Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Street closures...again.

So the street closure last weekend kind of hurt us. It was one of the stupider things they've done--closing the street without anything happening near us. But it's only stupider in scale. Most street closures hurt us.

We were down about 40% from last year. Tom Bean at Dudley's also mentioned it hurt him.

In Sunday's paper the owners of Zydeco were mentioning that all the events were hurting their business. 

There's always been an undercurrent of dissatisfaction with street closures among some downtown business owners. Most don't say anything so as not to rock the boat. Others have bought into the idea that these promotional events help business in the long run. (I disagree with this assessment, and have never seen any evidence it is true. Besides...downtown is already booming. I'm not sure we need to keep stepping on the accelerator.)

I guess my stance is--only close the streets for the most important of reasons. The 4th of July pet parade is a great reason. The Christmas Parade. 

Also, try not to close the streets on the peak weekends of summer when we already have hordes of tourists spending money in our stores--try not to distract them, or point them in another direction!

Anyway, I wish someone could take the bull by the horns and write a nice, reasoned open letter to the Powers-That-Be who decides these things, and get what downtowners agree with it to sign it. 

I'm not the right person to spearhead this effort. 

It used to be that I couldn't get anyone to express their opinion on the matter, and at least now I'm hearing some other business owners express disagreement with the constant events and street closures, so maybe it will happen. 


Sunday, June 19, 2022

Feeling very thankful right now.

It has been sinking in what a gift it was to be able to go home and write for 8 straight years and still earn a subsistence income from the store. As I near retirement, I realize that I could have earned a lot more during those years, but our finances are still fine. Our nice house is paid for, we have no debts, and we have enough saved up to actually take home more money during retirement than we currently are taking home.

Sometimes it seems like I push everything into the future, but this is one time where I prioritized my own wants and needs. I got to do something I always wanted while being able to continue another thing I always wanted. Being a writer and owning a bookstore were the two things I wanted to do, and I got to do them.

So whenever I feel like I haven't really done a lot of extracurricular things, or traveled much, or bought a bunch of cool things, I need to remind myself that I gave myself the biggest gift of all: Time. 

Linda supported me in all this without the slightest qualm. I was lucky to have Sabrina run the store; she's a woman of integrity and talent. She'll be buying the store and she deserves to have it. 

I stopped writing a couple of years ago, but that's fine too. I got it out of my system, more or less. The books turned out pretty well, I think.

The store is booming. It's just a confluence of events, I think. Downtown booming, books are booming, I'm paying 100% attention to the store and that is having a huge effect. So I'm enjoying this turn as well. 

The world at large seems pretty uncertain right now, but when hasn't that been true?

Feeling very thankful right now. 

Thursday, June 16, 2022

It only took 40 years to get here.

I can, of course, tell how well we're doing by looking at our sales totals. I can see it everyday in the steady stream of people coming in. But what really nails it is the boxes I have to deal with. Stacks of boxes come in every few days, the contents of which have to be accounted for and then stocked.

It's been a huge surprise how big of deal this has become. I have to deal with a huge amount of packing material--popping the plastic bubbles, neatly folding the crumbled paper rolls. Doesn't sound like a big deal, but it takes time. It fills the bins. Sometimes they overflow. Then I have to break apart the boxes and find a place to put them. Finally, I have to haul them to the alley a block away and hope there is room in the bins. 

When you get 20 large boxes every few days, it really comes home how much material we're selling. Each of those boxes represent material we've already sold. I say already because the store doesn't have room to display anything new unless something already in stock has sold. 

Obviously, I'm not complaining. I'm rather wowed by it. I have seen downtown go from being so slow and empty that you could shoot a cannon down the street and not hit anyone to the swarms of people that fill the sidewalks on an average day. Over the years downtown has had its ups and downs, but it has been a pretty steady trend upward. It was noticeable to me enough for me to agree the rent increases as they came along. 

The special events--which again seem to be accelerating--are unnecessary now, but unfortunately unavoidable. I just have to grin and bear it. Street closures don't kill us like they used to because I've succeeded in mainstreaming the store to the point where the average person can find something they're interested in. 

This week we had a missing box. It took the full week to finally track it down and deliver it to the store. I could tell that it stressed Sabrina a bit. Which brought home the bad old days when such occurrences were common. Back then, if we missed a shipment it really hurt. We depended on timely sales, and we didn't have a lot of margin for error. 

Again, I've tried to diversify and mainstream the store so that we aren't so dependent on any one particular product to keep us going. 

