Start Up Loans programme helps Geek Retreat open two new Welsh locations

The rise of ‘geek culture’ alive and well in Wales

National geek-focused retail brand Geek Retreat has opened a new location in Cardiff with another in Newport set to launch next month. The stores join the brand’s first Welsh location in Llandudno.

Geek Retreat is a ‘geek culture’ retailer, gaming café and events hub rolled into one, that aims to offer an inclusive, welcoming environment for geeks to find a community with similar interests.

Following the opening of the first store in Glasgow in 2013, the Geek Retreat brand has undertaken a rapid franchise-based national expansion programme and has recently added two new Welsh stores to its portfolio.

Geek Retreat Cardiff in Morgan Arcade is owned by Kayleigh Miller and her partner Morgan Stewart-Norris. Geek Retreat Newport, led by Liam Powell and his business partner Craig Harrhy, is set to open in March. All were inspired to open their own Geek Retreat locations due to a longstanding love and association with all things geek culture.

“Opening a game store is something that my childhood friend and I used to talk about for hours when we were younger”, says Liam, “he’d come to my house to play games and I’d go to his to do the same, so the fact that I’ve ended up opening a store dedicated to this world is unsurprising to anyone that knows me!”

“Geek Retreat is a space that allows you to be yourself, where people who have a love for the same things as you can geek out about them together”, says Kayleigh, “these are probably some of the interests you enjoyed growing up that people might have teased you about it because it was ‘geeky’ or ‘lame’. But the geek sector has created a space where things like Dungeons & Dragons, and things like it, are cool. We’re all about providing a space to fit in, a safe zone to meet people who share your interests and where the staff will geek out with you!”

Liam adds: “Geek culture is driven by a vast range of genres and unwavering inclusivity. No matter what your background, who you are, what you look like, what your interests are, you will find a home with all of us.”

The growth of the Geek Retreat brand is aligned with the ongoing rise of the multi-billion pound geek economy in recent years, a trend accelerated by the pandemic that saw the likes of online gaming providing entertainment, connection and solace for many people throughout the last two years.

The creator of the iconic fantasy tabletop role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons, Seattle based Wizards of the Coast, told the BBC that thousands of new fans have joined their community – resulting in rising revenues with 33% global growth year-on-year in 2020.

Combine this with factors like the exponential success of the multi-billion dollar Marvel Cinematic Universe movies, and sales of old school comic books being at an all time high, and it’s clear there is a real geek movement at play.

Both Liam and Craig and Kayleigh and Morgan raised capital to launch their Geek Retreat locations via the British Business Bank Start Up Loans programme, receiving £50,000 and £25,000 respectively.

Both accessed a British Business Bank Start Up Loan via a referral to Transmit Startups by Geek Retreat Franchising.

The British Business Bank Start Up Loans programme provides government backed loans of up to £25,000 per individual, up to a maximum of £100,000 per business, facilitated through delivery partners in Wales like Business in Focus based in Bridgend. In addition to finance, successful applicants receive 12 months of free mentoring and advice.

The Start Up Loans programme has delivered more than 4,000 individual loans to entrepreneurs in Wales over the past nine years, worth over £40m.

“The loan was vital for us” says Kayleigh, “setting up a business is scary and not knowing where to start can be very difficult but being able to access funding to help with the initial set up makes the process a lot less intimidating.”

Liam commented: “I’m 29, and so while I had some money saved I had nowhere near the amount of capital required to make becoming a Geek Retreat franchisee a reality. If it wasn’t for the Start Up Loan from the British Business Bank, I would still be working my regular job to pay the bills.”

Beth Bannister, Senior Manager for Wales at the British Business Bank, said: “The opening of these new Welsh Geek Retreat locations, led by four young and driven entrepreneurs is exactly why our Start Up Loans programme exists.

“It is critical to our economy that the likes of Liam, Craig, Kayleigh and Morgan are given the best chance of success in their business ventures. Despite the difficulties of the last two years, Wales remains a fertile place for smaller businesses to establish and grow. In fact, since the onset of the pandemic we have seen record numbers of new firms being created, and we want to give them every opportunity to grow and thrive.”