Shooting Straight: The FuncoLand Experience
It’s hard to believe that 15 years have gone by since I began my first video game retail job, working for FuncoLand here in West Springfield, MA.
It was, for me, a bit of a dream come true. I knew video games upside down, inside out, backwards and forwards… but there really weren’t a lot of related job opportunities in this area. There were a couple of independent video game stores before FuncoLand arrived, but getting a job at one of those was next to impossible. There were stores like Electronics Boutique and Babbage’s, too, but I never really thought to try my luck there. FuncoLand was brand new to this area, hiring managers and assistant managers, and I knew that I had to try to get one of those spots.
It wasn’t a question of if, but rather a question of how and when.
I typed up a resume and brought it to a store that had already opened. I hung out there, talked to the district manager, played Hot Shots Golf with the staff, and basically sold myself. I was the right person for this job. I would point customers to game suggestions and engage them with appropriate knowledge while I visited. I mentioned on the application that I would work any and all hours needed. I admit that I sucked up to the DM a bit. I just knew that this was an excellent opportunity. I knew little about retail operations, but I knew a lot about the products being sold… and I knew that would be enough.
I was kept waiting for a couple of weeks. I didn’t have any retail experience, which hurt my appeal. I think I came across as being more desperate than eager, which probably wasn’t a good sign, either. I had to come up with references, and the DM had some trouble getting in touch with them. I was starting to doubt that things were going to happen until I did get the call and was hired as an assistant manager for the chain’s newest location.
FuncoLand was an awesome place, with good and fair policies and a decent gaming atmosphere. I loved having ten demo stations active, ranging from the NES to the PlayStation. I loved being able to let customers try games before they were bought. I loved being able to focus on customers, talking about games and helping them get what they were looking for. I loved that the chain carried so many different platforms, rather than just the newest ones out there. I loved my co-workers in West Springfield, who helped me grow as a manager and as a person. My tenure in that store remains one of my favorite jobs of all time.
That’s not to say that my time with FuncoLand was perfect. I wasn’t the best seller of cleaning kits and Game Informer magazines, and I did get talked to a lot about this deficiency. I accepted a promotion to manage a different location, but it was too soon and I wound up burning myself out before I could really succeed. The difference between being an hourly assistant manager and being a salaried manager was like night and day. There was a lot more responsibility, a ton more hours, and a lot more in the way of shenanigans. As a manager, my store was broken into at one point, I had to break up a fist fight over Pokemon cards, a customer pushed his way into the cashwrap and stole a Game Boy Color, and more. I just wasn’t ready for the responsibility increase, and that’s too bad.
Of course, FuncoLand would become GameStop before long, and the FuncoLand culture died after the transition. GameStop was more corporate and less customer-focused, with a decidedly weak gaming focus. The demo stations were all pulled, the ability to try games in-store was axed, and an eventual focus on metrics like pre-orders and used game sales over customer service soured the experience. It saddens me to go into what was my old store in West Springfield and see how far it’s fallen. I can’t imagine what it’d be like now if I’d remained with the company.
Present day aside, I’m grateful for the opportunity I was given back in 1998. It was a great experience and a fantastic way to utilize my video game knowledge while helping people at the same time. Coincidentally, I also began dabbling in review-writing at that time… but that’s a story I’ll save for another time.