How I order. Part II
It seems to me that a specialty store needs to be special.
I'm never going to be bigger than Barnes and Noble. I'll never be cheaper than Costco. I'll never have the selection and convenience of Amazon.
How do I compete?
By having a selection that is unique and interesting and different and idiosyncratic and whimsical -- you know, special.
Lets face it, some product is a commodity. That is, it's the same for every one. B & N sells the same Harry Potter book that Borders sells, that Walmart sells, that I sell. The same book. When that happens, a smaller store will often get left in the dust. Often stores try to distinguish the commodity through price. (Never mind the irony that the difference disappears as soon as the other guy also discounts....)
When sports cards became a commodity, I nearly lost my business. I had the same damn cards as Walmart, only they were selling them for cost.
Oh, there was tons of talk about making the difference through service and selection and convenience. Yes, a small store must provide all that. But in my experience it won't be enough to make up for the difference in price for most customers. Price difference will pull just enough people away to make the product difficult. 20% 50% 80%. ?? It's enough.
So we are a niche business. We carry the stuff that is too complicated and low priced to interest the chainstores, such as comics. Or is so unique that they can't figure out how to 'mass' market them, such as Stikfas or standups. Or are either 'before' or 'after' their hot selling date.
I've been selling Watchmen for years. Very well, in fact. But I know that when the movie approaches that Barnes and Noble will probably sell more Watchmen than I could ever dream to sell. But give it another year, and B & N will cut the display back, maybe carry one copy or none, and I'll sell Watchmen for many more years.
I always say, a 'niche' product is a product the mass market ignores -- with all the implications.
For instance, I sell a board game called Settlers of Catan. It's a word of mouth game, passed on from person to person. For a niche product, it sells pretty well. I fully expect it to finally reach B & N 's consciousness, one of these days. So I'll just move on to the next unique product that is under the radar.
Obviously, this requires huge effort. Constant awareness. Often difficult paths to identify and track down and get such product. Only to have it taken away in the end.
But until it's taken away, it makes you 'special.'
The other advantage to letting yourself buy a certain percentage on whim is that because you are the one who ordered it, you can translate your enthusiasm into selling. Not something you'll find at Walmart.
Don't get me wrong. The majority of your product still needs to carry the mainstream stuff that everyone recognizes. You still need to have Harry Potter if you're a bookstore. You still need to have Amazing Spider-man if you're a comic store. You still need to have Apples to Apples, if you're a game store.
But let's say I can sell 5 Harry Potter books for every 500 that Barnes and Nobles sells. Why not order 3 Harry Potters to start with, and reserve the money that you would have spent on the other two to buy a couple of copies of The Road, by McCarthy, that you just read and can highly recommend. Buy more Harry Potter when you need to, but take a chance on something different.
Eventually, if enough people come in often enough, the 'special' nature of your store will come through.
4 hours ago