I'm Board!

Bryan Winter, 45, recently left a stable job as the manager of Web marketing at WPS to pursue his dream: opening a board/card game store. "If I didn't try this, I'd regret it," said the married father of two. His store, I'm Board, opened in late August.

Board and card games, Winter explained, are experiencing a resurgence, particularly in Europe, as socialization makes a comeback. "There's a trend toward reconnecting," he said, especially when families are staying home more and looking for what he calls unplugged entertainment.

"I'm not saying throw away your Xbox, but turn it off for a moment and get to know each other again."

The University of Michigan graduate has long had a passion for games, starting in college when he worked at a specialty game store. Later, he landed a job with a large comic book distributor before spending five years freelancing as a board and card game designer. In the mid-1990s, as he and his wife were looking to start a family, he sought career stability by becoming a Web page designer, which eventually led him to WPS, where he stayed for seven years.

Just over a year ago, unbeknownst to his employer, he decided to take the entrepreneurial plunge. He contacted the SBDC, and over the next six to eight months, he "schooled up" with business courses and designed a business plan. About 80% of the way through, Winter had his "I think I can actually do this!" moment.

Convincing potential funders proved more difficult, however. Winter visited eight banks in four months. "I can't tell you how many times I heard, 'This is an awesome business plan but we're just not interested.'" Finally, he found a representative at Summit Credit Union who shared his enthusiasm. In the end, Summit loaned $55,000 of his $80,000 start-up costs, and Winter provided the rest.

He struggled to come up with a store name until one day his 8-year-old son came through. "He said to me, 'Dad, you should call it I'm Board! – get it? Board?'" The name stuck.

Winter secured 1,500 sq. ft. of retail space on University Avenue and purchased fixtures and shelving from Borders, after its demise. I'm Board! will be divided into two spaces, the front half for retail game sales, and the backroom a social nook for organized events, instruction, and introductory sessions. "I didn't want to be just another game store. I'm trying to open the industry to a more mainstream (i.e., less "nerdy") audience, and wanted something more like a coffeehouse than a clubhouse, something mom- and kid-friendly."

I'm Board! will target parents wanting to reconnect with their families, young professionals opting for game nights with friends, and game enthusiasts. Its inventory will satisfy any age group, with games costing just a few bucks to well over $100. Winter is estimating the store's first-year retail sales at between $300,000 on the low side and $500,000 on the optimistic end, and he hopes to pocket between 8% and 10% of that.

His excitement is contagious. "People would love this stuff if they knew about it," he said. Many of the games involve planning and strategy and are especially great for teenagers, who benefit as well. "They tend to be better readers and more patient. They learn how to be good sports, good losers, and good winners, and you can't beat the social interaction."

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