Wednesday, January 31, 2007

I'll never get used to how fast I can lose money in this business. You're going along, doing just fine, and then the customers disappear for a few days. Never quite know why. The weather? The economy? The stars?

Now something I know, intellectually, is that it all evens out. I've got money set aside for these types of weeks. So don't worry about us, we're doing fine. I was just hoping, I guess, for even more. Over the long run, I know and plan for these weeks. And yet, they still always seems to catch me off guard and unawares.

After all these years, downturns should never surprise me. But they do. That's the Wiley Coyote optimist part of me. Give me three good weeks in a row, and it never occurs to me that the fourth week might suck.

It always seems that when sales are weak, all revenues go toward bills When sales are strong, that means something must be selling well, and I need to take the extra money and re-invest in whatever is selling.

Whenever there is a downturn, my critical, thinking facilities start kicking in. "Oh, yeah," it says, dismissively. "This time of year is ALWAYS slow. Didn't you see that!"

And Coyote answers, "But games and graphic novels were selling so well. I got the right ACME novelty kit this time!"

But, of course, I can look at historical patterns and usually it is pretty easy to see where I went off course.

The problem, of course, is that..... the time I buy .....isn't the time it arrives ..... isn't the time it sells...... isn't the time the bill comes due.

I buy at least half of my material anywhere from 2 months to 6 months in advance; even the other half, which I buy on reorder, isn't going to show up on the same week. And just like the weather, my crystal ball only seems to be accurate for about 3 days.

So a 1000.00 swing can happen in just a couple of days, and it can be compounded every couple of days, and so you finally react, and then by the time that material shows up, sales have rebounded and suddenly you have too little.

Sometimes I envy anyone who gets that regular paycheck. They at least can plan on a certain amount of money coming in every month. I suppose the uncertainty I constantly feel about business is compensated by the fact that I'm making the decisions, good or bad, and that I probably won't get fired.

After all these years, I have trends and patterns to look at. Thing is, the trends and patterns never seem to repeat themselves, except in the most broad strokes (Christmas and Summer sales, higher; spring and fall sales, slower.)

If I was cold-blooded and rational, I'd figure out some kind of formula to follow. Problem is, if I was cold-blooded and rational, I'd run the business straight into the ground. I had one 3 year period where I crunched numbers obsessively, and only reordered what was selling, at just the right times, and in just the right amounts to maximize profit margin and turns.

At the end of that three year period, I was perilously close to my 'break-even' point, another couple hundred dollars and I would have been below. I threw caution to the wind. I had a good feeling about Collector Card Games, even though sales history was terrible. I reinvested. Two months later, Pokemon came along and I rode that fad for all it was worth, and so on.

I've been running this store by the seat of my pants ever since. Of course, as you can tell from this blog; I do analyze things, I'm still pretty obsessive.

I suppose the difference is that I trust my instincts now more than I trust the math.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Next week we're getting in a Dark Tower comic, by Stephen King. Well, "BY" meaning he had some input. We don't know exactly how much, just as we don't exactly know what the story is going to be.

It was supposed be an original story, a 'prequel' to the first book, and an 'origin' story of the Gunslinger. The art is by Jae Lee, which is a great choice, and actually is more encouraging in some ways than the supposed involvement of Stephen King.

I don't know why, if King loves comics so much, he doesn't just WRITE the damn thing. At least the first couple of issues.

It bugs me when the big media types feel like they are doing us a favor by deigning to involve themselves with comics.

Kevin Smith started writing for Marvel, and he was pretty good. Turned out a very well written Daredevil. So he announced another couple of mini-series; we ordered massively. We got the first issues......and then, nothing. Four years later, he finally finished the one 4 parter, and we've yet to see a second issue on the other series.

What does he care? He's a big time movie director.

He went on David Letterman in the midst of all this, supposedly to talk about his comic writing, since he didn't have a movie on the works at the time. Stock up, Marvel said. Kevin Smith is going to give a big national boost to comics.

He goes on the show, immediately gets sidetracked, and doesn't mention comics once.

One of the creators of the show "Lost" Damon Lindeloff, starts writing a high profile series. The first two issues show up, and then....nothing. Two years later, we don't know if he's ever going to finish.

Frank Miller (of the '300' and SIN CITY fame) and Jim Lee announce a series called, All-Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder. We get the first 4 issues over a years time, and then one issue last year, and now....nothing. A once every 6 weeks comic has become an annual.

About the only guy who has followed through, so far, is Joss Whedon of Buffy and Serenity. He's supposed to write an 'eighth' season of Buffy, and based on his work on the Astonishing X-Men (slow, but not killer slow), I'm willing to take a chance ordering more than normal.

I think the comic industry needs to quit prostituting itself to other media; if the 'high profile' creator wants to play be different rules, tell him or her to take a hike.

I'm actually not sure that it does us that much good. What if I get 50 Stephen King fans in the door. Does it become something they read and like and are they willing to try something else? Or does it get shoved in a plastic bag, as yet another Stephen King item, like all those Death of Superman comics that are floating around.

We need readers, not collectors.

But if J.K. Rowling ever expressed an know we'd be bowing and scraping in an instant.

Monday, January 29, 2007

The following is rank speculation and dubious math -- but it's my blog, and I'll do what I want to.

No really, I'd love to hear contrary opinions, and I wouldn't mind if anyone shows me where I've gone off the path. But here is what I have come up with. I've tried not to drop any decimal points, but as I said, math isn't my strong suit.

Yesterday's Bulletin talked about how much 'investment' income Deschutes County had; 22% average, instead of the national average of 15.8. My first thought is, regardless if that income comes from dividends, interest, or rent, it represents an enormous chunk of capital that residents of Deschutes County own. The national family median income in 2004, according to Wikipedia is 46,300. The average Deschutes County, 56,500 in 2005, so an assumption of 20% more income is reasonable.

Assume the population of Deschutes County to be 150,000.

The next step is purely speculation, but I'm going to assume a 5% return on the investment captital.

So: 6.2 % of 56,500 is 3500.00. At 5% interest, that represents 70,000 in capital. Multiply that by 150 thousand residents, and up that by 20%, and residents of Deschutes County have something in the neighborhood of 125 million dollars above the national average in capital.

To get really speculative, we can guess that 10% of that population owns 90% of that extra amount of money. So, we've got 15,000 people walking around who own between them about 112.5 million.

Anyway, even if the specifics are wrong, I think it is undeniable that there is extra capital in this here county.

All of this is a long way to make the point I wanted to make, which is: 112.5 million can open alot of marginal, vanity businesses. If I'm making tens of thousands in investment income every year, losing a few bucks in my dream business is no big deal. Of course, I always say, no one, even the rich -- especially the rich -- likes to lose money. Thus the turnover in businesses.

If I'm completely off base with my assumptions or math, I'd love to hear it. But I think that the basic points, that we have way more capital in Bend than is normal, and that that capital explains why we have so many frakkin businesses, are valid.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

I'm doing my monthly orders this weekend. Once again, I'm reminded of a phenomenon I'll call the "Highlight Effect."

Everything in the catalog looks sumptous. Wow. I want that. I want two of that. Why not three?

Everything is highlighted individually, every item has to be considered individually. I can make the case that almost every item will sell in my store, given the right spacing and promotion.

But there's the rub. I have limited room to 'highlight' any particular product. It is the whole reason that marketing in the mass market often revolves around which merchandise gets a special place on the tables, or at the endcaps, or face out. Companies pay for that privledge. But in a catalog or on the internet, EVERY SINGLE item can be highlighted. You can present the product in its most alluring way, shiny and new and just out of reach.

Its one of the reasons that the internet is such a formidible competitor when it comes to specialty items. Cyperspace is endless -- there is no concern about how much of the book to show, every item can be presented in the best possible manner, right there at eye height.

Here's what happens when that shiny new stuff shows up in my store. A selected few are chosen to be put in places of honor -- eye sight, face out, in the most prominent parts of the store.
Everything else is slotted into their proper space; mostly spine out, mostly NOT at eye level. I always have this experience of getting thousands of dollars worth of merchandise, putting it away, and having it simply go 'poof', gone, as if it never showed up. Most of it is pretty average stuff, really, some of it you get an "Oh, Heck," moment when you realize it stinks, and a very few you get, "Oh, Cool!" moment when you realize that product is even neater than you thought it would be.

Once it's in your hands, it has to speak for itself. It's no longer alluringly just out of reach.

An example that if it's happened once, it's happened a thousand time, a customer comes in and says, "I saw an item on the internet (or in the catalog) that looked really cool. Can you get it for me?"

And I say, "Yes, in fact, if you'll look to your right, you'll see it right there."

Customer picks up it, looks at it with a frown, and puts it back. "It's not what I expected...."

That same customer could easily pull the trigger on E-Bay, and be vaguely dissatisfied when it showed up, but probably wouldn't admit that a mistake was made.

HEAVY METAL Magazine is filled with alluring ads. I can't tell you how many times a customer has pointed to an ad and said, "I want that...." I go over, pluck it off a bookshelf and present it to him. "Oh...." the customer says.

See what the ad doesn't show is that the cover is the BEST part, that the art doesn't continue inside, that the book is much thinner and cheaply made than it looked in the ad.

Another example is the Todd McFarlane Toys. His website poses these figures with beautiful surroundings, accessories, and just the right lighting and presentation. The same toys show up in the store, squeezed into plastic containers. It takes imagination that most people don't seem to have to visualize how that toy will look when it is taken out of the plastic and assembled.

