Despite the increased popularity of board games in recent years, many board game cafés have a reputation for being unwelcoming to gaming newcomers. Chance & Counters set out to become a different kind of business.
When starting a new business, having a ready-made group of local enthusiasts can be a good thing. But it can also be a crux – how do you attract new customers and expand if your business is perceived as intimidating and exclusive?
It’s something that Chance & Counters co-founder Steve Cownie dwelled on before launching their Bristol-based board game café.
“We wanted the place to be welcoming. Sometimes board game cafés can feel quite intimidating when you walk in. If you’re new to board games or have just played Scrabble, some board game establishments can make you feel like you’re not welcome or like you don’t know where to start,” he said.
Define your “secret sauce”
Visiting other board game cafés has been an integral part of understanding what makes somewhere feel welcoming. As Cownie explains, the team started by identifying things that would make their own experience better. They realised that if these things appealed to them, they would appeal to other people too.
One example was the café’s food and drink. The menu on offer had to include more than your basic bar snacks and be able to compete with local pubs and restaurants. This would help to diversify their customer base, drawing people in for lunch who didn’t typically play board games – but might end up picking something to play.
Steve recommends businesses hone in on elements that are lacking in other places: “It can give you a sense of what your secret sauce could be.”
Simplify your language
The team have also used their own experiences to shape the language used at Chance & Counters. For new customers who come in with a preconceived conviction that they don’t like board games or won’t understand the rules, using jargon is the easiest way to reinforce that stance. Simplifying your language can help people to see a subject in a new light.
“We generally talk about games in quite a childish way, which is something we encourage with customers. We’ll describe something as a ‘shitty little party game’, for example. If we use that sort of language, we know we’ll be able to engage with people, especially if they don’t identify as hardcore gamers,” Steve said.
“The second you start throwing board game terms around, you’re limiting the customers’ ability to get what you’re talking about. Using normal, everyday language will help you to get a better feel for what people want – meaning you’re more likely to introduce them to a game they’ll enjoy.”
Pitch to the customer with the least experience
Learning who to address in a group of people has also been an essential part of drawing in new customers. Often one person will be interested in board games and they’ll bring friends along to Chance & Counters. As Steve puts it, that person wants to share their hobby – they want it legitimised.
It’s an important lesson for any business leaders working in a niche to consider. If staff match their language to an expert in a group, the rest of the customers stay excluded. If they aim their pitch at someone in the group who is new to the subject, everyone can understand.
“It’s good for all the people who don’t know if they want to be there. That’s what we’re defined by, really. We want to make board games feel relatable to anyone,” Steve said.