Small Business Success Story: Spacebar Arcade
Through a carefully curated mix of video games, music and adult beverages, entrepreneur Will Hay is helping nurture the culture that has made Boise one of the fastest-growing cities in the U.S.
The Boise, Idaho, that is the darling of top 10 lists, is not the same Boise, Idaho, where Will Hay grew up. During his teenage years in the mid-1990s, there was no Treefort, no Rhodes Skate Park, no Boise Rock School.
As a student at Borah High School, Hay was obsessed with the Beastie Boys and, in his own words, “starved for culture.”
“I saw a lot of my friends leaving for cooler places like New York, San Francisco, Portland or Seattle, and they were getting culture spoon fed to them,” he recalls. “But it was lean around here.”
Today, as owner of Spacebar Arcade in downtown Boise, the 39-year-old entrepreneur is doing his part to nurture the culture that has helped Boise become the fastest-growing city in the U.S. in 2018, according to Forbes.
We sat down with Will to learn more about his journey to becoming a business owner, including how he deals with failure and his top piece of advice for aspiring entrepreneurs.
Name: Will Hay
Hometown: Boise, Idaho.
Education: Attended Borah High School, University of Idaho and Boise State University.
First job: Drive through at Central Park.
What’s the “secret sauce” that makes Spacebar successful?
I’m not the biggest video game player and it actually helps the business. I know beer and wine. I look at all this stuff as art: From the music in the jukebox that I curate to the art of the video games to the art of the beer and wine that we have that’s all curated.
I think of our staff as our family and that’s a difficult task in the restaurant industry which can be cutthroat. I pay them all a manager’s wage. I want to retain them; it sets us apart. We also have DJ IGA once a month and I’ve been a member of the Vinyl Preservation Society of Idaho since its inception.
Why did you want to buy Spacebar?
I was Spacebar’s first hire, and I was running it for the previous owners but exploring other opportunities. I was trying to get a contemporary diner started. I got really close, but the deal fell apart at the end.
I should have been buying Spacebar. The previous owners wanted to sell it to me. At the time, I had no idea how to do it. I didn’t own a house, I was a newlywed and a first-time father. Another year passed and they asked me again. I was close but not there yet. The third time they asked then rescinded their offer. They weren’t ready to sell.
What's the biggest opportunity for Spacebar?
To grow. It was difficult to grow up and go through my late teens and 20s here. I was starved for culture. I saw a lot of my friends leaving for cooler places. I’ve always been a lover of the concrete jungle and we need to balance it out. There’s a ton to do outside but we can have more urban culture, and I think that’s coming. I’m proud that I stayed here and dug my heels in. I want (people) to keep coming back for more and I want to inspire people to want to stay here or start their own business and put their own spin on it.
What was the biggest obstacle on your journey to becoming a small business owner?
Getting the previous owners to sell. We were in negotiations and I wouldn’t hear anything from them. It was a tough negotiation, but I held on to the bitter end. I had come to terms that I might have to walk away. I told myself, I’m going to have to be OK with this.
What was the biggest blind spot on your journey to becoming a small business owner?
The blind spot was trying to get the diner open; I should have been buying Spacebar. A lot of the games started to break after we bought the business. We also had a geothermal pipe break and we had to be closed. We used it as an opportunity to do a huge overhaul of the bar during that week.
What's the biggest challenge for you as a small business owner?
Before buying the business, I felt like an owner, and I felt like I was the one seeing it through every day. But now, wanting to grow it, I’ve got to take a different perspective on what my role is. That’s not day-to-day so much. I need to pass on some of my responsibilities to other people. People love this bar and want to help me grow it.
Name one thing that prepared you for being a small business owner?
I needed to get out of the restaurant industry and take a different career path. I wanted to start a clothing line, so I took a job as a screen printer to learn the process. It was a 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. job and it taught me the discipline of what a real job was. It gave me a different mentality of how I should be working in any industry and gave me some discipline. I had kind of a free-flowing mindset previously. It helped me focus.
What’s your best piece of advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?
Don’t be afraid to fall because I fell many times before. In my personal life I’ve had failures and I’ve tried to pick myself up and dust myself off. And in business, if you have a loss, you have to suck it up and move on. You have to have a short memory. You can’t dwell, you need to keep moving, keep pushing.
It helps to have a second discipline outside of work. I picked up yoga 10 years ago and that has been exponentially helpful in my day-to-day life and work life. You need to have something else that you can fail at and learn to get better. It brings humility and balance.
What role did Zions Bank play in your journey?
Karen Appelgren and Gina Bessire in Zions Bank’s Business Resource Center helped with my business plan. I had issues with credit that had been resolved but were still on my credit report, and Gina helped me write a letter to explain it. My commercial relationship manager Saul Hernandez is awesome — he’s kind of a bulldog.
I felt like everybody from Zions took it personally to see that my U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) loan was approved. Everybody is extremely helpful. Any hairbrained scheme I get they are always there to bounce it off of them.
Looking to follow in Will’s footsteps and purchase a business? Zions Bank offers online tools including business templates, columns, videos and financial calculators. Our Business Resource Centers in Salt Lake City and Boise provide counseling and training for entrepreneurs.
Nicola McIntosh is social media manager for Zions Bank.