Tuesday, October 1, 2013

On the Road Game Store Review: Game Links Fowlerville MI

So recently my family and I went to a local outlet mall to get some clothes and shoes for the kids (pesky growing children).  The mall is reasonably close to our home but direct travel is limited to either country roads or we can out of the way to take the highway so we do not head over there very often.  I had remembered that a few years ago a gaming store opened in a town I had never heard of on the same highway somewhat farther down.  So I looked it up again and it turned out to be just one more exit down the road.  I decided that our trip to the outlets would be a good time to take a look.

Now I have a bad history with gaming stores.  It pretty much seems like every store that I have ever bought anything from has closed.  This covers many zipcodes and types from independents to corporate and while a few might have avoided my curse (looking at you Games of Berkeley) most have not.  So I do not know if any store really wants me as a customer.

Game Links is located in Fowlerville which is a village located about halfway between Lansing and Brighton just north of I-96.  I am guessing the store is trying to draw customers in all along the I-96 corridor since Fowlerville's less than 3000 residents cannot really support a dedicated gaming store.  This location is not bad since it is not far from the highway compared to say Munith where Planeswalkers Magic Bag was located in the middle of no where along back roads.

So we arrive at the store a little after 1 o clock on a Sunday.  I would assume Sunday would be a prime gaming day but the store is pretty much empty.  There is a small group of maybe 3-4 people sitting at a table getting ready probably to play an rpg.  There also appeared to be 2 workers present one manning the till and another rearranging the stock.  The location is a sizable space shaped in an L with the main street entrance at the top.  We you enter you see two long rows of tables which I would guess are usually for card games as they would need additional tops on them to expand to the 4 foot widths standard for many miniature games.  I would guess they have those tops hidden somewhere so there seemed to be room for a good number of players.  At the bottom corner of the L was the cash register and a video game area with a good sized TV and couch.  Along the other edge were 2-3 tables set up for wargames with terrain on some shelves near by.  Pretty standard  store terrain and plenty for the 3 tables hence my thinking that they have tops for the card tables stashed some place.  They did have a good sized imperial Bastion built.

Most of the stock was displayed on the walls around the play area.  They had a pretty standard collection of game store products with board games, rpgs, card games, and miniature games.  This visit was not long after the new space marine codex dropped so I was interested in checking out and maybe buying something along that line.  I have to say that there GW stock level was pretty low.  The two boxes I might have been tempted to buy Landspeeder Storm or Sternguard vets were not there.  Maybe someone had bought them previously as they might be hot items right now but I guess if you walked into the store with a list of 5 GW general items to buy you would find none of them.  I would say the stocking level for GW was similar to the Labyrinth in Ann Arbor when it was open.  It essential worked as a discount ordering place for GW stuff as opposed to a walk in and buy location.  Not sure if they have the same type of policies at Game Links.  I also am not sure what the discount level is on the GW products is.  Several of the products did not have price tags and there were no signs announcing a general discount.  One of the Dreads did have a tag at I think 40 plus some change which would be about 10-15% off the current list of 46 plus some change. They did have the new space marine codex but it was still shrink wrapped so I did not even both to check it out.  Even at some percentage off it is not on my list of buys.

With nothing from GW there of interest, I looked around some more and found the X-wing game pieces.  They had just gotten in some of the set 3 stuff and had B-wings, Tie Bombers, and Imperial Shuttles to go with the starter set and Falcon on the shelf.  I picked up a B-wing but would have preferred one of the series 1-2 rebel ships but they like many other retailers did not have any.  These were essentially at list price since you do not need to discount products that are selling through without it.  They also had a fair selection of  Warmachine/Hordes stuff in blisters (50-80) on one wall but I am not really up on this to know how representative it is of the available product line.  I could compare this to the Sentry Box in Calgary that I went to in June which had more Blood Bowl product than this.  They also had what I think was Infinity stuff but cannot quite remember.

My daughter picked up a Reaper Bones Vampiress which was pre kickstarter.  She is really only interested in girl minis and at like 2.29 was certainly a fine purchase since she came in with me.  She kept asking me about girl miniatures and I knew that Warmachine has some so I directed her to these but noted that we were not going to buy any as we do not play that game.  Not that we really "play" any game properly right now but as I noted earlier I do not need another whole set of 28 mm minis to collect.  I am doing quite well filling boxes with stuff already.

The staff was pretty much uninvolved with me until I made my purchase and then really did not try to chat with me.  Might have been since I had my daughter with me or maybe they just took me for the antisocial gamer type.  While I do not like GW redshirt tactics, a little more banter would have been fine and probably would have opened the door for me to ask a couple of questions or learn more about the place.

The last thing I will note relates more to game stores in general.  Not to long ago Black Diamond Games(which is a store I have actually been to also but never bought anything since they opened up around the same time I moved away from the area) had on their blog a discussion of running a game store and they talked about rent in one post.  His main point was that while low rent is good, renting professional looking space in good areas can be more important.  Games stores need a good amount of space if you are going to have in store gaming as one of the store amenities but you do not want really crappy looking rundown space to get the size.  The appearance of the Game Links store was definitely on the lower side.  Maybe when I was a high school or college kid this might not have bothered me but as an adult/parent it is definitely not a plus.  It does not make the business seem successful, an inviting place for new people to enter or a place where parents would come with their kids.

So overall I did buy something but I did not find in the store anything to bring me back for just shopping as compared to just ordering online.  Stock levels seemed too low for walk in shopping, prices seemed not especially good, and the overall store appearance was less than desired.  They might run great events and as I was there when nothing was going on, I cannot judge them on that but I doubt even if I am in the area (say 5 miles away) would I stop in for a look see unless I really had nothing else to do which is pretty rare.


  1. I have been to and run tourneys in Game Links in the past and I have to agree about the space and about the level of care the staff take in walk-in traffic. It is unfortunate, but at the same time, game store owners get back what they put into things. In this case, I haven't, in my times there, seen any concerted effort to build a good community by the store in the Wargaming side of the house. When the owner tells customers GW is too expensive and then tries to get them interested half-heartedly, it isn't going to end well.
    I think a lack of enthusiasm and "get-it-done" attitude though is a common thing among hobby store owners, which is a reason they don't stick it out for the long haul.

    I will also say though, that the owners and regulars are nice guys and good to talk to, but I have to agree with your assesment of the store.

  2. Thanks for the comment. House of Paincakes had an article with a Store Co-Owner discussed the issues of selling 40k to people.