Bricks and Mortar, Inside the FLGS – An interview with Michelle Davis of Rules of Play

Bricks and Mortar, Inside the FLGS – An interview with Michelle Davis of Rules of Play

RESPECT! That’s all I can say to those who own Friendly Local Game Shops (FLGS) and any other type of small board game retailers as well. Especially in the current state of the world’s economy.

I guess I’d have to say that one of my Bucket List items is to own a FLGS. Maybe some day… But its never as simple as it sounds so I thought that it would be a great idea to get the real inside scoop from someone in the know. So here is my interview with Michelle Davis of Rules of Play, located in Cardiff, Wales…

Thanks for talking to Boardgames in Blighty Michelle!

1) First off, tell us the story of Rules of Play! Can you tell us about the process you went through to arrive at the launch of the shop? Tell us about the ups and downs.

It all happened very quickly; in February last year we discovered that our local games shop was to close down after not being able to find a suitable premises to relocate to in Cardiff. Three of us had a conversation starting with ‘isn’t it a shame there won’t be a games shop in Cardiff’ and ending up with ‘why don’t we open up our own’! We went from business plan to opening the shop in around eleven weeks – not an experience I’d wish to repeat!

In many ways it was not at all the ideal time to be starting a new business venture – Ian (my husband) is tied up full time with our coffee shop, while I was busy doing the admin side of the business as well as looking after our three children (the youngest wasn’t even four months at that point) and Steve was about to start a postgrad in Environment and Development at LSE. But we figured that we couldn’t have a perfect opportunity AND perfect timing, so we took the decision to go ahead.

2) Tell us about your shop. Location. Why Cardiff? Space for gaming? Do you run game events? If so, what have been your most successful game events so far? What kind of feedback have you received?

We chose a city centre location, in one of the Victorian arcades in Cardiff’s Castle Quarter. Partly through practicalities – it is near to our coffee shop and also near to the site of the old games shop, so customers could be redirected easily. But also – we didn’t to be in a large, anonymous shopping centre – we felt that Rules of Play would be much better suited to the Castle Quarter, with its myriad independent shops and businesses. And finally, we felt that the fact with Games Workshop, Forbidden Planet and ModelZone all within 2 minutes walk there would be a real synergy for customers and businesses – and so it has proved. There is very little product overlap between our four shops, so we are all happy to refer customers to each other – and help each other out if needed.

3) Tell us about your Unique Selling Points – what advantages do you present to customers as an FLGS?

We are trying to create a store which appeals to serious gamers, with knowledgeable staff and a wide range of games available including new releases , but which also offers a welcoming and unintimidating environment for people who simply like to play the occasional game. Its important for us to be accessible to everyone – whatever your age or taste there’s a good chance we’ll have a game for you – its our job to provide informed and honest recommendations and advice, whether you’ve been playing games for years or haven’t played anything other than Ludo!  For us success means that we provide as good a service to the person looking for a gift as for the experienced games player.

We chose a unit that has a downstairs playing area, with a loo and facilities for making tea, coffee etc, so that people can come and hang out, play games (either their own or one from the store’s growing library) – and we encourage people to use this area whether or not they are planning on making a purchase that day. We also have as many demo copies of games as we can beg, borrow, or steal from our respective homes(!) so that wherever possible people can have a proper look/play with what they are buying.

As well as offering a space for casual play, we have a busy programme of events – from tournaments to ‘Learn to Play’ events to Open Boardgaming days – and even themed games days, for instance our Spooky Games Night at Halloween took place in the Arcade itself, which is indeed spooky after dark, and served our players a menu of Vampire Soup, Goblin Fingers and Hard Boiled Eyeballs!

Of course the one thing a bricks and mortar store can’t compete on is price, both in comparison to internet sellers or to large chains like WHSmith, Waterstones or John Lewis. We have to stick to RRP – but we work very hard to make sure our customers feel they are getting value over and above the purchase price in terms of advice, demos, events, and just general fun!  All of us at Rules of Play love playing games, and we’ll never try and sell you something which we don’t believe is right for you.

4) What type of games do you and your partners like to play? Any particular favourites? Any games or game types that you dislike?

