Wednesday, March 31, 2010
The irony -- as I mentioned with Euro boardgames -- is that I can do a specialty of a specialty easier than I can do the entire line of specialty. Except for one major exception.
I've always been a "full-service" comic shop. By this I mean, I carry the entire gamut of comic product. I carry supplies, and I carry all the many types of comics. Not all of them sell well -- some are 'prestige' titles that I think every "full-service" store should carry. Maus won the Pulitzer Price, but sells slow, but I'd not be a good comic shop if I didn't carry it.
I carry a full inventory of comic related material; full runs of graphic novels, back-issues, new comics, etc. etc.
It means keeping up with the news. It means keeping up with the product. It means devoting a large portion of my working life to being aware of the comic biz. It means devoting a significant amount of my space, time, energy and money to comics.
I can do comics because, at least so far, the mass market hasn't figured out how to take away the business. It's too detailed, too idiosyncratic, too service oriented. Even the internet can't quite fit the bill. (Though I need to qualify that statement -- with a "So Far...." Both the mass market (with graphic novels) and the internet have been making steady inroads; back issues, for instance, have become predominantly online.)
So I can be a "full-service" comic store.
Problem is, comics have always only gotten me 2/3rds of the way to viability.
I used to be a 'full service" card shop; but all the best-selling product got taken away from me, and I was left with all the service but none of the sales. I whittled and whittled it back, until I have the three or four things I still do, not the dozens of things I used to do.
To fill the gap, I kept looking for a specialty that I could do "full-service." Several times I was ready to make the leap into Gaming, but every time a full-service game store opened just as I was ready. So I would back off.
Eventually, I started filling in the gap by selecting parts of different specialties that I could do.
In essence, instead of being able to do a specialty, I narrowed it even further and did a specialty of a specialty.
I actually don't know of anyone else doing this. It may be unique to my situation: the town, the store, and me.
So instead of being a game store, I do very selective games.
Instead of being a card shop, I do very selective cards.
Instead of being a new bookstore, I do very selective books.
Instead of being a used bookstore, I do very selective used books.
Instead of being a toy store, I do very selective toys.
Instead of being a Japanese themed store, I do very selective manga and anime.
And so on.
In each case, there is something that gives me a small advantage, an edge, a way to make it work.
In sports cards, I can piggyback the new boxes of cards on top of the large inventory of older cards. The older cards were paid for long ago, and so any time I sell one, it's pure profit.
I don't trade or buy or do current singles or try to have every brand or watch sports center every night or carry any reference books beyond the Becketts or discount or carry any but the most basic supplies.
But the cards have a small footprint (stackable) and I was already half-way there, so it was worth my while to select a portion of the new hobby boxes that come out every year.
I find that if can either wait until they are on sale (past where the mass market is still interested) or can buy singles or just know that while 999 people out of a 1000 aren't going to want a toy, I know that I have a couple of people who will.
Like I said, the Euro games are stackable and relatively easy to carry and the mass market hasn't caught on (yet.)
Carry my favorites, cult genres, classics, and books I know will sell. Skip the bestsellers, mostly.
Assembled together under one roof, in a busy, tourist oriented downtown, and these small segments of small specialties ADD UP to enough to make up the other 350 50% of sales that I need to survive.
Here's the thing.
And got nearly universal responses -- "These aren't the "KIND" of cribbage boards I'm looking for..." (chess, backgammon, whatever.)
If I carry three or four varieties, and I get almost always turned down, and these are the three or four varieties that are AVAILABLE to me, which I can afford to display, and people turn me down over and over again.
Too big...or too small.
Too cheap...or too expensive.
So people should save their surprise and disappointment.
( I have a theory that most people walk in with a chess set or a cribbage board already in mind -- probably the type they last played -- and the chances of me having that particular board is unlikely, and they chose to walk away and keep looking. I always wonder where they go...the answer, as I mention below, is probably the net.)
This is the future, folks. It's going to be online. Because people have pretty much quit supporting game and toy stores on a regular basis. The waterline keeps falling, so that specialty stores in the biggest cities may hang on, but the smaller towns are losing them.
Let me explain something.
A "FULL-SERVICE" specialty store, of any kind, needs to carry the whole gamut of stuff. But it also needs to be able to SELL the whole gamut of stuff. Not just the stuff that you can't find anywhere else -- not just the exceptional.
For instance, a game store might carry a full range of regular games -- chess, go, backgammon, cribbage. As well as the biggest mainstream sellers --such as Monopoly and Risk. And then the relatively obscure and/or specialty games,, and finally these days, Euro boardgames, etc.
Let's say it works out like this in a functional store. (Remember 20% of the games are going to sell 80% of the product.)
***These are made up numbers to illustrate a point. The basic emphasis is correct I believe.***
15% regular games.
60% mainstream games.
15% specialty games
10% euro boardgames.
7% regular games.
80% mainstream games.
8% specialty games.
5% euro games.
So what happens? The mass market is selling the mainstream games for less than the specialty store can BUY them.
Gone, up to 80% of the most likely sales.
Gone -- the game store, along with it's cribbage boards, backgammon, specialty games.
Meanwhile, the mass market ruthlessly crunches it's numbers of sales and turnover and space, and decides not to carry anything but the mainstream games which represent most of their sales.
If the customer wants any of the 80% of the games that only make 20% of the profits, they are simply out of luck.
That's why nature created the internet, I guess.
The internet can pose a nice chess set on a glass table, light it attractively, and another and another. In truth, they're probably sitting in a dusty warehouse in boxes -- but on the net they are shiny and new and attractive.
With high rents, most games stores are going to have a hard time highlighting more than one or two sets. Especially if they don't sell all the well.
Of course, there are people who can make this work. But as a general rule of thumb, I think the mass market has succeeding in siphoning "Just Enough" of the easy sales to make it hard for the specialty retailers.
Ironically, I'm carrying very, very specialized games -- I can make Euro games work, because of certain peculiarities -- access, personal knowledge, easy stacking and displaying. But the biggest reason is that the mass market hasn't quite caught on yet.
I suspect they will, if Euro boardgames get much bigger. But until then, I can do them.
Chess sets? Not so much.
Tuesday, March 30, 2010
The focus of the REWORKING article is a bit different than mine. They are talking about the weird dynamic that went on during the dot-com boom of growing the business but not turning a profit.
The -- "Lose a little money on every transaction, but make up for it in volume!" -- concept. Which creates large sales, and a churning of cash, but usually results in a company that simply can't charge a decent price for a decent profit.
A few spectacular exceptions emerged; Amazon, E-Bay, and so on. (Though I read recently that Amazon STILL doesn't earn a profit on what it sells; it earns it's profits from ancillary programs....)
TRYING TO GAIN MARKET SHARE BY LOSING MONEY.
This tendency also exists in small business. Growing market share by lowering prices and profits. If there is a well established business competitor, for instance, you might have a hard time competing on inventory, service, selection, locations, whatever.
But you can always undercut them in price!
Of course, the established business is earning more profit per sale which only makes them stronger, while you are losing a little bit more on every sale only making you weaker. If you think you're going to raise prices later on, think again. You've already trained your customers to think you are the low cost alternative. (Also crazy to try to be the low cost alternative, when you have the online stores and the big box stores as the TRUE low cost alternative.)
In effect, you've tried to bribe your customers into coming to you. Which also makes you vulnerable to the first competitor who's willing to go even lower in price. (And there always seems to be that guy who thinks he can "Name that Tune" with one note....)
LOSING MONEY IN THE FIRST FEW YEARS.
I've heard over the years that a small business doesn't earn a profit in the first -- three years, five years? -- whatever. That has always seemed crazy to me. If you can't break even in the first year, (by which I mean paying yourself a wage) you probably shouldn't even try. Seriously. It never really gets any easier. The longer you're in business the more challenges emerge.
My suggestion is, even if you don't NEED to earn a profit -- for those rare folk who are well-capitalized -- is to try to earn a profit anyway.
Consider it good practice.
Think about it. If in the fourth year of business you start to earn a profit, you still need to average it against the first three money losing years, and on into the fifth year and the sixth year, and ever onward.
Not to mention your investment costs.
BORROWING MONEY TO MAKE MONEY.
The article mentions growing without venture capital. For a small business, the alternative is to borrow money. I had to borrow money to buy the store; a few years later I borrowed again to grow the business to a viable size; and a few years after that I borrowed again to open new stores. (I would have been better off using the third wave of borrowing to shore up the base -- but I doubt I could've talked the bank into loaning money with that motivation. Whereas I could show a spectacular growth in sales with the expansion plans.)
So I needed to borrow money, at least the first two times. But I was careful to borrow money on the basis of what I could afford to pay in cash flow. The only real leap of faith I made was buying the store in the first place -- I knew I had to double sales -- but even there I had the experience of having working in the store for the previous 4 years, so I had a good idea what was possible..
NOT CHARGING FULL PRICE.
