Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Do you want a taco with that?

Selling drugs out of your taco stand. How convenient.

But I couldn't help but notice it was smack in the middle of the West Side.

Could we use this opportunity to drop the whole east/west Bend dichotomy? As a native Bendite, it never made much sense to me. Over the last 50 years, where the 'hot' place to live has ebbed and flowed, depending on where most of the new building was happening.

New subdivisions meant new schools. New schools were preferred, and thus the East Side around Pilot Butte and Mountain View High School became the place to be in the 70's and 80's.

Then people came along and started renovating the Old Mill houses, and subdivisions arose in West Hills.

The irony being that the Old Mill houses used to be called Mill Shacks when I was growing up, and most people preferred to live in the new houses on the East Side.

The West Hills have always been a pricier place to live, but it was equaled for a long time by houses along the base of Pilot Butte. Of course, the houses along the river always had a premium, too, but only along certain stretches.

But this whole idea that the East Side is full of Meth Houses and fall-apart buildings has always been something thrown out by newcomers on the West Side who seem to feel that they are chosen people, and of course anywhere they live must be better than where 'other' people live.

Can we agree that there are nice places and not so nice places on both sides of the divide?

I live in Williamson Park, a well-kept and safe subdivision on the East Side, where houses are relatively cheap per foot considering how nice they are and how big the lots. A nice place for someone who thinks for himself and not because the crowd says it's cool or uncool.

I grew up in the West Hills, in a nice, big, old house with a huge lot and magnificent views of the mountains. When we sold it, it was broken up into three lots and two new houses were shoe-horned into the space. That's an improvement?

Whenever I visit the West Side, it seems like that exact same thing happened everywhere. They packed it in, and it doesn't look pretty.

It'll be interesting as housing prices drop whether newcomers will be able to see through all the hype. The people who paid a third or half again as much for the 'privilege' of living on the West Side may be singing a different tune.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Still dancing on the edge of the cliff...

I realize that some of my recent posts may come across as smug or cocky. Nothing could be further from the truth. We are still on thin ice. We are still awfully close to the edge of the cliff.

It's more a reminder to me to keep up the good habits I've imposed. Keep paying off the debt, keep budgeting, keep saving.

Of the list of ten things I posted yesterday, one is more important than all the others -- and I'll bet you can't guess which one.


Budgeting is everything. Everything else can be managed, if budgeting is handled correctly, even debt.

Budgeting is also my weakness. I tend to spend too much on the store. Oh, when I have a gun to my head I can be very disciplined. Tax bills due, overhead bills due, distributor bills. It's when the pressure is off that I tend to lose focus.

What I try to tell myself is -- the pressure is never off, even if it's not immediate.


Finally watched the documentary House Of Cards from beginning to end. The temptation is to listen to these people who agreed to outrageous loans, who mortgaged their future, and judge them, laugh at them, think how stupid they are.

Except -- I've recently admitted to myself that I got caught in a similar situation with my Heloc. The Countrywide agent talked us into something that we should have walked away from ... I knew it at the time, I almost walked out of the office, but we had come there for a loan, dammit.

I'm too embarrassed to go into details. I think I can still deal with it (BUDGET!!) but having been through that, I can see how people fell for the arcane shenanigans of the agents.

I didn't fall for it out of greed, by any means. Our outside decks and stairs were literally falling apart, and badly designed. We came out of it with a much more pleasing design, and much more solid material.

Still....I should have insisted on changing the terms. I fell for it out of optimism -- oh, I can pay that back....


So when I post positive messages, it's to reinforce the things I should be doing. I certainly am aware of, "There but for the Grace of God go I...."

And I've made my share of mistakes.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

The difference.

The difference between this slowdown and past slowdowns?

Why is this slowdown so much easier to handle, and not anywhere near as stressful?

1.) A fully stocked store.

2.) Access to credit and lack of debt.

3.) Cash reserves to cover cash flow.

4.) Experience.

5.) Diversity.

6.) Proper budgeting.

7.) Less dated material.

8.) Sufficient warning.

9.) Less 'stupid' competition.

10.)Two income family.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Spring Break

Interesting results.


I hit my Fall Season numbers in Jan. and Feb. after expecting a 20% drop. So I was feeling pretty confident going into March, which is usually my 4th or 5th best month of the year.


Sales plummeted in the first ten days of this month. The 20% drop I'd been expecting earlier finally happened.

O.K., I said to myself, no problem. I planned for this. I'll need to cut spending for the next month of so, and we'll be back to even.


The irony is, that right after that decision, sales started rising! The end result is that I'm back to my target numbers, again. Which means that I was doing about 15% higher than that average over the last 17 days to get back to even-steven.

Because I held off spending until the 23th, this increase in revenue resulted in better than usual profit.

Still -- that ten day plummet scared me enough to be careful, which is probably a good thing since I tend to be too optimistic.


For me, at least.

I'd called a compatriot in another town earlier in the month when my sales slumped, and he was doing great. We seem to leapfrog each other. This week he called.

"The tourists aren't spending money!" he says. "Usually Spring Break is one of my best sales periods."

I had to tell him that my sales were pretty good.

KOHD has a couple of articles on Spring Break and tourism. Hotel receipts are down, ski visits are up.


I think people are spending money, but avoiding the big expenses a little more: Hotels, and I assume restaurants.

But you can't keep the American public from spending something. I don't believe they will truly change their ways without a lot more pain than we've felt up to now.

Of course, the reality of job loss and hours cuts has a concrete result in my sales. But the tourists seem to have showed up this week, at least for me.


I love that the Spring Break are pretty clearly separated this year. First Oregon, then Washington, then California. It seems like over the last decade, they overlapped more often than not, and the big school districts didn't always get out at the same time within the same state.

But even further into the past, when each state had it's own time period, it worked out well.

We are halfway to summer, and the second half of the year. I'm trying not to be too optimistic.....

Friday, March 27, 2009

What's to be done?

This comment about the store vacancies downtown really caught me.

What's to be done?

What's to be done about anything, really? What's to be done about global warning, about the homeless, about health care?

What's to be done?

It's enough to make you just stop reading the paper, watching the news, or peruse the interwebby thing.

I'm sure you're all pretty tired of the housing bubble story here in Bend. But every once in a while, something someone says, or some statistic catches my attention.

The Bulletin story below has a couple of comments that just leapt out at me. I'm not trying to pick on the person I'm quoting, just trying to figure out her thinking.

Cindy O'Neil of SolAire Homebuilders has a custom-built home in this years Tour of Homes.

"Last year, I was optimistic we were heading toward the end of the downturn in terms of pricing pressure, but I was wrong." O'Neil said. "Now, I definately think we are scraping bottom because it's all anyone talks about. When all you see is how bad this is, I'm pretty sure we're at the bottom."

So...if I'm getting this right....because it so bad that it's all anyone talks about it must be the bottom?


I'm pretty sure that people were talking about how bad the economy was in 1930, and 1931, and 1932, and 1933, and 1934, and 1935, and 1936, and 1937, and 1938, and 1938, and 1939, and 1940. I was around in 1980, and they were still talking about how bad it was in 1988 here in Bend.

"Bend's median home price is now lower than at any time since 2004..."

