Last weekend word was all over the net on the latest round of shake ups at Games Workshop stores. While talk of these changes is normally framed around their impact on us, the gamer. This time I thought hard about the implications of these changes on the employees of Games Workshop. So today I bring you the "Tale of two black shirts" some anecdotes from my conversations this week with a couple friends of mine who work for the company.
First the facts:
Games Workshop Stores are now open 35 hrs a week to the public with employees on a flat 40 hour employee schedule (rumors of all employees being considered part –time as some kind of Wal-Mart style benefit denial scheme are unfounded, and Battle Bunker hours and staff remain unchanged.)
All retail locations are now only staffed by one person. period. The obvious customer services deficiencies aside, some of these 1500 SF locations with a half dozen tables seem to be impossible to manage by one person, but that’s the way it is. All employees have to reapply for these one man “Hobby Store Operator” positions, regardless of tenure so everyone is nervous as they are cutting a ton of staff.
So what does this mean if you’re a GW employee who loves his/her job and is facing 10% unemployment with 1/5 of the total layoffs in our current economic slump coming from your industry (retail)?
If you read this blog with any regularity you know I am friends with a bunch of guys that currently work for GW. These guys are over my house to recreationally game often and I speak to them via phone or internet on a weekly basis Two of them specifically currently run retail outlets in our metro and as guys I consider my friends- this time its about them and not the customer. That’s what the following anecdotes are about I’m not going to use their real names or specific personal details as they are irrelevant. (and if you know me , you already know them) but their stories go something like this.
Meet my friend Tom. Tom started out at GW awhile back, 05 or 06’, early twenties, longtime gamer, was moved around a few retail stores before getting the a spot at hot new metro (my nearest) location with yes, three! full time employees. This shop started churning big numbers and was only second to the Bunker in sales for the first year and half it was open. That being the case the stores manager was quickly promoted to the field, and the number 2 man was put in charge. Number 2 had an opportunity to get a spot in a shop with much better commute and took it, leaving Tom in charge of the hot GW store of the moment. I was here running our club during all this, I see how hard a worker Tom is , and that he’s the full package, from customer relations, sales, to uber hobby modeling and painting chops. In fact Tom is exactly the kind of guy, I myself look for in my own business when I take new guys into the field. I know that GW would have to be idiots not to see the potential in Tom, I figure If he wants a career at GW, he’s golden. I know Tom’s old manager, now regional manager knows this too.
Along come the first round of big retail shake ups in late 2008, staff gets cut, hours get seriously cut back, no more Club activity, A hardline focus on new hobbyists (kids)“get them hooked, and get them going out to bunker” was the company line. Future events all had to do with intro activity for kids. Veterans get the "what have you done for me lately" treatment. Getting a extra curricular game at the shop basically boiled down to if you were free weekdays and could be in the shop by 4pm or so. Needless to say sales at the shop took a dive. The club was gone. Lots of guys lost motivation to buy there- either by lack of convenience or spite. Tom keeps plugging away as manager doing a good job, introducing the new direct order system and what not. He keeps a straight face with corporate, but knows that company policy is making his job harder, not easier and its an uphill climb. Then we have a recession coming along with inventory problems with keeping certain key products stocked. Eventually Tom gets relocated to Battle Bunker as a staff guy during some mid level reorganization there and GW brings that former Bunker manager over to our shop to replace Tom. Eventually, Tom is out at Bunker, doing his thing when he gets a break- He's offered the #1 spot in his own new store opening in the Chicago metro, Tom's now a black shirt and some autonomy to run his own store the way he likes and gets to bring some of his own people from the company to work for him. Things for Tom are looking good.
Meet my friend Tim, Tim is much different case than Tom but equally as important. Tim’s a bit older and worked in construction full time and was a valued member of our club at the local shop. In late 2007 the construction bomb had already dropped here and everybody was looking for work. Unemployed with nothing but odd jobs ahead of him, Tim decided he go with what he loved, his hobby and apply to Games Workshop. Tim is a tough as nails , hard working guy He brings that tenacity to the hobby and what he may lack in pure artistic paint skill he made up for in his modeling, terrain building and passion for the game. Tim’s first job was as noob staff guy at the Battle Bunker. Tim didn’t have a car and would commute taking two trains and a bus, each way, every shift routinely spending 4+ hours round trip making the 20 mile commute. Tim owned his house in the city and his wife has a city job so relocating wasn’t an option. Tim was absolutely hardcore, pulling this commute in the dead of
Tim’s now in charge but as 2009 comes to a close the Holidays are over, sales are bad, due to the economy…Tim’s got some flexibility to do veteran events but with my club locked into Tuesdays at my place (when the shop is closed) off week events just don’t seem to take off as they should. Things seem to be rolling along OK, with Tim firmly cemented in what community now exists around our local store when this current news hits. Tim's just worked his ass off for the last two years gotten a taste of success and now finds himself filling out an application for his own Job, same for Tom.
Barring any problems I am unaware of, I am sure you all see the idiocy of these guys having to reapply for their own jobs given their back stories. It's a bitter pill to swallow and one that has surely dimmed the luster that Tom and Tim both have for the company and even the hobby. Both want to of course keep their Jobs. Tom knows he can take whatever they throw at him at make it work. The one man shop thing. no problem!, yeah it will suck.but I’ll figure it out.” But he also knows to well that no matter how good you are, at Games Workshop you are always expendable.
Tim on the other hand is in a tougher spot, a longer narrow store with more kid daytime traffic its nigh impossible to do what Tim does best and still do the other things required there. If Tim gets rehired, the one man shop thing will limit him to being baby sitter ( instead of a mentor) over the large group of kids that frequent the place. Not to mention dealing with nuisances like loss prevention. Tim’s in tough spot and hopefully GW will make an exception that this shop needs to be a two man store. (somehow I doubt it)
Just looking at these two stories, you really have to question GW’s behavior. What they want from their customers and what their customers want from them are just not in line these days (at least here in the US) The retail employees ( guys like us who just dared stick their foot in the door) are caught in the middle. I’m looking forward to seeing what kind of presence GW has at Adepticon this year with the introduction of other companies events and if they can advert the bad press they continue to give themselves by always doing something utterly stupid around Adepticon. When everyone in country who's in the hobby is in the same room and can talk about it. At least this shake up was brewing a month early this time…I have no doubt this will be a hot topic of conversation over the weekend. And to Tom and Tim, I salute you bros, best of luck!.