Once upon a time in a far away land... Ah no! This is actually the story of Nicolas Bouscarat, who opened the first gaming bar in Luxembourg, Respawn, e-sport & gaming bar in June 2021. Let's meet him!
In a nutshell…
For you, being an entrepreneur is all about... Freedom!
The main advantage of being an entrepreneur? The direct link between our actions and the feedback from our customers.
The main disadvantage of being an entrepreneur? There are only 24 hours in a day.
Nicolas, can you tell us about Respawn?
Respawn is the meeting of two sectors: the restaurant business and gaming. The gaming café concept has already been flourishing in neighbouring countries, but in Luxembourg we were the first to respond to this demand.
I love the world of gaming! And I wanted to bring a social dimension to it. Opening a bar also has a bit of a therapeutic component: you talk to people, you get to chat... Our customer base is very diverse. It's not just the average geek! François, my co-manager, and I, as well as our partners, aim to promote the geek world in Luxembourg and to offer a place where members of this community can meet and play together.
You won’t get bored at Respawn !
It's true, there's a lot of choice! You can - not necessarily in this order - have fun at the arcade machines, discover board games, role-playing games, take advantage of the sofa area with the latest consoles, chill out while listening to a little concert, let loose for some karaoke, paint figurines, take part in themed tournaments, sip cocktails presented as role-playing potions... As far as catering is concerned, we serve croques monsieur and occasionally breakfast. Simple but effective!
And as we have a lot of space (400 square metres) we can also rent out areas for events.
Where can we find you?
The bar is located close to the main train station of Luxembourg city.
You can find our events on our website of course. We are also very present on our Facebook and Instagram pages. I attach great importance to this. Communication is key! I think all entrepreneurs need it. We also created a Meetup group where we share all our parties and events, and they are also promoted by Supermiro.
The idea for the bar itself was born with nyuko. The project started in September 2019, and the café opened in June 2021. I actually contacted the House of Entrepreneurship and they referred me to nyuko. It was really interesting to meet other entrepreneurs. I thought it was great! I was entering a world that I didn't know at all... For example, to start up, I had to follow a HACCP course (hygiene regulations for the horeca sector) in order to obtain a business permit.
At the same time, I took an evening course on setting up a business and I called on the services of the lawyer who gave the workshop on legal structures. In fact, he wrote a book titled "La SARL luxembourgeoise : le guide pratique", which I recommend reading.
And that's how I got into the thick of it! This major change in my life has changed my perception of what "a job" is and how to "earn a living".
Speaking of legal status, what did you choose?
I opted for a limited liability company. This allowed us to be relatively unrestricted and avoid heavy administrative procedures in terms of management and statutes. It also gave us the flexibility we wanted in terms of the number of partners. We could bring in new shareholders without too many formalities. This was a good thing, since today we are eight partners, including two managers.
How did you choose your location?
We were aware that the rent would be a huge burden on our cost structure. So this was carefully analysed beforehand.
When I did my business plan, I discovered that to open a gaming bar franchise in our region, the project becomes viable starting from a population base of at least 50,000. We had two sites in mind, one in Esch and the other in Luxembourg, which were both close to the 50,000 population mark. At the time I was working in Esch-Belval, I witnessed the growing dynamism of the place and the opportunities that it offered in the medium term, but it brought us much closer to our competitors in France... On the other hand, in terms of presence, setting up in the capital assured us of the best long-term location in the market. The station area offers all the potential for access and parking... At the time we opened, the Rue du Fort Neipperg... It was a gamble! But the owners were already working on improving the image, and indeed it is happening: CFL is moving into new offices and many buildings are being renovated.
Any points of attention specific to the horeca sector?
All the taxes on the sale of alcohol surprised me. You have to pay an opening tax and then an annual tax. To open a bar where alcohol is served in Luxembourg, you have to have an alcohol licence... And the distribution of these licences is limited in the country! The vast majority being held by the two leading breweries in the country, you have to choose between Bofferding or Diekirch.
The first steps…
Covid didn't help. We often felt forgotten. Given our start-up date, we were not entitled to state aid. This forced us to find other solutions, to turn to other people. For example, to the landlord of our premises.
