Thursday 23 November 2017

Brain Shop board games teach tablet generation a thing or two

STARTING FROM SCRATCH: Conor Brady in the Cogs The Brain Shop in St Stephen’s Green Shopping Centre, Dublin. Photo: David Conachy
STARTING FROM SCRATCH: Conor Brady in the Cogs The Brain Shop in St Stephen’s Green Shopping Centre, Dublin. Photo: David Conachy
Peter Flanagan

Peter Flanagan

IN an era of tablets and computers, and even just plain old sudoku, the humble board game can sometimes be seen as a thing of the past. Entrepreneur Conor Brady, however, would beg to differ.

Mr Brady set up Cogs The Brain Shop last year -- in the St Stephen's Green Shopping Centre and online at www.cogsthebrainshop.ie -- and while it is still early days, things have gone well so far, and he already has his eye on expansion.

Cogs sells board games and other products designed to be entertaining and fun, but also stimulate the mind.

Anyone who played the likes of the Carmen Sandiego computer game series in the Eighties would be familiar with the idea of a game that children (and adults enjoy) but also lets them learn without even realising it.

"The concept behind the business came from my sister, Ruth, who is a primary school teacher," says Mr Brady.

"She had picked up from parents at parent-teacher meetings and other school events that there was a latent demand among families for games that everyone at home could take part in, but would be intellectually challenging at the same time.

"In general, parents are looking for toys and games that engage children, hold their interest, and interest them as well," he adds.

The concept may seem simple on the face of it, but getting up and running wasn't. It is not oversimplifying things to say there is little or no history of such a store operating in Ireland.

"There are similar stores in Canada and the United States, but there are very few of them in Europe and particularly here," he says.

That lack of similar stores in Ireland is of course a good thing on the one hand -- after all, if he pulls this off, Mr Brady will have effectively cornered the educational gaming market here -- but on the other hand it means that sourcing the required stock has been a challenge.

"That has probably been the biggest difficulty since we opened our doors last August, and getting the right stock mix has been a little more difficult than we would have liked."

Part of that comes from running a new business however. Like any entrepreneur starting out, Mr Brady has had to grapple with things like stock control or managing cash-flow that are something of an alien concept when you are an employee in a major company rather than striking out on your own.

Since he opened the doors, things have gone better than Mr Brady could have reasonably expected. Cogs The Brain Shop's flagship store is in St Stephen's Green Shopping Centre in the heart of Dublin, and from humble beginnings, the business has three full-time staff along with a number of part-timers as required.

Expansion is very much on the agenda, but Mr Brady is very conscious of not jumping too soon.

"Obviously we are looking closely at opportunities to expand beyond just the one shop. We want to get to a point that if you want a toy or game that stimulates the mind in the likes of critical thinking or numerical skills, then we will be the first name that comes up in their mind."

Like any retail business, Mr Brady and his team faced into the critical Christmas period somewhat apprehensively, but by his own admission they had a "great Christmas" with many returning customers and a lot of people buying items on the recommendation of friends or family.

"We may be the only shop selling these kinds of goods in Ireland but we still have to provide a great customer experience in store. Thankfully, I think we have done that so far, but we are always aware that we need to keep improving."

Mr Brady was somewhat fortunate in that he hasn't had to go to the banks for credit, but he has still had work to do to secure a lease in the shopping centre. "The landlord has been excellent and very professional.

"When I first enquired about taking on the lease I had to prove myself to them and show that I would be a credible tenant. Thankfully, I think I have done that and things are really looking up now."

By Peter Flanagan

Irish Independent

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