I also heard early on, that you can tell the strength of a small business by how close to full retail they can charge. (Makes me wonder if these little bits of wisdom I heard or read early on were what helped me make it....)
This I think is dead on.
I've had to negotiate prices with customers to create cash-flow; indeed, probably the majority of time I've been in business I've had to make those concessions. But it's never been healthy practice. Sure, it raises funds that I might pay bills, but it makes it much harder to maintain a viable inventory.
If I can reach the end of the month without having to had to lower prices, I consider it a strong month.
NOT CHARGING WHAT THE MARKET WILL BEAR.
Early on, I had the idea that I should charge a "Fair" price for product. Admirable in concept, but very flawed in execution.
I was getting very good prices for my sports cards. I could've charged even more, but I didn't.
Partly, it was because I figured I'd gain the loyalty of my customers, partly because I felt I was earning a 'good enough' profit.
Good Enough profit? What a stupid idea.
Because I guarantee you -- absolutely, in writing, and I'll lay money down as well -- that any product that you are earning such a profit that you can afford to charge less than the market will bear, is going to turn on you.
Thing is: I was the one who figured out that sports cards were a viable market. I took the risk. I was first in, and I was blazing the trail. The "fair" part of the equation should've included those factors.
The time will come will you need every cent you could've charged -- and more.
It's a bit like finding you have extra energy early in a marathon, and you decide to sprint. At about mile 24, you're going to be wishing you'd saved up that energy.
Make money when you can, because there are going to be times when you won't be making money.
FEELING GUILTY ABOUT MAKING A PROFIT.
Strange to say.
It's a mite peculiar.
But there is a tendency in small business to not try to make as much money as you can. I read an article early on, which I wish I had saved because I've never run across anything since that even hints at the same content, that it is a well known phenomenon in business among venture capitalists and investors, that many people -- otherwise well positioned to be business owners -- simply have a hard time accepting a profit.
Don't laugh. It's true.
I was commenting to my Dad once how hard it was to charge full price to friends and to my best customers. He just laughed and said, "If you don't earn a profit from your friends, you sure as hell aren't going to earn a profit from your enemies."
Bottom line. Try to earn a profit. Try to earn a profit from your first day. Try to earn the biggest profit you can. Charge what the market will bear. Don't be tempted by discounting. Don't try to borrow your way to success. Don't feel guilty.
Monday, March 29, 2010
I totally agree.
YES! with a giant and rather lame BUT!: (that doesn't sound right, does it? I assure you I'm not talking about anyone in particular....)
I'm not 'starting'. I'm more like a guy who has trained for a marathon all his life and is told that he could also do sprints if he was willing to do a bit more training.
I do use the internet extensively on the buying front. I do nearly all my orders online, now. I have better management of the costs, more assurance of in-stock numbers and prices, I can order at my convenience, and on and on.
It's hard to imagine running my store nowadays without being able to do my orders online.
20 years ago, I had to either: get ahold of a rep on the phone and order product verbally, or fill out an order form which I sent off snail mail. In neither case was there much feedback. So I might order, say, my budget of a 1000.00 worth of product, only to receive 600.00 worth of it. I could never tell my customers for sure if I was going to get what they ordered. Very inefficient.
I won't go on. It's obvious to everyone by now.
I'm also much more in touch with what's happening today. 20 years ago, something I might be selling slowly could be selling like hotcakes elsewhere. I'd constantly get cleaned out of 'hot' product by outsiders before the locals were even aware of it. That kind of thing. I can keep up with what's happening locally, regionally, nationally, and internationally.
Again, I won't go on. It's obvious to everyone.
The Giant But is -- I don't sell on the internet.
Every step of the way I've underestimated the internet, so I suspect I'm underestimating the internet on the selling front as well. But I've arranged my worklife so that I'm working full time doing what I'm doing.
As I've always said about the question "WHY DON'T YOU....?" the answer in business always comes back to; Time, Space, Money, and Effort.
In this case it's mostly time and effort. I have the product, so money really isn't the issue. I have a full store, so space really isn't the issue.
The biggest two components to my giant BUT is: lack of technical ability. Lack of wheeler-dealer mentality.
Why don't I just hire someone? Because I've learned that anything I start, I may have to finish myself no matter how many people I hire. In the end, it's MY store, and I need to be able to do everything that needs to be done.
I'm probably through trying to promise people a 'Full-time" job. The last two or three people who I were technically adept and were full-time left for better paying and more prestigious jobs.
Even my Point-Of-Sale computer has become a big 5000.00 flop. I struggle with it, then throw up my hands and let it sit there.
But it's easy, all you techies say.
No......no it isn't.
If I was starting out in business, I would make sure I was technically capable of using all the resources at hand, or I wouldn't start.
The Giant But -- I'm near the end of my career, I know how to sell in my store and I've learned to maximize my efforts. I don't seem to have the promotion, wheeler-dealer mentality I see manifest on the online selling sites. The times I've tried to sell on E-Bay have been big fat flops.
Oh, I'm sure I could learn to sell online if I took the time and effort. Maybe I could learn to be technically adept, if I took the time and effort.
But time and effort are what I'm short on these days.
Sunday, March 28, 2010
While in theory, I love the idea, in practice I've found it mostly useless.
Never mind that 9/10ths of 'networking' is code for selling advertising, or a marketing campaign, or a web design, blah, blah, blah.
Never mind that 9/10th of what is left of 'networking' after you remove the shills is about joining a 'club' or 'membership.'
The tiny bit that is left, which might be useful -- the free exchange of information and contacts and advice among equals -- rarely exists in the real world.
Let me give you what I think is a great example, that happened yesterday.
I was in my store when I got a call from another downtown business owner. She had heard that I was keeping tabs on the downtown rents. Well, obviously, she was mistaking my Openings and Closings List for some kind of inside information. But she was wanting to renegotiate her lease and she wanted to know what the 'going rate' was....
Just try to find out rents, folks. I don't think it's possible. It's not in the interests of the landlords to tell us, and the other business owners....? Forget it. Top Secret Information.
Why? What am I going to do, abrogate my lease, go to their landlord and offer more money? Wouldn't it make more sense for us all to know what everyone else is paying so we can judge whether our rents are fair and in line?
Forget about it. I swear sometimes that if you asked the average business owner if it was day or night, they'd get back to you on it.
Anyway, I informed her that I only knew my own rent, and only rumors of what others were paying, which she should take with a grain of salt, and that I wouldn't give her any names. But I told her my rent.
Later in the conversation, I asked her what rent she was paying and what was she hoping to change it to.
"Ah......well......I.....would.....have to go look up my lease, and.....I don't know....."
I politely told her I had a customer, and hung up.
That conversation in a nutshell is what happens almost every time I talk to another business owner.
Now....I give out information freely. I've been in business for 26 years now, and I'm doing better than ever. Just about every other canny, savvy, closed-mouthed owner I knew in the first 15 years has gone out of business. Usually proclaiming the week before, "We're doing Great!"
I gave up long ago. Really.
I glean what I can from the media. I try to make sure that I'm not too far outside the norms in what I'm paying for stuff. But mostly, I go the loner route and decide for myself whether it works or not.
Let me tell you another story.
I belong to a professional bulletin board for comic store owners. Now there are about 3000 comic shops in America. About 300 have joined this very, very useful site. Of those 300 members, about 30 of them actually freely exchange information and advice.
That's probably about normal.
But......get this.......if you were to make a list of the top 50 performing comic shops in American, I'd be willing to bet that at least 20 of the 30 members who freely give advice and information are on that list.
That's no accident. These are the thinkers. They've figured out that information can't hurt them, and can only help them.
I find most of these networking groups to be a complete waste of time.
Others may find them useful. Maybe they get together when I'm not looking and freely give each other information. I kind of doubt it, but it's possible. So more power to them.
But unless you're willing to really get down to the real nitty gritty stuff, the stuff that matters -- and not fluff about logo's and signs and slogans and advertising and other useless junk, I'm not interested.
When Linda and I started the Bookmark, our mantra was -- "Keep it Simple, Stupid."
We simplified everything we could: We sell used books only. No knick-knacks, no new books, no magazines.
And especially no coffee bar, no pastries; a table and some couches and chairs, but that's it.
We don't do author signings, or readings. We have had a couple of writer's groups meet there, but they are independently organized.
Our trade policies were as simple as we could make them. We haven't tried to put our inventory on computer, or online because it would make things much more difficult.
People wonder why we don't enter books into a computer. Think about it. We can walk to any part of the store in less than 30 seconds. It would probably take us a minute or two to go online and look up the book that we could walk directly to in 30 seconds. (Not to mention the effort of entering the data, keeping the data up to date, and so on.)
You know, even if we look it up, we still have to walk over the section of the store to get the book.
Simply put, we either have the book in stock or we don't and we can tell by walking over to it.
