so, some time after I had planned to I intend to look back at my time with Games Workshop and consider whether they were a good company to work for.
I worked for about 15 months as a trainee store manager, before earning the opportunity to run my own store which I did for a similar length of time. The job roles within each were completely different. Working in a top store, with staff and a manager meant I was performing alongside a team, allowing me to bounce off of other people as well as providing a group interaction on decision making- even if the manager had the final say.
Working as manager of a single staff store was entirely different, gone were the other staff members to bounce off, gone was the manager safety net, also gone was the high customer numbers of a busy city centre store and also the kick up the bum when needed from the people around you.
Now, i can say right now I spent most of my time as a trainee thinking it was hard and a pain having a manager pushing you to do it better and always jumping on mistakes made, but looking back now it was that time that was the most fun I had working for the company. Fun is a key word as a games workshop employee- you’re working with toy soldiers and mostly playing games all day so fun shouldn’t be hard to find. However, I found as time went on the fun dropped off to be replaced with a functional approach to the games and toys- it wasn’t a game, we were having to sell things to children. It was about the time this happened that my performance improved sufficiently that I began to be noticed by the people that mattered- managers, area managers, regional directors. It’s a fine line between that approach and just cynically selling overpriced toys to children and a lot of people I encountered were well entrenched in that cynical side (some for the better other the worse).
Upon getting my own store (and when covering other stores) the big realisation was just how much ‘freedom’ I had to do things my way. Iv put that in inverted commas because freedom isn’t an accurate enough word to describe it. Certainly there was some flexibility to do things your way, store setup, opening times, activities etc just so long as you could justify it and show in store performance that it was the best option. However, the big stuff- stock, releases, merchandising, approach to customers was tightly controlled- you will do it this way, meaning less freedom. Even the areas I mentioned where there as the freedom to decide was open to the regional managers to push for change. A huge example of this was the shift from the idea that filling the shop with people who could be customers was the best way of making money to the idea that the only people in the shop should be customers who have come to purchase something or take part in an activity which they have purchased something for. Whilst I can see the benefits of reducing the numbers in a single staff store, it ignored the fact that so much of what the store staff do is spontaneous- yes you can run a game in which everyone buys a model for, but the big money comes from getting people around the introductory tables and convincing them to start the hobby (£20-£30 for a model or a minimum £100 starter bundle). This was a pressure that was put on me, prompting me to cancel the gaming nights and regular activity in favour of an invite only approach. This worked for some customers- the regular spenders- but inevitably meant the casual spenders who needed convincing had no real reason to come to the store and so weren’t convinced to buy things.
This would suggest that support was lacking for managers, however I found it was there when asked for , if not always there as standard. When Rox was hospitalised the support was overwhelming, I had time off, my shop covered and plenty of calls offering help. When I locked myself out of the shop a locksmith was arranged and paid for. Even when I got the manager job, the relocation package was generous and helped us get settled in the area quickly. However, when my sales figures were low, or my performance dipped there was just a phone call or visit to say ‘do it better’ rather than an attempt to help improve. Additionally, when changes were made there was no open discussion, simply a ‘this is happening, get on with it.’ This is fine, higher ups make decisions, however when I was told that my holidays would no longer mean my shop being covered by a trainee, but instead being closed for the week, whilst my sales targets were expected to remain the same I needed an opportunity to discuss this and what it would mean (matching 52 weeks of sales against 46 seemed mental), but any attempt to do so was met with ‘don’t be negative.’
This was a major bugbear for me, the constant requirement to be positive about anything and everything Games Workshop was hard. It created a world where staff don’t have opinions, or at least can’t express them. Sometimes models didn’t appeal to me, other times I loved them. Being able to be myself and honest would allow for a more personable service with everyone, as opposed to “isn’t this latest thing the best thing ever, at least until next month when something even better will come out.” Of course we have to be positive in negative times- such as price rises and the like, but ‘always postive’ just feels forced.
One big area of forced positivity was in dealing with customer grievances; price rises of course please nobody, but I found a real struggle the disappointment when Codex changes weren’t to people’s liking. It inevitably led to the kind of outrage you’ll read on any warhammer forum, as the new things are of course absolutely wrong. One key change that sticks in the mind is the release of a new Chaos Daemons codex for 40k, a customer glanced through the new book and immediately became incensed. Daemon princes had been moved from heavy support to HQ choices “What? That’s ridiculous! A nurgling wouldn’t listen to a Daemon Prince! This shits all over the fluff!” Hmm, yes ok. Firstly, you’re wrong- a Deamon Prince has been elevated to that position by the Chaos Gods. Also, the fluff is of course going to change- it’s Games Workshops to develop. It went on, as he discovered the troop choices had had their abilities reduced (as well as points cost), “well that ruins my army- I can’t take plaguebearers now they’re rubbish.” Yeah, well it’s a new book, you’re naturally going to have to make tweaks. And actually everything you previously did with your nurgle army is doable, you just need to get the upgrades in the right places to do so.
Of course, the forced positivity meant I couldn’t respond as I wished and instead had to push the positives. Unfortunately this guy was a classic example of the socially incompetent stereotype of warhammer players and the outrage and indignation was only increased. At this point a second staff member would have been handy to allow me to back off and someone else break his flow, but as a single staff store it’s not possible. The hardest thing was by far the lack of company, as well as the natural competition that comes from having other sales staff around you. The lack of company meant the temptation (probably subconsciously) was there to think of anyone coming through the door as a chance to have a chat, not as a chance to sell something. This was exacerbated for me as the nearest store was over an hour away so I got few opportunities to discuss work.
The most common opportunity was at the quarterly manager meetings in Nottingham, an expenses paid trip, with free beer. These varied from fun to boring, being mostly boring once the venue was changed from Warhammer World to a hotel miles from anywhere- meaning no breaks to wander around. This coincided with a ‘train yourself’ mentality, allowing us to choose what we wanted to train in. This in theory is fine, but given all but ten managers have spent the last few months training alone it didn’t seem particularly sensible.
A major issue I had with the ideology was the entire focus on new collectors at the expense of ‘veterans.’ Whilst it is absolutely essential to constantly recruit new people, it is naive to ignore the established spenders. The focus was on getting new people to invest whilst providing no real reasons for the others to buy. Of course a lot of the so called veterans will spend little, already having done so, but others will spend heavily on their collections, constantly adding to them. This was another area closed for discussion, even though the majority of new releases are geared towards established players over new ones.
So, reading back through this it would seem it’s an awful company to work for, which I don’t think is true; i think for a young person with no real responsibilities it can be a fun and enjoyable job, however the low salary and solitary working, as well as the loss of weekends can be a major issue for anyone with a family to look after. By far my best time was working as a trainee instead of as a manager.