Friday, April 10, 2009

You must be doing really well...


There seems to be a common perception that Bend's growth has been good for my business. It would seem to make sense -- especially for a store like mine which is one of the few places you can get comics, games, cards, and funky toys. If I'm the only guy selling comics, and the population quadruples, it stands to reason that my sales would go up, right?

I've also always maintained that you need a minimum population base for your product, otherwise you quickly hit a glass ceiling. I've envied the 2 million population of the Portland area, compared to about 200k in within the same distance in Central Oregon. So again, Bend actually growing into a town big enough to be called a Metro Area, has to be good for business, right?

And yet, if you take the cost of doing business, the sales levels and the opportunity for profit, I wonder if I'm all that much better off than I was ten or twenty years ago. I mean, I am better off, but I attribute that more to longevity and experience and finally getting the right mix of product.


I'd love to hear a business like the Pine Tavern's take on this: they've been in business for even longer than me. But it feels to me as though there is a kind equilibrium that is maintained; you get short bursts ahead and you get sudden whacks to the side of the head, but overall you seem to stay mostly in place.


I really can't judge this, because my business is so subject to 'fads' and 'trends'. Comics sales are down, certainly, overall. Just staying even has been an accomplishment. But that has more to do with changing demographics and tastes. Same with cards and games.

Toys and books are probably a little more steady, but this is also were I see increased competition.


The big box stores rule the landscape. I'm just the little rodent running around trying not to get stomped on. I think of all the retail that existed in 1990 and visualize a big basket. Then I ask myself how many of the same sized baskets I'd have to have to fill all the retail in Bend today.

And I can't come up with less than 8 to 10 times. While the population quadrupled, the retail competition went up at least twice that.


Meanwhile, my rent has also quadrupled. My overhead today is a minimum of twice what it was ten years ago. I haven't added a single fixed expense in that time. The only reason this doesn't hurt even more, is because I've dumped all the debt that made up more than the difference.

But sales haven't quadrupled. You know, not even close. It approached double at the height of the boom, but it's quickly falling back to previous levels.

But the Big Boxes are still there, and MOST of them are unlikely to go away. (Joes and Linens and Things and Gottshalks are a drop in the mass market bucket.)


So, I ask you, was I better off in 1990 with a 20k population, but not a single Big Box store that hadn't arrived more than a decade before? Or am I better off today?

When the big debate of the Southern Crossing Bridge took place years ago, there were some studies that seemed to show that building more roads and more infrastructure just creates more traffic, which quickly reproduces the problem, just as a higher level.

I've wondered if the constant search for the retail buck doesn't just result in the same dynamics. More people, more stores, less to go around.


Another study I read once was, that money doesn't buy happiness -- once you have enough. In other words, there is a minimum amount of money to get to a point where happiness is possible, but piling more on top of that doesn't add to happiness.

So, when Linda and I took our little 3 days trips over the last couple of years, and we visited small downtowns all over the N.W., it was obvious that most were struggling to reach that minimum level.

Bend doesn't want to go back to that, I suppose. But it seems to me, Bend went way past the level of growth that enhanced our life-styles; that Trader Joes and Gottshalks and Kohl's represent overkill.

I suppose retail nature will take it's course, but I'm afraid Bend is stuck with way more retail stores than it needs -- along with houses and grandiose dreams.

1 comment:

tim said...

>>Joes and Linens and Things and Gottshalks are a drop in the mass market bucket

And none of them competed with you.

But if I were running Big5, I'd be dancing every morning at the thought of Joe's going down.