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Hobby Store Owner Goes to Extremes to Help with “Makeover”

By Tim Kidwell
Published: September 24, 2010
Games donated to Extreme Makeover: Home Edition
Games were donated by 10 companies to the home makeover effort. (Photo courtesy Pat Fuge)
The opportunity of a lifetime came to Pat Fuge via a text message from a customer while he was at Gen Con Indy this year. The text said that ABC’s Extreme Makeover: Home Edition (EMHE) and Lexington Homes (a Wisconsin builder partnered with the show) wanted toys and games for a family whose home it was about to rebuild somewhere in northeastern Wisconsin.

Not knowing whose house was going to be made over, or where exactly, Fuge, the owner of Gnome Games in Green Bay, Wis., could not pass up the chance to satisfy his passion for community outreach and support, as well as his drive to heighten awareness for his stores and the hobby game industry at large.

With the build date set for Aug. 14, Pat had less than a week to get a proposal together and approved, not to mention contact manufacturers and distributors within the industry to see what he could raise in the way of donations. Quickly, he and his employees drew up the proposal and submitted it to Lexington Homes. A couple of days later, they contacted him, and after hammering out some details, Gnome Games was in.

“It was a great opportunity for us to work within the community,” Fuge said, and doesn’t shy away from the fact that the publicity is good for his stores too. The “wild-eyed dream,” as Fuge puts it, was that this got a foot in the door to something with mass appeal, and if he could navigate through it, he could use that experience to help other stores do something similar.

With the first hurdle out of the way, Pat turned his attention to getting the game donations together. He called his “go to” people because of the tight schedule. This meant reaching out to game distributors Alliance and ACD, as well as eight manufacturers, including Mayfair Games, Fantasy Flight Games and Sandstorm Productions.

“There are some manufacturers and distributors we just didn’t have time to contact or they didn’t have time to respond,” Fuge said.

In the precious few days allowed them, Fuge and his team were able to raise $5,300 worth of games donations between Gnome Games (which provided about 15% of the total from its own inventory), manufacturers and distributors on extremely short notice. This success he attributes to the rapport he has within the industry.

“A brand new game store isn’t going to be able to do that,” Fuge said. It comes after a few years in the industry, and building a reputation as a leader and a serious business. “That reputation was key, both with getting in with Lexington Homes and ABC, and calling Alliance and ACD.”

Mike Webb, VP of marketing and customer service at Alliance Game Distributors, thinks that seeing hobby games in mainstream media portrayed as a “healthy, character building, fun social activity” is good for the industry as a whole.

“I applaud Pat, Paula (Pat’s wife), and all the “Gnomes” involved for the work that they put into the program,” he said. “They have created a great opportunity for the rest of us to benefit from as we go about marketing games to families.”

Pat gives his staff a lot of credit for Gnome Games’ success with the EMHE promotion, saying that it could not have been done without them. And despite all of the extra work that it caused, given the opportunity, he says that he would do it again. Inside the industry, he says it has given Gnome Games better credibility when it comes to future promotions.

“We’ve been talking with manufacturers and distributors about some other things, and it makes it easier to bridge that gap,” Fuge said.

Above all, Pat is thankful for the text message that started it all.

“One of the things that was extremely important was that we had the relationship with the customer,” Fuge said. Without Gnome Games’ good reputation as an active community member and the personal bond that the store has built with its customers, he doubts that he would have gotten the chance to work with EMHE in the first place.

That’s more than just being in the right place at the right time. It’s a result of good business.

Mike Webb thinks the biggest lesson that other retailers can learn from Pat and Gnome Games is the community involvement at the center of his business philosophy.

“Pat has done an excellent job of connecting with the community,” he said. “His store is involved in a lot of community outreach, and he expends a lot of energy on making connections and developing trust.”

The moral of the story, according to Webb, is to get out and become a meaningful member of the local community. Business and opportunities will follow.

On Friday, Aug. 24, Rhex and Claire Arboleda, of Neenah, Wis., along with their five children, CJ, Clarenx, Calix, Cullen and Rhex Jr., received the keys to their new home. The Extreme Makeover: Home Edition episode airs on Sunday, Oct. 17, on ABC.

Following is a list of hobby game companies who donated products to the effort: Mayfair Games, Sandstorm Productions, Out of the Box, Alliance Distributors (Days of Wonder), Gnome Games, Winning Moves Games, Fantasy Flight Games, ACD Distribution, Hasbro, and Wizards of the Coast.