Monday, April 30, 2007

Had a most enjoyable and enterprising day, yesterday. Finished my monthly orders -- and for the third month in a row, I've had to stretch my budget by 12% or more. That is obviously the new base, either because prices on the product are rising or because I'm selling more. I've factored it into the summer.

Then went to HOT FUZZ -- which the Salon reviewer Dana Stevens called an Agatha Christie story directed by Micheal Bay, which is better than any description I could give. Enjoyed it almost as much as SHAUN OF THE DEAD.

Came back and gardened until dark. Last year my back was in bad shape for about 4 of the most crucial gardening months, so I'm feeling as though I'm catching up, so far.
There is just something enjoyable about gardening. I don't think I'd be a gardener if it wasn't for my mother, but because of her (and her plants) I sort of took it up, and now I find it very satisfying. It's a bit like being an artist with a camera. I don't -- you know -- actually have to learn any technique. I can wing it. I can take existing landscape and plants and mold them to my vision.

And finally, the usual article in the Bulletin yesterday about growth. We are going to grow like crazy, according to the expert. And we need to build much more infrastructure.

The logic of that kind of escapes me. We need to build much more infrastructure (industrial parks, office space, and retail commercial centers) or what....?

We won't grow?

Which is it, fella?

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Status report. I have now stuck to budget for 10 straight weeks. In fact, I held back 400.00 from the reorders last week because I'm getting the quarterly shipment of Magic in next week, which is huge.

Still no blue sky. It just goes to show how hard it is to make money. If I'm being disciplined in my budget, and sales are as good or better than projected, and I'm still just breaking even for 10 weeks....then I have NO CHANCE of making money if I'm NOT disciplined.

All bills are paid in full, and I think....I think....I made a small dent in credit card bills last month, though I doubt that will happen this month.

Usually, I'm building up debt this part of the year, or drawing down on reserves. Summers and Christmas are money makers -- the rest of the year I'm lucky to make any money at all. I'm committed to this budget at least through June, and because sales are so much higher in July and August, I'm not going to change then either. I'm just committed to it.

It's the first time, in all the 27 years I've been here, that I've had a budget that covered all the store needs, paid the bills, and had the potential to have a bit of profit at the end. Even if it is still theoretical.

It probably doesn't seem like a big deal, but this is one of the longest periods of time I've spent sticking to a pre-designed budget. Oh, I've spent less out of necessity, but more often than not, I've blown a fuse out of a sudden enthusiasm to carry new product.

I've never set a nice, solid middle-ground and then stuck to it for very long. Every week that goes by that I stick to it, makes it easier to stick to the next week.

I'm not sorry that I spent 8 months building up the store that I had originally intended to try to profit, because sales are so much higher -- probably 15% higher, which over the next few years should accrue higher profits in the end than if I had stuck to my original inventory. ( Unfortunately, the extra profit will be in the final year of my lease, and a lot can happen before then. )

I'm not sorry, but its time to be grown up and live with a real budget.

Keep the faith.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Spring Fever.

Last two days have been really slow. Crickets chirping, newspaper wafting across the room, Sergio Leone movie music slow. Customers haven't been in the mood.

Who can blame them? Walking from the parking garage to my store, I wanted to turn around and go back home and garden. Beautiful day, the kind of day that I stayed in Bend for...not too hot, with a hint of perfume in the air.

Luckily, business was good until the last few days. It'll bring down our average; I'm always amazed by how one or two bad days can change that.

I used to try to figure out how weather affected my business. Rain, snow, heat, cold, etc. I couldn't figure out a pattern.

Finally, I realized it wasn't the weather itself, it was the shift in weather. So when we experience a shift from winter to spring, my hope is that it will stay like this for a few weeks -- that we won't have another blast of winter -- so that people get used to it.

Doing my monthly orders this weekend. Takes me roughly 10 hours these days; but works better if I do 5 hours over 2 days, otherwise my brain gets fried. Will leave me time to garden, and maybe see Hot Fuzz tomorrow.

Dang Dolphins. Just cost me a bunch of money. Cost every cardshop in America a bunch of money. What you want when you sell a rookie card is an offensive player in a glamour position -- quarterback, running back, or it need be, wide reciever. It helps if they have a memorable name. JaMarcus Russell; #1, QB. Good. Calvin Johnson, WR; O.K. Adrian Peterson, RB, GREAT! Brady Quinn, QB. Would've made him probably the second or third most sought after card; maybe even the first. Now...he toast. He's dropped out of the top 10, and he has the smell of disappointment.

Dang Dolphins.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Just as an antidote to my optimism, here's something to think about:

world wide bubble

Look! Look! A Link. I'm a techhead!
Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!

I'm still processing all the new information in the Bulletin over the past few days. Urban growth boundaries and predictions of growth; new destination resorts given approval; buildings being announced and even more importantly, started, in downtown Bend.

I wonder if we are just going to slam through all the weakness and just keep going.

Whatever is happening, is happening right now. We may find out in a few more months that the residential bubble has completely burst. Certainly, there is huge inventory and lower prices.
But I wonder if the commercial burst won't be enough to bridge us through to the next stable level, where the housing may again start to carry the weight, and so on.

I've always thought the commercial growth was even crazier than the residential growth, but it just keeps increasing speed, like a bike flying down a hill -- there's a very steep hill on the other side, but if it can just build enough speed it will fly to the top.

The rational part of my brain says that we have too many houses, at too high of prices; that we have too many stores and hotels and restaurants; that we have way too many destination resorts in the planning. And yet they keep getting built.

Meanwhile, the stock market reaches new highs; my own business is doing well; and I just don't get the sense of malaise I would've expected by now.

I have already postioned my business to either do well if there is an upsurge, or break-even if there is a downturn. I'm not changing my plans. I already own my house, and don't plan to move.

Other than lowering my debt, which is a good plan whether the boom continues or not, I really can't think of anything else to do. My leases, at both stores, are going to be what they are going to be; that is the one scary vulnerability I see in the future.

I'm thinking that there will prove to be a pretty significant downturn in housing prices and sales over the next quarter, but so much building and planning has been and will be set in motion that it won't matter to the overall economy, just to those individuals who extended themselves too far in the housing market. Or it could all still crash.

Right now, I'm revising the odds that we'll keep growing fast from 15% to 30%; the odds that we'll hold our own to 30%; the odds that we'll drop enough to hurt to 30%; and the odds that we'll crash to 10%. That's better than even odds, in my eyes, with significant risk. Total guesses.

Just for fun.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

So much for that theory....

When I posted a couple of days ago about the savaging of a local restaurant for not being 'child-friendly', I was careful not to use the name of the restaurant. And over the last couple of days, I've told people in my store that the Bulletin, or any other reputable paper, probably wouldn't print such a letter or if they did, would not use the name of the restaurant.

So this morning's article is all about Baltazar's. I assume the Bulletin now thinks it's a news story.

It's a very dangerous thing for any business to say anything negative about kids. Baltazar managed to piss off the President of the Moms Club of Bend! Ouch. I'm glad that she said she wasn't trying to put Baltazar out of business.

