Yearning for days gone by, the days of our youth, is bound to strike an individual at some point in his or her life. For 2003 Brownwood High School graduate Cale Sikes, reliving the past has become a career choice, in a sense.
Sikes — the manager of the Sci Fi Factory, located in North Fort Worth, for the past year — opted for a new job after visiting the establishment, which reminded him of his time growing up in Brownwood.
“What happened was the shop was actually opened up by couple guys I hadn’t met previously and was, ironically enough, just a few doors down from our current daycare,” Sikes said. “When it opened, I started going over there to check the place out, hung out for a little bit, and I liked it so much I asked if they needed help with anything. It reminded me of everything we did when we were growing up and I felt like I’d like to work there. I did some volunteer work for a little bit until they asked if I wanted to work one or two days a week and it went from there. I’ve been there now right at a year.”
Sikes describes the Sci Fi Factory as, “pretty much a comic book, video game, trading card game, table top role playing game store. It’s pretty much everything my generation grew up with, all in one place.”
In his role as store manager, Sikes often acts more as a host than someone whose primary objective is to generate a profit.
“The thing I tell everyone who walks in the door is my job is to make everyone feel at home,” Sikes said. “My favorite thing is interacting with people, building customer relations. What it all boils down to in the end is I’m working for and with my best friends. We have the same interests, share the same hobbies, a lot of us are in the same life stages, even though we do have a lot of college and high school kids that come into the store. At the same time, what I focus on is making everyone who walks through those doors feel as welcomed as possible, like a second home or going over to a friend’s place to hang out. That’s what it feels like.”
The atmosphere of the Sci Fi Factory is among the key factors in the store’s success, Sikes believes.
“First and foremost we’re a family store that happens to sell comic books, video games and such,” Sikes said. “Everything that goes on is G-rated. We actually enforce a language policy. Something a mom, dad and very young daughter and or son wouldn’t be comfortable hearing, we don’t want to hear it in the store. A lot of parents find that very refreshing, part of the whole atmosphere of making everyone feel welcomed no matter how young or old you are.
“One of the best compliments we’ve ever had was from a gentlemen who said he’d been to 30-plus comic book stores in the greater DFW and Texas area. He said that Sci Fi Factory was hands down the most open, welcoming, loving store he’d ever been in. The camaraderie, the customer service, it’s like the feeling when you walk into someone’s house that’s full of love and has that vibe. When you come through those doors we’re going to love on you and make you feel at home and do whatever we need to make you feel like you are wanted here.”
The Sci Fi Factory features a variety of inventory, but those not looking to buy are just as welcomed in the store.
“One of the shop’s mainstays is new and used comics,” Sikes said. “One of our biggest selling points is $1 used comics, so if someone isn’t sure what to get or wants to try out the whole comic scene, we recommend getting some of the less expensive ones because we buy them for really cheap and try and turn that around and give those to our customers. We’ve also got new comics, and if someone is wanting to stay up to date with a series, we’ll order an extra one and set it aside for them.
“Another mainstay is Magic The Gathering, a trading card game, and we hold tournaments multiple days a week. Our Friday night Magic tournament has anywhere from 40-50 people, and our largest was 71 people on a Friday night. It’s one of, if not the most popular trading game on the planet right now. Another really popular game we have now is Warhammer 40K, a table top miniatures game that plays out a lot like chess except its got a lot more options and variables and is a bit more complicated. You build and paint your own models, so that makes it really cool because you can personalize.”
Volunteers also assist in making the Sci Fi Factory experience unique.
“Every Tuesday we host a board games night and we have a guy who comes out and does an amazing job of it,” Sikes said. “This particular gentleman helped me make that possible because he’s a part-time caterer and cooks for us on Tuesdays out of his pocket and take donations and such. If you want to try a board game before you buy it, come out on Tuesdays, come in and play a few games for free, try it out before you buy it and have a good time. That’s what we try and focus on is everyone having fun.”
Other merchandise in the store includes Mangas — Japanese comics — graphic novels, literary novels, action figures, video games, DVDs and Blu-Ray movies.
Sikes’ path to the Sci Fi Factory was completely unexpected, after initial desires of working in the engineering field, and then becoming a chef. Sikes credits the love and support of his wife, Missy, in helping lead to his current destination.
“I went to UT-Arlington for a year and double majored in mechanical and aeronautical engineering, but I just didn’t like it, it wasn’t for me,” Sikes said. “I wasn’t interacting with people enough, I was behind a computer too long and too often. So I came back home for a few years, worked at Chicken Express and Hastings as many in Brownwood have.
“As with most stories, I met a girl and she lived in Stephenville and was going to Tarleton at the time. She was one of the funniest, most lively girls I’ve ever met. We got to talking and dated for a while so I moved to Stephenville to be able to spend more time with her and shortly thereafter we got engaged and married. Missy’s pretty much the reason why I got on this road and the reason why I’ve come this direction. Her passion is people just like mine is, but hers is in the sense of nursing, she’s an R.N. The Fort Worth area was the best place for her to find work, she had some friends up here, so we moved up here.”
Once in Fort Worth, Sikes attended culinary school.
“I enjoyed cooking, which I based that upon it being the best way to communicate with anyone,” Sikes said. “Literally, you don’t have to speak the same language, but I can cook you a good meal and communicate with you without even having said a word. That leads back to me being, at heart, a people person. I went to culinary school because I thought what I wanted to do was cook. My wife was extremely supportive and I ended up graduating and working for various restaurants and bakeries until Sci Fi Factory opened, and the rest is history.”
With Sci Fi Factory still in its infancy, there is plenty of room to grow, which Sikes fully supports. At the same time, he doesn’t want the current store — or any potential new ones — to lose the atmosphere that he feels is the reason for its popularity.
“I would like to see the communities grow, but in the end what we focus on is not actually selling video games or board games, it’s that you told your friends about us and they got curious and came in and bought something,” Sikes said. “It’s pretty much all about word of mouth. What we’re doing is just as much a business as a community service. At the time we got it, we were the only comic book store in the area certified with the Better Business Bureau, so that’s got to speak for something. We have just as many volunteers as we do staff because people are that passionate about their games and their hobbies and making other people feel welcomed and having fun.
“I’d like to see us expand over the next few years, perhaps even franchise out, but above and beyond everything else, I’d like to see the Sci Fi Factory remain the home that it has become for a lot of our guys.”