It took me three weeks to write an email telling him about our situation and asking him if we could look for a solution! And then I said to myself, "Well, you're up against the wall, if you don't do something, your business dies." So I clicked send... He agreed to not charge us any rent during the covid period, and then he set up progressive rents! That's when I realised that we had support! But until we asked, nobody helped us. The difficulties really allowed us to see that the world is not against us. We had a lot of backing in the end: from our customers, from our community, from our landlord, from the Luxembourg media...
Having the courage to ask for help isn't something that comes easily... Especially when you're starting out, it's your project, your baby... But it's not your ego that should dominate. You have to be able to question yourself and be willing to ask for help!
Working in a team
In the ideation phase, before the project became a reality and resulted in the opening of Respawn, the idea evolved so much that it scared my very first partner. I was thinking bigger and bigger and when things became concrete, the risk-taking made him back off. I met my current partner at a tabletop figurine competition. He had been self-employed for years. He had just closed his last company and was looking for a new project... On top of that, François is a cocktail expert! It was he who made it possible for us to draw up our menu.
What are the limitations and advantages of this?
We divide the tasks between us. My colleague is very good at socialising, he talks to the customers, he manages all the operational aspects of the bar, etc. As for me, I'm a bit of a bad cop: respecting hygiene rules, supervising the cash register, administrative follow-up, the technical side so that all the tools are operational when needed, etc.
We complement each other well but we don't work in the same way and I’ve had to delegate, to let go of what the other does differently, and maybe even better. You have to be prepared to admit to yourself: "I can't manage everything on my own, even if I'd like to."
How do you handle customer relations?
We do everything we can to ensure that our customers leave with a smile. If someone leaves with a little pout, we ask them honestly: "What's missing? How do we make the perfect space for you?" This has really allowed us to build a space where they feel at home. A group of clients have even become friends! Sharing a passion, a hobby and a vial of cocktail creates a bond.
How did you reach out to your clients?
First, we went looking for target communities on Facebook. We offered them a space where they could gather and organise their events. And then - and this is important! - we listened to them, we integrated their feedback into our model, adding this and that, and creating events.... Over time, our ambassadors started to work for us. The snowball has only grown in size and the bar has had a second wind with the end of the health restrictions, but we still have challenges to overcome in order to keep the business going.
Where do you see Respawn 5 years from now?
At the moment our main source of income is from selling drinks. I do a lot of bartending. I'd like to free up some time by hiring two people to manage the operational side of the business so that I can devote myself to developing the bar, running more competitions, etc., so that we can reach out more and more. For example, we have already established a partnership with a company selling games and figurines, and we organise workshops to paint figurines.
The rental of tables and play areas is growing and we have a 100% margin. It's €5 an hour and you can play any board game you want, from two to five people.
We also want to develop B2B to organise events, to offer the space for hire from 8am to 5pm: for birthdays, or renting out the whole establishment for team buildings, team meetings, seminars...
How do you manage the balance between your professional and personal life?
In the beginning, I'll admit, my private life was almost non-existent. I used to spend all my time at the bar. And as time went on, I found a balance between the two.
I took the risk of launching my own business, I left my old life and my former achievements... I had to take responsibility for it! That's when you realise how important the people around you are! I had a lot of support from my life partner. Knowing that I could count on her was great. Knowing that we have a family that supports us, even if they don't always understand our choices... That's what helps us to hold on in difficult times.
Any concrete advice on how to achieve this balance?
My colleague and I have implemented an alternating weekend schedule: Tuesday and Sunday, when business is slower, we rotate to ensure that we have our weekends around Monday. You have to set limits in order to endure over the long term. With this arrangement, I have at least one day together with my wife every other weekend.
Your three top tips for future entrepreneurs:
- Don't overreact! It's an adventure, and it can be scary. But you have to start to find out what you will do later. Learn from all your experiences.
- Have enough humility to say: "I may have made some bad choices, but I'm not going to do it twice.”
- A budding entrepreneur must seek out as much information as possible, have a battle plan to carry out his or her ideas and create something viable.
Interview written by Delphine Anzevui
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