. Some of their friends stayed with the business and were secretly glad the employee was gone. And other people who had been avoiding the place because of this person suddenly came back.

  27. Phony Genius*

    Turning around a common refrain on this site:

    Your employee sucks and isn’t going to change.

    If business is poor with him, can it be much worse without him? The gaming community will still want to buy games, and if you improve the store, they’ll buy more from you. And when you’re interviewing a replacement, you may even find someone else who is well-known in the local gaming community.

  28. nora*

    Guys like the manager are the reason women like me stay away from gaming. I guarantee you the shop is not friendly to women, queer folk, or other marginalized communities with this guy at the helm.

    1. Cool Tina, Train Conductress*

      Yes, 100% this.

      Only his friends like him. The nerd community–and LW’s potential clientele–is so much broader than just the five or six people this guy games with.

    2. OyHiOh*

      Addition to nora’s comment: parents who have some influence over the discretionary spending of offspring.

      I have a child who likes gaming, and is of age to spend their own money, but also still seeks out familial guidance on spending. You bet your birthday money that the shop I encourage my young person to go to is friendly to women, queer folk, and all marginalized communities. It does my young person a world of good to pursue their hobbies and interests in an environment that is accepting and inclusive of all.

      1. Tussy*

        Ooo, that’s a good point. Even parents who aren’t necessarily cognisant of that are likely going to really judge the vibe of a place, ESPECIALLY if they are there for the kid and have no interest in the hobby itself and so wont give the store leeway for catering to them. I can just see my mother’s stony face if I had asked to go to a niche store as a kid and it was messy and had food all over the place.

        1. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

          This. When I was a young teen, my mom would regularly have to drive me across town to get to the gaming shop that carried a decent selection of books for my preferred TTRPG (GURPS). This was, as you can possibly imagine from “the game store that had the best selection of GURPS books in a reasonably large city with multiple game stores”, a place that focused on the more grognard end of things, with a ton of wargaming supplies and regular in-store events that involved large terrain pieces and minis.

          It was also clean, well-lit, and very welcoming to a 13 year old girl who wanted to spend several months allowance at a time on more GURPS books and maybe some minis. I doubt my mother would have been willing to keep driving me there if it had smelled terrible, been a mess, and we’d been ignored as obviously “in the wrong place” when we’d shown up the first time as a mother and daughter looking to buy games.

    3. C*

      Guarantee the cishet whites don’t like him, either. He probably gives the stink eye to anyone who wants to buy something, ask a question, order something, whatever, because they’re interrupting his time hanging out with his chosen friends and trying to make him actually do his job.

      Hopefully the people with the power to get rid of him do so, if only for the sake of money, and a more welcoming and inclusive space will follow.

  29. Cool Tina, Train Conductress*

    PARTICULARLY since this is a game store, you should fire him. I guarantee you he is scaring people away who already feel excluded by the gaming community; cronyism and cliques help keep the community insular and intimidating.

    Get a good store manager who runs things properly and might make a new swath of people feel welcome.

    1. Cool Tina, Train Conductress*

      Also, your next manager will presumably be a nerd with friends, too. She’ll draw her own people. Just make sure she’s committed to drawing people beyond that!

  30. Hiring Mgr*

    Agree that LW should fire this guy immediately, but also LW needs to be FAR more involved in the day to day running of the business for this and many other reasons

    1. Lilac*

      This is what struck me too. The LW sounds like they are somewhat helpless in the face of this bad manager, like they have given him all the power surrounding the store.

      LW, please invest in your store and yourself. This is your baby!

      1. anti social socialite*

        That stood out to me as well. Most small business owners I’ve known are at the store most of the time. Even if they’re not the face of the store, they’re in the background, checking inventory or accounts or whatever it is.

  31. University Schlep*

    People who think they have power because they have friends in the community don’t usually have as much power as they think they do.

    And also to address the fear of losing customers more directly. We had a restaurant in town that was one of the last to both claim to be family friendly (and they did have one of the BEST kids menus) and still allow smoking . They refused to ban smoking because they would lose customers. They fought so hard against the city ordinance because none of the towns near us banned smoking in restaurants so they were positive they would lose all their customers to their biggest competitor.

    And they did lose about 1/4 of their heavy smoking regulars. And gained wait lines out the doors of families with kids who had avoided them for years. The owner said that overall his business went up 40% within 3 months

    You are losing more customers than you know.

    1. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

      “People who think they have power because they have friends in the community don’t usually have as much power as they think they do.”

      And the power they do have in the community, tends to evaporate as soon as they are no longer useful to the community.

      1. Worldwalker*

        Yeah. There’s a good chance this manager’s “friends” just want him to use his employee discount on whatever they’re buying, and hang around because “my buddy is the manager here.” When he can’t, and isn’t, he’ll find himself rather lacking in that kind of friends.

    2. kiki*

      Yes! Nearly every time I’ve heard somebody say that somebody was too well-connected to face consequences, it has been false. It’s a disservice to people in the community to think they can’t see what’s in front of them. Even if they like the person and stay connected with them, they are able to pick up on something not being right.
      There was an agency in my city with extremely well-connected founders. There was a lot of turnover at that agency over the course of several years, but everyone who left stayed quiet about how terrible their experience was because the founders were “so well connected.” When somebody finally said, “Hey, this company that talks non-stop about emotional intelligence is actually abusive to staff,” nobody doubted it. Sometimes we give people more power than they ever really had.

  32. anti social socialite*

    You are doing more to ruin your store and your reputation by keeping him around. I used to be into the strategy game world & there were 2 stores in my area with that focus. One was a shop 5 minutes from my house. The store owner let his friends run amok and didn’t have a good handle on his inventory or his customers’ special orders (he also wasn’t very friendly to anyone who wasn’t a cis white male but that’s a rant for another day)

    There was another store which was further away but ran by a guy who was very friendly and kept his employees AND his customers in check. (If anyone isn’t familiar with how toxic gaming communities can be, trust me that is important).

    Guess which one I went to, spent money, at and recommended to people?

  33. Chirpy*

    As a female gamer myself, the manager of a game store absolutely affects whether or not I come back to the store. I’ve walked into stores where all conversation stops because *gasp, a woman walked in* and the one whose manager went out of his way to make me feel welcome was the one that I went back to. (And conversely, there’s a bookshop I liked but it had one dude who kept trying to push his favorite books on me, so I kind of quit going.)
    But aside from that, a store that stocks a wide variety of games/geekery is the main reason I go to any game shop. If the store is gross or badly stocked, it doesn’t matter how nice the staff are.

  34. PM by Day, Knitter by Night*

    This crops up at local yarn shops. I’m a kick ass knitter. I spend the GDP of a small nation on yarn on the regular. But there are a couple of stores close by that I just won’t go to because the staff is unfriendly and the gathered regulars act like you’re intruding. And I find that other kick ass knitters who just want to buy yarn without sucking up to toxic employees and hangers-on often feel the same way. Take a lesson from us kick ass knitters – get rid of the toxicity, have lots of cools stuff, and people will come in to buy stuff.

