Less than 24 hours before Gamestation’s 250th store party, Woolworths buckled under its debt and entered administration.
Although the team behind the fastest growing games specialist was determined not to let this spoil the celebrations, there was a genuine sense of concern – from individual store managers right up to MD Martyn Gibbs – for their friends over at EUK and the High Street chain.
Yet this was Gamestation’s day, a High Street brand that is starting to enjoy the sort of recognition previously reserved for its parent company, GAME.
“We’re delighted by our new store opening,” enthuses the company’s sales director Steve Cunningham.
“To see where Gamestation has gone over the past few years and to get to the point where we are able to shout about our 250th store, is just phenomenal. Gamestation as a brand is starting to become really well known. There is still room to grow of course, but we’re starting to get recognised on the High Street and our name is becoming familiar right throughout the UK.”
Eager customers who descended upon the store over the launch weekend were in for a treat, and not least for the competitions and huge promotions that ran throughout the weekend (which included Halo 3 and Super Smash Bros. Brawl for £9,99, plus Gears of War 2 and Fable II for £19.99).
The unit looked quintessentially Gamestation, with a host of special Fat Chris promotions, row upon row of pre-owned stock and a plethora of figurines, toys and t-shirts. But new to the specialist was the large projector screens that could be found throughout the shop, an idea that MD Martyn Gibbs said had only been trialled in a handful of stores – and will hopefully entice more customers into the shop.
“The team we’ve managed to put in place at Sheffield Meadowhall are very experienced and are gamers through and through,” says Cunningham. “I think the location and the unit itself is fantastic, and the Meadowhall consumers are going to be seeing something a little different to what they may have experienced before.”
Gamestation’s growth in the face of such economic uncertainty is quite an achievement, especially when you consider that the outlet’s main audience is the hardcore gamer. But with casual gaming becoming increasingly popular, should the chain look to move away from its core roots?
“We’ve built our brand on the hardcore gamers,” continues Cunningham. “GAME is very mass market with its prime locations, whilst Gamestation is the newer brand on the High Street that targets the core gamer. We carry a slightly different range, such as figurines and clothes, which really appeals to the hardcore, and it is this difference that has enabled the two brands to co-exist so well.
“The growth in gaming is certainly seeing new customers come into the market all the time,” he adds. “And from a Gamestation point of view, one of our key strengths is the knowledge of the managers and the teams. If they can use that knowledge to help first time gamers who are unsure about the market, then Gamestation is well-placed to cater for both new consumers and existing core gamers.”
With the help of the team at GAME, Gamestation has really hit its stride this year. Alongside its store opening drive, the chain has hosted a series of big events – including a Super Smash Bros. Brawl tournament in the summer – and that’s not to mention the company’s latest Fat Chris Christmas marketing campaign.
But what does 2009 have in store for the chain? With a Gamestation shop in most cities, where else is there to go for the fastest growing specialist?
“We’ve got a property department, and its job is to find these key sites,” explains Cunningham. “We still feel there is significant opportunity in the UK, and the property team is constantly searching for these locations – and when the right opportunity comes along, we’ll be ready to move in.
“If you look at the size of some of the cities, then you’ll see we’re still under-represented in many of them. Gamestation as a brand may be becoming more well known, but there is still a huge opportunity for us within the UK. Meadowhall, for example, is a place we were under-represented in, and now we are a significant retailer within that environment. These are the sort of opportunities we’re looking out for.”
“This year has been a very strong year for both GAME and Gamestation,” he concludes. “We’ve put a lot of effort and time into our staff training and our customer offering – through promotions and deals and through pre-owned. Our key focus is to make our products affordable. The economic climate I can’t count on, but we’re very confident in our proposition.”