Wednesday, October 17, 2007

How I order.

Of course, it's more an art than a science. The Point of Sale computer isn't going to change that.

A good third of my orders are automatic -- either because they are ordered for customers on a regular basis, or are so important they simply must be ordered. I need to order 25 copies of
Amazing Spider-man every month. I simply must order the new League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Hardcover. Not only because I think they'll sell, but because they are important titles, people will expect me to have them.

Probably another third are nearly automatic, because they are classics or evergreens, and every good store must have them. If I sell Maus, even if it took a year, I need to reorder it because it's always number one or two on lists of the best graphic novels ever done, and because it won the Pulitzer Prize. If I sell any of the Preacher series, or Sin City, or Hellboy, or Y - the Last Man, or Fables. It's automatic.

Of the final third, most are newer titles that look the be future classics. I read reviews, I try to make my best guess. So that leaves me with maybe 10 to 20% of material that I can pick and choose.

I tell customers that I "try" to have every good graphic novel ever written and drawn. Of course, that's impossible. But I do "try".

When I'm increasing my inventory, I actively seek suggestions, I actively read the trade publications and websites, I keep my ears to the ground to hear the drum beat. When I'm just maintaining my inventory, I sort of let the most important new titles percolate to the top of my consciousness. If I read review after review of the same title, I'm more likely to order it.

And if I'm actually trying to save money, or even cut my inventory I ask myself, "If I didn't order this, would anyone notice?"

Even the evergreen and committed product can be cut a bit if need be. I can cut Amazing Spider-man to 24, say, and have 3 copies left to put on the counter instead of 4. I can keep one copy of Preacher in stock, instead of 2 or 3, and risk that I might be out for a few days.

The choice of having a leaner inventory, a mile wide but an inch deep, goes along with my decision to make reorders every week. I could probably save a couple hundred dollars a month on postage if I just made orders off the monthly order form, or let it ship through normal channels, but I would either risk being sold out for several weeks instead of several days, or I would have to stockpile inventory in order to have enough to last.

There was a time when making huge reorders made sense because I got higher discounts or because material wasn't available on reorder. That hasn't been true over the last couple of years, but my wholesaler is reconfiguring their discounts plateaus so it may become a factor again in the future.

As I said, I keep back 10 to 20% of my budget for whim. Instead of devoting every dime to product I absolutely know will sell, which is usually the same product they'll find in every other store and even in stores like Barnes and Noble, I like to get material that appeals to me, that I think has something extra, but which isn't obvious. It gives my store just enough of a unique, idiosyncratic nature that no one will be able to quite duplicate it.

Especially because I approach all ten product lines that way, my store is always going to have something different.

I also try to reserve a certain percentage of my budget for 'sale' product. Not just because it's cheaper, but because it gives me a chance to experiment. It gives me a chance to try something new.

I'm probably going to order a certain way because of my own bias, and I like to try to shake that up once in a while.

I've authorized Patrick to make orders every week within a budget, and I'm always interested to see what choices he makes. He's trying to keep the manga inventory up much more than I would, for instance, and I'm letting him do it because he's getting results.

My store is better stocked than I ever thought possible. Indeed, probably most of my profit is tied up in the inventory. Because I take pride in the store, I'd rather leave some of the profit where I work everyday instead taking it home but having a place I'd rather not work in. If that makes any sense.

There is no end of product. Even in my little industry. So I'm trying to tell myself to be reasonable. It's impossible to have every good title. I probably shouldn't even "try". But so far I've enjoyed being able to say, "I try to have every good title" and mean it.


IHateToBurstYourBubble said...

Maybe you've covered this, but what are your 10 categories? And just to show how retail brain-dead I am... what are "pre-orders" and "re-orders"? I think I know, but am not sure. And you are getting a new POS system? What "model/make"? And just curious Why Now?

It's like I sort of remember these conversations here... but the brain ain't what it used to be... Feel free to respond with a "RTFM".

Duncan McGeary said...

Simply ordering it in advance versus waiting for it to come out.

You get it sooner, you make certain you get it even if it sells out, and sometimes you get a better discount. It's more convenient because all the info is in a catalog and you can order it all at once.

But then you're committed.

Reorders you can order when you want, but risk sell-outs, a time lag, and you have to pay a bit more.

I realize sometimes I say I have 8 product lines, sometimes 12, sometimes 10. It depends on whether I want to break it down.

The keys on my register are:

1.) comics
2.) anime
3.) sports cards (but can be broken down into non-sports as a separate category)
4.)Card games. (Miniature games can be broken into a separate category.)
5. Games. Role-playing and board games.)
6. Books. New and used.
7. Toys.
8. Graphic Novels. (Manga, graphic novels, and art books.)

I'm ordering December's product out of a catalog in Oct. (Actually, product I order in Oct. could show up anytime over the next year or more....)

Diamond Distributors, which is basically a benevolent monopoly for 85% of comics, is going to be offering a new P.O.S. system, and will allow us to make affordable payments.

I'll probably break the P.O.S. into 20 categories or more.

The things that scares me is my technical phobia and ineptitude.