I understand that tricky middle-ground Baltazar was trying to negotiate -- encouraging adult business, and discouraging kids business, without an outright ban. It sounds like he floundered on the shoals.

At this point, he'd probably be better off apologizing for not having a clearer policy, and announcing that Baltazar no longer welcomes children. It would be interesting to see how such a restaurant would survive. Bars and Taverns seem to do all right.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Marvel Comics -- The Prodigal Son.

Back in the 80's and early 90's, Marvel had a peculiar power. It could wipe out the competition almost any time it pleased, with the notable exception of DC. Marvel was like the General Motors of comics, DC was the Ford, but there was no third place, no Chrysler, and certainly no Toyota or Honda. Maybe the closest next competitors would be Jeep, or something.

So Marvel merely need to ramp up it's production, and squeeze all the other comics off the shelves.

No retailer back then would dare to skip a Marvel comic. (Heck, we used to order EVERY comic, until there got to be too many. The first comic I decided NOT to order was a wacky little thing called Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles -- but that's another story.)

When comics went through a bubble in the early 90's, Marvel started putting out more and more dismal titles, badly written, badly drawn. Marvel had always had the pick of talent, but when extremely gifted artists like Todd McFarlane, (Spider-man), and Jim Lee, (X-Men), left Marvel's reaction was to say, good riddance, who needs ya, you'll never work in this town again, we have Spider-man! We have Hulk! We can put any Joe Shmo to work and sell the hell out of them.

And for a few years, it proved to be true. They put out more and more comics with less and less content; endless and needless crossover mega events, die-cut, metallic, variant covers.

Only this time, they were facing companies like Image, and Dark Horse, and Valiant, who didn't immediately lay down and die.

When the bubble burst, Marvel blamed the distributors for supporting the indy's, and tried to distribute their own comics. They seemed to lose all awareness of just how crappy their comics became. They made a different character than Peter Parker Spider-man for almost a year. (Hey, forget this James Bond fella, let's make the 009 the new star!) Incredibly stupid decisions.

Not surprisingly, they went Chapter 11 bankrupt.

A long slog, where most comics shops disappeared, and everyone struggle to keep the comic industry alive.

Meanwhile, DC was like the steady younger brother. Never quite got caught up in the mania of variant covers, always put out a solid product, created a quality adult line of comics called Vertigo (Sandman, Watchmen, Preacher, etc.)

For a short time, DC and Marvel were even in sales. Finally, Marvel hired an astute editor in chief, Joe Quesada, who understood that artists and writers were important, and Marvel started the long hard climb back up.

Lately, Marvel has been blowing DC out of the water again. How are they doing it ?-- by putting out crappy, endless mega events, with fancy, variant covers. Here we go again.

DC's strength has always been their Graphic Novel selection. They have a great line of titles, which they keep in stock, which they will even consign when an important movie is coming out such as V for Vendetta or League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. They always put out a solid product, vary rarely over reach in their variants and mega events (though that is becoming a problem with them too.)

Marvel has never quite got the hang of graphic collections. They are short-term thinkers, like a flighty Peter Parker vs the more thoughtful planning Batman. Marvel's final answer was to put almost EVERYTHING into graphic novel form, which is pretty ridiculous. And they are still terrible about keep their books in stock.

Still, Marvel's sales are way up.

In essence, Marvel's characters just seem to be stronger group to sell. Spider-man, the X-Men, Daredevil, the Hulk, Captain America, Thor, Iron Man, etc.

Superman, Batman, Green Lantern are no slouches, but they can't quite create the overall appeal of Marvel.

Marvel seems to be able to create sales by doing all the wrong things, and DC seems not to be able to create sales by doing all the right things.

How can it be wrong if it works? Because it's short-term thinking, and we've been down this road before. I can only hope that Marvel will pull back a bit on their promotions, but I doubt they will. As long as they back it up with quality writing and art, and don't depend too much on gimmicks, we may come out all right.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

As a retailer, I was a little uncomfortable with the savaging of a local restaurant in some of the blogs this week -- whether the restaurant did the things alleged or not. It seems a little too much like negative political advertising; damned if you respond, damned if you don't.

Thing about having a storefront is that customers and friends tend to come and go over time, but enemies accumulate.

I don't care who you are, you are going to eventually have disgruntled customers -- sometimes for doing the right thing. People being people.

There are a couple of businesses locally that I haven't been happy with, but it never occurred to me to go after them in this blog. It smacks a little too much of vengeance. If I don't like a place, I don't go back.

And it seems a little over the top. Like the guy picketing a local used car dealer for selling him a lemon. Maybe so, but the very fact that you would go to such an extreme calls into guestion your complaint.

Anyway, I was saying this to one of my fellow bloggers and customers (Hey, Jon!) and muttering something about the 'customer isn't always right,' (which is something I try to avoid saying....) when the other customer in the store piped up and said,

"I was one of the ones making comments about.....(the restaurant.) "

That was completely amazing to me. We're a small town, true, but I didn't think we were that small. I don't think he was offended. And he told me that his experience at the restaurant was true, and needed to be said.

So....I guess that is the nature of the blogosphere. But it still makes me uncomfortable. Stores can just too easily be a sitting duck target.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Sold almost a 1,000.00 worth of sports cards on Sunday, which turned my normally slowest day my busiest day of the week, which helps pull up the average.

I stumbled across this phenomenon. A couple of years ago, when Fleer went bankrupt, I decided that maybe sports cards had finally hit bottom and they might be worth trying to bump up again. I began to order boxes, but since I had consolidated my space for packs, I decided to keep them as unopened boxes until space opened up for them.

I fully expected the higher diversity to help sell packs. Packs have the best margin for us, since singles only sell if they are super, superstars and boxes are so expensive, that I am forced to drop the margin in order to sell them.

But I decided that I would try to get a minimum 35% margin, (which sucks), and try to boost that margin by buying clearane as often as possible, and hope for a 40% margin over all. (Not great, but better.)

Funny thing happened. Packs didn't, and don't sell. An occasional young family will buy a pack of Topps or Upper Deck, but not enough.

And, though it took a while, boxes began to sell. I'd maybe have only 2 or 3 active buyers -- IN TOTAL! -- but they were the bulk of my sales. It was enough to carry a larger selection.

So the next thing I tried was some of the more expensive boxes: 300.00, 400.00, and 500.00 boxes. Those are what sold yesterday.

This isn't as crazy as it sounds. Card boxes are filled with bells and whistles -- autographs, memorabilia, short print fancy cards, rookie cards, and so on. It actually make much more sense to save up and spring for a 100.00 box than it does to buy a couple of packs a day for a month.

It is also further proof that kids aren't my customers. (Before you tell me that it's too bad the kids have been priced out of the market -- I don't agree. There have always been cheap packs for the kids. They don't want them. They want the expensive packs.)

Biggest problem with sports cards is, when they don't sell, they don't sell at all. I had a month recently that was less than 15% of last years average. But just a few months before that, I had a month that was 400% of average. Pretty hard to predict.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

I've not yet started to garden this year, though I'm getting the hankering.