Add to that, the problem I've often alluded to: that the internet can basically pretend to have an item in stock, whereas I can't. I either have it or I don't, and the customer can verify it on the spot. The Internet? "Sure, I have that! I'll get it to you immediately." When in reality they may have it On The Way, or that may have the ability to Order it, probably from the same place I order it -- except they charge you postage and I don't. Very frustrating. The internet can give you a 'date' that may or may not have anything to do with reality. They can muddy the waters with shipping times, or excuses.

I'm as big a sucker for shiny stuff as anyone. I'll order something, or too much of something, and when it shows up, I'll often wonder what possessed me to buy it. Except in retail, it's not just a buying mistake, it can be a survival issue.

Everytime I buy the wrong thing, it makes it that much harder to buy the right thing.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

If I had my druthers, I'd not let any one product line be more than 30% of my gross sales. I'd much prefer, if I can't reach that lofty goal, that no one product line be more than 50% of sales.

Of course, sales are sales, and it's not like I'm going to force them down in order to reach some hypothetical level.

At the peak of sports cards, they reached 85% of my sales. Much, much too high, in hindsight. Fortunately, comics were also increasing at the time, and when sports cards started their relentless decline, I was able to scramble and start to replace the sales with other product. I remember the day when a very smart businessman told me I was wasting all that space and time and money on comics when it was sports cards that was bringing in the money. I'm very glad I ignored that advice.

I did take out games and books, at the time, and I never really ventured into manga and anime and toys until it was clear that sports cards were never coming back.

I'm now, if anything, a diversification junkie. The more, the merrier. I'm trying to cap my product lines at eight, which is all I can handle. I've reached my limit for space, time, energy. My psychic space is full -- my brain will explode.

But what if another product came along that I thought I could sell like crazy?

My current list:

1.) Comics, both new and back.
2.) Anime dvd's. (I've been thinking about venturing into cult dvd's, or possibly used dvd's.)
3. Collector cards, which includes both non-sport cards (which used to be a legitimate line all by itself) and sports cards. (singles, packs, supplies, and a focus on full boxes.)
4. Card games. I give this line its own button on my register, separate from games. This includes games like Magic, Pokemon, Pirates, D&D minatures, Star Wars minatures, etc.
5. Games. This includes role-playing games like Dungeons and Dragons, Rifts, Star Wars, as well as board games like Apples to Apples, and Zombies. Also dice. Lots and lots of dice.
6. Books. Used and new, though I keep track of them separately.
7. Toys. This includes statues.
8. Graphic novels. Always a guestion of whether Calvin and Hobbes and Me Write Book, by Bigfoot, should be entered under books or graphic novels. So that boundary is pretty muddy right now.

I also rarely remove a product line completely, even when it starts to underperform. It is so much more difficult to bring a product line back from zero than it is to keep it alive, if comotose in the store. My theory, which I think has been born out over the years, is that every product has its future day.

Games are a great current example. I've probably sold 3 times the number of rpg books this month than I averaged last year. Of course, you might say, Gambit Games is gone. But as far as I know, Gambit wasn't selling alot of rpg's. So suddenly, my game sales are exploding.

I've had a tendency over the years to take the funds from whatever line is overperforming, and diverting a portion of the money toward propping up a line that is underperforming.

The current store seems to be proving that thesis out.

I once envisioned a store with three legs; comics, cards, and one other. (The way I heard it explained is that a stool with three legs is much more stable than a stool with one leg, or two.)

I never could find that third leg. So I started bringing in lines of product that, added together, performed the same function. And then more product lines.

I'd thought I'd reached my limit with 6 product lines. But bringing in new books and games has proven out my thesis even more; sales seem to be stable, and when one product slacks off, another seems to step forward.

What brought about all this musing is the announcement that Diamond Distributers -- these are the people who have an 80% monopoly on comics and graphic novels, -- increased their sales into bookstores by 40% last year, and expect to increase by 40% next year. Almost all that growth was into the mass market stores.

Now, I know that there is a line of thought that exposure in the mass market would be good for us, by creating new customers. I don't buy it. Sorry. That just hasn't been my experience. I could get a pretty good argument out of most people over this subject, but 27 years experience has taught me that the mass market is ALWAYS bad for business.

Right now, comics and graphic novels represent 55% of my sales. Higher than I'd like. Of that, graphic novels represent about 40%. So, overall, graphic novels are about 22.5% of sales. They have a good margin, so they probably represent 27.5% of my profits.

So the hit to my earnings is manageable.

I'm just all the more convinced that DIVERSIFICATION is the key to success.

Friday, January 26, 2007

I was proudly showing my new boardgames to a regular customer yesterday; he suggested that I display the games near the new books, instead of with the rpg's.

FLASH....INSIGHT! I knew he was right, and it wasn't something I'd thought of myself. I love that kind of thing. I try for original thinking, or at the least, to recognize original thinking when I hear it. His suggestion not only was right (nothing turns off the general public like half naked barbarians) but it solved my space problem as well. I had put up a new shelf for the board games, but just the few I've gotten in, Zombies, Arkham, Apple to Apples, and a few others, already filled the shelf. And I want to bring in quite a few more. But I have space near the entry way, on top of the bookshelves, that haven't been used very efficiently until now.

It is those FLASH....INSIGHTS! I'm always looking for. When Linda and I started the used-bookstore, THE BOOKMARK, 3 1/2 years ago, we had plenty of time to think about it. Ran it through our minds for years, trying to distill the plans to their essence. We have a saying that we are trying to stick to; "Keep it Simple, Stupid."

The store has performed well, and I'm pretty sure that it was our more than 20 years experience that helped us start off on the right foot. The most crucial decision was that we would be very open to all books that came in the door, except those so damaged that we couldn't do anything with them. My wife chafes sometimes under the deluge, but we both realize that our open door policy has really helped spur our growth.

When I asked other used bookstore people why they didn't accept every book, since most bookstores have a policy of half credit/ half trade which meant that a customer has to spend a dollar for every dollar of credit he or she redeems? Not one of them had an adequate anwer. "Too many books to deal with..." most of them mumbled.

I understand their concern, but it's a lousy reason. That FLASH....INSIGHT! has been the basis of the BOOKMARK's success ever since.

So I'm always looking for original thinking, in both small ways and big ways.

This will probably show just how obsessive/compulsive I really am, but I have a bit of a mantra I use, at least once a day, usually as I'm going to bed at night, or before I go to work in the morning.

"What Have I Done That I Shouldn't Have Done? What Haven't I Done That I Should Have?"

This isn't meant to lay in the guilt. It's meant to open my mind to brainstorming. All ideas accepted. It starts me down a path of thinking. "Did that Work? What if I tried that?" And every once in a while, if I do it often enough and let the subconscious work on it, I get that FLASH...INSIGHT! that makes all the difference.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Far be it for me to stand in the way of progress. But I hated what was said today in the Bulletin article: "A NEW ENTRY TO DOWNTOWN."

You know, you read these kinds of articles all the time, about improvements. And you really don't think about the people and places who are 'improved' right out of existence. "Peter Gramlich, another Bend planning commissioner and a local architect, said the intersection of Greenwood Avenue and Third Street -- two major roads -- should be a vibrant and memorable one.
................"We have a flower shop, pet store and gas station and acres of parking," Gramlich said. He also said the architecture of 'horizontal-based, low strung buildings with a lot of asphalt around them doesn't inspire anybody.'"

That sounds great, unless you happen to actually BE the flower shop, the pet store and the gas station, and oh, by the way, the businesses that would also be affected by the changeover, such as a used bookstore, a hispanic market, etc.

Who needs them? After all, we could have another Franklin Crossing. More high end dress shops, art galleries, and home decor stores! Lets turn Bend into one big Old Mill District.

But shouldn't they rent a couple of the spaces in the Franklin Crossing before they build another one?

Oh, but they'll let us move down near the railroad tracks. Nice of them. Oh, I suppose the people down near the railroad tracks can just move ONTO the railroad tracks. Let them eat cake.

The Bulletin printed an article not so long ago from an expert who warned against not leaving any places for start-ups, non-fancy, utilitarian type businesses to exist.

Funny thing is, I think the business cycle will take care of the problem. Housing slowdown will ultimately affect commerical businesses. There's a couple of empty lots downtown that aren't being worked on, because that slowdown has already begun.

So it's all pie in the sky. But there is a certain smug, arrogance to all this talk that really gets to me. It's so dismissive.

P.S. U.S.A. Today's Headline this morning: "HOME SALES FALL MOST SINCE '89"

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

I finally went up the the Small Business Advisors, up at COCC, in my fourth year of business.

A little history.

I bought my store with a small, co-signed loan in April, 1984. I'd worked in the store from the first year, 1980, and had been the (largely powerless) manager for a year. At the time, what I paid seemed like a bunch of money, and now looks like ridiculously little money. Even so, it was more money than I had, and I probably technically overpaid. In fact, when I sat down with a calculator, I figured that I needed to gross at least twice as much as the store was currently doing in order to survive.

I bought the store anyway. I knew that the potential was there. The absentee owner had stripped the store twice to begin stores in Portland, and had pretty much neglected and underserved the Bend store for a couple of years.

I was able to pay half down to the owner, and keep back a couple of thousand dollars for an infusion of inventory and emergency cash. Which I spent almost immediately. Sales reached survivability and stayed there. I had to make monthly payments to the owner.

I struggled with cash-flow for the next couple of years. I never had enough material, but I couldn't afford to buy more. I began to realize that I was not coming even close to the potential sales, but couldn't do much about it. Lifting oneself by one's bootstraps sounds great, but is nearly impossible in reality. Ironically, the success of baseball cards, which I brought in my second year of business, actually compounded the problem. I never had enough money to buy enough material to satisfy demand.

