Role Selection is an interview series in which we chat up folks who work, live, and play board games in a variety of different ways to learn about the roles in the hobby they’ve chosen.
Character Name: Kevin Kellow
Role: Owner, Dark Mountain Games
Location: Springfield, VT
Quote: “For the most part, we’re just hanging out, playing games with people and having a good time. Dream job.”
Character Bio: When Kevin Kellow moved to Springfield, Vermont in 2001, he wasn’t sure this is where he wanted to end up. The town of about 9,400 people had fallen on tough times since the machine-tool factories closed their doors, and the once-busy downtown now featured quiet sidewalks and closed storefronts.
But despite the tough economic conditions, and even though Kellow was already working a full-time IT job, he and his father-in-law, Scott Cleveland, made plans to open a game store.
Started in 2015, Dark Mountain Games is a spacious, active storefront with open gaming tables, plenty of product on the shelves, and an origin story that involves a farmer’s market.
Because this is Vermont, after all.
Kevin Kellow: When we were looking for a place to start up, we spoke with the local revitalization committee, Springfield on the Move. They really wanted us to be downtown. At first we were not really feeling that because the downtown – it has some issues. It’s run down. But we decided to go for it.
And so our first step was to start at the farmer’s market, to get our name out there. So every Saturday we were down there. We had a retail tent set up, which was a 10×10 tent, and we had a gaming tent, which was 10×20. And we’d do different events, promote them on Facebook, you know, and just try to get people down there. It was a tremendous success.
Matt Golec: So was the farmer’s market a test for the store, or was the plan always to open the store?
The plan definitely was to open the store. We felt there was a really good market here. We just wanted to make sure we had our name out there before we opened our doors up to try to get a base clientele.
MG: You talked about how Springfield is a little recessed. Why open a store here?
Primarily because we were living here, and we wanted to bring something special to the town. We knew there were lots of gamers in town. We were gamers ourselves. And we just wanted to get a positive influence downtown.
MG: Tell me about setting up the store. What did you have to do? Picking out all the board games, all the different miniatures – that seems like a lot of choices to make.
We’d bought a lot of inventory for the farmer’s market. That got us on our way. But yeah, when we actually had to actually start the store, then we had to look for larger things. Miniatures for Warhammer, for instance, Citadel paints, things of that nature. And of course display cases and all the fixtures.
But it didn’t take that long. Probably a solid week of looking over product. Really, for a gamer, it was like a massive shopping spree. It really wasn’t a chore at all. (laughter)
Running The Storefront
MG: Were there any surprises? Things you didn’t expect would sell really well, or things you thought would sell well but didn’t?
You know, not really. I found that with a lot of resources out there, such as BoardGameGeek, you can really get a good idea of what is out there. And then there’s the collectible card games like Magic – those are always going to be a hit.
I’ll take risks once in a while, like collectible editions of games – those might sit on the shelves for a little while – but by and large, it’s really not too much guesswork.
MG: Is Magic still pretty important to a store’s bottom line?
Yeah, it really is. It brings in a lot of people. They keep putting out new sets of cards so that brings people back because they want to get the new set with the new art, so that’s definitely a big seller.
It’s not really our focus. We focus more on board games, and of course, Pathfinder has been a huge success.
MG: How long did it take you to find your customer base? Did the customers find you pretty quickly, or did you have to go out and hunt some of them down?
For the most part, they just kind of came to us. There were people who were coming to the farmer’s market, and then there was a lot of word of mouth. Facebook was huge.
We also did a radio ad, but I’m not sure how much that helped us out? I think we got a couple people based on that. But primarily it was just word of mouth and Facebook.
MG: Can you talk a little more about some of the challenges operating in a small town?
Probably getting customers in here is the hardest part. Often people will show up and say, ‘Wow, I didn’t even know you guys were here.’ But the deli next door to us has the same problem where people come in and say, ‘I hope you guys do really well,’ and they’ve been there for three years and just nobody’s realized it. (laughter)
And of course it’s a more depressed area. The economy’s not booming like a store in Boston – we’re not doing that kind of volume. That said, it’s got a tremendous community behind it, and they really drive a lot of what happens here.
MG: Tell me about some of the tournaments and learn-to-play events that you run to help grow new gamers. How important are those to your store?
I think they’re pretty important. We get a fair number of people in here who’ve never played games before. And a lot of them still come in here after (learning to play) at the farmer’s market. You have games like Splendor, which is a wonderful game that a lot of entry-level people pick the gaming habit from.
We even have one guy who had never roleplayed in his life. He was with us throughout the entire farmer’s market and visited us every time we were there.
He actually ran his first Pathfinder session last week where he ran the game himself. It was just a great experience.
MG: When I first came in, you were unpacking some boxes and popping those bubble wrap things with a box cutter. Tell me about some of the other things that go on behind the scenes that maybe you don’t think about when you’re opening a store.
For the most part, things here are pretty transparent because there’s not a lot of room! (laughter) But you have your standard stuff: inventory has to be done, you’ve got to cash up at night, you got to make sure you have enough change in the drawer, there’s all the bills that you have to pay, and all those things. But for the most part, we’re just hanging out, playing games with people and having a good time. Dream job.
MG: I’m curious about the future. What do you look forward to next? Expanded hours for the store, maybe being a full-time employee at the store?
At some point it would be great if we could get part-time help in here so we could have longer hours. We talk periodically about having maybe a cafe or barista or something. Not really a lot of room in this current location. But who knows? Who knows what the future’s going to hold.
MG: Between both jobs (IT and game store owner), do you still have time for gaming? Do you have time for anything with working 90 hours per week?
Well, a lot of time at the store is gaming, which is fantastic. Again: dream job. It’s wonderful that a lot of people will come in, bring in games I haven’t seen before, then I get them into the store, so there’s a lot of exposure to the industry in general by just running the shop.
MG: Is there anything you wish you knew when you opened the store that you know now that you’d like to tell yourself, a ‘Hey, do this, or don’t do this, or don’t spend so much time doing that?’
More than anything, I wish when we went in we had a better handle on the whole Magic the Gathering thing, which really has a life of its own. But thankfully, with the support of the community, we’ve gotten a lot of people in here who really know their stuff.
MG: Is there anything you’d like to add that I might have overlooked or don’t know?
The only thing I’d like to say is that a lot of people, they’ll look at the store and then run off to buy things on Amazon or whatever else. I’d encourage anyone, anywhere, to support their local game store. Because you can actually come down, you can play the games. They always have a tremendous community of gamers behind them. You can meet some incredible people. It’s really worth supporting that.
Dark Mountain Games will celebrate its official one-year anniversary in October of 2016, and Kellow reports that the store’s finances are in the black. Though they’re unsure about returning to the farmer’s market, Dark Mountain Games did recently move around the corner, onto Main St., and into a storefront that’s double the size of their previous location.
Matt Golec is game designer with a background in print journalism. Combining these skills, he aims to explore and give voice to the many different jobs within the hobby industry that don’t frequently get reported on. He can be best reached via Twitter.
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