Friday, May 11, 2007

Got a phone call from Howard at American Sports yesterday, telling me he's closing shop at the end of the month. His landlord has raised the rent too much for him to continue. Still absorbing this news. Feel a strange sense of melancholy over it.

American Sports has been around for 15 years; coming in just as I was trying to extricate myself from being 85% sports cards. I tried very hard to stay on good relations with him, after having a rather disastrous confrontation with the previous sport card dealer. He enjoyed the surge created by the emergence of Shaquille O'Neal, and benefited from my rather rocky relations with the collectors, especially the football collectors. He and I both did Beanie Babies, but Howard ignored pogs and pokemon. I think he's lately been carrying magic cards.

Anyway, it confirms that the sport card drought continues.

It's interesting to me that both a 10 year business (Gambit) and a 15 year business (American Sports), decided to move on at a time when our store has been surging forward. I'd always expected that this would happen when there was an overall economic slowdown. What it really confirms to me is that I was completely correct in diversifying -- despite the way American Sports was able to capture the sports card collectors, and Gambit was able to capture the game players. They basically stole a march on me, and my store became a distant second choice for their customers. I knew it was happening, but wasn't willing to become hostage to any one group of customers.

Bend is hard on specialty stores. We really don't have the population, though we seem to have the 'demand' (that is, why don't you have as much as the store I used to go to in the big city?).
But what really is the killer is that we have a huge amount of mass market retail footage. As much, it seems to me, as metro areas that are twice our size, such as Eugene, Salem and Medford. Without the colleges, without the interstates, without the outlying populations, without the industries.

The difficulty is obscured by the massive numbers of 'recreational' retail. But if you look at the base numbers, it's really pretty dire. No card shops. No game stores. One comic shop. One toy shop. Two record stores. One book store. But dozens of jewelry, dress, home decor stores. Bread and butter businesses are obviously suffering. Fluffy businesses keep opening. Not sure about how that is going to play out.

Really, there is a strange disconnect going on. I look at what the Bulletin says today: "Gas Prices may hit $4"; "Housing inventory piling up. Prices -- relatively flat. Sales -- down. Inventory -- up."; "Retailers post dismal sales. Wal-Mart recorded....the weakest performance since the world's largest retailer began publishing monthly sales in 1980.)

Meanwhile, there is a picture of a young family opening a grocery store in Northwest Crossing. Lets see; limited population, check. High rent, check. No experience, check. Needed to quit high paying job and/or paying for help, check. Opening at a time when sales in the subdivision are dismal, check. Let's do it, honey!

As I said, all this is happening when my wife and my stores are doing rather well. We've always been a contrary business; we seem to do less business when everyone else if surging forward, and more business when everyone else if falling back. I think part of that is the nature of my planning; I'm always diverting profits into newer product lines. Part of that seems to be the nature of comic stores.

Strangely, I haven't really benefited much from Gambit's closing, and I don't expect to benefit much from American Sports closing. I'm not really willing to adopt the business practices of the other stores, and most of their customers have made their feelings known about us by choosing the other store in the first place. What I sort of expect to happen is that anyone who comes to town will at least give us a try; whereas in the past, they would go first to the 'specialty' store and stay there. I have a chance of picking up that business.

Mostly, though it confirms to me what my suspicions have been about the real level of support that these specialty lines have. Its fine during the golden age, tough in the mature phase, but pretty much impossible when it trends back to the base, the irreducible number of true believers. Unfortunately, the true believers are also the most likely to look for cheaper prices online.

I'll do what I did when Gambit closed. Bring in about one third more product. And I'll go ahead with what I'd been wavering on; bringing in movie dvds and music cds, for yet two MORE product lines.

Diversify, diversify, diversify.


Pearl2Lotus said...

Regarding the market in NW Crossing. Can’t the people try? In a time of gas at $3.50+/gallon, having a neighborhood market makes sense to me. I wish we had one in our neighborhood. I have to applaud people who are willing to at least try something on their own. You did it at some point. I can see the silliness of another clothing store downtown, and am growing tired of sleek new restaurants. But the market certainly doesn’t sound like recreational retail and doesn’t seem to fall into the “fluffy” categories you mention. Give the folks a chance.

Duncan McGeary said...

I wish them all the luck in the world. I really do.

It just seems like such an iffy proposition. I had the same reaction to the grocery store in the Old Mill district. Which didn't last.

But to go farther -- despite my oft stated taste for diversity, I think if I had a grocery store I would fill it with soda pop, snacks, cigarettes, beer and wine, candy, and all the other bad habits people have.

I would probably stay away from "high end and hearthy fare as well as affordable housewares."

1455 sq. ft. is not all that much space. Hard to see how they can do both the grocery side of the business as well as the 'yuppie' side of the business.

But dealing with people who want beer and cigarettes isn't as fun as selling " a healthy blend of organic foods." And certainly not great for a 'family' business, we "our kids to be with us at the store."

But, really, stand in any neighborhood grocery and see how much beer and cigarettes and soda pop sells -- and how much of everything else.

There was a grocery on Minnesota downtown which tried to do gifty tight stuff, as well as high end grocery. Didn't last.

Nuts and bolts groceries might have a chance of succeeding.

Duncan McGeary said...

Tight end? Stuff.


Pearl2Lotus said...

The grocery store in the Old Mill District was not in walking distance of a lot of homes, so that’s a bit different (if you’re talking about the one that was on Bond w/ the gas station). As is the neighborhood. NW Crossing is deep west side. Yuppies … yep, probably a good number. And yuppies with perhaps more disposable income. Flowing in and out all the time w/ extra people who have kids at one of the schools up there. Again, it’s their thing. I'm just saying let them try w/o dooming it to failure from the get go. As we know, it's a small town; hearing about people dissing your business before it's even started has to feel kind of crummy.