Reading Joseph’s comment on the GAME group’s chance of surviving last week got me thinking. There is a similar “niche” hobby that he and I share more than a passing interest in that has a high street presence spanning the length and breadth of the country. It too appeals to mostly men, but unlike videogames it is unlikely that Tesco and ASDA are likely to start stocking large quantities of it on their shelves any time soon. I speak of Games Workshop.
Whatever you may think of it as a pastime, the Nottingham based company has managed to survive for many years selling a product that is only going to appeal to a small fraction of the population. Throughout that period it has seen its presence on the High Street grow, slowly edging from town to town until it is more curious for a town not to have a GW shop than to have one.
The same could have been said about the GAME group up until recent events, but the differences in the pair’s fortune is both obvious and subtle.
The first is that GAME expanded far too quickly and aggressively. Taking over Gamestation may have seemed a shrewd move, taking on an edgier bedfellow and instantly gaining itself more highstreet footfall, but it did not consolidate its advances. With a Gamestation and a GAME existing side by side cannibalising each other’s sales whilst offering very little in difference yet twice the rent, the foolishness was clear to all but the business’ hierarchy.
By comparison Games Workshop have rolled out stores slowly but steadily, cherry picking areas most suitable and filling in the void store by store. In comparison to GAME’s 610 stores at its peak, the modellers have less than a quarter of that and yet still seem to supply their hobbyists adequately.
Secondly, location. In the centre of Birmingham there sat Gamestation’s flagship store, a mecca to the realms of digital gaming and proof of the bullish insistence that gaming warranted such a lavish and large footprint on one of the country’s busiest shopping centres. The fact it was too large again seemed evident to all but those at the top. Sparse shelves filled out with large cardboard boxes advertising future wares and second-hand consoles attempted to make up for quality stock and GAME’s insistence of bulking out stores with pre-owned games.
Even a swift glance at the shop stocking Space Marines will tell you of a completely different attitude. Usually capable of operating with just one or two employees on a typical day, they’re small, heavily stocked and crucially not on the main thoroughfare. The advantages here at that they know their target audience will come to them so as long as they keep well supplied then they will save on rent by being on the fringes of main shopping districts. The savings made by moving a couple of streets away can be astronomic, and with enough brand loyalty the extra wear on boot leather is negligible to your customers.
Finally, GAME has moved away from being a niche. Its group’s stores used to offer something relatively unique but the move into stocking only the latest games and dedicating the majority of their store to second-hand sales caused them to lose their edge. No longer offering anything unique, the supermarkets were equally able to stock new releases but what about the harder to find releases of even just six months ago?
GW know they’re niche and play to it. There’s never ever a thought to expand out to stock other minatures, creep into other board games or even adding videogames to their shelves. They have carved out their place in the world and are content at doing that to the best of their ability. It still may be down to profit at the end of the day, but those black-red-and-yellow stores are dedicated to providing for the needs of their customers. That’s why they have freely available gameboards in them; a slight difference to the locked down pods of Skylanders in GAME.
In hindsight some of the mistakes are all too clear, but caught up in the boom that this generation of consoles initially brought the money men were too busy dreaming of swimming in bank notes. Games Workshop may not necessarily be the most financially successful company in the hobby space but as a flagship British store its seems the tortoise has outdone the hare.