Hi all, Bryan the owner here, with a bit of a retrospective on 2018.
I think most of you will agree that 2018 was one crazy year for I’m Board. Certainly crazier than 2011, when we first opened our doors in August. At the time I thought it was pretty crazy, tossing aside my secure middle management corporate job, with a mortgage and two young kids in tow, to hang out my own shingle and sell board games for a living. Board games!
Crazier than 2014, when we moved the store 500 yards down the road to a space twice the size. At that time our lease was up on the first location and I had three options: stay put, move to a bigger location, or open a second store. Staying put was a terrible option. I’m Board has grown every year since we started, and we had to grow with it. A second store didn’t quite feel like the right decision…yet. So we poked the bear down the street and opened our current Middleton location. It’s a fabulous spot and it was a right decision. Once we got that done, my mind started wandering back to a second location. That was four years ago.
An east side store was always on my mind, In fact, the first store was initially intended to be on the east side. I live on the east side. But the east side never shined a light on a location that said “here is the place.” There was no “build it and they will come” spot on the east side. Until Prairie Lakes started developing. If you live on the east side, you’ve seen how rapidly it’s grown. It is, quite frankly, the hottest spot in the Madison area right now (in my humble opinion).
I first started talking with the Prairie Lakes people three years ago. They were excited about having I’m Board among their businesses. We offered something unique, and they wanted that. But I still was not quite ready to pull that trigger. That trigger involved business planning and fund procuring and so many changes to our daily processes it was staggering. The Middleton store was moving along well, but it needed to be more autonomous if I was going to devote so much attention to store #2. So about three years ago, I started delegating.
Margaret is one of the main reasons we have enjoyed so much success. Margaret is the reason you get your preorders on time, and the reason the hottest games are on our shelves when they are out of stock elsewhere. Margaret is now General Manager overseeing both stores. You may know Amanda and Isaac, who each started relatively recently. They are serving as Store Managers for Middleton and Sun Prairie, respectively, It is with this management team, and the excellent people who help you every day, that I’m Board has maintained what I hope is a high level of customer service.
With that management team planned, I was able to do the work and turn the wheels to make the Sun Prairie store a reality. The serious work started in March. Meetings, planning, approvals, funding, negotiations, signatures, and a lot of people power. The building we were going into was still being built, which meant we could build it to suit. That also meant the costs greatly increased (as it is much cheaper to adapt an existing space than have to pay to help build a new one). Building started in September. We hoped it would be ready in late October. Then November 1. Then November 15. The Madison area is experiencing a building boom at the moment, and that makes it a challenge to schedule people to actually do the work. But, thankfully, we opened out doors on November 16, a week ahead of Black Friday.
In the interim we were ordering product. So much product. Product to full up an entire store. Product to stock up for the holiday shopping season for two locations. If you were in the Middleton store in November, you likely saw the pile of boxes we christened “Mount Margaret” as it was her work that enabled all that product to arrive when it needed to, and that generally meant all at the same time. Add to that some of the biggest releases of the year: a pallet of nothing but Fireball Island; hundreds and hundreds of KeyForge decks. And oh yeah, Gamehole Con at the same time everything else was happening. GHC is an important event for us, and we were not about to give it less attention than it deserved.
The staff was constantly checking in new shipments. Extra help was asked for almost every day. It was…crazy! But I have an amazing staff, and they got that job done. I’d like to think we dropped very few balls during this whole process. I’m sure that is not a realistic statement. But hopefully you saw very little impact on your end. If not, I truly apologize.
In the end, it’s been a great move. The second store opened to fantastic success. Existing customers who live on the east side have told us how much they appreciate having “a new home closer to home.” And while I knew our brand was not in everyone’s mindspace, even I am surprised at the sheer number of people who have come through the Sun Prairie door having never heard of I’m Board and thrilled at the concept of a store that just sells board games. It’s been, at least so far, a terrific couple of months.
So… what’s next?
Normalization. We honestly don’t know what “normal” looks like yet. Middleton is moving along like gangbusters. We expected to lose some customers to the Sun Prairie location, and sales figures so far indicate that the number is within expected ranges. And even better, those numbers so far indicate that Middleton is still growing despite Sun Prairie cannibalizing it a bit. Sun Prairie will likely be in a growth cycle for the next year or so. Each store has already shown how they are both similar and different. Each will likely feature a lot of the same stuff, but each will also evolve into the store that is best for it’s customer base. It will be nice to have the time to get back to normal – and figure out what normal is – now that the holidays are passing.
And now that we are all getting into more normal schedules, our event calendars will start ramping up again. Sun Prairie especially needs to get its event calendar going, and we look forward to seeing how that evolves.
So, from the bottom of my heart, thank you again for your patronage. I know you have lots of options to get the games you love onto your tables, and I am honored that you have chosen I’m Board to be your friendly local game store. If you ever have comments, concerns, problems, praises, or just want to chat, our doors are open to all.
Thank you, and here’s to an exciting 2019.