As the store closes in on a eighteen months of operation, Dropzone Games has grown by leaps and bounds. According to Tom Gruhala, the store’s manager, it swelled beyond initial expectations well ahead of schedule. “We had a plan –we wouldn’t have gone into this without one– and where we expected to be today, we were already at in the first six months.” What is the key to that success according to Tom? “We are blessed with a community that was so quick to embrace our mission.”
Dropzone Games added over 5,000 square feet to accommodate that expanding community, and they did it before they expected it would ever be necessary. Show up on any weekend they host a major event (which is nearly every weekend) and you’ll find a packed tournament space, but you still have the room to browse the shelves, work on a project at a hobby station, or take part in a pick-up game. In most game stores, a tournament means crowding out anyone who isn’t participating. That isn’t what Dropzone Games is about. Dropzone’s mission is about having room for everyone, literally and figuratively.
Beyond having the physical space for the gaming and hobby community, Dropzone Games wants to enhance the amenities of that space. That’s where Operation: Fortification enters the picture. It is not just about square footage. The program is about making Dropzone Games the “home away from home” that it is meant to be: a sound system, monitors, enhanced hobby stations, and even on-site lockers.
Getting Ahead of the Game and Operation: Fortification
When Operation: Fortification launched at the start of November, Tom didn’t know what to expect. “You never know how something like this is going to be received.” Operation: Fortification, what he refers to as “a Kickstarter without being a Kickstarter,” was a means to implement part of the Dropzone Games vision ahead of schedule. “Basically, we’re reducing our infrastructure timeline by half to two-thirds by turning to the community for participation.”
An iPod dock and speakers are not up to the task of supplying background music to the full 13,000 square feet of the facility so a sound system, with a PA system, will be an important addition to the store. The addition of LCD monitors –in the main room, the classroom, and the other gaming spaces– can feature thematic movies during game nights. More importantly, they will play a role in the upcoming painting and hobby classes of 2014.
Dropzone Games is devising a curriculum and is in conversations with a number of award-winning, locally and nationally known painters and hobbyists to offer classes on a regular basis. Whether they are held quarterly, every sixty days, or “whatever community demand dictates,” Tom is eager to set up the eight hobby stations in the classroom with the instructor’s area equipped with cameras that show precisely the techniques an instructor is putting to use on the overhead monitor.
“You can get set-up with your airbrush, for example, and ask an expert questions about technique as you’re using it,” Tom explains. “It’s one more level of amenities that you just don’t typically see in a lot of shops.”
Operation: Fortification, Community Reach, and Future Growth
The response to the program has been “really amazing,” in the store, through Facebook, and the website. “It’s really gratifying to see how willing the community is to get involved,” says Tom. Beyond the store’s “regulars,” supporters have backed the efforts from as far as New York, Florida, and even Idaho. Levels one through three are designed with potential long-distance supporters in mind.
Tom says that these long-distance supporters are people who believe in what Dropzone Games is about. It is more than standing behind a cash register and putting games in people’s hands. “A retail outlet can easily stagnate, and then it starts moving backwards.” To Tom, Dropzone Games is as much a community center as it is a game store. “It’s proof that our approach works and we want to take that idea farther.”
Even geographically farther. Over the next five years, Dropzone Games would like to establish itself in other locations, either directly or through franchise opportunities. Long-distance supporters are a clear sign that what Dropzone survives on, a strong and enthusiastic community, are present in those places. The Dropzone Games crosshairs might have initially been set on the mid-Atlantic, but the last thing anyone could accuse the founders of Dropzone Games of is limiting themselves.
“The nature of Dropzone Games, being a corporation, limited the level of involvement people could have at the beginning. There were people who supported our goals but couldn’t necessarily play a direct role then. This is a way that they can be a part of the shop, literally, with the bricks on the wall.”
The brick faces, created by Ironheart Artisans, are about leaving a mark and celebrating the community of Dropzone Games and the gaming hobby. They are the building blocks of a foundation for something much larger, the names of people who embrace the Dropzone mission.
“Everyone who walks in will see those bricks until the place burns to the ground,” Tom laughs, “because that’s the only way we’re leaving.”
Participate in Operation: Fortification
You can still support Operation: Fortification and the drive remains open until December 31st , 2013. Swag will be distributed and shipped by January 1st, 2014 and the lockers will be in place then. Based on contractor schedules (and any necessary permits) Dropzone Games expects all improvements to be installed in the first quarter of 2014.
For friends and family of gamers and hobbyists, a brick face at Dropzone Games (along with all of the swag) makes an excellent, out of the ordinary gift for the holidays.
Orders placed by December 5th will be shipped no later than December 15th. We will do our best to fulfill orders after the 5th in time for Christmas but delivery cannot be promised at that point.
John “Ross” Rossomangno is a freelance writer and game designer who plays, writes, and reviews all manner of games. He also dabbles in fiction and maintains a blog, BrokenBinding.com, where you can find his latest ramblings and links to his most recent projects. You can find him on Facebook or follow him on Twitter: @WritingRoss.