    1. La Triviata*

      This seems to happen in some niche stores. If the staff aren’t marginally welcoming, I leave and don’t go back. There’s one store of three in town that I stay away from for that reason – I’m happy to go to the other two stores, but that one just froze me out when I went in.

    2. nora*

      Yuppppp. Every community has That One Shop no knitter will go to, even if it has the best yarn in the world at criminally low prices, because the staff are garbage people.

  35. Rain's Small Hands*

    There is a book called “Friendly Local Game Store: A Five Year Path to a Middle Class Income” that goes into the pitfalls of running a game store. Worth a read for anyone interested in the business (I’m not really, I read it at the request of a friend. Yesterday there was a comment here about quilt shops – and what struck me when I read it is how similar the game store business was to the quilt store or LYS (local yarn shop)).

    1. Worldwalker*

      I’d say there are probably similarities among any type of store that caters to a small subset of the community: game stores, yarn shops, quilting shops, model RR shops, hobby shops, specialty book shops, and so on. Some get so wrapped up in their particular subculture that they look inward, not outward, and eventually contract to nothing. Others welcome anyone who wanders through the doors, encourage them to look around, answer questions, and make them glad they came. (I have to give a shout-out to Atlanta Vintage Books)

  36. Proofin' Amy*

    If the clique stops coming to the store, you might find you attract a whole bunch of new customers who previously felt unwelcome. I like gaming mildly, and I have to say that when I first moved to town, the local store, the Brooklyn Strategist, was extremely welcoming, and even though it skews somewhat male there, I think I could comfortably play there if I wanted to. I shop more at wine and liquor stores where the staff are willing to be friendly, chat with me, and offer recommendations based on my taste, not on price. There’s nothing worse than entering a yarn store where a bunch of people are knitting at a table and totally freezing out the newcomer who would like help finding a yarn or choosing a pattern. And I would never go back to the magic store where I needed some tricks and information as part of my research for a book series; they were openly hostile to me both as a woman and as someone who wasn’t a stage magician.

  37. Sparkles McFadden*

    LW, you are worrying about the customers you see when you should be worrying about the customers you don’t see.

    Fire this guy and have a grand reopening and tout that the store is under new management. That way, the people that showed up and thought “Nope, not spending my money in this place” off might come back and give the store a second chance.

  38. New Senior Mgr*

    I could feel my blood pressure rising just reading this. Please follow the advice, OP, and good luck! Hopefully you’ll breathe a sigh of relief after it’s all over and feel like a 1000 ton weight is off your shoulders.

  39. To Tell The Truth*

    I would NOT assume it’s the messy store or bad manager that has hurt retail sales during COVID in the age of Amazon prime. Alison is advising OP to lose their few remaining customers. That’s probably good advice, because it’s probably time to move on from this failing business.

    1. MsM*

      Now this is bad advice. I don’t have a local game store I’m particularly loyal to, but I do have a game store in the city I grew up in that I make a point of shopping at when I’m in town, and buying gift cards to for my friends and family in the area. Why go out of my way for that when Amazon exists? Because it has all the things commenters are pointing out the LW’s store should have: a diverse staff (plus it’s female-owned), clean, newbie-friendly layout, good selection and customer service (including responsiveness to customer requests when something’s not in stock), and community activities for all ages and interest types. I’m more than happy to do my part to help them stick around.

    2. I should really pick a name*

      Then you’re not familiar with hobby gaming.

      There’s a reason that the term Friendly Local Game Store (FLGS) exists. There’s a significant market that appreciates a brick and mortar store with knowledgeable staff who can make recommendations, let you know about upcoming deals/events, and provides a space for organized gaming events.

      I know multiple stores where people have made a point of buying from them during COVID out of loyalty. A manager like the one the LW describes could easily make the difference between a store surviving COVID or not.

      1. Worldwalker*

        I did that. And I bought a gift certificate when they were closing during the worst of it, to give them a little bit of a bridge loan until they got back. They’re back and better than ever.

        Game companies make games, but game stores make gamers.

    3. Ellen Ripley*

      This is silly. Do you think a messy store and bad manager has helped the business? Or that it won’t drive away the few people who want to support a local business?

      Also… Are you the bad manager from the post?

    4. To Tell The Truth*

      A lot of theoretical responses here, but the game store in my neighborhood has been totally empty since COVID. And surely you all know that tons of book and game and toy and etc. stores have shut down because of Amazon, etc. This is a dying industry and it’s highly likely that OP’s store is failing entirely because of that. The only effect we know for a fact that this manager has is that he brings in a handful of customers.

      1. LB*

        My city has multiple boardgame/rpg/card stores that are doing gangbusters despite COVID. They’re clean, welcoming, knowledgeable, and the staff are all affable and top-notch.

        The ones that are poorly run don’t survive, but there’s absolutely a booming demographic that seeks out this kind of community hub.

      2. MsM*

        So our firsthand knowledge of local stores thriving in spite of Amazon is “theoretical,” but your one personal example combined with a bunch of unsourced generalizations isn’t? Okay then.

      3. Clobberin' Time*

        No, it’s not “highly likely” that the OP’s game store is unaffected by having an incompetent, actively damaging manager.

        It really is okay to just pass by a discussion if it bothers you that people are in agreement.

      4. Nancy*

        The game and book stores in my area are doing well. They are clean, inviting, have staff who listen to their customers, support the community, etc.

        I don’t shop in messy, dirty stores that don’t stock what I want. I am sure I am not the only one.

      5. J*

        Mine literally added a second location last year because their demand went up so much during Covid. They set up delivery and auto-ship for comics, they started outdoor character meetings and board game parties, they embraced PokemonGo and had a national event in my city. They hit it huge in early 2020 selling out their entire inventory of board games and puzzles right away but because they had small business connections and new the manufacturer, they had inventory of some items when Amazon couldn’t because they didn’t have the connection there. If these owner and manager had taken this seriously, they could have seen a similar response. The owner of my neighborhood store pivoted, watched the public and responded. That doesn’t seem like something this store could do. It’s not the industry that’s the problem, it’s disconnected owners who aren’t agile and whose manager reflects all of that.

    5. AnotherLibrarian*

      While it is possible that the there maybe consequences from firing this person, if that’s enough to sink the business than the business was already failing and there’s some other serious issues to be addressed. However, as a frequent shopper, even through COVID, at my local game shop, I would say that the quality of the staff is critical.

    6. Jellyfish*

      Nah, I deliberately supported my local game store during Covid. Two-person games also kept my partner and I sane when we were unable to travel or socialize, so it was mutually beneficial.

      In any case, enough other people did the same for the shop to hold out until vaccines were widely available, and now they’re back to making a profit again. Apparently unlike the OP’s shop, they make a clear effort to be welcoming and inclusive, so they have a sizable customer base.

