My friends and I love board games. My friends and I love cafes. So I thought, why not combine them both into a board game cafe!
The Business Model of Current Cafes
The current cafe business model is basically to sell you coffee and snacks (and occasionally, other things too). The more in-and-out customer traffic they get, the more sales they make. Although many cafes go out of their way to create a cozy, homey environment to attract lounging customers, this can actually hurt their bottom line.
For instance, cafes with free wifi will undoubtedly attract cafe wifi moochers. That’s good and all, if the moochers make occasional purchases. But as one Seattle coffee shop discovered, removing free wifi decreased lounging customers (more specifically: cafe wifi moochers) and increased sales.
So how about this as an alternate cafe business model: make money from customers who lounge around in your cafe. How? By offering board games!
Game Night at Yahoo!
Here’s another way to look at it. Randy Farmer, a Community Strategic Analyst for Yahoo! (YHOO) started a casual Game Night at Yahoo! last year. It’s free to anyone in the California Silicon Valley area. New members can join through their mailing list, South Bay Boardgamers, then play a large variety of board games at Yahoo!’s offices in Sunnyvale, CA.
Back when I was a Yahoo! employee, I’d occasionally see several dozen boardgamers happily socializing and playing in the Yahoo! cafeteria. The energy was enticing and exciting.
This is proof of an audience for board games. Now say they could also play on weekends in a nice, cozy, homey cafe, complete with coffee and snacks. Not only would it be a good wholesome family-friendly evening, but it would be a great way to meet new people too. There are lots of singles and new residents in the area, many of whom may be, or could grow to be, board game enthusiasts.
Monetizing the Board Game Cafe
Aside from coffee and snacks, this cafe could offer:
- Board game table rentals
- A group of customers could select or reserve a table and a board game from the cafe’s library. The table would be rented at an hourly rate that varied depending on the day of the week. Perhaps it could follow a bowling lane rental model, or something similar. The group could specify that the table is “private” or “public,” where public tables would allow walk-ins to join at a pro-rated rate. Tables would vary in size and be expandable, from small one-on-ones to large groups.
- Board game tournaments
- Once the cafe was somewhat established, weekly or monthly tournaments could be held. These would allow singles the opportunity to band together and compete for prizes, such as gift certificates, additional time, or cash. Teams and guilds could be formed too. Some tournaments could take on themes, such as a AD&D Halloween, WWII Week, or Star Wars Wars. Companies can also reserve the cafe for team outings or team-building games.
- Online Network
- An online supporting network would allow customers to view their accounts and subscribe to various rental schedules (such as a flat fee for unlimited usage per month). They could also form guilds with other members and track their winnings and losses from tournaments or private games. Members could purchase time or subscriptions for other members as gifts. New members could also be randomly selected on occasion for a game together, based on their game preferences and experience.
The Business Challenges
There are many business challenges to this idea. They aren’t insurmountable, but are reason to approach this with some caution.
- Video Games
- There’s a growing trend of video & electronic game usage. It’s arguable that board games have social benefits over the faceless screen of a monitor, though the video game industry is booming. If this trend continues, board game demand may drop and kill the profitability of this business. And if a niche survives, would it be large enough to sustain such a cafe? Or could a retro revival take place to reintroduce board games to the public?
- Price Point and Margins
- The rental rate would be an important determinant of success. How much are people willing to pay for playing board games in public vs in their own homes? Game Night at Yahoo! shows some demand for playing in public, especially when it means expanding your circle of players. The price can’t be so low that it doesn’t cover the costs involved (board game sets, employees, rent, etc) and can’t be so high that it drives away customers. Research would be needed to determine the right price point.
- As with any retail business, the location is crucial for success. Great locations mean high rent, however. Are the profits of this business enough to cover the costs?
Since this business idea would require relatively high capital costs (rent, furniture, materials, employees, training, web site development, point-of-sale infrastructure, etc), the break-even point may not come for a while, perhaps years?
Could this business become one of those successful trends that grows into franchises across the country? Or is it a labor of love, a hobby business for someone who doesn’t need the money but has the time to do this? I don’t know, but I dig the idea. And so, perhaps, would some of my friends!