The Music Will Stop On GameStop

Why is there a used game industryThe arrival and growth of the used game stores 1990s to early 2000s

After baseball cards, the next ‘collectible thing’ was used and collectible video games. The new era of technology help produced video games frequently and created a secondary marketplace for older games. There were then many new game releases, and customers who finished a game would be willing to trade their games for a new or used game.

Since customers didn’t know how much their games were worth, it was easy and convenient to sell their used games to the game store. The similarity that baseball cards and used games share is that it was missing an official marketplace for customers to know if the products are price-efficient. A guy named David Pomije from Minnesota saw the opportunity in the used game market and established Funoland. Funoland was doing so well that in 1998, Forbes listed it second place on the magazine’s list of 100 of the fastest-growing companies.

(If you want to read more about Funoland history and how it became Gamestop go here: FuncoLand History: The Company Behind Used Video Games written by Ernie Smith)

As a teen, my favorite store was Funoland. Funoland was the easiest place to buy video games and it was a fun place to play the demos. In the early 2000s, Funoland was merged with EB Games to become Gamestop.

1. 2010 to Present –  Gamestop business model will continue to decline because of decreasing consoles unit sales, weak pricing power, digital downloads, and used games are less valuable In the final 10 years, many retailers fought for survival but eventually failed. Specialized private equity groups operated in the retail industry like surgeons, but failed to revive retail stores. The days are getting darker and PE firms have recognized it is not worth saving the retail industry. Many retail giants have disappeared or greatly reduced in size. Millennial customers love their 90s nostalgia moments, but they are not going to shop at Gamestop because it is expensive, inconvenient, unethical, unauthentic. All niche communities are built on authenticity, it’s the currency that GameStop lost many years ago.

  • Management is speculating that New Game console would recover sales in 2020. In the most recent 2019 quarter, GME’s CEO was surprised by the steep sales decline. There is an oversupply of GameStop stores,new games and used games are so much cheaper everywhere else. Bullish investors believe Gamestop can automatically recover sales through the new gaming cycle.Over half of Gamestop console market opportunities disappeared between 2008 and 2020. 2008 total consoles sells were 90 Million consoles were sold Worldwide in 2008, but 2020 total estimated around 30M to 40M.

Overview

The Global Unit Sales of Current Generation Video Game Console in million units (2008 to 2017)Infogram.

  • Used games are less valuable each year and Download games are more popular each year. Used games remain a substantial income for GameStop, but its sales in that category have fallen every year since 2011. In 2019, Sony sold over half of its game sales came through downloads. Microsoft, Nintendo, and Google have invested heavily in online gaming.

Playstation 4 was released on Nov 15, 2013. GME stock from Nov 2013 to Nov 2017 is -67%

  • Gamestop supply chain and marketing are some of the worst in the retail industry. GameStop does not offer free shipping unless its over $50. The top competitors are upgrading their business with robotics, software, and logistics innovation.
  • Corporate culture is toxic and the business execution is mediocre. The gaming culture is really aware of Gamestop’s misleading business practices. What will make Gamestop more successful than their competitors? I’m still searching for answers. If anyone told me they found Santa Clause on the North Pole, I would trust you before I ever believe in Gamestop’s management plan.
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  • Weak Pricing Power– New and popular games are typically discounted 10% cheaper. If the games are not discounted, the customers can still earn 5% membership discounts from using the retailers’ branded credit cards. Also, used games are cheaper on eBay, FB, and Craigslist.
    • GameStop cannot compete against cheaper alternatives. Major retailers are taking losses with their gaming discounts, with the promise that it builds brand loyalty and customers buy other higher-margin products to make up for it. Competitors are beating GameStop through pricing, convenience, and superior Omni channels. GameStop knows it cannot compete on price, so it makes up creative membership deals that will mislead customers into buying overpriced used games.
    • Used Cheap Games are recession-proof, not expensive used games Consumers will buy the cheapest alternatives in a recession, not overpay for discretionary goods. In an economic system where customers could use an extra buck, they would prefer to make $10 on eBay than to lose $10 at GameStop. GameStop trade-in value doesn’t make economic sense to a consumer.  Gamestop will always offer a lower trade-in price, and then force the customers to buy merchandise that are typically 10% or more expensive than Walmart, eBay, and Amazon.
    • Low Trade-in value – Customers can get a better value from eBay, Facebook or Craigslist. There are multiple ways to sell and buy games online that are more convenient and price better.  The cost of shipping video games is really affordable, and you still make more money selling games on eBay than you would at Gamestop.
  • Not Convenient to drive to a game store – It’s easy to find popular games from large retail spots when customers can drop by for other items. If customers are looking to buy video games, they aren’t rushing to store for it. The supply of used video games is plentiful and fairly easy to find popular game titles from other marketplaces
  • Lack of Customer Service & Knowledge – GameStop has unrealistic sales goal and use the forceful sales tactic. Gamestop’s innovation is making membership points misleading and confusing.

