INDIE PROFILE: PowerPlay Direct

While many independent retailers are compelled to choose between a bricks and mortar business model or an online one, PowerPlay Direct is blessed with a healthy presence in both arenas.

The company has been running a network of websites since 2002 – handled by PowerPlay’s headquarters in Eastbourne – and boasts two High Street stores.

These can be found in such far flung locations as Hereford and Leicester, with the latter branch boasting a shop floor size of 15,000 square feet.

However, it is the website that continues to form the cornerstone of PowerPlay Direct’s business. The site provides a significant portion of the firm’s revenue and is crucial to accomplishing its goals.

As far as online is concerned, one of our big targets this year is substantially growing our turnover,” says PowerPlay’s marketing manager Shaun Mulvey. It is an area we will be quite aggressive in over the next five months. I’m aiming to treble our turnover.”

But PowerPlay’s stores are not neglected by any means. They are supported by a staff of 30 to 40 people, and are just as key to PowerPlay’s business as its website. The company takes pride in keeping its stores fresh – in fact, the Hereford branch has just enjoyed a complete refurbishment.

And, of course, PowerPlay Direct is always looking for new ways to grow its indie empire, both on the High Street and online.

Where possible, and where the sensible business opportunities lie, expansion would be great,” says Mulvey. It is all about finding the right outlet and right deal.

As far as bricks and mortal retail is concerned, it’s about consolidating what we have then expanding.

As independent stores, we can look to put pressure on stores such as GAME and HMV. We are not exclusively a games shop – we sell an array of multimedia. That means we’ve got more competition because we’re competing with HMV and the like.

I think there is a huge area for independent businesses within our sector. What we are doing, and I think what others should do, is reinvent the way we look at things. Offering people that perception of that big corporate shopping experience, but maintaining those independent advantages – knowledgeable staff, a wide range of products, good back catalogue and so on. A lot of High Street chains aren’t particularly great at these.”

Like many in the independent sector, PowerPlay Direct also faces significant competition from supermarkets.
Rather than undercutting on price, Mulvey is determined to beat the all-purpose grocers in ways that only an indie can.

As a business we are not prepared to get in a tit-for-tat battle with supermarkets,” he says.

When it comes to selling Modern Warfare 2 for 26, I’m not prepared to lose money on that. I’d rather offer people a genuine reason to use us.

That’s where we come in with creativity around our promotions. Call of Duty was the perfect example. We offered people the chance to play it on a 42 ft cinema screen – the real gamer was willing to spend an extra tenner to experience that.”

In fact, it is by focusing on the unique qualities only found at independent retail that Mulvey believes PowerPlay can not only maintain its own fortunes, but also boost the indie sector.

We need to re-invent ourselves,” he says. If you look at us from the music and DVD-side of thing, HMV will always be very competitive. However, they don’t have a massive range of back catalogue products.

One of the weakness of the High Street is that you have 100 stores in a chain that are all following a very specific brand identity – independents don’t have to follow that. One thing we can do with stores in multiple areas is tailor ourselves, have a brand ethos but be considerate to the region we are in.

For instance, we may run a very different campaign in Leicester than we would in Hereford. A large multiple chain won’t have that opportunity. As an independent we can communicate and engage with our local community at a much better level.”

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