Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Yesterday, I got my first shipment of new, non-anime, DVD's; titles like the deluxe Bladerunner, and the Kill Bill's 1 & 2, and Evil Dead series. I also brought in a few CD's; titles like the Arctic Monkeys and Shins. Stuff I wouldn't mind owning if they don't sell.

I've also started to accumulate used DVD's and as soon as I've done my spring reorganization, I plan to put them out for sales. I'm hoping to start with a 100 good titles, or so, that I can sell for 5.99.

I spend much of my time online these days looking for the quirky, the unusual, the interesting. I'm naturally a word guy (I know, big surprise) but I've become much more graphically oriented with my business. So I look for images that catch my eye, intriguing, and then I look for interesting content. And I bring it in.

An interesting experiment for me is Linda's store, the Bookmark. I'm often filing books for her on weekends and evenings because I find it relaxing, and because I'm snoopy and love seeing what comes in.

She has a prime location near the front of the store that always sells books. I used to put best-sellers there, but a few months back I put an interesting book with an interesting cover that I'd never heard of, came back the next day and it was gone.

Did it again. Again it was gone. Every single time, the interesting book was gone.

When I talk about bookstores being like clones, I mean that I see pretty much the same books in every independent bookstore. I suspect they spend a lot of time perusing best-seller lists and recommended lists.

I never look at them. Instead, I try to find the strange and wonderful. For instance, one of the best selling books out there with a heavy graphic content is the young adult illustrated novels, Diary of a Wimpy Kid. I've carried both books as long as they've been out. And sold exactly one.

In the meantime, over the last 5 years of so, I've sold dozens and dozens of a book by Tim Burton, called Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy, with quirky poetry. Once a customer reads one poem, they're hooked.

I think best-sellers work for me best after they're done being best sellers, as long as they have interesting content, they keep selling.

I've pretty much thrown out the book when it comes to what to carry, how much to carry, and how long to carry it.

I've decided there is no absolute right way or wrong way to go about it. In fact, sometimes one choice simply precludes doing it another way that might be equally valid for someone else.

As I said yesterday, I've come to believe that half the trick of running a small business is tailoring it to your own strengths and weaknesses, one's idiosyncratic quirks and the pernicious weaknesses. I've had many a customer make a valid suggestion, and knew inside that I'd never follow the advice because...I didn't want to. I've read many a business book to told me how not to do something, and I've done it anyway.

I remember reading the advice about not losing 'focus' in your store by carrying too many types of product. And, yet, I've expanded to 8 or 10 or 12 different product lines, each of which could be a specialty store of their own. I've been told that one should dump the product that doesn't sell quickly, that one should turnover product a set amount of time per year, and yet I seem to carry everything forever. I reorder material that took a long time to sell out. My personal belief that everything sells eventually.

Ironically, many of these against the grain business practices, are validated later by other studies, which come along and announce that the way I've been doing things for years is a perfectly apt way of doing things. (It's like reading the ups and downs of health advice; if you wait long enough, coffee is good for you, no bad for you, no good for you, no bad.....) So I hang onto my product, consolidate it occasionally by skimming off the absolute dogs and condensing the rest, but never quite giving up.

And along comes the long-tail theory of business, which more or less validates what I've been doing all along.

But see, I already knew that. Because it was working.

What counts to me in the end is what works. I've got a 1000 ft. store that could easily -- very easily --- fill a 5000 ft. store and not look sparse. But I'm also in about as prime a location as I could find, and I've tailored the look and feel of the store so much to that specific location that it might not even work somewhere else, at least not at first.

My problem with inventory has come down to trying to streamline and squaring away the huge amount of product I have. Trying to find ways to present it, to make it noticed, within the chaos. I spend much of my free time musing on ways of getting the ergonomics right. Of what I call the half-inch rule, that if too many products get knocked off center by half-inch, it could easily add up into yards and yards of stuff not looking right. So I'm constantly straightening and dusting, and making it look as ordered as possible.

I believe there is a certain feng shui in how product is presented. I've been in many a store that has a great design, great fixtures, but they neglect to square up the books, or rotate material, or put the best material face out, or so on. You find little lonely pockets.

To my mind, retail abhors a vacuum. I sometimes force myself to let a gap stay for a little while, so people can believe we actually sell stuff. Put mostly, I see a blank spot as a place to put something new face out, or fill in with more product.

