Tuesday, August 31, 2010
Name of the Wind, Patrick Rothfuss, turned out to be completely addicting. Best fantasy I've read in years; the kind of book I'm always hoping to find but rarely do.
Of course, the next book isn't coming out until next year, which must mean he's a once every four year guy. Arrgghh. I was smart enough to wait on the Bujold, Sharing Knife series, until it was close to finishing; got caught by the frakken George Martin series.
This is more or less why I read more mysteries and S.F. So as not to get stuck in a series. Fantasies are just different than S.F. as far as reading series out of order. I have no problem reading mysteries out of order.
But waiting for years and years for the next fantasy book to come out has derailed many an author for me. Most of them aren't THAT good. There is an interesting similarity to comics in that. I can't tell you have many times I've said, "I read the first five issues and liked it."
So, I can see the customer thinking, if you liked it, why did you just read the first five issues?
Well, because by the time enough more issues have come out, I've gone to the NEXT thing, and so on.
When I save up long series, I find myself balking because it's TOO much.
Anyway, I'll read Martin when he finishes, but once again I'm learning that fantasy is dangerous. if you're looking for complete stories.
Monday, August 30, 2010
Woke up wide-awake at 6:00 this morning, with the knowledge -- the certainty -- that the metal and ceramic frogs we have lining the steps were the cause of the damage. That some chemical is leaching out of them onto the trex.
I'm moving the frogs to the garden, and we'll see if my sub-conscious was correct.
The trouble with tailgaters is -- they drag you unwillingly into their moron universe.
You can avoid most morons.
If someones talking at a movie, you can get up and move, or get a refund, or whatever. If someone is talking loudly on a cell phone in your store, you can move to another part of the store or turn up the stereo, or something.
I mean. They're out there. But you can get around them.
Tailgaters? You can't avoid them. And if you have to stop suddenly, they'll crash into your backend, and you get dragged into their twittish mindset, dammit.
If they ever carry out the death sentence on Randy Guzek, they'll need a wooden stake.
Looks like the temperatures will get high enough and dry enough later in the week to do a little fall fertilizing on my new lawns. There are some bad patches, which is disheartening. I really don't think the landscaping guys did enough soil preparation. I've let the lawns be a little high all summer, hoping to retain moisture. Give them a nice solid start.
Someone in England built a spiral staircase that is a bookshelf for an architectural contest that is absolutely awesome.
One of those things I would buy if I was a millionaire. (These days, I probably need to be a billionaire....)
But really, why couldn't someone build a bookstore from scratch that was based on that idea? Tower of London Books -- something like that. Have a few suits of armor in the corners, a Sword in a Stone. Come on, why not?
I'm pretty sure in some alternate universe, I've done that.
I don't know if it's the drizzley weather, or what. But I've been thirsty for reading over the weekend. Read a book in one day (Cauldron, Jack McDevitt) and made a good start on a second book (Name of the Wind, Patrick Rothfuss). I want to dive into the book again today, but I'm going to try to get out of the house, somehow. Maybe go visit the other bookstores? That'll keep me in the mood, but get me out of my room.
I managed to mow the lawn, and broke off to watch True Blood and Rubicon. True Blood seems to be over before you know it, and Rubicon -- well, I don't think I've ever seen a show with more dialogue silences, and walking into rooms and sitting down business nothing happening but everything happening. I don't think Rubicon is long for this world, but I keep watching...
Sunday, August 29, 2010
"You asked the right question. It's the question that everyone asks. The answer is, pretty much tourism and retirement. But we had a few boom years in building around here, and you're seeing the results of that." I then proceeded to tell her that Bend has had the biggest decline in housing prices in 303 metro areas in the last two quarters.
"Must be a good time to buy, " she said.
I nearly slapped my forehead. "Um....yeah, if you think two quarters of decline are the end of it...."
Thing is, I've been getting the same response now for over 2 years! Prices have declined therefore it must be a good time to buy!
It's like seeing a sinking oceanliner and thinking, "Gee, I bet we could book a passage really cheap."
Since when does not raising prices make you a hero?
Let's get real here. If Mt. Bachelor was charging 929.00 in '07, it's because they that's how much they thought the market would bear. And if they lowered prices to 799.00 in '08, it was because they found out to their bottomline that in fact the market wouldn't bear it.
Holding the line on prices is what everyone is doing.
I tried to find the source for this information, but I can't. Still, I know the information was as presented, and it came from one of the major economic blogs.
There wasn't a single existing house in this here United States of America that sold for over 750k last month. Nor the month before.
I don't know about you, but I find that extraordinary.
All the folks who thought that Bend would be insulated from a crash by 'rich' folk, I wonder what they're saying now?
I think we've been lucky downtown with our vacancy rates. But I think that may be coming to an end. Let me preface my prediction by saying; while I wasn't one of those who thought downtown would empty out -- in fact, I sort of predicted that we'd get some people using this slowdown as an opportunity to move downtown; I admit I did expect there to be net loss.
Instead, as the Comings and Goings list documents, we've had more people move in than move out.
But I really think that won't continue.
I think we've sucked up the available talent. And the economy isn't really getting much better, in fact, I think it's a double dip recession in Bend by any real measure that matters. (More about that at the end of the month.)
A couple of articles in the Sunday Bulletin dovetail nicely with my thoughts.
One: the basic question that the Arizona couple asked, and which anyone with any common sense is going to ask, "What do people do for work around here?" still holds true. It was always the flaw in our growth.
While the Venture Conference would like to make the case that Bend is rife with high-tech, I wonder if that's true. Anymore than any many other towns. The basic isolation that Bend suffers in the industrial zone, holds true for high-tech, as well, though in a more subtle way.
I've taken to saying, that when one of these high-tech wizards first move to town, they'll ask me about something 'new' I've never heard of: "What's that?" I'll ask, and sure enough within a few weeks I'll come across something that refers to it.
Then six months after they get here, they walk in my store and ask for something 'new' and I'll say, "Why, yes! I just got it in!"
And after about a year, they'll come in and the 'new' thing will be on my counter and they'll ask, 'What's that?"
It seems inevitable and inexorable. Sure, they still have access to the internet and the media and they can still talk to their friends. But what seems to have happened was: when they moved here from San Fran, or Seattle or Portland, they were swimming in the milieu of the 'new', and they picked it up by osmosis.
After they've been wading the shallow cultural waters of Bend for awhile, it simply becomes impossible to stay cutting edge. I suppose if they travel every weekend, they might keep up, but then -- geez, why stay in a town that is at least 4 hours from anyplace they need to be on a regular basis? Wouldn't it be easier to Live There, and Play Here?
(Shallow cultural waters? I still use the examples of Zines and Art Toys, both well established trends in the metro areas, and both still pretty much a mystery in Bend. I see it, with my own eyes.)
So we come back to the real reason for Bend's existence -- tourism and retirement. Which, as I always say, are minimum wage jobs.
So when I look at the lay of the employment land, and the housing situation, and the business climate -- I don't see a whole lot of uptick in the near future...
I think we've had lots of people hanging on.
The Commercial Real Estate situation still hasn't set in: anything built in 2007 or 2008 won't become a problem until a couple more years -- assuming that there isn't a whole lot of "pretend and extending." Which I think there will be. Anything to hold off the consequences of building huge retail buildings with high rent.
Rents have come down, but maybe not enough. And with the astronomical cost of downtown real estate in the boom years, if they come down too far, the whole edifice becomes untenable. There is going to be a huge struggle between rents and vacancies for the foreseeable future.
The Compass Commercial guy in the paper is quoted as saying;
"It seemed like every time we take a step forward, there's a step back that matches it....I think we're hitting a point where we're not going to go any lower."
So I agree with the first part of that statement, but disagree with the second part. Especially downtown. I think we've been lucky to keep picking up willing retailers. I can't see how that is going to continue....
I could easily be wrong. Predictions are risky, and you can throw this back in my face in a couple of years. But I think we're going to see a net loss of retail downtown by the end of next year. Hopefully, not too drastically.
Saturday, August 28, 2010
HUNTER'S MOON, Randy W. White.
ROUGH COUNTRY, John Sandford.
CARTER BEATS THE DEVIL, Glen David Gold.
TIN ROOF BLOWDOWN, James Lee Burke.
3 DAYS TO NEVER, Tim Powers.
RAIN GODS, James Lee Burke.
INVERSIONS, Iain Banks.
ENGINE CITY, Ken McLeod.
WINTER STUDY, Nevada Barr.
FLASHBACK, Nevada Barr.
HIDDEN EMPIRE, Kevin Anderson.
LITTLE, TINY TEETH, Aaron Elkins.
THE DEVIL'S EYE, Jack McDevitt.
EIFELHEIM, Micheal Flynn.
NIGHT OF THUNDER, Stephen Hunter.
FOREST OF STARS, Kevin Anderson.
THE DEFECTOR, Danial Silva.