2. History of Poor Capital Allocation – Low ROIC, no investment in business and waste of share buybacks.

  • Aggressive Share buyback won’t work – Since 2010, GameStop has had a Capital Allocation Strategy that wasted over $400 Million in Share Repurchase. This number doesn’t take out the recent $120M shares buybacks from 2019. A company should simply buy back shares if it has ample funds to take care of the operations and the stock is selling at a large discount on a conservative calculated intrinsic value.  Gamestop will run out of cash by the remainder of the year, and it will depend on revolving high-interest credit to pay for their operations.
  • Liquidity Fallacy –If customers don’t shop at GME, then Cash flow doesn’t matter. Surly, Michael Burry understands liquidity and cash flow, he’s one of the few investors that bet on the Real Estate liquidity crisis. But Burry and many other investors failed to see the cultural currency in the gaming community. Clients are the most important currency on GME balance sheet not USD dollars. Much like how Eddie Lambert said Sear’s had enough liquidity to carry through a turnaround strategy, but customers were not shopping at Sears. Price-cutting can quickly stabilize a financial statement, cutting too much cost will deteriorate the customer’s shopping experience. There are over 10,000 companies in the world, but Burry chose GameStop as one of his TOP ideas. I was initially shocked at his decision to buy GameStop, but I wasn’t totally surprised. Many investors believe their skills and knowledge are transferable in a different industry.
  • Fallen ROIC since 2014 – GameStop ROIC has fallen every year since 2014. It had not made any significant investment in their business in the last four years.
Historical 10 year ROIC of GME

3. Proposing unproven Strategies – gaming events, retro games, and merchandise will not replace the loss of used games revenue.

  • Store gaming events are not proven strategies – Management has not provided information that shows gaming store events could create profitability. Most GameStop stores are too small for hosting gaming events. Gamestop had a press release about their gaming events in Spring 2019, and it has been quiet ever since.  Gamestop probably most already failed its first gaming event attempt. The best gaming hosts in the industry are only mildly successful.
  • Increasing Retro and Rare Game sales will not stabilize revenue – Rare games sell on eBay at a much lower price than Gamestop trade-in value. Collectible Games will slow down the turnover inventory, it will take up shelf space from other products.
  • Shifting sales to nongaming merchandise will turn GameStop into another commodity store – GameStop owns the ThinkGeek store that sells nongaming merchandise and its sales are going down too. GameStop eliminated the position of Chief Operating Officer and in recent months has begun to switch some of its business models toward collectibles and trading merchandise. In other words, GameStop is basically converting its store into another failing business which is its sister brand ThinkGeek. GameStop best non selling items are BoobleHead that are made by Funko.  Gimmicky products like Bobbleheads are the beanie baby 2.0… Bobbleheads’ are high-net income margins, but it doesn’t add any value to GameStop. GameStop does get some foot traffic from Bobbleheads, socks, T-shirts, and other random merchandise, but total sales are not great enough to offset declining game sales. In the early 90s, Trading card stores attempted to switch from baseball cards to other popular merchandise, but eventually, the hobby store industry disappeared.

Gamestop is hoping for Collectibles to turnaround the company

Valuation Verdict:

GME at its best would be worth $5/Share, assuming a small decline of -2% revenue CAGR and an average 3% EBITDA Margin.    Bullish investors estimate GameStop valuation between $6 to $10, but it doesn’t require complex math to explain GameStop’s valuation. Analysts are overcompensating on complex valuation because they believe used video games can be a sustainable business model. The next 12 months will be critical for Gamestop to improve its revenue or else the stock price will take a nose dive. 

Gamestop has less than 1 year to prove to investors that they can stabilize and better sales. GameStop holds $290 million in cash and $419.4 million in debt. Gamestop had many years to turn round the company, it just burned through its cash to buy back a company that offers customer zero value. Buybacks are great if the company is greatly undervalued and if it receives enough funds to support both business operations and buybacks. In Gamestop case, it only has adequate money to pay down debt or buy back shares.

GME will drop to $3 again and become a penny stock in the next two years. Private Equity dry powder is at an all-time decade high, and there is still no offer for Gamestop. Based on the last 4 quarters, GME is projected to lose a minimal of $160M to $200M in 2020.

Conclusion:

The existence of Gamestop came from the void of the used game market. The industry has evolved and that used game void is available through multiple channels that offer cheaper prices and better value.

A new generation of game consoles is arriving later this year, buying GameStop sometime to hold out. The question remains, how much longer can GameStop business model remain relevant in a fast-growing digital distribution era? Get ready to Say Rest In Peace, GameStop will join it’s non-innovative retail family members shortly.

