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.
4 days ago