So I went up and had meetings with the SMA folk. The advisor listened to me and said, "You have a primitive sophistication."

This became my favorite saying for the next few years. A beautiful oxymoron. And exactly what I felt myself. I was in fact doing all the right things, but just doing it the hard way. For instance, he gave me the "Break-even" formula, which is; Fixed expenses, divided by your protfit margin, must equal gross sales." Simple, and yet so telling.

So the advisor put me through my paces. He made me come up with a business plan, do research, think it all through. Now I'd pretty much been doing that, informally. But it didn't hurt to do it formally, as well. The upshot was, as some point in the discussions, I said frustratingly; "I believe that I could reach xxx in sales in five years, if I just had the inventory to serve demand."

He looked at me and said, "Why couldn't you do that THIS year."

It was like someone had taken off my leg irons and cuffs. "Yeah," I said. "I could easily do that.....if I had the money."

The advisor went with me to a bank loan officer, who gave me a loan that was 4 times what my original buying price was. And I was off to the races.

One of the interesting things the advisor said was, that most of the people who went through the formal process of making a business plan, would decide that their idea wasn't feasible. I've always remembered that, because I sometimes think people put more thought into buying a car than they do in opening a business.

My own situation -- of deciding that I could make the store work even though it was currently grossing only half of what it needed to gross -- was a lucky break. (Not completely lucky, because over the years I've decided one of my talents is doing a realistic appraisal of future sales....)

Still, it taught me that a good idea isn't enough; there has to be a realistic approach to implementing the idea.

And as my wife says after listening to this entry......"MONEY."

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Being a small business owner is a strange combination of being a big pessimist, but an even bigger optimist.

People come into the store and ask how I'm doing. I say, "We're doing's got me worried."

I'm not really kidding. My wife calls me "Wiley Coyote", because I always think that if it just buy one more kit from ACME, I'll finally catch that Roadrunner. I'm so intent on chasing that illusive success, that I'll run right over that cliff without noticing.


When I had a five year stretch of doubling sales, I got just a little bit cocky. As my wife says,
"An arrogant mood struck you....." She's under strict instructions to let me know if I do that again. Because, in the end, while it's important how I handle my business, it is really the macro events, the recessions, the bubbles and fads, the level of competition, my landlords, my suppliers, who have the biggest impact on how I do.

I can't tell you the number of times I've approached that moment where I think I'm finally secure......and the roof caves in, the bottom falls out, and I'm left standing in the dust. The bomb goes off in my hands........


Monday, January 22, 2007

I'm in a time warp. First of all, I'm trusting my employee with the store a bit more, and taking time off. Going to see Pan's Labyrinth this afternoon. Secondly, it's the time of year when things just seem to....slow....down. Which is O.K. with me. Lulls are a good time to get assimilated.

Years ago, (I hate to think it, but probably 10 years), my wife put all the clocks in the house 20 minutes ahead in an attempt to help her get to work on time. In self-defense, I put my watch at 20 minutes ahead. After a few years, she went back to 'real' time, while I was still stuck on 'Linda' time. So I've ben operating for a decade with a 20 minute time gap.

Today I set my watch back to 'real' time. Very disorienting.

Back when I was working the store every day, I gave myself a gift. I changed the opening hour from 10:00 to 11:00. I've never regretted it. I love my extra hour in the morning. I have time to savor the paper and coffee, and mull over the day ahead.

I would look at my watch, and when it hit 11:00, it was time to leave. I wonder how long it is going to take to realize I need to leave at 10:40. Today, I'm really conscious of it. Tomorrow I'll probably still be conscious of it. In a few days......?

If I'm five minutes late, I don't panic too much. I call it "owner's perogative." I try to do it as little as possible, but it happens. I usually stay past the 6:00 closing time. One thing that I've never done in all the years is close during posted hours. That, to me, is one of the WORST things that any business can do. A sign that either the owner is dispirited, or doesn't care, or has lost interest in his own business.

Anyway, I'm feeling in a time-warp. Bear with me.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

I have Sundays off. I usually make a quick trip to the BOOKMARK, pick up some books, and drop them off at my own store. Sometimes, I'll see a small pile of books that she hasn't filed, and I think I'll quickly put them away.

Two hours later I'm still putting books away.

I just like doing it, for some reason. I have a very similar need at my own store; I really should be filing comics. Instead, I work on my day off in my wife's store.

It's almost like meditation to me. Very relaxing. Just being around the books, putting them away, is very satisfying. I like to see what new has come in, what trends are developing. Which authors have suddenly been discovered? Which authors are being forgotten?

I think I've said before that I can always tell what was on the tables at Costgo a month ago, because we suddenly get piles of them. They stack up in the backroom, and it seems as though we'll never get rid of them. Then, little by little, the flow reverses. Its really a great feeling to find a hole in one of the bestsellers.

I particularly love it when the classics come in.... Last week for instance, we got somewhere around 15 P.G Wodehouse books in one batch.

I like to be able to highlight books that are in the news. For instance, PARTING THE WATERS, by Taylor Branch who spoke in Bend on Saturday. I listen to NPR, and I'll grab a book by an author who's been interviewed, and place it on the front rack.

Anyway, it's a little microcosm of America, at least the part of America who reads.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

After a few slow days, Pegasus again had a big day. We're doing great so far this month. It is always a little dangerous to try to figure out short term trends -- I like to see if we are going up 3 months straight, or down 3 months straight, before I decide on the direction we're going.

As a small business, I can see very large swings. When I read these 3 or 5% estimates in the papers, they are talking about big business which have so many branches the trends tend to flatten out. I can very easily have a 20% increase or decrease without it signifiying anything but luck.

I'm also am not much of an indicator of the local economy. In fact, it is more likely I'm a contra-indicator. I tend to do well when everyone else is doing lousy. Partly because of the way I do business, partly because comics shops historically are contra-indicators (like movies.)

But if I had to guess what is happening: I think I'm finally seeing the fruits of my diversifaction efforts. I'd thought adding one more line of product -- new books -- would do it. But I've really significantly added to a second line of product this month -- games -- because of Gambit Games leaving, and I think the two of them combined have really helped to balance out the store.

Strangely, it is the games that I was ALREADY carrying, and which I had thought Brad had dropped out of, that are doing well. Either Brad was selling alot more of those than I thought, or people are reminded that we're here by Gambit not being there, but suddenly my role-playing sales have gone up. I invested quite a bit into dice this month, and those have sold well.

It is kind of neat to see how one of the product lines will pick up one month, as another drops, and another is flat, but all together the trends go upward. I can't imagine how stores who carry just one kind of product do it. I'm in this great position of choosing which product line to work on this month, and which to leave alone, which product line had some special deals being offered, and which are in an off season. When I can chose between games, toys, cards, books, used books, comics, dvd's, and graphic novels, I can be opportunistic on a pretty much permanent basis.

Don't get me wrong. This wouldn't be for everyone. I happen to enjoy the level of complexity. And it takes FOREVER to get to a stocking level where you can take advantage. But once there, I think its the best way to maintain an interesting and vibrant store.

Friday, January 19, 2007

I've been trying to figure out how many of the graphic novel, "300", to carry. Finally saw the trailer, and Wow, I guess they're going for the exact same look as the original Frank Miller art. The blue screen process is the same as they used on "Sin City", also by Frank Miller.

I'd been ordering a couple of extra copies with each order over the last few months, and had built my inventory all the way to 12 copies. Even the best graphic novels I have, I'll usually only carry 1 or 2 copies, and then immediately reorder. But we had an interesting new development happen when the movie "Sin City" came out.

A little history. Graphic novels are pretty new. Back in the late 1980's, there were probably only a dozen or so books that were worth carrying. There developed an independent market, much like independent films, but I had very little luck selling them. I was stuck selling super-hero comics; which is one of the reasons I diversified into selling sports cards and toys and games, etc. I would bring in highly praised indy's like Cerebus and Strangers in Paradise and proceed to sell......none.

Even when I did carry an indy, I'd sell the one or two copies and stop. I was under the misapprehension that I was unlikely to sell more than that --- I had probably sold to the only two people in this small town who would want it.

Slowly but surely I began to realize that some of the books, especially the Vertigo titles like "Sandman" or "Preacher," were selling over and over again. These were titles that I may have only sold 10 copies of the comic, and yet I was selling 10, then 20, then 30 of the more expensive book and on and on. Strange. Other titles, that you'd have thought every single interested person in the world would have already bought, such as "Watchmen" or "Return of the Dark Knight" kept on selling. And it finally sunk in into my thick head that these weren't collected comics, they were books -- classic books, at that.

I started to carry the full lines of the best selling books. Months would go by without selling a single copy of a series, and then suddenly I'd start selling one a day. Once you got someone to try that first "Preacher", you had them hooked for all nine novels. But I was still having trouble selling the indy's.

I started talking to Scot, the owner of More Fun comics in Ashland. Now Ashland has an even smaller pop. than Bend, but a 4 year college, is on I-5, and has the Shakespeare Festival. Still, if he was having luck selling Fantagraphics and Alternative Press, maybe I was missing something.

I started to assemble an inventory, until years later, I've gotten to about 6000 volumes of books in stock. They account for almost half of my 'graphic' sales. The big sellers like "Y-The Last Man", "Fables," "Preacher" account for most of that, but I sell a significant number of superhero collections, and enough -- just enough -- of the independent, literary graphic novels to carry them.

When the "League of Extraordinary Gentlemen" movie came out, DC Comics offered us a chance to order as many copies on consignment as we wanted. I thought I was being over the top by ordering 20. Well, I blew through the first 20, and then had to reorder another 20 at regular discounts, and so on. Same thing happened with "V for Vendetta" except I ordered 30, and then had to reorder. Unfortunately, I ordered 20 each of four different books on consignment for Superman, and had to return almost all of them.