Can’t stop, won’t stop, Gamestop selling drops ’cause it, it gets down baby, it gets down baby

The GameStop, gameflop, and StockDrop

The 1970s-1990s – Hobby stores arbitrage and demise

Long before the days of the internet, auction platforms and hobby stores, it was a very simple arbitrage market for collectible shoes, artwork, games, and cards. The market wasn’t efficient at pricing hobbyist collectibles. 

Finding rare cards was difficult, it was only available through newspaper ads, neighbors, acquaintances, and hobby stores. Rarity was empowered by the proximity of where, and how you can buy a product. Baseball cards’ popularity grew in the 1970s – 1990s and spurred the growth for new hobby stores to sell the trendy commodities. It costs very little to produce baseball cards, and it was easy to sell paper cards for a significant profit.

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By the early 1970s, the first professional card dealers emerged

During the dial-up internet era in the late 90s, consumers were not familiar with the internet and suspicious of buying products online. Consumers still trusted a local hobby store over the internet. Hobby stores took advantage of customers’ distrust of the internet products and sell the same merchandise for a much higher price.

There were many times, I paid a premium price at the store over the listed “official card price index” report from hobbyist magazines. It wasn’t easy to buy from the internet, there was no way to confirm or guarantee that the money you paid online was going to honored. It was common for hobby stores to list the same merchandise at higher prices than the market’s selling price.

Over time consumers started trusting online marketplaces like eBay and slowly collectible items became price efficient. Sports card revenues hit their peak in 1991 at $1.2 billion, and the cards were flooding the market. Since then, it has dropped to under $200 million and Hobbyist lost interested in baseball cards. The saturation of hobby stores hit a peak after owners realized there were more baseball cards than they could sell. Hobby stores started looking like junk storage rooms and most baseball cards lost its value. 

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Baseball Cards Liquidation sale

Savvy-experienced store owners who recognize the early demise of their baseball cards quickly sold their entire inventory and stores. The market gave plenty of signals that Baseball and collectible cards were not worth much. The hobby store owners that were smart made it out with a decent profit and shift their attention to the next collectible thing. The new owners who took over the hobby stores were the last ones holding the bankruptcy bag.

Where was Under Armour in 2001?

Before Under Armour became a famous sports brand worn by professional athletes, it was a small business founded in 1996 in my home state, Maryland. Kevin Plank, founder of Under Armour designed shirts to help cool down an athletes body during training. Under Armour clothing was available through a regional mid-size sport’s retail chain called Modells. Modells were also one of the first major retail chains to carry their brand.

I still remembered the moment UA apparel caught my attention in Modells. As soon as you enter Modells, Under Armour was the solitary thing you could look at because it was visible in front. It was situated on the button on the front left entrance and Nike was located near the front right entrance of the store. UA had this skin tight shirt on display that looks hi-tech and innovative. UA shirt was like no other clothing apparel that I have ever come across, the material felt light and smooth. I decided to buy a $40 shirt in 2001 that was worth my entire paycheck for mowing two lawns.

Purchasing an expensive shirt wasn’t the best financial decision, but I felt cool for being the first kid in my neighborhood to have an Under Armour shirt. I did not know anything about Under Armour business model yet, but I knew their shirt pulled in my skinny teen body felt like I transform into a superhero. I felt proud wearing UA gear and shouting “we must protect this house” during basketball games and gym workouts. I was attracted to the brand because the unique logo and the marketing motto “Protect this House”.

The UA business model started out, targeting the male demographic customers. UA is much more than a one trick pony company that sold skin tight shirts. They rapidly expanded their business in over 2,500 retail stores near the end of 2002, and shortly less than a year later it started offering Women’s apparel. In 2005, UA went IPO to expand their brand domestically and introduce more products.

15 years after, I am still wearing the UA shirt to basketball games, this time with a real superhero “Batman Embalm” that cost me over $50 dollars.    I bought more UA apparel and a few pairs of their place, but I am not the only kid anymore to purchase UA gear. There are children all over the world wearing UA and Adults in the gym are challenging my status quo as a superhero with their own UA superhero shirts.

UA grew tremendously and became competitive enough to challenge the sporting apparel industry leaders like Adidas and Nike. Its IPO gained over 800%, turning from a market size of ~ $770 Million to the current valuation of ~$8Billion! In that respect is no doubt, UA became a successful business and a household brand. Early UA investors have tons of earning money over the last decade. UA continues to expand to multiple clothing apparel lines and even introduce hi-tech sport electronics.

The business environment was very challenging in the early 2000s.    On Jan 2002, Kmart became the largest retailer in American history at that time to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. By the summer of 2002, US Airways, shared Kmart’s faith and declared Bankruptcy. Many trade names from the early 2000s have disappeared and became irrelevant. Today, many investors and shoppers recognize the UA brand. UA offer products for nearly every major sport and is a world-wide brand. While Under Armour has been wildly successful so far, they are really small compared against Adidas and Nike. Stay Tuned for my next BLOG on learning what is keeping Under Armour, UNDER PRESSURE!