Kevin McMullen is an opportunity hunter.
In middle school, he used to take weekly trips to the dollar store to buy packs of baseball stickers and then sell each sticker at school for 50 cents apiece. His classmates displayed the stickers on their class binders, and he made a middle school fortune.
Today, McMullen, 30, is president and CEO of Oogie Games, an independent video game company with 40 employees and four locations in the Buffalo Niagara region -- Town of Tonawanda, Lockport, Amherst and Depew.
The company buys and sells new and used video games, consoles and accessories, repairs broken equipment and has state-of-the-art gaming rooms on site at three stores. Plans are in place for a West Seneca store by the end of 2012, and McMullen is projecting to have eight stores by the end of 2013.
The company has caught the attention of the gaming community with its low prices and convenient service. McMullen said sales grew by 852 percent, from $126,080 in 2009 to $1.2 million in 2011.
That local growth reflects the explosion in the video game industry in the last decade. In 2010, U.S. consumers alone spent between $15.4 billion and $15.6 billion on all forms of gaming content, according to the D2 Report presented by the Entertainment Merchants Association in 2011.
Video game consoles have morphed into home entertainment centers in recent years, offering numerous services such as Internet TV, Netflix streaming video, MLB streaming TV package and Internet radio. Some observers predict that the video game industry is on the verge of another growth wave because of the multifaceted machines that consoles have become.
Oogie Games' competitive advantage over giant game stores, such as GameStop, is its repair department -- the area where McMullen got started.
While a student at Buffalo State College, he bought a Nintendo system for his girlfriend at a flea market, but it didn't work. He took it apart, filed the copper contacts with a nail file because they had corroded, and it worked like new.
But instead of giving it to his girlfriend, he sold it on eBay and bought another at a flea market, and a small business was formed. He bought a spot to sell his products at the flea market on Walden Avenue in Cheektowaga and continued selling fixed consoles online.
Two weeks after graduating from college, McMullen opened his first store on Delaware Avenue in Kenmore. He wore every hat for the company, working 70 to 80 hours a week doing repairs, ordering merchandise, working behind the counter and cleaning up every night.
He outfitted many of his stores by buying shelves -- and some games -- from the Blockbuster video stores that went out of business. But he learned quickly that for his business to grow, he would have to put his faith in other people.
Now, McMullen has a chief operating officer, two warehouse workers who order for and supply all four locations, two repair technicians and four salaried store managers.
GameStop has been the big player in the gaming market for years. With its 7,000 stores nationwide and roughly 17,000 employees, McMullen said, it's the Goliath that all small-business Davids are trying to cut down to size.
"Have we put a dent into them? Absolutely," he said. "I don't know how we couldn't have. With four stores, almost five, and continuously growing, they know we're here."
Buffalo has been an ideal place for McMullen's business to grow. Early on, when there weren't any funds for advertising, he was able to utilize word of mouth and guerrilla marketing to get some traction. He attributes a lot of the early success to understanding Buffalo.
"Growing up here, I know Buffalo is price-conscious," McMullen said. "My mom and grandmother clipped coupons every Sunday. We try to lean on that, and we want to do everything we can to keep our prices at or below everybody else."
McMullen expects to double sales again in 2012 -- as Oogie Games has done every year since it opened -- and he plans to offer franchising opportunities by 2014 for about $35,000.
Steve Hearn, 26, manager of the Depew store, said the early success of Oogie Games is a direct reflection on McMullen's leadership. McMullen saw an opportunity to create something that caters to the gaming customer, and Hearn thinks it'll be around for a long time. "When I first met Kevin, we had a mutual understanding in regards to the business," Hearn said.
"We constantly have constructive conversations in regards to ideas, changes and any thoughts about how we can better Oogie Games. Kevin has made it abundantly clear that he will always make time for his employees. In fact, the majority of ideas that we come up with are from various employees across our company."
McMullen, Hearn and all of Oogie Games are focused on the company's future.
"Everything comes back and goes through a life cycle," McMullen said. "I think video games have gone that route, too. The video game really took hold with the Atari in the late '70s and then Nintendo in the late '80s. All the people who grew up with that stuff are now in their 30s and 40s and are having or have kids that are playing the new generation stuff.
"So when they bring in their kids to buy their video games, they see the old games and are, like, 'Wow, I had this when I was a kid!' "