When the "Sin City" movie came out, I stocked up to probably 6 copies of all 7 books. Because it was from Dark Horse Comics and not DC, we weren't able to get a consignment deal. Just before the movie came out, I realized that I was down to 4 or 5 copies and tried to restock.

Now, I'd carried "Sin City" books for years; it is one of my favorite series, I thought I had a pretty good handle on what I needed, especially since I'd never had trouble getting copies.

I call my wholesaler, and they're gone. them.
B&N and Borders had scooped them up. On a returnable basis, there was absolutely no reason for them to not get them all. Meanwhile, since I was actually BUYING mine, I had to be at least a little careful.

Which brings me to the "300." I'm down to 3 copies, and the movies coming in a month or so. It's a Dark Horse Comic, so unless they learned their lesson (Surely it is preferable to actually SELL the damn books than risk massive returns?!?), I may run out of books again.

And yet, with the recent flop of all the Superman books, I also need to be careful. The price point is a bit of a problem; a hardcover book for 30.00, but in my opinion warrented by the gorgeous art. The book needs to be wide, and contained in a hardcover. Looking inside, there isn't a lot of dense dialogue; but again, there it is appropriate to the story. Thicker isn't always better.

I'm going to try to get 20 copies in the next two or three weeks, and if the movie stinks, I'll still probably be able to sell them off over the next year or so. If the movie is as good as I think it will be, I may sell all the copies in a few days.

Rule of thumb; if a product is a hit, you can't order to many. If the product is a flop, you can't order too little. Whach ya gonna do?

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Internet service is down at home, so I'm trying to write something at work. Haven't missed a day, yet.

Still, this will be short.

Bulletin had an article about all the 'big city' stores that locals wanted. And I just can't help but think these people are rapidly changing Bend into the kind of place they escaped.

I'm sure they think it was the outdoors and the mountains and all that brought them, but increased population can't help but impact on that environment even worse.

Had a fellow in the store yesterday, who had just moved to Bend from Malibu. He was marveling about how polite and friendly everyone was around here. I mentioned that it was changing, that people didn't always respond to greeting the way they used to, but he insisted that we had a very long way to go before we got as bad as Malibu. I mentioned that I didn't much like some of the attitudes of the new folk, or how the gated communities were meant to keep the riff-raff out. And I mentioned how I didn't like all the traffic tail-gaters.

He completely misunderstood my point, and said, yeah, it was the riff-raff that was tailgating and that eventually they'd be forced to move away.

I said, that I noticed an awful lot of the tailgaters were driving big SUV's. And that I prefered the riff-raff to some of the rich.

We were talking from two different angles. And it reminded me of a less than attractive element of the new migration; white flight. No one ever says it, except in the most coded of words, but it is obviously happening.

If we are twice as rude, and snobby, and frenetic as we used to be, but only half as bad as Malibu, than that would explain the disconnect. Anyway, just a quick example of the new attitudes I keep running into. I'm not sure our goal for quality of life should be.....that we aren't as bad as Malibu.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

A little followup on yesterday's excursion to the west side. I was so intrigued, that when I had a free hour yesterday afternoon, I took a jaunt over to Northwest Crossing.

First thing I noticed is that there are a hell of a lot of ongoing construction sites there -- I hope they all get finished, or it's going to look really lousy. All the streets leading to unhooked utilities and juniper trees and all the empty lots already look pretty crappy. It looks like it will be years before the place will look settled. I guess if you like living in the midst of perpetual construction.....

There are also quite a few houses that didn't look for sale and yet weren't occupied.

I wish I remember who wrote an essay on the phenomenon of the rich having multiple houses. Whoever it was said that it was a very bad development for any community; that the rich tend not to take ownership or responsibility for any secondary residences. His main point was that empty houses really took the vitality out of any community. He said that the houses will sit empty most of the time. The rich make lousy neighbors.

I know that Northwest Crossing isn't the ultra rich, but it looks to me like the same phenomenon.

The other amazing thing was to see retail and restaurants! In what looked like the middle of nowhere! I noticed lots of empty tables......

I live on the eastside, in the Williamson neighborhood. It's a nice neighborhood, much nicer in my opinion than all these Craftsmans monstosities on the West Side. It is also probably a third less pricey for the same quality. Not to mention that I have a third of an acre for property, and so do all the other houses in this area. It just feels like every house is its own thing, instead of lined up in little rows.

Frankly, it is pretty strange to go from all the rows and rows of low income Craftsman homes on the east side, especially east of 27th, and then drive to the west side and see rows and rows of high income Craftsman homes. Same concept, at a higher level, just bigger boxes with a few more angles. Where's the individuality?

I mean, I like the 'Craftsman' style as much as anyone. When I first saw one in Bend, say a dozen years ago, I thought it was neat. If I'd been in the market, that's what I would have bought. But really, does EVERY house have to be in that style? Would it hurt to have the occasional southwest, or victorian, or gothic or....even a ranch style? Does every house have to be in earth tones? Can't there be the occasional solid color or pastel?

I especially feel sorry for the early adopters. It would be like naming your kid Amadeus, thinking it's different, and then finding out that every other kid in his first grade class is also named Amadeus.

Is it really much of an improvement that if you go into an ice cream shop, and instead of only having chocolate or vanilla, they now only have coffee nut fudge, or fudge coffee nut, or nut fudge coffee?


Got my Comics and Games Retailer trade publication yesterday. It has steadily shrunk over the years. The strange thing is to see that a two thirds of the magazine is devoted to gaming, when gaming is the smaller industry. Because comics are a distributer monopoly, and because none of the publishers have much money to advertise, the advertising is done by gamer companies. And yet, for example, only 1/3rd of the respondents for the polls are gamers, and 2/3rds are comic retailers. Just goes to show you can't tell what's happening by the amount of coverage.


I read once that the Japanese were astounded by the level of creative destruction in the Silicon Valley. The idea that we would let 90% of the companies fail in order to create one viable company was something they just couldn't fathom.

I think the same sort of thing happens in retail. Lots of dreamers, opening up businesses that probably will fail, but which create vitality in the meantime, which improve the physical structure -- leaving a 'beautiful corpse', if you will, that that next guy can build on. And every once in a while, a dreamer actually succeeds.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Linda and I went out driving on the west side of Bend this morning. As someone who went to COCC over 30 years ago, I'm astounded by the new businesses on College Way. All the businesses in areas that I've always pretty much thought of as residential. Everytime I drive around Bend, I'm astounded.

Either I'm wrong, or these businesses are. This is a really good place to point out that sometimes I'm just expressing my puzzlement. I just don't get how these businesses succeed. I don't wish them bad luck, I don't even assume that they aren't succeeding, I just.....don'

As much as I grumble about the rent downtown, I can at least see some reasons for it. People do come downtown to shop, they do walk around. But I see some fancy high-end shop a half a block off College Way and I'm completely stumped. How many people do they get in every day?

When we had a store in the Mountain View Mall, the rents were quite a bit higher than downtown. But it didn't take long before I realized that if I was to ever start a shop from scratch, I would open in a mall. People find you there. (Doesn't matter how many people tell you that they don't like malls, that they prefer downtown.) Despite my being downtown for over three times as long as I was in the mall, I'd still be willing to bet that more people found us there than have ever found us downtown. I figure that just about everyone who came to town checked out the malls, probably from one end to the other. Not everyone checks out downtown, and almost no one checks out every street.

The malls failed. Not exactly sure why; it could very well have been the high rents. All the financial shenanigans; or just the change in retail 'fad' from enclosed shopping malls, to open shopping malls, to Big Box Centers. (Give it another few years, and we'll go full circle back to downtown department stores.....) But as difficult succeeding in the malls was, at least there was a CHANCE to get people in the door. My wife's bookstore, THE BOOKMARK, is located on the BUSIEST corner in all of Bend, the intersection of 3rd and Greenwood, where Highway 20 intersects with Highway 97. And yet, after 3 years, we still have plenty of people who don't know we're there; plenty of people who come in for the first time after 3 years, and it's clear they still think of us as a new store.

If you have a store that isn't on a main street, isn't in a walking area, isn't in a shopping center, how many visitors do you get? Some of these are nice looking stores, obviously well-loved by the owners. Still, how many customers do they have? I have a huge backlog of customers, anyone who has come in my store over the past 26 years even once is a potential customer. Anyone checking out downtown. All my regulars. And I'll still have extremely slow days, when hardly anyone comes in. I can't imagine what it must be like on some of these out of the way stores.

I've come to the conclusion, especially after observing most stores close before they ever hit the 10 year mark, that almost all small businesses fail. Is it all just money churning through the system? Is it all equity money from somewhere else being dissipated? That is what it looks like to me.

That can't be right, can it?

Monday, January 15, 2007

After three big days, Pegasus has had two awful days, so balance is restored to the Universe.....dammit.

I've said before that I'm not a natural businessman. I do think I might be a natural 'storekeeper', you know, the funny little guy in the Western with an accent and a funny mustache. But I'm not a natural wheeler-dealer. I'm in a business that, at times, is dominated by wheeling and dealing, but over the years I've gone the opposite direction, withdrawing from most situations that require it. I pretty much buy my material wholesale from established distributers; I rarely if ever buy off the street.

