DeKALB – Philip Henrikson acknowledges it’s not every day a local business owner with five years experience under their belt who employs 20 people in two cities also happens to be a 25-year-old college dropout.
“I came in here excited to play some cards,” Henrikson said, reflecting on his journey, which began with playing the card game Magic with friends at the downtown gaming store, and five years later has turned into ownership. At 19, he left Northern Illinois University to pursue his business dream.
Henrikson credits his mom, Svetlana Henrikson, who he calls his “single greatest asset,” with helping him transform downtown DeKalb’s gaming store, The Gaming Goat, into his own brand, The Gaming Goose, at 229 E. Lincoln Highway.
“None of this would be possible without her,” Henrikson said of his support system. “She’s always been there to help me, whether it’s to get me out of trouble or get my next big idea off the ground.”
The next big idea? Leave the company label and branch out on his own. To begin the new decade (and his 25th birthday), Henrikson, who owns game shops in DeKalb and Elgin, announced early in January that he would be severing ties with the national brand, The Gaming Goat, and launching a rebrand, his own independent one-stop shop that sells board and video games and game-related merchandise, and hosts regular card tournaments. It’s the next step in his entrepreneurial career, he said, which isn’t all that surprising when you learn he comes from a family of business-minded people.
His father, Larry Henrikson, founded Ax-in-Hand Guitar Specialists, 817 W. Lincoln Highway, when he also was 20. Larry Henrikson died of a heart attack when Philip was 5, but 20 years later, the younger Henrikson said something about his dad’s business legacy still resonates with him.
“He was a baller,” Henrikson said. “So when he passed away, it was a big shock to me. I thought, I have to fill his shoes.”
The five-year journey from 19-year-old employee (who was temporarily fired, then rehired) at The Gaming Goat to now owner of the shop, under a new name, has Henrikson pondering the milestones that brought him to his 3,600-square-foot establishment today.
His first foray into store management came when The Gaming Goat was at its former location, a block down the street on Lincoln Highway and only 800 square feet.
Now as a boss, he employs two dozen staff members in his two shops, and said he credits his managerial style on his own experiences in the store, especially since many of his employees often are college students who, unlike himself, aren’t looking to put down roots.
“We try to keep it a laid-back job,” Henrikson said. “That’s one thing that’s helped me succeed in the last five years.”
It’s evident Henrikson is a people person, someone who’d be able to chat while recommending a board game for family game night, or discuss strategy while trading Magic cards or help pick out a gift for your video game-obsessed teenager.
He said there’s one nugget of feedback most gaming stores struggle with: customers who feel talked down to, since gaming often can be an exclusive industry.
“I try to be encouraging, not pretentious,” Henrikson said. “Humble, but approachable. I’ve collected Pokémon cards. I remember as a 6-year-old on my mom’s carpet, sorting them. I play video games.”
He’s not afraid to be himself, either, in a time when social media provides easy access to your customer base. He’s even crowd-sourcing his rebranding, and encourages customers to give their input on a new logo on his Facebook page.
“I’d like to thank the community for accepting and embracing us,” Henrikson said. “They recognize our genuine interest in being an asset to the community and validated it by supporting our local business.”