Friday, July 3, 2009


Out of curiosity, I started counting the number of competitors I've had in the last 25 years, running up to the first of this year. Not counting current competitors. I came up with a quick 20.

I'm sure I could come up with more with a little thought, but these 20 stuck to my brain enough that when I leafed through the years I remembered them.

Some were more direct competitors than others; but all had some impact on my business, or competed directly with one of my product lines.

This really isn't all that many. I know at one point that Grants Pass, for instance, had something like 12 card shops. For whatever reason, this didn't happen in Bend.


First off, I want to make clear that I had little or nothing to do with the demise of the other stores. Competition doesn't work that way.

What happens is that they siphon some of your business away, create business of their own, and then give you back a little when they close. Generally, more inconvenient than brutal.

What caused the demise of all these stores wasn't me, but their own decision-making. Mostly, their decision to open a specialty store in Bend, Oregon.

Sometimes there is enough business in a specialty to warrant a shop, but if there is that much business, then the chain-stores have jumped in, I guarantee you. The chain-stores are responsible for the demise of most small businesses, not competition from other small businesses.

If the specialty is left alone, either it isn't much of a money-maker, or it is a very difficult market to suss. Such as comics.

Mostly, though, all these specialty products, games, toys, cards, books and so on, have popularity arcs and what usually happens is that the specialty store opens toward the top of the arc.

Where the arc settles, however, is a whole nother story.

Wait a minute, you might say, Bend has grown by leaps and bounds. And I'd agree that if you have a specialty that has demand, and the town is growing, you might be successful during your arc.

But it is constantly changing.

My answer was to keep adding product lines, add specialties together, until I had a comfortable range. No one product line accounts for more than about 35% of my business right now, and most are in the 10 to 15% range. It helps smooth the rough spots.

It doesn't make me immune to competition, but it helps.

I always say, a specialty store will always beat me in the short run. Hell, if I was a magic player, I'd probably go to a store where the owner played and gave me a space to play and so on.

But I'm much more comfortable being a generalist. I may not know everything there is to know about any one product line, I may not make all possible sales in one product line, but I have a mix that seems to work.

Hell, at least 3 of the stores were doing a much better job than me when they quit.

But, well, I'm in it for the long run, and I'll adapt to whatever circumstances come around.

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