Our criteria for playing at home is that we can play them after the kids are asleep and before we conk out , games that are easy to set up, not too long and also work well for two players. At the moment we’re playing Hive, Rising Kings, Carcassonne, Ascension, San Juan – and Rat a Tat Cat and Too Many Monkeys with the kids! But I get to escape to a games group once a week – recently we’ve played  The Resistance, K2, Havana, Settlers, Pandemic, London, Smallworld, Power Grid, Dixit and a LOT of Saboteur – for some reason it’s always the game we end the evening on! Ian also gets to escape once a week – he tends to go to one of the Magic the Gathering nights at Rules of Play; since he’s discovered Magic he has become annoyingly good at it!
Steve plays a lot of games with friends in London, they’re currently playing a lot of Troyes, Dominant Species and Dominion – with exams on the way the all-day epic games are on hold for a while!

5) Likes and dislikes in regards to mechanics, theme?

Steve loves Euro-style strategy and worker placement games – the more small wooden cubes the better! Ian likes anything with a historical/political theme – he is forever trying to find someone to play Twilight Struggle with! As for me, I’ll try anything and tend to be quite fickle in my favourites – but the game I’ve enjoyed most in the last couple of months and want to play more of is London.

6) What is your view of the board gaming scene here in the UK? Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities?

From talking to our customers, it seems that there is a real resurgence of interest in board and card games in the UK – particularly driven by families. They appreciate the opportunities that gaming as a family bring – with younger kids it’s about having fun as a family and also picking up valuable social skills – negotiation, how to lose gracefully, how to take turns and so forth.  There are some great games out there which different ages can relate to in different ways – with even the most surly teenagers happily getting involved, which is great to be part of!
However, many people only real think of Monopoly and Scrabble when they think of board games. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve shown customers Ticket to Ride, Lost Cities, or Carcassonne – and their reaction has been one of “wow, I just didn’t realise there was anything so accessible and FUN out there!’  Our Learn to Play events are designed to help get people to know some of the really fantastic games that are available, and get a chance to play them and see if they like them. Its a great chance for people to do something different and meet some new friends, and they’re something we’d really like to expand on.
Cardiff has a really great gaming community, who are very welcoming, and we’re increasingly involved with and would love to support more.  We’re trying to open up gaming as a hobby to a wide an audience as possible. I’m currently looking at doing a games evening in a local cafe, also running games evenings for PTAs, and helping younger kids develop an interest in games – Rules of Play lends different games to the local school’s Chess club, so they get a chance to play something different while waiting for each other to finish matches.

7) What advice would you give to anyone thinking about opening up a FLGS?
Unless you want to be permanently exhausted, don’t do it if you already have a cafe and three kids under five and a full time postgrad course between the three of you!!!

Make the most of local advice – we had some incredibly useful sessions with local gamers before deciding to take the plunge. Make sure that your team is well-rounded – a high level of gaming knowledge is essential within a games shop – but you also need to make sure there is a mix of customer service/ administrative/communication/business skills too.

Finally don’t underestimate the power of social media in building awareness and building a brand – I’m still a learner in this area but, using Facebook, Twitter and WordPress has made a big difference to our profile. (,,

8) Tell us how you are involved with the local community

We all three of us believe that as a local business, supported by local people, we should be supporting our community in return; the local primary school benefits from an end of year donation of 10% of the sales to parents; we also offer gift vouchers as prizes for charity events.

I’m also very excited about our First Birthday – to celebrate making a full year (keep your fingers crossed, few weeks to go yet!!) we are holding ‘Cardiff Unplugged Games Day 2011 – in support of Ty Hafan, our local children’s hospice.  We have booked three rooms at the Chapter Arts Centre, and will be gaming gaming gaming from 10am to 10pm, with entry by donation and all proceeds going directly to Ty Hafen. I can’t wait for this event, as I am hopeful that we’ll attract lots of families, younger games players and people completely new to the hobby – as well as generating support from Cardiff’s existing gaming community. For more details, ‘like’ this page:

9) How can Game publishers and distributors support the success of the FLGS?

Well. A person who defines themself as a ‘non gamer’ isn’t going to suddenly go online, research available games, and make a purchase. However, that same ‘non-gamer’ may end up in an FLGS – perhaps to buy a present, perhaps because his/her kids have badgered them, perhaps for no reason other than it’s raining. And that’s where you have a real chance to talk to them about what games they may like, invite them to an event, possibly sell them a game – and possibly, create an interest that means they continue to buy games. And that’s why I firmly believe distributors and manufacturers should do all they can to support bricks and mortar stores – because we are a major source of NEW games customers. Support could come in a variety of ways – a bricks and mortar only discount is one; promos or expansions ONLY available at bricks and mortar stores is another; also, committing a proportion of their inventory to be available as demonstration copies would be really useful.




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