When I see all the shenanigans at Broken Top, or Pronghorn, or any other of these high finance deals, I'm glad that I have a simple little business of buy and sell. As much as possible, I take the guesswork out of pricing by going with SRP -- Suggested Retail Price. I buy as low as possible, but am willing to pay full wholesale for most items. In some ways, it is a simple, old fashioned model of business. Probably seems pretty naive to the rich businessmen on the hill buying and selling golf-courses, but that's O.K.

I'm the tortoise. I'll never get rich, but I keep plodding forward.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

I read "blink" , by Malcolm Gladwell last night. (Next up, "The Tipping Point", especially since I consider myself a veteran of fads.)

A couple of his examples struck home to my business.

1.) Too much choice causes people to buy less. Uh, oh. If you've ever seen my store, you'd see why that would concern me. It is visually overwhelming, with more pop culture choice than most people know exists.

But you know what; if it is true that too much choice causes people to buy less of a specific product, I have to believe that a myriads of choices causes people to buy SOMETHING. I know that isn't exactly logical, but I do know this:

The more I carry the more I sell.

I read a book about the car industry years ago that maintained that the Japanese car companies conquered America by, among other things, providing more choices than the American car companies were providing.

I know that while I would like to have a thematically simple and elegant window display, what actually ends up happening is that I put one of every new item that I think will sell well in the window. It becomes a little cluttered -- but my observation is that it works.

Far be it from me to think that corporate America knows what its doing -- not a safe bet -- but I suspect that they have pretty good reason to offer us hundreds of brands of cereal, soap, etc.

2) Our assumptions about people keep us from making good sales decisions.

Again, Uh, oh.

I have to tell you, after 26 years of watching people walk in the door, I've gotten pretty good at deciding in that moment what the customer is likely to do. Once in a blue moon I get surprised, and I try to keep open the possibility that I'm wrong, but mostly I'm performing an act of triage, expending my energies toward the most likely outcome.

If you've ever been in my store, and you don't LOOK like the type to buy comics or games or sports cards, etc., I will immediately direct you to my used books: "We have used books for half the cover price. They start there and wrap around the store. Mostly fiction." I've found that if I don't give this little speech, 80% of the people will take a quick look and leave. If I do the little speech, there is more like an 80% chance that they'll at least take the time to look and a decent chance they'll buy.

This requires that I size up the person rather quickly. I have to realize when a person wants help, or when they want to be left alone, (or a common scenario, they want to be left alone long enough to acclimate, and then they want help.) It does no good to ask, "Can I help you, because 99% of the time they'll say, 'I'm just looking.....' so all you're doing is inviting a negative answer. Instead, you say, "If I can help you find anything, let me know...."

So all this requires reading people quickly. Occasionally you get the people who give off all the likely signals, and you spend an inordinate amount of time on them, and they walk away. Then, six months later, just as you forget them, they do it again. Usually, they don't fool me a third time.

Meanwhile, I've had to really change my attitude toward browsers. 10 years ago, I was mostly a destination store, with very little walk by traffic (Same location, mind you, the town changed around me.) So, I expected to sell to most people who actually bothered to walk in the door. Now, I've had to learn to accept that most people who walk in the door won't buy from me. At the same time, because of all the pop culture stuff I've brought in, I have the potential to sell to anyone.

In other words, I need to take a wait and see attitude.

It is always interesting to watch a new employee. They can't read the signals. They expend the same amount of energy on every customer, with predicatable results. It pains me to watch them wasting so much time and energy on people who have no intention of buying anything, who, to be fair, are radiating to anyone who can read that they aren't going to buy anything. But it is also fun to watch the surprises, the person I never would have expected buy something.
In the end, the results in sales don't warrant the amount of time and energy expended, but it is interesting to see how I can be wrong.

I used to take the employee aside after one of these encounters and explain what signals they were giving. Now, I just let them learn on their own, and occasionally get a brand new regular out of the process. It is the same principle that works with new stores. They don't know what they are doing wrong, and occasionally stumble onto something right. It is a necessary process for a newer store to be more open to the possibilities; they are fresh and bright-eyed and bushy- tailed, and are willing to kiss a whole lot of frogs to get the occasional princely customer.

Sometimes, like right now with all the changes to my store, I can generate the same 'new' enthusiasm, and sure enough, I pick up sales I wouldn't ordinarily. Unforunately, I believe it's impossible to maintain in the long run. It is the equivilent of running everywhere, whether it's important to get there fast, or not; of fixing a gourmet meal for breakfast, lunch or dinner; of dressing in your best cloths whether you're going out to a dinner or just outside to pick up the newspaper.

So you blink, and make a snap decision, and live with it. But you have to leave it open to the possiblitity that anyone can become a customer. Be polite and helpful, and watch and see.

LATER; I realize that my 'triage' analogy may sound harsh and dismissive, but really it isn't.

Let's say you have two customers walk in the door at the same moment. The first one, a middle aged man says, "I'm just wasting time while my wife shops next door." The other, a 30 something guy, heads toward the graphic novels like he knows what he's doing. The first guy says, "Wow, what an interesting store. My kids would love this store." Both statements are DEAD giveaways that he's not going to spend anything; that along with the original 'wasting time' comment has reduced the odds to basically zero, zero point one. Meanwhile, the second guy has said, "I hear this Y- The Last Man series is really good. My hometown store never seems to have it in stock." This is red meat to me. The second customer is now almost a certainty, especially if I spend time chatting with him.

Wouldn't it be silly to spend the same amount of time on each guy? My day is spent with such decisions.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Pegasus has had 3 really great sales days in a row, which is very unusual for this time of year.

I read something about statistics once, that there is a normal variance. A baseball player who hits .250 will have a .300 season; he'll talk about the baseball being the size of a basketball, and the press will call it a 'career' year, but in reality, it was bound to happen, just as he'll have a .200 season, which he'll blame, you know, on the death of his dog.

Or another way to look at statistics; I always get a kick out of someone asking why one particular day is the 'best' day, and another the 'worst' day, but by definition one day HAS to be best and another HAS to be worst.

Takes all the romance, all the freewill out of the equation. Why ask why?

Still, I can't help but look for reasons.

1.) The mentions in the Bulletin and on this blog, are bringing in a few new people.

2.) All the new product. Even though I can't ever seem to see a one on one correlation between the new stuff and the level of sales, it often seems to work that way. Unfortunately, you can't count on it.

3.) Late shelves coming in after Christmas. Of course, this happens every year, but I've had a few really big sales due to latecomers.

Whatever the reason, it's a nice way to start the year.


I've always tried to be understanding about 'gated communities'. My knee jerk reaction is to not like them. They smack a little too much of MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH, or the Green Zone, if you will. The message is to keep out the riff-raff, or the likes of you and me.

Still, I recently read a mystery with the POV of an older person, who made a pretty good case of gated communities making the elderly feel secure. I know my parents thought they were a great idea, despite having a big house in the West Hills for 40 years and never being burglarized.
Then I had the experience of finally buying a house, and seeing that people were using the residential street in front as a bypass; I suddenly had an urge to put up a gate, and say in my best Ian McKellen voice; "Thou Shalt Not Pass!"

So, I've tried to have a take it or leave it attitude. Fine, you ignore me and I'll ignore you.

Still, I can't help but feel there is an ironic justice in a rich group of homeowners being bought out by an even richer group of owners. (Brokentop). See how that feels!


Have had a bunch of new games show up. But as usual, once I put them away, they seem to just blend into the background. Another thing that happens; I have to move and consolidate in order to add, and the overall effect is to make the store seem LESS full. It's just a case of necessity forcing me to make good ergonomic decisions.

Where the customer sees a packed store, I see a certain amount of dead product that was just waiting for something better to come along. (Dirty little secret of all stores.....much of the product is filler, with the better selling product constantly coming in and going out. But much of it never or rarely selling. Still you need that stuff on the walls.)

I tend to make alot of decisions based on looks and feel, not just the bottomline decisions of how quickly things sell. It's a form of advertising, if you will. I know that I have to throw good money after bad, sometimes, just to create a viable section. The part of the store may only pay for itself, but having it there adds to the over all 'feel' of the store.

I was tempted, for instance, to buy a couple of really cool model buildings for the fantasy gaming section. I've already built a castle, and manned it with some of my extra miniatures. I don't know if it is helping sales any, but it's in a part of the store I can't use for anything else, and I simply like the looks of it. If I'm not going to make big money at this job, I want the satisfaction of creating a workspace I really like.


Have the weekend off, after working 10 days. Plan on a comic reading binge, sitting on my futon surrounded by piles of 4-color fun. Oh, frabjous joy!

Friday, January 12, 2007

I talked a little yesterday about how a monopoly can be a good thing. A 'benign monopoly' is like Plato's 'benign tyrant', as long as the owner is a 'philosopher merchant,' if you will. Especially if the monopoly entails a very diverse product line that sells in small amounts.

For the first 5 years I was in business, I carried baseball cards. I was the only guy this side of the mountains in Oregon carrying them. Because of that, I was able to carry just about every brand, in just about every format, (singles, sets, boxes and packs) with all the extras. I had vast knowledge, (watching sports center every night, reading the box scores every morning, etc.) and provided every service available. I carried reference books and odd supplies that sold slowly, because I thought of my store as a 'full service' store. I was willing to buy or trade for every card that came in the door, because there was a very good chance that I had sold that card originally. I was even able to keep the prices down, because the volume of sales was pretty high.

I could make the case that this was the best of all possible worlds for both me AND the customers. Eventually, the big guys noticed how well cards were selling, and so did the fly-by-night little guys, and competition became suicidal. (If you try to compete with a suicidal competitor, you're just killing yourself.) I always liken it to a 'name that tune' game where the other guy is making guesses with one note. You just can't win.