    7. Critical Rolls*

      Perhaps the plethora of gamers who have commented that they prefer to support their local stores, but won’t do so for dirty, wrongly stocked, unwelcoming places should be taken into account before ringing the death knell and assuming that this guy’s friends are the only possible customers.

      *Your* local gaming store might be empty, but *mine* is not. Could it be that yours is run by a similar hobby-before-job slob? Hmm.

    8. Worldwalker*

      I’ve been a gamer since 1978, when the only thing I wanted for Christmas was the little white box of D&D. I have been a regular at dozens of game stores over the subsequent years, good, bad, and indifferent. I’ve been a part of the industry in various capacities that I’m not going to go into here, on and off, for almost as long. I have some experience here.

      In short, I have the standing to say you’re dead wrong.

      Gaming is a social thing, and gamers enjoy being around other gamers. A good game store is not just a retailer; it’s a social space. Amazon can sell you a game, but it can’t sell you a space to play or people to play with. Those, you find at your FLGS. People do. And they buy things while they’re there.

      My favorite — the one I call me F”L”GS because it’s 60 miles away — doesn’t have a “few remaining customers” — I was there Monday, which is *dead* in most retail, and they were moderately busy. On weekends it’s packed. And they do a land-office business in soda, chips, and microwave burritos during their Magic tournaments, open gaming nights, etc. It’s clean, well laid out, well stocked, and the staff is friendly and helpful. Pretty much the opposite of what the OP described.

      No, it’s not Amazon, and it’s not COVID. It’s the fact that the manager is a sloppy, lazy, self-interested idiot who couldn’t care less about the store’s success. Someone like that could crater a store selling ice cream in a desert.

      And if the OP loses those few remaining customers, along with the manager they’re hanging around (probably because he gives them discounts), they can trade them in on much better customers, and more of them.

    9. Raida*

      Mate, I’ve got NINE game stores in my city, and three of them I won’t bother going to – because they aren’t clean and welcoming.
      Four of the rest have spaces to play, two of those decent libraries of games to play in that space for free. My favourite is the one without any space for playing – their store has the best range, the most well trained staff, a good reward system, useful catalogues, cover puzzles, classic games like chess, educational games, mystery party boxes, even a few magic kits.
      They attract the widest range of customers, provide some of the best service, and it’s rare to not see customers in the store.

      The ones that are dingy, poorly-maintained, have staff chatting to their mates, smell like Maccas? I don’t go back, and I’ll order from the good stores instead of online.

      1. AnonToday*

        This is how I am with bike shops, too. For some reason, my metro area has so many bike shops I haven’t even visited all of them. One of the closest ones is also snobby to me for riding an old cruiser in street clothes, so guess who isn’t getting my business? Neither is the one where the staff laughed at me for trying to do an online order for store pickup, and mansplained whatever it was. The one that won’t repair bikes that weren’t purchased at their shop and tries to get me to trade in my bike instead of fixing it, nope. Any place that sneers at me for preferring internal hub shifting is out too. I still have enough shops I like that I haven’t even visited all the ones listed on Yelp.

    10. Not A Manager*

      My adult children are gamers, and I have one clear counter-example anyway. Their local game store came back post-vaccines stronger than ever. They nurture young players and provide an environment that parents trust. They always have female gamers in the store and behind the counter. When my kids were much younger, the owner called me personally to discuss an interpersonal issue and talk about how to address it. Now one of my kids is bringing in his younger cousins as new gamers and new customers.

  40. Wintermute*

    As a huge gamer, volunteer for a national gaming organization, and friend to several game store owners as well as “big dollar clients” (like national championship-level Magic players) I have some directly relevant advice:

    Yes, you might be being kept afloat by one guy and his larger circle of friends. That’s where I disagree with the advice given here to some extent. you need a plan FIRST and then get rid of him SECOND. Game stores don’t make their bread and butter by drive-by traffic and stop-in customers. Loyal customers and regular events matter FAR MORE than your impression to someone that walks in off the street. The loyal customer is the one ordering boxes of boosters or entire armies of minis, the walk-in buys a copy of Arkham Horror for Christmas and you don’t see them for a year if ever.

    your first order of business is to get a new cash cow. Get reliable customers in the door before you get rid of him, he brings a friend group with him, sure, so try to get a new friend group in! Ideally a few! What draws them in depends on your area: it could be a LARP game, it could be persistent Warhammer 40k campaigns, might be board game night where you demo new games (demoing games is a great way to move them, especially more complicated games, the kind that come with bigger price tags, as well as non-collectable card games which can look dauntingly complex) it could be Magic draft deck tournaments, it could be Pathfinder Society games, but you need a new customer base and you need it now.

    The biggest key thing is you don’t let your current manager drive them off and turn it into a matter of geek clan warfare, you may have to be there personally to ensure that they are suitably welcomed and not chased off (grognards like him tend to get territorial about “their store” and that doesn’t get better when some of them are staff).
    But also ideally at least some of those events are something that requires regular purchases and generate cash. As an aside I’d be wary of Warhammer if you’re not willing to sell your soul to Games Workshop, their demands on shelf space and minimum orders are absolutely brutal– they used to see game stores as their primary way to reach customers, now they treat them as competition to Forge World and their own brand stores and webstore. Same with tabletop books. You’re not going to out-do Drive-Thru RPG, they’ll sell cheaper and more convenient and they’ll have everything in stock. In fact a lot of the hot new games on the market don’t even have physical books that stores can buy, it’s direct-sales, kickstarter or PDFs only. You might sell some corebooks now and again, but you’re not going to convert them into big dollars. Another aside there is you’d be surprised how many customers would rather get a book from you than just go online, even if all YOU are doing is going online to buy it and marking it up a few bucks, making it known you’ll place custom orders can earn a little side money that way.

    That leaves CCGs, non-GW wargames and board games as good potential money makers, with tabletop books and accessories as secondary income. But the good news is most geeks are polygame addicts, they’ll buy board games the same place they go to play D&D or Pathfinder. The purpose of having those other events isn’t necessarily to directly sell to customers, but to make yourself “their game store” for that friend group. That way when they need dice, or when they need a corebook, or they need cards, or are picking up a gift… they come to you. The more diversity of gaming clusters/circles you can attract the better off you’ll be. Most failing games stores are in your boat, they have one group of friends that is the vast majority of their regular customerbase, highly successful ones have multiple groups with different interests. This also helps stabilize your cashflow because of product release cycles, you can have a release day draft magic event one month, the next it’s a campaign for the new Fallout tabletop mini game release, and so on.

    Some additional tips: consider that if you have event space you can make decent money on snacks and drinks, as long as you are selling prepackaged goods and it’s not more than a set percentage (depending on your state) of your profits you don’t need a food license to sell chips and soda. Also, consider gifts, geek accessories, even clothing; impulse-type items of the sort that ThinkGeek used to sell that are nerd-adjacent culturally. Gamers go nuts for that kind of thing, people who wouldn’t impulse buy a 70-dollar board game will often hesitate far less to spend 40 bucks on solid metal playing cards because they’re just that cool, or a “displacer kitty” T-shirt because it’s just that cute. Another option a lot of games stores take is dipping into gaming-adjacent hobbies or general geek hobbies: military models aren’t the sellers they used to be but crafts kits I’m told do alright.