LOST CITY OF Z, David Grann.
47th SAMURAI, Stephen Hunter.
TUXEDO PARK, Jennet Conant.
THE NIGHT GARDENER, George Pellicanos.
BLIND FAITH, Walter Mosely.
KILN PEOPLE, David Brin.
MOONFALL, Jack McDevitt.
ANCIENT SHORES, Jack McDevitt.
RED LIGHTNING, John Varley.
HARD AS NAILS, Dan Simmons.
PIRATE FREEDOM, Gene Wolfe.
BORDERLINE, Nevada Barr.
UNDER THE DOME, Stephen King.
CAESAR, Adrian Goldsworthy.
COLD DISH, Craig Johnson.
CITY OF THIEVES, David Benioff.
By my count.
2 literary - ish.
I do like my Genre. I try to read a non-fiction about every ten books or so, and I try to read a mainstream ficiton/literary-ish every ten books or so. As far as I'm concerned though, authors like George Pellecanos, James Lee Burke, Ian Banks, and Gene Wolfe are as good or better than most 'mainstreams' I try.
Friday, August 27, 2010
"I hear he's real up and down in his shows, depending on his mood."
"That's what makes it interesting. He changes the music every concert."
I asked them if they had ever met him, and they said, "We'd have a better chance of seeing Obama. Heavy, heavy security."
And yet, he wanders around, incognito.
Anyway, I asked them if they had a name for themselves, like Deadheads. Dylan Heads?
"Well, someone tried to get BobCats started, but we hated it...."
I was at Linda's store the other day, and I noticed a big biography: CAESAR: Life of a Colossus by Adrian Goldsworthy, and I thought, "That's the ticket. Go live in Ancient Rome for a few days."
It's weird how I carefully assemble a pile of books I read by authors I like, and then just randomly grab a book that comes into the store to read instead.
I honestly don't understand people who don't read. For one thing, they're missing the fun.
For another, there is so much knowledge to be gained. I'm not just talking about non-fiction, either. Fiction gives you access to other people's lives, too.
In the Caesar book, the first third is devoted to his early, political life. The author makes a point that Caesar would often take on causes that he would end up losing. But he became identified with those causes, which helped him win elections. (One thing he was careful not to do, was lose an election -- but he would constantly support issues that would end up losing in the end.)
In other words, his identification with certain causes was what counted, not whether the legislation ever was adopted. They were almost never adopted because the Roman Senate wouldn't allow any significant legislation to be passed, because of envy and fear and greed and sloth. So Caesar would fight the good fight, win or lose, become identified with those good causes, win or lose, and win elections.
Not reaching for anything profound here, just remembering what I read over the last couple of days and what I gleaned from the surface.
Meanwhile, I think Caesar may be headed for a bad end....
I'm at exactly 32 books read at the 32 week mark; so I'm keeping pace with my one a week goal. The book before Caesar was Stephen King's Under the Dome, so that ought to count for, like, 3 books.
Thursday, August 26, 2010
If you'd like to help him win, log onto www.inkwellawards.com and vote for him.
Wiki: "The Inkwell Award, sometimes shortened to the Inkwells, is a trophy given in the field of inking in American comic books. The awards were partially named after the Yahoo group whose members include many in the inking community..."
Still, sometimes they just go a little too far. There was an unfortunate example yesterday by the local blog, with the headline: "Home Prices Rising."
Which was a pretty unfortunate juxtaposition to the news from the national media:
"Bend had the largest year-to-year drop in housing prices among U.S. metro areas for the second consecutive quarter, according to data released Wednesday by the Federal Housing Finance Agency.
Between the second quarter of 2009 and the same period this year, housing prices depreciated 18.59 percent in the Bend Metropolitan Statistical Area, which includes all of Deschutes County. That was the worst of all 303 MSAs the agency measured nationally."
Admittedly, the blog was referring to national prices -- but even there, it might have behooved the blog to mention the following national news:
"Sales of previously owned homes took a record plunge in July to their slowest pace in 15 years, underlining the housing market's struggle to find its footing without government aid." Reuters.
Sadly, I think this kind of misleading slant actually works, on a person to person basis. I get people in the store all the time that are thinking of buying a house in Bend. I don't try to talk them out of it -- but I do generally mention that they might try looking for a deal. But what's clear is that most of them AREN'T EVEN AWARE of Bend's 303 status in price depreciation.
Most of them seem to think we're just like everywhere else in the country, and when I use the phrase "Bubble within a bubble" they just nod their head and say, "Yeah, it's really bad where we come from, too."
My own brother-in-law bought into the market last year, after asking my advice. (I told him to wait, or to buy an actual house rather than a condo.) For my own sake I'm glad he did: I want my extended family to visit Bend as much as possible. But he wanted to buy and that's what he did.
Pretty amazing, considering these are some of the biggest investments that people make in their lifetimes. And it still comes down to "I want to live HERE and I want to live here NOW!"
Wednesday, August 25, 2010
It forced me to look at my personal and business accounts a little closer, and it reminded me that -- well, we're in good shape. Better shape than I ever thought we'd be. So quit my grousing.
Cascades Bank. What seems noticeable about that is that there seems like a whole lot of information manipulation going on there. Revising, delaying, spinning and obscuring. I was going to post the other day about how I thought there would be legal ramifications down the road, and I should have posted it, because this morning there is a item about them being sued by the Idaho bank customers ... I'm betting there is more of that coming, assuming they avoid FDIC's bear hug.
Unemployment in Central Oregon. Up a little, down a little. In reality, we're pretty much where we've been over the last couple of years and where we're likely to be for another couple of years.
The Cycle. Well, I think some of us nailed it pretty good when it started. Without all the smoke and mirrors, the truth is it's going to take a long time for Central Oregon to get back to economic health. My old rule of thumb; when you've forgotten to keep looking for a recovery, and have gotten on with your life, that's when recovery will happen. That takes a loooooonnnnng time.
Houses. I can't help but think of all the people I told 3 years ago...........2 years ago.............last year -- "Hey, wait six months or a year, and the houses will be even cheaper!" I think that's still true.
Affordable Housing. Doe's anyone else think a more efficient use of that money would be to help people into EXISTING homes rather than building new ones? 900k for NEW housing? Crazy.
Tourism numbers. O.K. I'm confused. Just yesterday, they were saying they were up. Today, they're saying they are down, except for a 0.9 percent tick in Bend metro. area. Again, lots of spin. Besides, while it may be just my store, I just don't think the tourists are spending as much. Nationally, motels and restaurants are doing horribly. But Bend's different, right?
Tuesday, August 24, 2010
Combined with a profile I read in the last few years of Micheal Powell, of Powell's Bookstore in Portland, I come away with an overall sense on the part of these two guys of....dismay, almost bitterness, because their life's work is changing beyond all recognition.
In Powell's case, he seemed to be grousing about how his lead in online selling was disappearing. There is nothing worse than being one of the firsts in a new trend, only to have others come along later who take all your ideas and run with them.
In Riggio's case, it seems like he is both protective of his book empire, while at the same time he seems to realize he himself is stabbing it in the back with his Nook. Meanwhile -- How dare others come along and try to buy HIS company!
Get used to it, Buster.
I lost these illusions long ago. I sold the hell of sportscards for about 6 years, but that didn't stop others from coming along and completely taking it away. (Lot of good it did them.) I watched comics self-destruct, Marvel go bankrupt, the number of comic shops shrink from 12k to 3k within a couple of years. I saw Magic become big, then small, then big again and slowly becoming small again. I watched pogs come and go within 6 months. Beanie Babies, Pokemon.
Lately I've seen both Manga and Anime become all but unworkable because of widespread piracy.
Such will be the fate of all content.
I don't think books are going to disappear. In fact, I think if Tom Hanks, (with the help of his chirpy little wife, Meg) were to rededicate himself to physical books, he could pull it off.
But you can tell he's fading -- falling away, jumping into a world where he's not only not the trailblazer, but rather late to the game. And he's doing it for the soul-crushing reason of 'business', not because he's terribly interested himself.
There's a reason I keep referring to the big boxes as dinosaurs. Because they are inevitably doomed. Probably sometime in next few decades.
I don't think any of the above products are going to disappear -- just the way they are sold. And small guys can sell small amounts. Dinosaurs need lots and lots of fuel to move their giant bodies around.
I'm going to try not to be standing underneath any of them as they topple over.
Monday, August 23, 2010
Meanwhile, I'm thinking -- "WHAT ARE YOU, NUTS!!!"
"Hush," I answer. "I know what I'm doing. " (yes, I'm talking to myself, you gonna make something of it?)
These are good books, and they deserve shelf space. Which I don't have.
So why am I doing it?
1.) I can afford to do it within my cash flow budget. That is, I'm not borrowing money. What it means, I suppose, is that the overall margin in the store has reached a level that it is above replacement costs. I can replace all the good evergreens I need, and still have money left over for new or offbeat stuff.
