So Michael, tell us about yourself and The Brotherhood Games Ltd.
Brotherhood Games has been open since the 8th of January 2013. We started out as an Independent Tournament Organiser, having decided to set up in December 2012. I used to attend a Yu-Gi-Oh! locals as a player, but work meant I didn’t have days off when it ran. I reached out to the Yu-Gi-Oh! Organised Play partner at the time and explained what we could offer by hosting events one day a week.
"I quickly realised it is impossible to play and run a successful tournament at the same time."
I'll admit my first thoughts were 'now I can play the game I enjoyed with my friends', but I quickly realised it is impossible to play and run a successful tournament at the same time.
When we opened I wanted to be one of the few that offered free food as part of the event experience. I knew that people would not have time to go somewhere to get food during the 4-5 hour event, fortunately my home is across the road from the original venue so it was very convenient to have food prepared and brought over for everyone.
At the start, we gave everyone a Turbo Pack (which later became the OTS pack) for entry and prioritized strong prizes for all of top 8 rather than a 1st place heavy prize which was very popular with the players. People highlighted to me from very early on that we created a unique atmosphere, as an Independent the priority I always had was tournament first and selling product second. Caring about getting higher attendance than how much we sold mattered to us a lot. Yu-Gi-Oh! has been my passion and hobby for many years and it means a great deal to me that people enjoy themselves at my events.
Whether it was day one of opening as an indie or every day here at my own store, we welcome and joke with each and every person that steps in through the door.
You now have a Bricks and Mortar store, what was the journey like getting here?
In total I ran for just under 7 years as an indie, after 5 years of constant growth, both in our tournaments and our online presence, we knew we couldn’t continue under the same strategy and had to open a store. Our stock levels were huge and with the great feedback at running stands at comic cons and developing ‘The Brotherhood’ brand, opening a store was the next logical step.
Our greatest challenge was the cost. Opening a store anywhere is very expensive but even harder in London. We were already investing a large amount of money in hiring large venues for our tournaments so measuring that made the choice easier. For finding the right venue, I was particularly picky. I wanted to keep it local with the spirit of our community. All in all, we looked at 3 different places.
My Dad was ill when we began looking and we lost him to cancer. After he passed, we decided to wait and make sure we were emotionally ready to open the store. Offering the right service is important and whilst we could have opened sooner, we wanted to wait for the right time.
We finally found the right location in 2018, but it took 11 months for the council to give us the keys and freedom to decorate and lay it out how we wanted.
One of the biggest differences between a Bricks and Mortar Retail Location and an Independent Organiser is the logistics involved in day to day running, how have you found that change?
That’s the thing, for a lot of people they’ve only seen us as an indie, but we have actually been running properly as a Limited Company for 4 years and focused on growing our online presence. I have always seen The Brotherhood as a business and it was only a matter of time before I felt I’d learned what I needed to make the next step. This helped us be ready for the leap as there are certainly a lot of challenges, overheads such as tax, rent and utilities were things we prepared and budgeted for, this made it easier for us when the time came.
I truly believe that business knowledge is the biggest thing. I still get drawn in by the hype of a booster or a chase card, which can be good, but you have to think about business and fully appreciating cost vs profit. Even down to simple things such as fees and postage when selling online. Physical sales are different to this, but have similarities in understanding.
Online is such a big part of gaming now, do you find that a challenge when running a physical gaming store?
When we began, online was already around and very important to people. I genuinely think that more and more people actually want to get away from staying at their desks and staying indoors. People want to interact again. What you can offer in a TCG/board game is so important. For example, you can actually have a chat with people around a physical gaming table. I have seen online trends, and been involved in many of them, and I think they can be a tool for the hobby store. I understand the importance of using social media, without it we would not have succeeded as we did. Despite that, being personal, face to face, is so important. You have to interact with people and see what it is they want. Some people will just want a hi and be left alone to enjoy their game and browse with the knowledge you are there if needed. Some others want nothing more than to sit and chat about their hobby and passion. Both are equally important to us. Every person that walks through the door is our priority.
I have been a hairdresser for 15 years, longer than I have been a T.O, and this helped me a lot with my anxieties. Talking to people and selling was a big introduction to the retail side of things. Learning banter, talking to clients and my staff, being honest and having a genuine emotional understanding is so important.
You mentioned social media being important, what level of impact did it have on growing your business?
The thing is, generations are different. They all have their own way of doing things and will ultimately know and can offer different things. I will always respect the older ways of doing things due to how I was raised, but seeing social media and how important it is to interact using it is vital. When I was younger, the playground was the place to be then it moved online.
It is so good to have a physical presence but to reach out to younger generations you must do it using social media. Even the smallest actions showing you are friendly, inviting and showing a little of what you offer is enough.
You mentioned ‘The Brotherhood’ brand, could you expand on that?
"I’m lucky because I no longer have a family of 5, I have a family of hundreds."
We are a Greek family and family is one of the biggest things in our culture. My Dad’s influence on work ethic and how hard my Mum worked while happily inviting people into our family and looking after them taught me so much. My Mum’s mentality is to feed people and care for them, while my Dad would work so very hard for us. They both taught my brothers and me so much. When someone works for us or attends our events, they become part of our family. The name is not just a title or business name, it is what we stand by. I’m lucky because I no longer have a family of 5, I have a family of hundreds.
A lot of people out there have a hard life or struggles with their jobs or family, others have special needs. Going through what I did, losing my Dad and talking to thousands of people over the years, I have learned so much and now I realise how important it is that me and all my staff look after and interact with everyone the best we can. You never know what impact your conversation with them might have on their day. If there is one thing to take from this I hope people take on board how important listening to and genuinely caring about others is.
One of my local players who was there from the beginning was 13 when he started, over the years I have seen him go to University and grow up. He won the Yu-Gi-Oh! UK National Championship last year and it makes me so proud.
Would you say the 7 years building up to a Bricks and Mortar Store was worth it?
It has always been my dream to own a business and a store. I always envisaged a Willy Wonka style building, offering things to people, and it is honestly a dream come true for me. My hobby became my business and now I travel the world so I can learn more and help it grow.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
I would love to open a bigger location but I always try and remain humble. If in 20 years I still only have this location I would still be happy. If we can expand into a bigger store, I can then invite even more people to join the family, that’s something I would definitely look into if I can.
Thank you for your time today Michael, before we finish any further comments or advice you want to give to other OTSs and players?
To the Players – remember we all play to enjoy ourselves and enjoy our hobby, every time you sit opposite someone in a game, remember they are doing the same and treat each other with kindness.
To the Stores – keep doing what you do, we are all here because we love it and always treat the customers like you would your own family.
The day after this interview, The Brotherhood hosted a WCQ: Regional with 214 attendees, the largest held this WCQ year so far.