It's nice. It only took 40 years to get here.

Wednesday, June 15, 2022


Boring subject, but it's interesting to me.

We've always been pretty much a JIT (Just in Time Shipping) store when it come to books...and most other things.. At first it was because I could really only afford one SKU (stock keeping unit) at a time, then it was because of the limited space.

Over the last few years, I've assembled a bunch of books that I call "perennials." Books that sell again and again and again. 

Now I'm just two days away from getting restocks of those books from Ingram Distributors, but of course I don't order every day, so it's more like a week for some books. I get a better discount from Penguin Random House, but the books take longer to arrive--up to two weeks. So if I sell a perennial bestseller, I often don't have it in stock for anywhere from one week to three weeks. 

But my reasoning has always been that every "extra" copy of a book in stock is a different book I didn't order. I've always wanted to have as wide a selection as possible. I'm also less of a "go-to" store for new bestsellers and more of an "impulse" buy store. So the more good backlist titles I can carry, the better.

I've noticed that other bookstores will often order many multiples of some books. Ironically, it's probably for much the same reason as I order just one copy--they have limited space. These bookstore will stack books on tables, which means that five or six copies take up no more space than one copy. Since they can return unsold copies it isn't a huge risk.

I don't have tables, nor do I return books. The vast majority of my books are spine out on bookshelves. Not the best way to display books, but again--it gives me the ability to carry vastly more titles. Basically, every book that is face-out is taking the same space that I can stock 5 or 6 books spine out.

I made an adjustment over the last few years of trying to have two copies of some perennials, but it's not consistent.

Anyway, when I put in my new book displays in the windows, suddenly I had room to show off 40 or 50 of my best books. I decided to make sure I had a couple copies of each of these perennials, one in the window and one out for sale, with the idea that I would grab the copy from the window to replace any that I sold.

Unexpectedly, these perennials suddenly started selling faster. I'm still having to wait a week to three weeks for replacements, which is what happens if you sell one copy of a perennial and then instantly sell the other copy. 

I probably wouldn't have known this if the window display hadn't caused me to order so many extra copies. 

Lesson learned: I will be ordering two or three or even four copies of these perennials and keep the Just In Time reordering for replacements. 

Even though my store is packed, there is always room for incremental improvements.

Saturday, May 28, 2022

A blessing in disguise.

Nothing worse than popping up on another person's website and pointing out how much better you're doing than they are. So I'm going to comment here and hope it doesn't seem out of line.

I just read a long column from a major comic retailer about the costs of doing comic books and how it is becoming unprofitable. In my own case, this isn't hurting me nearly as much. For a very odd reason, which I'll get to later.

First, a little background. Ever since the comic market collapsed in the middle of the 90s, putting about 3/4th of the retailers out of business, the surviving comic shops have been serviced by a single distributor. Diamond has had a monopoly, but their discounts were good enough for most comic shops to do well. The biggest drawback was shipping costs; bad enough that we had to pay for shipping at all (when most other distributors have free shipping above a certain volume), but it appeared to most of us that Diamond was charging more than they needed to for shipping. My suspicion was that the high discounts from Diamond were compensated by extra shipping costs.

There was a lot of grousing about Diamond for other reasons, most of which to me seemed unavoidable. 

Well, the complainers finally got their way, and both DC and Marvel have found new distributors. DC went with a new distributor, Lunar, who is basically the largest online vendor of new comics--in other words, our largest online competitor and a discounter at that. Not something to cheer.

Meanwhile, Marvel went with Penguin Random House, (PRH), the biggest book publisher in the US.

You should know that DC and Marvel account for something like 70% to 80% of the comic market. The unavoidable problems have only gotten worse, in my opinion, but the biggest change are the discount levels. 

Most shops discount levels got lowered. In compensation, we now had the option of getting free shipping for Marvel, and lower cost shipping for DC. 

In my particular case, it was a wash. The free shipping for Marvel covered the discount lost almost exactly. I'm getting the same discount for DC, slightly lower shipping costs.

Meanwhile, Diamond's shipping costs seems to have skyrocketed. The availability of graphic novels is confusingly spread over many different distributors and also suddenly more difficult to find in stock. We can't drop Diamond because they are still the distributor for most comic shops for everything other than Marvel and DC.

