Friday, June 27, 2008

Let stores be stores.

This has been a slooooow week. I'm wondering if I misjudged the 'transition' week; that everyone is changing households, firming up plans, getting their kids enrolled in summer programs, or just decompressing, etc. this week instead of last.

Or it could be a hangover from the Bite of Bend event. I've noticed before that there is usually a drop off after one of these events. And if this slowdown is happening in my store, you have to wonder if people who came downtown last weekend to the Bite will be more likely or less likely to visit the actual brick and mortar restaurants over the following week.

Same sort of thing happens when there is a card show or a comic show. Subtract the lack of business immediately before and after such an event, while customers save up and then spend all their cash, and as a store you break even at best.

This is an effect of promotions I believe most businesses underestimate; hell, I don't think they count it at all. But as I mentioned in an earlier post, if you keep having sales they stop having an effect. Promotions should be used sparingly: but people who like promotions have the opposite impulse. More and more and bigger and bigger.

At least one of the reasons that Cascade Music Festival might have had problems is that it went from being one of 4 or 5 major events in Bend per year, to one of dozens. Once upon a time, the Cascade Festival was a very big event in a very small town.

In other words, I think there is a much bigger danger of too many events, than of too little. I have actually seen the results of too little and too lame at the Mountain View Mall, and I'd certainly not want that to happen. But I don't think there is any real danger of the number of events shrinking, and a distinct danger of them crowding out just everyday normal shopping weekends. It's like eating nothing but desserts, without the basic nutritional meals inbetween.

My wife's store has none of these promotional efforts. Her business has grown steadily, almost predictably, for 5 years. Of course, we appreciated the article from the Bulletin, and it seems to have really goosed people to come in, but maybe because it was a special thing, not a four times a year 'festival' or a twice a year 'parade' or twice a year biking event, and many, many others.

Advertisers see no incongruity in having the businesses exist to support the promotions instead of the promotions to exist to support the businesses. What's amazing is how often retailer organizations let themselves fall into that trap.

I think in the end, these events help the events themselves, more than the businesses around them. I don't deny that they are sometimes needed, and that they don't have some beneficial effects. But I don't believe that the benefits to the brick and mortar stores are as strong as some seem to believe. I take my girl to the dance, and she spends the whole evening dancing with the host, and all the way home she talks about how great he is.

Let's be choosy and selective when it comes to street closures, that's all I ask.

Last time this discussion came up, I was informed that there is an official limit to how many times the streets can be closed, but it doesn't hurt to remind the powers that be that there are reasons for that.

What's been most unexpected to me is the significant drop off in comic sales. I'm pretty sure this has less to do with my store or Bend than it does with the regular up and down cycle in the comic biz. But it also means, since I'm very close to last year's totals despite the big drop off in comics, that all my other product lines are making up the difference.

Books are becoming my second best category; which is completely unexpected, frankly. I'd hoped they'd settle in at the 4th or 5th position; it's encouraging enough for me to pursue them further.

I'm well into the black for the month; it's just a matter of how far into the black I get. I was hoping to pay off all current debt; but it looks now like I'll probably only manage to pay off the second credit card, leaving my bank line-of-credit still to be paid. A much smaller amount still owing, but still....

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