We also organized our books as simply as possible. We combined categories, we don't alphabetize sections that are small. Our Trains, Planes, Ships, and Cars shelf is four shelves high -- it would take any customer just a minute or two to look through the entire selection. To constantly be organizing these books by author, when in truth most people aren't looking for these types of books by author in the first place, would only add unnecessary work.
Linda does clean every book that comes in; but that's a choice she's made to create a clean store.
Our trade policy was as simple as we could make it: we take most books that come in, though we ask that people not bring in more than one bag or box of books at a time. We don't buy books, because the 'taking everything' trade policy generates enough flow to keep the store churning.
We don't worry about "collector" books, only reading books.
All this generates a large volume of books, which we do have to deal with -- but the process is as simple as we can make it.
Meanwhile, Pegasus Book is also as simple as I can make it. The amount of inventory may make it look complicated, but believe me I've dropped many unnecessary procedures over the years. I won't go into all of them now, but I've streamlined the buying and selling as much as possible.
I've also come around to the idea that I shouldn't work too many hours. I admit my first decade I was probably working late almost every day, and then taking work home with me. First I stopped taking work home, then I tried to keep my work within posted hours. Now I'm trying to get enough time off to recharge.
I went through a really crazy phase of opening new stores -- all to no real effect on the bottom line except to add tons of stress. Won't be doing that again.
Both stores are doing better than ever, even during the Great Recession, and I do believe it's because we've refined our technique, simplified everything as much as possible, to maximize the work we put into the stores.
Saturday, March 27, 2010
I'm going to number the points the article made, though they didn't.
1.) "Workaholics miss the point."
2.) "The Internet has dramatically reduced start-up costs for new firms."
3.) "Entrepreneurs pay too little attention to what ought to be one of the main functions of business: MAKING MONEY. (Caps, mine).
Like so many business books, I can see their validity more in hindsight; I can vouch for what they're saying. I'm not saying I always did it that way, but that I came around to this way of thinking.
I'd like to look at these three steps one at a time, as they relate to both Pegasus Books and my wife's store, The Bookmark.
I'll be doing this one point at a time over the next three days....
Just so's you'll know what I'm talking about, the article is below:
It's Easy To Start Your Own CompanyThe new book Rework tells you how.By Farhad ManjooPosted Thursday, March 25, 2010, at 4:59 PM ET
Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson are two of my favorite guys in the tech industry. That's mainly because they have little in common with everyone else in the tech industry. Their 10-year-old company, 37signals, makes Web software for businesses. These products are universally hailed as simple, elegant, and useful—not to mention extremely popular and profitable. Yet 37signals' software often seems like a byproduct of a larger mission. On Signal vs. Noise, their entertaining company blog, and in lectures and classes all over the country, Fried and Hansson sell a particular capitalist philosophy: You, too, can start a successful business. Now they've distilled their wisdom into Rework, a small manifesto on the art of launching and running a company in the Web age. If you've ever thought of starting your own business, consider Rework your recipe book.
Fried and Hansson make an obvious point that's nevertheless worth emphasizing: The Internet has dramatically reduced start-up costs for new firms. This is particularly important for tech companies, but it applies in just about any industry. Say you want to start a wedding-photography business. In the old days, you might have rented an office or retail space to impress potential clients, bought newspaper ads to promote your company, signed up with a credit-card processor to accept payments, and spent a boatload on equipment and staff.
The Internet has reduced all these costs. Now you can impress clients with your Web site, you can attract them through free Craigslist ads and on review sites like Yelp, and you can accept payments through PayPal. Customers can pick out their favorite photos online, and you can subcontract with a company in China to make custom, professional albums that will be delivered by mail. In the past, you might have needed $10,000 to get your photo company up and running; now you can do it with a few hundred bucks.
Not only has the Web cut the financial costs of starting a business, it's also cut the lifestyle costs. Today "you don't need an MBA, a certificate, a fancy suit, a briefcase, or an above-average tolerance for risk" to make a successful go at a business, Fried and Hansson write. You don't even have to quit your day job or dedicate 60 hours a week to a new venture. If you can't afford all that, you can start a company on the side, from your house, in the time you'd otherwise spend watching TV.
Indeed, working only part-time on your new company might not be a bad idea. Among the many bits of received wisdom that Fried and Hansson smash in Rework is our culture's reverence for workaholism. "Workaholics miss the point," they write. "They try to fix problems by throwing sheer hours at them. They try to make up for intellectual laziness with brute force. This results in inelegant solutions." Instead of wasting time working harder, Rework suggests looking for smarter ways to get your business moving. For a software company like 37signals, this meant refusing to add too many advanced features to products—a decision that turned out to be enormously successful. Not only did this make it easier and faster to build software, but it generated exactly the kind of software that could attract paying customers. In fact, the main selling point for many of 37signals' products is that they do less than products from rival companies. Customers choose 37signals because they don't want bells and whistles.
Some of Fried and Hansson's ideas might seem too straightforward. When they tell you that failing in business isn't all it's cracked up to be, you might wonder why they needed to point that out—after all, who thinks failing is something to be proud of? Welcome to Silicon Valley. In many ways, Rework is meant as a rebuke to the ethos of the Web start-up scene. "Some people consider us an Internet company, but that makes us cringe," Fried and Hansson write. "Internet companies are known for hiring compulsively, spending wildly, and failing spectacularly. That's not us."
Fried and Hansson argue that traditional Internet entrepreneurs pay too little attention to what ought to be one of the main functions of business: making money. Too many Silicon Valley start-ups suck up millions from venture capitalists before giving their product away for free in an effort to attract a huge market share. Every once in a while one of these businesses wins the lottery—YouTube or Facebook will go public or get bought out by Google, and the founders will become billionaires. But more often these billion-dollar dreams don't pan out; for every YouTube, there are hundreds of VC-funded start-ups whose founders never make a buck.
Although it sounds like common sense, Rework's idea that businesses should seek out profits is thus kind of revolutionary in the world of Web software. 37signals doesn't care about market share. Getting a lot of customers is less important to them than getting a lot of loyal, paying customers. And taking money from investors is often more trouble than it's worth, Fried and Hansson say. When entrepreneurs take other people's money they begin to look to "cash out"—to look for a quick way to flip the company into a big-time payout—rather than try to build a sustainable business. And that, of course, leads to failure.
Sure, companies like 37signals that start small, eschew outside funds, and try to grow organically might never find a billion-dollar payout. But they're much more likely to reach another kind of success: making enough money for you to be comfortable without forcing you to give up control.
There's one other difficulty with looking for a lot of outside investment for your start-up—you might not get it, and then you might conclude that your idea isn't going to work. What I like best about Rework is its insistence that many of us build up mental roadblocks that limit us from starting something amazing. We think we need a lot of extra money or time or some kind of brilliant new idea before we can ever hope to start something great. But these days, for many people and many kinds of businesses, those constraints are easy to overcome. As Fried and Hansson write, "The most important thing is to begin."
Friday, March 26, 2010
So at first I thought no one would read it.
Later, I checked just once to see what the numbers were, was half impressed and half disappointed, and decided I'd rather not know after all.
But what started as a "personal" blog has become what I think of as a "local" blog. It's mostly about Bend; sure, I talk about me and family, for sure my business, but mostly I'm interested in what's happening in Central Oregon. When I talk about state or national issues, it's mostly in context to how it affects the local economy.
I'm intensely curiously about the goings on around here.
I truly am a native Bendite, I guess.
What's surprising to me is that I'm not the slightest bit interested in a wider, more national readership. I'm not saying I could get that kind of attention even if I tried, but that I don't want to try. That if it started to develop, I'd be alarmed. That I actively avoid doing things that would bring too much attention from the outside world.
I'm a hobbit.
Anyway, I've turned down several different requests from state and national media for interviews -- they must pop in "Bend" and "Blogs" and up comes Best Minimum Wage Job a Middle Aged Guy Ever Had -- but I'm strangely uninterested being 'out there.' It's a bit too fractious and competitive.
Part of me suspects that it's better to keep my mouth shut and let people think I'm a fool, than to open my mouth and remove all doubt.
And yet, here I am blogging every day and removing all doubt anyway. But it's my platform, and I'm much more comfortable with that. I certainly don't mind the attention from local media, in that it's good for business and makes me feel what I'm writing is worthwhile. But it seems to me that keeping the focus on Bend and Central Oregon, while possibly limiting the reach of the blog, makes it more interesting to locals.
And to me.
I've changed my mind.
I think they are doing just dandy.
I think they should do exactly what they're doing until the next elections.
Thursday, March 25, 2010
Maybe next week.
We are probably going to beat last March by around 10%, which is pretty astounding for how slow it is. I mean, it was terribly slow last year but I must have been so psychologically prepared for it to be terrible, that somehow it didn't really register how terrible it really was. In hindsight, it was the pits -- and yet I made pretty good profits by working the store myself, and it was new and unknown territory for me so terrible was sorta what I expected somehow... but this year I have something to compare with and it isn't pretty.
I'm not going to make as much this year because I have employees, but it's worth the price. I have reached a point in my life where I really need some time off here and there.
