MCV and Koch Media continue Independent Retail Month with a roundup of five games indies which have grown massively in recent years.
Established: November 19th, 1987
Based: Kingston Upon Thames, Surrey
Contact: 020 8546 5941
This indie turns 25 later this year. Owner Nick Elliott tells MCV about its growth it’s seeing.
Can you summarise the past 12 months for Barkman? Have you expanded? What’s changed?
It’s been a busy year. Fewer titles have generally been released but the volumes have been increasing and that’s been strong for us.The upsets with GAME over the last few months have certainly boosted our sales. Customers that we’ve lost over the years have started to come back to us again. And also for other people this shows them that there are retailers other than GAME on the High Street.
With GAME now reborn, do you think you’ll lose some of those additional customers you gained?
No, I think we’ve managed to retain a lot of these new customers. Hopefully we won’t lose too many of them again when GAME starts getting its exclusives back. Exclusives were a big problem for us and continue to be, as other retailers have something that we can’t offer to our customers.
Was there a GAME in your area?
We had two GAME stores and lost one of them. The store we lost we’ve had on our doorstep now for over 20 years. It was one of the original Virgin game stores that migrated through various brands over the years.
Is it important it to have competition like GAME?
It’s important that GAME is there in one form or another. I think the industry needs a strong retailer. Perhaps not quite as dominant as it was before, but we do need shiny shops on the High Street. It’s a showcase, it’s a window. People get tempted into purchases in-store, and not necessarily the store they first saw them in.
How have your sales grown in recent years?
Our main growth has been aided by a significant increase in our website sales, combined with effective pre-order campaigns centered around hard-to-find titles and good customer satisfaction levels. We respond to customer feedback and optimise the use of social media, in addition to our regular marketing activities.
You’re known for new and back catalogue games, but you recently told us you’re considering selling pre-owned products. Has that developed further?
We’re still looking at it. Maybe in the future – it’d be a big step for us. We try to focus on new releases and our back catalogue range.
Do you have any plans for further expansion this year?
No – we’re quite happy with the one store. At one point we did have two stores, but we’re happy with one.
Nintendo has just announced Wii U?games will be available to download the day they arrive at retail. And Sony has already adopted this strategy with PlayStation Vita. Is this a worrying trend for indies?
Well if you download a game digitally you do need a memory card on which to store your download, which is another expense. We haven’t lost too many sales to download on PS Vita, just as long as Sony ensures products are available in store and aren’t steering customers to a digital solution by foul means.
What do you think of big online retailers in terms of competition, and those that are offshore?
The tax loophole for the Channel Islands has now closed. We’ll see where they move to next. We have seen a big increase in the price points that we would’ve previously lost to those territories, particularly around products that are £12 to £16.
What does the future hold for independent games retail?
There will be a move to digital, but equally if you have digital you still need advice on what you’re going to play the game on. And we sell PC systems as well as consoles, too.
Contact: 0844 318 9601
Kamal Hitari, MD of online indie Hitari.co.uk, tells MCV how it became one of the fastest-growing start-ups.
For a video games retailer that has been around for less than two years, Hitari has made massive strides in that time.
MD Kamal Hitari set up the online independent as a part-time hobby in 2010, but has gone on to operate from a 1,700 sq ft office and warehouse facility, with around ten members of staff.
The website has also been nominated for numerous awards including the Nectar Small Business Awards 2011 for Start-Up of the Year.
Today the retailer stocks a variety of products, from games, consoles, accessories and bundles. It even secured exclusive special editions such as the Prototype 2 Bullet Dive Move SKU. Unlike many other online retailers, it offers full refunds on unopened items that are returned within one month.
Hitari is also one of the Top Five video games stores on eBay in terms of sales. Recently it set up an integrated service with DPD and Royal Mail, which allows customers to receive next-day deliveries and find out the day and hour their product will arrive.
“In less than two years, we have managed to turn a personal part-time hobby into a fully established and recognised brand,” Kamal Hitari tells MCV. “We want to continue to expand the product range, develop the website and maintain the strong relationship we’ve developed with distributors, suppliers, publishers and manufacturers.
"In five years, I see Hitari becoming a market leader and well recognised brand both nationally and overseas."
Based: Islington, London
Contact: 020 7713 7979
London’s N1 Games has attracted celebs such as David Beckham through its doors. Owner Sam Semaan tells MCV about its recent boost in sales.
