Diana: (00:03) Good afternoon, this is Diana Schad, CEO of the Family Business Alliance. I am here today with father and son, Doug and Eric Wildey, family members and owners of the local business, Game Room Guys. Hi guys! Thank you for being here today.
Doug: (00:15) Thanks for having us.
Eric: (00:16) Hi! Thank you.
Diana: (00:17) So, we are going to start with some basic questions. The first, is we talked a little bit before you came in, can you tell me a little bit about the history of Game Room Guys?
Doug: (00:24) The Game Room Guys was created in January of 2001 when I bought a small company that owned an amusement route, that had pinball machines and arcade games in various hotels and bars and things around West Michigan. We operated that amusement route for a number of years before we actually got into selling pinball machines and arcade games to people for their houses.
Diana: (00:50) And what was the inspiration behind it? What compelled you to buy the game room business?
Doug: (00:54) Well, I retired early actually from AT&T, so I needed to do something to provide for my family. I found this operation from my attorney, who is local, and owned another business. They had approached him and said, “Hey, do you want to buy this?”, and he said, “No, not really. But I know somebody that might”. He pointed me in that direction. I always loved to play games as a kid. I wasn’t looking to get into this business, but the two kind of ended up together. I moved in that direction.
Diana: (01:22) And how have you seen the programs that you do and the things that you sell change over time?
Doug: (01:27) Well I think that there’s been a large resurgence in home game rooms. When we were kids you used to play maybe ping pong, was the extent of the home game room. Maybe billiards, or a pool table of some sort. But, with the advent of the arcade industry in the 80s, there’s a whole generation of people that play those games when they were younger. As they’ve gotten older and acquired more disposable income and they start to create environments in their own home for people to play games, this has kind of mushroomed. So, we sell a lot of arcade games and pinball machines and foosball tables, and all kinds of devices that people like to have fun with, and it’s just grown monumentally since about the mid-2000s.
Diana: (02:14) Ok. So, Eric, can you go into a little more detail about the products that you sell, and the more popular products that you see people buying?
Eric: (02:20) Of course. We focus on products that are commercial quality but are designed to work in the home. So, whether that is a pinball machine, or an air hockey table, shuffleboard… you’re not going to find our products in Dick Sporting Goods, or Sears. Well, no longer Sears obviously. But, it’s the commercial grade for the homeowner. We like to provide anything and everything you might find in an arcade for your residence.
Diana: (02:52) Do most people buy only one or two pieces, or do you see people who are putting full arcades into their homes?
Eric: (02:59) That’s interesting. We have customers that will come and buy one piece at a time, slowly building a game room. We have customers that will just buy a single foosball table, and we have customers who have built 6,000 sq. foot editions to their house and completely outfitted it with a bowling alley and games.
Diana: (03:19) Have you been able to see that in person? Have you been able to travel to see it with the installation?
Eric: (03:23) I have, and it is… impressive. To say the least!
Diana: (3:25) [Laughs] Did they have children or was it just for adults?
Eric: (03:30) Grandchildren, they do a lot of charity events. A wide variety of uses for the space. It has been very successful for what their objectives were.
Diana: (03:38) Ok. Well fun! We talked a little bit before we started about how quickly you’ve grown, Doug. Can you talk a little bit more about the process of expanding your store to a second location?
Doug: (03:48) We’ve had the Grand Rapids store for a long time. It’s actually moved a couple of times as it’s grown to the current location we have on West River Dr. As we kept looking at our market across the US, because we really are a national retailer, the Detroit market kept popping as a place where we are maybe underserving our customers form a showroom perspective. Some were driving to Grand Rapids to visit the showroom and see products and we felt, “Well, we probably need to be there”. SO, that’s why we built the store in Detroit.
Diana: (04:21) Ok. We talked a little bit about your online presence, it looks like you have an Amazon platform. Can you talk a little bit more about your online sales?
Eric: (04:31) Absolutely. A big reason for our growth has been our online business. As Doug mentioned, we’re a national retailer, that’s very true. We sell thousands and thousands of games a year. We are very proud to offer that same customer service in the advent of Amazon and eBay has allowed us to do that for customers that aren’t necessarily down the street.
Diana: (04:53) And what percentage do you think you do of your sales online?
Eric: (04:57) It’s a tough number to really give because the way the internet has evolved is it becomes a method to acquire customers. So, a lot of times we are acquiring the customer by our website or our digital marketing strategies, yet we are still on the phone, working with them to design a solution for their house. So, internet plays a huge role in our business, but it is hard to put an exact number on if that went away, what would we have.
Diana: (05:26) It kind of makes the initial connection, and then your customer service kicks in from there.
Eric: (05:28) Correct. That’s correct. The buzzword is “omnichannel”. The boundaries are greying between when it ends as an online transaction and becomes an in-person experience.
Diana: (05:39) Ok. Well, good. I want to talk a little bit about the family, and the fact that you are a family business. How old were you Eric, when your dad started this business?
Eric: (05:48) I was 16 years old when he bought the company.