True. But lower prices don't mean they can't get lower still. Indeed, with all the REO's and Short Sales out there, they are almost bound to.

"Further signaling a bottom may be near, a U.S. Commerce Department report released Wednesday showed sales of new homes jumped 4.7 percent in February when compared with January sales."

I've been trying to point out from the beginning of this blog the uselessness of comparing one month to the next. What counts are same month comparisons, and February was well south of last year's numbers. Not to mention, sales ALWAYS rise from January to February. (Hint -- they'll rise through the spring from the winter, too.)

"Short of a national disaster," (O'Neil said) "I can't see any other shoe to drop...."

Well, that's the thing about dropping shoes. You don't see them coming.

"We've been in this downturn for almost three years, and that's usually how long a down economic cycle lasts."

For normal run-of-the-mill recessions, maybe. But housing drops like this, which have happened in places like California and Texas in the past, have normally taken up to 7 years to play out on average.

"Homebuilders, we're among the first the get hit, and I think we'll be among the first out."

Again, why? Other than optimism, why? That overhang of housing isn't going away fast, not to mention the dark matter, and especially because of the foreclosures and short sales. Shouldn't we sell a few of those before we build more?

I have no more evidence than O'Neil about when this will happen, but my instincts are the opposite -- I believe housing will be about the last segment to emerge from the Big Recession, and that Bend will be one of the last area's.

Anyway, all of this is preamble to the statement that really caught my attention:

"O'Neil said the couple almost built a spec home for the 2006 Tour of Homes but chose not to. If they had, O'Neil they would likely still be holding it.

"We're still standing now because we didn't build it, so we're proud to still be standing but feel bad for the builders that got blindsided by the market...."

Blindsided? Who could have known? There was no warnings! Everyone was caught by surprise!


But, here's the thing -- she's says they're still standing because they DIDN'T build a house in 2006. So the lesson is what -- to build a house in 2009? Huh?

And the statistics that really caught my attention were these two rather contradictory results:

1.) "Only 269 building permits were issued in Bend in 2008, down....80% from 2006."

2.) "COBA's membership, which is open to builders and other related home construction trades, numbers 840, dwon roughly 10%. That retention rate compares with...." 30 and 40 percent drops elsewhere in the U.S.

Which says to me, that the kool-aid drinking is still going on around here.


Bulletin, March 27, 2009.

The local housing market may be slow, but it’s not stopping the Central Oregon Builders Association from proceeding with its annual Tour of Homes in July.

A showcase of new and often custom-built homes, the 21st annual tour has attracted 30 registrants for the event, to be held July 17-19 and 24-26, according to Mike Jensen, COBA’s director of communications.

That’s down from prior years, but registration is still open and organizers expect more, Jensen said. COBA expects this year’s tour to feature about 50 homes, compared with 53 in 2006, 82 in 2007 and 73 last year, he said.

“It may not be quite as big as in previous years, but I think the homes showcased on the tour will have the same quality and will be as spectacular as in years past,” Jensen said.

The show comes after a painfully slow year in the building industry.

Only 268 building permits were issued in Bend in 2008, down roughly 60 percent from 2007 when 676 were issued and down 80 percent from 2006, when 1,348 were issued, according to the Bend-based Bratton Appraisal Group’s monthly Bratton Report, which analyzes local real estate sales. 2009 also has gotten off to a slow start.

The show is providing hope for local builders, including Mike and Cindy O’Neil, who own and operate SolAire Homebuilders in Bend, which specializes in custom-built green homes. The O’Neils registered a custom-built home in Bend’s Awbrey Glen neighborhood on this year’s tour. The company normally registers a home on the tour every year, as it’s an “excellent” marketing tool for their business, said Cindy O’Neil.

“People like to touch and feel the homes before they commit to a builder, so the Tour of Homes is a great way for builders to promote themselves,” she said.

But this summer, it’s all the more important, according to O’Neil. She believes people will be paying more attention than in years past, as pent-up demand and low prices will motivate would-be homebuyers to jump back into the market.

“Last year, I was optimistic we were heading toward the end of the downturn in terms of pricing pressure, but I was wrong,” O’Neil said. “Now, I definitely think we are scraping the bottom because it’s all anyone talks about. When all you see is how bad this is, I’m pretty sure we’re at the bottom.”

Bend’s median home price is now lower than at any time since 2004, according to the Bratton Report. The report listed Bend’s median price for a single-family home at $215,000 in February.

Further signaling a bottom may be near, a U.S. Commerce Department report released Wednesday showed sales of new homes jumped 4.7 percent in February when compared with January sales.

Much of the decline in housing prices can be traced to the rise of housing inventory, which has increased as foreclosures have accelerated. However, those low housing prices, coupled with interest rates at record lows and government homebuying initiatives, such as an $8,000 tax credit for first-time homebuyers, are making the market appealing again, O’Neil said.

“Short of a national disaster, I can’t see any other shoe to drop,” she said. “The bank part is unwinding, the pricing problems with overinflated prices for homes and land in Central Or-egon has unwound substantially, so I’m pretty optimistic,” she said. “We’ve been in this downturn for almost three years, and that’s usually how long a down economic cycle lasts. Homebuilders, we’re among the first to get hit, and I think we’ll be among the first out.”

O’Neil said that despite the economy, she and her husband have three separate custom-home projects under way, as well as two remodeling projects.

That’s not to say things haven’t been tough for the couple during the downturn, but they are benefiting from a business decision they made long ago to only build houses that have been paid for in advance rather than building a house on speculation, or the hope that it might sell.

O’Neil said the couple almost built a spec home for the 2006 Tour of Homes but chose not to. If they had, O’Neil guesses they would likely still be holding it.

“We’re still standing now because we didn’t build it, so we’re proud to still be standing but feel bad for the builders that got blindsided by the market,” O’Neil said.

Jensen said COBA’s membership, which is open to builders and other related home construction trades, numbers 840, down roughly 10 percent from 2007-08. That retention rate compares much better with other building associations around the U.S., some of which have seen drops in membership between 30 and 40 percent, he said.

Andrew Moore can be reached at 541-617-7820 or at amoore@bendbulletin.com.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

That can't be right.....

Somethings weird. Added up all my bills and all my funds and all my estimated earnings for the rest of the month, and I come out waaaayy too far ahead. That can't be right.

Whenever this has happened in the past, I've found I miscounted or forget a bill or overestimated. But, at least so far, it's looking good. It shows -- more clearly than ever before -- that it's not so much what I earn, as what I save that counts.

This on my worst sales month in 5 years. I think I had a surplus at the beginning of the month that I didn't pay much attention to, so that would explain part of it. But what really happened was: I held off reordering, and then held off again, and then ordered a minimum amount, and then held off again, and then ordered a minimum amount.

Come to this week.

When it came time to make orders this week, I realized about halfway through the process that I could afford to order every game, book and graphic novel I needed. Without going into debt.

Cool beans.

So I've got about 5000.00 worth of stuff coming in today. I'll stretch putting it out over the next few days. This is almost the most fun part of my job; a little bit of Christmas.