My Mom was a great gardener, Libby McGeary, who owned a nursury Mint Hill Gardens on Roanoke Ave. in the West Hills in the 80's and 90's. Some of you may even know about her; she was known as the 'herb lady,' but what she really accomplished was learning how to garden in Central Oregon. She taught many a gardener how to harden plants, to grow perennials, and near the end of her life, grow native plants.

I always think of her in the spring, because I know she would've loved the more or less blank slate I've been given in my back yard; a third of an acre lot, half wild with Juniper and lava rock, the other half soon to be a yard and garden.

Alas, while I've inherited the urge, I haven't quite inherited the work eithic. I remember her gardening from sunrise to sundown. Propogating plants in the downstairs, bottling herb vinegar, and driving to the valley once a week to pick up plants. As I grew up, our large lawn became an English garden, with a micro climate. I'd walk down the steps on a hot summer day, and the temperature would drop 10 degrees and moisture would fill the air, and you felt as though you'd entered an impressionistic painting.

It was her passion, and she had a talent, and most importantly, she shared with other gardeners. There are gardeners all through Bend who have 'Libby' plants in their garden. I'm hoping to create a garden she would've been proud of.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

The stores have turned into pumpkins again.

Time of year. Anyone who doesn't think Bend is a tourist town should just take a picture in late-March (Spring Break) and compare it to a picture in mid-April.

Have stuck to budget now for nine weeks, and still no blue sky. In fact, I got hit with a triple net charge.

Have I mentioned how much I hate triple net? In the old days, they charged you rent and that rent was supposed to cover the owners needs. Now they charge you rent, and something they call triple net, which covers taxes, upkeep, etc. As far as I'm concerned, it's just stealth rent.

Funny thing, I've never had the landlord who came to me and said, Gee, your co-fees were LESS than we expected.'s always more.

This time, I have to come up with 700.00 I didn't know I owed.

Friday, April 20, 2007

The more I think about it, the more ludicrous the airport security seems.

Think about it. How far would anyone get with a box cutter or a nail-file? I'll bet every American has thought to himself or herself, no way is anyone going to take over any plane they're in. I'm sorry, but I think than anyone who tried to take over a plane would be torn limb for limb the second the words came out of his mouth. I'm quite certain that no pilot or stewardess would allow themselve to relinquish control.

We've all done the math. We've all made that decision in our minds. We've all realized that we would have to make the sacrifice.

Hell, that trick didn't even last through the first day it was used. The passengers of flight 93 weren't successful in taking the plane back over, but only because they had already relinquished control. And even in their failure, they were successful in keeping the plane from being used to horrible ends.

It's the classic strategic mistake of fighting the last war.

We are spending billions trying to avoid something that I think most of us would simply never allow to happen.
Got up at 4:30 to take Linda to the airport. Got there 2 minutes too late to make the flight.

Now we fly at about a once a decade pace, so we are naifs. Still, from the reaction of the woman in front of us, who also missed the flight and who was obviously more experienced, and from the sympathetic looks we were getting from the ticket agent just next to us, I suspect we ran into a couple of officious twits.

So we sat around the airport for another few hours for the next flight.

Time for work, and I feel like going back to bed.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

A nice bit of political finesse exibited in the Source this week. Really, you got to admire it. I could never be a politician, because I just wouldn't know how to begin to play the game this way.

When the whole BAT fiasco came to light, there was a fair amount of blame spread about. City councilers, the purchase managers, the Utah Bus system, the actual sellers. And, oh by the way, the BAT manager.

Now, when it all blew up, I wanted to quote her, because I remembered an early interview from her, when she first arrived in town, that sent up all kinds of red flags. She seemed to say, early on, that putting in a bus system would be easy, no strain at all, and would hardly cost a thing. Gosh, it was a real mystery why Bend didn't do it. Why, where she came from, they had done it with a mere flick of the wrist.

So....that pretty much ran contrary to my own instincts, and was a 180 degree turn from anything that anyone in the city government had ever said, and made everyone who had looked at bringing in mass transit before her either liars or idiots.

In other words, it just didn't smell right.

But she got her way, and the BAT was created.

When the whole situation blew up, I looked for her name -- because I really wanted to quote her. And as far as I can see, she was never mentioned, except in passing. It appeared that it was everyones fault.

But, I kept thinking, she was the motivator, and I assumed she was probably the person who actually did the work.

So, this week in the source, there she is. Her name, Heather Ornelas, and her picture with the caption, "Accepts Blame for the Blue Bus Fiasco."

I just want to amend that: MONTHS AFTER THE POLITICAL FALL OUT!

How brave, how responsible, how.....clever.

So, as far as I'm concerned, neither the Bulletin or the Source did their job in revealing her role in the whole affair, and the city officials either covered up for her or were clueless.

Nice job. Not to mention they would have had to wait a Whole Year to buy buses that actually worked. Why do that when you can buy lemons. A whole year....Can't have that, she's got a hot career going here....

So, smoke and mirrors. It's not surprising that Heather got conned, because pretty clearly its the way she approaches her own career.

Now she can go to the next metro area without a bus system, and tell them how easy it is, and how it won't cost a thing, and can be done with a mere flick of the wrist.

Had a herd of middle-aged people come in yesterday. Middle-agers usually come singly or in pairs, so an acutal herd of them is pretty scary, almost as bad as a herd of teenagers. I usually try to wrangle them into the used book section. If I miss my chance, then I have them loitering in the pop-culture section, and I have to listen to their general cluelessness.

Sorry, but it's true. Most middle-agers have no idea what they are looking at.

Anyway, they were over in the cartoon strip section, and one of the women looked at my Calvin and Hobbes collections and said,

"Oh, look. It's Calvin and the Hobbits!"

I really wish I had asked her if she was serious. She didn't sound like she was making a joke. But really, that is either the most dumb-ass thing I've ever heard anyone say. (Even worse than the teenage girl who said, "They make comics of Spider-man?). Or is it a pretty hip, funny thing to say.

So Pat and I got a big laugh out of that all day long.

Calvin and the Hobbits.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Bend bicycle rider killed by driver of silver Mercedes in hit and run accident.

When I first heard this, I thought it was like some sick and twisted metaphor for Bend. To cap it off, the driver is a 22 year old from California, with a father who helps him cover up the crime.

About 12 years ago, when we still had our Mountain View Mall store, my wife had an incident with a 10 year old kid who spit his gum out onto our carpet. When she asked him to pick it up, he ignored her. When Linda told the father, he looked at her and said, "Why should he?"

12 years later, a 22 year old kills an bike rider, and the father's impulse is to burn the Mercedes and try to claim the insurance.

Now if this was a novel, it would be the same father and son. And in a sense, it is -- the same disregard for other people.

And Bend is left mangled and dismembered in their path. I know this is really reaching, and I apologize if it seems inappropriate, but man -- it really does seem like there is an evil karmic energy in the world this week.

That, after the incident in Virginia, actually left me depressed this morning. I think I'm going to have to stay away from the news for a few days.

But -- I absolutely think it is the wrong thing to do to show pictures and video's of the Virginia killer. In my gut, I think its a huge mistake. Let him be an anonymous nut. The media has enough sense not to show extreme acts of violence, why can't they use the same kind of common sense when it comes to these idiots? Don't feed the next sicko.
Yesterday was just one of those days in retail when you shrug and write it off; a bad day.