The store feels solid to me. The product and the sales seem on course, and I've pretty much done all I can to fill it up. The workload feels about right, and the cash flow feels smooth. It's a nice mix of routine and newness. I like it.
Wednesday, March 24, 2010
The publishers have gotten into a very bad habit of giving us light weeks several weeks in a row, then a huge week, then light weeks....and so on.
Makes it hard to budget. Makes it hard to satisfy the customer.
I'm hurt less by this than other stores, because I've tried very hard to make my store more than just monthly comics. But it isn't helpful. There's quite a bit of talk about this on the retailer's part, but the publishers just keep ignoring it.
The focus in all these companies -- Marvel, DC, Dark Horse, Image, is on the media properties, and on the huge crossover events. So they don't seem to be paying attention to a steady even flow of product, but on quick impacts and heavy rotations.
One of my main reasons for diversifying so much is that I've almost come to expect that each of the product lines will go through a cycle of dysfunction. Hell, that most of them will be dysfunctional most of the time -- but hopefully not all at the same time, all the time.
Tuesday, March 23, 2010
But no, I can still feel it lurking back there, waiting for the wrong circumstances to blow up.
What's happened, I think, is that I've gotten very good at avoiding or at least ameliorating those negative circumstances. Working at the store everyday has socialized me. People who know me from the store would never guess that I have a 'shyness' gene.
It was interesting to watch all my nephews and nieces, who are all in their late teens and early twenties, exercising their social skills, trying things on for size, reveling in the joining of adults. I got sort of sidetracked about this same age, and in some ways never really had that practice.
Don't get me wrong -- I'm not that bad. But I'm always in fear of the phobia popping up.
A phobia to me isn't just a fear -- it's to fear what clinical depression is to sadness. A ramping up ten times -- take your biggest fear, public speaking, heights, and ramp it up. It's the reptilian brain skittering and jabbering and screeching RUN!! at full bore.
My reaction to a panic attack is to usually try to override it with my reasoning brain, which says, "Oh stuff and nonsense! You're fine!" which doesn't actually stop the fear, but keeps me from running away. What it does, in fact, if freeze me in place.
It isn't the actual panic that scares me, it's state of mind it induces, which keeps me from being the everyday Duncan, the Duncan that I want people to know. I had a few disastrous meetings at the peak of my phobia, sometimes because I'd over self-medicate with booze, other times because I didn't and I found my mental state in what I would call "never-never land."
It was a huge relief when I diagnosed myself as having agoraphobia about 35 years ago. My craziness had a name. And, it could be dealt with.
Being broke and stubborn, I dealt with it my own way -- I decided that avoided panic situations would be the best solution, and arranged my life accordingly. Like a fellow who can read but gets everyone else to read for him so that no one even knows there is a problem, I got very good at living a relatively normal life while avoiding panic situations.
My theory was that the less times my phobia kicked in, the less likely it would be that my phobia would kick in. Which is a great solution if you have your own store, an understanding wife, and 30 years to work on it.
I discovered a few years back that there is actually a pill that works well -- which is the closest thing to a 'magic' pill there is. It works for me, but I found that just having access to the pills was often enough -- that I was O.K without them. So, I always know they are there but I still hardly ever use them...
So now I find myself at the theater or eating out or walking down a busy street, and I don't even feel a twinge, and it's almost hard to remember that once upon a time those situations would terrify me.
But I have a vivid imagination that can visualize me on the same street, without Linda by my side, lost, scared and wanting to curl up in a ball. So, I think the old phobia is still lurking because that fearful scene is still very much alive in my imagination.
I'm able to do most everything I want to do. I'm certainly not going to let that fear stop me from traveling or visiting friends -- and I seem to be pushing my comfort zones further and further out, so....well, it's good to know.
I was impressed by my family, by how accomplished and especially how nice they all are. And the many friends who came.
I went the more -- 5 sloppy beers route than the sit in the corner route -- because there were so many people I knew, there. I wasn't going to get up and give a speech about Tina though, as much as I loved her, but I was glad my siblings and her friends did.
I've been trying to imagine a Bend where both the Mercato project in the Old Mill and Juniper Ridge had been fully developed. It would have meant, in effect, that Bend had kept growing at the explosive growth rate.
But with, as far as I can tell, no realistic plans for infrastructure improvement, and also as far as I can tell, no real new jobs creating industries to keep it all afloat when the boom did end.
Economic cycles are necessary, they say; the booms to build up the capacity, the busts to sweat out the excesses.
I was asked three different times by different family members if I ever went skiing.
I skied just about every weekend from the age of 6 to the age of 18; and probably a grand total of a dozen times after that; and not at all in the last 30 years.
I was googling my name the other day, and up pops and old article about a ski race where me and another local fellow had both reached "Expert" status by winning some races-- the highest ranking you could get to in those days while still in H.S. I came in 2nd in the particular race that put me over the top. (Curse you Greg Snyder, wherever you are!)
I was working too hard and making too little money for most of these years. Now? If Linda was a skier, I might actually think about it. I did really enjoy skiing, but also thought it was a huge production and I don't much like huge productions anymore.
Monday, March 22, 2010
The McGeary clan in all sizes is in town for Tina's memorial (today at 3:00 at Aspen Hall). Most family in one place at one time in living memory. (There were five kids in my immediate family, each with a spouse and two kids, and they are all here.) Made it the dinner on Friday night at their condo at Mt. Bachelor Village, but the picture of the happy gathering shows me kind of slumped down in my chair --- I remember actually laying my head on the table at one point.
This is without the booze. I knew a single beer would lay me out on the floor.
Went to the dinner last night, and then spent it in the guest room, shivering on the bed.
Was ready to to go to the Dr. this morning, but my fever broke last night -- totally drenching my bed. Woke up this morning feeling much improved.
It wasn't the flu, I think, because I've had both flu shots -- and it didn't feel like the flu. I think it was more likely some kind of sinus infection.
So, today, I'm going to make it to the memorial, even though I have the perfect excuse not to go.
See, I'm pretty agoraphobic -- fear of crowds -- though you wouldn't know it from meeting me in my store. Still, I'm going to gird my loins and go. I'll either find a nice corner to hide in; or immediately scarf down half a dozen drinks and be sloppy drunk. Either way, it probably won't be the normal me. So remember that if you see me. But I know it's not about me, it's about my wonderful sister, who I truly thought was a wonderful sister and I want to honor her.
Still -- I'm curious,; what my reaction will be, and who will be there, and it must be a good sign that my curiosity is overcoming my fear. I can remember being in grocery stores or theaters and being absolutely petrified; and now it's perfectly routine. But that's the thing about phobia's -- you never know when they'll kick in, though if you suspect they'll kick in, they probably will....
My typical response is to avoid all phobia inducing situations -- and that seems to have worked for me. My theory is -- the less panic attacks, the less likely I'll have a panic attack. The idea of confronting the situation directly -- which is how I tried to deal with it for years, I think has the unfortunate reaction of making the panic response more rapid and certain.
I'll at least make an appearance, and if the response kicks in too strongly, I'll quietly exit. But I'm hopeful that won't happen.
I'll be the quiet guy with the big beard.
Sunday, March 21, 2010
Bend Bulletin, 3/21/10.
So do we celebrate now? Do we sigh a big sigh of relief?
Way back in late August, 2009, I said this:
"Anyway, I believe the national economy isn't going to get much better very fast, (but) that it will APPEAR as though things are improving. As I've pointed out several times lately, we're about to double up on the extreme drop of last September. (Remember? Lehman Brother, Merrill Lynch, AIG and John McCain flying to Washington to save us?)"
I'd go even farther today. I'd say that in September 2008, the financial markets had a heart attack, and it was on life support, and the doctors had opened up its chest and was massaging its greedy little heart and giving it transfusion after transfusion of cash.
So, yeah. We're going to look better than that.
Yet another real estate agent saying, "....I don't think prices will go any lower than they have..." and eventually one of these guys is bound to be right.
As I mentioned yesterday, when your housing starts are close to zero, it doesn't take much of an uptick to see dramatic increases in percentages. Sure enough, Bend saw over a 100% improvement -- a grand total of 37 permits. However, to put that in perspective, Bend had 364 permits issued in one month in 2006.
So, yeah, we've probably hit bottom. My sales are up every month since last September, but I'm careful to put that in perspective, and to realize that the rate of growth is slow enough that it will takes a very long time to get back to previous levels.
One interesting thing about the graphs the Bulletin posts are the 'tourist' oriented numbers. The plane boardings and room taxes -- those haven't dropped anywhere near what the construction numbers did. Proving, I think, that the real core business of Bend is tourism and since the rest of the world didn't get hit as hard as we did, we're almost bound to have better numbers brought in from the outside.
Which is great for me, and for businesses that depend on tourism to get us over the hump.
But tourism and retirement create minimum wage jobs -- so we are going to have to get used to that for the foreseeable future.