    1. Rain's Small Hands*

      Yep. I will buy digital D&D content, but because we like to have the physical books to leaf through, stop by the game store to buy the print version as well. I seldom buy a print TTRPG book through Amazon.

      My youngest has at least seven sets of dice – when we left empty handed from our game store this weekend, we only did so after evaluating dice, pins, patches – I hate making that drive to support the business and leaving empty handed.

      The thing I wish our game store had was 3D print workshops. 3D printing of minis and terrain is big and there is a ton of YouTube content, but I want to talk to someone about tricks and techniques and be able to ask questions. I don’t think carrying 3D printers is in their best interests, but workshops could be because it brings people in – and sells the paint, etc.

      1. Wintermute*

        This is a phenomenal idea but can be legally dicey, There’s a LOT of complexity around the legality of printing 3d models, buying licenses versus buying digital print files, knockoffs and the limits of “look and feel” trademarks when it comes to trademarked armies and terms of art, etc. Not saying don’t go there, just saying that you may be best off having someone who is a dedicated “print shop” employee who is versed in these things and ensures no one brings down heat and you should be prepared to have to do more than the usual amount of stopping customers from doing things they shouldn’t be doing.

        1. Aaron*

          That seems like a skill set that might be listed on a job listing as “desired” but not required. The store doesn’t need it but a person knows about the rules and can actually make a 3d printer work reliably would be a good find.

          1. Rain's Small Hands*

            That’s what I’d be looking for. How to get your stuff to print reliably. Not, how to find knockoff minis of intellectual property.

    2. sswj*

      I’m not a gamer so most of this is utter Greek to me, but I *am* in niche retail, and that aspect makes complete sense.

      Really, really good post!

    3. H.C.*

      I’m an avid gamer (tho of the standalone varieties & not so much Warhammer/Pathfinder/D&D/MTG/etc.) and I co-sign on most of this (esp running events & selling geek-related accessories/novelties), though ambivalent on whether to get rid of the problematic manager now vs. later.

      One additional suggestion I would add is check out the social media gaming groups in your area (Meetup, Nextdoor, Facebook Groups); in my area, a lot of them are HUNGRY for IRL gathering spots that are not someone’s home – so connect with them & reach out to their leads about your store’s availability (it’s also a good way to gather their feedback of your store). You can even charge a reasonable rental/admission fee, and maybe sweeten the pot that each person’s fee comes w a raffle entry for those games that aren’t moving off your shelves.

    4. No evidence*

      At last, someone in this discussion who actually knows what they’re talking about.

    5. Talvi*

      I can’t comment on how well it would sell, but I’d also like to mention jigsaw puzzles as a game-adjacent item! The local game store was where I used to source my puzzles, because most stores only carry 1000-piece puzzles or smaller. I’ve since moved, and haven’t found a new source yet (3000-piece puzzles and larger are HARD to find).

      1. Wintermute*

        That is a good idea! But it might be one of those things where you find the customers first and then stock the product, or make it known you COULD get the product and gauge interest before investing in inventory that may or may not move.

        That’s not uncommon though, especially with game stores. I’ve known at least one owner that basically told folks “I don’t normally stock this stuff because it’s niche but I can get it for you if you want it”. And they did find a new niche out of it, they already had a vendor account with a board game company (I want to say it was Mayfair?) to get geek staples, but they didn’t think that word games (think, stuff like “scrabble but with tiles that stack on top of each other to change the words” and other novel word-making games) would really be a big seller, but he got enough requests that they turned into a staple of the shop

      2. J*

        My local game shop survived the early days of the pandemic partially because of puzzles. Pre-pandemic it was just a small shelf with more inventory in the back and now it’s featured on their website and upper shelves all around the place feature puzzles that match the vibe of content below. They even set up a puzzle exchange day quarterly for used puzzles where people can swap and new puzzles are discounted.

      3. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

        The best thing about jigsaw puzzles from a retail perspective is that people who like puzzles often want a new one when they finish the old one. You can play the same D&D campaign for over a year, you can bring out Settlers of Catan every time you can talk other people into playing it, but the people I know who are into puzzles want to do a different one each time.

  41. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

    I hope the OP is keeping a super tight look at inventory, and does a full audit right away — is what’s in the computer inventory, really on the shelf? If this guy keeps buying things that “aren’t selling,” have they walked out the back door to be sold online? Is he giving a “friends discount” and selling the items for half price or less? Is an unusual amount of inventory being marked as damaged or stolen? Piles of garbage might hide missing merch or be used to explain why items are “damaged.” If the OP starts really micromanaging the inventory and cleanliness of the store, I bet money the bad manager quits in a huff before the audit is complete.

    1. Wintermute*

      This is a great comment. You need a full audit right away and you need to know where your cash is actually going as well as where it’s actually coming from.

      Best case scenario you might find out that friend group you’re feeling beholden to is not actually a big profit center because they’re old grognards that haven’t bought a new game since 1987 but there’s another product that’s selling to a group of customers you weren’t aware you had.

  42. Sequoia*

    I’m super curious why you haven’t fired him already? Is it just the “he has loud friends” thing? Is the geek social fallacies about how excluding anyone is bad and everyone’s bad behavior must be tolerated? Is it because you don’t have time to do his job while you find someone else?

    Sometimes you have to fire great people because they can’t succeed in a role they’re in. This is one of those times. It doesn’t mean he’s a bad person. He doesn’t mean he’s unemployable. It just means that what you need and what he’s good at aren’t in alignment and as a business person you can’t pay someone that isn’t doing what you need. And also, your employee will probably need fewer heart to hearts and pep talks if he has a job that matches his skill set better.

    Will a couple loud game geeks object? Maybe. Will they tell you to run your shop another way? Maybe. But it is your shop and your livelihood. Catering to the minority of your potential customer base doesn’t make financial sense.

  43. Delta*

    “He even sucks at hiring new employees. Everyone he has hired we’ve had to fire because they’ve been terrible and he isn’t training them properly.”

    It’s 100% possible this is entirely because he is bad, but if you haven’t taken a look at your pay rates, you should. Minimum wage workers mostly give minimum effort. And in a job where they’re unlikely to meaningfully move up… that seems pretty fair. What low-wage jobs in the area are beating your pay rates? What jobs are you beating?

    Basically, does he have a reasonable pool of applicants to choose from, or is he stuck saying “whelp, maybe this one will be better than no one?”

    If you’re having trouble attracting other managers, take a serious look at the manager compensation package, too. If you can’t afford a reasonable rate to hire a good manager, you should probably just run the store yourself until it’s profitable enough to afford a decent manager.

