Usually, it’s never a good sign when a business calls on an external exec to head up a new strategy or merger. But GAME isn’t your usual retailer.
At the start of the year, when the economic pinch put the squeeze on the High Street – and even snuffed a few chains from existence – GAME beat expectations, reporting strong sales in what was, and still is, a tough time.
On announcing its expected financial year profit of £122m, GAME was cautious, but also optimistic. It revealed that plans were still afoot to open 20 stores this year, but at the same time confirmed that it was consolidating head offices of its GAME and Gamestation chains – a move designed to strengthen the two brands under the stewardship of COO Terry Scicluna.
He had only been with the company for three months, having joined in October 2008 from a senior role at Alliance Boots and Alliance Pharmacy, responsible for £1.2billion worth of turnover and over a thousand stores.
“GAME has had a great formula for success,” the former chemist retail chief tells MCV at the firm’s Basingstoke HQ. “And now its time to push that further.”
Why was Scicluna the man for the job? The answer is his passion for retail. Prior to Alliance Boots and Alliance Pharmacy he held senior roles at Thorn EMI, Brighthouse and Radio Rentals, giving him 30 years experience in a variety of retail sectors. He was at the former for 20 of those years, working his way up from sales assistant to MD.
“I love speciality retail – it’s better to be able to focus,” he says. “So when the opportunity came to join GAME it ticked all the boxes for me.”
He has a passion for entertainment hardware and is a self-confessed early adopter – this is a man who still has a boxed Intellivision (Google it) console at home and bought a PS3 for Blu-ray.
Likewise, how GAME addresses its role as a specialist with two different chain brands selling similar products is what excites Scicluna, and he describes the firm’s plans for its chains as a “compelling vision for our stores, our staff and our suppliers.”
First, though, he’s keen to clarify the Gamestation debate and explain how it relates to GAME’s vision. Although the head office teams may now share the same address, they don’t address the same markets, says Scicluna.
He describes Gamestation as being “more for the core gamer, with a small store focus,” while GAME is “a bit more corporate, but more mass market – it’s really catered for the wide masses.”
“GAME and Gamestation have their own personalities – I like personality retailers and I think customers respond to those,” he adds, naming Oddbins and Richer Sounds as key specialists in their fields which excel on the same terms.
So no plans to merge the two, then? “We would be nuts to rebrand the whole chain GAME,” he says frankly, adding that he’s confident the integration will be a success by the fact it has kept the ethos of both brands intact.
“Gamestation is a fantastic business with a small company soul and a brand of its own. It is very different from GAME and we have to protect that. There is a place for both on the market.”
He adds: “They have different customers, and both are entrepreneurial.” That means both are now backed by a single plan that is modified to match the two different High Street brands.
AHEAD OF THE GAME
So with the public-facing side of the business untouched, Scicluna says that his vision for the company involves a behind-the-scenes strategy that focuses on core ‘pillar’ strengths.
“GAME and Gamestation provide great service and great knowledge – but we’re a specialist, we should always provide that,” he says. “So how do we make sure there is clear blue water between us and our competitors?”
He points to business staples like reward cards and trade-ins – which he calls “a great way of fostering currency, especially in the current climate” through to making sure the Group’s 700 stores have great geographic spread, good supplier relationships and a strong balance sheet for continued investment as key hallmarks to maintaining a market-leading position.
Mention GAME’s rivals and he clearly welcomes the prospect of a fight: “I like the competition, it keeps you sharp and it’s good to benchmark. You really need to know and understand your competitors.” He admits to regularly visiting GAME and Gamestation stores up and down the country both officially and unofficially to see how customers are responding. He adds: “And when I visit I like to go and see what our rivals are doing too.”
And Scicluna is au fait with tackling the threat posed by supermarkets, given that they also stepped into pharmacists’ territory when he was at Boots – if you thought cheap chart titles were worrying, imagine what the chemists felt when Tesco and its ilk offered to fill prescriptions while you shopped for food, he says.
“The key is to differentiate, and remember that someone going into a supermarket to buy a game knows what they want – the supermarkets have it easy. It’s up to the specialists to fuel the market and engage the real customers, and put them on that journey from outside the store to inside,” he adds.
“For that, in-store ‘theatre’ and marketing is very important. It’s up to specialists to make the boxes on shelves come to life.”
He points to Gamestation in Birmingham as a great example, where staff ran a LittleBigPlanet demo on a large plasma screen to draw in crowds, with the staff explaining via microphones what was happening on-screen.
“Those are the kind of experiences only specialists can offer – and I want to see more of that.”
ONLY AT GAME
In fact it’s the concept of ‘uniqueness’ that Scicluna wants to exploit going forward and which is the last part of the puzzle. That means finding ways to set the chains apart from all others, including deals with publishers, or even developers, for exclusive releases.
“One of our pillars is ‘Only at GAME’ or ‘Only at Gamestation’ and we want to develop that further,” says Scicluna. “Our research says it is really trusted and our customers love it – and it gives them a chance to get great product that is only at our stores.”
Exclusive DLC, limited editions and even an exploration of digital distribution are on the cards too. “We’re looking at everything to go that extra step and make a customer good about their purchase and to trust in GAME and Gamestation,” he says, explaining that the company has a team in place to explore those opportunities – although there is nothing set in stone yet. “We’re working through a whole number of options at the moment and have a team looking at how we will deliver.”
He adds: “The fact is, it’s really tough for retailers at the moment. There are pressures from supermarkets, pressures from online, and consumer apathy – people are being really savvy about how they are spending their money. So it’s imperative that a customer has great service and chooses us as an expert guide, and always opts to chose GAME or Gamestation over any other.”