Mecharai: What to do with all those empty video stores?

Lee asked me last week what should go in the empty video rental store locations.

I like thinking up business ideas: I don’t actually want to do the work of implementing them, I just like thinking them out.  I should start using these businesses in stories.  Sheesh.  My last one was for a corner pan-ethnic grocery store that focused on providing neat, healthful, and easily-made food, customizeable by neighborhood…spending more time on data collection than perhaps other stores would.  Sadly, Walmart has stepped into that gap with mid-sized groceries that provide cheap crap food that you can’t make into much (unless you like boiled potato chips) and that resemble every other Walmart, everywhere, only with just the grocery.

Anyway, after some brainstorming on the video rental store problem, I ended up with Mecharai.

General concept: Internet Cafe.

Why another Internet Cafe?: Increasingly, people need comfortable places to meet and do stuff together but don’t want to do it in the privacy of their own homes, what with one thing and another.  Thus, coffee shops.  Another example would be that of the tabletop gaming store:  a place for people to socialize and entertain themselves.

However, coffee shops are places where you have to be quiet, and you’re also easily interruped by non-like-minded folk.  Internet cafes tend not to be places to socialize so much as let your eyes glaze over as you check email–very isolating.  And gaming stores with open tables are (I’m sorry) not as widely spread or as profitable as they used to be (well, from my experience, anyway).  Comic book shops used to be this way, too, but I don’t see that happening anymore.

And so: why not have a geek-minded place where people can meet and socialize in a way they’ve become comfortable with?

Market: Young adult to about 35 or so, more men than women.  (Probably.)

Features:

  • Espresso bar.
  • Vending machines, possibly automat machines (the kind where you open an individual door to dispense pie and the like.
  • Microwave.
  • Preferential relationships set up with nearby delivery restaurants, not for cheaper food so much as more prompt service.
  • LAN stations with popular games installed.
  • Places to set up your own systems.
  • Quite possibly Very Large Screens to display Firefly marathons, latest episodes of beloved series, tournament play, or particularly intense battles.
  • Soundproofish side rooms for actual meetings, study, projects, tabletop gaming, cards, etc.  A nap policy should be put in place, but I’m not sure what yet.
  • An open area in the middle for adaptability, with extra tables/chairs available, probably with beanbags or some such when not otherwise in use.
  • Onsite tech.  Must be able to troubleshoot LANs and brew a mean espresso.
  • In areas where warranted, Mech pods.

Decor: Ukiyo-e art, but not traditional ukiyo-e art.  Ukiyo-e art with mechs.  Mech-samurai aesthetic, in other words.

Rules of thumb:

  • Keep the techs doing tech work 80% of the time.  Not so much fixing computers but jumping into games, getting people to try new games, facilitating tournaments, passing along funny cat videos.  Keeping this flexible yet consistent is going to take some finessing on the operating procedures, but I think it’s worth it.
  • Do not split tech vs. nontech jobs.  To work there, you have to be a tech.  And you have to be willing to make espresso/work on backend shit/count the drawer.  A lot of the tech guys I know who are younger (under 30) have been stuffed into tech-only jobs from an early age, so this will be an issue training them–but I think it’ll be a great benefit, with people who are smarter and more flexible than if people were kept in separate tracks.  Non-techs can get hired but contingent on getting certs or showing other significant benchmarks.  So benefits should reflect $$ for continuing ed.
  • Create a community, both of clients and of people who used to work for the company, to help spread the business and to establish insider contacts with gaming companies and other tech companies, with eventual goals of having games premier at the company or other exclusive, preferred treats.
  • Experiment with new tech: new software, new hardware, new ways of approaching the idea of “game.”  Have one location with Arduino toys.  One location with a prototype Jenga game where the center of gravity shifts based on some algorithm, I don’t know. Rotate new toys through locations.

Needs satisfied:

  • A public geek-cave, that is, an area away from people who can’t deal with a house full of geeks; a place to host stuff with people you don’t actually in your house.
  • Caffeine.
  • Community space for people who hate the forced togetherness of a lot of in-person communities:  a very informal, irreverant community.
  • Tech help not invested in Selling You More Crap; SMEs on site.
  • A place to try out new stuff–oh, like a treadmill station.

I’m not sure how to approach the whole liquor issue.  On the one hand, it would be nice to be able to get a beer.   On the other hand–issues.  I’m going to say, “Probably no alcohol,” based on keeping techs doing tech work 80% of the time, and also to foster community.  A gaming store that doesn’t bring in teens is going to weed itself out of a business in short order.

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3 Comments

  1. Julia

    Wow DeAnna, this is Brilliant! I could see game tournaments across the country and the new releases. You’d also need giant tables for the original geeks and their giant table top war games with the paper octagon pieces. My brother STILL plays those with his buddies, now in their 50’s. I used to drive him insane by grabbing a handful of them off the board whenever he pissed me off. I gave him an entire grocery veggie bag full of them for his wedding present. They hold national tournaments for those things too, he goes to them and is world champion of something.

    You could also have Sci-Fi/Fantasy book signings, author tours, and mini-cons. It’s a fantastic idea.

  2. Nice concept. How would the owners monetize, though, aside from the profits from the vending machines?

  3. De

    Ah! The same way regular internet cafes do, by charging for use time.

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