Article – Putting my money where your mouth is: La Base Secreta

La-Base-Secreta--logoBy Paco Garcia Jaen

This is an article that has little to do with any particular game, but with a trend that started just a few years ago and it’s growing in popularity after a lot of success stories: The Game Café.

And how we’re going to open our very own.

Yes readers, you got that right. The creator of this website is going to put his money where your mouth is and open a café in Valencia, Spain, in the next few weeks. That would be me, by the way.

Why? Because I think the time has come to create my own business and set up some sort of future for myself. You see, I am 42 at the time of writing this article – though that’ll change, surely – and I am not getting any younger. Doesn’t look like I’m getting much older (certainly don’t behave like I am) either, but age is creeping, and I want to do something really cool that will allow me to earn a decent living and be a part of the gaming community in a constructive manner.

So I am giving up my job and my life in the United Kingdom to move back to Spain. That will have very little impact on the website, podcast and videos. It won’t impact my travels to Germany, though it will impact, at least for now, my involvement with Dragonmeet and the UK Games Expo.

So I am going to create a series of blog posts and articles about what it is like to open a games café, just to keep you amused and, for those of you who are thinking about doing the same, to learn from my mistakes.

The first thing I had to do was to look for places and the first place I found seemed perfect. Spacious, light, very well located and with a very affordable rent (since I can’t afford to buy the premises). Me and my friends went look at the place and we were in love. Great start!

Except, no. It wasn’t.

When we started to look into the place a bit more carefully, we realised it had something missing that the council planning regulations do demand and expect: Sound Proofing.

A couple of phone calls later and we had a quotation to sound proof the ceiling: €14000. Now that is a serious amount of money. Money I don’t have.

So, lesson number one: Look into the planning requirements and find out if your place has them in place. For example:

  • Is the toilet set for people with disabilities? Because if it doesn’t you probably need to adapt the existing washrooms.
  • Does it have a vent for any smoke coming out of the kitchen? Again something you’ll need, otherwise your council will probably just shut you down.
  • Is it sound proof? This is paramount if you are close to a residential area or a block of flats. And it’s not cheap, let me assure you.
  • How about ramps for disabled people? Without those, as well as restricting your business appeal, you’ll probably be breaking a few laws (at least in Europe) and, quite frankly, being a douche bag. If the place doesn’t have the ramps, get them organised and pronto!

Then we looked at another place and, I have to say, it wasn’t perfect. But somehow we could turn it into something pretty cool. Found it via a state agent and met the owner of the current business. In this occasion it was a bar that’s already running and it’s been doing well for the last 20 years. In an area of the city near the university and 5 minutes’ walk from a tube station.

After a couple of meetings I made an offer for the business and the owner was interested; until I asked for some proof to back his claim of profitability.

Suddenly providing accounts or tax papers was a bit too much work and that made him mistrust me. It would appear that asking people to show some proof that they’re honest makes me dishonest. Still we managed to get an agreement and things seemed to work.

Mind you, that agreement took more than a week to be drafted because the state agency simply couldn’t be bothered to make phone calls or visit the owner of the bar. They were extremely lazy and complaisant, not to mention deceitful in that they never told me what their commission was. I truly could have done without them wasting my time.

All set in place and deposit agreed, I was about to send the money when I decided to call and check bank account numbers. “Oh, we signed the paperwork with another buyer three hours ago”.

Oh… and he didn’t think of telling me. Great!

A month after this incident I walked by the bar on my way to see another property. The owner was still behind the bar. I can only guess things didn’t work out after all. I didn’t stop to ask.

Lessons learned:

  • Never trust the state agency. Check, double check and then call them again to check again that they’re doing their jobs. They have a ton of properties and they’ll for the easy ones first. Make sure they don’t forget you and make sure they earn the money they’ll charge you.
  • Always frown on people who can’t back their claims of profitability. No matter how much they try to sell you what an amazing place they have. If they are not prepared to show you the accounts or the tax-returns to legitimize their claims, be very suspicious.
  • Always always always check before you send any money, specially if you haven’t signed any papers yet.
  • Actually, scrap that. Always always always make sure you sign a pre-sale agreement before you send a deposit.

As you can imagine that was extremely frustrating, so me and my partner decided to take a step back, breathe a bit and take things calmly. The first thing we realised is that were weren’t doing this OK at all. And that there was a huge amount of choice of places to buy if we were prepared to choose carefully.

We started a list of places and placed all on a map. Found which ones were closer to schools, tube stations, distance from the city centre, size and distribution. That reduced the whole list to five different bars that were for sale.

la_base_secreta2A few phone calls later, we were on our way to see them all. Exciting!

Two of them we decided against pretty much right away. The location was good, but the layout and distribution wouldn’t allow us to create the sort of café we wanted. I will go into detail on this one another time.

The other three were perfect! Spacious, light, good decoration, welcoming and in great locations.

We had to choose one, so we had to draw a list of pros and cons of each place. Which one will likely attract more people? Which is easier to expand? Which has the lowest rent? Which has the best kitchen?… And on and on. We spoke about it for two or three days before going to see the places again. The second visit started to showcase the flaws of each place and that eventually showed us the winner, showed in the photos you can see in this article.

la_base_secreta1 Time to make an offer! This time, although we were dealing with a state agency, things seemed to go more smoothly. I took time to meet the young men who run the agency and tell them my expectations, which they endeavour to meet from the very beginning. They negotiated a great discount for me, arranged to meet the landlords to negotiate the price of the rent and got the paperwork I asked for, including some of the accounts and all the licenses.

So with that we are on our way to sign all the papers at the end of August 2015.

So here starts the adventure. Friends, welcome to La Base Secreta. Your Secret Base awaits you!

Please wish us luck!

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