To be fair, the Bulletin and Tim Duy both point out that much of the improvement is due to federal tax credits, and that we are likely the "bump along the bottom". I doubt we'll pump along the bottom for a full decade, like we did in the '80's, but a few years seems likely to me.
Saturday, March 20, 2010
Bend-area home-price gain predicted No. 10 in U.S.
Posted: March 19, 2010 10:26 AM
Experts see us hit bottom in Q2 of this year, 3.3% gain for 2010
Got to admit -- that's a surprise.
I have two questions:
1.) Is such a thing likely?
2.) Is it meaningful?
Question #1. I bopped over the Bend Economy Bulletin Board, and out of the last 148 listings of house price changes, only 5 of them were up rather than down. And those five were up a minuscule amount -- price adjusting, it looked like, tucking in their shirt and straightening their bow ties.
Looking at these numbers, it seems pretty unlikely that prices are going upward anytime soon.
There were, what? 430 NOD's in January.
Are they perhaps saying that more expensive houses will start to sell, thus pulling up the average? If so, Question #2, is that meaningful, or is the per foot average a more accurate gauge?
Again, looking at the listings on the BEBB -- it's the more expensive houses that are seeing the biggest downward adjustments.
Also from Question #2; if we've had the largest drop in housing prices in the U.S.A. -- which we did in 2009 -- is a 3.3% increase going to mean a whole lot? In a way, it's a reflection of how far we dropped, and says nothing about the relative affordability of living here. At that rate, we'll be back to 2007 prices in another 20 years or so...
Hey, but good news is good news, even if I'm pretty doubtful of it. Much like downtown filling with businesses, I welcome it, even as I doubt that existing businesses are doing much more than holding their own.
Finally, the most meaningful number of all in my eyes is housing starts, in that it produces income for the local economy. Again, from the tiny number of housing starts we've had in the last couple of years, it wouldn't take much of an uptick to have a dramatic effect on the PERCENTAGES.
Remember that little quirk of statistics, that 50% drop is the equivalent of a 100% increase. 150k house increase 100%, is a 300K house; a 300k house dropping 50% is a 150K house. See?
Besides, would you rather have a market that drops 3.3% a year for 8 years, or a market that drops 33% for 2 years, and then upticks 3.3%?
So, well -- I'm not buying it.
There is one possibility -- that the predicting helps create the situation. But I think both the REALITY and the REALTY is just too heavy right now for that to happen.
Friday, March 19, 2010
In this case, two pictures are worth a short story, at least.
A picture of an 18 year old girl. She looks upset, scared and crying. (I almost feel bad pointing her out...)
Next to her is a picture of her boyfriend. He has the smarmiest smile this side of Tom DeLay.
Go over to KTVZ.com and check out the two mug shots of the story:
"Pair arrested in SE Prineville drug raid."
What I noticed is -- how specific and telling and convincing the state's arguments are.
1.) "...the city has not planned for enough affordable housing."
2.) "...or proposed an adequate amount of 'infill.'"
3.) "...the amount of land the city wants to bring is is excessive..."
Whereas the city's argument seemed to dwindle down to a "special needs" argument. An amorphous,' we're special and we're different' sort of appeal.
Summed up, by City Councilor Barrams comment, that the draft needs to be "sensitive to the area we live in."
You know, I tried those kinds of arguments with teachers who gave me a low grade on a paper. How different my paper was, and how it was 'sensitive' to some special need it was and such.
Sometimes it even worked, you know. Like the teacher would just sigh and say, 'O.K. I'll give you a C.'
Maybe Bend will wear down the state; they'll just sigh and say, 'It's your town. You have to live in it.'
P.S. I think there are indeed 'special' circumstances -- otherwise known as 'special interests.'
I'll be willing to bet that the state is aware that there are landowners who had more influence over the process than they should have. That's a bit more speculative on my part.
I hate to be cynical (Who Me?), but the city wrapping the BAT into the regional transit system seems like a way to pawn the problem off on someone else.
I predict, the city will pay for the move for a couple of years, (as agreed) but when the regional system can't make it work, the larger entity will come back to the taxpayer for a bond, which is what should have happened in the first place (and did and got voted down) and likely will be voted down again but the city will shrug and say, "Hey, we did what we could..."
Or the problem will be put far enough into the future that the voters will actually decide to support a transit system, or enough federal and state money will become available to keep some sort of minimal system alive. Possibly. Though, with the economy the way it's likely to be for the foreseeable future, I doubt it'll make the grade.
Overall though, I'd have to say it's a FAIL.
This is not a judgment on the worthiness of public transport, but on it's planning and execution.
Spring Break outlook bright for local businesses
Posted: March 18, 2010 07:12 PM
Well, I hope they're right.
As a store owner, you have to try to guess what the customers are doing or are going to do.
Pretty much impossible, but you have to at least try. At least have a range of responses.
My feeling is that the overall customer buying is....draggy. Slow.
Sure, I've beat last year for 6 months straight -- but that has been like beating a famine survivor in a footrace. Not much of an accomplishment. Since I've added a couple of layers of product to the store since the Great Recession started, it wouldn't be too much of a stretch to imagine that we'd be down, or at best even, with the previous year if we had kept doing the same things.
I think this is the new base level. The new reality. It's going to be slow and draggy for years to come, and that it would be best to acknowledge that and to calibrate my business with that in mind.
As I mentioned yesterday, I'm pretty happy with the mix of product I currently have, my access to new material, and the margins. My location is pretty good, I've got plenty of experience. But to increase sales, I think I'm going to be looking at incremental improvements to all aspects of my mix instead of looking for one big thing.
In a way, what I'm saying is that we are probably even more dependent on tourism than we were before the crash.
That's the bad news.
The good news is that I think we are still attractive to outsiders -- especially downtown, which has maintained it's cohesion. And we still have the lakes and mountains and forests and everything else that has always been so appealing about Bend. The weather? Well, that's even more unpredictable than customer behavior, but it sure looks like it'll be nice over the next few days.
This Spring Break really snuck up on me. I almost forget it was coming.
Thursday, March 18, 2010
(Jamming it down our throat--- ??!! You got to be kidding --- PUL....EEE....ZEE!)
...is getting the parking situation resolved downtown.
I think that the difficulty is, the attempted solutions have up to now been worse than the original problem.
From statistics, about 200 people are the problem. And I'm not sure, short of changing human nature, that any penalties or rewards will work. Solutions that punish the other 10k ticket receivers, not to mention the 100'sK people who haven't gotten a ticker, just seems like overkill.
Caught a moment of Fox Business just before leaving the house. Headline was, "J.Dimon and other big bankers are getting 'fed up' with Obama."
The BALLS. I mean really ginormous, hanging BALLS!
Balls that big would seem in jeopardy of getting caught in the zipper of regulations. Heh.
A little good old fashioned lobbying by the City of Bend on the UGB.
I loved this: "Do not talk to the people in green hats."
Wasn't clear if they referred to the city folk as well as the citizens. Must have been awkward. Obviously, if they were giving the tour, the city officials were the ones presenting their viewpoints. Captive audience, what?
Local hospitals are complaining of a lower number of patients.
A "disconcerting trend."
Like most of Bend, my guess is that it's not so much that the patient visits have declined slightly, but that they are no longer rapidly growing.
A 1% drop doesn't sound so bad, unless you compare it to ...say 8% yearly increases....(Made up that number....)
Same with sales at stores and motels and restaurants. Investment in made on the presumption of growth, you know. And payment on investment debt is made by said growth.
I'm constantly amazed by what other retailers say.
But two things always stand out: Their costs are consistently lower and their sales are consistently higher.
How is it that I even stay in business?
Of course, as the title of my blog implies, I'm willing to settle for less in order to be my own boss.
But I also think I've been rather canny in the way I've diversified my store and slowly built up my inventory.
Every day I'm reminded why I did that. Something will sell that most stores wouldn't have bothered with. My turnover sucks, frankly, but I let go of that statistic when I realized that, as long as I paid for my inventory within my cash-flow, it didn't really matter. As long as I kept building up slowly, the price was manageable. The rewards come slowly, as well. But I've kept my eye on the ball.
I'm asked all the time, "What's selling really well?"
The answer, as unsatisfying as it sounds, is: "Nothing is selling a lot, but a lot is selling a little."
The result is, that I've got a large enough inventory now that I can employ a savvy buying strategy. Look for deals. They're always there, if you can afford them and if you're willing to wait a little longer for product to sell. That, combined with past buying, gives me a very good margin.
So, the answer, I guess, is that my margin is probably better than most stores. It's a margin that comes from 26 years of building up, of diversifying, of investing in both long and short-term product lines.
I'm not trying to be smug, here. Just trying to explain to myself why, if my costs are consistently higher, and my sales are consistently lower, I still manage to make a decent profit.
Aww.....screw it. It's because my definition of a 'decent profit' is paying the bills and taking home a bit.
