Hello to everyone at EPForums! This is Spenser Brossman, owner of Complete in Box in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, of the United States, and I just wanted to tell you all a little about the experience of opening up a game store.
We filmed a brief tour of the store, that I figure would help you understand what youâ€™re about to read a bit better. It can be found here:
Let me begin with, well, before the beginning:
Before Complete in Box
First of all, no game store can possibly be created without the help of good friends and family, who invest their time into something that they want to see succeed.
I initially started working at GameStop (obviously the biggest American chain), and it wasnâ€™t the worst experience. I started in 2007, but by the time 2009 rolled around, GameStop made a lot of changes, none for the better: you were forced to berate customers more, there was more meaningless busy-work, and the experience obviously wasnâ€™t catered to the customer.
I actually graduated from college (Drexel University in Philadelphia, PA) with degrees in mathematics and psychology, but I didnâ€™t feel I was at a point in my life to use these to the fullest â€“ so I continued on at GameStop. There was one incident, however, that made me quit almost immediately.
My store manager, who grew to be one of my best friends, was fired suddenly â€“ his offense? Selling one â€˜Matureâ€™ rated game to an ESRB shopper who was under 17 years old â€“ he was set up! This man doubled the storeâ€™s profits in a year, gave us the energy to work twice as hard, and was a great leader â€“ and he was fired just like that.
On that day, I decided that I wanted no more corporate nonsense in my life. I quickly found a job at a local game store that I frequented a lot for retro games. I thought that because of their selection that this was the best store in existence â€“ I quickly found out that this was not the case. Although they did some things right, I disagreed with a lot of their business practices, such as taking DVDs for trade (no market for those!), and lying to customers about trade-in values.
At around January 1, 2011, I started to mull the idea in my head about opening up my place â€“ I decided to start writing up ideas, and see where it went.
Starting out with a blank slate is the single scariest thing EVER!
And that was the case with what would become Complete in Box. I had an idea for a game store, and nothing else. I still needed an inventory, location, budget, machinery, shelves and racks, just to name a few!
I wrote up what I considered to be a pretty good business plan (it was only 22 pages, but the most important 22 pages I had written), and I went about showing it off. I showed it to my brother, Trevor, a few friends, and my dad. They were all surprised at how it all worked out.
To be honest â€“ I was even more surprised.
The business plan included a rough idea of how much everything would cost, an idea of how much we would make per day, and an estimated start time of July 16, 2011 â€“ less than 6 months away from completion of the plan.
And wouldnâ€™t you know it, we opened up for our first day on July 16, 2011?
Getting Denied Loans
When you are 22 years old (Iâ€™m 23 now, but was 22 at the time), getting a $60,000 loan is as hard as finding redeeming qualities in the Twilight series. I spent so many hours in bank offices trying to get loans â€“ and I was denied a lot.
Heck, I donâ€™t blame them.
I had little credit, no money upfront, and little collateral. I just had an idea and the work ethic.
Long story short, eventually I did find a way to get the loan, but at a cost â€“ I didnâ€™t have quite as much to work with, and I ended up getting the loan around the middle of March.
During this time, I was still working 40 hours a week, I met my current girlfriend, I was going everywhere to try to find games for inventory, and I needed a location.
I had less than four months to get everything ready.
How To Get Everything Ready
Itâ€™s no secret: get a ton of help!
On a drive home one day, I lucked out at finding the perfect location, which turned into the future site for Complete in Box. From there, we hammered out the details of the lease, got approved, and went to work.
This is going to sound kind of funny, but at this point, it was nearing mid-April, and I had nothing but a barn full of games. Literally, a barn â€“ my house doesnâ€™t have enough room to keep all the arcade machines, games, and all that, so we stored it in our tobacco barn!
I spent every day of the next three months going on trips to find stuff. I went 100 miles north, south, east, and west to find games at yard sales, flea markets, and rummage sales. Sometimes I lucked out, but I often failed miserably. This is where my friends really helped â€“ they came along with me on trips, helped me find places, and helped me lug stuff everywhere.
I found four beautiful arcade cabinets on Craigslist (a free place for anyone to sell anything online), which included Tetris, Smash TV, Soul Calibur, and Marvel vs Capcom. I lucked out by buying out entire stores full of shelving from Blockbuster stores that were closing near me, and I started piecing everything together.
You donâ€™t want to hear the whole story of where I found this and that â€“ just know that I was piecing the store together the entire time in my head, trying to find every necessary piece.
Around the beginning of June, we were ready to start moving everything.
