Thursday, April 4, 2013

The self-perpetuating store.

The store is self-perpetuating at this point.  Took a long time to get here.  Took a long time to even realize that it was my goal.

For instance:  I pay little attention to best-seller lists.  Every once in a while I'll take a glance and pluck one or two interesting titles and add them to my inventory wishlist.

But mostly, I have X amount of money, and when I look at what I've sold and reorder it, most of the X is gone.

So -- I can go out and buy a copy of some unknown book -- or I can look at the sales trajectory of Vader and Son and buy it, knowing it will sell.

In other words, I have sales history on a bunch of non-"best-seller" consistent sellers for my store. 

You figure out these things one at a time.  I avoided Doctor Who paraphenalia for a long time, lumping it in with other 'cult' products like Star Trek and NBX where there seems to be huge interest and tiny sales.

I found to my surprise that the Doctor Who fans were good for it -- especially the Sonic Screwdrivers.  So I've tried to have a selection of Screwdrivers ever since.

So I just keep adding item after item that seems to sell consistently.  Because I've diversified into 5 to 10 product lines, depending on how you define it, I always have a list of proven sellers to buy.

This contrasts with the first 15 years of business, where I was dependent almost exclusively with timely product, which came in once and then on to the next thing.  Monthly comics and the newest card releases was playing ongoing Russian Roulette.

I developed the self-perpetuating model only after lots of trial and error.  And only after the industry itself seemed to move in that direction.

The book industry, especially, is bit of mystery to me -- why they are having so much trouble.  If they would just concentrate on proven sellers, I think they'd do better.  Instead, they seemed to be trapped by the "Best-Seller" model -- which Amazon and Barnes and Noble and Costco can do cheaper and in greater volume.

The "next new thing" is all well and good.  By all means, you'll want to carry them.  But don't forget that you have 300 years of book history behind you, and that Hemingway and Heinlein and Kerouac never stop selling.

Sure -- you have to try new titles.  Do lots of sampling.  But in a book world where you can get a reorder in one or two days, with minimal shipping costs, why do you order extra copies of some books and no copies of most books?

As you can see, I'd love for an opportunity to show that I could run a full new bookstore, to show my model would work.  It works in my store -- but it's only 20% of my business, so it doesn't prove the test.

Turning a full thousand or two thousand square feet to books and nothing but books, would be the test.

But I have no doubt I could fill it with proven sellers.  The book industry is full of proven sellers.  It seems to me that most book retailers ignore them, for some weird reason.  They are way too influenced by the industry publications and media, I believe.  Not focused on the books themselves, but what people are saying about books.

Which is like gambling with every order.  The return system encourages this -- volume discounts encourage this -- higher discounts ordering in volume from publishers instead of wholesalers -- encourages this.

But it's still taking chances they just don't need to take.

They could take much of the gamble out by concentrating on proven books, and dabbling in new best-sellers.  Most booksellers, it seems to me, concentrate on new best-sellers and dabble in proven books. 

I may be wrong.  Maybe you can't make enough money on proven sellers -- but have to depend on the "Next Big Thing."

 You could do both, just with the accent on the former, instead of the latter.


shopping monkey said...

I heard an alarming statistic the other day (and, I could have heard wrong as I was driving along); something like only one in 500 people read more than three books a year. Amazon, costco etc. hurt, e-books hurt... but most of all, the dearth of readers. Sad.

Duncan McGeary said...

I see it especially in my store, especially with families.

The parents totally don't see what their own kids are doing and saying, or not doing and not saying.

Massive failure to support reading -- by the parents.