There has always been this misunderstanding that the way you compete with Walmart is by providing more service and selection and knowledge. All the extra's that I talked about. In fact, the opposite happens. All those extra's cost time, space, and money which you no longer have because you are no longer selling as much. What actually happens is that you cut everything that doesn't help the bottom line, and you cut your prices to as close to Walmart's price as you can get without losing money. Meanwhile, ethics and honesty evenually will win out over the fly-by-nights, but not until you've taken a real beating.

So I ended up carrying only the best selling brands, at higher prices. I no longer have the knowledge base, or the odd sizes of supplies, nor do I devote extra times, space and money keeping up. Cards are truly a sideline, where I do only the parts that make sense. The customer? Pretty much on their own, these days. Even though I get a phone call or a visit just about every day asking if I'm buying or trading, I just give out a flat 'No,' without explanation. The sport card industry, itself, is but a pale shadow.

What happens to the customer with these types of high interest, low selling products is that they become trained to buy where ever they see it, because they know they may not see it again. You'd think, for instance, that a store like mine could do well with cult items like Dr. Who, or Nightmare Before Christmas, but instead, I can carry a fairly large selection and still , more often than not, don't have that item the fan wants or hasn't bought yet.

The granddaddy of all cult items is Star Trek. Without even trying, I probably have 50 or more separate ST items in the store, which rarely sell. The Star Trek fan will almost always say, "I already have that," or "I wanted that in a different color, size or shape..." To the point where I won't carry Star Trek anymore, unless I get a deal. (Unlike Star Wars, whose fans will buy anything they like, without all the crazy specificity.)

Not coincidentally, Star Trek has had at least 6 different comic publishers, 5 different toy makers, 4 different card makers, all of which have failed. The last TV show failed. The last movie made so little money, they haven't been in a hurry to make another one. The fan has become TOO picky, and has almost destroyed what they love. Luckily for them, the illusion that Star Trek sells well is so strong, that there always seems to be someone else ready to pick up the franchise.

I had a funny example at Christmas. I happen to love Edward Gorey art. (He's the guy who's art they based that little victorian cartoon at the beginning of PBS's Mystery Theater, where the frocked gentlemen are playing croquet, and the woman on the cornice lets go a hankerchief.) I set out to get every single Gorey book available, eventually assembling 14 different books.

I had a woman come in and ask if I had Edward Gorey. I proudly showed her my selection. "No," she says, "That isn't what I'm looking for...." and walks out the door.

I wanted to shout out, "'re looking for the Edward Gorey Store down the street!"

Seriously, I'd be willing to bet good money that at that moment I had more Edward Gorey in stock than ANYONE IN THE COUNTRY! Including Powell's, or anywhere else.

As a merchant, I'm often misled into believing that a product line is so specialized, so obscure, that I'll be the only one carrying it. And in a 'benign monopoly', I could carry just about every manga book, or every anime, or every Warhammer, or every.....whatever. The customer would benefit, I would benefit. Instead, the effort is diffused into many stores, none of which can really do the job well.

But that is the free market, I guess.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

I'm late with the blog today, because the words just aren't flowing. But here it is anyway.

To be fair, after complaining about all the slow sales during the first week of the year, I should tell you the last two days have been great.

It's a good thing, too -- I got a little carried away and ordered a TON of games. (I'll explain my reasoning, below.) But suffice to say, so far none of the games are beyond the realm of what I might have ordered anyway. Just much more of it, much faster. I don't really have any doubt it will all sell, eventually.

Until I actually order Games Workshop, that is, which I'm still mulling over. Until then, I haven't really gone past the point of no return.

Sidelines are a wonderful thing. You can watch what's happening which some detachment, because the whole store doesn't depend on the results.

There have been a couple of more indications that the gaming industry is in for a tough struggle. Gambit Games closing is one sign. Second, a blog I just read by the former manager of the D&D brand (the granddaddy of all role-playing games) for Wizards of the Coast saying that he thought that the number of games stores had shrunk from 3000 shops a few years ago to maybe half that many now. And, third; today WizKids, one of the big trio of game manufacturers, (the others being WOTC and Games Workshop), decided to go 'exclusive' with a single distributer.

Not a good sign. A cost-saving measure, that is a bit of a gamble. Been through this once before.

Back in the early nineties, there were more than a dozen national distributers of comics. When the comic 'bubble' burst in 1995, Marvel decided it was the fault of the middleman, and chose to distribute their own comics. Since Marvel represented 45% of the comics in those days, DC panicked and signed an exclusive with Diamond, quickly followed by the third and fourth largest comic publishers, Image and Dark Horse. Since those 4 companies represented 85% of all comics, the other distributers folded one by one.

Marvel proved to be totally incompetent at distributing, and eventually was forced to go to Diamond as well -- thus the monopoly situation we have today.

There are currently over a dozen game distributers, but GW has already withdrawn from the wholesale tier, and WOTC distributes much of its product direct, putting extreme pressure on the surviving distributers.

Who did WizKid's go for their exclusive? Alliance Dist., which is owned guessed it.....Diamond Comics.

I happen to think that Diamond's monopoly has been good for comics. A 'benign' monopoly is a lot like a 'benign' tyrant, the best of all possible situations. Unfortunately, both tyrants and monopoly's tend to become corrupt.

My game distributer is Alliance already, so this won't really affect me. But I feel sorry for all the other wholesalers, and I feel sorry for all the game stores who have to start new accounts and somehow juggle enough product to keep their volume discounts.

The surviving game stores, meanwhile, seem to be in denial about how their industry is doing. The exceptional stores are doing well, and don't see how the weakness in the rest of the marketplace could come back and bite them.

I hate to say it, but I find that my own store usually does well when other stores are struggling; I think it 's because I spend most of my time preparing for it. Maybe I don't quite reach the peaks that some of the other stores enjoy, because I'm diverting my assets into more diversifications so that when any product starts to fade, I'm already well on the way to establishing myself in something else.

By way of illustration: lets say there is a full service competitor who carries 8 out of 10 items of a certain product line at any one time. Let's say that because that product line is a sideline for me, I only carry 3 out of 10 items. The other guy has the advantage, but that's O.K. because I'm not counting on the sideline to support me.

If the market begins to weaken, the full service store may find that 80% is too much , and suddenly cuts back to 7 out of 10 items.

If, in the meantime, if I am making money overall, and if I see an opportunity, I can easily bump my inventory from 3 to 5. Suddenly, there isn't quite as much difference between us, though the line is still only part of my diversified product mix.

If the other guy folds, it doesn't take all that much for me to go from 5 to 7 items out of 10. Thus, hopefully, taking on the role as the 'main' supplier to the customers. Meanwhile, by having 7 different product lines, I can constantly adjust, look for opportunities, and adapt.
A specialist will almost always do better than a generalist in the short run, but a generalist will always be more stable in the end.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Are people really "salivating" over Trader Joe's and the Pottery Barn? Wow. If so, that is one of those mysteries in life, like reality shows or monster trucks, that I simply don't get.

The following are educated guesses and assumptions, folks.

Bend became a "Metro Area" a few years ago, which if memory serves, means that we got to 50,000 population, plus another 50,000 within a short distance. When that happened, we popped up on the radar of every single major chain store in the country. These stores have to show their shareholders constant growth in sales, and probably the best way to do that is to keep opening stores. It doesn't seem to matter if a single store earns, say, 100 million but two stores earn 85 million each, as long as they can point to the extra 70 million in sales. Of course, they have to justify it, and they probably do that by cutting costs, so I'm assuming that if the one store had 20 employees, that the two stores have 35 employees between them, and one less floor polishing machine, and they close at midnight instead of being open all night, etc. Wall Street supposedly looks to 'same store' sales as the real mark of success or failure.

Sales aren't profits. Still, can't hurt to have bigger and bigger sales, can it?

Of course, some of these stores see Bend a comin' sooner. I'd be willing to bet, for instance, that ShopKo's modus operandi is to be the first one in. Some of these stores come in despite their own standards; I remember reading an interview with the Pier One folks, who were quoted as saying firmly that Bend really didn't have the characteristics for one of their stores.....yet they came in maybe a year later. It's almost as if there is a panic stampede on the part of the mass market. Wait, says Office Max, Bend has gotten a Staples, though our statistics say that it won't support one. What do they know, we don't know?

The gist of the Bulletin article today, 'TRADER JOE'S RUMORS HAVE US SALIVATING -- FOR MORE STORES," was that Bend was different, what with all the rich folk and tourists, and that stores needed to be coaxed into coming to an area that -- based on population alone -- wouldn't ordinarily warrent it.

Good sales job. And of course, once the Old Mill has actually talked some national chain into coming in, there is a good chance they'll stay, even if sales don't quite pan out. Again, I'm assuming that the Old Mill guys are making deals; making sure that they time the visits for summer, or on a brightly lit Christmas season evening, they say: "Come to Bend and look at the Old Mill; isn't it pretty? Drive around town, isn't it bustling? Visit the old downtown, isn't it quaint? Never mind those pesky population statistics....we're different!"

But if you analize that, it is chasing your own tail. "We're different! Why? Because we're different!"

My own theory is, we could end up with as many stores as Eugene and Salem, with half the population. Think of it this way; the chainstores enter into any new metro area with a basic model store. To open a second store, they need for the population to grow say, 2.5 times to warrent the expense. Therefore Bend, Eugene and Salem end up with the same number of chainstores.

A few years ago, again if memory serves, there was an article that Bend was the second most over-retailed market in America, behind Las Vegas. Makes me wonder where we stand now?

I threw up my hands in dismay five years ago, so what is happening now just bemuses me.