2.) It forces me to be creative in my displays. I'm always amazed by the solutions that present themselves when I'm forced to come up with them.
3.) It refreshes the inventory, creates variety. It makes me move stuff around, which is something I should do on a regular basis. It creates unexpected matches and combo's.
4.) It makes me choose product to retire. I often leave semi-dead material in the store in the hopes it will sell, telling myself that it's 100% profit if I do. But there comes a time...
5.) I like doing it, which is no small thing. I need to be active to keep an interest in my store. I can't just sit there everyday without making changes. I get all charged up for a few months while it's happening, and I think that translates into sales.
The choice of books for my store is definitely idiosyncratic and offbeat. I do have a bunch of classics and just plain great books. But nestled around them are my own choices, or books that look interesting. I still don't pay much attention to the bestseller lists. I've got to get on that.
Anyone with a creative pulse might find something interesting. (I'll say nothing about the 95% of the foot traffic that walk on by despite the books in the window -- or the 80% of the people who walk in the door and see all the books and have no reaction, and certainly don't buy anything. Really, I won't say anything....)
I like the selection I have, and I just have to hope there are enough people who have similar tastes and interests. How else am I going to choose?
The obvious answer is, Bestseller Lists. But I got to be honest with you -- I look at the top bestsellers and I see....can I say it?....dreck. Mostly dreck.
Now, I'm not saying everyone has to like exactly what I like. Or that every book on the bestseller list is dreck. Or that I'm above selling dreck if it sells.
But, more often than not, it's both dreck and it doesn't sell in my store. It's a "bestseller" because it is carpet bombing the mass market bookstores, because Amazon will ship it to you free and at half price, because Costco has three foot stacks of them on their feeding troughs.
Add to that my 'Meh...' reaction to most dreck, and the 'bestsellers' are dogs. I only order bestsellers that I like, or look intriguing, because at least I'll have a chance of selling them.
I'm going to need a few hundred more mass market paperbacks, minimum. The S.F. and Fantasy will be relatively easy, because I am so steeped in the genre. All I probably need to do is order all the big author's works, Heinlein, Clarke, Asimove, etc. and all the well known series -- Dune, Robert Jordan, etc. And my favorites.
Mysteries, I'm going to just look at the lists of books I've read over the last five or ten years, and get a good sampling of all my favorite authors. I tend to read hard-boiled detective and thrillers more than parlor-room mysteries, but I've read enough of the latter to fill in mostly. A little research for some more.
Paranormal romance is what I paid most attention to on our bookstore visits, writing down as many authors as I could. This will be a bit of an exploration.
Back to the 1000 books I'm ordering. Doesn't sound like so much, does it?
I hear my wife say that all the time, "We get over 200 books a day at our store," she says. The reaction of the customers is always Meh. Doesn't sound like so much, until you measure it.
But it was 15 pages of printed readouts. I know from my wife's store, that 200 books take up about 15 feet of linear space, spine out. Since my bookshelves can hold about 15 linear feet, on average, one thousand books will fill 5 bookcases. Like I said, I'm trying to reserve about 3 or the eight bookcases for better display of the books I already have.
I do seem to have an innate sense of space that makes me order 'just enough' product to fill the available space.
And -- well, think about the average price of a books, and tell me 1000 books isn't that much.
Sunday, August 22, 2010
Can a 16 year old girl really make an informed decision to cover herself with tattoo's she'll have to live with the rest of her life? What if her tastes change? It's not like getting a different hairdo.
If it's true that we have more tourists this summer than last, and I have no reason to disbelieve it, they aren't spending as much money in my store. I kind of wish I was still doing customer counts, but it's a bit of a hassle and what does it really prove? Well.........in hindsight, it would prove whether I'm getting more customers or less in the door.
After bragging about how strong my comic sales were, this month they took a huge dive. If I'm going to have any product take a dive, in some ways I'd choose comics, because they may still be picked up later by regulars. The subscription shelves are filling up, which is both a a danger and a possible future boost.
Anyway, after starting strong, this month has tailed off, and it's now looking like it will be down about the same percent as last month. Which has got me looking at the Fall numbers and adjusting my budget to the same level.
Spent most of yesterday online ordering books. I love doing this.
About midway through the process, it occurred to me that I was doing the very thing that I'm hoping my own customers WON'T do, the difference being I was ordering 500 books instead or one or two and that I have no choice.
If there was a warehouse I could go to instead, I'd do that. But -- like I said -- I have no choice.
My only vice in ordering stuff for the store is getting art books. They're expensive, and I don't have room to display them, but I simply can't resist them. It's not something most comic stores do; or most bookstores, for that matter.
I love having them, so I see them as MY collection, more or less, which I will sell you if you want, but meanwhile I still own them.
If I ever do have a website, these would probably be the books I could highlight that there is a decent chance no one else has.
Saturday, August 21, 2010
It's been a couple of years since my last one, and that's about as far as I can go without going stir crazy. It's better than the every six months I changed things in my first decade, and yearly changes in my second decade. And it's one hell of a lot better than opening a second store or moving or expanding. It will have to satisfy my itch. Heh.
I used to plunge right in. Now I sit back and plan and cogitate and scheme, and buy this and buy that, and then rethink it again. I measure once, twice, three times. (Where, oh where do all the tape-measures scamper off to? Are they playing with my screwdrivers and hammers in the land of lost tools? Next to the land of lost socks, and lost pens?)
The tape measure is crucial, because once I make my plans I find that every element of it is off by one half of an inch. The Rule of Half Inch. It is impossible to move a fixture if it is one half inch too big. Arrggghhh!
Right now, I'm thinking I can fit in about 8 full bookcases. This may seem impossible, but there are ways -- If I'm completely ruthless.
For instance, I have a computer nook -- that has no computer. I've got some boxes of papers there and lots and lots of wires, but, really, it's wasted space. My "other" computer is a laptop nowadays, and I have a couple of storage rooms I can put the extra stuff into.
Secondly, I have a Cabinet of Curious but Useless Toys. (Austin Powers, anyone?) I can take that out and put two half sized bookcases. I also have a wall of 'good girl' Japanese toys which I love the look of, but which never sell. Time to consolidate.
It's time to consolidate my packs of cards again. I've sold down enough that I'm mostly there, anyway. I'm probably going to bust up one of the extremely heavy card racks, because they are a total bitch to move, and I'm ready to burn that bridge. I'll still have a dedicated space to sports cards and non-sports cards, so that's O.K.
Time to retire a few lines of toys. Shove them in boxes and let my ancestors have them.
Third and Fourth bookcase.
I've been preparing for a long time to take two of the green bookcases I currently use for manga, and use them for mass market paperbacks. The whole back wall will be manga and anime, so I'm not really stinting there.
Fifth and Sixth bookcases.
I'm going to take the two poster racks, that hold 20 posters and replace it with a single rack that holds 48 posters that is actually 8" thinner. Take up another few feet of toy wall space, and put in another bookcase.
I'm going to move the green mass paperback shelves forward, and move the t-shirt rack, the toy spin racks to the back. Move the half priced graphic novels to the back of the other side of the store where I have the back-issues, and put a bookcase facing forward.
If everything works the way it's supposed to, it will actually make the store look more streamlined and less cluttered. Which is weird, because it's an overall addition, more or less three steps forward, and two steps back.
Everything would be much easier if I could still get the 24" white laminate shelves instead of the 28" white shelves. That extra four inches plays hell with the space.
I'm going to wait until the summer is officially over, before I make the physical changes.
Meanwhile I'm ordering product. I'm going to try very hard not to fill every inch of the new shelves with new books, but instead use about half that space to better display the books I already have.
Still, I have some ordering to do, and I've decided to take a couple grand of my Christmas profits and spend them this fall.
I'm still not satisfied with my method of finding books. So far, it's completely haphazard. Someone mentions Lolita, and I think, Oh, Yeah, I should have that, and I order it. Someone else mentions Kafka, and I get a selection of Kafka, And so on.
I'm going to tiptoe into the newer newer books. Some of the best-sellers, or the newest books by favorite authors. I'm still pretty leery of carrying new hardcovers, and would prefer to order the trade-paperback versions of the same books -- but all the press is about the new books, not the change in format six months or a year later. So I've got to figure that out.
At least I've gotten that far. I think my distributor actually sends a catalog of new trade-paperbacks, and I need to keep that around.
At the end of the process, I'm going to look much more like a bookstore -- even if I'm not a full bookstore. In fact, I'm going to have to find ways to downplay that, without discouraging sales.
For one thing, I'll be mostly fiction. With a heavy element of genre fiction. I will have literature, but it will be classics and or cult books, mostly, not necessarily best-sellers. It'll be interesting to see how everything works.
It looks right now like three of the shelves will be a mix of mainstream graphic novels and art books -- which will fit in with regular books. Two of the cases will be mass paperback, one mystery and the other S.F. One case will be 'paranormal' romance. One case will be for "new" arrivals. Really only have to buy the mass market paperbacks to fill in, the rest will spread out the material I already have.
