Unique Oklahoma business houses hundreds of board games

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Parker and Jarah Banks are small-business owners in northwest Oklahoma City who pay bills, stock inventory and sell goods to consumers, just like other business owners across Oklahoma and the rest of the country.

But these two play the game a little differently.

The Bankses own PB&J Games, a business dedicated to board games. The pair know they are operating in a niche market, one many might be surprised to learn exists, but they love their work because of the departure from traditional retail.

“Our heart behind it — yes, we love board games and, yes, it’s a great hobby — is that people would find a new way to spend time together and a way to find community that this day and age we don’t get as much of,” Jarah said. “We don’t have (as much) people interaction and we enjoy helping people find that again.”

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PB&J Games held a grand opening Nov. 10 and Nov. 11. The store houses hundreds of board games for purchase, as well as many to play on site, The Oklahoman reported. Customers are encouraged to try games before they buy and learn about games they’ve never heard of.

Game players can spend several hours in the store, playing anything in the library of demo games for the price of a $5 day pass. If you plan to come in regularly, you can buy monthly, quarterly or yearly subscription rates, which count as store credit for purchases.

This model places value on time spent in store, as opposed to restaurants or other businesses that see more value as customers cycle in and out at a high rate.

“What’s different with the board game store is they may come in and sit down for a couple hours or more playing a game,” Parker said.

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Happy customers lead to good reviews through word-of-mouth recommendations, which leads to customers returning with friends and family, Parker said.

PB&J Games isn’t the product of two individuals who dreamed for years of opening a board game store. The Bankses both said their interest in games blossomed after they started dating in college.

Parker attended the University of Arkansas and Jarah attended Wayne State in Nebraska. The two were both involved with an international ministry called Cru on their respective campuses, and they met on a summer mission trip in Juneau, Alaska in 2011.

The pair began dating and Jarah got her future husband one of his first board games as a gift shortly after, she said. When they were ready to wed, they decided to include more games on their registry.

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“We were wanting different games to play and we realized there were a lot,” Jarah said. “It was a great way to connect with people as we moved around a lot our first few years of marriage.”

The Bankses lived in two states and two countries in their first three years of marriage. They lived in Omaha before moving to Germany so Parker could pursue his MBA. As part of his studies, he worked to develop a business model and forecast financial projections to keep a board game store viable.

“We wanted to do something really different,” Parker said. “A lot of people were telling us that retail was dying and that it wasn’t going to exist anymore because of Amazon. I really didn’t see that happening. I saw bad retail dying — retail that didn’t meet a need.

“I thought we had a really good chance here doing something an online store couldn’t do,” he added.

Instead of returning to Omaha, the couple moved closer to where Parker grew up in Oklahoma City and launched their store. Parker spent several months searching for the right location, before settling on what would become PB&J Games.

The name is reflective of the couple’s initials — Parker Banks and Jarah — a name Jarah’s mother coined for the couple when the two were dating, Jarah said. Jarah continues to work a second job, in addition to helping with the startup.

“It’s fun,” she said. “I was just telling co-workers I’ve had a lot of fun helping people find board games they might be interested in. The aspect of community it creates … it’s really cool and helping to facilitate that community is part of why we opened it.”

PB&J Games is brightly lit, with lots of white and bright blue-painted walls — a design Jarah said was intentional. As part of the community aspect, and drawing new people into the hobby, the couple wanted the store to feel inviting for newcomers.

And this isn’t just a hangout, Parker said.

“I run this as a business, and not a clubhouse,” he said. “That’s a big difference from a lot of game stores. I didn’t open this to play more games, and I didn’t open this to have a place for my friends to come play with me. Running this as a business is the only way to make it successful.”

The concept may seem novel to Oklahomans, he said, but it’s gaining popularity in other parts of the country. He and Jarah visited stores in Omaha as well as the Seattle and Portland area to observe best business practices before opening PB&J Games. There are some similarities, and some differences between PB&J Games and many of those the Bankses visited, Parker said.

And so far, the model is working, Parker said. How did the store do in its first month of business?

“Better than expected,” he said. “We created our projection, we had our business plan, we had our financial projections and our sales goals — we knew what we had to do to break even and we did much better than that, so we were very excited and very pleased.”

Moving forward, Parker hopes the in-store model and hands-on availability resonates with shoppers and allows for growth of the company. Jarah says her husband is the dreamer of the pair and has the big picture vision, but she hopes they can open a second store or expand some online offerings in coming years.

Challenges are inevitable but business is a game you must play to win.


Information from: The Oklahoman, http://www.newsok.com