    1. Raida*

      This is a very good point – a good trainer can’t do much with dodgy staff.
      A great trainer/manager I know will hire way more staff than needed and keep only the good ones, upping their pay after probation period. She does have the luxury of (I’m assuming) more funding available than LW, though.

      And running it instead of getting a manager isn’t a bad idea, LW will get a much better idea of what’s happening in the store, and can look for part-time manager if a full-time salary won’t attract the best and brightest

    2. L'étrangere*

      Excellent advice. Don’t fall for the “nobody wants to work” fallacy OP. It’s entirely possible nobody wants to work for your jerk manager unless they’re one too. But you’d better be prepared to make it worth while for good people to take a chance on you after you let such a toxic situation slide for two whole years

  44. MistOrMister*

    It seems to me like OP is scared of losing what little sales are being made to the manager’s friends. But it sounds like the business is basically failing as is right now. So why not fire the guy and get in someone competent? If the store crashes and burns….well, so what it likely wasn’t going to be around much longer anyway. I cannot begin to imagine how many sales are being lost right now due to the food and trash all over the place. If I walked into just about any store and it was grody like that, I wouldn’t even stick around to browse the stock!! People can deal with a place where not every speck of dirt is swept up, but you cannot expect most self respecting people to wade through actual trash including rotting food to do their shopping. That boggles the mind. And tbis doesn’t even take into account how many sales are being lost due to poor shelf stocking.

    Maybe consider after you fire the manager, doing a revamp of the store and having a re-opening, if possible. Besides obviously getting rid of all the trash around the store, a fresh coat of paint and maybe new carpeting (if the place is carpeted now) might help brighten things up and make them look more clean and encourage new customers. In fact, by having a re-opening you can potentially attract customers who were turned off by the current manager and state of the store. Otherwise you’ll have to rely on word of mouth for people to know when you get new management, which could possibly take a while.

    1. L'étrangere*

      Great advice! Even though you will remain the owner, a big “under new management” sign and online announcements would be essential to attract the people who no longer would consider setting foot in your store.
      Also, what about the jerks this guy has hired? You need to seriously clean house, and that might mean firing half the remaining staff along with him. Fire the ones whose confidence you are twitching to improve (grrrr) right away, talk to the others and tell them there’s a regime change and they’d better get with the program. You cannot continue with this crew.
      Plan on being in the store pretty much full time till you have found a competent manager (yes, a girl would be a great idea as someone else suggested) and a new culture has been established. And tell the new manager they can fire whoever they want for the next few months at least, because you may not have a single useful staff member in there

  45. Dawn*

    I’ll bet you that the answer to “how did this happen” is that he was SUPER enthusiastic about gaming and working in a game store during the interview, and/or he had experience in that specific niche, which is a pretty rare thing nowadays. Game stores have never been such a large and diverse industry that it’s easy to find someone who already has experience in that environment, and his previous experience might have been somewhere with a lot more direction and accountability.

    And I’ll bet you that there’s a lot of stuff that you’re NOT seeing happening with this guy and his friends to drive away customers, too. Know who some of the biggest drivers of tabletop and board gaming are these days? Queer/trans folks. Know who’s very careful about where they shop? Queer and trans folks. Know who are statistically very likely to make spaces unwelcoming for queer and trans folks, as well as women in general? Gamer Dudes and their cliques.

    I obviously am only speculating, but I will bet if you were to bring in someone who is not a Gamer Dude to manage the store and make it clear that your business is safe and welcoming, you will see far more success than you do now from Manager and his friends.

    1. quill*

      Women and queer people are the majority in every gaming group I’ve ever stuck through more than one or two sessions with. Especially trans people, because if you’re trans and you find a safe, friendly group, you stick with it more often than not.

      1. Dawn*

        As a trans person this is 100% accurate.

        For a lot of trans folks even if they’re not that interested in gaming (at first) if there’s a safe space to hang out with friends/community they’ll be there, and they will get drawn in.

    2. Nina*

      Seconding the ‘queer and trans folks’ comment.

      My LARP group, my D&D groups (plural!) and the amorphous group of LAN party people, are all about 80% queer and about 50% female. The actual target demographic for gaming stores is… not what most people think it is.

  46. Lorac*

    I am not a gamer, but my brother is and I stopped by the local game store once to buy him Magic cards as a present. It was an awful experience. The store with dark, cluttered, and there were a ton of the manager’s friends hanging out at the counter talking and playing games. I felt awkward interrupting them to ask for help. Even as I was asking for recommendations, the manager seemed annoyed I couldn’t name exactly what I wanted and his friends kept interjecting with their opinions. I felt condescended to the whole time.

    I did buy a big box of cards for around $100, but I never went back again due to that poor experience and just ordered off Amazon instead. Gamers aren’t going to be the only customers, I suspect sales will also come from clueless parents buying for their kids, people buying for their friends/families/significant others, etc.

    1. Tenebrae*

      I have a local gaming/craft store that I utterly adore. Because I adore it, I send everyone I know, including my affluently retired parents who like board games. I am definitely not sending my parents anywhere that isn’t extremely brightly lit, clean and respectable.

    2. Irish Teacher*

      I’m a learning support teacher and I certainly look for games that have a literacy or numeracy aspect to play with my students. Along with comics, they are certainly a way to engage teenage boys who are struggling with literacy or numeracy. Admittedly, I usually buy online or in places like Easons (think an Irish WH Smith or Barnes and Noble) but I’d certainly take a look around a welcoming looking gaming store. A dirty, cluttered one with a gang of teen boys/young men in their 20s gathered around the counter, chatting…I wouldn’t even step inside.

  47. Books and Cooks*

    LW, if you get down this far…

    Two things:

    1. Fire this guy.
    2. Hire a woman to work there–she doesn’t have to be the manager, but Hire A Girl. At least one.
    3. Reach out to owners/managers of other stores in the area.

    My husband is a big Comics Guy (so I and our two daughters are into them, as well, but not as much as him). When we first moved to the area, he–as per usual when we move somewhere new–immediately started looking at the local stores, to find his “home store.” And because my husband is friendly, likable, and knowledgeable, he became buddies with the “owner” of one new store–I’ll call him Magnetic Personality Charlie–and that store’s regulars.

    Long story short, and a lot of drama later, we discovered that Charlie was something like your manager, and eventually his investors drove him out (my husband is something like an unpaid/paid-by-barter consultant/staffer at this point, first for Charlie & now for Investors; this is how I/we know all this). Everyone was worried that without Magnetic Personality Charlie, the store would fail, but it was on the brink of failure anyway, so they decided to risk it.

