Friday, December 14, 2007

A visit to the competition.

I've always avoided this. It's uncomfortable and awkward. I never did go into Gambit Games, I used to visit American Sports and chat with the owner until I realized that I was the only one giving out information, I visited Fun and Games a few times, and tried to figure out why the owner was buying so many statues, and so on. I visited my former store in the Mt. View mall a few times.

Yes, there are things to be learned. I discovered through visiting Third Millennium that I was totally underestimating the Goth element of the hobby. But it always seemed to me that the owners of the other stores were treating me like a spy, and intruder. Besides, I just try to tend to my own knitting.

I had never visited Anime Mountain. I had kind of heard that Charlie, the owner, didn't like me, but didn't know why.

So Linda and I were getting hamburgers at Dandy's last night, and I popped out of the car and walked across the street. About halfway over, I realized that I intended to go in.

I walked in the door, and I could tell from the look on Charlie's face that he knew who I was. Not a happy look. He seemed vaguely familiar to me, but I introduced myself just to be sure.

After a couple of moments, he told me he was closing at the end of the month.

Oh, oh. I thought. He probably thinks I knew that and was here to pick his bones and gloat.

I'm sorry to hear that, I said. And I am. I've learned I gain absolutely nothing from the demise of other stores, and I can always put myself in their place.

Yeah, I said. I heard that they were downloading six million anime's a month? was it?

Every week. He said grimly.

Anyway, I could tell he Really, Really didn't like me. That he was forcing himself to be civil. So I finally asked if he had been in my store.


Uh, I take it you didn't have a good experience?

You treated me like shit, man.


Here's a little secret. I'm constantly fighting the battle of patience. I'm still learning how to deal with difficult people. I know, I know. It's hard to believe. I need to be patient with every customer.

Over the years, I've had a few bad stretches where if the customer said the wrong thing, I was all over them. Questioning my honesty and ethics wasn't a good idea. Usually in times of stress. One of the reasons I have an employee with regular hours is to give customers who can't hack me another chance to come in. I get along with the vast majority of customers. I've almost never had an incident over comics, or over books, very few over toys, the most over sports cards, and apparently at least one incident over anime.

I usually managed to corral those feelings, pull them back, I HAVE gotten better over the years. It's very, very rare that there are overt bad feelings these days. But go back 15 years ago as my sports cards are falling through the floor, I'm bleeding red ink, and I'm being accused of being 'over-priced' by former customers, and yeah, there were a few harsh words.

There's also this unfortunate tendency on the part of customers to 'take sides.' If they like one store, they often will dislike the other stores, sometimes without even going in them.

As I said, I try very hard to be patient. And I think I'm doing much better over the last 5 years or so. (Maybe not coincidentally, as the store has done better.)

Well, I say to Charlie. Maybe I was having a bad day. Did you ever come back again?

No, it only takes once.

Well, I apologize if I treated you poorly. That should never happen.

He still didn't like me, not one bit. We chatted a few more minutes, and I'm trying to figure a graceful exit, and my wife honks her horn outside.

Got to go! I say.

Anyway, Anime Mt. is the last of the competitors. Last man standing. Kind of surprises me that so many stores are opening in Bend, when so many stores I've known over the years are closing. A bit of cognitive dissonance.

It's a great reminder to me to continue my lifelong project of trying to be patient with people. Friends tend to come and go, but enemies accumulate. After 27 years of dealing with the public, with my fairly prickly personality (not always, not even mostly, I can be charming too), even one incident a month, out of the thousands who come in the door, would be 324 people running around not much caring for me or my business.

100% probably isn't possible. People being people. But there should always be a way to diffuse the situation.

Hell, my treatment of Charlie (and he may have been way out of line if I remember right) could have been a motivation for him opening a store to 'show me.' I've heard of worse motivations.

I try to treat the competition with respect. I always refer people (even when I hear that they aren't reciprocating.) Hell, most of the time I defend the other store if someone says something negative. I think it is professional to be both polite, and yet a little distant from the competition. Everyone does things differently.

I told this story knowing it may let some of you think I'm some kind of ogre. Really, I'm not. Really, I'm pretty much a nice guy. I promise you I'll greet you when you come in the door, and be pleasant and help you to the best of my abilities.


Nezumiiro said...

I can see why you might have been at odds with Charlie, (Anime Mt.) as he was less than modest about his knowledge of Anime, and all things related. The one time I walked in, he was literally berating a group of female customers because they liked a series with 'inferior production values'. What does that even mean? Does that mean that shows like Tom & Jerry are beneath him, as they were made using the simple production techniques of the times? Or that perhaps the plot development of such shows just weren't up to scratch? Granted all people should feel a wee bit highly of themselves, but a superiority complex probably isn't the best approach to customer service. Though my conversations with him were, for the most part civil, I felt that if I let the conversation drift too far towards topics related his business, I would be struck down by the elitist hammer of anime appreciation!

Later I learned that those girls came in the store and suffered through his tirades, just so one of them could swipe everything not bolted down. Not something I condone, but perhaps this is one of those Reap/Sow situations.

Anyway, though I'm sure it's lonely at the top, keep up the good work, as your store (and the used book store down the lane) is perhaps the last bastion of civilized geekdom left in Bend.

Duncan McGeary said...

I'm not at all elitist about my product. When I was a kid, everyone looked down on what I liked, so far be it from me to decide that some others tastes are beneath me.

Except when it comes to S.F. I have strong opinions about that...I try to keep it to myself, but it sometimes slips out.

But about other things -- I figure, everyone's different.