I keep saying that this is my worst sales month in 5 years, but there is still a chance that the next 6 days will prove me wrong. Spring break has brought in more sales than I expected; if that rate of increase continues, I may still stay north of the number I had in Sept, Oct., Nov, Jan. and Feb.

It will take at least one humongous day; and those have been few and far between lately. Still, after the first ten days of this month I didn't think I had a chance in hell.

Feeling way too optimistic.

That can't be right......

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Downtown comings and goings, updated.

Blue Moon leaves a 4200 sq. ft. spot. Doesn't bode well for trying to rent the bottom floor of the new building on the corner. Plenty was immediately replaced by a clothing 'reseller.' And I don't think I'd really noticed until now that a new restaurant is going to open at the base of the Oxford Hotel, plus other retail?

We may have less than 10% vacancy rate, but for the first time I'm having tourists comment on how slow downtown looks and feels....



Bella Moda 4/25/09
High Desert Gallery (Bend) 4/25/09
900 Wall
Great Outdoor Store
Luxe Home Interiors
Powell's Candy
Dudley's Used Books and Coffee
Game Domain
Subway Sandwiches
Bend Burger Company
Showcase Hats
Pita Pit
Happy Nails


Blue Moon Marketplace 4/25/09
Plenty 4/25/09
Downtown Doggie 4/25/09
Santee Alley
Bistro Corlise
Made in Hawaii
Stewart Weinmann (leather)
Kebanu Gallery
Pella Doors and Windows
Olive company
Pink Frog
Little Italy
Pomegranate (downtown branch)
Pronghorn Real Estate office.
Speedshop Deli
Paper Place
Bluefish Bistro

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Market timing -- a mere bagatelle.

So the stock market had reached new lows a few weeks ago, and I decided to pull my IRA out of cash and into the market.

And the stock market has been going up ever since!

Ha! Heh.

I'm pleased it didn't drop like a stone.


About this housing sales going up last month? Yes, from a 40 year low the month before, but -- still lower than last February.


Unemployment rate in Bend over 16.% when not seasonally adjusted. But good lord, how many of my customers have had their hours cut, or were never included in the employment statistics in the first place? If you leave town, that removes you from the statistics, right?


I'm going to have my worst sales month since 2004; and I'm still going to turn a good profit.

After holding back for a couple of weeks, I felt comfortable enough with our sales level to make reorders, and I was able to order everything I had sold that I wanted to replace.

After all, the point of having these perennial best-sellers is to keep them in stock; by diversifying I was able to figure out what sold and what didn't, and that's a hell of a luxury in slow times.

Keeping the store fully stocked and all the bills paid. I must be doing something right.


My friend Steve is in the Bulletin today with apparently one of the few models for building houses that still works. Still don't understand how having 'designs' in advance helps them save money, though. Can't every builder do that? It sounds to me more like simple smart money management -- making sure the owner can afford the house, trying to build it under market rates, not owning the lots, etc.


I've been trying to figure out why I'm so optimistic. I think when I started writing about the housing "bubble" two and half years ago, I was alarmed and dismayed that no one saw the dangers. I continued writing about it, because people continually underestimated the problems.

Not sure that's true anymore.

First step to making good decisions is seeing the reality of the situation, admitting the problems.

Now that we pretty much have, it's time to start looking at how things may improve.

I think it'll probably get worse in Bend for awhile; I think the national economy will improve first. A year from now, a lot of bad news will have happened in Bend. I think it will take a long time for things to turnaround. Maybe bumping along the bottom for a couple of more years.

But I'm starting to feel that my own situation is going to settle in at above the survival levels -- unless there is a disaster. (I'm not sure that my business has ever been so strong that a 'disaster' wouldn't have hurt.)

It's the uncertainty that hurts, and I'm starting to get a feel for where my store is heading, and feeling like I can handle it.


(Knock wood.)


I don't want to get into a political wrangle here, but personally, I'm very comfortable with Obama's moves. Very reassured. I think the timing and scope of his efforts are the best that can be accomplished in the political landscape. I wasn't sure anyone could really turn this sinking ship around -- I'm still not -- but I think Obama and his team are doing about as good a job as could be done.

That's what I think.

Don't argue with me, man.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Ultra Sweet, Ultra Weird, Ultra Nasty...

I had a dream last night, where I was attending a high school graduation 'Fair.' (This is a traditional event in my dream, highly attended, a kind of carnival where the graduating seniors go crazy.)

Anyway, I'm thinking to myself what a lucrative thing this is. There's a 'Carnival Cart' in my dream that is absolutely festooned with three things.

Ultra Sweet -- candy. Not just candy, though, but candied apples covered with not only a sweet coating, but bristling with spangles and nuggets and colorful bits of goodness. All the candy is that way, packed with 10,000 calories.

Ultra Weird -- strange stuff. My last employee became enamored of the idea of a 'bacon' wallet; a wallet that looked like strips of bacon. Never actually got the 'bacon' themed material, though I always meant to. There's a company I buy from that offers all kinds of weird, but cool stuff; gag gifts, funny stuff. Devil duckies, flying cows, that kind of thing.

Ultra Nasty -- I mean, really filthy magazines and books.

From my experience, all these three things sell. Very, very well.


Ultra Sweet:

With the Ultra Sweet you tend to attract lots of kids and otherwise non-customers. God love the little darlings, but that's not the direction my store has been moving lately. I much prefer the adult customers, these days, sprinkled with the occasional kids.

Besides, I end up eating the stuff.

I know it would sell, though. I see enough Powell's and Goodies' bags to know that.

Ultra Weird :

With the Ultra Weird, you tend to attract lots of gothy type teenagers, who exclaim loudly at all the weird stuff, insist on handling it, and making hooting noises.

It would sell, though, not so much to the gothy type kids, who are generally broke, but the 'hip' adults, who also stand there laughing. Sounds like fun? But it gets old, believe me. You start to cringe a little. How much do you really want to listen to people reacting to whoopee cushions and plastic shit (No, really...plastic shit.)

But it's the kind of thing that will sell when nothing else will.

Ultra Nasty :

Ultra Nasty stuff tends to attract.....well, you get the picture.

Not sure I want to tip the store in that direction either. Really, doesn't quite fit with candy thing much, except if I was only dealing with candy eating adults.

Would it sell? Like....well, like candy. It would sell unbelievably well. Porn is an absolute gold mine. But do I really want to become a smut merchant?

The Ultra Sweet, Ultra Weird, Ultra Nasty stuff just proves than it's not all about going for the money...

This dream is like a condensed version of the temptations of going strictly for the bucks....

There's also the little matter of what you can feel good about selling, what you're comfortable with dealing with everyday. What kind of material you want to look at everyday, and what kind of people you want to meet.

And -- if it's not too pretentious -- what kind of Legacy you want to leave.

But -- I'm telling you, that Carnival Cart would make a fortune!!!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

"A sepia tone was added to this photo."

Ah, nostalgia for hard times.

Even now, we feel the need to soften it a bit, adding color to the stark black and white photo's of the era.

I've been wondering if we have so much material in this world, from high end to thrift shops, that we could survive off this stuff for years, selling it to each other, using it, trading it.