    Instead of failing, what happened was that over the next few weeks, not only did the investors & new manager discover that Charlie had been mismanaging the money and orders far worse than they realized, but that many, many people in the area felt uncomfortable around Charlie, or just didn’t like him much, or–for a lot of them–liked him fine, but the chief draw of the store was comics and games, not Charlie. Yes, they lost a few regulars…but the new customers, new merch, and new ideas brought in a lot more, and it happened within six months tops (I think most of it was even more immediate than that). Magnetic Personality Charlie had always insisted that the owners of other local stores were jerks; turned out they were great people, happy to do cross-promotions and share events, because what’s good for the community helps everyone. Magnetic Personality Charlie always insisted that his regulars spent a lot and had tons of connections; turned out lots of people didn’t care much for them, either, and they barely spent anything in the store. MPC always insisted that X was where the real money was and they didn’t need to bother with Y and Z; turned out that focusing more heavily on Y and Z brought in tons of profits and new customers (in store and online), while people who liked X tended to spend little but fill the store with grumpiness and attitude.

    Hiring a girl was a big deal, too. Not only did it signal to other girls & women that they were welcome in the store, they would not be harassed, and they would not be treated like “fake geek girls,” (thanks Tony Harris & Dirk Manning), but…let’s face it…we’re talking about comics/gamer guys, and the presence of a female is a draw to some of them. I’m not saying it’s right, and I’m not suggesting you need to hire a booth girl or something. I’m just saying, this is the reality. When Husband’s store hired a girl to work Mondays, sales and customers on Mondays skyrocketed. When word got out that a girl worked there on Mondays, other girls started coming in on that day as well as others because they knew that not only would the staff not harass them, but that a member of staff would notice them being harassed and do something about it–and that they didn’t have to feel like their questions and/or tastes would be dismissed by the person behind the counter just because they were female.

    About eighteen months on, now, the store is more successful and popular than it’s ever been. They’re even considering expanding. Charlie did try to talk some dirt about them and tell people not to go to that store, but few listened. They went from the brink of financial ruin to thriving; they’ve done some fun cross-promotions and events with other stores, and are planning more. The vast majority of their customers don’t know or care about Charlie. They just come because the store has what they want and like, and is a fun and relaxed place to hang out, play games, and talk about comics and games.

    Fire this dude. Make clear, on social media and by putting up a sign or something, that your store is under new management. Get some new staff in there–knowledgeable people who are friendly and approachable, and include at least one female (who is also friendly and knowledgeable, and doesn’t think she’s The Only Gamer Girl In This Village). Reach out to local gamers and gaming media/social media and talk about your grand re-opening, or your new logo/look/incentive program/loyalty program/game tournaments/monthly contests (and then start a couple of those things, if you haven’t yet)! ASK your customers what they want–in store and online–and stock those things. Your store’s manager and staff set the tone for customers–like attracts like–so the more friendly and open people you have behind the counter, the more you’ll get in front of it.

    But you can’t do any of that without getting rid of this guy you’ve got now, because he’s killing your store and your reputation.

    Good luck to you! I hope we get a great, positive update soon!

    1. My Cat's Humsn*

      And hopefully somewhere in the staff training it will say, “The girl is not the only one who cleans the store and restroom.” :)

      1. Books and Cooks*

        Yes! I didn’t think to mention that, but it is a good point–luckily the store has a (male) employee who does the sweeping and cleaning in the store/bathroom. The girl is not expected to do it at all, beyond things like wiping down the countertop that all employees do on their shift. (A few times I’ve actually done the bathroom; I like cleaning, and I go in with my husband when he does his hour or so of work there, and he gets extra store credit for me doing it–but everyone knows it’s not “my job,” it’s just me helping out a little on occasion).

    2. Grey Panther*

      Books and Crooks, that story just made this non-gamer person really happy. It’s energizing and exciting to hear of positive changes like that.

      A friend once told me, “You gotta get rid of the weeds before the flowers have a chance to grow.” Your husband’s store got rid of a major weed and hey! Look at all these flowers …

      1. Grey Panther*

        Sorry, meant Cooks, not Crooks … but I’ve met some pretty interesting crooks too …

      2. Books and Cooks*

        Thank you, I’m so glad!

        And yes, we were all delighted by the way things turned around/improved, and how they’ve kept doing so. It’s great when he comes back from the monthly Staff Meeting to say that this was their best month so far, and to see how many new people have started getting their weekly books there. They’ve got a couple more events planned with other stores in the area, and we’re working on a couple of events for that store specifically that we’re really excited about; things like movie nights and charity read-a-thons and such, as well as a podcast.

        Basically, we’re all just working to make the store a bigger part of the greater comics community, and a place where both people who’ve been reading comics for years and people who just saw a Marvel movie and want to maybe check out an Iron Man book to see if they like it can both feel comfortable and welcome–because that’s what a good comic shop is, and should be!

        (And ha, I actually kind of like “Books and Crooks” better. It’s just as accurate as “Cooks,” too, because while I’m the one who writes and cooks, most of my characters are crooks in one way or another!)

        1. Grey Panther*

          You’re most welcome. Yeah, the crooks can be a fascinating blend of civil disobedience, chicanery, humor, and even (in certain ways) honor, can’t they? And at least the ones I’ve known, once they decide you’re an okay person you have a friend and champion for life.
          My recreational reading is mostly crime-related: from Robert B. Parker to J.D. Robb to Paretsky, Muller, Grafton, and others. From now on I’ll wonder if the current author I’m enjoying is also in the game-store world!
          Regards.

    1. Books and Cooks*

      Ha, a friend of mine manages a bike shop, so even based on the few conversations we’ve had about it, I know just what you mean!

  48. Raida*

    The gaming stores in my city are one of three things: self-interested (yours), perfectly acceptable retail, well-trained and knowledgeable friendly staff.

    There have been a couple that were well-stocked with good staff but no focus on the board gamers or war gamers, mostly just card players considered valuable, but a nice enough store with nothing wrong. The managers changed, the new ones chatted with the gaming groups that would use their space their in-store experience got so much better:
    They would buy extras of new games to open them up and have staff play them – training
    Staff recommendations on the shelves
    A folder of “if you like This game you might enjoy…” making gift-giving and just looking for a new game easier
    Competitions mostly run by gaming groups but ‘sponsored’ by the store – just supplying a couple copies of the game and a voucher for the prize.
    Invite staff from the other stores in the franchise to play games, compare their stores, see how their layouts worked, talk about what’s worked for them and what’s used a lot of time and energy without much payoff – just generally being more open and friendly and looking at all of their customers.

    And that was a couple of already-good stores! If it were a self-interested one? For one I’d expect it to be suddenly well-lit, well-cleaned, well-maintained, have a big sale on stuff that isn’t going to sell. And that just brings it up to the standard of “store I’d want to spend time in”, well before “good staff and service and products”

    If you get a just-okay manager, one who doesn’t know gaming at all but does know retail, your store will be better. It will look better, smell better, and the manager can say with a smile “Don’t you love learning something new? All these games are new to me and I’m having a blast learning about them – what’s your recommendation?” to customers that might feel that it ‘should be’ a ‘gamer’ that runs it.