As far as the high costs -- mostly rent, which is high. As far as sales -- I see it as mathematical. If I sell 80% of my product to .05% of the total available populous, then my reach is pretty limited.
In fact, without tourism, trying to do what I do wouldn't be possible at all.
It's the one thing I want to say to every new store owner in Central Oregon. Realize you are in a small town -- smaller than it looks, because of the isolation, the demographics, and the transportation and education paucity.
But...no one ever believes it. I must get asked two or three times a day -- "Is this the ONLY comic shop?" Or "Where are all the OTHER card shops?" "Why can't I find a store that carries this -- game, toy, (fill in the blank?)
What can you do?
I just shake my head and keep trying to improve the business.
Wednesday, March 17, 2010
I wonder why.
Anyway, I've been mulling over paying off the house vs. retirement; cash versus any other Wall Street mechanism.
Was listening to an interview with Michael Lewis, The Big Short, (he's been on at least three shows I watch; 60 minutes, Rachel Maddow, and Jon Stewart), and he made a distinction between the whole credit fiasco and the stock market. Bonds are the Wild West, and stocks by comparison, are more transparent and regulated.
Doesn't resolve all my worries -- another downturn in the credit default and bond market would drag everything else down too -- but my instinct is that there is still a preponderance of bearishness out there. Once I use money on the house, it's locked up. I can always make the payment later, maybe closer to summer.
Cash isn't the answer. There is virtually no way to grow the money.
My experience with investments so far (starting in March of last year) has been pretty good.
I actually am going to do what everyone says you can't do, and try to time the house payment. See if my experience with selling product over the last 30 years does me any good. There is always that moment in time with an increasing value when you have to pull the trigger. You can't wait for the peak, but it doesn't make sense to do it at the bottom either. So you try to pull it out when it's increased in value significantly -- but looks like it may still go up.
Then you let it keep going up, if it does, without regret. Because trying to guess the peak is a mug's game.
Did a driving tour of Redmond yesterday, and realized it had been a couple of years maybe since I'd really looked around. It's really built up, isn't it?
Kind of a mess, too.
I think merchants can be a bit optimistic about how long it takes for things to turn around. I spent most of the 80's waiting for downtown to start getting better, and then another half decade before it seemed all right, and another two/thirds of a decade before it became the thriving center it is now.
Redmond has those possibilities -- but it's going to take a long time.
Alice in Wonderland was a beautiful movie. There was hardly a false note in it. Terrific.
I'm surprised no one has come into the store looking to buy the original books....
We were watching the previews and I turned to Linda and said, "Kid's today don't know how good they got it...."
"Yeah, not just the kids. I can see us sitting here at 90 years old and going, "WoW!"
The Auditor: "....there is a risk the company may not be able to continue as a going concern..."
Patricia Moss: "....the auditor's assertion is a standard accounting practice..."
The FDIC: "....requiring the bank to raise it's capital levels under a consent order... To date, it has not met the order's capital requirements."
Patricia Moss: "....a private stock offering of $150 million is still planned."
Who to believe. Who to believe.
Thing is, if CACB is exposed to commercial real estate loans, their troubles may only be beginning.
So Deschutes County more or less said; "You're on your own if the state turns you down, Bend."
This comment was rather remarkable: "....a smaller expansion that likely wasn't acceptable to the City Council."
That does seem to have been the concern. Not whether it was necessary, not whether it would past muster, but only if it fit the vision of the city council, whether it was realistic or not.
Now that the economy has turned down, it would be a perfect political opportunity (and cover) to go back to the drawing board, and not stick to a plan that was grandiose even in the bubble years....
This stubbornness they've displayed over the last few years, especially in regards to Juniper Ridge, is half the problem.
Tuesday, March 16, 2010
The whole pain thing has thrown me for a loop.
Expensive as hell, and because I grind my teeth, almost every tooth needs fixing to some extent.
Of course, the dentist wants to do it all -- now.
But I'm going to tackle them one at a time.
Monday, March 15, 2010
Oh, that's just too easy.
How can you argue with that? It's undoubtedly true!
Massages do make me so much more relaxed.
But why stop there?
I find that paid two week vacations to Hawaii also reduce stress! A nice car -- say a Mercedes -- that is smooth and reliable, does wonders for my mood. Maybe you could pay for the gas, too. Really a bother to have to fill it with gas all the time.
You know, my house could be a bit bigger. I'm sure that stretching out my living quarters would do wonders to my productivity.
Oh, and say 100K in my savings, so I don't have to worry about my bills so much.
Thank you, Commissioners. I'll be ever so loyal and helpful.
Sunday, March 14, 2010
Our culture lost it's way.
There would always be some couple complaining about 3000 square feet being TOO SMALL!!! Not a pretty sight. (All the jokes about walk-in closets; "should be enough for my cloths, honey, but what about you.?" The man-caves (awful term. It was always interesting how the outdoors seemed to have little weight, and how they would so often choose a condo over a stand-alone.)
Like I said, not very flattering. A lot of these people came across as very spoiled and whiny....
I've always wished they would have a Post - HGTV channel, where they follow up all the renovated and newly bought and 'flipped' houses. How many of these guys lost their shirts?
Lately, they've started showing a few HouseHunting shows that were produced in the last couple of years, and the tone is very much different.
As I mentioned, we are renovating our downstairs bathroom. We had a leaky toilet, and it did some damage, and so the whole room had to be redone. Our 'landing' or 'laundry' area is just off the garage, off our 'his' and 'her' downstairs offices. So we decided to tile that. We need to replace our washer and dryer -- 25 years old and screetching.
Our shingle roof is 25 years old and HAS to be replaced. Our lawns are non-existent or so torn up, that we need to start over. And while we're at it, we probably need to paint the outside, as well.
We've drifted back to watching those damn shows again, because for all their excesses, they do contain little kernels of insight.
Saturday, March 13, 2010
The content, however, wasn't what I expected. It mostly detailed the difficulty of small business getting credit. Not Mom and Pop, for one thing. Almost all the businesses had more employees than that.
I guess I don't believe that the ability to 'borrow money' is the measure of success. Hunkering down in a slow economy would seem prudent. Borrowing money would seem imprudent.
These kinds of articles mean well, I suppose. The media saying, Hey, small business, we're on your side! But I'm not sure that it proved it's point.
Borrowing money to survive, while it can work, usually just makes it harder in the long run.
Falling sales, rising expenses, are what cause businesses to fail, not the inability to borrow money.
Apropos to nothing, but I've been wanting to say it for a long time, and since there has been a flurry of news about 'domestic terrorists' I'll go ahead and say it.
Most of these so-called terrorists seem like misfit losers, who are probably mentally ill.
Misfit losers can do harm, like Oswald or McVeigh, but I don't think they represent a wave of domestic terrorism....
Misfit losers will always be with us, and they'll glom onto whatever outrage is current.
I finally got a good night's sleep, without taking a pill.
I was really confused by the whole thing, because as it turned out, I was getting a down to earth cold at the same time as I had a bad tooth. Achy muscles, dry and scratchy throat and eyes, congestion, cough, fever. Sure made me miserable for a few days.
I was wondering if I had an infection.
Turned out to be two different things happening at the same time...
I have a weakness for Art Books. They don't sell all that well, I don't really have space to display them properly, and I don't really have enough time to peruse them all. But show me some sample art and a cool cover, and I'm easy.
When I was in my early 20's, I went on a month tour of the east coast, visiting old friends. My friend, Fred, in New York took me to several of the museums. I was embarrassed that I didn't know what 'art nouveau' or 'art deco' was...and when I'm feeling ignorant, my impulse is to read as many books on the subject as possible.
In a sense, my store is a clumsy attempt to meld all kinds of art and literature in one small 1000 sq. ft. space....
The common characteristic is 'imagination'.
Friday, March 12, 2010
I think there are more businesses to come...
NEW BUSINESS'S DOWNTOWN
Amalia's, Wall St. (Ciao Mambo space), 3/12/10
River Bend Fine Art, Bond St. (Kebanu space) 2/23/10
Federal Express, Oregon Ave. 2/1/10
***10 Below, Minnesota St. 1/10/10
Tew Boots Gallery, Bond St. 1/8/10.
Top Leaf Mate, 12/10/09
Laughing Girls Studio, Minnesota St. 12/7/09
Lemon Drop, 5 Minnesota, 11/12/09
The Curiosity Shoppe 11/5/09 25 N.W. Minnesota, Suite #7.
