One of the keys to success as an entrepreneur is to find a need and fill it. That is exactly what Scott Thorne has done time and again.
An avid fan of role-playing games such as Dungeons & Dragons, he had been buying and selling games with his own mail order business throughout the 1980s. When he moved to Carbondale to pursue a master’s and later a doctorate degree at Southern Illinois University, he found an active gaming community, but no place to purchase role-playing games and supplies. Using some savings, he opened a 250-square-foot store on the second floor of a building just off the university campus and Castle Perilous was born. That was nearly 30 years ago.
“When we first started out, we were open just Thursdays through Sundays,” Thorne recalls. “As we grew, so did the hours. Now we have expanded to seven days a week and we are now open 365 days a year.”
Thorne, who also works as an instructor in the marketing department at Southeastern Missouri State University, says he knew the business would be successful.
“I always expected to the store to do well. My goal is to grow to hit $1 million in annual sales. We’re not there yet, but we are aiming for it,” he says.
He says his marketing background benefits him in operating the store — now located in a 6,000 square-foot building on Main Street in downtown Carbondale — but the business also aids him in teaching students.
“I think sometimes my students get bored with me talking about the store. I get comments like, 'He goes on too much about it,' but others tell me, 'He has all of this experience in the real world, he should share it with us,'” he says.
Thorne and his staff of six now carry a variety of role-playing games, trading card games and board games as well as comics. He says Castle Perilous prides itself on its large inventory of games that are not likely to be found in department stores.
“It’s a good place to find those games that are published in small quantities — games that you won’t find in the big box stores,” he says.
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In an unassuming room tucked in the Student Center on a Saturday, a handful of Southern Illinois University, students made RPG history in the mid-1970s. Gathered around a table, Tim Kask took people on a journey.
Thorne says at any one time, Castle Perilous stocks between 200 and 300 different board games and keeps a cross-referenced list to help customers who might enjoy one game find others that they would like as well.
One area of the store caters to the youngest of players, stocked with colorful modeling clays and books and games for preschoolers.
“Our audience is diverse. We also have books and games for middle schoolers and board games and role-playing games of all kinds for adults,” he adds.
Castle Perilous was the first local business to carry the popular “Cards Against Humanity” and “Cataan" games. Each year, Thorne choses a “game of the year,” which is certain to be a hit at Christmas.
He filled another need, too, in giving people a place to play. The store offers several rooms dedicated to game playing and publishes a schedule of “pick-up” games and tournaments ranging from “Magic: The Gathering” and “Dungeons and Dragons” to “Pokemon” as well as sessions designed to introduce new games.
“I think game stores are very unique in that we provide a place to use the product we sell,” Thorne explains. “You don’t see any other products or retailers like that. For example, if you go buy a video game, you go home to play. You don’t sit down at the store and play it there.”
He continues, “I look at it more like the bar in the TV Show ‘Cheers.’ It’s a place where you go to relax and everybody knows you. It’s a place to belong.”
The appeal of games, he says, is interaction.
“We as people enjoy competing against ourselves and each other,” he explains. “We enjoy the interaction. We like getting together and making each other laugh and socializing. It’s not about who’s going to win. It’s about getting around a table with friends and having fun.”