Cleaning Games is the Worst
And thatâ€™s what we did for the next month and a half. We moved stuff from my barn to the store, built everything, set everything up, found extra pieces that we needed â€“ and got inventory ready.
Can you imagine sitting in your back room with literally thousands of dirty cartridges and scratched discs (as we all know, people often donâ€™t take care of their games)? It was horrible cleaning everything up and getting everything in selling shape. Trevor and I would spend 10 hours a day for weeks at a time cleaning every single game we had back there. Luckily we had the entire box set of Dragon Ball Z to keep us company!
I set the date of July 16, 2011 as the opening date over a month in advance. As we neared the date I began to worry that everything wouldnâ€™t be ready in time. We really cut it close on some things (I had my one display case finally get to me the day before we opened), but we were all ready for the day I set seven months prior.
We had a couple people stop by while we were fixing the store up asking to see around. I always let them in, because I was so happy to see that people were excited.
However, I didnâ€™t know how excited they were.
See, there are simply no game stores in my area. There are GameStop locations 30 minutes away from us, and other stores even further â€“ so I guess news got around about our opening day. We quickly amassed 100 or more likes on Facebook â€“ but nothing would get me ready for the opening day.
Opening day is a ridiculous day.
On one hand, Iâ€™m so happy that people are coming out, and Iâ€™m so happy that weâ€™re all done, but on the other hand, Iâ€™m wondering if everyone will like it, if all the invested money will pay off, and if weâ€™ll see an increase in customers as we continued on.
I look back on that day 9 months later, and I can appreciate it even better. I met so many of our best customers that day â€“ customers who I have also come to known as friends. Many of them are my age, but some of them are older games â€“ gamers in their 50s that can share some information that I donâ€™t even know about video games pre-Atari age.
The amount of people we meant was fantastic, and I was overwhelmed with the support. Obviously, we slowed down a little bit after the first day, but we saw steady growth, and we continued to meet great people and great customers.
To think that this all happened because GameStop fired my manager for no reason.
The Actual Store
Iâ€™m going to save most of the descriptions of the store for the attached video tour â€“ but Iâ€™ll say a bit here. We really pride ourselves on trying to be different, and trying to have fun stuff to do. We have tournaments quite often, some with great success. At our Modern Warfare 3 midnight release (yes, I know, I know, CoD is awful), we had over 60 people in the tournament. We recently had a Super Smash Bros day with all three games having tournaments, and we had almost 50 people for each tournament.
A partial video of the Smash tourneys!
Just recently, we had a cold day in March where we rented a dunk tank and sat in the freezing cold to raise money for Habitat for Humanity â€“ and it worked well! We love doing events and neat stuff like that. Itâ€™s tiring as hell, and weâ€™re often pretty moody in the days afterwards because of all the work, but itâ€™s usually worth it.
The strangest thing weâ€™ve done so far is we had a live wrestling match in front of the store. You read right! A buddy of mine brought an actual 20 foot by 20 foot wrestling ring, and we got a bunch of local wrestlers and a few better known stars to stop by and wrestle. Thereâ€™s no way weâ€™re ever doing that again, and Iâ€™m surprised that I was allowed to do it with insurance and all that, but itâ€™s kind of become a tall tale of our town. Every once in a while people ask if we are the place that actually had a wrestling match in front of our store.
I just say: â€˜I donâ€™t know what youâ€™re talking aboutâ€™, and add a wink to the end.
There are so many other events and memorable moments, but Iâ€™ll try to condense them into some small stories.
Things (I canâ€™t Believe) Weâ€™ve Done
There are some events weâ€™ve held that if you asked me several months ago, I would have just laughed at the idea. But hey, when opportunity knocksâ€¦
My one employee and friend Travis was Facebook friends with an indie rapper and electronic artist from Denver, Colorado (about 2,000 miles from us). One day, the rapper posted about wanting to do an east coast tour. Travis asked me if we could have it at the store, and I said â€˜Wellâ€¦ uh, why the hell not?â€™. So a few months later, we had an indie rap show with a great guy from 2,000 miles away, and some good bands from our local area!
A link to one of the songs:
I am currently planning another concert that should be happening around May!Â Between wrestling and concerts, we have every midnight release for new games that we can fit in! Even if it ends up just being all our friends sitting around and playing the new game (this happened for Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City), or having huge and fun tournaments (like Gears of War 3 or Soul Calibur V), they really are a lot of fun for us, and I think it sets us apart from the competition.