Wabi Sabi 11/4/09
Frugal Boutique 11/4/09
5 Spice 10/22/09
Cowgirls Cash 10/17/09
***Haven Home 10/17/09
Dog Patch 10/17/09
The Good Drop 10/12/09
**Volcano Wines 9/15/09
Singing Sparrow Flowers 8/16/09
Northwest Home Interiors 8/5/09
High Desert Frameworks 7/23/09
Wall Street Gifts 7/--/09
Ina Louise 7/14/09
Bend Home Hardware (Homestyle Hardware?) 7/1/09
Altera Real Estate 6/9/09
Azura Studio 6/7/09
Mary Jane's 6/1/09
Bella Moda 3/25/09
High Desert Gallery (Bend) 3/25/09
Great Outdoor Store
Luxe Home Interiors
Dudley's Used Books and Coffee
Bend Burger Company
Bend Home Hardware, Minn. Ave, 2/25/10
Ciao Mambo, Wall St. 2/4/10
***Angel Kisses 1/25/10 (Have moved to 'Honey.')
Ivy Rose Manor 8/20/09
***Downtowner 8/18/09 (moving into the Summit location)
Chocolate e Gateaux 8/16/09
Finders Keepers 8/15/09
***Tangerine 7/21/09 (Got word, they are moving across the street.)
Micheal Cassidy Gallery 6/15/09
St. Claire Coffee 6/15/09
Luxe Home Interiors 6/4/09
***Volcano Tasting Room 4/28/09** Moved to Minnesota Ave.
Mountain Comfort 4/14/09
Tetherow Property 4/11/09
Blue Moon Marketplace 3/25/09
Downtown Doggie 3/25/09
***King of Sole (became Mary Janes)**
Made in Hawaii
Stewart Weinmann (leather)
Pella Doors and Windows
***Pomegranate (downtown branch)**
Pronghorn Real Estate office.
The quality of sleep is pretty bad, but the dreams are vivid. I won't pester you with those this time.
On top of everything, I've caught a cold. Mommy!
I'll try to come up with something more intelligent to say when I get to work....
Thursday, March 11, 2010
I had some weird dreams last night, though. I was in a neighborhood with a bunch of cafe's, and Bob Dylan is performing in one. He's looking at me like I'm a possible assassin, and I'm ignoring him. I'm going to read my poetry, by god, even if he thinks I'm a loser.
So the first guy up reading is totally hopeless, but he corners me, so I start giving him critique.
He shows me his handwritten version and his online version, and I'm starting to comment that his online version is more condensed, when it suddenly disappears off the screen.
"I think I like the online version better," I say. "You've consolidated it. Fewer words is always better."
"That's what I've been telling him," his wife says, who I suddenly notice is gorgeous. "But he thinks that words are free and the more words the better."
"Yeah, but someone has to want to read them."
So, suddenly, the couple is asking me to go out to dinner with them and their grandma. "You want to date me with your grandma?" They laugh, and say yes.
So I'm thinking free meal, and off we go. And I'm telling a story about the last time I went out -- with the "other" grandma, who was Asian and couldn't speak English...and the story is hilariously funny, somehow.
About this point in the dream, the loser poet turns into George Clooney. We get the restaurant and it's still under construction. So then we're all checking into a hotel room -- and it's a complete shambles. I'm outraged, but George and the others are laughing, like it's a joke.
They tell me that from the corner of this room we can hear all the other patrons of the Hotel. I'm pretending that I'm overhearing Julia Roberts having torrid sex....and they're all laughing. I'm saying, let's go out on the town, but George has already passed out after a couple of drinks....Worthless, lightweight.
All the renovations in the dream match what's happening at home, as our son Todd is renovating the downstair bathroom and the landing. Everything is in uproar.
George Clooney and Bob Dylan and Julia Roberts? I knew I shouldn't have watched the Academy awards....
Wednesday, March 10, 2010
I was convinced that all three would go down in defeat by a huge margin, and I was right about two of them.
Redmond: 73.8% No. That's about as big as a margin gets.
Madras: 67.6% No. Not as large, but a landslide by most measures.
What happened in Sisters? Well, a grand total of 316 people voted Yes, but that was enough to pass. I figure some major networking went on among the supporters, and it overcame the ennui of the rest of the voters....
Still, if Bend was thinking about doing the same thing, I think the message is pretty clear.
Don't know how I'd vote. I'm still perturbed by the money wasted on Juniper Ridge. BAT was mishandled. Regardless of the merits, I'm thinking there needs to be some accountability.
On the other hand, I think that waste and inefficiency are built into any bureaucracy, and it's the LAST to get cut, and it's like trying to get at the fat by cutting all the muscle first. So I often vote for tax measures despite my doubts. I don't want Bend to turn into a California suburb.
But I think in this case, it would be just be a waste of everyone's time and energy to even put it on the ballot.
My guess is, the results would more nearly approach the 73.8% fail in Redmond than the 107 vote margin in Sisters....
As far as the jobless rate is concerned -- I think that only the comparison with the same month last year is really valid. And it's worse.
Finally went online and looked up home remedies.
Tried salt water, ice, Listerine.
Salt water seemed to work a little, Listerine at least maybe numbed things a big.
Vanilla extract is what worked best, but I had only the bottom of a tiny little bottle. Salt water -- which has worked in the past -- had minimal effect. Ice or any combination of cold, didn't hurt but didn't help.
So I did as much Vanilla as I could, followed it up with a bunch of massage around the gums, and that worked best. And then put a big glob of peanut butter nestled next the the tooth.
Finally fell asleep, to wake up the blinding pain three times. More massage, a glob of peanut butter, and back to sleep.
I've polished off the Vanilla Extract (we didn't have any Clove oil -- does any non-cook type have Clove oil?), but wangled an appointment with my dentist this morning. Lucky that.
This is going to cost me.
Tuesday, March 9, 2010
Now I have until July 1, to pay off the credit cards...I made a deal with myself that I would order through regular channels for the foreseeable future, which should save me a couple hundred dollars a month in postage. I have a full store, after all. I can wait a few extra days for re-orders...
In this splurge I ordered regular books, 'sale' books, specialty dice, stand-ups, art books....all the material that I order less often. (It also has a whole different timing to it....it's taken two weeks for it to show up, and I'm still waiting for a couple of orders to arrive...)
Interestingly, most of the books came in, and filled every single space. I now have ZERO books face out; they are spine.
I filled a wall with dice. I still have some art books I'll need to find room for. In a sense, this is the highwater mark in my store's inventory. I've said that before, but this time....Well, there isn't another inch to be had. Even being creative, even piling it up. Only the ceiling is bare.
As I said, it's a little bit of an experiment; what would happen if I got everything in the store I ever wanted to get in the store, all at the same time. I figure I can let this stuff settle in over the next 3 months or so, and then hopefully start to see some returns this summer and Christmas.
I can afford it. And I've always wanted to try it.
Monday, March 8, 2010
I've had it.
Next time draft the 'best player available'.
I don't know, Sandra Bullock seems like the same actress I first saw in DEMOLITION MAN.
That is....a lightweight.
Man, I really enjoyed Jeff Bridges winning, man. Really, man.
And we were saved from a giant ego speech by Cameron who is an Ego with Feet. All he's done is make the two biggest grossing films of all time....
Will they rerelease the Hurt Locker to the theaters?
I ordered 30 copies of the TWILIGHT graphic novel.
Seemed like a good idea at the time, and now it's just seems crazy. It's easy to get carried away when you're trying to predict.
I'm getting some Mad Hatter Depp standups, which is going to be eye-catching, at least.
Also, a couple of copies of ABRAHAM LINCOLN, VAMPIRE HUNTER.
There's a hilarious review of SPARTACUS on Salon, which says -- in a much funnier way -- some of the same things I've said; especially about boobies (she says boobs, I say boobies. Same thing.)
I think every man in Bend should grow a beard.
That would be pretty cool. Visitors to Bend would be treated to a Beardland. A Beardtopia! A Beardfest!! Beardapolluzza!!!
The Beardiness would be spectacular. We'd be the hairiest town in North America. We'd be Yetisvelle. Sasquachs Unite!
What say you?
Watching T.R. Reid, a journalist and author I was not aware of, for 3 hours on C-Span. (Yes, I lead an exciting life...) He very calmly and commonsensically diagnosed the health care system, and yet, two and a half hours into the program you still had nitwits calling in with questions he'd answered ten times already.
And, I'm not being political to point out that all the nitwit questions came from the right. No one is so deaf as those who refuse to hear.
Also, it was refreshing to see him at his desk and for him to say, "Turns out.....writing is hard."
Respect for the National Enquirer.
Sure...but has the mainstream media moved toward them or have they moved toward mainstream media?
Blogs are out of date?
Good. I'm back where I started.
Sunday, March 7, 2010
As I've said before, I prefer a good, strong, solid 10% growth rate to anything more spectacular than that, because that is an increase that can be believed and sustained.
Comics and graphic novels were down 10%, mostly because graphic novels were an inexplicable 35% down: I'm guessing that these sales are being entered under either comics or books by my employees. (It is often a fine, gray line between books and graphic novels...)
On the other hand, games were up by 40%. Books were up, and so were toys.
My collector card games seem to have stabilized, finally, and were up from last year. Sports were up a tiny bit.
It's probably coming time to drop anime as a category altogether; just a waste of a register key.