I was responsible for at least part of that. Started talking to a guy who had some unique inside knowledge about some former and current competitors. I wasn't actively ignoring customers -- in fact, I would break away and make sure they knew I was there. But people tend not to interrupt what they perceive as deep discussions. I decided it was worth the trade off.

Inside information! Rare and Golden!

And it wasn't breaking any real confidences, either. Just information I didn't have.

Pretty much confirmed most of what I had already guessed. I was probably a little low on both my estimates of sales and of costs, but I got the proportions mostly right. I seem to have a real talent for guesstimating from the outside how other stores are doing.

It isn't all guesswork, though. I constantly and actively try to gather information. It has always amazed me how little curiosity most store keepers have. Half the time, they haven't even mined their own outlets for information, much less what they could glean from looking outward, or browsing the internet, or just plain paying attention to the competition.

It's a survival tool.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Come back, Walter Cronkite! The world needs you.

The news media, especially T.V. news get a get fat F from me for their lousy coverage of Virginia Tech. The extraordinary vapidity of T.V. personalities (I won't call them reporters) comes through when they have to go off script. They don't have any real news, so they fill the air with rumors and innuendoes. They cry crocodile tears while their eyes show the ghoulish glee they are taking in being part of a 'big' story. They profess sypmpathy and empathy, and yet come across as hypocritical and maudlin. And by late afternoon, they are already playing a blame game.

Poor performance.

Monday, April 16, 2007

I dreamed my soul was a patchwork quilt of books.

I know I've been reading up a storm, lately. More my old kind of pace, pre-internet. After reading one book in February, CELL, Stephen King's zombie story. (P.S. I don't own a cell phone.)

Read eight books in March, and five so far this month, plus several false starts. (If I get 25 - 50 pages in, anymore, and it doesn't engage me, I quit.) LOOKING GLASS WAR, Frank Beddor, a disappointing update of Alice in Wonderland, I won't be reading the sequels. ECHO PARK, a reliably good Micheal Connelly mystery.

As I mentioned before, the two Lois McMaster's Bujold fantasies, CURSE OF CHALION and PALADIN OF SOULS, which I thought were wonderful. A space opera series by Walter Jon Williams, PRAXIS, THE SUNDERING, and CONVENTIONS OF WAR, which I thought were great and which were obviously influenced by Bujold's Vorgosigan series. Space opera sounds like a put down, but really not, just a description of SF involving empires and space fleets, etc. Very disappointed last chapter of the last book. Damn.

Another SF book, REVELATION SPACE, by Alastair Reynolds. Pretty solid. A Roger Zelazny book finished by Jane Lindskold, LORD DEMON, light reading. Another Walter Jon Williams book, with obvious Zelazny overtones, ARISTO. CREEPERS, a horror book by pro David Morrell, about a group of people exploring urban 'lost' zones. THE SHAPESHIFTER, the weakest Tony Hillerman book I've read. (Mostly involving Joe Leaphorn driving around, or sitting in a resturant.) And last night, a Walter Mosely mystery, CINNAMON KISS. I keep seeing Denzel Washington as Easy Rawlins and Don Cheadle as Mouse, and wonder why they never made another movie.

Strange thing that keeps happening as I get older. I keep thinking certain actors or writers have died, only to see them pop up. I was absolutely certain for awhile that Carl Hiassen was dead, for instance. Or Christopher Lloyd, actor, but then I see him on a commercial. Now, I'm thinking that Walter Mosley and Tony Hilerman are gone, but the Wikapedia entry doesn't say....Maybe, I just need to assume everyone is still living.

Anyway, this is way more SF than I've been reading for the last 20 years, more like what I used to read. The proportions have been much more tilted toward mysteries. I also try to read at least one non-fiction book every ten books or so, and usually a general fiction novel here and there.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Status report.

Eight weeks of being a good boy and sticking to budget, with no fudging. Still no blue sky. Nor, with the stack of bills I have piled up, do I see much possibility of blue sky in April. Good news, bills will be paid on time, and in full. Bad news, is profits still aren't appearing.

It's like turning an ocean liner. The dials say we're moving, but I can't feel it.

Still, eight weeks of sticking to budget without getting a brainstorm and busting it, is pretty good. And it does seem generous enough for me to get most of the product I think we need.

So I just have to stick to the faith. If blue sky hasn't appeared by summer, then I'll reexamine the numbers, and see where I'm going wrong. But I think there was just more slack in the rope than I expected.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

"If you're so smart, how come you ain't rich?"

Good guestion. Obviously, I ain't so smart. (Or a ruthless enough bastard.)

But I often want to turn that question around.

"If you're so rich, how come you're so dumb? (You're still a ruthless bastard.)

The recent letter from the new developer of Broken Top seems so counter-productive and mean spirited, that I have to wonder if it was meant to be that way. Even more of an affront, it was poorly written. Really, most high school sophomores could write a better letter.

Meanwhile, in the business section of the today's Bulletin, there is an article about Charles B. Wang, founder and former chairman of Computer Assciates. (And owner of the New York Islanders.)

"Fraud pervade the entire CA organization at every level, and was embedded in CA's culture, as instilled by Mr. Wang, almost from the company's inception."

He created a climate of fear.

Mr. Wang...."Deliberately put inexperienced executives in senior positions so he would have more control." ...."He discouraged executives from meeting with each other and arbitrarily fired managers or employees who disagreed with him."

There was a time, when I went through what I call my 'young entrepreneur' phase, when I read Inc. Magazine, and business books, before I realized that they existed to sell more magazines and books, not to give good advice. In fact, most of the advice was horrible, and almost all of it meant for bigger organizations than I ever intended to become. Very few good books have been written that are appropriate for the Mom and Pop sized business. (I can only think of one that I thought was sensible: GROWING A BUSINESS, by Paul Hawken.)

I kept hearing about Jack Welch, the CEO of General Electric, and the most admired businessman in America. So I stayed up late to watch him on Charlie Rose.

I have never before or since, so wanted to reach through the screen and strangle someone. What an enormous, gigantic prick. If that slimey creature is the most admired businessman in America -- God help us all.

Behind every great fortune there is a crime. I sure there must be a rich person who got there strictly through talent and hard work, who got there ethically and with respect toward his fellow man.

At least, I hope so.

Friday, April 13, 2007

It's a bit of a whipsaw to go from reading these blogs and comments -- where it is an accepted fact that there has been a housing bubble, and pretty much a consensus that the bubble has begun to burst, and where the only real point of contention is the extent to which the market will fall -- to my store, where I get almost the opposite feedback.

Had yet another real estate guy yesterday, this one from the Bay Area of Cal., who works in a title company.

"There is no bubble. Bend is going to keep growing. As long as the baby boomers need to retire......" the usual line.

So I kept throwing out negative bits of information, each of which he more or less agreed with, but didn't shake his conviction that things are going great, with maybe a bit of correction. Then, out of the blue, he tells me that his company has laid off 20% of its workers. 20%.