Diana: (05:52) Do you have memories of what it was like when you started out and things that you got involved in with the business?
Eric: (05:59) I have a few memories, actually. The first one is “This is sweet, we get to play games for free!”. We played hockey growing up, so we would always go to the rink and play games and it was like “Hey! My dad owns these now”, so that was pretty cool. I also remember having to help, which was not always my favorite thing to do. There are a lot of hours in trying to help repair games late at night on a Saturday or helping move games from one location to another. It was certainly interesting to grow up at that time with him owning it.
Diana: (06:32) Did you always intend to work with the business, or did you do something before you came back to work with the business?Eric: (06:38) I regret saying that I’m on record as having said “I will never work at The Game Room Guys, ever.”
Diana: (06:47) We hear that a lot! [laughs]
Eric: (06:47) Now I own a piece of the company, so… [laughs] I guess my lesson there is to never say never.
Diana: (06:55) So, Doug, to you, did you expect your sons to work for the business, or was it a surprise to you when they came back?
Doug: (07:00) No, it was a surprise to me. I think that whether you want to say this or not, the great recession provided an opportunity for Eric especially, to get involved in The Game Room Guys. There weren’t jobs available in the field that he thought he was going to go in. To the benefit of the company, he decided to join the company. We haven’t looked back, and the company has grown tremendously under some of his tutelage. With his brother Brian now joining the business, he has moved back from Texas, he was in the Army for a while after college, and he has moved into the purchasing role. He has really done a nice job.
I think that when you look at the whole family, Kevin included, Kevin is currently down south in Atlanta while his fiancé goes to med school, but it is interesting that when I look back on it, the influence that I think that the business had on them simply from a work ethic standpoint. Some of the things we had to do that weren’t popular with the family, like go fix games on a Sunday afternoon after a hockey game was done because they weren’t working. I think it truly helped the family understand what you have to do to be successful. I’m happy to say that they are all working in the family business, it’s fun!
Diana: (08:20) What are some resources that you have turned to to help keep it fun, and to keep the family dynamic working well?
Doug: (08:26) First of all, not just because you are doing this podcast, but the FBA has been very helpful, especially the peer groups for the boys. I hear nothing but positive things come out of it, I have enjoyed that. We have also used HR Collaborative, which is a local company from a human resources perspective. Lisa and some of her team members over there have been instrumental in getting us to change the way we look at the human resources dynamic of the business, which includes the boys.
Some of the attorneys and CPA folks that we use have been helpful from setting up some succession plans and those kinds of things. I have an executive coach, which I highly recommend to anybody at my level. She has been very helpful and asks about the family first every time that we talk to ensure that everything is going the way that we want it to go in that regard. We use a lot of different resources, locally and on a national basis.
Diana: (09:23) That’s terrific. I think we hear that over and over again, how having a good team to support you can be really beneficial in keeping the business working well and keeping the family functioning well as well. Now, do you actively advertise yourself as a family business?
Eric: (09:36) It’s something we do advertise ourselves as a family business, I don’t think we are very intentional about it, but we don’t shy away from it. I mean, it’s very obvious to our customers our structure and who is involved in the business. It helps them understand that they will be taken care of, but I’m not sure that we are very intentional about explaining that to customer 2,0000 miles away.
Diana: (10:03) Mhm. What is your favorite part about working with a family business, what do you think is the best part about working with your dad?
Eric: (10:11) For better or worse, I generally know what he is thinking.
Diana: (10:14) [Laughs]
Eric: (10:14) Which I believe helps us be more effective, both when times are good and when times are not as good.
Diana: (10:22) And Doug, how about you?
Doug: (10:24) I love coming to work every day because I get to work with the boys! It just makes life way more fun.
Diana: (10:32) Where do yourselves going from here? Eric, you mentioned you have a two-year-old, do you think this will be something that you will continue into his generation, or do have thoughts about where you see the company going from now?
Eric: (10:45) I think that is a little difficult to project, but I certainly have realized significant opportunity as a result of being part of a family business, so I would want to keep that option open for my children should they choose to exercise it.
Diana: (11:00) Good. Well, thank you both so much for joining us today! Is there anything else that you would like our listeners to know?
Doug: (11:05) I’d just like to encourage anyone who is not part of FBA to join it. It has significant resources, and if nothing else, it provides a good platform to have conversations that families may avoid or just may not have that can be very helpful in their business.
Diana: (11:21) Well, I have one other question, we are coming into [the] Thanksgiving season. Do you guys talk about the family business at Thanksgiving, or is that off limits at the Thanksgiving table?
Doug: (11:28) The best rule we have in this family business, is that when we walk out the door every day, you can’t come home mad, and you don’t talk about work when we actually get together off the premises.
Diana: (11:40) I love that. What a great way.
Doug: (11:41) And we’ve done it since day one. Honestly, I can’t think of a better rule to live by.
Diana: (11:48) Wonderful! Thank you so much, that is good advice for everybody. Thank you for joining us and have a wonderful holiday!
Doug and Eric: (11:55) Thank you very much.