Friday, September 9, 2011

Time, date and stamped.

As a corollary to my earlier post.

Much of what I'm currently trying to learn, is how to handle material that isn't time, date and stamped.

When I bought the store, in 1984, I'd have to say at least 90% of the material I sold was brand new, that very week or month, and was replaced by the next week's material, and then the next.

It was a gambler's game; trying to gauge demand in advance, trying not to sell too quickly or too slowly.

I didn't know any other way.

Sports cards would come in, sell for awhile, and then move on. This week's comics would come in, sell for awhile, and then move on. I'd order a bit extra for the back stock, which was pretty much dependent on whether the product became popular enough to be wanted after the initial selling period.

This lingering interest actually dwindled over time, as the sports card and comic companies came up with more and more material, and the back stock sold less and less.

What a minute, I hear you thinking, aren't you a collectible store?

Well, you won't hear me using the word "collectible." I don't much believe in that market. It's one of those misconceptions the public has about a store like mine. Oh, at first, I could sell older cards and older comics. But even at the peak of comic collecting, I'd have to say that maybe only 10% of my sales were back issues. There was a glory season for sports cards that lasted a few years, but then faded.

Basically, back in the day, I'd have a Micheal Jordon rookie in my case so I could sell you lots of packs of cards. I'd have a Silver Age Spider-man on the wall to sell you this months issue.

Eventually, this older market moved online, almost completely.

If the new material isn't selling sufficiently, there just isn't a market for the old material. I know, it's counter-intuitive, but there it is. (Or more to the point -- if the new stuff isn't selling, there is no money to buy the old stuff.)

SO..... once in a while, I'd look at an art gallery, or a gift store, and think: "What would it be like not to have to buy new, unknown material every week?"

There is a built in advantage to the time, date and stamped model. Yes, it's gamble, but you have clientele who have to come in on a regular basis to buy the material. You have regular type regulars. So you create a subscription service, for comics, which more or less locks the customer to your store. (Until it doesn't...) The store becomes a destination store, and people off the street really probably can't relate much to all the new stuff.

Of course, the ultimate "dated" material are fads. Like ramped up to a factor of ten.
It's stuff no one has heard of one day; something they just have to have the next day; and something they want to unload the next day.

After learning some hard lessons from the cards and comics bubbles, I became a bit of maestro at fads. I was a genius at Pogs, and did pretty well with Beanie Babies and Pokemon, too. Fads are easy to sell, hard to get -- so the temptation is to order way too much and get left holding the bag. (Interestingly, I haven't had a good fad since Pokemon peaked at Christmas 2000. Which is unexpected since I had seven solid fads in my first 15 years.)

But I think needing to order in advance all the time, material you haven't seen yet, based on yesterday's trends is ultimately a very dangerous process. It really is gambling, and no matter how good you are it, eventually you are going to get it wrong.

What I really want to do is sell material for it's own inherent value; comics for reading, books to read, card games to play, toys to play with, and so on.

I don't mind the 'collectible' idea, as long as I don't play up the speculative investment value.

I want to sell material that has a shelf life, whose intrinsic value is always there.

About the time I came to this conclusion, most of the comic world came to the same conclusion. We'd all been burned by the idea of selling comics in plastic sleeves that no one reads. So we pushed the reading of comics, the writing and the art.

And it revived the comic biz enough. About the same time, more and more comics were being collected in graphic novels -- so if I sold a really good story, a Sandman or a Preacher, I could reorder it again and again.

(Sports cards, on the other hand, were a lost cause and I slowly phased most of them out. They are still time, date and stamped dependent -- but that's not the way I play it.)

I started bringing in toys that had some long term interest, and boardgames, and finally books.

Books and boardgames can be time dependent, if that is the market you pursue. But I feel like Amazon and Barnes and Noble and Costco can do that better. I can pick titles that there is always an interest in -- but which people won't think less of me if I don't have it in stock.

I want the latest great game, but it's more important for me to have Settlers of Catan and Carcassonne. I want the latest book, but it's more important for me to carry Catcher in the Rye and On The Road and No Country for Old Men.

This is the material I'm talking about when I say I want the right numbers at the right time.

I'd say about half my sales are still time and date -- new comics, new magic, new books, toys and games.

But the other half has become much more predictable, and I like that.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Dated material is really a bad bet in this modern culture.

Your a collectible store dunc, a relic from the past. Trouble is you should be in PDX, and not Bend.

Just keep your inventory tidy, so some day your kids can sell the stuff.

Sure during depressions folks will naturally have family time, stay home and play board games. Watch movies. Do stuff with the family. Your product niche.

Dated comic's are essentially collectibles a few days after print, other than that their garbage fodder.

Classic books, is great, that niche will not go away.

Classic games will make a come-back for collector value.

Sure from your point of view their is no such thing as a 'collectable', but your being rational as a merchandiser that knows there is an infinite amount of garbage in the stream. The customer is fickle and easily can perceive that he/she has found a hidden treasure. I guess you simply not cynical enough to appreciate the desire of others to collect your garbage.

Trouble is that the market will in all likelihood outlast your lifetime.

You know in PDX there is a software outfit that has barcode software that reads product out of inventory and automatically puts the product on ebay, and then keeps in database. So a monkey can inventory and market shit like in your store.

Never forget that one man's garbage is another man's treasure. Also there are ton's of people in japan and china that want to collect USA memorabilia and they have money.

As it stands now you sit in Bend with your shit rotting in hell and obscurity.