Five fast-growing indie retailers

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MCV and Koch Media continue Independent Retail Month with a roundup of five games indies which have grown massively in recent years.

Barkman Computers

Established: November 19th, 1987
Stores: 1
Based:Kingston Upon Thames, Surrey
Contact: 020 8546 5941

This indie turns 25 later this year. Owner Nick Elliott tells MCV about its growth it's seeing.

Can you summarise the past 12 months for Barkman? Have you expanded? What's changed?

It's been a busy year. Fewer titles have generally been released but the volumes have been increasing and that's been strong for us.The upsets with GAME over the last few months have certainly boosted our sales. Customers that we've lost over the years have started to come back to us again. And also for other people this shows them that there are retailers other than GAME on the High Street.

With GAME now reborn, do you think you'll lose some of those additional customers you gained?

No, I think we've managed to retain a lot of these new customers. Hopefully we won't lose too many of them again when GAME starts getting its exclusives back. Exclusives were a big problem for us and continue to be, as other retailers have something that we can't offer to our customers.

Was there a GAME in your area?

We had two GAME stores and lost one of them. The store we lost we've had on our doorstep now for over 20 years. It was one of the original Virgin game stores that migrated through various brands over the years.

Is it important it to have competition like GAME?

It's important that GAME is there in one form or another. I think the industry needs a strong retailer. Perhaps not quite as dominant as it was before, but we do need shiny shops on the High Street. It's a showcase, it's a window. People get tempted into purchases in-store, and not necessarily the store they first saw them in.

How have your sales grown in recent years?

Our main growth has been aided by a significant increase in our website sales, combined with effective pre-order campaigns centered around hard-to-find titles and good customer satisfaction levels.We respond to customer feedback and optimise the use of social media, in addition to our regular marketing activities.

You're known for new and back catalogue games, but you recently told us you're considering selling pre-owned products. Has that developed further?

We're still looking at it. Maybe in the future – it'd be a big step for us. We try to focus on new releases and our back catalogue range.

Do you have any plans for further expansion this year?

No – we're quite happy with the one store. At one point we did have two stores, but we're happy with one.

Nintendo has just announced Wii U?games will be available to download the day they arrive at retail. And Sony has already adopted this strategy with PlayStation Vita. Is this a worrying trend for indies?

Well if you download a game digitally you do need a memory card on which to store your download, which is another expense. We haven't lost too many sales to download on PS Vita, just as long as Sony ensures products are available in store and aren't steering customers to a digital solution by foul means.

What do you think of big online retailers in terms of competition, and those that are offshore?

The tax loophole for the Channel Islands has now closed. We'll see where they move to next. We have seen a big increase in the price points that we would've previously lost to those territories, particularly around products that are 12 to 16.

What does the future hold for independent games retail?

There will be a move to digital, but equally if you have digital you still need advice on what you're going to play the game on. And we sell PC systems as well as consoles, too.

Hitari

Established: 2010
Based: Birmingham
Web: www.hitari.co.uk
Contact: 0844 318 9601

Kamal Hitari, MD of online indie Hitari.co.uk, tells MCV how it became one of the fastest-growing start-ups.

For a video games retailer that has been around for less than two years, Hitari has made massive strides in that time.

MD Kamal Hitari set up the online independent as a part-time hobby in 2010, but has gone on to operate from a 1,700 sq ft office and warehouse facility, with around ten members of staff.

The website has also been nominated for numerous awards including the Nectar SmallBusiness Awards 2011 for Start-Up of the Year.

Today the retailer stocks a variety of products, from games, consoles, accessories and bundles. It even secured exclusive special editions such as the Prototype 2 Bullet Dive Move SKU. Unlike many other online retailers, it offers full refunds on unopened items that are returned within one month.

Hitari is also one of the Top Five video games stores on eBay in terms of sales. Recently it set up an integrated service with DPD and Royal Mail, which allows customers to receive next-day deliveries and find out the day and hour their product will arrive.

In less than two years, we have managed to turn a personal part-time hobby into a fully established and recognised brand,” Kamal Hitari tells MCV. We want to continue to expand the product range, develop the website and maintain the strong relationship we've developed with distributors, suppliers, publishers and manufacturers.

"In five years, I see Hitari becoming a market leader and well recognised brand both nationally and overseas."

N1 Games

Established: 2001
Stores: 1
Based: Islington, London
Contact: 020 7713 7979

London's N1 Games has attracted celebs such as David Beckham through its doors. Owner Sam Semaan tells MCV about its recent boost in sales.

Have you experienced strong sales growth year-on-year?

During the Christmas period we saw sales increase, definitely. After GAME went into administration sales rose and then we actually entered a quiet period. But there's been definite signs of improvement.

Have you expanded?

We haven't really expanded, but we're getting a lot stronger, word is getting around about us. And as you know with GAME's troubles we've certainly seen a boost in sales.

You had plans for a website, didn't you? How is that progressing?

We did have a website, we ran for a while, it worked fine but not extremely well. It's now in construction mode as we're not ready to run it yet. As a small independent I can't really see us competing with websites from High Street chains. To run it all the time is difficult. You have to update all the data and games yourself.

Are you going to open more stores or are you happy with the one?

I can't tell you yet but we will have to see how the market is going. There's still a gap in this market but we have to wait and see.

A lot of indies are diversifying and embracing products like toys. Are you doing the same?

Well, we have a repair service for consoles, we offer disc repairs and we try to introduce more products like stickers for consoles. We try to offer

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