Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Classics vs hot new thing.

For the first half of Pegasus Books' existence, I was completely dependent on the "hot new thing." Though, I never quite knew what the hot new thing was going to be until it revealed itself -- or after it became hot and I couldn't get it anymore.

So I played the game of trying to guess what the hot new thing would be, but it proved to be nearly impossible. It was hot because it was unexpected, most often.

The first comic I ever didn't order from the catalogue one some stupid title called "The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles."

During the same years I was riding the tiger of fads. Sports cards, non-sports cards, Magic the Gathering, black and white comics (see above TMNT's), comics (variants and flashy covers and Death's of...), beanie babies, pogs, Pokemon, and so on.

I count a good 7 of 8 fads in the first 15 years.

And then...none. I mean, there was still hot versus cold product, but the wildly exploding product lines--the kind you spend all your profits on just to keep up with--those slowly faded away.

I still find that somewhat amazing. The Past is not Prologue when it comes to retail.

Anyway, during those early years, the store's dynamic was to get new stuff in every week and hope it sold, then let it sell out and move on the the next and the next. Back issue comics and some sports card star cards helped out in the first few years, but both began to fade--first into only the "hottest" comics and stars, and then even those stopped selling, more or less. It was a constant, stressful tightrope.

Luckily, about the time all this guesswork simply became unworkable, graphic novels were introduced, and then games and toys and books became available to me. (I simply couldn't get any of those for years--not enough volume to establish accounts with book and toy and game distributors, nor would they answer my calls.) The fads funded my move into diversification, and faded just about the time I was done.

I didn't really make the strong move into boardgames and new books until just before the Great Recession, but it started paying off immediately, so I continued doing it even when business is slow. Looking back on it, it's a good thing I took the gamble, because without the new product lines we'd be hurting. (I held off on new books for years because of the Book Barn, because I didn't to hurt them but when it went out, I dived in.)

So yesterday, I was looking at the books and graphic novels and games I'd sold over the last month, and the same titles popped up that have popped up almost every month and I realized that we were finally off the roller coaster of the "hot new thing."

We have a world of "classics" we can order, especially graphic novels and games and books. As long as we keep a good selection of those in stock, we are almost guaranteed sales.

So the store is now about 1/3rd new stuff (weekly comics and graphic novels and games), 1/3 classics and 1/3 discounted and or quirky stuff.

It seems to be a viable mix, arrived at organically. Much of it wasn't possible until it was possible--that is, I tried during those first 15 years to diversify, but found it difficult. No viable book distributors or game distributors, graphic novels didn't really exist, toys were mass market almost exclusively and weren't offered to the likes of us. 

There was a moment, about 1996, when what I was selling wasn't selling enough--and I couldn't get anything else. That was probably the most alarming period in our store.

Now...I have so much good stuff to pick from, I can't really get it all. As long as the classics exist at higher levels than the store actually needs to thrive, we're in good shape.

It feels nice, especially since the particular mix of stuff I have is unlikely to be duplicated by anyone else. I get competition in one area of the store or another, but it seems to be okay. We still get enough business from regulars and tourists to do all right.

If I get a Princess Bride book in, it will sell.

If I get Settlers of Catan game in, it will sell.

If I get the Watchmen graphic novel in, it will sell.

My job is to just keep ordering them.

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