"What would you call a burst bubble?" I finally ask.

As usual, it comes down to 'definition of terms'.

I find myself reacting to the hyperbole of the bubble bloggers by being the devil's advocate. But when I run into the the bubble deniers in my store, I become the devil's advocate from the opposite direction. Maybe I just like to dispute.

As I said in a reaction to a comment on my blog yesterday: Just for laughs, I say there is a 10 to 15% chance of a complete meltdown in the housing market. That's pretty high for a doom and gloom scenario. I wouldn't get in my car if someone told me I had a 10% chance of crashing.

I'll fix the possibility that the market will continue merrily along at the same 10 or 15%. Sure it defies common sense, but there are many things in this world, especially when it comes to people, that defy common sense. (At least my common sense._) That isn't a big enough chance for me to sell everything I got, buy a bigger house, and hope to leverage myself out of debt.

But much more likely, there is a 70 to 80% chance of something in the not so clear cut in-between grey area. It will be muddy and obscure while its going on. In hindsight it will become perfectly clear.

What I'd like to have happen is that the folk who set my rents at the stores are in line with the reality of the economic situation, not the over-inflated expectations. If Franklin Crossing, with it's 3.00 a ft rents, turns out to be an overreach, then that would be just what is needed to reinsert some reality.

On the other hand, I am a beneficiary of growth, both in my business and my home ownership. You can't really expect to me to cheer a collapse.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Had an acquaintance who used to own a downtown business in the store, yesterday. What's he doing now? You guessed it, real estate.

How's the real estate market? I ask, innocently.

Oh, he says, we'll never again have the kind of run up we've had the last two years. We're just back to normal. Back to 2003. Anyone who didn't buy a how before then, is just out of luck... "permanently left out of the market."

After he left, I thought of a couple of responses to that.

1.) We aren't the same town we were in 2003. How many houses have been built or are being built? How many more agents, and construction workers and lawn care guys do we have?

2.) If you are someone who has just been told that you are "permanently" priced out of the market, why would you stick around?

It's not the actual number of houses that sell that matter, it's the number of houses relative to the infrastructure. A bubble doesn't just peak out at some realistically maximum number, it goes flying right over the top and just keeps going. If we were selling extraordinary numbers of houses, that just encourages everyone to keep building. We don't have a building czar who says, "Well, we sold 2000 houses at the peak, so realistically, we shouldn't build more than 2500 houses." Every builder will ramp up his own levels of building and it will jump to 2500 then 3000 then 3500. (These are made up figures.....) We'll have a huge bulge of housing coming on the market, just as sales are beginning to slow down.

On the other hand, there seem to be a lot of bubble believers that seem to think that houses prices are going to plummet. Does that really happen? Isn't it more likely prices will stagnate or go down slightly?

Thing is, it isn't necessary for housing prices to plummet for us to have a disaster. Prices falling even a little bit will be disastrous enough, thank you.

The real problem, as I see it, is that houses will stop selling at any price. Or to be more precises, houses will be cherry picked.

If you are a financially solvent, savvy buyer, and you want to come to Bend, you may still pay fairly high for a nice house -- but you are going to have a wide range of choice.

If you are a greedy, short-sighted developer, who has built a huge house on a tiny lot, without much flare (put in a porch and call it a bungelow) or quality (sure it looks like every other house on the street but those haves have been selling, so why not?) , but with the requisite number of square feet and marble counter tops, and you are competing against a builder who had built an appropriate sized house with a view and nicely landscaped and designed, and it costs slightly more, the nicer house will probably sell.

Even today, with the sport card market all but extinct, new sports cards prices haven't come down. In fact, they're more expensive than ever . They hardly ever sell, but when they do, they sell to a serious collector who is willing to pay a higher price for quality. The sports cards the serious collectors don't want -- it doesn't matter How Cheap They Get, they never sell.

We'll be lucky if prices actually go down, and the market responds to that. I think it's more likely that housing prices won't go down, but that houses will simply sit empty. Yes, there will be foreclosures, and yes there will be desperate sellers, but mostly there will be some real estate developers who if they didn't sell their houses in 2004-2007 are "permanently left out of the market."

I have about as much sympathy for them, as they seem to have for all the buyers who were left out.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The Great Gods of Commerce.

The Great Gods of Commerce come to you and tell you that you can have one of two destinies.

1.) They will guarantee that your sales will double in just one year. OR

2.) They will grant you a steady 15% growth for the next five years.

There is absolutely no contest. Take the 15% growth.

Think about it. To simplify things, I'll posit that cost of goods is 50% and overhead is 50%.

If you start out with 10k in sales, it means that you invested 5k and profited (gross) 5k, which paid the overhead.

If your sales jump to 20k, at 50% margins you have to reinvest the entire 10k in earnings. What do you pay your overhead with? You have twice as much work, in the meantime, and you have to have the ability to sell twice as much effectively with the old systems and employees and space, which is pretty much impossible, or reinvest in systems and employees and space which adds even more to the overhead (you have to borrow to pay for.)

There is no way to double your sales in one year without borrowing money. And remember, the Great Gods of Commerce have not guaranteed that your sales will stay at that level. In fact, anytime sales double for anything it is almost a sure sign that it is a bubble, which means that you will have reinvested every dollar, and borrowed half again as much, and have a near certaintly that you won't get it back. It's actually worse than this, because for most small businesses, cost of goods is more like 60%.

On the other hand, a steady 15% increase in sales can be easily paid for within normal cash flow. It's like building a solid foundation under each level of a building. And 15% growth over a 5 year span, have doubled your sales! While you are paying your bills and turning a profit. While you are steadily expanding your services and selection.

The last three fads that have come along and threatened our growth rates, I've declined to pursue to the heights. With pogs, I very ruthlessly ordered on a weekly basis, and stopped buying at what I thought was the peak. With beanie babies, I purposely bought a less than perfect selection and price from a middle-man, rather than be forced to buy the quantites and selection that Mr. Ty would have forced me to buy. With Pokemon, I again bought through a middle man and scrambled for supply and had very little buying power, rather than get a direct account and have to buy in advance, in quantity. I left money on the table.

But I was able to grow my business, with relatively little risk, and when the fads were over, I'd reinvested in more solid and enduring product. I'm just not in business for the quick kill. I'm in business to stay in business.
The Great Widget Machine.

Early on, I could never understand how success could cause my business so much stress. Sports cards exploded on me. Sales grew exponentially for 3 or 4 years straight. I had to buy more and more inventory, hire employees, work harder and harder and yet I was making no profits. When the dust settled, I realized I had been like the poker player who kept winning hands and putting the winnings back into the pot and then managed to lose it all on the last hand.

Simply put, if Cost of Goods is 60%, and you're doubling sales every buying period, you actually go backward in gross profit by keeping up with demand. Meanwhile, overhead is going up trying to keep up service, and eventually begins to depend on employees and systems that simply aren't up to the task. So the success eventually breeds failure. Strange notion.