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

It's been very slow the last few days, and once again I'm struck by the notion that it may not matter how good my store is, or how well stocked, or how nice I am, or how great the may not matter....... if no one comes in. The tourists are gone, for the moment, and the locals are trying to pay off their Christmas excess. Happens every year.

Someone told me once that you can't tell the business health of a restaurant by how busy it is on a Friday or Saturday night; the restaurant makes or breaks by how they do on Mondays and Tuesdays.

I've taken that to heart and applied it to all retail. You can't tell how well a business is doing by how they do in the Summer or Christmas, but by what happens on a cold, windy Tuesday in January. If I wasn't actually working on those days, it would be an interesting experiment to take a little counter and click how many people walk by in the Old Mill district, or the corner of Bond and Minnesota, or the Outlet Mall and compare it to a Saturday in July.

That's why I've pretty much quit railing against the Walmart's of the world; I went with my wife to Walmart (to pick up a prescription for a sick friend, no really), after an incredibly slow, rainy day at my store, and the parking lot was packed, absolutely hopping. I realized that there was no competition going on between me and Walmart. I was a flea on it's hind end.

Actually, a bit of a liberating thought.

What really confounds me is that I have regular customers, who come in every week or two weeks for their comics, which arrive every Wednesday. The other stores downtown don't even have that advantage; and I wonder sometimes if their business model is more like; Make lots of money one day, and very little the next.

I have one really dud of a day that I can't seem to do much about. Tuesdays, the day before my regular Wednesday shipment. As usual, the comic world is a day late and a dollar short of what the rest of the retail world has figured out. New cd's, dvd's, books, games, are released on Tuesdays for most of retail. But the comic world, for some reason, has decided to let Tuesday fall flat.

Mondays are usually average busy, and I do all my reorders for the week. Tuesday are a dud. Wednesday's are crazy, trying to put comics away. Thursdays my reorders arrive. Friday and Saturday are just busy, and I just don't expect much from Sundays.

One of the real reasons I've pretty much gone my own way downtown, and paid very little attention to the other downtowners, is because I've felt that they spent way too much time on questionable promotions, and way too little time on the basics. Such as being open on Sundays.

I believe Bend could have the same kind of bustling Sundays as Sister's does, if we could somehow convince all the stores downtown to open every Sunday without fail, and keep it up for a few years.

Instead, it's hit or miss. Even when a store tries to open on a Sunday, if they don't get an immediate response, they tend to give up way too quickly. It takes a year or two -- or ten --for even your regulars to realize you're open. But once they know....

Sometimes I see clumps of tourist wandering around on Sundays, looking lost. What a missed opportunity. Instead, the downtowners seem to spend all their time worrying about whether the litter is being picked up, or if we have the right Christmas decorations.

It has gotten better, I admit. But I don't think we'll get the Sisters effect until we get 95% of the stores to be open.

Monday, January 8, 2007

I've decided against carrying the Warhammer games. I spent the weekend before last agonizing over what to do. I'd pretty much come down to the idea of ordering a moderate amount to start, just to show my good intentions, and then slowly building up from there, taking a cue as to my pace by what actually sold. Going mostly forward, and filling in on the basics. I thought I could be very active in special orders.

When I went to work last Monday, it occurred to me that I should wait for the first special order, and then quickly order within the day. Wow them with my timeliness. I could do that for the first couple of orders, and bring in the beginning inventory at the same time.

One day went by, then two, then five. Crickets chirping. Newspaper wafting across the room. The day before yesterday, one of the Warhammer people told me that a contingent of GW players were planning to assemble a monthly internet order. Another (the same?) contingent of players have talked the local hobby shop (who carries no other gaming) into being their source.

Finally, yesterday, one of the two Warhammer players who had been trying to talk me into it, came in and said, "Don't....I'm taking a break from Warhammer...."

So there you have it....the customers have spoken. I think the ONLY way I was willing to invest so much time, money and space into a game was if there was a chance that I could become their 'Main Man.'

I immediately felt a great sense of relief, which only confirms to me that I have made the right decision. I don't think there are enough Warhammer players to be splitting both ends against the middle. Meanwhile, my store has been functioning great. If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

So, I'm going to up my orders on card games like Magic and Pokemon, up my orders on the miniature games like Star Wars, up my orders on role-playing games over the next couple of months, maybe order one big board game per order, and see what happens. I'm going to bring in a big order of dice and accessories. All the stuff I'm already carrying. I've seen a small boost in sales in all those areas already, and I just have to hope that the next wave of anything comes in, that they'll need to come to my store.

LATER: Got a call from the director of operations for Games Workshop, who had read my messages on the game forum I frequent, and he tried to reassure me that all my concerns would be addressed, that I would be able just to order the 'best sellers' , and small amounts, and free shipping.

So I asked him if the hobby shop was going to do it; or had opened an account. He said he didn't think so.

After I hung up, I decided to call the hobby shop, and they said, they had bought out Brad's inventory, and had already set up an account with GW, and had tables out for play and so on....

Back to square one. But based on what he said, it sounded like I could actually carry the game as a sideline for a moderate price. Wait and see how the other guys like doing it.

Sunday, January 7, 2007

I don't believe there is going to be sudden collapse in the retail environment downtown. Lots of change, yes. Challenges and retreats; surges and lulls. There was an article in the Bulletin about the Sunriver mall, (which is really more of a downtown), and it would be easy to draw some parallels. But I think downtown is at such a fever pitch, that it would take a complete disaster to bring it down. And if that happens, downtown occupancy rates will be the least of our worries.

Years ago I read an article on how malls can die. Let's say you have a stretch of 10 stores, all of which are just making it. The weakest store drops, and the loss of customers strains the surviving stores, and the next weakest store drops, which then creates even more strain on the next weakest store, etc. Once that process starts, it's almost impossible to reverse.

That's why malls get torn down and started over, or at the very least, get total makeovers.

I had a store in the Mountain View Mall from 1990 to 1997. When we first opened, the mall seemed to be prospering; but I was never really fooled. See, I remembered how, when I bought Pegasus in 1984 downtown, I wasn't open more than a month before the MtView Mall approached me and offered me a free year of rent. I was pretty overwhelmed with my new store, and turned them down. But you don't get offered a free year of rent if things are going well.

I don't think either the MtView Mall, or the Bend River Mall, ever really got to stage of being healthy. They kept doing 'deals' and 'gimmicks', which only came back to bite them. If a marginal store feels compelled to accept a free year of rent, and then has a balloon payment in the second and third years, it is only going to make it that much harder to survive.

I don't know how the string of buyers of the MtView Mall, (which happened at least twice that I know of), couldn't see that they were buying a mall that was held together with duct tape and baling wire, but eventually I believe the banks put their foot down and said, 'no more deals.' Which was then the end of the malls.

My little section of the mall began to empty out. Literally in the middle of the night. Out of 9 spots on my level, 3 or 4 were empty. The theatre began to show the worst films. K-Mart started to echo from the emptiness. It felt abandoned. Termites came boiling out onto the floor outside our store, and I was told that there was a very thin layer of concrete underlying the whole edifice. It was falling apart from the day it was built.

Linda started to pressure me to sell the store, even though it was still profitable. We needed the money because we'd already closed our Sisters and Redmond stores, and sports cards were continuing their steady, precipitous decline. I resisted, until finally I took it upon myself to start talking to other stores. I worked my way toward the center of the mall, and as I got closer to the core, the store owners seemed more and more resistent to my message of alarm. Finally hit the two stores at the central point. One said to me, "We're having our best year, ever. What's wrong with you?" And the other store said, "Why don't you just take care of your OWN business."

After muttering how I thought the two ends of the mall were suffering from gangrene, I retreated. I walked into our store and said to my wife: "You're right. These people don't have a clue about what's happening. Let's sell."

We were lucky, and managed to sell the store. I heard from the new owner that the new mall management was going to improve the looks of the mall. Their first step was to pull out all the landscaping in September. It started to snow and freeze, and the landscaping remained a churned desolate mess until spring. Realized that maybe the new landlords might have even less awareness of Bend than the last landlords. They put up a couple of facades at the entrances, and brought in a couple of lousy discounts stores (one of which, the above article on the death of malls specifically mentioned as one the signs of the end), but the malls fate was sealed, even if it took a few more years.

That's the thing. All these changes take years and years to happen.

Downtown Bend doesn't give off any of that feel. Yes, we are getting a lot of doubtful high-end business, yes, viable long-term businesses are leaving. But there still seem to be plenty of people waiting to take the spaces. At full rent -- indeed, rents that are too high. I haven't seen the kind of weakness I saw in the MtView Mall, and even if I did, I know that it takes many, many years to play out. What we are really talking about is a change of tone, not health.
I'm hoping for just enough weakness to give the landlords pause, so that when my lease comes due in a few years, they'll continue to be reasonable. If not, I'll try to see it as an opportunity to improve my business by an even better location, or a bigger space, or.....whatever it takes.

So far the changes downtown have pretty much been a wash for me. Good things and bad things, equaling out. I just have to be nimble.

Saturday, January 6, 2007

When a blog draft isn't a blog draft.

Thought I'd found a nifty new way to draft blogs without posting them. Started one yesterday, and posted today. Instead, it dated itself as a blog from yesterday.

Something else I thought I should mention about the number of books selling. B & N is probably cheaper than most indy's, especially on their sale tables. So that would encourage buying. But it also reinforces the paradox. I was estimating total sales, not total books. If a large percentage of books are selling at discounts, it means EVEN MORE books are selling. Making it even more mystifying.

I'm not even talking about Costgo, or Walmart, which I suspect are selling enormous numbers of books at near wholesale. Which carries the premise into a place I can't even concieve.

