Qisahn.com: the story behind this Singapore video game shop
Mary-Anne Lee | On October 24, 2013 at 5:00 pm
In the time between doing our interview with Qisahn.com’s Soon Qishan and writing this article (just four days, mind!), two members of our team have already picked up two 3DS XLs and a copy of the latest Pokemon X and Y game each from the store.
It’s testament to the influence that Qisahn.com holds in the market. One of the biggest video game retailers in Singapore with an online shop welcoming up to 6,000 unique visitors a day, Qisahn.com is the go-to store for the best deals in video games.
We sat down with its owner, 27 year old Soon Qishan, to learn about its history.
In the beginning…
Qisahn.com began life as a HardwareZone account. Its owner, Soon, started by buying and reselling items off other HardwareZone threads. Even though he was making about S$10 ($8.10) per transaction, he felt that business was limited by how fast he could buy his stock. That prompted a move to Yahoo! Auctions and eBay, which opened up a new world to Soon.
To get more sales, he needed more items for people to buy. Soon began importing products from China. His first notable bulk purchase was screen protectors, which brought with them a high profit margin of about 200% to 300%. Even so, profits were still capped at S$2 ($1.60) per sheet since screen protectors were a low value product.
After his National Service, Soon found himself sitting at home for fifteen hours at a stretch, making just S$30 ($24.25) per day in profit. That was not counting his electricity bill. It wasn’t the best job, so when a friend called asking if he’d like to take up a door-to-door sales job, he took it. At S$7 ($5.70) per hour, it paid him more than he made.
It was during this stint that he met someone with a shipping contact in China. After the sales company shut it doors, Soon went back to selling products online.
But now he carried a wider range of products thanks to his new contact. One big profit-maker was memory cards, from which he could make S$5 ($4.05) to S$10 ($8.10) per card. It wasn’t easy, though. As with most HardwareZone sellers, Soon conducted his business via meetups. Every memory card sold meant cycling for ten minutes to the train station each time a customer got there. Sometimes he could make as many as five trips a day. It took him a while to finally decide on a fixed meeting time, proof that even the pros start somewhere.
All it takes sometimes is luck
His big break came when a long-time customer, a video game retailer who had long been purchasing screen protectors and memory cards from him, told him about another video game store that had been undercutting him.
Annoyed by their antics, he offered to sell Soon a load of PlayStation Portable (PSP) units at cost price. In exchange, he only wanted Soon to sell them at a low price point. “Just make sure you’re cheaper than them,” he said. “Go and rock their boat.”
Sales “rocketed” after that. From just 10 memory cards a day, the young retailer was now selling 20 to 30. Why? The sale of PSPs meant that Soon’s HardwareZone forum thread had just become an all-in-one store for the handheld console. It’s worth noting that he did not sell any games (legal or no), but made his money through quantity of console sales. This was in March 2007.
In June 2007, HardwareZone clamped down hard on commercial sellers. It banned them all. With no easily accessible platform any more, rival retailers died out. Soon’s only competition in memory card deals fell by the wayside. Soon, on the other hand, set up the website Qisahn.com.
Traffic to his online store was retained, either through the Internet, word of mouth, or simple texts from old customers, asking if the store was his. By August 2007, the store was making him more than S$1,000 ($809) a month; but he had to go to university.
The next step was only natural: he had to hire someone. But he couldn’t very well hire someone to work in his house. “It’s illegal, I checked the rules,” he said. So he had to incorporate a company. And then he needed somewhere for this new hire to work. Coincidentally, a customer had just offered his company’s conference room for rent.
Setting up shop
And so the first physical Qisahn.com store was set up. Located in the old IOI Plaza along Middle Road, the first shopfront featured a big conference table, shelves of games, and whoever happened to be on duty at the counter, sitting across the table from you.
When the company renting to Soon folded just months later, he looked at outlets in Bugis before settling for one in Far East Shopping Centre in Orchard Road. It was just 161 square feet large, but that meant rent was cheap, and he quickly set up shop again. “Everyone knows where Orchard Road is,” he said of its location, and business picked up fast. They’ve since expanded three or four times.
There was one problem with an actual shop front, though. Since Qisahn.com began as an office and not a shop, Soon had little idea of what a retail store entailed. In the first Qisahn.com unit, customers could not browse through stocks. It was the same with the next, larger unit. Though there was more space, browsing was still limited. It was “kind of like McDonalds, where they had their menus at the back”, except that Qisahn.com’s menus were on their glass display. Customers could kind of see the stocks in the glass-fronted cupboards behind the counter, but it was only seeing, no touching.
It was only two years ago that Soon decided to improve on the shop’s retail experience. He rented another unit to do so. Once shoppers were able to browse, traffic to the shop doubled. Sales, however, didn’t. Still, he has kept the retail front going.
“I’ve been very good with prices and finding deals, but when it comes to the whole retail experience, I don’t have a natural flair for it. It has been difficult,” he said of his struggle to set up a proper shop front. “I’m not the kind of person who will go for the prettiest things.”
Stay tuned for the next part of our interview on how Qisahn.com survived the videogame retail business.