I finally came up with the Great Widget Machine thought experiment. I sell 95 widgets a day, and my Great Widget Machine, my GWM, makes 100 widgets a day comfortably. The widget machine costs 60 widgets a day to run. What happens when your sales of widgets goes to 110 or 135 or 150 a day? If you buy a new widget machine, it will add 60 widgets in cost, for a total of 120 widgets, which means you have to sell 155 widgets to get the same number of widgets left over.

But if you try to hold to one widget machine, you are regularly disappointing up to half your customers by not having enough?

I'm very close to that point right now. I probably need more employee hours to keep up the service. I'm finding that ordering one graphic novel is often not enough anymore, as it has been for years, but getting two of every graphic novel doubles my cost of goods, without the guarantee that they will both sell right away. But the one sells out often enough that I risk disappointing my customers. So far, I've depended on quick reorders. That has worked as widgets have gone past the 100 mark, and on to 110, 135, 150 but now we are approaching the magic 155 widget mark. Do I go ahead and reinvest? Hold out a little longer?

Sidelines are a little easier to deal with, because people don't really expect me to carry everything. But the problem of spot shortages is developing across the board. At the same time, I'm trying to guage the economic climate, take sudden shocks into account, and gird for possible competition, and so on.

I suppose it's a nice problem to have. And I have 27 years of experience in how the finesse the situation. But risk is always there; whether you are having success or not having success. In fact, success can just set you up for a bigger fall.

In case you think I'm not doing a good job, I really think I'm much more inventoried than 95% of the comic shops in American, relative to demand. I've just set such high standards, that I hate to see any customer walking away without the book they wanted. And yet, my store could be 10 times bigger than it is, a 100 times bigger than it is, and I'd still not have every comic or graphic novel anyone could ever want, not to mention toy, book, games, card, etc.

I think I can hold off on the new widget machine a while longer. I've got a stockpile of widgets I can sell for awhile.

Pretty wonky post, but that's how my mind works.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

I look to see if a business is viable by these standards; could an above average smart, hard-working, honest and personable fellow make a reasonable living. If not, that fellow might be better off doing something else. If the above average joe can't make it, or has to accept below average income, then there is something wrong with the dynamics of the industry.

What always happens is that someone, no matter what the business, will be a success. Someone way smarter, hard-working, who has a strong even charismatic personality, and --- well -- is lucky, makes a go of it. And people point to that fellow as being proof that it is possible to do.

But I see that as the classic exception. That's what they mean when they say "exception proves the rule." (Or is it, "doesn't prove the rule?" I've never been sure.)

There was a entry on the Bend Economy Board of someone showing how it is still possible to buy the median home. Problem was, it required a good downpayment and two people earning a reasonable wage, with solid credit.

How many people are there like that still floating around?

And even more importantly, and left out of the equation, how many homes do we need to have on the market to absorb those folk?

We are on the cusp of where the above average, smart, financially solvent, gainfully employed, willing buyer is going to drop out of the market. Because the average smart, etc. etc. can look at the number of houses for sale, and take a step back, and wait. Or even more probably, there just aren't enough of those folk to go around, especially as it becomes harder for people from out of town to sell their houses to move here.

I think Bend has managed so far to keep attracting such folk, to even find folk who are willing to go beyond the average debt and or portion of income or have brought an above average amount of equity, or who are just plain wealthy. Because Bend really is a great place -- it feels good, smells good, looks good.

If we are very very lucky, just enough new people will move to town, and building will slow down just enough, that the dislocation doesn't collapse the market. But I think the more new houses are built, the higher the prices go, the more mindless boosterism, the farther the national real estate drops, the tighter the credit -- the more unlikely it is that we'll escape unscathed.

One thing to watch for -- a leading indicator. If you start seeing lots of people talking about 'negativity', about how if we all just stay positive and focused, that the good times will keep on rolling. And if that drumbeat become shrill, we're in trouble. Because it will mean that those who are setting the prices, who are negotiating the rents and leases, have put blinders on, are hunkering down. If you can't even acknowledge that there is a problem, then you can't very well deal with it.

We're about to find out just how hard-headed, realistic, bottom-line thinking the real estate and commercial leasers really are. Or whether they have swallowed their own line of boosterism.

Monday, April 9, 2007

My family usually can only get together on major holidays. Family dinners are a great place for me to get a sense how they're thinking, where my opinions are just part of the general chatter. Most of my family is considerably more 'worldly' than I. Not to say, they're right. But it's interesting to get a gauge on how they feel about things.

We had an old family friend join the table yesterday. She was thinking about selling her house. So I told her, I thought she should try to sell this spring and not wait until summer or fall. The brother in law who lives in Bend, chipped in, saying he thought that Bend was going to continue booming, that we were a baby boomer mecca.

Interestingly, our old friend seemed very receptive to what I said. I think because she had already been looking into the situation, and seemed aware of some of the developing dynamics. But what was interesting to me was that my B-in-L hasn't changed his opinion about Bend's growth whatsoever.

My other sister and brother-in-law chimed in that for 250k you could get a nice four bedroom house in Delaware. They are both professors at the U. of D. , and they mentioned that the one independent bookstore in town had all but dropped new books in favor of used books, cd's and dvd's. Both of them buy their books online. Period. No discussion. And Claus pointed to his two kids, and said, "Don't you think they are going to buy online?"

Encouragingly, both nephews are readers. I gave the younger one a copy of TinTin (which he was aware of) and one of Asterix (which he hadn't read). B-In-L Claus, being German born, was intrigued by the english translations. My other nephew got a Naruto novel and a Bleach graphic novel.

When they visited my house, earlier in the day, the 7 year old immediately took over my computer and bent it to his will. When they were ready to leave, we found him playing an online game, and my sister Sue was surprised that he'd managed to log on by himself.

I'm sure such discussions with friends and family are an everyday thing for most people. But I'm such a huge loner and usually cloistered in my store, so it is hard for me to get a range of views. What people tell me in my store is influenced by the fact that it's my store and politeness or whatever can soften people's opinions.

So I find it somewhat heartening that my brother-in-law has no doubts whatsoever that Bend is going to continue to boom. I find it valuable to know that my other brother-in-law is going to buy his books online. I find it encouraging that my nephews seem to be readers. (Though they both toted around hand held games.)

Sunday, April 8, 2007

Lots to talk about today.

First, the article in the Bulletin about minimum wages jobs. Deschutes County has 11% of jobs at or near minimum wage. The state average is 10%. Interestingly, when you look at the map, only 3 counties are below 10% average, and 33 counties are at or above. But two of the three counties below average are Multnomah and Washington, which obviously skew the results.

You know what? This is one of those cases when the statistics are pretty darn meaningless; when common sense can probably get you closer to the truth. The article admits that we have above average numbers of restaurant and service jobs. No kidding.

Look around you. I would separate jobs in Bend into 5 camps. One, and by far the biggest is the service industry. All those restaurants and motels and retail stores. Acres and Acres of stores and restaurants and motels, filled with workers who are earning at or slightly above minimum wage, mostly without benefits. Second, government jobs, which pay decent wages. Three, industry. I can't really think of any -- a few high tech jobs here and there, but this is obviously the missing component to a healthy economy in Central Oregon. Fourth, professionals; we are pretty stockpiled with doctors and lawyers and dentists and accountants. And fifth, the real estate and construction industry, which I think have skewed the averages in Bend. If this last one starts to go down, which I think is inevitable, those minimum wages percentages are going to start shooting up.

