Interview with Stephane Belanger - National Director of Canada for PlayNTrade

Date: JUL 20th, 2010

Topic: Interview with a CEO

Born in 1970 the last of 7 kids, Stephane had an early start in business with a newspaper route at 11 years old (for 5 years) and cleaning floors daily at local Credit Union at 14 (for 2 years)..Stephane then left home for College and travelled until he started University at 18.

Stephane successfully completed a BaSc in Psychology at UQTR. He was 21 years old and still wanted to have his own business. He started his first "real" business at 21. "The Everest", an seasonal Italian Gelati/Panini bar in downtown Trois-Rivieres that he owned with a partner for 6 years. He then moved to Quebec city, got married in 1999 and touched the real estate development business for awhile. In 2001, he and his family moved to Vancouver where he acquired a coffee shop in Kitsilano and turned it into a Bean Around The World franchise location. He successfully ran this location as a franchisee for 3 years then we decided to move back to Quebec city and open in 2005 a large 100+seats fully licensed restaurant BluBar&Grill on St-Jean St.

After few years, he and his family missed the West Coast so much that they decided to sell the restaurant in August 2007 and moved back to Vancouver. Looking for his next big project, he found it in Playntrade at the end of the 2007. He signed the Area Development agreement for BC in January 2008 and the acquired all of Canada in July 2008. He has been involved full time with this company ever since.

BeTheBoss - What’s the story behind PlayNTrade?

Stephane Belanger - Since our core business is to play videogames and trade those games, the name Playntrade really came as a “no brainer”...We really like the N in our logo as opposed to “and”. It is actually protected and is a logo by it self. Once we gain sufficient brand recognition, we will most likely start promoting only the N with the circle. Like the archs from Mc Donald.

BTB - What made you decide to franchise?

SB - Ron, our founder, successfully opened a few stores originally in Colorado Springs and as he received over and over again, positive feed-back from his customers, he quickly realized that he had find something valuable as a franchise concept. Joining forces with another franchise company back in the early 2003-2004, which gave him the strength to move forward and franchise the Playntrade brand. The answer have been very strong ever since.

BTB - Tell us a little about the Video Game industry.

SB - The videogames industry have been growing at a very fast and steady pace for the last 20 years. The global industry market is predicted to grow to 85B by 2015 from approx 40B today where most of this market being in North America. The average gamer in Canada is 36 years old and 40% are female...24% are over 55 years old ! The business is very strong and the model is changing and adapting to new technologies and so are we. We are rolling out our new e-commerce solution in the coming weeks that all of our franchisees are going to benefit from. Other announcement will follow as we keep an eye on the new trends and technology and are bringing our franchisees with us to the future of gaming.

BTB - What have some of the challenges been in growing your franchise?

SB - To find the best franchisees that we can find is a challenging task. Many people want to start their own business but I can tell, after more than 20 years of business experience myself, that it is not always easy. Being part of a franchise system like Playntrade certainly give more than an initial boost, but the reality is that the only way to find out if someone will be a
successful franchisee and business owner is to see them in action running their own store.

The recent economic downturn has been a challenge too as well as the slowly growing venue of online gaming. Of course, the last recession has been affecting us like everybody else, but in a fairly milder way than anticipated. With the venue of online gaming, the brick and mortar share of the industry is predicted to shrink sightly but the overall pie is growing so much and faster that the traditional retailer is still retaining a growing piece of that pie. It is not a majority of gamers who prefer and have the technical capacity to play online. At the end of the day it is not even a better financial proposition to gamers as the total cost is about the same as buying a physical game from a store but with the downside to not be owning the actual product that can be used as a currency toward trade-ins. With many other companies leaving the market place in the mist of the recession, there is a big void to fill at the moment and many consumers are literally yelling for an alternative to EBGames. With our brand new store design, tournament ready (national and international), “try before you buy” policy, rental program, players club and more, we are that alternative and we offer a much better business model than everyone else.

BTB - Who has been your greatest inspiration?

SB - I don't really have a specific person or name in mind when it comes to personal influence. I read a lot of business books and really liked the stories behind Warren Buffet, and Donald Trump success and failures. I also believe on asking what you really want in life and put focus on it, eventually, it'll happen.

BTB - What are some of the advantages in being a PlayNTrade franchisee?

SB - In the videogames business, you won't have access to new releases on release day at all if you are an independent store ! Just this is a reason enough to be part of our franchise network. But beside this obvious reason, managing trade pricing, correct inventory management, advertising support, volume discount etc.. are definite reasons to not go in this business on your own.

BTB – What Gadgets can’t you live without?

SB - Definitely my Iphone. Always on me, and since I spent so much money with my cell phone provider every month, I can pretty much guaranty to all my franchisees as well as prospective ones that I will get back to you within 24 hours ! Although I am now trying to take at least 1 day off per week and I turn it off...:)

BTB – What do you do in your spare time?

SB - I have 2 wonderful kids 8 and 10 and an even more wonderful wife that has been bearing with me for the last 13 years as well as MAC our family Great Dane, so they have the rest of my available time. Goes from hanging out and play videogames with my son to enjoying my daughter showing off her latest dance move or catch the last family movie at the movie theatre. (always mix in M&M peanuts in my popcorn!) I am trying to do more sports but for the time being I have to admit that it is more wishful thinking than reality...

BTB - What advice do you have for someone looking to acquire a Franchise?

SB - Evaluate the interest that the franchisor has in you. How much time does he want to spent with you before you sign an agreement would give you a good indication of the time he'll spent with you after you have sign. The other thing is to really be clear an realistic about your financial resources available to invest in a business project. When things get though and if you're not financially sound, chances are that you will walk away from your obligations and let your business down. Be upfront with your franchisor about the resources that you are willing to invest (time as well as money). Always be open, honest and in communication with your franchisor, his success directly depend on yours. And you better believe it ! Your franchisor duty is to give you all the tools that you need to succeed, and your duty is to use them and FOLLOW THE MODEL !!! remember, the one that you have invested in, in the first place.

BTB - In your opinion, why do you think that PlayNTrade would be a great opportunity for someone?

SB - If you like people, and you enjoy videogames, then Playntrade is certainly the best option to consider for an exciting business. We are the largest and strongest videogame franchise in the world, and have by far the best and strongest business model and offer ton of support to our franchisees before and after that your store is open. My last advise is, if you choose not to open a Playntrade store, then do something else, simply because it is a very very difficult market to be in if you are not part of strong organization.