Retail veteran aiming for high score with new gaming venture

AN ambitious retail company chaired by a Yorkshire industry veteran is planning to open 40 new high street stores in the region over the next three years.

Family-owned Grainger Games plans to grow from 25 stores to up to 100 by 2013 and has appointed Jonathan Fellows, the former finance director of the Bon Marche discount chain, to oversee the strategy.

The company, based in Newcastle, will benefit from the massive video games industry which is said to be worth 3.5bn and 4bn in the UK.

Mr Fellows said Grainger modus operandi is to "go at a pace other retailers can only dream about".

He added: "It is the best retail model for a business that I have ever seen. It's the speed at which they move which I think is unprecedented in terms of how quickly they make decisions and how quickly they get shops open."

Father and son team John and Stephen Bowyer founded the business at Grainger Market in Newcastle in 1997. They steadily grew in the North East, opening new stores.

Sales director Phil Moore, who joined from Gamestation last summer, said the business model – buying and selling new and pre-owned video games – remains the same "but on a much grander scale with more robust and solid business processes across the board".

Customers buy a new title, take it home and complete the game before returning it to the store, either for money or higher-value credit note. They can then choose to buy a new or cheaper pre-owned game.

Grainger Games opened its first store in Yorkshire last year in Hull. The company's second Yorkshire store opened in Doncaster on Friday. It is set to open a store in Leeds next month.

Mr Moore said: "We are a value-led retailer. We are giving customers the best value possible gaming experience.

"When we opened in Doncaster, our tagline was 'Bringing the cost of gaming down in Doncaster'."

He added: "We are looking to expand from 25 to between 75 to 100 stores. We are looking at around 40 in Yorkshire. We are very confident in the brand proposition and our business model in a very big and lucrative market.

"We are looking to take advantage of the property market at this point in time. There is a lot of good deals to be had for businesses with the right plan in place and strong brands and covenants.

"Landlords like to have us in. We are being actively pursued by several landlords in Yorkshire. They want us."

He said last year's launch of the Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 game was the biggest ever entertainment launch, surpassing anything seen in the film industry.

Mr Moore added: "The model that we operate allows us to maximise that market potential. It's worth between 3.5bn to 4bn and is spread across the demographics. There's a better range of customers than ever before which allows people to get involved.

"Gaming used to be quite a niche product but over the last few years, especially since the launch of the Nintendo Wii, it has become much more of a social phenomenon.

"We cater to the whole of the customer base – classic gamers as well as more recent social and family gamers across the whole spectrum."

Nic Crocker, the Leeds-based national head of real estate at law firm DWF, said he was impressed by the speed of Grainger's operation.

He added: "They see a store, decide they like it, make an offer, agree terms and propose a date closely after.

"I have never worked with for anybody who works as quickly as they do. The shopfitting process is completed in the twinkling of an eye and they are merchandised, stocked and ready to trade just like that.

"It's done by their own team; none of this nonsense with contractors not doing the right thing. Doncaster was one of the quickest deals in terms of acquisition.

"They are just going for it, but they are going for it properly with a good time behind them. They are putting the team in place to do this very ambitious project."

Stephen Bowyer, 35, is the managing director of Grainger Games, which last year turned over 18m.