MCV presents the first interview with Martyn Gibbs, the respected games retail expert who took over Game after the group went into administration in April.
Understandably, Game Retail as it is now known (having dispensed with the all-capitals 'GAME') has not put talking to the media at the top of its agenda since April's post-administration rebirth.
With respected games retailer and former GAME UK MD Gibbs at the helm, reformation has been focused on staff, suppliers and stores.
But here, Gibbs talks at length about the steps the retailer is taking to a stronger business, and what lies ahead…
What was the mood when you returned to Game?
Bruised but not broken. Everybody across the business, from the support centre and the distribution centre to our stores, really had faced the toughest days in the history of the old GAME Group. But I felt that they believed Game Retail was a fresh start.
And it was a fresh start – with the UK gaming community behind us, our teams came together and we're focused on the future, not the past. In the last four months our teams have exceeded all expectations and the activity in our stores and online is testament to the passion and professionalism of those teams. That sets us up well for the future and we have been busy looking at every segment – our customers, our teams and our partners – to understand what theywant and how they feel about the GAME and the Gamestation brands.
In the early weeks, what was your priority for Game?
There were some blunt realities for our new business. To begin with we've worked tirelessly to make sure that we've got the right cost base for the business so that we have a stable platform, something that we will constantly assess.
But that doesn't mean that we're not investing to make sure we have the experience that the UK gaming community requires, whether in stores, online or in any other channel.
There were then three absolute key priorities.
The first was people. Our teams make us who we are and they had been through a very tough time. We had to make sure our teams around the country and in our support and distribution centre were engaged with what we were doing. We also had to make sure that our customers and anybody who touched the business from a supply point of view were absolutely engaged with the individuals as much as the business itself.
There was then a publisher's piece – we needed to get the support of the publisher community. That was a crucial part of getting things right.
Finally there was property. That was really to make sure we had the right portfolio of stores. A huge number of stores had closed during administration and we needed to make sure we still had the right stores in the right locations going forward – something we will always be looking at to make sure we are delivering for the gamers of the UK.
Before you came in, there were issues with suppliers. What did you have to do in terms of talking to the rest of the industry?
You've actually answered the question. I talked to the industry. We listened really hard, not only to what issues that existed, but how suppliers wanted our new business to manifest itself. We engaged with all suppliers – we wanted an open and honest interaction and were very open with them from day one in terms of our performance and our plans. We were working with every supplier very quickly and I've been humbled by the level of support we've received and we are very grateful.
In this business there are a few things that are just givens for me – trust, integrity and communication. Throughout all the ways we engage with our supply partners, those were the key things that we were instilling from day one.
Everyone was saying at the time that nobody wanted to lose the biggest and, for some the only, route to market for games.
There's a real brand understanding and a love of our company across the industry. We've got just shy of 12 million customers owning a reward card, which is third only to Tesco and Boots. It isn't that suppliers have to do business with us, it's that we have such a great understanding of gaming behaviour in the UK that we can add far more than just shops and online in terms of our engagement with our consumers. Couple this with our community engagement through our store teams and I believe we have the best route to market for any gaming content, physical or digital.
Do you have the right number of stores now?
Yes. We have done a huge evaluation of all of our locations and we've gone through a very extensive lease negotiation period. Any retailer, though, reviews their property on an ongoing basis to make sure that they've always got the right stores in the right place for the right consumer set. You'll have seen that in the last few days as we announced we would be leaving our Oxford Street store. Our property team is working tirelessly to find a new site and we hope to be back in the West End soon.
Will you open more stores?
Within the total number of stores there will always be a little bit of room for change – there have been a few closures, but in time there will be some openings as well and there will be a few new stores. We will announce these as we go.
What are the advantages of being a smaller retailer than before?
The reality is that it's easier to move quickly and to implement change. You'll have seen a couple of examples of this over the last few weeks, in terms of how quickly we've got all of our stores signed up to Twitter and really starting to build their local communities and you'll start to see more of that going forward. I will always believe, though, that however fast we're running, we can always run a bit faster.
Have you felt pressure to win back customers?
The key point was how we build a bigger and better business with fewer stores. We've done an immense amount of research looking at what we need to do as a business and we've really listened to what the UK's customers and gamers are saying. We've been involved in an extensive local and national marketing campaign and our wealth of information from our loyalty card holders shows that customers were fighting really hard for us as well. The speed with which we've seen people come back has really shown the love and the passion out there in the UK marketplace and that community support is absolutely invaluable.
Is the plan to still keep the two brands?
At the moment we're researching with our store teams and various different gamer sets across the UK to determine what they want from a specialist. It's obviously an enormous piece of work that we're going through and we're nearing the end of it. We wil have the answers to this very shortly.
How can you keep Game relevant amongst the increasing power of online?
We're actually right at the forefront with digital – we have a huge share of the UK market and are working very closely with suppliers to push and grow that market.
In terms of channels, we've obviously got our online sites. If you look at the buying behaviours of most customers, they're aligning themselves across both physical and digital and across stores, online, mobile and all other channels at the same time. Now, obviously, having the wealth of data that we've got on the reward schemes, it's easy for us to understand how customers are crossing across channels.
And it really isn't a question of physical or digital for me, all of our research is showing that there's a huge crossover between the two. It's about us understanding change and understanding the needs and wants of the gamer in whatever channel they want to be. I do think we are better placed than anybody to capitalise on that.
What is your overall strategy for Game Retail?
We're not ready to show our hand just yet, but I think you'll get a good indication of where we're heading if you look at the new in-store services that we're giving to our customers. We have given them in-store access to our entire online catalogue, so if you're shopping in any of our stores and we haven't got a product in stock then we're able to order that for you – and have it delivered to any UK address. That's just one of the examples of how we're looking to develop the business, to really have each of our channels support the others and give the largest range of products that we can from any of our locations within the UK.
Any aspirations of previous management still standing?
I'm unashamed of the fact that we've taken any great ideas out of the old business into the new business, as I am about watching what is happening in any great community-based business worldwide and learning from them. So there are a few ideas we have kept, but the really important point is that any of those ideas that we are taking forward are crafted in a very different way and under a very different headline in terms of our strategy, which again, we'll be sharing soon. Simplicity is key.
What has the relationship with OpCapita been like?
This is a really important point. The first and most obvious benefit is that, thanks to OpCapita, two much loved brands were rescued, over 3,000 jobs were saved and 330 stores stayed open. OpCapita, led by Henry Jackson the managing partner there, was relentless in its belief of a future games retail model.
In terms of working with them, I've been hugely impressed with their approach and their expertise. Our chairman, David Hamid, is a hugely experienced retailer and he and the OpCapita team have brought incredibly valuable experience, advice, acumen and standing. Your other point was right – they've absolutely allowed the management team full control of the business and have supported everything we've wanted to implement to date. So the experience is there for us to tap into whenever we need to but the management team are very much running the business.
What's next on the agenda?
Well, we have a lot to do…
We have our conference in a few weeks time, we are mid planning for our Christmas campaign and we are seeing a lot of our recruitment come to fruition with numerous new starters bringing a wealth of new experience to our central support teams.We have new stores to launch, a home to find in the West End of London and some significant evolution to our customer experience inall channels.We have a wealth of new titles and formats to launch, digital initiatives that are truly unique, and new partnerships to announce.
Basically, we have had our time to set up camp, we will now build and develop our community of gamers driven by the community for the community.