The drawback for me was that ordering from PRH is a very complicated and confusing procedure. It seems almost impossible for me to keep track of what, when, and how much I am ordering without spending hours pouring over the accounts. When I did the math, it turned out I was only going to save a couple hundred bucks by going with PRH for our Marvel comics. Frankly, my time and peace of mind were more important to me than that. If there is one thing I've learned in business, it is to keep strict accounting of my costs, both financially and in the way of time and effort.

I decided to continue to order my Marvel comics from Diamond at a much lower discount level. Still not sure that was the right decision, especially if Diamond is unable to survive. But in the meantime, I know exactly what I'm paying and when I need to pay it. So far, it's been worth it. 

Now we're being informed that our discount might even become lower. That will, indeed, force me to order Marvel from PRH.

So we now face a situation where our discounts are less, our shipping from Diamond is even higher than before, and the amount of time and effort required to keep accurate records has skyrocketed. 

Here's the thing. It isn't really hurting me that badly. This is for a strange reason.

See, I've never been able to make a living on comics alone. Bend had never given me sufficient volume of comics sales to keep my business open. From the beginning, I've been forced to diversify in order to survive.

Meanwhile, in bigger cities, comic shops were able to specialize in comics and do well.

The more I diversified, the better the shop did. Now sales are spread over new books, toys, boardgames, card games, comics, and graphic novels. 

New comics are only 10% of my total business right now. I'm not willing to give up on them, even though they take up probably 1/3rd of our space. For one thing, graphic novels sell better because of our comics, though I could probably still sell graphic novels if I was strictly a bookstore.

So my advice to all those comic shops that are currently dealing with the onerous discount levels and shipping and handling costs of comics is to diversify. It'll be hard for many of those shops, especially if they aren't in shopping areas with foot traffic, but it's the safer way to proceed.

I worry for the industry as a whole. I hope it isn't too late.

But Pegasus Books of Bend will do fine; better than fine, our sales are way better than they were only a few years ago. Diversification, especially into new books, has brought in enough money for me to diversify even more; a virtuous cycle that is still paying dividends.

All because I've never had the luxury of being strictly a comic shop. A blessing in disguise.

Friday, May 27, 2022

Either you are or you ain't.

I've run into these sort of Facebook posts a lot lately.

Such as "when" I'm depressed, such and such happens. Or the idea that they swing in and out of depression.

This is not the kind of depression I experienced. 

I don't understand this "when" I'm depressed, or the idea that you can come in and out of depression. With my depression, it was full time, all the time. And when I came out of it, it was very, very slowly. I mean, it took years and there never was a moment when I could say, this is "when."

Is this a case of diagnosed clinical depression?  Or just someone feeling sad? 

Or maybe I'm wrong and there is a type of depression that comes and goes. I get that there is bipolar--I suppose that could be it. But the way these people talk about depression it seems like they come in and out of it daily.

But, yeah, depression wasn't just a mood I was in. It was a sickness, a chemical imbalance. I can't say it didn't happen because of some choices I made, because I eventually came out of it at least partly from some choices I made. But it was complete and total when I was in it.

I don't wish to dismiss people's feelings of depression, but I wonder if this kind of "depression" isn't just mood changes and not the deeper, more complex total depression. Because clinical depression is damn severe and not something that comes and goes. At least, that was my experience. 

It worries me that people might think that people can just choose to not to be depressed. In a way, it diminishes the real problem

Instinct versus the tale of the tape.

This is one of those times when I trust my intuitive instincts more than the actual numbers. 

The tale of the tape is actually rather encouraging. Up significantly in January and February, down 3% in March (the previous year had been stupendous), up by 5% in April, and so far this month up by 8%.

But that isn't how it feels. It feels like it is slowing down. 

Things to take into account: the stock market has dropped by 20%; gas prices are over $5 a gallon; the world seems even more uncertain than usual. 

You'd think these circumstances might have an effect.

At the same time, though, I think people will come to Bend despite all that. The type of tourists who shop in downtown Bend aren't discouraged by a bit of a downturn. 

However, I think they are likely to spend less money. 

The other circumstance that I need to take into account is that the store is absolutely packed with saleable merchandise. For probably the only time in our history, I've been able to order everything I wanted, even side products like jigsaw puzzles, enamel pins, and standups. We have significantly more product than last year, especially toys, but also more of just about everything. It's been a virtuous cycle: the more I make, the more I can spend; the more I can spend, the more I can make.

So the feeling of slowdown has to be contrasted to the fact that I have more merchandise to sell. So far these two factors are cancelling each other out. 

I'll just have to play it by ear.