It's a bit of gamble, but I'm replacing elements that really aren't performing, so either it will be a wash or an improvement.
If nothing else, it will be fun.
Friday, August 20, 2010
Ironically, the drop in sales over the last four months, has freed me up to spend money.
I'll try to explain.
If I'm expecting a ten percent increase in sales, then I can mirror that increase with a ten percent drop in orders, for an overall increase in gross profit of twenty percent.
I'm not completely sure why this is -- I suspect it's has to do with a broader range of material selling. For instance, if it's really busy, there is a good chance that maybe 30% of sales are of material I see no need to replace. The other 70% might be evergreens, which I always want to keep in stock and must reorder.
Whereas, if it's slow, maybe only 20% of sales are material I won't reorder. A significant 10% difference, in that it takes several more turns of in-stock items to make the same profit as a sell it and forget it item.
It's the same reasoning I use to spend more money on product in the 'off' seasons than I do during Summer and Christmas.
Anyway, once I see a 10% drop in sales, then my reaction is go ahead and spend the 10% extra on product that I had hoped to save.
This runs counter-intuitive to some extent. The impulse is to think: "Oh, you customers are going to spend less money? O.K. then, I'm going to spend less money, too."
Part of this seems rational -- save money, don't risk it; part of this is emotional -- oh, yeah. Well two can play at that game!
But I think it's a mistake. Either you have faith in your business, or you don't. By faith, I mean, once you've identified product that has a track record, it's a mistake to make false savings by cutting into the budget. Unless, like I said above, sales are so good that you can afford to let a few lines get run down a bit because something else will sell instead.
Believe me, I'd much rather spend money than not. That's half the fun of running a store -- buying cool stuff, getting it in and processing it, pricing it, displaying it and seeing what sells.
The profit part? At this point in my career, all that profit is going toward a 'far' future; retirement and beyond. I don't get any warm fuzzies from socking it away. Prudently, I know I need to get on the stick with that; but you know what? This is a historic slowdown, and maybe all I can realistically expect to do is probably stay out of debt, pay my bills, and break even.
One other thing; I think too many stores make the mistake of cutting on inventory because of a slowdown in sales. This can become a self-fulfilling prophecy; a vicious downward spiral. As I said, I think you need to refocus your faith on your core product and make sure you have it in stock.
So I'm relaxing and enjoying the summer -- pretty much back to normal. Someday this store will make a profit....
Thursday, August 19, 2010
I've spent many a year developing a product line, only to find when it finally got 'hot' that it went in an entirely unexpected direction. I always likened it to climbing a mountain through 5 feet of snow, and tramping down a path, only the find the latecomers skipping up the path behind me and reaching the summit first.
In fact, after the first three or four times that happened, I decided I wouldn't try to be the trailblazer anymore, because it almost never profited. An opportunistic claim jumper does so much better. Let the other guy dig the tunnels, I'll wait until he strike gold, and stake my claim right next to him.
That may be a bit of an involved analogy to what I'm going to say about Amazon, but there it is.
I've been wondering for years about Amazon's overall strategy of grow, grow, grow. Not so much focused on 'profits', but more interested in becoming the overwhelmingly biggest baddest gorilla in the jungle.
Trouble is, new technology is coming along laying down superhighways into the jungle and shrinking Amazon's habitat. They may end up being the biggest gorilla in an outmoded model.
If you stay in business long enough, you get to watch entire industries fall apart in creative destruction. Downtown Bend was a ghost town for my first decade of business -- because of the building of the Mountain View Mall and the Bend River Mall.
Ironically, they're all gone and we're still here.
I think the Barnes and Noble and Borders and Best Buys and Linen's and Things are Dinosaurs. I'll be long retired before all this comes to pass, but the big chainstores are on shaky ground, right now. Small and nimble boutiques which offer a specialized and unique shopping experience may end up being the survivors after all.
Because the internet can provide content so much easier -- if biggest is best, then the internet is the biggest of all.
So two things are happening: everything which has content that can be downloaded online is in big trouble. Books, comics, movies, music, etc. etc.
But unique boutiques still have a niche, albeit a small one, in which to survive and even thrive.
Meanwhile, product providers also face the biggest baddest competitor of all, that being the internet, so the big box stores are going to shrink in significance. If I can get everything at Bed, Bath and Beyond online, and get it cheaper, than B.B.B. doesn't look so big.
Whereas, I can go down to Kitchen Complements downtown, and chat with the owner and more likely find something that wasn't overwhelmingly mass produced.
It's going to take a long time for all this to happen, and by then the whole shopping experience could've shifted again.
I'm just saying it's a dangerous thing to have too long a timespan for one's plans these days. So Amazon is ready to start profiting? (I believe they only turned their first profits a few years ago, and I'm not so sure their profits will ever justify the gigantic edifice they built.
Wednesday, August 18, 2010
**When the Apocalypse comes, everything here will still work!
**Batteries not included. Electricity not needed.
**Big Brother can't find us.
**You want beeping lights? You want electronic squiggles? You want synthesizer sounds? Go somewhere else.
**Ask me a question about my product. Go ahead. I may actually know the answer, because you know, like, this is my bookstore and I love books and I selected the books in here.
**No, sir. We only have one. Which means you'll be the only one to have it.
**That does not compute. No really, it doesn't compute.
**The only sound you'll hear is nature.
**You want me to look it up to see if I have it in stock? Let's see. I could sit down, turn on my computer, go to the proper site, type in the information, and wait for it to give me an answer.
Or....I can walk ten paces and look. I think I can walk ten paces. Yeah, I can do that.
**Yes, sir. I have read that book.
**So you think the author's name starts with an H, and he writes about Florida? Would that be Carl Hiaasen? Yes, ma'am. You're welcome.
**You know those nerve endings on your fingers? Doesn't that feel good to caress paper, and turn the page, and fold over the page when you're done reading?
**Suitable for bathtubs.
**"Hey, Uncle Dunc. I see you read Game of Thrones...did you like it? "
"Loved it. See that book next to it, The Stand by Stephen King, that's great too."
**Suitable for beaches. Just drop your backpack anywhere, over on those rocks. Got sand in it? Just brush it off.
**"I could swear I bought 1984 and Animal House the other day. Oh, there it is. On my shelf."
**State of the Art.
**Never needs updating.
**"What do you mean I spent 250.00 on an e-reader and there's a new one out that does more for half that price?!"
**Never needs rebooting.
**Same words today...same words yesterday...same words tomorrow.
**Suitable for river rafting. Oh, dear, we dunked it. Soggy, but readable.
**Wait, no. It's falling apart. Oh, well. It cost me 4.00 (or 7.99 or 15.00 or 25.00)
**What is that smell? Smells like burning plastic.
**No danger of electrocution.
**What is that smell? Love it. Reminds me of a library.
**"Wait a minute. Didn't he write something different on page 45? Let's see. Yeah, he got the name wrong...."
**You want to borrow it? Go ahead, take it away.
**Wow. Neat cover. Never heard of it. I think I'll give it a try.
Any others? I came up with these in about an hour, and I figure there's a lot more to say.
Selling e-books in indy bookstores? I don't understand the reasoning there.
I think we should double down on our bookishness. We have books. They're paper. Come buy our books. You know, books that can't be changed by the publisher or seller and are eternally secure. Books that you can put on your shelf when you're done. (Yep, I bagged that trophy.) You can only read one book at a time, whether it's paper or e-. They have a nice bookish smell, a nice bookish texture, a nice sense of heft and place and time.
I think it's a case of fighting THEIR GAME, and THEY are going to be bigger and badder and better at it.
I have a saying in my store; You can't have the customers you can't have.
We should be playing up the bookstore experience. The browsing aspect, the conversational aspect, the display aspect, the "Local" aspect, and so on. Play to our strengths, not our weaknesses.
It's one of those cases when -- when I hear an expert explain the reasoning behind something, and it makes NO sense and it just doesn't compute and it seems to be all jargon and code words -- it will be a disaster. The equivalent of watching Time/Warner talk about synergy with AOL, and all I heard was nonsense babble. It's clear they really haven't thought it out.
My bet? There will always be room for real bookstores. And it will be the real bookstores that survive, not bookstores that put on an phony electronic veneer.
This has happened a couple of times, and it seems to spark a guessing game. I suppose it falls into the category of wanting what you can't have.
A big fat tease.
So, I won't being doing that anymore.....
Except.....just this one last time.
(I immediately break the rule.) There have been three or four instances lately where I've had to muzzle myself. Once, about the conduct of a competitive business, once a very snarky post about the "Best of Bend", and third, yesterday, about another blog in town. I even feel a little bad about talking about CACB, since I don't have all the facts.
What they have in common is that I would be attacking -- well, not attacking, but mocking or being negative about real local folk. And that isn't fair, and it isn't nice, and it isn't who I want my better self to be.