One of the midnight releases that I remember most fondly is that of Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. As we all know, this was a hugely anticipated game, so I had to plan a little bit differently for the midnight release. We ended up getting a local card shop to help us run Dungeons and Dragons and Magic the Gathering. While people were playing that, we had some others trying out Skyrim to see what it was like. The most ridiculous part was the trivioke. Whatâ€™s trivioke? Trivia and karaoke. Yep. We had both of those on the same night in a video game store. That was a fantastic night, and I couldnâ€™t believe I did as well as I did on â€˜Stanâ€™ by Eminem.
Working With (Almost) Only Family
There are four employees of Complete in Box: my brother Trevor, my cousin Ben, and my childhood friend Travis. I must admit that working with family and friends is the best thing anyone could ask for, but itâ€™s not the easiest thing in the world.
For instance, Iâ€™m a ridiculous perfectionist. I expect everything to be cleaned to its fullest; I expect everything to be in order, and for all possible work to be done. If I ever come in and theyâ€™re just sitting around playing games, and I feel they could have gotten more work done, itâ€™s hard to decide what to do. Should I yell at them when I care for them but feel they didnâ€™t put their all into the work that day? Should I go do the work myself and not say anything?
Itâ€™s sometimes stressful â€“ I tend to worry a lot about upcoming events, paying the bills, you know, normal stuff. When I get stressed, I certainly am not fun to be around. So sometimes they have to deal with that as well. However, itâ€™s the best work atmosphere I personally have ever been a part of. Weâ€™re very lax, but weâ€™re not slobs. We will help you out, but we wonâ€™t pressure you. Weâ€™ll give you opinions but we wonâ€™t rub them in your face. And most of all, we are ridiculously patient. Oh goodness, yes.
Trials and Tribulations
I donâ€™t know how things work where you are from, if youâ€™re from another country, but the United States government really does all it can to tax small businesses into oblivion. Thatâ€™s the biggest problem I always seem to have. Whenever we do well and make any extra money, it all seems to go towards taxes. Taxes in Pennsylvania are especially awful. There are times that I feel like all our work goes to just paying taxes.
But, itâ€™s not nearly as bad as I make it seem. Weâ€™re 9 months in, we have so much more inventory from when we started, we have a strong and growing customer base, and we continue to creep our way up the economic food chain. I really donâ€™t mind bills like rent and cable all that much, because itâ€™s money that I foresaw being spent anyway â€“ but those taxes. Oh boy, oh boy.
There are other problems that we have, but few of them have to do with customers. Although some can be annoying, our customers are usually simply fantastic. Itâ€™s dealing with other businesses, depending on other businesses, that really drives me nuts. Things like finding someone competent in my bank to help me with my problem, tracking lost shipments due to the incompetence of the United States Postal Service, or calling over and over again wondering when an order will be ready â€“ that drives me insane.
I guess that would be the one major thing I learned from opening up Complete in Box â€“ donâ€™t underestimate the incompetence of other businesses â€“ they are likely way worse than yours.
The Future of CiB
I have only two goals for Complete in Box:
- To pay off all my loans and become truly profitable
- To continue to have fun
If we do both of those, all the time and effort has been well placed.
Would I Suggest It?
Itâ€™s simply fantastic owning a game store, and itâ€™s the best job in the world, but I would like anyone aspiring to open up their own store to keep a few things in mind.
First of all, you need great friends to help you out. You canâ€™t do everything yourself, even if you think you can (trust me). You need a lot of time â€“ and by that I mean, you need to spend a lot of your free time â€“ staying late, coming in early, skipping other social events for the greater good. You need to have a love for games. A lot of people once said â€˜Love what you do, and youâ€™ll never work a day in your lifeâ€™. Well, trust me, youâ€™ll still work, but everything will be worth it.
You need a supporting family and/or significant other, because youâ€™ll be spending a lot of time away from them. You need to understand that there will be good and bad days. There were days early on that I was fearful that we wouldnâ€™t have enough money to pay rent. Keep doing what you are doing, take it a step at a time, and it will work out.
Remember that it will take up most of your time â€“ and this is time that you would normally be spending gaming. I rarely get to play more than 4-5 hours a week anymore, and itâ€™s unfortunate, but I would rather be around games all day, helping people find games, than play them all the time right now anyway. You have to have singular focus on your goals, and work to reach them.
Thanks for Reading!
I know this was a long read and a lot of words, but I hope that it helps people understand what itâ€™s like to plan, start, and run a video game store. If you have any further questions, please ask. Iâ€™d love to be a help for anybody who needs some!
Owner, Complete in Box Video Games (www.completeinbox.com)