Occam's Razor is that I'm just wrong about my estimates. But I'm pretty good at that kind of thing; I've got pretty good information, and I've gone so far was to completely revise by my estimates by HALF, for the benefit of the doubt.

It still doesn't make sense.

Friday, January 5, 2007

Sometimes I see a store, or a business model, that simply doesn't add up. I look at it, and think, that just doesn't compute. I'm pretty good, though, at eventually figuring it out. At least to my own satisfaction. I mull it over, observe, try to inobtrusively gather information, and I'll usually get some kind of answer which -- right or wrong -- makes sense to me.

When Barnes and Nobles came to town, I thought it was an over-reach. I assumed that they were positioning themselves for Bend's future growth. Sure enough, within a year or two, 2 out of 3 independent bookstores in Bend went out of business, and the surviving shrank to half its size. Then I started getting reports of the sales levels that B & N was reaching, and it simply made no sense to me.

Look, I think I can pretty accurately guess what all the independent bookstores in Bend were doing: I shared the same street with one, and the same mall with another. I have similar discount structures and overhead, and so on, so I'd be willing to bet that I can get awfully close to what their likely sales were.

I've also got a pretty good idea of what B & N is doing, based on what a couple of former employees have told me, and based on the nationwide averages that are reported.

Here's the kicker. By my estimates, B & N is selling somewhere around 10 TIMES more books than all the bookstores in Bend were selling before they arrived. So if I double my estimates of sales of the indy's, and cut my estimates of B & N by half, there is still a huge, huge difference. I'd bet my own money that the higher estimate is closer to the truth.

So, logically, there are only two explanations. Either 10 times more people are buying more books, or the existing book buyers are buying 10 times more books, or somewhere in between.

That just doesn't compute with me. It simply makes no sense.

An increased population is moot, in that it should affect all the stores equally.

1.) Current customers buy more books. If you give a person a plate twice as big, he will put 25% more food on it. A sort of 'Build it they will come' scenario. It wouldn't work for my store; if I had twice as much inventory, I'd be suprised if my business picked up more than 10 or 20%. But the 'Build it they will come' seems to be the motto for Bend, these days.

2.) More customers materialize out of the air. (Where were they?) Casual customers, who buy when it is convenient and easy? Customers who will only buy from the "big" stores? A strange thought, but I know that is possible. Personally, if you told me the only store to buy books from in Central Oregon is the little grocery in Tumalo, I'd walk there, in barefeet in the snow, if I had to. Can't imagine not having books to read.

3.) Customers who were buying elsewhere, either online or in other towns. I'm not sure why they would switch to B & N, but perhaps they were unsatisfied with the selection of the indy's.

4.) A combination of the above.

I think it's the 5 to 10 times the number of books selling that has me stumped. I could accept 2 or 3 times for the above reasons.

But 10 times is just inexplicable.
Had a fellow come in who has been reading the blog and he bought FUN HOME. I was a little flustered, and wasn't sure if he wanted me to mention his name, so I'll just say, I hope you enjoy the book as much as I did. We talked about buying from the mass market vs. the independents, and I told him I didn't expect people to buy only from me, or only from the mass market, but to try to do both. "Spread the Love," as he said.

This week has been an unexpected bonus. There are still quite a few people on vacation, and the weather has been just this side of bad enough to not discourage them from shopping. Next week is when I'll probably have to start pinching myself to stay awake.

There is a coffee shop opening down the street. Looks like they'll manage to open in the second half of January. Wow. You couldn't pick a slower six week period than the last half of January and February....

I have a fantasy that I'll get organized with my pop culture habits. On one hand, I can envision buying a huge, big screen T.V., a Tivo, and an account with NetFlix, and picking out the very best shows and movies to watch. No more wasting time, flipping channels, and getting caught by yet another superficial History channel show about Alexander the Great or dinosaurs (DID you know that the dinosaurs went extinct from a comet...................or was it a volcano...................snore...............)

On the other hand, I'm afraid that if I go that route, I'm doomed. Might as well plug me onto the couch with a tube running to the fridge.

So my other impulse is to go the other direction. Turn off the TV, go to my den and read comics and books and maybe do a bit of writing.

Instead I don't do either. I muddle through, and my memory of last night's viewing is; the Great Works of the Persians, or something like that.

Big Change #4.

The customers. If you had told me 20 years ago that I have more of a chance of selling a book to a middle-aged woman than I do to a 12 yr old boy, I would have said; 'begone, back to your alternate universe.'

Now whenever the young families come in, I pay way more attention to the dad and mom than I do to the kids. I mean, I'm polite and all, but really I'm just hoping the kids don't drop or misplace something. I hold out little hope they'll actually buy anything.

My main regulars are probably averaging 30 yrs old and up. I maybe.....MAYBE.....have 2 or 3 customers under the age of 20 that buy a comic once in a blue moon.

Who'd have thunk it.

Thursday, January 4, 2007

Murphy's Law is being enforced this new year.

Late comics were a problem that grew last year; by December, it was impacting on sales momentum. Twice last month I got huge shipments, 14 boxes one week, and 11 boxes the next week, but the only missing boxes both weeks was the heaviest and most important -- the comics.

Try to explain to customers that not only are the publisher's dates wrong on their websites, but that even the titles that really were supposed to show up -- didn't.

Funny thing I've noticed. Lots of customers would rather believe a web site, than a retailer. Which is strange when you think about the fact that I have absolutely no incentive in not putting product out for sell as quickly as possible, while the publishers and creators have every incentive to obscure the fact that they've been irresponsible and missed another deadline.

Any product that exists on a list on the web is vaborware if it hasn't actually showed up in a shop. And every shop in America gets their comics on the same day, usually Wednesday, except after holidays when they show up a day later.

For the last two weeks, all retailers in the western part of America have been shorted a significant part of their shipments. So now I have to explain that, yes, the comic came out, but no I didn't get it. (You just hope they are listening when you tell them that we'll get the title next week, and that no one else this side of the Rockies got it either.)

This week there was only one major title missing. Murphy's Law was that it was the biggest selling title of 2006, as well as a title that has already been significantly delayed twice: CIVIL WAR #6. So I'll have to spend a couple of minutes today explaining and reassuring and convincing every regular customer who comes in.

I used to get upset over these things, but now I try to take it in stride. Acts of god.


Big Change #3;

An obvious change is the computer and the web. I actually fought this for awhile. Now I can't imagine not having this tool. It has cut days off my ordering process, allowed me to institute a 'just in time' policy, fed me tons of information, and has even made me feel less the lonely comic retailer. I've really only begun to touch the potential of this tool.

Wednesday, January 3, 2007

Pouring rain outside. Weather like this just makes me want to hibernate. It's the perfect time to catch up on work, but the less work I do, the less I want to do.

Every year I spend spring waiting anxiously for summer business, and all fall preparing for Christmas. And every year, I'm just as glad when it's all over. It is actually almost easier to make real profits during the slow months, because they are more predictable --(always slow)-- and less risky. You cut back your orders to the miniimums, and then reorder as needed.


One of the first little business saying I heard when I started: " Too much success can be as bad as too much failure." Things get out of control, spending becomes more and more a risk, customer service suffers. We need these lull times to absorb and consolidate the changes.

I brought in sports cards in my second year of business, and they were an immediate success. Think of it this way. If you start out with 1000.00 in inventory, and you sell out, you are likely to buy 2000.00 in inventory the next time, and if you sell out, you are likely to buy 4000.00 in inventory, and so on right up the ladder.

How much money have you made? You haven't even made a 'gross' profit, much less an earned profit. You've plowed it all back into the inventory. Meanwhile, your overhead is probably going up, buying fixtures, bringing in employees, getting the support systems on line. The cashflow strain is enormous. Very dangerous place to be. The worst month I ever had in profits, was the best month I ever had in sales. I liken it to all or nothing pots in poker. You can win hand after hand, but if you lose that last hand, you've lost it all.

You can't really cut back, because if you disappoint too many customers, they'll just go somewhere else.

So slow times are necessary to the health of a business. As long as you know they're coming.

I was watching the former editor of the LA Times, (I can't remember his name) on C-Span, the other day. He made the case that a mediocre newspaper can actually make more money than a good newspaper. (Hiring more and better reporters, having them report from more and exotic locations, costs alot of money.) I've always thought this about business, too.

It is probably short term thinking, but I think many years could go by before the consequences come home to roost. When you own your own business, there is much more incentive to keep the quality up, because eventually you will be the one who suffer.


The Bulletin had an article about how we American's like to think we root for the underdog. They used the example of how we root for small business vs. big business (Walmart). The kicker was, we still buy mostly from Walmart, and if you show the slightest weakness, they dump you like yesterday's news.

I can tell you that if everyone who ever expressed a dislike of Walmart in my store didn't actually shop at Walmart, Walmart wouldn't exist. Just saying......

I've made my peace with Walmart and Target. I personally have never spent a dime in either store -- really haven't -- but I understand why other people do. I just try to have everything quirky and interesting and individualistic they don't have.


Second entry on my list of changes over the last 26 years: The Triumph of the Nerds!

It was already starting, Star Wars for instance had come out 5 years before I started. Slowly but surely all the nerdy things I've loved have moved front and center in pop culture. I can even see comics making that slow transition; I expect by the time I retire, graphic novels will be accepted by the mainstream.

I told this to someone the other day, and he laughed and said, "Isaac Newton and Leibnitz were the nerds of their day. It happens every generation."

And I thought of how Einstein became a pop culture phenom, even in his lifetime. All nerds should remember, the things they make fun of you for today, will be the things everyone is doing in the future.