Thursday, March 15, 2012

The cool stuff sells.

I was talking in an earlier post about the "availability" problem when it comes to creating a dream store.

A dream store would have only the coolest stuff.

Problem is, the cool stuff sells.

Most product has a production run, and that's it. They don't keep making it. Only the biggest trends continue in production, and if they do that, chances are they are stocked in Walmart and Target and so on.

So most "cool" stuff is offered for a short time, and then it's gone.

One of the best things that has happened in my store is the ability to buy good graphic novels and good novels on an ongoing basis. I was so accustomed to the transitory effect of cards, comics, and toys going through the store and disappearing, that it took awhile for me to cotton onto the advantages of evergreen product.

Catch- 22 or The Alchemist or Sometimes a Great Notion will just keep selling and selling and selling.

Same thing with graphic novels like Watchmen, or V for Vendetta, or Return of the Darknight.

So how do you make a bookstore work?

You get more books and you get more better books.

If I may be allowed to repeat: You get MORE books and more BETTER books.

You identify which books sell and you get more. I've got dozens of books that aren't on any best-seller list but they sell consistently and often.

Unfortunately, there is no such advantage to most toys and apparel and cards and other paraphernalia.

Let me give you an example: I was offered little windup Tardis's and Daleks. (Dr. Who.) Reasonably priced at around 12.00. So I ordered a case of 6 each.

They sat for about a week and didn't sell, but got lots of comment.

Another week went by and they started selling, so I took a chance and ordered another case of each. By now, the sales-velocity was speeding up, and I ordered another case.

But they were unavailable.

If I had to guess, I probably slipped in at the last minute to get those second cases. Will they make them again? Possible, but not probable. I have a couple of Daleks left, but no Tardis.

(Which brings up the classic situation -- customer really likes something; customer walks away; customer comes back but the thing is gone; customer keeps coming back and the thing continues to be gone....customer disappointed in you.)

And that, in a nutshell, is why it is so hard to have the dream store. Because you can't reliably stock it.

You order this stuff in advance, mostly. You take a chance on each order, so you can't go crazy. Some of the items you think are the coolest show up and they don't sell, for some reason or another.

So you order moderately, and if it sells you try to get more. Most often, it seems, if it is really cool it is already gone.

No worries, there is a steady stream of cool stuff in the pipeline, and if you are any good at guessing what people want, you'll always have at least some cool stuff in stock. But to have a huge dream store that keeps the cool stuff in stock all the time, that would be much harder.

I have a little tactic I use in my ordering.

I ask myself. "If this item didn't sell, would I mind still having it in my store?" If it passes this test, it is much more likely that I'll order it.

And sure enough, what's left in stock are these types of items: cool things that for whatever reason, packaging, prices, timing, obscurity, quality, or so on don't sell right away.

The "dream store" would have the coolest stuff, and keep having the coolest stuff.

Problem is, the cool stuff sells.

There are things you can do. For instance, raise the price so high that no one buys it. You risk antagonizing the customer if you do this, so you have to ask yourself if the glow of having the product is worth more than the stink of it being so high priced.

Or you can downplay it, almost hide it, so that only the most savvy will recognize how cool it is. (Frankly, the problem of stocking would be so much easier if "cool" didn't depend in most cases on other people saying it's cool -- I can't tell you the number of times I've seen something come in and went "Wow." And then waited months for other people to start saying "Wow." By which time, I can't get more.)

I have another tactic here: sometimes, the cool stuff is so inherently expensive that no one can really afford it, no matter how cool they think it is. I'm not overpriced -- the product itself is simply high priced.

So that's why I have a $700.00 cast-iron Raygun, or a $400.00 lifesized brass Iron Man helmet, or a $200.00 Stormtrooper biker statue.

Of course, I have to be able to afford carrying product that won't sell for a long time, and takes up space of stuff that might sell.

But if it's cool enough, it more or less acts as my advertising.

And then, after about five years, I have a customer waltz in (like yesterday) and buy my Star Wars Stormtrooper statue.

(And it's gone...)

I know some of you are probably thinking, "Well, duh. Isn't the very essence of retail to have the cool stuff for sale?"

What I'm trying to say is that I think it's insufficiently understood that it isn't so much a matter of knowing WHAT cool stuff to carry, but HOW to get it and keep it.

That is much more difficult than it looks.

An example I always use, is Star Wars. I'm offered cases of Star Wars toys, but I don't get to choose what is in those cases. I can sell Yoda and Boba Fett all day long, but I will usually get a case of "random background characters" plus one minor character everyone recognizes plus maybe a major character that everyone already has. (Luke, say. Or Obi-wan.)

I put six Star Wars Pez's out the other day. One Stormtrooper, one Yoda, and a bunch of no name others. Sure enough, I've already sold the Stormtrooper and the Yoda (even at a higher price.) I'm left with a bunch of pez's that may sell someday when someone wants some candy. And this will happen every time.

The cool stuff sells.

Because of timing, and pricing, and stocking issues -- the problem with retail isn't not knowing what to carry, but figuring out how to get a hold of enough of what to carry, and not get buried by all the other stuff you have to buy in order to get the cool stuff.


Andy Z said...

Sounds like your really mean order MOORE books.

Duncan McGeary said...

Always order Moore books!