  49. Be a presence in the store*

    Everyone covered what you should do with this manager, but what I’m missing from your story and the advice I read/skimmed is… how often are you yourself there? Are you putting in any hands-on time at the store? I know that’s what you hired a manager for…but it’s your bottom line that’s suffering the most here. meanwhile the manager is getting paid no matter what. it’s like saying you hired an awful nanny for your child but not stepping in to parent yourself.

    this comment is coming from the experience of watching my father and uncles run their small businesses successfully for decades. yes they hire managers to help them and run things so they’re not there for every hour of every shift, but the owner should be there to keep people in line. this is yet another metaphor, so i’m sorry, but think about what children do when a teacher steps out of the room. that’s what incompetent employees are like.

    1. Foila*

      This was my question too – is the OP spending some serious quality time in the store? Because they need to. Evenings, weekends, it’s time to be hands on.

      OP, there’s stuff you can do right now that will help the business, separate from the manager quandary. Start enforcing cleanliness. You have a ton of power to make the shop feel like the place you want it to be.

      Heck, just being there as a visible, competent woman could change the vibe. Run the register (while the manager cleans…). Be the face of the business. Does giving up your free time suck? Absolutely. Does it suck more than giving up the store? Only you can answer that.

  50. L'étrangere*

    One of the smartest managers I know points out that invariably when you finally fire the jerk you find out a whole lot of other areas that were not doing well. The other employees are not telling you everything he is up to, because they rightly see it as not worth their job to tell you, and since they see you boosting his confidence (dislocating an eyeball here) instead of addressing the problem they can’t trust you. You can be certain things will come to light in the next few weeks that will make you cringe a lot more than what you are aware of

  51. Tenebrae*

    Sorry to hop in again, but I have some after the storm/store revitalization advice. Think about creative ways to reach your potential audiences and attract attention as you rework your store’s approach. To give an example from the other side, I work in a museum and a few years ago, we partnered with a local game shop to do a board game night. They provided the games and expertise, we provided space and snacks and we advertised together. It was hugely successful for us and since museum types tend to also be geek types, the store got some good promotion to appropriate audiences, too. I would suggest seeing if there’s someone like that who you can partner with – if not a museum, maybe the local library or a youth club. Not only will you reach new people, if you’re worried about taking a reputation hit, it might make you look like a fun, generous member of the community.

  52. Westsidestory*

    Just a note of support with reference to “how this went on for two years.” Well, the last two years have been pretty sh***y for all sorts of brick-and-mirror businesses. In my own neighborhood I’ve seen local business owners beaten to the ground by whipsawing Covid regulations, supply issues, difficulties in finding staff willing to brave deserted streets, and loss of traffic and customers. Winging it day to day, patching together what could be managed often let what should be managed get put on a back burner.

    OP, the comments here offer a great deal of good advice on how to right your ship and woo back your particular target audience. But don’t beat yourself up – this guy was not a priority until you had the time to look around you, breathe, and begin again. Good luck!

    1. GythaOgden*

      Yup. This is an endemic problem in the hobby market, but you’re right — it can’t have been great trying to deal with it over covid either.

  53. Calamity Janine*

    as someone who is a nerdy nerd playing video games and knows this type of place well…

    i am calling it now

    you will lose the business of this guy’s friends.

    it will immediately be made up for by a groundswell of people going “oh thank god, that guy doesn’t work here any more, i can finally come shop here in peace!”

    i will also cynically posit here that the vast majority of these customers will show up being flagrantly not male, and breathing a major sigh of relief that a creeper is gone. you may wonder why you never heard any complaints if this is true… i regret to inform you that it is so endemic and downright expected that unless it reaches incredibly egregious levels, most of us geeky girls have learned to just keep mum, not invite the wrath of assholes upon ourselves, and get the fuck out. on top of that, there’s a whole culture of signaling to women they’re not wanted while staying just under the radar. if you complain about, say, the cashier talking to his friend about how gamergate was totally right and proof you can’t trust lady game devs or journalistic integrity, well, you’ll get called a Karen moat likely. after all, when you put him in charge, it’s hard not to assume you co-sign whatever rank opinions he has. i can waste my time and likely get to suffer some verbal abuse, perhaps a little doxxing and physical threats, or i can paste on a nervous smile and get out of there and then swear to never come again.

    hell sometimes it’s even something as minor as what figurines are given pride of place. if it’s all anime girls with lovingly painted panties on display, looking 8 years old in all respects but the DDs spilling out of her top? the vibes. they are rank. and i am going, not spending money there.

    .. the other major source of people in this group will be those relieved to have a clean, well-lit, and organized store, instead of wandering into a geeky hoarder situation. because for hobbies that are rare, there’s a lot of “just tolerate it or else you’ll ruin it for all of us!!”. i’m not saying he’s made all of your store into a foul gamer nest, but also, you know how at some major cons and fighting game tournaments, they put up signs imploring people to take a shower and occasionally use sexy anime babes to do so? …yeah.

    there are stereotypes that are unfair. not everyone into geeky hobbies is like this. please don’t think this is the norm. it shouldn’t be. anywhere.

    but real talk? as a woman who indulges in a lot of nerdy stuff, would love to be healthy and wealthy enough to hit the con circuit or at least hit up a ffxiv fan fest with the guildies, and is only really irritated that her internet has gone out because that means she can’t get someone to carry her through this monster hunter quest?

    sometimes when you smell smoke, there is, uhhhh, fire.

    i wish it ain’t be like that but it sure do.

    my other advice is more finetuned and actionable: resin dice are cheap to buy in bulk and really easy to sell to people playing ttrpgs, people who want to play ttrpgs someday, people who saw one of the popular liveplay shows out there and wanted some shiny dice with no firm plans to actually use them, and little goblins who love the shiny math rocks that go clickyclack. if you do a reopening after a minor remodel (read: organize the store, steam clean away bad manager stink)… advertise a dice give away to however many customers come thru the door. maybe individuals except on multiples of 5 or 10 who get a full set. entice the goblins with the shiny math rocks. then keep them in the door with something like magic tournaments, dnd with premade sheets for beginners, a fighting game tournament, oh no you let the melty blood fans in the door and they’ve set up in the stairwell so i guess a fighting game tourney is happening, etc etc. …you will gain more business than this guy can drive away.

    especially if you carve out time like a kid-friendly block, and a beginner’s block, and so on.

    but really trust in the goblins that love pretty math rocks. (i will take my cut for imagineering this in the same, please. rainbow sets are rad, purple resin is great, but if you have a set of dice where the resin holds a little rubber ducky or so on inside ’em…)

    1. Tussy*

      Ug, I hate how neckbeards have co-opted “Karen” to be “woman with an opinion”.

      Meanwhile it never ceases to amuse me (in an affectionate way) how much you TTRPG-ers love your dice.

