Merchant Stories: Real stories from real people – successes and struggles from the small business owner. We’ll let the story do the telling.
Here’s the story of how Jay changed jobs after 17 years and rolled the dice on a board gaming business.

Jay loved to work – and was good at it.

Jay was an overachiever. He was willing to work hard, and succeeded at whatever he put his mind to. He rose through the ranks and was happy at his Senior Manager job at Accenture, a global Fortune 500 consulting firm.

Jay had always been an overachiever, even while he was still in college. He did extremely well in his studies, he was elected chairman of his church group, he even found time to nurture his artistic interests. Jay composed songs, sang, produced a couple of independent films, edited them, and eventually made YouTube videos as well. When Jay gave full flight to his artistic talent, he did everything.

After graduation, Jay threw himself into his work. A typical day was a gruelling 14 hours, followed by a few hours of sleep before the start of another work day. Jay didn’t complain — Jay says he honestly loved the routine. Jay loved eating lunch at his desk, getting things done, and falling asleep knowing he put in a good day’s hard work. Jay worked happily like this for 17 years straight, and his great work ethic landed him an opportunity to work on a project in America.

But along the way, he had sacrificed his artistic side

On his return to the Philippines, Jay went out for karaoke with his friends, and that was when he realised something was wrong. Jay picked up microphone to sing, but nothing came out. Somehow, Jay had “lost” his singing voice.

It was a huge shock. Jay loved singing; it was a big part of him growing up, and he had even uploaded videos of him singing to YouTube. Jay wondered if he had forgotten how to sing, because it had been so long since the last time. That was when he realised that he had let work take over his life.

Losing his singing voice was a wake-up call for Jay; he realised he needed to make time for himself and rediscover who he was. To rediscover who he was, he decided to quit his job and try a different line of work. One of his hobbies had been hosting his friends for board games at his house. He wondered if he could turn this interest into a business. And so, he started Roll Play Game Lounge.

Jay started Roll Play Game Lounge to Express Himself Again

Jay’s approach to starting his business was typically Jay. Jay did everything himself to minimise costs. He looked up everything from business permits to cleaning the floor on YouTube. He handled the accounting, and sourced and purchased board games. He decided the Lounge would not offer food, which would save on staff and kitchen costs. Jay also settled on running the lounge himself – to save costs, but also to be on the ground with his customers and understand their needs.

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Happy gamers enjoying themselves Via FB.

Manning the lounge personally was a way for Jay to express the warm, caring part of his personality. To new customers and old regulars, Jay was welcoming and kind. They enjoyed it so much they brought in groups and friends, and were full of praise and positive Facebook reviews for Jay and Roll Play Game Lounge.

Jay wanted Roll Play Game Lounge to stand out from other board game cafes; he wanted to host customers as if they were friends at his house. Jay set a more affordable price, aimed at bringing in a broader audience, as a service to the board gaming community, rather than for financial gain.

It worked, as Roll Play Game Lounge drew in many frequent customers. Regulars would tell their friends, and friends would tell friends and family. Word of mouth got around, and Roll Play Game Lounge was full most days of the week. Loyal regulars would be waiting for Jay to open the lounge at noon, and keep playing beyond midnight.

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Werewolf Night at Roll Play Game Lounge, with 20 players! Via FB.

Things were looking great, but in the second year, Roll Play Game Lounge began to struggle.

In the second year, Jay struggled to sustain customers

Filipinos loved novelty and hype, Jay explained, but they quickly moved on to the next new thing. Jay thought this was why Roll Play Game Lounge slumped in the second year. In the first year, there was excitement about the new board game cafe in the city; but in the second year, the hype turned into a kind of indifference.

With fewer customers, rent became a bigger concern. Jay had chosen the location because of the heavy foot traffic. However, this did not translate to more customers, as often the people were just going from the offices and stores nearby to a train station – ignoring the Game Lounge.

Sometimes, a few regulars would stay past closing time, up to 2 am. This was a small incident – Jay took it as a good sign that customers were feeling comfortable with the lounge. A more serious incident happened when a customer snuck liquor in to drink while playing. This put Jay’s business in danger: without an alcohol license, Roll Play Game Lounge could have been shut down by the authorities. Jay tried to peacefully de-escalate the situation by speaking to the customer in private. The next day, Jay received several negative Facebook reviews and complaints from the customer and his friends. That hurt Roll Play Game Lounge’s reputation.

Jay needed to find a new way to reach untapped markets, new customers who would help sustain Roll Play Game Lounge. The answer to his problems came when he tapped his artistic side.

He drew on his artistic side to draw in new customers

Jay began to organise events to draw people in, like welcoming new players to the hobby of board games, or themed nights for regulars to try something new. He also began to film and produce short videos for YouTube and Facebook to drive publicity for his website.

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Jay and Captain America in a video. Via @RollPlayGameLounge

Jay also offered Roll Play Game Lounge as an event space for local groups to perform poetry and theatre productions. It allowed Jay to watch shows while manning the lounge, and it also attracted new customers, people who might not have considered going to a board gaming cafe before, but would return because of their positive experience and the warm, inviting host.

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A team at the 48-hour Global Game Jam, hosted at Roll Play Game Lounge

Slowly, his efforts paid off, and in the third year of operation, the customer base stabilised. Customers brought in new customers, performers brought in new performances, and he continued to receive more positive online reviews. Business got to where he planned to move to a bigger space to fit the bigger crowds of regulars.

He had harnessed his artistic side to be happy again

When we asked Jay if he would do it all over again, he surprised us with his answer: “If I could go back in time, I would have started Roll Play Game Lounge even earlier.” It’s clear that running his own business and expressing himself puts a smile on his face.

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The bigger, shinier Roll Play Game Lounge. The screen works for videogames too! Via FB

Today, things are getting better for Jay. Roll Play Game Lounge has moved to a bigger space. He is always at Roll Play Game Lounge, but he manages to get 8 hours of sleep every day. He describes himself as a recovering workaholic, but he enjoys the work. He is slowly finding his voice again. Because he embraced his artistic side, Roll Play Game Lounge is flourishing, and Jay is happy again.

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A smiling Jay, wth his beloved board games. Via Roll Play Game Lounge FB

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Darren Foong

Posted by Darren Foong

Darren works on Growth at Candybar. He spends too much time reading fiction, performing improv, and doing things that don't scale. One day he hopes to be quite interesting.