Saturday, March 24, 2012

Gestalt retail.

I was looking around the store the other day and wondering, "Why is this working?"

Have I finally reach a level of inventory that is self-sustaining? Or is it the diversity? Is my pricing finally effective? Is it my employees? Is it the very longevity of the place? The media attention and the blog? Is it that downtown Bend is still vibrant?

There are cycles to business -- right now, we are benefiting from the popularity of The Walking Dead, The Game of Thrones, and The Hunger Games. I may not like "Comic Book Men" but it certainly gives us exposure.

Coming up, is the big Avengers movie. I don't expect that we'll sell a lot of Marvel comics from it -- that doesn't seem to happen, though I might be able to get people to try some of Joss Whedon's comic book writing. (Astonishing X-Men, Buffy, Angel, Dollhouse, Dr. Horrible...)

But again, the attention can't hurt.

When I look around the store, I see lots of stuff that -- well, aren't all that strong individually. But it seems to work as an overall thing. Everyday I sell something that I thought I'd never sell.

The only concept I can come up with that explains how the store is working right now is, Gestalt.

"Gestalt –("essence or shape of an entity's complete form") is a theory of mind and brain...";" ...the operational principle of gestalt psychology is that the brain is holistic, parallel, and analog, with self-organizing tendencies. The principle that maintains that the human eye sees objects in their entirety before perceiving their individual parts. Gestalt psychologists stipulate that perception is the product of complex interactions among various stimuli." Wikipedia.

Over the last decade, I've kind of gone with the flow. Bringing into the store anything that interested me, and assuming that it would fit into the overall mix. The store, to some extent, is a reflection of my interests. Of course, I'm hard-headed about it. I look for deals, for instance. I look for products that will physically fit into the store.

But I quit categorizing quite so much. Yes, I carry mostly fiction, but not always. Yes, I carry fiction with a fantastical bent, but not always. And so on.

I just kind of know when I see it on an order form whether I think it will fit.

Occasionally I make a misstep, but I can usually figure out a way to work around it. To make it work.

For the first 20 years of business, I suppose I thought I was a Lone Ranger. A weird sort of nerd that didn't even really fit in with other nerds. So I slowly accumulated customers who liked what I was doing (or could overlook it.)

The internet changed my thinking. Now I see that my interests are the interests of lots of other people. It's still more unusual than not, but now I have some faith that if something interests me, that it will interest other people, even if it doesn't look like there is much of a commercial outlet for it.

The other word, beside Gestalt, that might describe how the store works is Synergy.

"Synergy may be defined as two or more things functioning together to produce a result not independently obtainable." Wikipedia.

Very early on in my career, I added up the sales of t-shirts and buttons and posters, and it was pretty pathetic. So I got rid of them.

Sales on comics and everything else in the store immediately dropped.

Chastened, I brought them back, and sales recovered.

That was my first experience with the idea of a "mix," of having things that don't sell all that well so that I can sell other things. In a sense, this has been my advertising budget.

All this runs counter to what most business books would tell you to do. But I think most businesses would probably follow business book advice into the ground, and I started to ignore advice that didn't match my experience.

The added bonus is that it allows me to have a fun store that I'm interested in. It allows me to follow my own interests, with some expectation that others will appreciate it.

In and out of the garbage pail. It's just my messy gestalt brain.

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