At the Top of its Game

Click to view in E-Magazine | Click to view Brochure

-By D. Barratt

“Necessity is the mother of invention” is a phrase one is likely to hear when discussing his business, Gametraders, with Mark Langford. It is his philosophy of adaptation which has helped Gametraders become one of the fastest growing, and most brilliantly successful game retailers in Australia’s multi-billion dollar retail game industry, and most importantly, the only Australian owned gaming-related franchise in the country.

Although many know the company for its more than 30 retail locations, Gametraders evolved from a single retail operation called Leisure Land, founded in 1998 in Blackwood, South Australia on the fringe of the Adelaide Hills. Leisure Land catered to local hobbyists and gaming enthusiasts, stocking everything from computer games to kites and collectable trading card games. It very quickly became a popular gathering spot for Warhammer players, but the focus soon shifted to Pokemon cards as interest in the trading card game swept across Australia.

Mark noticed many customers trading cards amongst each other, and he identified the sale of used trading cards as a potentially lucrative business focus and service that he could provide for his customers, which he did to great success. He noticed that instead of buying many “booster” packs of cards, his customers were happy to purchase his individually sold cards instead. This practice of buying, selling and trading used cards inspired him to begin buying and selling used computer games as interest in the collectable trading card game dwindled, a practice which continues in his retail locations to this day.

“It gave me the idea of trying the same concept with second-hand computer games,” he says. This model soon became his primary focus as he reacted to the changing industry environment – an early example of Mark’s ability to adapt and innovate as necessity demands it. His decision to expand into the Metropolitan area and to rebrand his business as Gametraders led to even greater success. “The Gametraders idea,” he says, “took off very quickly.”

“I knew within three months that the business concept could be franchised,” he says. It wasn’t long before he saw the value of his new business and recognised the opportunity to franchise his stores across all of the country.

The ability to trade their used games and purchase new titles enabled many of Mark’s customers to experience titles that they might not have otherwise had the opportunity to try. Not only were his younger customers delighted by this concept, but their parents were equally enthusiastic, as trading titles encouraged kids to clean their rooms to find their old games, and also saved parents money.

“I’ve always said Mums and their kids are the reason we’re here today; they’re the most supportive of the concept.” It was in fact one chance discussion with the mother of a young customer that helped spread the word of Gametraders across the region. “One of the mums was a journalist for the Adelaide Advertiser and loved the concept. She decided to write an article about the company for the paper’s business section.” It wasn’t long before Mark’s phone began to ring as potential franchisees saw their own opportunity to enter the games market for themselves. He quickly had three new franchise stores.

The company experienced its most rapid growth so far between 2001 and 2007 when it opened more than 25 retail locations; it was recognised two years in a row as one of Australia’s 100 fastest growing companies. The firm was also recognised as one of the 50 fastest growing franchises from 2006 to 2010. The branding of Gametraders evolved during this period as well, moving from the black and yellow motif towards the sleeker and more modern look the company now sports.

As apt as his business model was, Gametraders would not be what it is today if not for Mark Langford’s personal business philosophy and commitment to his four core values which have become the guiding principles of his business: these include openness, a welcoming attitude towards new ideas; passion, in relation to customer service and the products being sold; innovation, the ability to evolve with the changing demands of the market; and approachability, particularly important when interacting with customers. The formula has proven a successful one: “The people just love the atmosphere of our stores,” says Mark. “They have become good ambassadors for our business.”

It is this set of core principles which has allowed Gametraders to compete, and succeed, in an industry where giant retail corporations sell games near cost. Mark’s customers, in contrast, are treated to an experience that cannot be had at larger retail locations. They experience a comfortable retail environment that encourages involvement and interaction, and relatable staff that understand the needs of their customers.

Understanding his market is one of Mark’s greatest strengths as an entrepreneur, as evidenced by his customers’ appreciation of the relaxed, friendly space he offers them. This keen understanding can also be seen in the smaller details, such as new store openings, which are always graced by the presence of Storm Troopers, made famous by George Lucas’ Star Wars films. “The Storm Troopers love dressing up, and like to get out and be seen. We’ve had a seven year association with them.” The troopers make each appearance in the name of charity, and money is donated after each event that they attend. “At one event we had to bring in crowd control because people love them so much. This type of event is also another point of difference that really sets us apart.”

Due to his great relationships with over 30 suppliers, Mark is able to offer an amazing selection of games and merchandise at a highly competitive price, sometimes even offering games that are unavailable in larger retail spots. “Our supplier relationships are very important to us; we have an outstanding relationship with our suppliers.”

One is not able to consider the success of the Gametraders’ model without considering its ability to innovate and adapt in the ever-shifting gaming industry. Mark’s excellent relationships with his suppliers has also allowed him to venture out from the territory of new and used games, into the much broader spectrum of gaming and popular culture related merchandise. His company is now able to offer a wide selection of clothing items, posters, and other merchandise that has attracted the attention of an even greater market. Representatives of the company travel the world looking for the latest and greatest items to offer their customers, even visiting conventions in New York City to peruse the up and coming merchandise and selecting the most interesting items to offer on their shelves. “We’ve evolved now where most of our business is new games, accessories and pop-culture products,” but he stresses that the original trading aspect of the business is still very important, and is an important “point of difference” which helps the firm succeed in this competitive industry.

Ever the innovator, Mark continues to grow his company’s success as it expands further into online space; at the time of writing, the company is unveiling its new e-commerce space, which he expects will help raise Gametraders’ profile in the online consciousness of Australia and the world, and will ultimately push Gametraders to become one of the first results that search engines return upon users’ queries of ‘used games’ or ‘console gaming.’ “We probably have about 50,000 hits per day,” says Mark. “We’re about to launch our new site which has been heavily optimised for search engines, and customers will be able to purchase games online in all parts of Australia.” At the time of publishing, Gametraders’ new site will be live. “We’re very happy with the new site.”

An interesting new direction for the company is its growth into the online application market; its first game, titled “Mogo the Monkey” for the iphone and iPad, has already achieved over 100,000 downloads at the time of writing and has won several awards, including Best Adventure Game. “For our first game, it’s been very successful. We had 30,000 downloads in one weekend,” boasts Mark. The company has also produced an application which allows users to track their game libraries, even tracing games they have loaned to friends so that they can be sure to get them back. The company’s creativity in the applications market is astounding, and the field represents one in which Gametraders expects to see dramatic growth in the coming years.

Furthermore, Gametraders’ large community of fans, in the retail space as well as on the company’s forums, allows the firm the ability to market not only its own games, but games produced by other companies that could greatly benefit by having access to Gametraders’ preexisting market database. So far Gametraders has published four games under the Dice Sports brand.

Mark Langford is an excellent example of entrepreneurial success and a model of how drive and adaptability can help to create something great. “You must find a way to make it happen, to succeed. It’s a wild ride!” Gametraders has been built upon the sturdy foundation of its founder’s own core values, and has crafted a retail space that is inviting and comfortable for its customers and competitive within the gaming merchandise market.

Making Sense of Management

Management is the art, or science, of getting things done through people. Sounds fairly straightforward – except for the fact that people are not robots waiting to do our bidding. People have their own minds, motivations, and goals. So how do managers keep operations – and the people behind them – running as planned?

December 16, 2018, 3:52 PM AEDT