I recently bought some used DVD's; and I've been selling them for 5.00. Of course, my store is absolutely packed with material, and I've found myself working on the backstock a bit more, going down and looking through all the boxes of toys and finding some I thought I was sold out of, looking through the back issues and finding sets and singles that I know people have been looking for.

I didn't have time for this before, I was too busy in front of the store.

I probably should get over my aversion to buying used material off the street, because if I'm open to getting deals, there probably has never been a better time. Of course, there is the constant ethical problem of buying at a price that makes it beneficial for me, and yet not feeling like I'm taking advantage of the customer.

I've noticed, lately, that people will sometimes signal that they really just want to unload something, and won't take offense at any offer, and that's when it works best.

I'll explore that option a little more, basically try to ascertain if the customer is realistic.

Realistic isn't some pre-conceived notion of value, or a price guide value, or a value they think they can get on e-bay, or anything to do with what they originally paid. For me, a realistic value is the idea of getting 'something', even if it's just a fraction, rather than nothing at all.

Otherwise, a quick no is better.

Besides, I think my store has been positioned well with inventory to always have something that customers want. I don't really need anymore material unless I get it at such a low price that it makes sense to push aside something I've already paid for.

"Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without."

There is a strange satisfaction out of butchering that buffalo, using the horns and the hide and the meat and the fat and every little part of the beast. Instead of shooting the herds by their thousands and letting them rot on the plains.

Saturday, March 21, 2009


Probably dangerous to draw too broad a conclusion from a single (alleged) embezzlement case, but I'm trying to make a point.

An office manager for a local clinic is charged with stealing 214,000.

It happened from 2005 to 2009.

She bought herself a Audi AA s, and a Cadillac STS, and had "extensive remodeling performed on her Bend home over the past few years..." (Bulletin, March 21, 2009).

I'm wondering if we aren't going to be seeing a lot more of these kinds of cases than usual.

It seems to me that our entire country suffered from a mass delusion. Watching the Home and Garden channels, you'd think that marble counter tops and wood floors were an absolute necessity. Didn't everyone live this way? Didn't everyone drive a late model luxury car or SUV? Didn't everyone experience fine dining on a regular basis?

The money was flowing, and no one was really paying attention. No one was questioning how an office manager managed to buy not one, but two luxury cars.

Lots of people were doing it. But -- if they had modest incomes, and they didn't embezzle, I suspect they went deep into debt. That scenario, it seems to me, still has to play out.

Credit card debt is sneaky. You can make minimum payments for a long time after you're underwater, which of course just makes it worse.

Again, you're not going to have people admit to these things.

You'll see the outward signs, which will be explained by other motives.

Sudden moves, sudden job shifts, divorces, sudden conversion to a 'simpler' or 'greener' lifestyles. People will be starting up businesses, or taking on consulting jobs, or 'retiring.' Recession Chic will give everyone cover to start to fall back to earth, both rich and middle class and poor. (The difference will be, the rich will be mostly lip service and will immediately go back to living high when they can.)

The poor and middle class will be left wondering what happened.

But it's just reality sinking in. Grabity is catching them.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Spring hibernation.

I don't know if you could feel the 'acceptance' in yesterday's post, but that's how I'm feeling. I'm more or less in hibernation until summer arrives. Keeping the store humming along, without doing anything different.

Except the POS system, which will be, I think, a statement of my seriousness in going forward. It isn't cheap, and getting it to run right won't be cheap.

In the meantime, however, I don't believe there is much I can do to change the course of sales. Despite being down in sales to the levels I predicted going into the year, I'm still going to turn a small profit beyond overhead, which is pretty amazing considering I usually haven't been able to do that when sales where much, much higher.

It's all about the spending.

There are two temptations when sales decline: one is to keep spending money, in anticipation of the business turning around and picking up market share, and just flat out keeping up appearances. This is incredibly seductive, especially when it can actually be a break-even proposition to overspend. (That is, you earn just enough money to pay for the 'cost' of the extra product, even if you don't actually turn a profit.)

But this is dancing on the edge of a cliff, especially when trends are down, and when they are unpredictable. You expend your resources, and you leave yourself with no margin for error.

If you go down this path, you can easily start bleeding 10% per month for months on end, especially if, like most small businesses, there is a long lead time between ordering and arrival.

The other temptation is to spend no money at all.

Which is worse.

I try to identify levels which I can support, and then slightly undershoot them for a time to see what sales are really going to be like. Then spend up to the actual level of sales.

I prefer higher sales not just because of the revenues, but because of the activity. I could turn a profit on a very small store, but it would be kind of dispiriting.

I think the level of sales right now is right on the border of that; fortunately, we are halfway to summer, so I'm feeling like I can start to relax a little.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Silence is a precious metal.

The better part of wisdom is silence.

How does that fit with having a blog?

It doesn't. But then, I never pretended I was particularly wise. Still, I find myself most often reading or hearing something I think is outrageous, opening my mouth to make a nasty comment....and then closing my mouth tightly without saying anything.

Let it go.

Driving home last night, I watched as a huge new pickup, with two new 3-wheelers in back, the driver talking on a cell phone and waving his hands, tailgating a smaller car.

What's to say? It could just as easily be a Bendite as a Californian. Rude, thoughtless, reckless people are everywhere.

I see that Bend's metro area grew by 37.5% from 2000 to 2008, or over 43,000 people, and I'd love to come to the conclusion that we've been overwhelmed by barbarians, but it's just too much a cliche.

I'd love to be able to say this new batch moved here as 'white flight', that they are shallow, materialistic, conservative, status seeking, life-style fashionista's, but I've heard too many natives delighted with the arrival of Trader Joe's to believe it all the newcomer's fault.

I can get a little annoyed by how many people say outloud, "I didn't know you where here!" But there are just as many people who say that who were here pre-2000, as post-2000. And I haven't done any advertising. I've been in the paper a number of times, but many people don't read the papers. Much as I think any newcomer ought to check out downtown, I realize that there are many shopping zones in Bend nowadays.

So I stay silent on the subject.

Much the same is happening in the store. I keep quiet, take a wait and see attitude, bite my tongue when I see product manhandling, or cell phone talkers, or out of control kids, or people who don't have a clue.

If they want something, they'll come to the counter and buy it.

I may be abrogating my duties a little, these days. I'm curious how much the store itself triggers sales. I'm curious to see what happens if I don't try to sway people.

Oh, I still get in there and mix it up if I think it's called for -- but I'm much less interactive than I was when things were booming. Pressure sales -- or anything that can be perceived as pressure -- is counterproductive these days. My behavior is adapting to the 'shopping' mentality I'm selling; newcomers, checking out the stores downtown.

I'm satisfied with the results. There so far has been a base of customers, and enough browser buying, to justify all the diversification efforts I made. It all seems to be falling into place -- reorders, preorders, current inventory, newcomers, regulars -- all are at understandable levels, which can be dealt with.

I think I'm going to continue to need to get used to it, to settle back and accept current conditions, because I don't think the arc is changing direction anytime soon.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

NOW they offer it!

Been waiting for the Point of Sale system from my comic distributor Diamond for almost two years. So they wait until my slowest month in years to make the offer.

Fortunately, they are offering it on a 10% down and 18 month payment plan for qualified accounts, which I should be one.

