It’s a testament to your business when your one and only outlet has survived longer than many of the platform holders that supplied you with products when you first set up shop.
Barkman Computers has been a fixture in Kingston Upon Thames since 1987, and over the past twenty three years it has seen everything from the fall of Sega’s console business to the rise of PlayStation and Xbox.
Along the way, the store has continued to do what it does best: sell games.
And despite the advantages its chain rivals have, customers still rely on Barkman, for both new releases, but also for friendly customer service.
Of course, the store’s founder Nick Elliot is the first to admit that, as an indie, Barkman hasn’t always been able to match the likes of GAME and HMV. Catering for every release is impractical, but through carefully selective stock management, he’s managed to turn a profit where it matters.
“A lot of the time, it is a matter of availability,” he says. “One of the biggest problems we have is when national accounts have exclusive ownership, or tin boxes or additional content. On those levels we just can’t compete, but we do what we can.
“There are a few titles that we will skip over during the course of the year if we feel they are too dominated. But at the end of the day we often have to stock them for our customers or risk reducing our presence.”
Barkman Computers also stays afloat by offering a number of alternative services that appeal to loyal customers and more. The store provides custom PC builds that have proven to be popular with gamers, and even a variety of local businesses. For these, Barkman supplies a wide range of PC equipment, such as printers, monitors and so forth, which helps keep Elliot’s team busy in the quiet weeks.
Like many indies, the company also has a healthy presence online, with a website that works alongside the store to ensure that locals are able to get all of the gaming and PC products they need.
“It is a key part of what we do, both for our customers that are local and further afield,” says Elliot.
“A lot of our local retail customers will browse our website, pick up products, and we just launched a new version of our site and it is working quite nicely.”
The recent relaunch is further proof of how keen Elliot is to adapt with the times and keep Barkman relevant in an increasingly online-centric world.
With digital distribution becoming more prominent within the industry, he is already looking for opportunities to adapt when the need arises.
“I’d certainly like to do something in digital,” says Elliot. “It would be interesting to see what anyone could offer an independent who wanted to get into that. The digital market could still drive hardware sales and accessories sales for us.
“But in the digital sector it should be a premium price. If you want to buy a pint of milk at 3am in the morning, you don’t pay the same price as you do in the supermarkets.
“The record industry makes a mistake in letting iTunes being so cutthroat. The retail price point in stores really should be the same price as what the publishers are charging for the digital version.”
With Elliot expressing an interest in expanding Barkman Computers’ presence and services online, does he have any plans to build on the retail side of the business?
“We have no ambitions to add anymore stores,” he says.
“I’m quite happy to have the one unit and make it a destination store.”
Now in its 23rd year of business, Barkman Computers is one of the UK’s longest-running games indies, and Elliot is keen to share his decades of experience with fellow indies.
While Barkman stands as an example of how a store can survive anything this rapidly-changing industry can throw at it, the store’s owner still holds true to a more important message.
“Look after your customers, offer great customer support and respect the customer,” he says.
MCV and Nindie.com offer a rundown of the best indie game stores in the UK. Click here to see the full list.