“Not everyone is willing to seek out customers and ask them tough questions, and not everyone is able to balance pushing the status quo with catering to current customer demands.”
Preston Swincher is energetic and vibrant… and fiercely determined. His youthful exuberance is immediately apparent, and there’s a fire and edge to that energy that has lit his path so far.
Graduating with a dual degree in Entrepreneurship and Theater from Texas Christian University, he’s managed to blend his experience and unique skill set to carve out a career as a consultant and keynote speaker. What he’s embarking on next is what caught our eye.
Vigilante Gaming Bar is a new restaurant and bar concept that he’s creating, built around board games and nerd culture. The team he’s assembled has obsessed over and planned the concept for over a year. They’ve thoughtfully designed a layout, created custom furniture and fixtures, and developed a food and beverage menu around a rich gaming experience, serving both “hardcore gamers” as well as a fun night of cards for a group of friends.
It’s Preston’s expertise, drive, and big ideas that make him compelling as an entrepreneur, and we chat about the journey that has brought him to this point.
What brought about Vigilante Gaming Bar, and how did you get started in creating it?
I always knew I wanted to work for myself. I’m idea driven, and bringing events and experiences to life is thrilling to me. I was able to start my own consulting and speaking business by building off of that focus and drive, and I’ve learned a great deal through that process.
The vision for Vigilante started as far back as college as a fun idea, and it really started to gel the past couple of years. I had the opportunity to travel around the country as a consultant, and I always made the time to visit every game cafe and restaurant within a day’s drive of my clients. There were great services that were being offered in different places, but no matter where I went, I was never totally satisfied with my experience. Whether it was the layout of the space, the game selection, the service, the food, beverage options, how people gathered, who you could meet in the space… there are so many elements that go into a customer’s enjoyment, and I could see what worked and what was missing in different venues.
There needed to be a place where nerd culture could meld with a fun, bar-type hangout, and people could play games over beer on a Friday night. I knew that I could put it together.
What’s the response been like so far?
I started pitching my ideas to anyone who would listen. Austinites were so excited about the idea that it didn’t take long for the team to come together, and I found my business partners, Zack and Flip, through that process. They believed in Vigilante before anyone else did, and they’ve added so much to making this a reality. We’ve found ways to bring our ideas and designs to the table and construct an experience that’s going to blow people away.
Have you always been attracted to the service industry?
I cut my teeth working in bars and restaurants while I was in college and learned to love food and dining out. Most of my friends sought out white collar careers, but I always loved the service industry.
When I graduated from TCU, my first “real job” was with the AT&T Performing Arts Center in Dallas. I joined the team before the Center launched, and I helped to build, design, and manage their inaugural front of house staff and service policies. I hired and trained dozens of new employees and trained thousands of volunteers.
When I finally found success elsewhere, all I could think about was getting back into the service industry. Since the day I left, I missed it.
What excites you about the service industry?
I love the chance to create an experience for a customer. From the time they step into a space to the time they leave, your heart and soul and attention to detail are what influence their happiness. It’s inspiring and energizing. I can’t wait to create the type of community that people keep coming back to.
What has been your greatest learning experience?
Early in starting my business as a speaker, I designed a whole new suite of content. The content proved disappointing to my clients. They had taken a leap of faith in being some of my first new customers, and I had failed. Rebuilding from lost business is enormously difficult.
I learned how crucial early and honest feedback is, and I learned how to be objective in assessing my own work in light of that feedback. I now have an unflinching willingness to receive feedback and receive it often. That’s made a huge difference. Every business owner passionately believes in their idea, and they have a vision for what they can bring their customers. Not everyone is willing to seek out customers and ask them tough questions, and not everyone is able to balance pushing the status quo with catering to current customer demands. I think that’s something we’ve done well throughout this process with Vigilante.
What are some of the highs and lows of starting the business so far?
The biggest high is seeing someone else get excited about this thing you’ve created. Seeing people light up when they hear about us, or taste something in our kitchen, or have that great laugh over a game we’ve orchestrated. That’s the best feeling.
But the unending pressure of being the decision maker is as addictive as it is exhausting. You obsess over every detail night and day. Just when you think you can relax and rest, another idea or challenge hits you!
What book, blog, or resource would you recommend to someone who is just starting down the journey you are on?
Setting the Table, by Danny Meyer. Meyer helped put words to my approach to customer service and helped me recognize that being a great host was a huge part of who I was.
How do you unwind and relax?
If I’m feeling extroverted: a beer at a bar. If I’m feeling introverted: experimenting in the kitchen. I surround myself with people who have brave palates.
What’s your favorite Disney movie?
Disney owns Marvel. And Star Wars. Plus, all the old Disney movie musicals. I trust those guys with my entire childhood.
But in the spirit of the question: The Lion King. I remember seeing it for the first time at a drive in movie theatre as a kid, and then being crushed by the old console game. The music still gets to me.