So, all in all, I'm pretty pleased. It probably should have been a bit higher, because I actually overspent (on purpose); but, like I said, we had one of those crappy weeks that come along.
Time of year, and all that.
First week of March was pretty horrible, too. Until yesterday, which was strong enough to pull up the entire average. A little too hit and miss, for my taste -- but results are what count.
I think the mix of product is working for the store, and I just need to keep it up.
Saturday, March 6, 2010
I've been getting much larger stacks of 1.00's and 5.00's when I make my deposits. Which I always interpret as, "The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak."
I've been getting lots of cold calls. I'm never sure if I'm actually getting more cold calls, or I'm just noticing them more because it's slow.
Tammy Sawyer: "How dare you say that about me! I challenge you to a duel! uhh....can I borrow some bullets? No? Well, then, the DUEL IS OFF!!!"
Someone was commenting that they thought KOHD seemed a little formal and didn't have a local 'feel'. Which, from the few times I watched, I'd have to agree.
People forget that KTVZ started off in a very similar fashion; no feel for Bend at all. I suspect every bit of the 'talent' came from somewhere else. I was home from college when the new station was profiled on The Today Show.
Now anyone who has lived in Bend for any length of time could come up with a dozen iconic images that would represent the area.
The pictures they showed on The Today Show were so generic and bland, it made me wonder who took them and if they had bothered to ask any locals where to get some nice views. If I remember right, they didn't even have the Cascade skyline. I may be wrong about the particulars, but I just remember it being .....off.
Speaking of locals. One of the things I noticed about some of the builders who came to Bend in the mid-00's, was that they were tone deaf. They promoted the big city way. I used to think to myself, "That approach won't work."
But it did -- for awhile. Because so many of the people they were selling to were of the same mindset.
If nothing else, I'm hoping this slowdown will bring back some of the more 'down to earth' aura that Bend used to have...
I've heard rumors of at least four more stores possibly coming downtown Bend. Which is astounding. Not sure what to make of that.
I don't think it necessarily reflects strong sales on the part of existing businesses...
Early on, I thought that there was a possibility that the 'froth' of openings in downtown would bridge the slowdown, and I think that is exactly what is happening. The Old Mill seems to be benefiting from it's location, as well.
Meanwhile, the vacancy rate for south 3rd St. is something like 26% -- but a local real estate company tried to downplay that in the Bulletin by saying that the empty Gottshalks location was inflating the total. That doesn't feel right -- I can't believe that Gottshalks would move the needle more than a few percentage points.
Boardings at Redmond were down from January, and even more interesting, down from last February.
I think, overall, that February was a slow month in Bend, even slower than usual. At Pegasus Books, we beat last year by about 8% (more on that tomorrow) but there was a very, very slow ten day stretch late in the month that canceled out a much bigger increase.
Another local lumber yard closing, with sales last year at less than 10% of the peak; with the realization that things aren't going to get better anytime soon.
I think for existing businesses, especially in the construction trades, it is probably really sinking in that things aren't going to turn around anytime soon.
One of the fascinating things about watching CACB scramble to survive, is that I suspect that even if they managed to get through the next year of so, that commercial real estate is lurking down the road. They'd better hope that whatever financing they manage to scrape up will be sufficient to withstand an even bigger challenge....
A little experiment. Sometimes I start a blog earlier and then finish and post and the date comes in wrong and it's posted on BendBlogs at the earlier date and it looks like I didn't make a post on the current day and we can't have that so I've reposted with the right date and a slightly different title to see if it pops up on the right day and I know you probably don't care about any of this and sorry to waste your time but I've posted everyday for over 3 years and I don't want to stop now...
Friday, March 5, 2010
Chuck was in yesterday, and I suggested that they take the second from the top level, or even the second and third levels from the top of the garage, and offer it to employees for a minimal cost. Say, 20.00 a month. If the tags are transferable, I'd think a responsible employer would be willing to buy one or two.
During the daytime, these levels have been 95% empty almost everytime I've ever seen them.
Color code them -- blue levels, or red levels, or something.
Not to say I told you so....well, maybe a little....but I've been suggesting this for years, now.
What about someone like me who is currently paying the 50.00 a month? Well, I'm sure some of us will keep the convenient parking on the lower levels, and others wouldn't. But I'm not suggesting this solution as a money maker for the garage, unfortunately, only as a possible solution to employee parking.
Which brings me to a second point.
I'm certain that some of you think I'm opposed to the garage, the buses, the Tower Theater.
What I'd like to point out is -- my contention from the beginning, and this is my judgment based on being a lifelong resident of Bend-- is that all three of these public 'good' projects would be underutilized.
And I was right.
I can't explain why Bend is so different, but I just believe that we don't get the same results here for public transportation, or parking garages, or public venues that places of similar size elsewhere. Demographics? Isolation? Eastern Oregon culture?
I can't explain it, but I know it's there.
And it seems invisible to the newcomers, and especially to the promotion-ally minded types.
I love to use the garage, for instance, but I've been given to understand that they manage to sell only about half as many tags for it as they expected. The buses look to me to be mostly empty.
I doubt the day will ever come that the Tower will pay for itself.
Just saying -- the assurances that these projects will be successful by the promoters need to be looked at a bit more skeptically. Taking into account the different culture here -- the cowboy, logging, I'll drive everywhere and park where I want--culture.
I always say we have a thin veneer of sophistication here, and while that gets most of the media attention, the underlying culture is much more conservative -- in lifestyle and politics -- than people seem to think.
Thursday, March 4, 2010
Wouldn't that be more like wet, soggy, pancakes?
These Summit guys have 16.8 million dollars to give back?
And still keep their houses and "other" assets?
Come on, they were running a glorified real estate company, in Bend, Oregon, where they were supposed to park people's money and gather interest....They weren't running a international hedge fund.
The very fact that they accumulated so much money in a local company says to me, well, something was screwy. Very screwy.
So the city of Bend hired a pollster to ask if citizens would "oppose tax increase."
I wish they'd just give me the money, next time. I give them an immediate two letter answer and then I'd take the money and spend locally. They'd have their answer, and I'd have their money, and then -- I promise -- I'd spend it.
What say you?
Or...maybe they could just kind of ask that inner voice that tells you common sense things. And I'd bet that little voice would say to them, "Hmmm....maybe this would be bad timing....."
Oh, and I can save you money on the next tourist poll. The answers are:
People stay with relatives, motels, or camping.
They come for the outdoors.
They like the shop downtown.
There....satisfied? Just send me a check.
Finally some new shows on T.V. Though 4 hours of Law and Order over two nights is a little much.
Wednesday, March 3, 2010
"Ladies...Look at your man. Now....Look at me. Now.....Look at your man..."
I'm feeling put upon here! I'm feeling put upon here!!! Linda laughs heartily every time the Old Spice Commercial comes on.
We seem to have an endless capacity for "surprised" and "unexpected."
The economy is a cycle. It should be no surprise when it goes up, and it shouldn't be unexpected when it goes down.
Usually, when my beard gets this long, I get it trimmed.
I'm thinking with the National Beard Contests arriving this summer that I may go for the Full Beardy.
I'll probably end up looking like Gabby Hayes....
Spider-man is Fired!
Read it this morning on Huffington Post.
Thanks for telling me, Marvel. I usually sell 15 copies. I'll have 15 copies for sale.
Game of Thrones, George R.R. Martin.
My second favorite fantasy series of all time, is being put into production by HBO.
No way they can get it right, but it'll be interesting. It being HBO, they may just stick to the rather brutal plot.
CACB is doing a stock reversal.
So they take five dollars in ones and exchange it for a five dollar bill and that makes them solvent?
Is NASDAQ stupid?
LOST seems to be simplifying into Good versus Evil.
When "not" John Locke offers Sayid the "deal" he might as well have been wearing horns and a hooked tail. (Doesn't Sayid remember how 'Deals with the Devil' turn out?)
But it was interesting to see the Fully Evil Claire and Fully Evil Sayid, and the crew following the not-John Lock. Kate? From the appraising look of the devil, she may still have a chance...
I'm not sure why losing Saturday postal service doesn't bother me more.
Maybe because it will take my bills an extra day to get to me. heh.
The grass is always greener. The story in today's paper about "declining rents attracting new retail" made me think about a couple of things I've heard in the last couple of weeks.
The "Grass is Always Greener"...phenom seems to be a constant. When I had a store in both the Mt. View Mall and in Downtown, I'd hear the merchants in one, envious of the merchants in the other.
I had a conversation with a downtown merchant lately who was envious of the Old Mill.
Another downtown merchant seems to believe that Wall St. would be oh so much better than Minnesota St...
Let's see. Electricity 20% higher. Cable bills going up. Comics nearing 3.50. Health insurance going up about 20% EVERY year.
Good thing we don't have inflation.
Speaking of which. "Obama Pushing For Home Efficiency Rebates."
I've been thinking of doing the whole energy appraisal thing. Now I'm going to wait to see if I can "...get 50 percent of the cost back...."