With International Tabletop Day around the corner, we’re counting down the days to the big celebration by highlighting friendly local gaming stores, their owners, and their awesome stories. Be sure to find an ITTD event near you so you can enjoy the festivities in your community.
Eclectic Games in Reading is currently enjoying a premium location, “Right in the town centre just off the main shopping street,” according to Darrell Ottery who owns Eclectic Games with his partner Becky. They’ve been in their current location for around 18 months and if their history is anything to go by, they might not be calling this space home for long, until they outgrow it again. Since opening in March of 2006, Eclectic’s current location is their fourth. But don’t worry, every time they outgrow a location, they look for more space in a new location that is nearby. You won’t have to go on a scavenger hunt around Reading to find them.
The current location is quite impressive, “It’s about 3000 square feet as I recall, with approximately 1200 as retail shop floor and stock room/staff room/kitchen, and about 1800 as gaming space, all upstairs above the shop floor.” If you’re curious about the layout of this store in the heart of Reading, check out this great virtual tour from Google Streetview.
To get the full story of Eclectic Games, you need to look at their beginnings and the approach Darrell and Becky take to running the store. “We were regulars at the local game store and after mentioning that she’d been made redundant again, the owners offered her a job running the store as they were looking to replace the current manager. Becky had never done retail before so was a little apprehensive, but, with nothing to lose, dived straight in. She began to turn the business around within a few weeks, but sadly, not quickly enough to delay the fate of many small stores – creditors calling in their debts, and the store closed. Almost immediately afterwards, we decided that we knew the town could support a store, she now had some experience, I was working sufficiently to be able bring in a salary to cover all the household bills, and we had a couple of other offers of assistance, be that in labour, some small startup capital, or just goodwill, to be able to put a proper business plan together and open up a new store. This was December 2005 – in March 2006 we opened on a shoestring budget, with a range of stock on the shelves, in an old pub on the edge of the town centre.”
“The pub had been gutted by previous tenants, leaving only the bar, which we used as a counter. We riffed off the ‘friendly local’ and put a couple of bar stools at the end where parents could sit while their kids shopped. We ran events in the landlord flat above the shop floor, starting with board games, roleplaying, and CCGs, originally only opening a couple of evenings a week, with bigger events on Sundays when we closed the shop and could make use of that space as well. Less than a year later we were running out of space with events running nearly every evening, and we moved to bigger premises all of about 20 yards away after 18 months or so. Most of this period was spent growing the business by, ploughing the profits back into stock. At this point I was ill and stopped working IT and came in more to help run the shop.”
“We stayed in that location for a bit over 3 years until the owners sold the building and wanted to get rid of all the tenants – we had the chance to stay at triple rent, but opted not to do so, and moved again, this time to the end of the two main town centre streets. We settled in there for over 5 years, and other than growing to be open 7 days a week and every weekday evening, just to try and have calendar space to fit an ever-increasing schedule of events to support all the games we offer. About 18 months ago we moved to our current location, right in the town centre just off the main shopping street, with a doubling or more of retail space and tripling of our games room event space – we can now run multiple events concurrently and are still struggling for event space sometimes. The growth in organised play over the past couple of years means we try to fit in as much as we can, but some smaller games that do not have the local player base to support them, unfortunately, have to go by the wayside.”
In addition to continually outgrowing their space, Eclectic Games has one multiple awards including Retailer of the Year from the local Business Improvement District and two different Independent Retailer of the Year awards. Keep in mind that all of these awards were recognition from the Reading community and their store was competing against all manner of businesses in Reading, not just game stores.
To give back to their community, they ran a one-off event called EclectiCon which went over so well it’s now become an annual event. “We held a 10th birthday mini-convention in store last year where we invited over international designers Matt Leacock, Zev Shlasinger and Ignacy Trzewiczek to come visit, hang out, play some games, chat to the customers, and so on.” The event was such a huge success, and as Darell put it, “[W]e were not so much requested as told by the customers that ‘you’re doing this again next year, yes?'”
Not to say no to their customers, a second EclectiCon was held, with game industry celebrities like Rob Daviau making appearances. It seems to now be an annual event, with Eclecticon II already in the planning stages. “I can’t yet say exactly who we are aiming to get over for that just yet, but it will be guests of similar status and calibre.”
Who do you want to see at EclectiCon III? Let us know in the comments!
Image Credits: Eclectic Games