      1. Rain's Small Hands*

        THOUSANDS of dice in my house. We have dice with duckies in them. And dice with dicks. And dice with dinosaurs. We have metal dice and sparkly dice. We have dice with the logo of conventions on them that were free giveaways. We have dice made from semiprecious gemstones. I have a set of garden dice that sit in a flowerpot that are about six by six. We have dice from games that were printed in the 80s and no one remembers what the symbols mean. And, most meaningfully, we have dice played at the table from one of our gang who passed away.

        And I find the term “karen” to be misogynistic. Anytime you refer to a person negatively in a way that refers to their race, religion or gender, its bad.

      2. Calamity Janine*

        confession: the only tabletop games i have ever played have been online, so we all used the built-in dice rolling commands

        i still want the math rocks.

        i want so many of them.

        do i know what i would do with them? absolutely not. but i wants it. i wants the shiny precious

        1. Books and Cooks*

          I am exactly the same. I’ve played D&D maybe three times in my life. I own four sets of shiny cool dice, and the store I discussed above currently has some shiny copper-colored dice I am hoping to get for my upcoming birthday. I have also bought dice for each family member as stocking stuffers, more than once.

          I especially love the odd- or many-sided dice. Three sides, twenty sides, I don’t care; if they’re not square I am infatuated with them.

          (Playing cards are another of my “oooh, nifty!” things; I’m a sucker for a cool-looking deck of cards, and I own several decks and think they make great stocking stuffers or “token” gifts for co-workers. You never know when a deck of playing cards might come in handy, and they’re something people rarely buy for themselves but which every home ought to have at least one of.)

  54. Luna*

    Here’s what’s gonna happen.
    Scenario #1: You get rid of this guy and you will likely lose a chunk of customers. Sales will likely dip, but they just as likely won’t dip. Unless your customer base is nothing but this guy’s pals. Heck, considering how his friends are as customers, you might even *want* them to be gone. Remember, bad customers can be just as bad for a business as bad employees.

    Scenario #2: You keep this guy on, in fear of losing customers. He will continue to do whatever he wants because you apparently won’t really do anything to rein in his behavior, sales will continue to suck, and you will lose a lot of money and probably have to close the store.

    You might call it a lesser of two evils, but I would say can this guy and take whatever hit the customer amount will take. Better to have this end badly, with bad sales and numbers for a while, than to continue to do nothing and probably losing everything.

  55. Escapee from Corporate Management*

    Hi OP. I’ve founded three business in my life, so hopefully you will benefit from what I’ve learned:
    1. I have never seen a successful small business where the owners spend no time running it. Even if you have the best manager in the world, you still need to monitor what is happening in your business. That means reviewing the books, being onsite, making corrections as needed. In other words, being successful means putting in time.
    2. Your business lives and dies with your employees. If you can’t be there all of the time, you need competent people you can trust.
    3. Doing the right thing for the business means being decisive and fast. Small business with non-active owners have neither the time nor the resources to train senior people. You need to hire someone who can do the job well and do it now.
    4. Every underperforming employee has a reason why they are doing the best they can. You can’t care (sorry if that sounds severe). You have a manager who is (a) incompetent, (b) focused elsewhere, and (c) leaving anyway. Why are you keeping him on? If you will need to replace him in a year, replace him now.

    I see you having three choices. The first: fire the manager today, spend time in the store (even if that means you and your co-owner use PTO from your full-time jobs), do everything you can to hire the best candidate possible, and accept that even after you do that, the two of you are going to spend a significant amount of your personal time in the store, reviewing the books, and meeting with the manager. The second: sell the store ASAP to someone who can run it properly. The third: wait for it to fail if you don’t make these changes.

    I’m sorry if this advice sounds harsh, but I don’t see how this store can be a viable business without taking quick action and committing your time.

    Good luck!

  56. CoffeeFan*

    Ignoring this guy for a sec- are you really in a position to be able to run this store well? You describe that you and your co owner both have full time jobs and the manager you’ve hired is a local full time student. I assume because of that any employees the manager hired were also students/young folks with not that much experience. It sounds like someone needs to be more closely involved in the day to day of the store, and a college kid who is graduating in a couple years and moving on probably won’t have the kind of experience to run things effectively without a lot of oversight.

    1. MCMonkeyBean*

      Yes, it sounds honestly like this guy has way too much responsibility. I mean, he sounds bad enough at his job that I don’t think giving him less responsibility will fix the issues and he needs to be fired, but he probably wouldn’t have hurt the business as much if he hadn’t been responsible for so much.

      I am not very familiar with retail so this is a genuine question–is it normal for the manager to be responsible for choosing inventory? I wouldn’t have thought so, but maybe that is common. OP also says he “has no drive to improve the store” but frankly that doesn’t seem like something he should be responsible for either. I’m sure there are lots of great managers that do improve their stores, but I would think his job was to *maintain* the store (which is is obviously not doing if he can’t keep it clean).

      So I think this is a mix of him being a bad employee but also OP giving a college kid with little retail experience way too much control and responsibility over their business.

      1. Luna*

        I agree with you, CoffeeFan and Escapee From Corporate Management above.
        There’s a degree of hands-off ownership/management that can be done well, and some places and/or people do better if it’s done that way, but OP (and perhaps the co-owner) are treating this like it’s not even their responsibility *at all*.
        Maybe it’s because OP is focusing on the problem employee here, but it sounds like they have no interest in the store at all, which makes me think why they even have it. Perhaps as a way to make money on the side or buff up the eventual pension, but if that’s the case, they are displaying a shocking amount of unawareness or disinterest in the letter.

        From my experience in retail, the store manager doesn’t decide what inventory entails. The higher ups decide that, like owners or even someone specifically hired to deal with the inventory side of the business. Though if it’s something like a one-person store or just a single store run by very few people, the manager might be the one to decide it, though said manager is generally more than ‘just’ a store manager. That’s usually also the owner.

  57. Heffalump*

    In his autobiography Berry Gordy related that a few years before founding Motown Records he had a jazz record store in Detroit. It failed because he stocked what he thought the customers should have, not what they wanted. At least he was honest enough with himself to realize where he’d gone wrong.

  58. Reverend Bayes*

    I’m sure it’s been mentioned up-thread somewhere, but just in case not: I’d suggest this is a case where you want to get all your ducks in a row before doing the deed. Like, be ready to change the locks to the store, lock out his IT accounts, have any of his personal stuff packed in a box ready to hand over and potentially just shut the shop for a few days afterwards, and have someone big and mean-looking standing around helpfully when you re-open. Think about all the bad things he could do while employed, and try and shut them down before you deliver the message.

  59. Em*

    This is why I love my LGS. It’s run by a husband and wife team whose first thought is their customers’ comfort in the store. I witnessed them bounce a group of men with a snarky attitude who had sat down at a table reserved for a women’s game group and said “we’ll move if anyone comes in.” The owner replied that new customers would NOT feel welcome to sit down if the table was occupied by a group, and promptly moved them despite a lot of complaining. The table filled up with new, paying female customers and the annoying guys left.

Comments are closed.