Innovative Retailer: Games Workshop

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Name: Games Workshop

The Place: Ships to countries all over the world with a network of around 400 Games Workshop stores and several thousand further retail franchises but headquartered in Nottingham.

The Story: You’ve got to love a company that describes its intellectual property rights as a ‘fortress wall’ and its network of shops as a ‘fortress moat’.

Ah cute. You certainly do: And you have to love a company that always spells the word hobby with a capital H to emphasise how, you know, important it is. 

So sweet. Absolutely: And you have to love a company that brings in almost £200 million a year from selling small battle figures which you paint and then have battles with on your kitchen table.

Sorry. How much? £191 million of revenues in the year to May 2020. Who knew that something that comes in somewhere between Dungeons & Dragons, Lord of the Rings and Airfix would be able to latch on to the community effect so convincingly.

Dungeons & Dragons. Now this I remember: Good. So basically if the Dungeons & Dragons thing had happened with a huge internet community in tow and if being geeky about something niche had been cool then like it is now, then these untold riches could have followed for its developers instead of it just being this thing that the slightly unpopular boys did in their break-times behind schoolbooks.

Yes, that’s exactly how I remember it: But funnily enough there is a D&D connection as the team behind Games Workshop had the licensing rights in the UK to Dungeons & Dragons, which is a US game. And actually they were totally involved in the whole Middle Earth thing too. Anyway, it’s all about connectivity. As it says on the company’s investor page: “Our customers exist all over the world, our job is to find them.”

So returning to the beginning of Games Workshop: Yes, let us don the cloak of invisibility and snatch up the Sword of whatever and let us ride headlong through the Chasm of…

Please stop it: OK. Games Workshop was set up in the 1970s and has gone through labyrnthine development paths to get to its current form today of manufacturer and producer of battle figures, board games and books. As the company itself proclaims “we make the best fantasy miniatures in the world”.

I confess I initially assumed it was a computer gaming company: Tsk tsk. But you are not entirely wrong as one of the cleverest things Games Workshop is doing is using that old fortress wall to its advantage and letting the odd serf into the motte and bailey area.

Sorry, you’re just confusing me now: They’re licensing parts of their products, games, books to selected gaming developers to turn into online versions. Obviously it’s not a good idea to do this too much – the very last thing GW wants is for all its users to desert the kitchen table or its shops and not buy the figurines, games and paint anymore – but nevertheless it has contributed a goodly chunk to recent revenues and there seems to be no shortage of takers.

I’m thinking parents must love the fact that it’s off screen: Totally. And very intergenerational too. Although the hugely influential community hub of swapping stories, battles, results and so on does take place largely through the app and dedicated websites – especially when in person mixing over the coffee/battle table is prohibited by Covid-19 rules. But the strong fan base online means web sales is another very strong revenue strand for GW.

We’re going to need a bigger table

So it’s continual sweetness and light with the fans and GW: Well, I wouldn’t go that far. Like any very dedicated, dare I say, sometimes obsessive fan base there are skirmishes with management. Sometimes on pricing hikes, which the company now largely restricts to new releases, and sometimes on politics that can pit the newcomers against the old legion so to speak.

How does the whole shop and franchise thing work? According to the company getting the best people for the very hands-on ambassadorial roles in stand-alone shops around the world takes time so in the meantime GW works with independent and specialist owners who have good knowledge of their customer base to fill the gaps. These shops receive easy to manage ranges of fast-moving lines and save the company a fortune in rent. So if one is new to wargaming and doesn’t know Rippa’s Snarlfangs from Deathlords Morghasts then this kind of in-store explanation will be invaluable. Trust me the downloadable rule book is BIG.

And the merch goes on

I think I’m going to get into this Hobby: TBH it’s a cracking example of a Great British company that is doing super well in its own slightly eccentric niche – but with many worlds left to conquer.

That’s the spirit! Like Fervious, Fortis Binary or Herodor: No, I meant more like North America, Asia – that sort of thing.

And what of the future? “In the grim darkness of the far future there is only war.”

Oh: No, that’s just an advert for Warhammer. Actually the future looks very bright for this innovative company, which seems to be able to conjure ever more worlds and merch for its insatiable audience. As one can see from the share price, which has only been going one way. It still sees plenty of scope in the UK for small stores outside city centres and in market towns.

One more question – will I need one of those little rake things that they always push the tanks about with in Second World War films:  You dark elf of Ulthuan. I’m not even going to dignify that with an answer.

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