I'm willing to discuss ANYTHING in principle, but not if it gets personal.
So from now on, I won't even hint about such things.
So don't ask.
Tuesday, August 17, 2010
Anyway, one thing becomes very noticeable. You get entry after entry of, "Look! Bookstores who are succeeding! Look! More bookstores who are succeeding!"
Followed, almost inevitably, by a couple entries of, "Sadly, Beloved Independent Bookstore of Podunck, U.S.A. is Closing...."
Vroom, vroom....SCREECH!......VROOM, VROOM....Screech....!
Linda and I went to see Scott Pilgrim. It was lots of fun, though like I said I think it trends a little younger than me. I'm familiar with lots of the anime/manga and especially 'comic' elements, not so much with the video game elements.
Essentially, it was a twenty something romance with Bollywood tendencies. Instead of breaking into musical numbers, it goes into elaborate 'kung fu fighting'. Has a kind of innocence that is refreshing.
Graphically, it successfully uses comic book graphics in ways that other movies have flirted with, but not quite pulled off.
After seeing it, I'm not sure what kind of buzz it will get.
Had three really poor days in a row, losing about 1000.00 off the average. Not sure why that happened...
Nevertheless, I've held back ordering as long as I could, so I'm making orders this week.
There is another blog in town where the woman seems to have exactly the opposite sensibilities, political views, and life style as me. It makes me grind my teeth.
I force myself to read it every day, because it's so revealing of life choices that are a complete mystery to me. Like getting to know her without having to actually get to know her.
It's good for me.
More Scott Pilgrim.
When I say flop, I'm not talking about the quality of the movie. I just think the generation that would like this movie hasn't show a propensity for mega-supported movies. Same generation I see in my store that I have a hard time getting them interested in anything.
I think I need to give up this forlorn hope that any movie can have a significant effect on comics as a whole.
Thing is, it DID happen once, in 1989, with the first Batman movie. It made comics 'cool' for a few years, but it all ended badly in 1995 with the comic bust, so maybe that wasn't the right approach after all.
Comics probably need to stand on their own, and develop their own audience, without expecting crossover from other media.
Monday, August 16, 2010
True Blood won't Jump the Shark, it will kill and eat it.
Watchmen -- flop.
Kick Ass -- a flop.
Scott Pilgrim -- flop.
On the same weekends, excremental pieces of crap like Transformers 2 and Expendables are big hits.
I give up. Real comics are never going to get out of the ghetto, are they? Batman and Spider-man? These are icons more than actual comics to most people.
Re.Google and Net Neutrality.
Big surprise. All corporations become evil.
"It's my nature," said the Scorpion.
Had a super slow weekend. Bring back the events!
Just kidding. Just kidding.
Anyway, my inclination is to order just the Evergreens for the next few weeks -- and save up for a giant order in mid-Sept. that would carry us through to Christmas. This would give me a chance to make the changeover to the bookshelves in the "off" season, around Sept. 10 or so.
Another one of the industry Bulletin Boards I belong to is falling apart through internal conflict.
They tend to break up into ever smaller and less useful pieces. A couple have spun off "Professional" sites dedicated to "members" and are more exclusive.
Funny. I've changed my mind about exclusivity. When these retail organizations first opened up to other professionals (wholesalers, publishers, writers, etc.) I was sort of against it.
Despite this diversity, group think eventually set in, making the opinions and judgments of the contributors more bullying and less valuable.
I suspect, from who quickly abandoned the more open sites to join the 'exclusive' sites, that this problem is probably even worse over there.
Too bad. Small groups rarely hold together in long run.
Sunday, August 15, 2010
I don't have enough of it.
I like the mix of product I have now, all of which contribute to a steady flow of business, all of which have a variety of profit margins which average out at the margin I need.
But I simply can't do a great job at displaying any of them, because of lack of display space.
I've gotten very good at using every available inch. I've learned to consolidate and compact the product. But, really, for a few years now, I haven't been able to do much.
I still have a couple of product lines I can consolidate, and I plan to put in about 6 more bookcases. I'm going to try to use about half of the bookshelves to better display would I already have, and the other half of the bookshelves for new paperbacks.
After that? Well, I've thought I reached the max-out point before, but give me a while and I'll figure something else out.
In some ways, being constrained has probably been a good thing. It's made me make choices about what product should be highlighted, and which product can be retired. It's made me put the 'best' stuff I have in the little space I have.
Still....I constantly daydream about having a space 2 or 3 or even 5 times bigger than I currently have.
Five times bigger? Yes. And I could easily fill it. I'd have to invest in some fixtures, but that's O.K. I also have enough fixtures in storage to take up much of the extra space.
I also think I could make it work financially. Rent would obviously have to be less per foot than I am currently paying, but for larger spots, that's common. I'd just try to make enough to pay for the extra rent.
I have the financial resources to both pay for it, and to take on some risk.
So why don't I?
First of all, I've been in the same location for over 27 years. Moving would almost be like starting over. The figure I hear and which I believe, is that I'd lose 30% of my customers, maybe more because of the longevity of my location.
Move from downtown? After finally seeing the rewards of waiting for it to come back? Leaving a space that has foot traffic to kill for?
Still -- I think it would be interesting and fun to create my 'perfect' store. I know I could do it.
In the old days, my main goal was to push sales. To fill my store with great inventory and sell the hell out of it. Later, I learned that I need to pay some attention to profit margins as well. (Duh.)
But there are two extra elements that I never used to pay any attention to.
Workload and Endgame.
It always seems easy in the planning, but I know how stressful and how much work it is to expand or move. I have a nice workload right now. I'm earning a profit. Why should I take on a new job? A space triple or quadruple the space I have now would probably need more workers. I'd have to get better at inventory management.
Secondly, I'm nearing the end of my career. Sometime in the next decade, probably. So would I have time to recoup the investment?
I suppose it's all a moot point, since I have several years left in my lease. It would be difficult, but probably not impossible to make arrangements. And I wouldn't leave for just any old space. I have one perfect spot in mind, but it's occupied. The second spot is available, but I suspect the rent would be out of reach.
Still, I can dream, can't I?
Saturday, August 14, 2010
I'm skeptical of some of the local economic statistics. There are just too many ways to spin them.
But garbage? Who's going to bother? So a 44% drop in three years? That sounds about right.
Linda had one of her credit cards go up over 20% interest, and when she called them, they told her she had agreed to some sort of 'deal' that she didn't remember. She paid off the card in full and told them she wouldn't be using it anymore.
Summer business finally started looking normal about the 20th of July, a full month after the usual mid-June takeoff.
I'm going to take one final potshot at the 'Those Wonderful Downtown Promotions" and point out that sales have been roughly one third better since they ended. I challenge anyone to look at the foot traffic downtown on non-event days and tell me we're lacking in notoriety.
Let retail stores be retail stores.
Despite the overall average being better, I have these little lulls that seem to happen just as I'm thinking of making reorders, and they give me pause. And then enough time passes, that I think I can wait. Then business gets better and I'm thinking of making reorders, and there there is this little lull....
I've mentioned before, I prefer to let summer take care of itself. I prefer making the bulk of my reorders in the off season, where they seem to do the most good. Keeping the powder dry, so to speak.
But doing it this way always seems to bring about spot shortages. I've been out of the main Settlers of Catan, for instance, for about two weeks which I swore I wouldn't let happen. I tell myself, I have the new Settlers of Catan American edition, instead.
The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy, by Tim Burton, is one of my favorite books, and I've sold a lot of copies over the years. Yesterday, I found it on a liquidation list at an extremely low price.
I ordered 25 copies.
Last time this happened, was There's a Hair in my Dirt, by Gary Larsen (Of Far Side fame), and I dared to order 10 copies -- and kicked myself ever since for not ordering way more.
I hope I won't kick myself for ordering "only" 25 copies....
Friday, August 13, 2010
Wow. Nice timing. You'd have thought they could have at least waited until this year's event was over. Sort of unseemly-like....Wonder why they did that?
"Enjoy your meal, BECAUSE IT'S THE LAST ONE YOU'LL EVER HAVE!!!"
"Enjoy the party, BECAUSE IT'S THE LAST ONE I'LL EVER HOST!!!"
A new book coming out, Stan Lee's How to Draw Comics.
As I said in my twitter, I imagine the first two lines are, "First you hire a guy name Jack Kirby. Then you hire a guy named Steve Ditko."
Whenever I haven't seen someone for a few years, they always remark, "You've lost weight!'
I just leave a very heavy impression.
It's hell when both of your competitors seem to be genuinely nice people. How can I be snarky about them if they're going to be that way? I like both Tina at Camalli Books and Hayley at Between the Covers.
So? Well, that just hasn't been all that true over the years. Most times, my competitors haven't even been friendly. Just one of those things.
