In a period of falling sales and store closures, the story of Grainger Games is a refreshing one.
The retail chain – which began as a market stall on Newcastle’s Grainger Arcade in 1997 – opened its 40th store in Liverpool earlier this month. It means the Northern chain has incredibly launched 17 new shops in just six months. And what’s more, it’s only just getting started.
“The business is very solid, fully financed, and 100 per cent independent,” says the retailer’s sales director Phil Moore.
“We’ve got a really structured team in the Head Office and we have two property agents that we work with to help find us the best unit at the best deal.
“We also have a strong shop-fit team, where we can set-up three stores a week. And a great area manager in James Gee, who has moved from Newcastle to Leeds, and works hard to recruit and train the teams.”
THE BIG 40
Grainger’s 40th store was opened on Liverpool Lord Street, and the firm had no qualms about opening right next to a Gamestation and a CEX.
The fact is Grainger has never been afraid to piss a few people off. The indie has often been quoted in MCV with its bullish, ambitious claims – most of which they have actually lived up to.
Yet the Grainger we met in Liverpool is a very different company to the one we’ve spoken to in the past. Sure, it still opens in bold locations, accompanied by giant orange hummers, female models, and in Liverpool, some dwarves. But the arrogance of the past is missing.
Moore said: “There is a great humility about the business, and I think that has been missed. Maybe it is the brash orange shops or the bright hummers or the fact we like to party.
“We are outperforming a tough market. However, we want to make sure we are not arrogant, that we keep our heads, and deliver on our plans.”
THE GRAINGER INVASION
If you think Grainger is going to rest at 40 stores, think again. The retailer is already eyeing up more sites.
“We are ahead of schedule by three months,” Moore adds. “We can say well done to ourselves for 30 seconds and then it’s ‘right, what about the next one?’
“There are five shop units that we are looking at. It’s obviously going to go ballistic over Christmas, so it will be a balance between opening these stores and focusing on the Q4 sales period.”
The firm is slowly taking over the North of England with its shops, but the South is on Grainger’s hit list, too.
“We need to find anchor towns,” says Moore. “Towns like Hull, Leeds, Liverpool and Stockport, towns we can logistically distribute to, and then we build our expansion plans around that. When it is logistically viable we will move down South.”
But it’s not all about the High Street. Grainger has a website too, which Moore says will get a facelift in 2011 – complete with a digital offering.
“We have been focusing on bricks and mortar at the moment, but the online and digital side is a project for 2011 onwards,” continues Moore. “It is about balancing our priorities at this time.”
Over the past two years Grainger Games has shown that there’s life in the independent retail sector yet. But with 40 stores now in its portfolio, the once small but ambitious indie is now on the radar of the some of the bigger players in the market.
But Moore and the Grainger team have never been afraid of a bit of competition.
“I’d rather be a football club in the Premier League than the Conference, even if it is really challenging,” Moore concludes.
“Some teams are always at the top and some are going to get relegated. But I’d rather be in this competitive league because it is more fun. We will continue to learn from everything we do so we can climb up the table, because the better the league the more people that want to be involved with it.”