The losing focus thing is interesting, because I believe that all my product, as wildly diverse as it is, has a theme. It doesn't 'feel' out of place. Possibly because the product reflects me and my personality and my interests, and I can find interesting ways to connect them. There is a fair amount of creative effort behind the organization and presentation.

Which comes back the idiosyncratic nature of my store. I work there the majority of the time it's open, so I have the chance to constantly tinker with it, to try to make it look better. Any store with the owner not there all the time, probably wouldn't work the way I do it.

I've tried several times over the years to use tools like cycle sheets, to keep my budget strictly according to sales velocity and margins. And every time I've done it, sales have gone down. I fall back on my instincts (within a broader budget, of course, which is crucial.) Indeed, I think most small businesses make the mistake of cutting back too much, of carrying only the current best sellers.

Instead, I'm usually either propping up a former best seller, or developing a new product line, neither of which could be justified in the short run. But I can't tell you how many times I've been rewarded later with the product catching on, or simply selling in moderate numbers because I kept the faith.

The bottom line, for me, is what works. If I make a pretty and thematic display and it sells hardly at all, and I replace it with twice or three times the product that isn't quite so pretty and thematic and it sells twice as well -- pretty and thematic is out. I can't tell you the number of accidents that have become part of the store -- a customer or employee puts something back wrong or in an usual way and I notice it sells, that becomes the new way.

Anyway, just some random thoughts about how off course my business practices seem to be. I think what happens is, I survive, but at the above title to my blog.


Jason said...

A good (i.e. quirky) movie to look for is 'Dead Alive' (it also went under the name 'Brain Dead', I believe). It's an utterly insane zombie movie, done by the one and only Peter Jackson. I've never seen anything like it.

I'd buy it if it ever turned up in your store, but more importantly, I highly recommend that you watch it yourself.

Where are you going to find the space for all these movies? I guess you've got a plan ...

Duncan McGeary said...

Done, and did. Bloodiest movie ever.

Anonymous said...

That's really cool at last a reason to go into your store, I would like to get high-quality Frank Miller DVD's.

Which 'blade runner' did you get? Directors Cut? Or something even newer??

Are you going rent ever? That could really increase traffic, but at $5.99, its best to just sell and be done, are these new or old rentals re-packaged?

Yes, get a good selection of 'cult' dvd's, but where are you going to keep them?? You really should consider renting weird stuff, there really is no cool rental place in Bend, like the one they have in PDX

Duncan McGeary said...

Used DVD's will just be anything I can get, and figure they'll be impulse buys from the hotel guests, more than anything.

New DVD's will be 'cult' type movies -- basically anything I like -- which will be full retail. Anywhere from 9.99 for Tank Girl, on up to "All New Final Cut Bladerunner for 34.99.

I don't expect big sales or fast. And it'll be a long time before I reach a good level. I'm doing it at a rate of 3 or 4 a week, that's all.

twowheeldork said...

Hey bilbobend, ever check out Westside Video over by Devore's and Newport Market? Are you just assuming there are no cool rental stores in town, or do you not like it? It's the only locally owned indi rental store in Bend. I figured Duncan would have mentioned me....

twowheeldork said...

P.S. I have 'Dead Alive' for rent. Also come in and check out 'Meet the Feebles' for another crazy Peter Jackson film. I mean, who doesn't like snuff film making, drug dealing rats?

Duncan McGeary said...

You're the only locally owned rental store left in Bend, Damian. You deserve all westside business. And you know you're stuff.

Try asking the clerk of Blockbuster if they've heard of the Feebles....

Anonymous said...

Duncan, The below should be commented, and almost a year I too have question $498M we really need to get to the bottom of this.

Yes, I know where the westside video is, I can throw a rock at it from my house, and it sucks compared to that giant cult video store in SE PDX. It's where I rent in Bend, but the selection is PATHETIC for Bend, I don't even set foot in BlockBuster.

Oregon’s top tourism employees to descend on Bend
By Jeff McDonald / The Bulletin
Published: March 05. 2008 4:00AM PST
Seventy of the most influential tourism employees in the state will visit Bend and tour the region next week as part of an annual conference and familiarization tour — and state and local tourism officials say that could ultimately bring more visitors to Bend and the rest of Central Oregon.