I seem to be very unlucky with local reviews of comic related movies. Watchmen, Kick Ass, and now Scott Pilgrim have gotten very strong rating at Rotten Tomatoes -- a large majority of reviewers liked them.
But not the reviewers in the local paper. What's with that?
Friday the 13th. Luck for the Irish, my Dad always said, especially since I was born on the 13th and everyone in a while falls on a Friday. (Not this year, just saying....)
Thursday, August 12, 2010
From yesterday's N.Y. Times media section:
"In a twist straight out of the movies, some publishers speculated that many of the independents that survived the big chains over the last 15 years might be in an unusually stable position. By the American Booksellers Association’s count, there are more than 2,000 independent bookstores in the United States.
“Being small and privately held allows us to be more nimble,” said Chris Morrow, owner of the Northshire Bookstore in Manchester Center, Vt. “Our competitive advantage has been the curation aspect — knowing our customers and picking the right books.
“We still have that competitive advantage,” he added. “Barnes & Noble doesn’t have that.”
You've got mail, S#@thead.
Actually, this has been my take on things for some time now. Did you notice how little effect Walmart had on downtown Bend? You know why? Because we'd already weeded out anyone who could be killed off when the Mountain View Mall and the Bend River Mall opened in 1979.
30 years later, the malls are both gone, torn down, and replaced by another dinosaur concept that the big chains think will work better. But downtown Bend has clawed its way back, and those who survived, those who colonized the neutron bomb blasted territory, hardly felt a twinge from Walmart.
The other way I always put it: The dinosaurs forced the mammals to scurry between their feet in the cracks in the rocks for survival strategy, and when the Big Change came, the same survival strategy helped them survive. The dinosaurs who ruled the earth? They're all gone.
The thing about high volume and low price? You have to keep it up. You have to keep beating off competitors who may come in at even lower price; you have to keep that volume up by opening new stores. Once you try to back away from either concept, you lose your reason for being.
You'll notice they always try. "We're refocusing on service and selection. We're going to bring in toys and other product. Blah, blah, blah."
Sorry, Tom Hanks. People shop at your store because you have bezillions of books. Not because they think the clerk is going to know what the hell book you're asking about. Not because of toys. Or games.
Books and a comfortable place to spill coffee on them.
Wednesday, August 11, 2010
That sounds like one of those optimistic Bulletin headlines, doesn't it? But it seems to be true.
When I first started this list, I thought I might be chronicling the decline of downtown. Maybe a Fall and then a Rise. I never thought it would get as bad as the early '80's, which was a depression in downtown in all but name, but I thought we'd see more go out than came in.
Almost from the beginning, that hasn't been true. There have consistently been more openings than closings.
As I've said before, it doesn't necessarily reflect strength in the economy, but it certainly reflects strength in the image of downtown and it's overall desirability. At first, I think a few people questioned the purpose of such a list -- which originally was meant by me to be a consistent record that I could look back on and hopefully see a pattern.
But here it is, objective evidence of downtown Bend's vibrancy.
Without further ado.
When I came back from the weekend, there was a store nearly completed across the street where Showcase Hats was. The Closet, which is apparently a 'new' clothing store.
Speaking of Showcase Hats, there is a big changeover on Oregon Ave. , the next block over, where the hat place is apparently going to move into the space where the Pottery Lounge is now, and....the Pottery Lounge is moving into the Magill Drug space. This is a large space that has been open for at least a couple of years now. With the addition of the Red Chair Gallery, Oregon Ave. , between Wall and Bond has pretty much filled up.
In fact, downtown Bend has pretty much filled up. Oh, there are still some spaces, most notably along the base of the parking garage, but there have always been open spaces even during the boom, in fact, I'd guess that we had more vacancies during most of the boom. (It would be a guess...thus the need for the list, eh?)
I did add Urban Minx to the Leavings list, because they have sign in the window for lease and that they are 'expanding' into a new space. If that space turns out to be in downtown, I'll add it to the list at that time.
NEW BUSINESSES DOWNTOWN
The Closet, Minnesota Ave., 8/11/10.
Showcase Hats, Oregon Ave., 8/11/10,
Red Chair Art Gallery, Oregon Ave. 7/13/10.
Earth Sense Herbs, Penny's Galleria, 7/12/10.
Mad Happy Lounge, Brooks St., 6/2910
Common Table, Oregon Ave. , 6/29/10.
Looney Bean Coffee, Brooks St. , 6/29/10.
Bourbon Street, Minnesota Ave., 6/22/10
Feather's Edge, Minnesota Ave., 6/22/10
The BLVD., Wall St. , 6/13/10.
Volt, Minnesota Ave. 6/1/10.
Tart, Minnesota Ave. , 5/13/10
Olivia Hunter, Wall St. 4/5/10.
Tres Chic, Bond St. 4/5/10
Blue Star Salon, Wall St. 4/1/10.
Lululemon, Bond St. 3/31/10.
Diana's Jewel Box, Minnesota Ave., 3/25/10.
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 Ave. 1/10/10
Tew Boots Gallery, Bond St. 1/8/10.
Top Leaf Mate, 12/10/09
Laughing Girls Studio, Minnesota Ave. 12/7/09
Lemon Drop, 5 Minnesota Ave., 11/12/09
The Curiosity Shoppe 11/5/09 25 N.W. Minnesota Ave, 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 (*Moved to Oregon Ave. 4/5/10.)
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
Urban Minx, Minnesota Ave., 8/11/10
Old Bend Distillery, Brooks St., 6/19/10.
Staccato, Minnesota Ave. 6/18/10.
Showcase Hats, Minnesota Ave., 6/1/10
Cork, Oregon Ave., 5/27/10.
Wall Street Gifts, 5/26/10
Microsphere, Wall St. , 5/17/10.
Singing Sparrow, Franklin and Bond, 5/15/10
28, Minnesota Ave. and Bond, 5/13/10.
Glass Symphony, Wall St., 3/25/10
Bend Home Hardware, Minnesota 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.
Tuesday, August 10, 2010
I left out the most important way of doing this; simply paying attention to the budget. As anyone who has done a personal budget knows, little things add up, both in expenses and in purchases.
Going into my fourth decade of doing this, (which sounds impossible), I still have lessons to learn. Well, maybe not learn, so much as actually pay heed to. I know, in the back of my mind, that these problems exist but can usually ignore them.
For instance, it isn't a secret that there is an extra week of shipments every three months or so.
But since I order on a monthly basis, I always tell myself that I should be able to average-out the weeks; take the monthly order and divide it by 5 instead of 4.
But experience has taught me that this isn't what happens. The average-out is over a much longer period of time, and late and lagging material seems to congregate on the fifth weeks, for some reason.
In other words, any month with a fifth week will take a bigger bite out of the budget.
Usually I can ignore this, or adapt, but this year the fifth weeks pretty much fell on the fifth week of July, and first week of August, so both months budgets were inflated. (I could have hurried one of the fifth weeks into the first quarter, or delayed a fifth week into the fourth quarter, but I've learned to dump all extra expenses into summer.)
I just didn't plan for this increase, and it made it much harder to turn the profit I'd hoped for. My bad. I suppose I ought to check the calendar on a regular basis, so I can plan better.
The second lesson I know but don't listen to, is that I tend not to earmark enough for small expenses and or purchases. But these little reorders, these unexpected overhead costs, can add up.
Someone comes in and wants a couple of 20.00 graphic novels, and my cost is roughly 20.00, and it seems petty to write it down. Or I run out of lightbulbs, and I grab a box on the way to work.
Sure I have a budget for unexpected expenses, but I need to probably have a budget for expected unexpected expenses and also a budget for unexpected unexpected expenses.
It's amazing how just holding off for a week changes the whole dynamic. Sometimes I find a substitute, or a deal, or find hidden resources or just flat out decide I don't need something after all.
When things are humming along, I tend to relax about the little stuff. This isn't wrong, I don't think. Life is too short to be caught up every instant in counting pennies. But when the sales tighten up, I snap to it again.
I've gotten better about maintaining my discipline over the years. I still brown bag my lunch, for instance, even when business is good. I still stay away from constant sodas and chips and beer and wine and candy and donuts, by not slipping that twenty dollar bill in my pocket on the way home. This has saved literally tens of thousands of dollars over the last 15 years.
Nevertheless, I need to start examining the small expenses again, because it really does add up.
Monday, August 9, 2010
I think we're living in one of those times, like the introduction of the railroad and the telegraph.
Change is always happening, but the kind of change the internet represents is truly a once in a lifetime paradigm shift. We all thought it was the computer that was changing things, but I think the internet is having even more impact. (Yes, I know -- the internet is only possible because of the computer.)
There is a certain thrill the creative destruction that's occurring right now. I'd like to stick around long enough to see where it's going.
It's fun to think about the potential of the book trade, for instance, even though I'm going to be affected by it.
One thing that has puzzled me, and I haven't read anyone else really comment on it, is I wonder how the makers of Nook and Kindle think they are going to keep the e-book in any way proprietary.
