INTERVIEW: Jon Harrison, Forbidden Planet

Forbidden Planet Ltd may be a super-specialist film, TV, comic and memorabilia chain, but it’s also becoming a haven for games publishers. Marketing manager Jon Harrison tells Dominic Sacco why.

You’ve done plenty of promotions with games companies. What do you think it is that attracts publishers to Forbidden Planet?

It’s what we’ve been doing for years with publishers and film companies. We’ve been offering the package where you can get your message put on our carrier bags and in our windows. It’s been mostly movie companies, but increasingly the merchandise we carry has been game related. And so the two worlds have slowly crept together. The likes of 2K, Ubisoft, EA, Sqaure Enix and Bethesda have started talking to us even though we don’t actually stock games. About one year ago we weren’t doing any games promotions, and now we’ve done three over the last six months. And we’ve got a couple more coming.

Other than game pods, branded bags and special window displays, what else do you offer?

We can get people who are involved in the games to come and do things. In October last year we had a signing session by American McGee for the art book of Alice, and that was very popular. We also had Andy McNab sign copies of the Battlefield 3 book last year and Ubisoft demonstrating its Raving Rabbids toy action figures.

There are two Forbidden Planet chains – why’s that?

There are two UK companies which broke away from each other. We’re Forbidden Planet Ltd, while there’s also Forbidden Planet International. They have stores in some towns and we’re in other towns.

How many stores do you have?

We’ve got nine. We’ve just relocated our South London store in Croydon and we’ve been doing a lot of redevelopments to improve our stores. A lot of them are getting on for ten years old now. Our Liverpool one had a complete facelift last year.

How much do you generate from gaming products compared to comics, film and TV memorabilia?

In terms of the games merchandise, it’s growing all the time. In the same way that virtually any movie or TV show spins off to action figures, T-shirts and replicas, the same is happening to the games world.

What are your most popular video games products?

Halo, Mass Effect and the Alice stuff sells really well. Action figures, T-shirts and replicas perform strongly. In the same way we have Star Wars statues, we also have Master Chief statues, replica helmets and more. We’ve always said we aim to be as complete as possible, and so we will see what works. Even if this ranges from 9.99 figures up to 200 replica guns.

Have you thought about stocking games themselves?

It’s not something we’ve done as we’re completists. Games is a whole world in itself. We’d rather stock everything or nothing. The people we’re working with understand the crossover with the audiences.

Retailers often tell us how tight they find the margins for boxed games. Does that put you off?

The margins are extremely tight. Retailers have to be competitive. And obviously, if something comes out in three different formats, that’s a lot of shelf space.

With GAME going into and coming out of administration recently, do you think it’s important that games should remain on the High Street?

It’s a hard one to answer because we don’t sell the product. As long as games are reaching customers somehow, it doesn’t matter to us.

Not many games retailers stock high-end collector’s items – has that allowed you to dominate in this area? Are they missing a trick?

No. Obviously, action figures should be sold to you by a special action figure retailer. We’re a specialist in our area and [games retailers] are a specialist in their area.

What are your plans for games going forwards?

We’re continuing to develop relationships. We like working with publishers and they seem to like working with us.

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