Thursday, July 9, 2009

You want it cheap, or you want it good?

It's always interesting to me when people balk at the price of quality product. I'm not talking about your everyday commodity; I'm talking about something that is nicely made, isn't generally available, and isn't discounted by anyone else.

I just have to shrug. Either the quality is worth paying for, or it isn't. But what it says to me is that some of these people just don't buy UNLESS it's on sale or cheap, and quality isn't really the point.

I suppose I never noticed this as much because until recently, I never really tried for that higher quality market. Most of my product was in the 1.00 to 50.00 range, with a few exceptions. I stayed in that zone, mostly, because I hit so much price resistance in the past.

But as my store has filled out, I've realized the only way to get some of the nicest material is to get it at the higher prices. So I've slowly morphed in that direction. Frankly, I have limited space, so I need product that can produce more dollars per foot. One of the consequences of the high rents.

Still, I kind of like it. Nothing super fancy, mind you. But nice.

Games like Settlers of Catan are just made better than your average Monopoly set. You can feel the quality in the heft of it, the packaging, the contents, the colors, the thickness of the cardboard, and so on. Just the sheer pleasing design of it.

Same with the "deluxe" editions of classic graphic novels like Sandman or Watchmen, or the wonderful reprints of Peanuts, or Dick Tracy, or Little Orphan Annie.

I'll have people pass over these wonderfully solid hardcover books, which cost in the range of 30.00 to 50.00, even though they are obviously attracted to them; and then they'll buy (they'll settle for, if you will) a 10.99 paperback of Pearls Before Swine, or Get Fuzzy. (I'm not knocking it, just wishing they could see their way to buying the nicer books....)

Same with 'designer toys.' An artist created it, and it is usually produced in smaller quantities -- so small, that I estimate that about half of the designer toys I order are 'canceled'; which means they didn't even make it to my wholesaler before they sold out.

But they cost quite a bit more than your average toy. I pass on most of the $100.00 and more toys, but I have a fair number in the 30.00 to $80.00 range, and when I quote the price, people put them back quickly.

"What does this belong to," they'll ask. (You know, what movie, what cartoon...?)

And I'll say, "Nothing. It's an object that is esthetically pleasing in it's own right."

I might as well be talking Greek.

"Oh," they'll say. "Do you have any Spider-man toys?"

So it's the very quirkiness of the artist toys that attracts me to them, and which drives the average customer away. Problem is -- weirdly enough for a comic store -- I just can't get decent Spider-man toys at a decent price. And when I do, they sell for even cheaper at Walmart. I'm almost forced (gladly, in this case) to carry the unusual, the weird, the wonderful -- and often that comes with a higher price tag.

And, well, it comes with a need to sell to people who think for themselves, who know what they like, and aren't just following the herd. Even designer toys hinge a little too much on the name value of the maker than the actual object, but there it is. If you buy this toy, you may be the only person within 300 square miles who has it...

I always want to ask, "Do you really like it? Isn't it a bit better than the average? Wouldn't you like having it around, long after you forgot what you paid for it?"

I don't know -- buy less cheap crap, and a few higher quality items and you'll spend about the same.

Walmart and the Dollar Stores are doing great, so I hear.

O.K. I can understand it. But it does make me wonder about the vaunted 'rich' demographic of Bend, though, because I know this stuff sells like crazy in bigger cities.

(***Sidenote, because it deals with comics. But as illustration of Bend's difference...
I recently read a message from a dealer who was asked about his sell-through on a certain title. "Oh, pretty slow," he says. "I've sold about 60% of what I ordered, about 225 copies."

Which made me do a double-take, because I got 10 of the same item. Total. So, he ordered something like 400 copies!!!

I see this over and over again, and it makes me realize that for all the talk, Bend is still a pretty small town.***)

Eventually, if 'designer toys' really take off, you'll see them everywhere and they will become a commodity and they will be discounted. "Ugly Dolls" are already reaching that point.

Eventually, Walmart will convince the makers of Settlers to use thinner cardboard, and eliminate some of the extra pieces, and so on, and the game will play the same and most people will only see that it's cheaper....

The irony being, the longer I'm in business, the less inclined I am to discount; and the longer I'm in business, the more people seem to expect discounts. But the way I look at it; I have a nice store, full of nice things, and you found me because I'm in a nice district of town with high rents. (And if my profit margin is adequate, I can get even more nice stuff and make an even nicer store.)

I'm going to wait for the people who really want something enough to pay for it.

So it goes....

All this is a long lead-in to my real point.

12 years ago, when we had the mall store, probably 80% of the people who came in the door weren't really interested in buying anything. It was the nature of the mall. Lots and lots of people.

Meanwhile, at my store downtown, probably 80% of the people who came in the door were customers, because my store was a destination. I was off the beaten track.

I almost couldn't work the mall store because my expectations were all out of whack.

Now, more than a decade later, my downtown store has turned into something very similar to the old mall store. 80% of the people who come in the door aren't really all that interested in what I have. But there are lots and lots of people.

I'm glad I recognized this trend a few years back and tried my best to carry material that would both fit into my store and also attract the average person off the street. Books, obviously. Family boardgames, too. But also toys and just knick-knacks. Comics and cards and manga and anime are still pretty specialized, but I pick up a bit from the sheer numbers.

I'm not responsible for this change. I stayed in the same location while the world around me changed...


Duncan McGeary said...

Rereading this, it seems a little snobby and elitist.

Which wasn't my point.

I was trying to say that a few high quality, pleasing items are equal to more cheaper stuff.

It's a trade off.

On the other hand, Ugly Dolls more affordable for everyone -- how can that be a bad thing?

Maybe I am being snobby.

Jelement said...

Makes sense, people think everything should be cheap...but those same people only look at the materials cost involved in producing something.

Sure, settlers is of a higher quality than monopoly, but in their mind that's nothing more than a few cents more cardboard. Nevermind the development that Mayfair puts into their games, or the continuous expansion of their product lines. Monopoly just puts new themes on the same old game, big deal.

A smart person would know before walking into your store that it isn't going to look like the game aisle at Wal-Mart. There's plenty of people out there that just don't realize other games exist outside of the ones you see at a box store.

I know the things I've bought from your shop either aren't available anywhere else in town, or maybe one other place. If Wal-Mart sold them I'd buy it there when I'm picking up stuff like dish soap and toilet paper. Not carrying the stuff major retailers sell is just smart business, no need to compete with them. And if they start to carry something you sell, then you don't reorder more and find the next niche product to fill that spot in the store.

Not snobby, just makes sense to do things that way.

blackdog said...

"I'll have people pass over these wonderfully solid hardcover books, which cost in the range of 30.00 to 50.00, even though they are obviously attracted to them"

I'll spend that much and more on a nice edition of a hardcover book that I plan to keep around for a long time and re-read repeatedly (the Lord of the Rings trilogy, for example). But it's ridiculous to pay that much for some run-of-the-mill novel or political or history book. I'll wait for the paperback -- or get it from the library.

I guess if you're really into board games and play them a lot it also makes sense to spend significant bucks on a set that will hold up over time.