If it's the technology they're selling, then I'd put my money on a couple of alternatives. On the high end, I'd be willing to bet that Apple is going to eat their lunch. That they'll be quicker and more thorough and more ruthless in advancing the state of the art.
On the low end, I'm just betting that there will be many, many low cost alternatives that will do what Kindle and Nook do, probably just about as well.
So is the money in the selling of books?
Only if it's somehow exclusive to that particular reader.
What happens if you can only get a particular book on a particular reader? I think the whole thing falls apart. The whole thing becomes Balkanized. Hell, it might come down to each individual publisher selling their books on their their own individual e-reader.
I'm betting that won't happen. Certainly, it would lower the value of the e-reader to the point I'd doubt I'd want one. If that happens, paper books will start looking more attractive again.
So if any reader can download any book, than I'd bet on entities other than Amazon and Barnes and Noble being cheaper. There are always people willing to sell for cost, in the attempt to gain market share.
The money from online newspapers isn't replacing the money they get from the physical paper. Every time a paper goes behind a paywall, it drops in readership. I know that I read the Oregonian and the USA Today online every day, after having bought the physical newspaper for decades.
If I was Barnes and Noble, I'd probably try to take the enterprise private, and then rededicate into doing a good job as a brick and mortar business. If it requires smaller stores, then that's what I'd do. More selective inventory? Then I'd do that. But I wouldn't bet on my future being technology -- or online service. I think others will be much better at it.
We'll see, I guess.
What was funny was, he said it in such a rote way that you could tell he didn't believe it.
Meanwhile, on the other C-Span channel, they had another book expert talking about this Fall's books, and their projected print-runs, and she questioned the fears of imminent doom and talked about how many books were be published by big name authors.
Over on Rocketbomber, he talks about a 25 billion dollar book industry where only a small percentage is going to digital, so far.
The book, The Diamond Age, by Neal Stephenson, keeps coming to mind. (Written in 1995.) A little girl is given a book by her parents, and every time she reads it, the content has changed to suit her age and circumstances.
In other words, an electronic book may only be the beginning of the innovations.
And here I am sailing full sail into the winds of publishing, damn the torpedoes.
I think I'm uniquely positioned to weather the coming conflict, at least in the short run.
Meanwhile, I'm mulling over buying more bookshelves and more books. So far, I'm been a bit haphazard in the way I've purchased my stock. It's been easy to pick the low hanging fruit; the best classics and cult books and favorites.
I think I can continue to pick the best of the best-- but I need to find a more systematic way to discover what those are. And whatever system I use, needs to be easy and sustainable.
I'm thinking I need maybe 4 or 5 sites that have worthwhile lists -- which I figure are out there.
It's just finding them in the sheer quantity of sites devoted to books. The 'expert' I talked about above has a site called Shelf Awareness, and when I went to it, I couldn't believe I'd never heard of it before.
So I need to start doing some serious research on which books to buy going into the next few years. More of what I'm doing, but also with a bit more effort to fill in around the edges.
Sunday, August 8, 2010
It's very soothing, and somewhat addicting.
I think it's because it's such a neutral thing. It doesn't play favorites. It doesn't care if you had a good day or a bad day. It doesn't care if you are skinny or fat, rich or poor, young or old.
It's just a mathematical construct, who (which) doesn't even know you're playing it.
It's a pure meritocracy, if you will.
Which, like I say, is very refreshing.
Matching your wits against something that won't play favorites, who won't judge you, which only responds to true input, not status or looks or money.
So I play the game, and I can see patterns, and I can see luck, and I can see skill. I can test my awareness and smarts, and I can look for ways to beat it, and it plays fair, dammit. Totally fair.
It's like Zen. Even when I'm losing, it seems right and proper with the world. All is fair and equal, and it's just the way things are.
When luck and skill combine, the cards just seem to click into place, and it seems easy.
And when luck and skill fail, nothing clicks, and I lose game after game after game. But it's O.K., Cause I'm sure I'll win the NEXT game.
I had a friend once, who actually ended up moving to Vegas to pursue her interest in poker. (She played online). I asked her if she ever thought of playing Vegas-style Solitaire, and she laughed in my face. "Too much luck," she said.
Well, yeah. Luck and skill. But her idea of a good game was one which she could outplay other people -- take advantage of their weaknesses, and their lack of skill, and play mind games, and just more or less prey on other players. The stronger against the weaker.
I'd rather play the hard cold world of luck and skill and see how I come out. Me against the System, me against the Universe, which will reward me without caring if I play consistently and well. But who will punish me with an equal lack of caring when I fail.
Fair enough, I say.
Back when I was writing, what appealed to me was that I thought of it as a meritocracy. I thought if I wrote something really good, it would be published. I'd be paid. The readers would read it and like it or not like it, but ...it wouldn't be filtered it wouldn't be constantly hindered by office politics and favoritism.
Naive, huh? But after failing miserably to get any kind of worthwhile job after college because I interviewed horribly and maybe that was only the truth because I wasn't a people person but I would have been a smart, honest, reliable and hard worker --well, I thought the writing would speak for itself.
Same thing with the store. I don't have to play games with co-workers, or schmooze with the boss, or try to convince my supervisor I'm doing a good job.
When you own a business, bottom-line is -- either you earn money or you don't, and it ain't open to interpretation, to favoritism, or stupid bosses, or brown-nosing supervisors.
In a way, that's almost the very definition of a nerd; feeling more comfortable with systems than people. Looking back, I think I was lucky to have made my career as a storekeeper instead of a writer. Owning a store made me deal with people on a daily basis and smoothed away the rougher edges of my personality, which probably wouldn't have happened as a writer. With me, isolation breeds isolation.
So I wouldn't trade it. Still, it's nice to come home sometimes to a non-human interaction, which engages the brain and the luck, but not the emotions....
Solitaire is like that with me. It's just a way to test my skill and my luck, without being hampered by others.
I guess that's why they call it Solitaire.
Saturday, August 7, 2010
Comics usually only get me to about 65% of the sales I need to be viable. But, pretty steady at that. Even as the population has increased. Even as prices substituted for smaller volume. Even as movies discovered comics, and graphic novels became about 40% of my comic sales totals. Comics have remained 50 to 65% of the money I need to stay open.
Someone said once, that comics have been dying since they were created. Tens of millions sold per month in the 40's and 50's, millions in the 60's and 70's, and even the average seller did 100,000's in the 80's and most of the '90's. Now, just the absolute best-selling titles reach 100,000 an issue.
In my career, I've seen comics go from .60 to 3.50 average price. From newsprint paper to slick paper. The creativity has never wavered. Indeed, it's probably the best it's ever been. As sales drop, the brilliance seems to increase, and only Hollywood seems to understand the pure insane creativity of the artform.
I've known that comics were a strong platform from which to run my business -- even when sports cards went crazy and became 85% of my sales, I never gave up on comics. In fact, I was careful to use some of that sport card money to actually grow my sales in comics.
But I've never thought of comics as being "steady." As being "reliable."
Pretty much the opposite.
Individual comics boom and bust on a regular basis -- in fact, nothing stays popular forever. Artists and writers come and go. Characters become popular, then over-exposed, and fade. Comic companies come and go. Styles come and go.
But comics in aggregate, are actually pretty predictable.
Believe me, this has NOT been the way I've thought about comics over most of the last 27 years. Most of that time I cursed the fact that comic sales couldn't quite get over the hump. Couldn't quite seem to earn me a good living. The market always seemed fragile and iffy and just too damn small. I constantly cast about for product to pick up the slack.
I still try to diversify. But it has occurred to me lately, that comics are that good, solid 50% of my business -- while just about everything else I bring in slides up and down.
I think it's time to celebrate that comics are a good, steady half of my business, instead of bemoaning that they can't be all my business.
And as further irony, I think its the smaller size of the audience for comics which has made it so steady.
It takes effort and time and space and knowledge to do comics. You can't just throw money at it, like a chain store might be able to do. At least, the effort and time and space and knowledge are too much for the average return.
That fact of being able to get to only 65% of viable, while being in an average sized market for a comic store, is a dead giveaway that comics are a challenge for anyone who wants real monetary returns. A challenge which a small guy like me is willing to pick up and pursue, because of the ability to run a business that is so specialized that only someone else like me is likely to try.
I think it took the Great Recession for me to realize that comics just keep humming along, even as the marketplace constantly changes -- digitalization, rising prices, constant shifting of focus by the publishers, Hollywood dalliances, -- despite all that, comics have actually increased a bit over the last year.
I apologize for doubting you.
You're my huckleberry.
I shrug it off, then later in the conversation, she produces a Sony Reader, and laughs, "Oh, I'm sorry. I probably shouldn't have shown you that."
I figure this is going to be a new sport. Let's torture the bookstore owner by showing him our digital reader. Ha, Ha.