Attendees at the three-day Welcome Center Training Conference, which will be held at the Phoenix Inn Suites starting Sunday, will include frontline staff from the state of Oregon’s nine welcome centers, plus visitor centers and chambers of commerce. They will tour Bend, Sisters and Redmond, have dinner cooked by Bend chefs at the High Desert Museum, and explore the region on their own when they are not attending the conference, said Doug LaPlaca, president and CEO of the Bend Visitor & Convention Bureau.

The conference is part of the Salem-based Oregon Travel Information Council’s annual training of visitor center employees, which is sponsored by Travel Oregon, the state’s tourism-promotion agency.
On the web

For more information about the 2008 Welcome Center Training Conference, visit www .oregontic.com/sales/welcome-centers.php.

“The primary benefit is to have this group of influencers learn what we have to offer as a destination,” LaPlaca said. “It’s important for them to see all there is to do in Bend.”

Tourism generates an estimated $498 million per year in economic impact in the region, according to the latest data provided by the Central Oregon Visitors Association.

Attendees will have options to explore Bend’s downtown, visit The Old Mill District and see other parts of the region during their stay in Bend, LaPlaca said.

The frontline staff at visitor centers throughout the state interact with more than 1 million people per year, said Craig Tutor, the development and marketing manager of the Oregon Travel Information Council. The nine state visitor welcome centers, located at points of entry around the state, typically provide itineraries for travelers entering the state.

“It’s a tremendous boost for Bend,” Tutor said. “This gives the frontline staff a flavor for what Bend is all about so that when they talk to visitors heading up (U.S.) Highway 97 to Bend, they’ll be able to say, ‘You have to go to Bend to see this or do that.’”

Anonymous said...

You're the only locally owned rental store left in Bend, Damian.


I like the westside video store don't get me wrong, its the only place in Bend I use, but when I visit PDX I always go that that giant place out on 48th SE & Belmont, its about 10,000 sq-ft and has every cult-video in the universe. I find the westside selection to be lacking, the place is small, you have lots of stuff, but lets be honest that SE place has SPACE that you have for each GENRE. I really don't consider your place 'cult', you have an ok selection of NEW-RELEASE, and quite a bit of action/comedy, but no westerns to speak of, you do have all the academy awards which is good. I would like to see a bigger 'classic' section. More MUSIC.

Again for Bend I guess its as good as we can get, but quite often I never find there what I'm looking,

Usually when I return videos theres just a gal at the counter that is asleep, I have never had anyone there offer to help to find anything,

I'm going to assume here that 'damian' is a guy, and is this owner ever there? If so what are the hours, and in the future when I go, I'll start telling him what I'm looking for, so I can start finding what I want, it sounds like they want to be the 'place', I mean I don't have a choice cuz its my hood. I do shop at Newport for things like beer,cheese,bread, so its natural to risk my life walking across the street to the video store, WHY IN THE FUCK DON'T YOU PEOPLE DO SOMETHING ABOUT THAT CROSSING???

Duncan McGeary said...

To be fair, that's like expecting Bend's used bookstore to be like Powell's. Westside is trying to carry the more offbeat, at least. If they get rewarded with enough business, they could maybe do more or it....

twowheeldork said...

You could never expect a Bend video store to be like Movie Madness up in Portland, especially one located in the corner of the Westside. When Blockbuster opened up a couple miles away (2 years ago), my business got cut in half (where did all my locals go?) and you can only buy so many, "cult," movies that only rent once. You're right, we don't have too many westerns, or a lot of classics on DVD, but venture upstairs and look around. If you've seen all the cult/western movies up there, then yes, you need a movie madness. There's also great gems hidden in the Foreign section, so if you want something different, I'll be working Friday night.

Jason said...

"Done, and did. Bloodiest movie ever."

Boy, was it ever! And the dinner scene is one of the few movie bits that can actually make me squirm. "What, no pudding?!?" Eww.

"P.S. I have 'Dead Alive' for rent. Also come in and check out 'Meet the Feebles' for another crazy Peter Jackson film. I mean, who doesn't like snuff film making, drug dealing rats?"

If I rent a movie more than three times, I usually figure I need to just buy it. I've far exceeded my quota on this one, too. I have never watched 'Meet the Feebles', but you can be sure I'll see about coming in and swooping that up sometime in the near future.