The founder of Los Angeles based tabletop gaming store, Next Generation Games, Jeff Bryson, started his career by selling…last generation’s games. He worked at GameStop, to be precise, in the era of video games in DVD cases lining walls and shelves.
Nowadays, the gaming industry is different, and Bryson has made his way from video games to tabletop games. Along the way, he’s found a passion for this style of gaming, and has founded a store and community center that has become a staple-food of the Los Angeles table-top gaming world. So, we sat down with Bryson to ask him a few questions about his booming business, what makes his niche special, and how Lightspeed has helped him build and grow his business.
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Why did you decide to open Next Generation Games?
In 2007, I worked at GameStop. And I really liked that type of business, but I didn’t like the corporate structure because it kind of felt like they were in the way, as opposed to really helping you. So I found an opportunity to step into this business from another person that was not doing so well after the 2008 recession. And I basically took over their inventory, took over the POS system that they were using, and started up as a video game store.
And how successful were you there?
We had very limited to no success in the beginning. And so we started to move away from video games, and then we got very big in Magic, the Gathering. And now we’re a premium store with Wizards of the Coast. It’s a designation that they give us that says that we’re a very high quality store.
So we kind of grew from Magic the Gathering, and we just kind of got into all these ancillary products that kind of people that are into Magic, the Gathering are also into. People who play Magic are more likely to be into D&D, and from there, there are board games. And board games are very similar to Warhammer in terms of tabletop gaming.
And so we just kind of moved from there. I hired people that had experience in playing and selling those products. So I kind of got out of my comfort zone and hired people and delegated to them, asking “what do I need to know to sell these products?” And so we just kind of built off that. And that’s where we are now. I just kind of morphed to let people tell me what people want and will pay for. And now we have a very loyal customer base that enjoy coming here and enjoy supporting us that are very positive people.
Could you say more about that? Who are your shoppers? What is your brand identity, and who are you trying to reach?
We reach mostly the community of people that are into tabletop. That includes Pokémon, Magic, the Gathering, Warhammer, D&D, all of those people that play those games, they just seem to be looking for a community. They’re looking for people to play with, to find community with. And they want to support your business. And it’s just better when the people that come in are like-minded and here for fun. In terms of demographics, it’s all sorts of people.
Let’s talk about Lightspeed. Have you used our eCom or your website for in-store pickup since the beginning or is that a newer addition to what you’re offering?
Pandemic. First we jumped on Shopify. I’m very passionate about POS systems and I quickly found that it doesn’t keep track of costs the same way. It’s mostly for people that just sell things as a hobby. We switched over to Lightspeed within about two months.
Having an online store that just mirrors what you have in your inventory is just fantastic. You can tell people who call “go to the website, you can see everything we have.” And also it gives equal presence for every item that you would have in your store. Not everything can be displayed face to face in a retail store. So if somebody is looking for Catan, for example, the board game, they can type it in online and see every item in the same spacing, as opposed to maybe an expansion for five or six players that’s been tucked away in the corner because there’s not enough space to display it properly.
So it’s just been great to kind of offer that as a service to customers. And when we moved to Lightspeed eCom, the logistics of having two separate platforms disappeared. The ability to take payments in store is just great.
I had Lightspeed onsite for several years. I think in 2013 is when we got on that and then in 2019 we moved over to cloud. Then the pandemic happened, and so in 2020, around June, we jumped on the eCom and analytics.
Do you have more to say about how your experience has been since joining Lightspeed?
We’ve started using some of the features in retail for auto purchasing. In our business (and I’m sure this is true for many businesses), they’re are distributors that are both the manufacturer and distributor of a product. So you can create a product and you can say “this product is exclusive to this distributor.” So that’s the default vendor. And then you can say, I’d like to keep a certain amount of these in stock. We have a company we work with who controls a majority of the board game market content. And we’re actually obligated to keep certain games in stock to be part of their Best Sellers program. They have like 50 games and they say “If you promise to keep these games in stock at all times, we’ll give you all these perks.” And so what we can do is go through all those games and say, “If this game sells out, or gets to a certain low level of inventory, I want to auto add it to a purchase order.”