I used to mock banish people for mentioning the W word; (shhhh....walmart). Or the B & N word: (quietly, now....barnes and noble.)
Or I'll break into my customers and employee conversations with a menacing tone: "You aren't talking about Video Games are you? You know better than to do that in MY store...."
Seriously, what can I do about it?
There's a great post over on Rocketbomber blog, where he talks about how bookstores aren't about efficiency any more than sex is about procreation, most of the time. He says it better than that, and it's worth a read.
All I can do is play out the game, you know. Try to figure the angles. Keep selling to those who enjoy bookstores and want to keep them around.
Friday, August 6, 2010
The caveat, I suppose, is that you have to react in time for the drop to be canceled out. Or, if you are buying for a 10% increase instead, it can be a double whammy. That's why dramatic increases in sales can be dangerous to the store if not handled properly.
I believe a good, healthy store should be using somewhere around 10% of their budget for increasing inventory; by trying experimental, or the whimsical, or the good product that might have been overlooked.
You've got to constantly try new things, at the same time you're maintaining your core inventory. At least that's what I do.
I also save up around 10% of my budget to buy "SALE" product, stuff that's been discounted. It's another way for me to try material that I ordinarily wouldn't carry. Stuff that I passed on the first time around.
I suppose it points out that I'm more interested in having a good store than a bottomline store. Then again, it wouldn't be hard to make the case that this extra effort is what has made the store survive all these years.
Most customers aren't going to notice that you didn't order something you didn't have before, but they are eventually going to notice if your core product is run down. However, keeping the core product in stock isn't that difficult for me, as long as I'm not out there spending money on other things.
I tend to alternate. One month of not buying "SALE" material; the next month not buying the experimental and quirky; the next month foregoing the "SALE" material, and so on.
When there is a slowdown, I tend to ask myself: "If I don't order this product, will anyone notice?" Obviously, that's a different question than asking, "Will it sell?" Or "Will people think this is cool?"
Anyway, I don't think maintaining the inventory rather than expanding, hurts the store in the short run; months, perhaps even a year or two. Especially a store like mine which has so much odd and offbeat material already.
But I wouldn't want to go forever without the quirky, the experimental, the offbeat. Every good comic store is going to have the same core product.
It's the unusual stuff that makes your store unique.
Good thing I did, because June was worse. Again, I scaled back on my plans. I was already being moderate in my spending, because I was hoping to garner some cash profits over the summer. Instead, I was making a small profit, and sales weren't improving.
I've learned one thing over the last couple decades. Don't doubt the downturn. React as quickly as possible, and hold off any other changes. Which is what I did.
So, without further ado, here are July's results.
We were down 13.2%, which isn't fun, but not nearly as bad as the 33% we were down as of the 15th of July. The first half of July was just a conflagration. The second half was actually pretty good, matching last year, but the store couldn't overcome the crappy first half.
So 13.5% looks relatively decent, what with lowered expectations.
What would have happened if that had been reversed? What if the first half of July had been as good as last year, and the second half was the awful half? I probably would've overspent. I would've thought things were on course, that the small downturn in May, and the bigger downturn in June were a blip and due to bad weather.
So the fates conspired to have me fully warned and vigilante. So we managed to come out of July with the credit cards paid off, and all the bills paid. This should have happened by June, frankly, but I'll take it. Breaking even being the new black.
It still gives me a chance to make some money in August, and...further down the road...at Christmas. But my hackles are up, and I'm delaying purchases until they are truly needed, and putting off the inventory expansion I had planned until I can do it within cash flow. (I'd planned to got ahead and use credit, but I've had second thoughts.)
The thing is -- I can always increase my buying, but once committed, it's almost impossible to decrease my buying. So a wait and see attitude is the right attitude right now. Basically, 3 down months in a row is my double dip recession, whatever the economists might say.
First the good, then the bad.
Comic sales are up, surprisingly. I have a blog I'm going to post about that tomorrow. Graphic novels were down slightly, but the two combined were still healthily above last year. It shows that my local regulars are hanging in there.
Books sales were good. Last year was spectacular, so we didn't quite reach those numbers, but still really good.
Game sales were even better. The increase more than matched the small decrease in books, so overall, my two newest categories were over last year.
Magic sales dropped precipitously. I'm guessing that chainstore stocking and online discounters are taking the lion's share of business, these days. This is eerily reminiscent of sports cards in their declining years, and I'm reacting accordingly. I'm keeping the product stocked, but sticking to my price and ordering small amounts.
Toys were down quite a bit. I think this reflects what was the weakness of the tourist dollar this year, since these are mostly off-the-street impulse buys.
Sports cards were down, as well. Just didn't have those several boxes of sales I usually get from tourists.
Overall, surprisingly, I feel like the local economy is holding up it's end, but the tourist economy has been worse than I expected. I think, perhaps, last year there was still the hope that things would recover quickly. Maybe it's really sinking in that vacations are not to time to go crazy buying things.
Thursday, August 5, 2010
There were two bookstores in La Grande.
Sunflower Books, in a house one block over from the main drag. Small mystery, S.F. and romance sections. In fact, hardly any genre at all. Mostly literary fiction. So not only in a small town but limiting their possible sales to only one kind of book. Though admittedly, their selection of those types of books were good, and in some ways reminded me of what I choose to carry.
Mentioned that Linda and I had bookstores in Bend, and they just ignored us.
Didn't even ask the names of our stores. Shrug.
Earth N'Books. Nicely laid out, seemed to be mostly a used bookstore, though they say "new" on the sign. Typical paperback exchange type, neat and tidy, but nothing there that wasn't anything we hadn't seen before.
In Baker City.
We checked out Turn the Page, which was closed on Mondays. But when I poked my nose into the door, they opened for us. They had new bookshelves that they were transferring books to. Another typical paperback exchange type store, not a lot of hardcovers, but lots of genre books.
The owner had actually visited Pegasus Books; she said that before she opened six years ago, she visited dozens of bookstores, and in fact had changed to our type trading policy after trying one of the old % type strategies earlier. "It's so much more simple and easy to understand," she said.
She was nice, and happy to exchange information.
Betty's Books. Right across from Old Geezer Hotel.
This was a fun visit. The two owners were there early Monday morning, and seemed delighted to talk about books and bookselling. (The husband at first, before I wore him out and he exited. The wife got the soft approach from Linda, and by the time I was talking to her, I was being softer too. I've just got to learn to be more subtle.)
Thing about downtown Baker is that they have these amazing old buildings. Unfortunately, lots of them are empty, and most of them would need some investment, but they have "Good Bones".
The "Betty" of Betty's Books was the mother of one of the current owners, and they own the building and live above the store. They have been open more than 30 years, in the same location. (Oh, and they had a very cool ceiling.)
The book selection was excellent. Especially the Local History books section, which I was envious of. I've been unable to get a decent selection of local books in my store because it requires separate accounts with each publisher, and I don't have that information nor the volume to make it work. But I recognize that it would be a nice addition to my store if I tried to pursue it.
But mostly, they didn't seem threatened by us, were genuinely curious about how we do our stores. I mentioned that I thought they might do well with a small selection of boardgames, not go crazy, but maybe a few each of Settlers of Catan, Ticket to Ride, and Carcassonne, and she seemed actually interested in the idea.
This was the kind of visit I wish we could could have more often.
By the way, I don't think it's any accident that Betty's Books has survived for more than 30 years. I think curiosity and excellence go together.
Or just blowing smoke.
I will say one thing for them, they aren't going to go down quietly. The other banks that have closed around here seemed to whimper in the corner until the FDIC came and got them. At least, for all I heard about them.
CACB is spinning and spinning. I Think I Can. I Think I Can.
But I have to guess, fundamentally, their situation has improved marginally, if at all. There has been no rescue by investors, and indeed that all may have fallen through. They're sueing some firm because they won't accept .20 on the dollar. (Was that in writing?)
Did they lose more money than they let on? Could be -- they appear to be revising previously released totals.
Are their commercial loans that are out there just being "Pretended and Extended?" That would be my guess.
Will they be able to renew the 'deal' where two investors will match private contributions? It sounds like that has fallen through, but what did it mean anyway? Wasn't it just a plea of, "Mom, I'll do my homework just as soon as I get done playing with Sammy."
They certainly are sending out lots of signals. Getting the Bulletin to produce a headline that says, "POSITIVE SIGNS FROM BANK OF THE CASCADES," though the text of the article seems much more subdued than that. "roughly break-even," would imply to me that they didn't actually break-even....otherwise, why not just say so? If they turned a profit, even the smallest of profits, why not say that?
But they aren't releasing the "complete" earnings report until later.
Is this an expectation game? Mention "roughly breaking even" and then announcing a small profit? Or preparing investors for loses by couching it as "roughly breaking even?" Either way, it would seem to be spin.
It may be enough that they are trying so hard, and the FDIC may just be sitting back to see if they can pull it off.