I'm going to just flat out hire on contract my friend Aaron Leis to be my tech-support guy. He's going to set it up, and teach me. I'm going to get a real web-page going, with a shopping cart, set up accounts with Amazon and E-bay or whatever, get PayPal, do the whole enchilada, and keep Aaron on retainer. Time to start selling stuff out of the basement...

(I'm hoping in the end, the whole process will pay for itself....)

I'm pretty excited by the whole prospect, and a little stressed by the amount of work I see coming. (I'm going to have to enter my entire store on an Excel Spreadsheet; silly me, I thought the scanners would read what kind of product it was and the price, but it only reads the info I enter for existing product.)

Once I'm up and running, I'll get the info automatically.

Much of it will have to be bulk categories, to be manageable.

I'll need to call my other wholesalers to see if they have the stuff they've sold me over the last year or so on in bits.

Oh, hell, the ramifications are enough to paralyze me like a rabbit in headlights.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009


Lately, spot shortages have been the bane of my existence.

(The following is all my own terminology.)

In all my product lines, I have fairly extensive lists of product that I consider essential, which I dub 'Evergreen.'


For instance, in books I'd say all the Palahniuk books; On the Road, by Jack Kerouac; sufficient Vonnegut and Dick and Robbins, and so on.


Should always try to have the latest copy of Amazing Spiderman, Batman, Superman, X-Men, etc.

Graphic Novels:

Most good Vertigo lines: Preacher, Fables, Y- the Last Man, Dark Horse books like Sin City (currently out of print?), Hellboy, Serenity, Ultimate line, and so on. Plus a good selection of the classic or new Independents.

Games: The core D & D books, Settlers of Catan, Ticket to Ride, Carcassone.

Card Games: The last half dozen brands of Magic, the last Pokemon and Yugi-oh, etc.

And so on, and many, many more. In just about every one of my 8 product lines.

Minimum Orders.

The problem comes from having to make minimum orders in each of these categories.
This is usually around 300.00 in wholesale costs, in order to qualify for shipping and handling.

From about the year 2000 through last year, this usually wasn't a problem. Some categories, like Graphic Novels, every week. Others, like Games, every two weeks.
I pretty much kept to this schedule all the time, so I was never more than a couple of weeks from getting something someone requested, and or replacing an Evergreen.

If I occasionally came up a little short; say 200.00 in wholesale worth of Evergreens and special orders, it was usually no problem to add another 100.00 worth of Evergreens and or new product. Sales were always increasing, and it allowed me to try new stuff.

Also, during this time period, I was more or less quadrupling my inventory levels in most categories.

Longer time spans.

Lately, I seem to be stalling at around half the level I need in the time span, so I've stretched the ordering periods. Two weeks for Graphic Novels, three weeks for Games, etc.

Sometimes, it seems to stall even then.

Strangely, this is almost a good sign. Since I'm paying my bills with what I am actually selling, it means that the oddball or non-replaceable product is taking up a higher percentage of my sales, which is helping my margins.

Special requests haven't been so urgent that I'm letting anyone down, and when I can't make a quick order I don't try to pretend, but explain why it might take a little longer than I used to.

This represents a minuscule amount of my total product; even my total Evergreen product.

However, I don't like to be sold out of Preacher #1 for very long.

There is, actually, a fairly easy solution, one I've been following all along, which is why I'm not actually short of most good books: I have a dozen copies of Watchmen in stock, for instance, so I can wait to order more.

The solution is to weight my orders more in the direction of Evergreen products, and slowly build up the core inventory by increasing pre-orders I know I will sell.

The "Just in Time" method of ordering is great when the turnover is good; not so beneficial when you can't reach your minimums.

Nice thing about Evergreens: you'll always end up selling them, so having extra copies isn't necessarily a bad thing, just inconvenient.

Just in Time ordering was a bit of a luxury. Instead of carrying 2 or 3 copies of a thousand different Evergreens, I could have 1 or 2 copies, and buy an extra thousand of not quite Evergreens, and enough of those would sell to continue the policy.

Things Have Changed.

Well, obviously. But 'Just in Time' ordering was more helpful during the build up phase than during a maintenance phase.

I'm also not particularly worried about my store having only the same best-sellers as everyone else. New product, for one thing, will always bring in speculative material. 'Sale' product. And my own predilection to order 'cool' stuff; I can't stop myself, only moderate.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Movies re-reviewed.

Linda got an unexpected day off, and took the opportunity for a long weekend in Portland to visit the boys. Revealing as I can be about myself, I don't like talking about my family, for some reason. Both Todd and Toby are going through some major changes right now and I wish there was more I could do.

Anyway, I've been batching it for the last 3 nights. I'd thought I'd drink some beer, but as usual I ask myself if I really want to, and the answer seems to be no. I wake up every morning kinda grateful I didn't. It just seems to be too hard on me anymore.

I've been even more of a couch potato than usual. Free to flip channels to my hearts content.

For some reason I've started watching Old Movies again, after not watching them for years. I've found I treasure my memories of movies like Bonnie and Clyde, The Wild Bunch, Clockwork Orange and so on, and that new viewings usually don't measure up.

I watched both French Connection and French Connection II a week or so ago, and found that they're good movies -- but not the great movies I remembered. What seemed so real and gritty then seems kind of phony now. The violence seems toned down. The acting more mannered.

Speaking of which, I managed to sit through Heaven's Gate...sort of. Caught the last hour, then went and caught the first hour, and still haven't seen the middle. Every bit as bad and muddled as they say, but it had such possibilities.

10,000 BC: An absolutely ludicrous movie that somehow hit the spot. I've never thought Roland Emmerich was much of a directer: I pretty much despised Independence Day; and everything he's done since. But as a popcorn movie, it was fine.

I started to watch the first five minutes of Kings, out of curiosity.

It totally grabbed me. I think it's one of the best things I've seen this year. I'm hooked. David and Goliath. David and Saul. In the modern world. Cool beans. What does it say about our eternally messed up human nature that this story can be totally believable in the modern idiom?

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Monthly stats.

Pointing out the obvious, though maybe the timing is less than fortuitous.

16 Building Permits in Central Oregon in February.

7 in Bend.

Less than fortuitous, because one would think these permits would be applied to spring building.

But Hey, Redmond had 3 times as many as last month! (3 versus 1).

It's hard to see how this year is going to contain even the beginnings of a recovery.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Hoodoo vs Bachelor

Seems to me, Hoodoo has it right. The selling season is mostly over, why not pre-sale next season's tickets, and allow skiers to use ticket the rest of this season?

I may be wrong, but I'd think getting warm bodies to your area may be the most important thing, right now. While they're there, they may buy your overpriced hamburgers and soda's or whatever.

Like movie theaters, who supposedly make the bulk of their 'profits' not from tickets, but from selling concessions.

If I had bought a ticket from G.I. Joe, I'd be really upset the Bachelor isn't honoring them.

Bachelor gave G.I.Joe the ability to sell tickets--it should have been THEIR responsibility to vet whether it was good risk. Not the customers.

I'm pretty sure the old, locally owned pre-corporate Bachelor would have graciously honored those tickets.