Have you experienced strong sales growth year-on-year?
During the Christmas period we saw sales increase, definitely. After GAME went into administration sales rose and then we actually entered a quiet period. But there’s been definite signs of improvement.
Have you expanded?
We haven’t really expanded, but we’re getting a lot stronger, word is getting around about us. And as you know with GAME’s troubles we’ve certainly seen a boost in sales.
You had plans for a website, didn’t you? How is that progressing?
We did have a website, we ran for a while, it worked fine but not extremely well. It’s now in construction mode as we’re not ready to run it yet. As a small independent I can’t really see us competing with websites from High Street chains. To run it all the time is difficult. You have to update all the data and games yourself.
Are you going to open more stores or are you happy with the one?
I can’t tell you yet but we will have to see how the market is going. There’s still a gap in this market but we have to wait and see.
A lot of indies are diversifying and embracing products like toys. Are you doing the same?
Well, we have a repair service for consoles, we offer disc repairs and we try to introduce more products like stickers for consoles. We try to offer something extra other than just the video games side of things, but you have to be careful with what you pick.
Have you had any more celebrities customers coming into your store since we last spoke?
No. Nothing. I think my old celebrity customers like the cast from Eastenders and David Beckham have abandoned me.
Scan Computers International
Contact: 01204 474 717
MCV talks to Peter Bassett from the web-based business about its warehouse expansion, PC gaming focus and high-end £21,000 machines.
PC gaming is still a big business. Boxed game sales might not be as strong as they once were, but downloads are booming and there’s a healthy market for high-end PC gaming hardware – so says Scan Computers International.
“Our average PC is around £2,000 so they’re not cheap, but they’re high quality” says Scan’s Peter Bassett. “Our most expensive one, Swordfish, tops around £21,000. That was featured at The Gadget Show Live.”
Scan has a large PC-owning customer base. The firm has been around since 1987 and has opened three stores in that time – two in Malta and one in Bolton. It employs 150 members of staff out of its main office in Bolton and says the majority of its sales comes through its website at www.scan.co.uk.
Although the retailer stocks fewer boxed games these days, it still records plenty of console sales. And a large chunk of its revenue comes from graphics cards and custom-built computers, such as entry-level systems and premium PCs. It also offers an upgrade service where consumers can get a new over-clocked motherboard and CPU fitted to their PC.
This growth in sales has allowed Scan to expand its warehouse facility.
“So instead of having one warehouse, we now have two within five metres of each other,” adds Bassett. “This allows us to buy more goods in bulk to keep down the prices for our customers.
“I think independent retail has got a bright future. We always change with the times.”
Based: Bridgwater, Wells, Clevedon, Street
Contact: 01749 679 911
This four-store games chain has seen sales soar after branching out into toys, trading cards and Warhammer. The chain’s Adam Pattenden tells MCV more.
What has Insane Games been up to over the past 12 months?
Our Street and Bridgwater branches have been up-scaled to bigger stores. Our Bridgwater shop is about three times bigger than our other ones. We’ve also really got into Warhammer recently too, which there’s a big market for. We run a Warhammer club and that gets really busy on Saturdays.
We also do a lot of midnight openings now, which helps people to get their games early. We do these for any sort of triple-A titles like Call of Duty and Max Payne 3.
Do you stock toys and trading cards?
We do. We sell the Moshi Monsters, Halo and LEGO figures. Recently Magic the Gathering, Naruto and Yu-Gi-Oh cards have come back and are a really big thing now. We didn’t realise how hardcore these products were – especially Magic the Gathering.
You don’t have a website, but do have a web strategy. How does that work?
We pretty much just rely on our individual Facebook pages now for each store. We can update these daily with new stock and whatever else comes in. Facebook is a lot more accessible nowadays. We get two or three ‘likes’ each day and it’s good to interact with our customers. We don’t have plans for a website.
How much have you grown over the past 12 months?
Sales have gone up about 30 or 40 per cent year-on-year so we’re very happy with that.
Did a lot of those sales come after GAME?went into administration?
In Bridgwater, the Gamestation there didn’t have new releases, so it was mad. We had so many people coming in for Mass Effect it was incredible and so busy. That was just a crazy month as everyone came to us for the new releases. I’d say we sold four times as many games as usual over those three or four weeks.
These five sites were compiled by MCV in association with Koch Media, distributor of video games, accessories, consumer electronics and DVDs.
Koch Media:?01256 385200