Today I want to talk about a subject in our hobby which, turns out, I feel somewhat strongly about, and that's who we give our hard-earned cash to (and what we get from it).
We all know our hobby is an expensive one. When you can now easily spend $100 on a single plastic model, or $500 just to get a workable starter army (Games Workshop economics - obviously other game systems may be more
or less affordable), it becomes clear that a dedicated hobbyist invests significant disposable income into his or her passion. And since we live in a capitalist society (most of us, anyway), there will always be an enterprising person or company trying to find ways of separating us from our disposable income in a more efficient and expedient fashion that benefits both us (cost savings) and them (sales volume). This, of course, is not limited to our hobby; it is simply the world we live in.
The point is that we have choices on where we spend our money, with some choices offering significant cost savings. Depending on your end-game, however, I feel that the decision you make can have significant ramifications in the long-term enjoyment of your hobby.
When I first got back into the hobby, I went to a LGS (the owner was pretty friendly, so I guess it was a FLGS) and picked up a few supplies to paint up some of my unfinished Khorne Berserkers. When it came to purchasing a new army, however, I couldn't resist going online and checking out the deals. I bought the bulk of my Grey Knights from the Warstore. Even with the expensive shipping rate to Canada, I ended up saving a significant amount due to the relative parity of the dollar at the time and the significantly lower US prices (plus their 20% discount on top of this). At this time, I was new to the hobby and was living in a city that I knew would be temporary. Cost savings trumped anything else. Also, my main interest was modelling and painting, so I felt justified by my decision.
Since then, I have moved to a city which I will be staying in long-term. On top of that, Games Workshop made the decision to disallow independent retailers to sell their product via online stocklists, as well as limiting cross-border online sales. With my options now limited, I looked around for LGS' in my new area and found a few across town that offered GW product at a 20% discount. I visited these to take advantage of the savings and to scope out the scene - they were both essentially warehouses, so while the savings were welcome the atmosphere was not. Additionally, I visited the LGS closest to where I lived. I was dismayed that they had all their product ticketed at MSRP. However, the owner was quite nice and showed more interest in my hobby needs than anyone at the other two locations. He told me there was not a big 40K group at his store but if I ever wanted to get some games under my belt he'd be happy to set that up.
I left the store feeling better about the transaction (at full MSRP) than any of the other purchases I made elsewhere (online or otherwise). At that moment I committed myself to supporting this FLGS, based on the owner's genuine enthusiasm to improve my hobby experience. In the same interaction, he also introduced me to the store's rewards program, which offers a discount of roughly 10-15% depending on how much you buy - not nearly as big of a discount as online retailers and the other stores across town, but still a bonus that made me even more willing to give him my future business.
If you only play in major tournaments, at home with friends, or don't play at all, then online discount retailers (or resellers like EBay) are a viable option. For someone new to the hobby, like myself, who wants to take advantage of the community aspect of the hobby, supporting your local FLGS is essential to this end.
At the end of the day, we all want to save money - no one will knowingly pay more money for a product if they can get the exact same thing for less. However, our spending habits are determined by our primary goal. If our primary goal was to save money, we wouldn't be in the hobby, since we would have no justification to buy the $100 kit, regardless of if we can find it for $80 online, or $50 on EBay. No one says, "I play tabletop wargames to save money." Therefore, saving money can only be, at most, the secondary goal for any hobbyist (Unless your hobby is searching for high interest bank accounts).
For me, my primary goal is to model, paint and convert a collection of awesome-looking armies and units. I determined that my secondary goal is to be involved in the community aspect of the hobby and eventually play some games with these armies. Ethically, I feel this obliges me to support the venue which I plan on playing said games. My tertiary goal is to accomplish the above two goals whilst saving as much money as I can.
Many out there would disagree, but my decision to pay a bit more and support a local business owner feels right to me.