What are they losing? People skiing on already groomed trails? Already staffed restaurants? Ticket takers who are taking tickets?

The damage was done. Let the poor saps ski.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Stimulate me.

Just had a customer come in and tell me he got 13.00 back on his paycheck due to the Obama stimulus, and that he just had to spend it right away.

That's the proper spirit! Come on guys, due you're patriotic duty, every freakin' one of yous, and spend 13.00 each in my store.

What? You're not going to do it?

Commie bastards.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Jesse, Jesse, Jesse...


You've abandoned the 'dark side.' We are drumming you out of the Sith, and now see you at the agent provocateur you obviously are. Have you always been a Jedi? Are you now revealing your true colors?

I will give you what you want. Pessimism. You got it.

Now go all in, my friend. 'cause I think you're crazy.

You've been talking this way for months now, and the market continued to decline that whole time. (Don't forget to leave out that little fact.) You started talking about 'bottoms' and then it would drop some more, and then you'd talk about 'bottoms' again, and it would drop some more.

Now you've even gone so far as to post an article in the Bulletin.

Are you so sure it won't drop some more? Especially housing prices?

Look at the Bend Economy Bulletin Board, and you'll see prices are still 99.9% down arrows. Is it really your advice to ignore that and buy now? Really?

Sure they're cheaper.

But they'll get cheaper yet.

I do believe you become so attached to Buffet's advice, you can't see what's happening. (By the way, did you notice how many billions of dollar Buffet has lost? What if he had listened to his own advice and waited until now to buy?)

Seems to me there is an inherent contradiction in your stance: you look for pessimism, but allow yourself optimism.

You're the financial guy, but it looks far from over to me.

At my store, what I think I see is people cutting back, either out of fear of losing their job, or from actually losing their job.

What I haven't seen yet, but which is inevitable, is people cutting back BECAUSE THEY'RE FLAT ASSED BROKE!! We've been so far ahead on this, that we fail to see that the reality of this recession has yet to play out.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Business list update.



900 Wall
Great Outdoor Store
Luxe Home Interiors
Powell's Candy
Dudley's Used Books and Coffee
Game Domain
Subway Sandwiches
Bend Burger Company
Showcase Hats
Pita Pit
Happy Nails


Santee Alley
Bistro Corlise
Made in Hawaii
Stewart Weinmann (leather)
Kebanu Gallery
Pella Doors and Windows
Olive company
Pink Frog
Little Italy
Pomegranate (downtown branch)
Pronghorn Real Estate office.
Speedshop Deli
Paper Place
Bluefish Bistro

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Economic Survey.

Another one of those surveys in the Bulletin that I don't believe have much real validity, except as rough estimates of people's attitudes.

"Economic Attitudes"

Probably a self-selecting group of responders, who I suspect represent the two extremes of the Bell Curve -- those who are doing well, and those who are doing poorly.

Interesting that 24% of the responders thought their house was worth the same or more.

As far as what people are cutting back? I don't believe what people say, I believe what they do.

Still, can't bode well for public transportation that only 1.7% are taking the bus more.

What this survey mostly shows is that the real damage hasn't hit, yet. Only 5.2 have moved to cheaper housing, for instance. It looks mostly like lip-service to me, like the guy who is quoted as saying he spends only 30.00 on going out meals, instead of 60.00.

People are just cutting around the edges, they haven't really bitten the bullet.

Monday, March 9, 2009

New The Twitter Murders

I've started a new mystery, based in Bend, on my A Daily Novel blog (go to my profile).

The Twitter Murders.

Any similarity to persons living or dead is purely coincidental.


If anyone can figure out how to incorporate twitter or blogs into a murder mystery, let me know.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

The Watchmen.

You'd think I'd be into reviews. I'm pretty media conscious, and I have my opinions, but for some reason I get lazy when it comes to reviews. It takes too much nuance for me to explore. I like a movie or don't like a movie in varying degrees, you know what I mean?

Meanwhile, I feel almost obligated to either hate most comic book movies, or to love most comic book movies.

Watchmen is a flawed movie that I think will gain resonance as time goes on. It's elements are interesting in a way that will need further viewings, much in the same way that Blade Runner affected me. I suspect there will be more than one Director's Cut.

There isn't really a story arc that carries you through, but at no time was I bored, because the visual elements were so strong.

Much of what I've heard reviewers say is true -- that it has an inert quality, that it is faithful to the book but somehow misses the paranoia of the book. The beginning credits are the best part, and made me nostalgic for a time that never existed.

The ending of both the book and the movie is the biggest weakness -- I just never bought the premise, and because the movie stays true to that ending in spirit, it has the same weakness.

I had read enough reviews to be afraid that some of the performances would be weak, but I didn't find that. I thought Rorschach and the Comedian were especially strong.

But you know what's best?

The book still is a stronger story; and I'll still be able to say, "If you liked the movie, you'll love the novel."

Poster Child? Who me?

What am I, the POSTER CHILD for downtown Bend business?

I don't make a very good Poster Child. If you plastered my face all over posters, no one would make a donation.

They'd ask their money back.

They'd probably demand to be paid

I have sort of made a decision to quit comparing myself to other businesses. It's pointless. Just going to keep watching my own bottom line.

And, no I'm not WISHING for a return to the '80's; I was just trying to see the bright side of the slowdown. Another word for Freedom, is nothing left to lose.

After all, anyone who calls his blog The Best Minimum Wage Job a Middle Aged Guy Ever Had, obviously has a tendency to put the best face on things.....

Saturday, March 7, 2009


The big problem for me, is that my toy has been taken away from me.

The store functions very well on a basic level. I've already figured out how to ratchet down another level, and then another if need be, and then even another if, god forbid, the worst happens. (By that time, I will declare the Great Depression II, but you'll already know it.)

Putting in my preliminary orders, based on need, and then reordering the stuff that sells best, is relatively easy. Doesn't take a whole lot of time and thought.

The rest of the time, the store almost needs to be put into auto-pilot. Otherwise, Idle Hands Gets Into Mischief.

My wife has a habit of getting catalogs in the mail, going through them and marking off all the things she'd like to get, and then forgetting about it.

I'm the opposite; open up the possibility that I could order it, and more often than not, I will order it.

So every day I spend hours checking out new product, reading reviews, searching for hidden gems. Trying to find bargains. Looking for material I overlooked for some reason. Swayed and influenced by good reviews. Intrigued by ideas and concepts.

All of which aren't strictly necessary for the well-being and profitability of the store. Indeed, I probably pay a price in profitability by trying so hard to be a 'good' store. An adequate store would make me more money.

Like the old Hollywood moguls who felt the urge to make money-losing "Prestige" films, I bask in the compliments of out-of-towners who find my store better stocked than the big city stores they frequent. I get a satisfaction out of having every single copy of every major graphic novel series. I like sprinkling the store with intriguing, but off-beat material.

It's not all altruistic. There are good, solid reasons to order the slower selling but higher prestige material. It makes my store unique, it casts a wide web for possible sales, it leads to sales of more mainstream material. But strictly on a cost/risk ratio, I'd probably be better off doing mostly the better sellers.

The deciding factor has always been my own interest. I was willing to support the more off-beat stuff because I personally enjoyed having it.

