How Dogpatch Games Wrote the Rulebook for Tabletop Gaming Customer Service
In this episode, hear how Shannon Newton used customer service and event planning to turn Dogpatch Games into a community staple — and more than a board game store.
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Behind the Review host and Yelp's Small Business Expert, Emily Washcovick, shares a look at this week's episode of the podcast.
Growing up, Shannon spent countless hours playing board games with his family, a core memory he wanted to help others recreate, especially during the pandemic when people were feeling largely disconnected. From that, Dogpatch Games was born—a board game store in San Francisco that, soon after opening, became more than just a place to buy games.
"One of our key tenets or touchstones that we try to focus on is inclusivity," Shannon said. "It's this idea that there is a seat for everybody, and there's a game for everybody. This game may not be for you, but this game is, and you just haven't found it yet."
Shannon's approach to entrepreneurship was to start slow, giving the business a chance to grow in the neighborhood. He started with a soft opening, in which the business was only open a few hours of the day. Even with limited hours, curious customers still trickled in, giving Shannon the opportunity to wow them.
One such customer was Yelp Elite reviewer Jenny X., who saw the store when she moved to the area. Before entering, she thought Dogpatch would be a one-time visit. To her surprise, it ended up being a memorable experience she couldn't wait to tell her friends about.
"I definitely entered being really skeptical. I [thought], we're just gonna pop in and leave. This is not going to be somewhere we're going to spend a lot of time," Jenny said. "Just seeing how much passion the owner had for games, I let my guard down a little and [decided] to not be skeptical for a second here and let him try to convince us."
To make Dogpatch more than a store, Shannon goes the extra mile to make customers feel comfortable. Similar to Jenny's experience, he frequently offers to teach customers how to play different board games and asks questions to figure out which games they'll like best.
By easing customers into the business, Shannon was later able to introduce a membership model for return customers, which provides a stable stream of revenue for the store. In deciding prices for different membership levels, Shannon prioritized accessibility for all customers.
"We were trying to find a price that feels fair but recognizing that this is a premium game space," Shannon said. "We want to have our community members feel like they're getting enough value for their membership, where they're getting the premium service, but they're getting enough of a discount for it and getting invited to these extra things so that they don't want to give up their membership."
As part of the membership model, Dogpatch hosts exclusive events and game nights for members. It also hosts events open to any community members, such as Dungeon & Dragons tournaments and Ladies' Nights, to help customers meet each other and form new connections.
Moving forward, Shannon hopes to integrate Dogpatch even more into the community by partnering with local businesses, such as his "Parents' Night Out" initiative with local restaurant Gilberth's Latin Fusion, where parents can drop their kids off at Dogpatch and receive a discount on their meal out.
"The kids are here for two hours playing games. We got them—you go have your date night and then come back and pick them up," Shannon said. "We're trying to create a little neighborhood community with other establishments in our neighborhood because we're all in this together."
Other small businesses can learn effective strategies from Dogpatch's playbook, such as:
- Considering a soft opening model. A soft opening can be a great way to garner excitement for your business and get the word out organically without a high resource investment.
- Building a solid pricing model. Creating profiles of your ideal customers can help you decide on a pricing model that's right for your business and accessible to customers.
- Integrating your business in the community. Host community events open to all, and partner with other local businesses to help each other grow.
- Giving customers an experience to talk about. Prioritize customer service and help customers feel comfortable with unfamiliar experiences to keep them (and their friends) coming back.
Listen to the episode below to hear directly from Shannon and Jenny, and subscribe to Behind the Review for more from new business owners and reviewers every Thursday.
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