By Nicholas Guest
The Game Space, a tabletop gaming store and event venue, and Pensacola Pop Comics, a comic book store, recently opened in May. Harley Orr, owner of Pensacola Pop Comics, and Jason Picheo, owner of The Game Space, each sat down with the Corsair to share what they’ve learned opening a new Pensacola store in the geek industry.
Does Pensacola have strengths that other cities do not?
Jason Picheo: We have a very lively college crowd; we have UWF, PSC, and PCC all in this area. Young people are always willing to try new things and have new experiences.
Harley Orr: I think Pensacola is a relatively affordable city to live in. It makes it easier for a startup with the low cost of living. I don’t think that I could afford to live the way that I do in bigger cities.
Did opening in time for summer help or hurt your initial business?
JP: Students are our number one customer base. It was really tough from the middle of June through the whole month of July with everybody being gone on summer vacation. If I had to do it over again, I wouldn’t open until August or September.
HO: Sometimes on a really pretty Saturday I feel like I’m competing with the beach, so I’ll get some morning business and some late afternoon business with slow time in-between.
What is the biggest obstacle you’ve faced so far?
JP: Money. Constantly having to juggle expanding our product lines versus hiring extra staff versus being able to do more promotional marketing. That’s the biggest obstacle for a startup without getting a bank loan. If you have less than $20,000, I do not suggest opening a business of any type.
HO: Comic book stores order new stuff two months ahead of time. The initial orders are tough to gauge. What kind of crowd am I going to have? What kind of books are going to be in demand? There was a little bit of a learning curve as I found my core audience. I thought I was going to have to push a lot of the small press stuff, and survive on the super-hero stuff, but it’s the complete opposite.
What is your biggest success so far?
JP: My ability to cross-pollinate with the different genres of the counter-culture: anime, gaming, artists, costumers, poets, writers. I’ve been able to plug all of those people in together here. It’s becoming a melting pot for the geek culture. Someplace for somebody to be able to come and hangout, and you tell a Gandalf joke and everybody gets it.
HO: Building up a fan base. Customers are important, but having fans of the store really helps. People that leave me good reviews and spread the word either online or to their friends. I’ve had a lot of people come into the store based on friends’ recommendations.
Geek culture has exploded over the past few years, has there been anything that has contributed locally?
JP: Pensacon has put Pensacola on the map as far as gaming and sci-fi conventions. Speaking of maps, you know you’ve made it as a town whenever they put you on the Settlers of Catan US map. Mobile is not on there. Panama City is not on there. Pensacola is on the Catan map. You’ve really done something if you end up on their map.
HO: Pensacon has done some great things for the fan base in Pensacola and the surrounding area. We also have events like Free Comic Book Day, the first Saturday in May. That’s the day that I opened. That’s the day to get some comics out there in people’s hands. I’m hoping to do some Halloween based comic stuff at the end of October.
What is some advice you can give to new entrepreneurs in your industry?
JP: Do your homework. Create the customer base first before bringing the product in. Don’t try to guess work it. Do not jump at every great deal you see. If you haven’t done your homework, you may think you’re getting a great deal, and then you just end up with product sitting on your shelf.
HO: Save your money. Don’t expect to make a lot of money right off the bat. Have support. I’m lucky to have a great family that supports me. Take care of your customers.
Finally, what is your current favorite game or comic?
JP: Star Wars X-Wing Miniature Game. It is chess in space. If you can imagine a dog-fight in space, if you’ve seen Star Wars, it really brings what you’ve seen on the screen to life on the tabletop. It is the epitome of the “out-think” your opponent dog-fight.
HO: Saga. It’s the best book being put out monthly. It’s a Romeo and Juliet story at its heart, but it’s mixed in with some crazy fantasy and sci-fi stuff. It’s very much an adult book. Every week customers ask, “When’s the next Saga coming out?”
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