I'm not giving that up. But the proportion will probably have to be shaved a bit. Not so much cutting back, but more slowing down the increase.

Time for a loopy nonsensical post.



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Friday, March 6, 2009

Down and out in Paradise.

There is a fascinating discussion over on H. Bruce Miller's Source blog, The Wandering Eye, entitled; 'Jobless and Foreclosed in Paradise.'

Seems to me to be going to the very root of why people live in the Central Oregon.

I don't have a whole lot of personal experience living elsewhere. I lived in Eugene for school, and for a year or two after -- but I drove over Santiam Pass every chance I got.

I wanted badly to come back to Bend. I felt closed in at the Eugene student ghetto; I felt I needed space. Didn't care much for the rain.

So....Bend, to me, is paradise. I love the feel of it, the fung shui if you will, and yes, even the smell.

Most of my siblings spread to the four winds; my wife would move to Portland to be near the boys and not miss Bend all that much. My Mom missed the valley climate and the gardening season.

For me, it was about comfort zones. My twenties were rough, and I wanted my old home back. My childhood was great; I partook of every outdoor activity that Bend gave, fishing, hunting, hiking, camping, swimming, skiing every weekend, exploring, spelunking, climbing, waterskiing, horseback riding, motorcycling, off-roading (we called it booneystompin'); I had free range over the landscape.

For being a bookish kid, I was an active little bugger. But then, summers were twice as long back then.

I may not do much of any of that anymore, but there is still a rosy memory glow over this place.

So yeah, it's changed a bunch. But I try to see the basic outlines, and ignore the rest. Downtown, Franklin, Greenwood, 3rd St., Division, and so on are still Bend to me, all the outlying areas are like some alien overlay. Northwest Crossing is like another town, to me.

But I've noticed for some time that even though people move here, they don't always seem invested in the place. Even people who are active in local affairs, seem ready to leave if everything doesn't go their way.

Here's a conversation I have a few times everyday. "How long you been here?"

"The store has been here 30 years."

".....Oh.....I've never been in before."

With a big, 'what can I do?' shrug from me.

Even worse, people unaware of my wife's store. I'll probably get explanations in the comments, but really....there is no good explanation.

It's on the busiest corner of Bend (or all of Eastern Oregon, from what I've been told), it has the biggest signs allowed, plus more signs in the window, plus books lining all the windows.

There is no way you can live in Bend for more than a short time without having driven through that intersection -- more than once. No way.

Which means they are 'sleep-driving' through that intersection; unaware of everything around them. Which I can believe, when I see the way they drive.

Anyway, it won't surprise me if people bail out of Bend. They were never really here in the first place.

P.S. How can you not love Bend on a day like this. I so want to close the store and head into the woods.....

Thursday, March 5, 2009

"all my base are belong to you."

It's back to my base.

When I reached the peak of my diversification efforts a couple of years ago, my non-comics part of my store reached 55% of sales.

They have been around 50% for most of the last few years.

When I first approached my landlord for a new lease, she said,"You'll weather this better than most stores, because of the kind of business you have...."

"What ya talkin'about?" I felt like saying.

But you know what? I'm thinking she's right. I have regulars, and that makes all the difference.

So far this month, comics and comic related material are accounting for 75% of my sales. It's still early, but .... wow.

Meanwhile, after losing a few steady regulars late last year and early this year, the subscription list seems to have stabilized. I even had two new sign-ups yesterday.

I'm sort of hoping, but not expecting, that the WATCHMEN movie will remind a few lapsed readers how much they liked graphic stories. (Though I fear an unending stream of 17 year old guys making snarky comments but not buying anything....)

Little bads.

I talked yesterday about my feeling a Big Bad is coming.

But lately, it seems like an unending series of Little Bads, all of which make me want to comment, but none of which reach the level of my wanting to write about them.

The Downtowner's fees? I was surprised they could do this, but really....it's such a small amount of money. If Chuck Arnold can swing it, more power to him.

Bend Bus Suit Drop? Not surprised. Just the new council clearing away some deadweight.

G.I. Joes Bankrupt? I think of this as a N.W. company, and they've been in Bend forever. But they kept changing their focus so much, I couldn't figure out what kind of store they were.

Blockbusters looking at possible Bankruptcy? I'm telling you, many of these chains are going that direction, because they were built as Ponzi schemes, and founded on debt.

I could go on and on with the Little Bads.

Fundamentally, things are not sound. Tourism is down, construction has all but disappeared, stores are struggling, unemployment is skyrocketing (I get people in every day, who have either just been laid off, or are looking for work.)

I think this a long haul. No simple answers, and no quick upturn.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Strangely little difference....

To follow up on the previous post; it's strange how little difference this slowdown has made to my lifestyle.


The biggest change, of course, is that I'm working everyday. But there have been compensations. For instance, it only takes me 10 minutes to get to work everyday, instead of 15 minutes a year ago, or 20 minutes two years ago.

It takes a day to do my comic orders each month, instead of two days.

I very purposely simplified my business so that clerking is the main job.

I give myself until 11:00 to finish my coffee, read the newspaper, and make a blog entry. This extra hour is a benefit I gave myself the last time I worked everyday. In other words, I mosey in late morning, and mosey out again after 6:00.

Much of what I was doing at home, perusing the internet for instance, I can do here.

I give myself permission to relax, to sit, to play and talk, and to just take it easy. Even, on a slow Tuesday, to turn off the brain a bit. I don't feel very much stress.

Ultimately, if I have 20% less business, I have 20% less work to do. But it feels like even less, somehow.


I know that I personally prefer to have less work in a day, even if it means working more days. (The opposite of my wife, who prefers to work long hours, but to have whole days off, or more than one day off at a time.)

To be honest, as much as I enjoyed Patrick, he was getting underfoot a little at the end. There just wasn't enough work for both of us. This way, I'm back into the rhythm of the store; after a rocky first two weeks, I've had no blowups or bad situations, which means I just had to get into the swing of things again.

Economically, it has also made almost no difference. I'm taking home the same amount of money. I could conceivably take home the same amount of money if business dropped another third. Most of the money I made over the last few years went to paying off debt and restocking the store. Since that is accomplished, lower sales seem to be having little impact.


I had a couple of benchmarks I was watching; below the first benchmark, I knew I would have to let go my employee. Below the second benchmark, I realized I would have to take more drastic measures, either to blow out material or order less of it. The worst two months of the year have passed, and I stayed safely north of the second benchmark.

Ironically, it could still drop more percentage points, but because the rest of the year is always busier, the actual real money accrued will probably be higher. Another 20 or 30% drop, percentage wise, will still result in totals similar to what I'm seeing now.


It's a mystery. Actually, most of it went toward shoring up the store and paying off the credit cards and getting current on my taxes.

So....this slowdown has had very little real effect.

A slow Tuesday...

I've always used the phrase, "A slow Tuesday in February," as an example of how slow business can get in Bend. So...it's March, but pretty close.

By 4:00 yesterday, I've done all of 12.00 business.

I'm stewing over it for the first few hours. It's extremely hard to keep your equanimity when it's that slow, much less be gracious about it.