Not to mention, Bend is as expensive or more expensive to live in than Multnomah and Washington counties, so that's a double whammy on affordability.

I also think that if you look at service jobs that are just above the minimum wage rate in Central Oregon, the picture wouldn't look so average. For instance, I pay my guy 9.00 an hour; better than minimum wage, but enough to make a real affordability difference? He's a young man, living at home, working a job he likes. But high paying? I wish.

Secondly, a word about terminology. Both my wife and I have noticed that when we use the term 'graphic novel' a certain number of people jump to the conclusion that we are using 'graphic' as in 'graphic violence'. Well, no. Graphic refers to the style of content. Art.

The term 'cult' would be very handy in my store, because it refers to things that have a 'small but passionate' following, not evil religious splinter groups. I've all but quit using a perfectly good and descriptive term.

When I try to explain that 'comics' aren't predominately for kids anymore, I'll say that they are more 'mature' or 'adult', which only compounds the problem. What I'm trying to say is that comics are like movies or books, with a wide range of content. Very hard to get across.

Another misunderstood word, which perfectly describes the order in which I've arranged my store is, 'genre'. A great word that I'm amazed so few readers seem to understand. I am forced to use the word, 'category' which is much less precise and accurate, and then follow it up with examples; mysteries, thrillers, regular fiction, ect. Genre is the right word, but I can't use it.

Also, as I write this blog, I will use terminology that could be interpreted as having a religious overtone. I may say, "thank god", or "keep the faith", or as I did yesterday, "grace." These are perfectly good ways to say things, which I would have to awkwardly and ridiculously have to bend words to avoid. I could say, 'thank the gods' like they do in Battlestar Galactica, but come on.....

Which brings me to the day before yesterday's entry. I used the term 'grace' as meaning, that period of time between when one should start to do something and when one has to do something. The period of grace in a bill payment, for instance.

But I admit, I was using it in a quasi-religious way as well, to make a point. That there is a period of 'grace' that nature, or god, or the fates or however you want to put it, has been given to those who are paying attention.

I probably should just let the comment from Bendbust go, but I can't.

I was expecting one of my friends and customers to come forward and defend me: "He's not a nice guy! He's a real bastard!"

I never thought I'd have to defend myself from the characterization of being a Bush-loving, right wing, real estate boosting, religious nut, ultra nice guy. All I can say, is that my wife got a belly-laugh out of it.

I admit, I have tried to have a reasoned and reasonable blog. The comments from those who know me, and who have listened to me rant and rave in the store over the years, is that I'm way more 'mild' on my blog.

But I have an opportunity in this venue to think about what I'm saying, to take a step back and search my feelings, and to try to reach as close as I can to what I perceive the truth to be. I have purposely left my religious or political or social views out of it, except where it relates to my business. I'm old enough to believe that I can't change people's religious and political views; moreover, that everyone has a right to their religious and political views without me haranguing them.

I hope this doesn't make me bland; there is plenty of controversy in the world without bringing up the big three of sex, religion and politics.

I believe that being candid and forthright, and attempting to be the kid who says, "Look the emperor has no cloths!" is probably unusual and interesting enough.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Just a short status report. Have stuck to budget for 7 weeks now, and the sales have come in around estimated. Still not seeing any blue sky. It's sort of like having a diet of 1500 caleries a day for 7 weeks and not losing a pound.

But I'm keeping the faith. My second week of every month is very heavy, because I pay both my home mortgage and the store rent before the 10th.. Often, I pretty much have to borrow from the my third week's revenues to get there, but this month I think I'm going to be able to do it. Which possibly leaves the third week of this month, or the ninth overall week of being disciplined, before I see a little bit of blue sky.

I have to remind myself, just like a diet, that this is a permanent change, not a gimmick. I've worked out a budget that should bring a profit, if I stick to it, and also keep the store well-stocked. I just have to continue to do it.

Friday, April 6, 2007

In every bubble I've experienced, there is a period of grace at the end, when it is still possible to get your affairs in order. To escape. You have to be paying attention, you need to trust your instincts, but that moment is there.

I do believe it's possible Bend is at that moment.

A couple of days ago, there were three positive economic news items on the front page of the Bulletin. I then turned to my U.S.A. Today, and there were four negative economic news items on the front page.

It's spring, and if houses are ever going to start selling, it is now. But if they aren't selling, we aren't going to really hear about it for another few months. It's still a positive moment in time.

We are the second fastest growing urban area in America. But that information is from last year. You can ride that wave of positive news, but paddling out to sea expecting another big wave is more questionable. There will be plenty of people who will look at the improved sales this spring, and the positive news in the newspaper, and think the lull is over, good times will continue. That's what gives you your opportunity. You have a period of grace.

And if it should happen that they're right, and you're wrong, you don't look back. You at least got out while it was still possible to get out. You at least didn't lose money, and you have removed the distinct possibility that you could be the last fool.

It appears to me that the fundamentals just aren't on the side of the optimists. Reality has a way of reasserting itself. But there is always that moment when the optimists are still in charge, but the pessimists are right. There is no proof, no one knows for sure, but that's the way it feels to me. Feelings can be wrong, but if you wait for the evidence, it's usually too late.

God knows, I could be completely wrong. And I don't have a house for sale, which would color my thinking. And to be honest, I'm kind of in the middle in my own business between the expansion of the last few years, and the cutting back in fear of a downturn. I'm sort of maintaining the momentum. But this feeling I'm having, that this is the period of grace, is very nostalgic and very strong. As usual, I'll wait to take action when there is a bit more evidence, and as usual that may be a little too late. I'm no different than anyone else.

That's the way of a bubble. Everyone tries to play it a little too cute.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

The best science fiction and fantasy writer no one's heard of; well, that may be a stretch since she's won 4 Hugo awards for best novel (more than anyone except Heinlein), and multiple Nebula's. Still, whenever I talk to readers, it seems like they haven't heard of Lois McMaster Bujold.

She wrote a series of science fiction books, space opera's, about a character named Miles Verkosikan, who is one of the best characters ever written. Her S.F. is serviceable, but not groundbreaking, and her plots are good, but her characters are wonderful. She writes 'smart' characters; that is, she shows us Miles being smart and capable and brave instead of just telling us. Even more unusual, she writes 'ethical' characters.

She has a little crowd-pleasing trick, about halfway through the books, where the main character laments all his or her weaknesses and failures, and everyone else in the room (who all started off underestimating the character) laugh and wink at each other, and agree with him or her, and its obvious they all adore and look up to the character. Kind of the Lincoln thing, where he turns all his enemies into allies.

She took Miles from the bottom of the heap to the top in a series of books, and that was that. Then she started writing fantasy. I started to read the first book, and it wasn't very good. Oh, oh. She can't write fantasy.

Well, it turns out that she herself thought The Spirit Ring was a failure. I gave her a second chance, recently, with The Curse of Chalion, and she's back! Great main character! Followed up by the Hugo and Nebula award winning Paladin of Souls. Another great character.

