GREAT BEND– For their impressive growth and adaptation despite economic uncertainty, Mind Sculpt Games has been named the 2020 Business of the Year from the Great Bend Chamber of Commerce. Owners Darcy and Daniel Leech accepted the award during a surprise presentation in mid-February, with the public announcement being made during the Chamber’s virtual Awards Night ceremony on Saturday.
Mind Sculpt Games was founded in 2017, selling primarily online in the very beginning. Darcy grew up trading sports cards with her father, Randy Bartz, and selling collectors’ items on eBay. Her dream as a young woman was to someday open her very own trading card store.
Over the years, Darcy’s interests expanded into other types of cards and games, and she even met her husband, Daniel, playing face-to-face games at an event in Salina. As the couple shared their passion for face-to-face games, they soon shared the dream of opening their own store together.
Both built successful careers in education, teaching in the public education system in Salina as they started their family. The pair relocated with their son, Eli, and their daughter, Hannah, to Barton County in 2015 to take teaching jobs for USD 428; a decision that was partially influenced by the knowledge that their pipe dream of owning a card store could work well in a community like Great Bend. And in June of 2017, the couple expanded their part-time, online business by opening a brick-and-mortar storefront.
“Our first location on Main Street was only 1,000 square feet and allowed us to open up shop with $10,000 of inventory,” Darcy Leech says. “Opening over the summer was no accident - it gave us a few months to build a following and increase sales before the school year resumed in August.”
Their inventory of board games, role play games, educational toys, and Pokémon cards quickly grew to include puzzles, miniatures, party games, chess sets, dice, and much more. In the beginning, Mind Sculpt Games was primarily open after school and on weekends, with the couple splitting the evening and weekend hours with Darcy’s father, Randy. Then they expanded hiring, giving them the ability to open at noon while they continued to teach full time.
From there, things grew quickly, necessitating a move to their second location at 2521 10th Street, with more than double the square footage of their first location. And a little more than a year later in December 2019, they purchased their current location at 4908 10th Street, which doubled their square footage again to over 5,000 square feet.
“None of our moves were impulse decisions. We had worked with the FHSU Small Business Administration office to create a startup plan and a five-year growth plan,” Darcy says. “While the plan changed quite a bit as we saw what was working and as new opportunities came up, we still knew how to watch for certain success indicators and plan for the next phase of growth.”
Because of the Leech’s background in education and her proclivity for technology, Darcy and Daniel have always relied on the data to drive the business decisions for Mind Sculpt Games. They monitored their sales in different product lines, they carefully leverage every available square foot of their store, and as the pandemic started, they quickly pivoted to focus on the safe and viable parts of their business.
“COVID definitely impacted our plans for the store quite a bit. We used to have a large portion of our revenue coming in from in-person events and that quickly had to shift,” Leech says. “So we’ve gotten creative to focus on gifts and on making a unique shopping experience where just coming into the store is an experience worth the drive.”
But the secret sauce that really set Mind Sculpt Games apart has a couple key ingredients - vulnerability and relationship building. From the very beginning, Darcy and Daniel have put a lot of energy into their social media and a few different types of videos that have garnered them a lot of attention online. A popular ‘Boom or Bust’ video series allowed Darcy to share insights into the decisions they were contemplating or reflect on their experiments and report back on what had worked and what they were going to adjust. Not only did this allow them to get the word out about a new product launch or an event coming up, but their vulnerable transparency also created a lot of buy-in from their customers.
“We are also having a lot of fun with parody videos, doing covers of well-known songs with alternate lyrics related to our business - like Gifts, Gifts, Baby to the familiar tune of “Ice, Ice, Baby,” Leech explains. “Luckily, our community liked watching these videos, and came to visit us afterward. This has helped us continue to grow in a year that has negatively impacted a lot of other consumer markets and hurt some of the things we used to do in our store. Ultimately, it’s all about building relationships with our customers and creating opportunities for them to connect with other people. This community has been wonderful in supporting Mind Sculpt Games and helping us grow.”
Mind Sculpt Games has done such a standout job of building a following that attracts people from all over the region to shop in Great Bend, that even the Small Business Administration recognized them as the “Kansas Emerging Business of the Year” in March 2020. “We are really grateful we’ve been able to serve this community, and it’s because of their continued support,” Leech says. “When people shop local and enjoy a fun shopping experience with us, it helps us continue to grow and improve what we can offer. We wouldn’t be where we are without the loyalty of our customers and this community.”
Since opening the doors at their current location on West 10th Street, Mind Sculpt Games has expanded to product lines such as Lego, educational books, science kits, comic books, and most recently, even video games. They’ve also continued to increase their inventory of puzzles, board games, and role-playing games, cards, and accessories.
Mind Sculpt Games has one full time employee outside of the Leech family and thirteen additional part time employees who either work in the store weekly, or just come in to assist with special events. Family friend and game leader Lindsey Bogner, who helps with kids’ and ladies night role playing games, realizes how significant the impact being made by Mind Sculpt Games really is. “This store is a destination business for people from all over the state. There are stores in big cities that don’t have it together like these two do – not just impressive inventory, helpful staff, and dedicated play space, but community buy-in and new things coming out all the time as well!” Bogner remarks. “These guys are continually improving. They haven’t just survived. They’ve truly become an attraction for our community, and no one could deserve this award more than they do.”
Business of the Year Criteria
The Business of the Year is an annual award presented by the Great Bend Chamber of Commerce to showcase companies that demonstrate excellence in customer service, growth, and response in positive ways to adversity. Businesses must also show community involvement and demonstrate innovative business practices by improving products, services, and programs.