I broke out my calculator, and redid the numbers -- again -- and realized I was just fine. It's interesting, with each ramp downward in sales, I can see that I've still got a big cushion, that it adjusts naturally -- less sales, equals less orders, etc. and that my overhead is low enough to keep me going at even at much lower totals.

I was just writing off the day, and in walks the customer with the most comics on his shelf -- which equal exactly my daily average.

My daily average has been fine. So either I can see this customer bonanza as a fluke, and the slow day was a harbinger, or see it as part of business (for instance, he could have come in on an average day, and it would have made a bigger day, but either way affects the average in the same way...

I don't need too many negative harbingers to be careful, frankly.

Not only is the unemployment rate bigger today than it was at the height of the Reagan recession, but I have to believe that there are lots of folks unemployed not reflected in the numbers.

The worse of the '80's were still to come when we hit that high number, through 1988 if I remember rightly. I was riding the sports card roller coaster back then, but I do remember every customer was golden -- I remember nearly needing to make a sale with every person walking in the door, even if it meant making deals that helped in the short run, but hurt in the long run.

I'm in much better shape today.

I built for this slowdown even better than I knew. I saw it coming, and it sufficiently frightened me to make enough changes. I was saying to a customer yesterday, in the 25 years I've owned the store, this kind of slowdown would have been deadly in about 20 of them.

In a way I haven't realized until now, our credit card problems in the '90's inoculated me to the temptations of debt, of taking on more than I can handle, and of living within my means.
I feel as though the rest of the world is just waking up to the way I've been thinking for the last half decade or so....

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Over reaching?

I told my financial guy to start investing last week, and he put about 25% of our money into closed-end dividend income funds, whatever those are. Of course, the stock market immediately dropped like a....well....a knife. Ouch. Still trying to pull the blades out of my hands....

I knew that would probably happen; I figure I have a minimum of ten years before I intend to pull it out. I did change at the last moment, and put this year's first contribution into Linda's IRA instead of mine, since she can actually pull it out without penalty.

Despite the risk, I think I'll be more engaged in the stock market shenanigans from here on out. What's life but an engagement? I don't play video poker. I don't buy lottery tickets. Now.....I get to be a stock ticker watcher. Kind of fun.

Besides, it's a pretty small amount of money that I think had earned about...oh, maybe .25 cents in interest over the last couple of years. You guys would laugh.

Meanwhile, in order to make my contribution, I lifted half of our emergency back up money. I forgot that the other half of the money isn't readily available, and that I always have a cash-flow bulge in the first week of the month (Auto bills, rents, mortgages....) So I immediately put my accounts into a bind.

Stupid. It didn't need to be that way. I had until the middle of April to make my contribution. But I had a meeting with the financial guy, and wanted to hand him a check. (When I called his assistant, changing over to Linda's account, and inquired as to what he'd done so far, and whether it would be a problem, and so on...she finally just sort of laughed. And I realized that my little check was probably the least transaction they were dealing with that day.)

Yet for me, it may have been an overreach. By the end of the month, it will all be fine, but this week is scramble time.

By the way, does anyone else get the sense that a 'big bad' is coming? Something in the air. Just saying, since it's been on my mind for a couple of days. Of course, the really big bad's come when you aren't looking.

P.S. Looked up the two funds the money was put into. Looks like they had a real low a week ago, when the money was invested, followed by a big spike upward, and now it's down to where it was a week ago. Bookmarked the two sites, and will keep a running total, for awhile, just for fun....

I could see how this could get obsessive.

Monday, March 2, 2009

It's all timing.

I was looking at the accompanying graph, from Calculated Risk, when something occurred to me.

Each time I was looking for a job, it was at the beginning or middle of a recession. Early 1970's, mid-1970's, and early 1980's.

Great timing.

I remember there being no job listings at the employment bureau, very few classified ad listings.

I was a lousy interview, and no one seemed to value the skills I did have.

No wonder I became self-employed, and no wonder I tried so hard to hang onto my business.

Sunday, March 1, 2009


I've been trying to figure out a simple analogy to explain why I think businesses survive or fail.

I think most people think of it like a 'light switch,' a business is viable one day, not viable the next. There is a clean cause and effect thinking process here; this business failed because it didn't have good service, because it had lousy product, no wonder they went out of business...

But it doesn't quite hold up, does it? Which is reflected in comments like, "I don't understand it; they were always busy, they had the best stuff, I loved that place."

And equally reflected by comments like, "I can't understand how they stay in business; the owner is a jerk, they never have what I want."

But instead of seeing business as an on and off switch, try to see it more as an hour glass, with the sand running out, but you don't see it fail until the last grain of sand has drained.

Keep that image in mind, while I reach for another analogy.

Try to see downtown as an Old West movie lot with lots of facades, but behind the facades you have sandbags propping up them up. All most people see is the facades in front, they don't see the sandbags in back.

Some facades are huge and need lots and lots of sandbags, others are much more modest and need only a few sandbags.

What you can't see until the whole edifice falls over is if there are an appropriate number of sandbags. Some of those giant facades have only a few strategically placed sandbags left, some of those smaller facades have piles and piles of sandbags behind them.

You don't know.

To stretch the analogy a little further, the sand represents not only capital, not only the cash flow, not only the profitability of the business, but also intangibles like motivation and perseverance and experience and sheer cussedness.

The economy lately has been blowing holes in those sandbags, and a whole lot of sand is falling to the ground.

We don't know how each individual facade is doing, but we can be pretty certain that most are weaker than they were before, and some are losing sand quicker than others.

Finally, it takes a lot of drainage for most facades to fall off. Even if they don't tip over, you have to realized that much of the wealth (sand) has disappeared, and some of these facades are becoming stressed and frayed around the edges.

Fair enough?

Truth is, I don't know....

Over on BendBubble2, it's the end of the world as we know it.

Even the Bulletin seems kind of down these days in tone.

Truth is, I don't know what to think. I know I'm not going anywhere. I know I've weathered the storm pretty well, so far. I know that I can handle a little more extreme weather.

I'll just hunker down, like I always have.

I think Paul-doh has a really good point about the effect of the Baby Boomers over the next few years. I've been wondering how they are going to cash out and retire. Can't see how many of them can..... They are at a time in life when they will be consuming less; which is why I've never bought into the notion that retirement and rich settlers in Bend were the answer. (Usually, at least, you're not rich until you are older...)

On the other hand, I think that the gloomsters are missing the psychological component. Whatever that is worth. I scorned the "People want to live in Bend," to justify the boom, but I'll resurrect the phrase for those who think the bust is the 'end times.'

At the very least, we have much more beautiful 'shells' to inhabit, at least in retail, than Burns or Klamath Falls ever had. Over on Twitter, the young techno's seem subdued and somewhat alarmed, but are still chattering away. They haven't given up on Bend, yet.

At any rate, the guessing is over. We're living it. The next few months, we'll probably find that there is no uptick at all. No jobs to be had. Homes may sell, but they'll be foreclosed homes. High end will be jumping on tourists so bad, everyone will go home and mutter, "Boy, those guys are desperate...."

But I've prepared as best I can. Like I said, I'm not going anywhere, come what may.

P.S. Do I have to turn in my Pontificator Badge now that I've admitted "I don't know?"