I've noticed that she rarely shows up in the used book section, which is one of those giveaways that she is cherished by those who read her. If you like science fiction and fantasy, seek her out.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Spring Break used to be so easy to figure out. I don't even remember how we found out the dates, but we always knew when Oregon and California and Washington and even Idaho weeks were. We knew if they crossed over.

Nowadays, I can't even figure out a way to google the information. Oregon is still relatively easy, though asking the kids seems pretty useless.

Me to Kid: "Are you out of school?"

Kid, defensively. "No...."

Parent, looking at kid curiously, "Yeah, they have Teacher Conference Day."

Kids seem incapable of responding to the question, are you out of school. All of them. Weird.

I thought this week was California, but instead have had mostly Washington. Washington also has a kind of mini spring break in Feb., and so on. Very confusing. And whole states don't have the same dates, anymore. San Fran can be out a different week than L.A.

I'm sure there are new educational theories to explain staggered breaks, etc. But it just seems like yet another modern confusion.

I think I'm settling comfortably into my 'old fogie' stage. "You young whippersnappers don't read anymore! And why can't you have simple Spring Breaks?"

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

I'm beginning to wonder if BendBubble2 blog hasn't been right in ---what I have felt up to now was his over the top criticisms of the Bend City Council.

I'm on record defending the city council, mostly because up to now I've believed that they were doing the best job they could in a rapidly expanding city; and because it's a job that I'd never want to do in a million years.

But...the other, unspoken, side of that assumption is that the city councilors don't have a personal agenda; because, if you have suspicions, it certainly could appear that some of the councilors are there for personal gain.

So what does the city council do? At a time when the following things have happened. (Not all of them within the powers of the Bend city council, but all of them indicative of the general trend.)

Allow a zone change that opens the door for a big developer to completely change nature of Broken Top. No doubt they'll say, whoops, and change it back too late to help.

Allow a rule change for height and set-backs, that allows several completely overbuilt buildings to be constructed downtown, then say, whoops, we'll change it back now that it doesn't matter. (Meanwhile, the developer of Franklin Crossing is on the parking committee and somehow wrangles a special deal for parking....was that story ever followed up by the local media?)

Watch buildings torn down in the middle of the night and trees cut down and nature leveled for parking lots and impose fines that the developers probably laughingly paid.

Articles show up in the Bulletin quoting developers and real estate people as experts; meanwhile, it appears that there isn't a development in Central Oregon that the paper doesn't love.

A downtown developer turns out to be a drug money launderer, and to have ties with another prominent group of developers which is explained away because the connection was severed but which still leaves a bad taste.

A Prineville developer forces out a 30 year tenant, Hatfields, by raising rents to 1.35 a foot, and downtown Bend rents start to reach 3.00 a foot.

Resort developers skirt the letter of the law and completely subvert the spirit of the law on overnight lodgings in order to create glorified sub-divisions.

The average price of a house in Bend reaches heights that the average resident can only dream of reaching. (Meanwhile, as an aside, most of these houses are too big for the lots, squeezed together, and ugly to boot.)

Developers flatten several downtown buildings with existing businesses and leave rubble strewn vacant lots as they get busy elsewhere, or because they appear to be taking revenge on neighbors who dared not cooperate with their plans.

And on and on....

So what does the city councel do? Out of a list of six very qualified applicants, they pick the guy who has the most connections to the developers. City Councilor Linda Johnson is paraphrased by the Bulletin as saying, "Gramlich's ties to the development communtiy wouldn't affect his ability to serve Bend residents."

Why? I guess because she says so.

Gramlich "admitted his work as a designer had created close ties to Bend's development community. Yet Gramlich told councilors he wouldn't allow his business intersts to override his obligation to Bend residents."

You never mind, Brer Rabbit, old Brer Fox has your best interests at heart.

"I think it would hurt my business," Gramlich says.

Again, we should take his word for it, but 'Methinks the lady doth protest too much.'

He will serve as a 'liaison between developers and local business owners. " Yes, sir. Brer Rox loves Brer Rabbit and would like to have him for dinner.

What really smells rotten about this whole deal is that the city councilors had qualified applicants to pick from and chose the guy who admits he has a conflict of interest, who they know has conflicts of interest, and then have the balls to say; "is in alignment with the council."

That's what I'm afraid of.

Monday, April 2, 2007

My employee, Patrick, has been doing a great job lately. I'm tempted to take more time off, but I'm also afraid to. I have always had a tendency to do the Lord of the Manor routine, check in and count my money. But I have to remember that one of the reasons the store is doing well is that I'm pretty plugged into it, right now.

As Pat said, there isn't really enough business for two of us to be there, but there sometimes too much for one of us. He also said he missed the old days, when he could stand around and read comics. I told him I could always take back his raises, and then he could safely ignore the customers.

I've been opening at 11:00 for years; goes back to when I worked the store seven days a week for many years, and I gave myself the concession of an extra hour in the morning. Now that Pat is there, I'm giving myself until 12:00, and allowing myself to leave at 4:00 or 5:00 sometimes. Seems sinfully luxurious.

I'm still convinced that the person who does the ordering for a small store needs to work that store nearly full time, to know what he's doing. But oh, the temptation!

Sunday, April 1, 2007

I can tell it's spring break. I'm getting spot shortages in product that usually takes months to sell out. Pokemon and Yu Gi Oh have slowed down so much that I'm only bothering to carry one box at a time; I've cut back to 6 boosters of Star Wars miniatures at a time, and so on. So I go in to the store to check this morning, and I'm wiped out of one of the brands of SW, and all my Yu Gi Oh boosters.

Oops. Should have realized that I'd have kids from out of town. About the only thing kids still buy is Star Wars and a few of the card games.

But, glory be, I've sold six starters of Yu Gi Oh that I've been sitting on for months.

Makes me wonder, sometimes, if a little inefficiency can be a good thing. Cause selling those 6 starters is a real bonus, and probably only happened because I was out of the boosters. Seems like that kind of thing happens all the time. They can't get steak, so they buy meat loaf.

Of course, the real answer is to be so efficient that I have enough boosters, and not too many starters. But, since it impossible to order everything right all the time, I have a sneaking suspicion that slacking off once in a while can be a good thing.

I always wonder when I get these weird theories if there is actually a business school case study of such a thing. You know, a law of business I don't know about.

Back when I was doing sports cards full time, I was terribly efficient. I'd get in there and make sure I had all the good cards out for sale. And often, by the time a card got really valuable, I'd be sold out -- a lesser prices. I realized that my competition would be so disorganized, they'd have boxes of unsorted cards laying around, and when a card got really valuable, they'd be able to go in and pluck them out and sell them for more. (What I told myself was that I was using the money to turn over more product, but it's a hard thing to know that you sold your Mark McGwire rookies for .50; and your competition has them for 10.00. On the other hand, I know that I sold dozens of other players for .50 that by the time my competition dug them out, were worthless.)

It was frustrating at the time. But that was one of those rare cases where you could be a complete moron and sell the product. I suspect that being rewarded for inefficiency is the exception, not the rule.