I can sit down, open up a purchase order for a day, click auto, add all in, and it will add everything under what I’ve requested that we’re low or out of, and boom, I have a purchase order. It’s done. As opposed to having to look at the wall and go, “Oh, I’m out of this.” Or look at an inventory list and say, “Oh, we sold out of this.” None of that. It’s all done. It’s in the order. And that’s fantastic.
I can just put the big things here to auto-add. And if I sell out of it, it tells me to reorder it. There’s nothing better than when you get a bigger item, something that’s like 100+ dollars, and you sell it and can immediately reorder it the day that it sells. Then it comes in again and sells immediately and you’re like, “Wow, I would have waited weeks to reorder this, because I just would have forgotten.” But instead, it’s just there. That’s awesome.
Switching gears a bit, what does it mean to you to be an independent retailer? You were talking about big box brands and GameStop and the competition there. So what does it mean to you to be you?
On the one hand, you can’t hate big business, because obviously any small business’s goal is to be a big business. Theoretically, at least. I’m not really personally going for expansion into a second store. I’m interested in making a sustainable amount of sales where I can pay my staff. I feel like sometimes becoming a big business can kind of kill something. It’s like overfishing. There’s a habit there of just fishing a place dry. And you’re like, “Thanks. We could have lived off this pond for years. We could have had hundreds of people belonging to this business, instead of having upper management positions making six figure salaries.” But instead, everyone is kind of scraping by so that one or two people can make a lot of money. And everyone else makes just above minimum wage. That isn’t what I want.
So do you feel like you’re a part of the local community? A lot of people or businesses in your space have a really devoted online community. But do you feel like you’re really integrated into the local community in terms of physical presence as well?
Definitely. This is a niche business. So you do have a lot of customers that will shop at a lot of other businesses. So it is kind of like a local community. So there’s a Warhammer community. It’s only so large. We don’t have a mass market for our sales. So you do share customers between stores and there’s certain people in those communities that are kind of like pillars in those communities, people who help us and communicate with us what the community is looking for. In terms of what kind of events to run.
So we do daily events every single day or week. We do events for Dungeons and Dragons, lots of events for Magic, the Gathering. We do Warhammer like paint nights, we do RAM or gaming nights, we do Pokémon Nights. Pretty much everything.
That makes you sort of a community center as well as a business. Why is it important to you to take such an active role in the table-top gaming world?
It gives a value to the products. Warhammer, for example, is pretty expensive. MSRP is usually about $200 for the box. Then you’ve got to get brushes, you’ve got to get all these tools and supplies to paint it. And that’s only the starter set. It gets expensive. And the value proposition kind of lies in how much entertainment value you get from spending this money. So if you spend $500 building up an army, but you spend 20 hours painting it and enjoying painting it, and then you get to play with that army and build friendships with people here, it also gives you a reason to get out of the house and meet new people.
Then you start to say “Hey, it’s 500 bucks. But, you know, I’ve been playing with this army for six months.” We don’t just sell it and say, “go away.” We invite you to come back and play in our space. It’s always free for Warhammer players and things like that to play in the space, unless of course we’re hosting a tournament, in which case there’s a buy-in for prizes and stuff.
Our store is 2000 square feet. And we only have products lining walls. And so everything else is table space. So yes, we have a capacity for about 96 players (right now we’re limiting it to 64 for COVID). But we are back open to allowing people to come play. The goal is when you close your eyes, if you think of a premium store, you should think more of a Starbucks and not a basement apartment.
Where do you envision your business going from here? Do you have future plans for expansion?
I’d like to get to a place where I can invest in things that are more fun. Like, “Hey, guys, I made sweaters that we can sell,” or things like that and just kind of feel like we’re not under the threat of closure. I’d like to get to a level where it’s just operating comfortably. As opposed to, we have one bad buy of a product that didn’t land as well as we hoped, and so now we’re anxious about it.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity
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