Sunday, May 31, 2009

Banana therapy.

If I could rename my store, and if I could set up a viable online presence, I would change Pegasus Books of Bend to Pegasus Books@Bend. Why aren't more brick and mortars stores doing that? Seems like a natural to include the @ sign. Advertising without confusion. Or perhaps it would cause confusion -- is it a store or a website?


Bananas. I pay no attention to my diet. All of you food junkies who just took a sharp intake of breath, get over it, don't bug me.

I have learned over the years to eat something, anything at 4:00 everyday so I don't turn into a blithering idiot around 5:00, which is my low energy point every day. In other words, I treat food as fuel.

I noticed over time, though, that whenever I ate a banana, I'd have a better mood for a few days. Nothing dramatic, but enough for me to notice. Then I'd forget until the next time I ate a banana.

Thing is, I really don't care for the stupid fruit. I can eat about half of one before I gag.

Still, on our little trip I ate one because it was what Linda packed, and I really noticed it again. I just googled 'banana' and 'mood', and sure enough, there was a whole raft of articles on the mood connection.'ve heard the saying an Apple a Day, from now on for me it will be, a Half a Banana every Couple of Days....

I know. I know. It's all in my head. Have a banana, chimps.


Manager Mike from 900 Wall just came in and gave me a nice gift card to the restaurant. Told me he reads my blog. I always have the reaction of, "Oh, Oh," but he seemed fine with it. Just confirms my resolution to only talk about other downtown businesses in the most vague of ways. (Not that I've said anything terrible...)

Consider me bought.

I think they'll have wild success this summer!


May is my best month of the year, so far. Usually, March is the best month of the first five, but it was a big dud. So...June is looking promising. It looks to me that the tourists have been showing up. In fact, if you take out the outsized sports card performance last year, and if card games hadn't dropped in half this year (probably due to new competition), we'd have been close to last year.

If I --

Books were up significantly, as were board games.


Learn something new every day. I have Shmoo figures in my store. I couldn't figure out how everyone knew what a Shmoo was. Most of my customers weren't old enough.

Turns out that Shmoos appeared in the Flintstones in the early '80's. Of course, I remember them from their original appearance in Lil Abner in the '60's, thus the confusion.


In anticipation of the Bulletin article on boardgames, I stocked up. Bought 4 copies of each of the major games, which is about twice the usual maintenance level.

Bam, Bam, Bam. Sold three copies of Ticket to Ride.

I'm nowhere near ready to make another order, so if I sell the last T to R I'll be out of stock for a week or two.

This is a classic example of what I call "spot shortages," and I guess other than having a warehouse in town that I can pluck a single copy or two at a time, I don't suppose there is any way around them.


After renting million dollar condo's for a summer or two, would they still be considered new?

I went camping with a friend once who rented a sedan for the trip. As he drove like a maniac down the country roads, I was horrified. He didn't care. It was a rental...

Just saying....


Opening in bigger locations, splashier locations is not always a sign of recovery.

The Bulletin's lead sentence in "Will Art Still Sell?" is, "It stands to reason that art, being a luxury item, would be an early casualty in a recession and, likewise, late to recover. On Monday, two local businesses are turning that notion on its head."

Well, opening a business is not a sign of success, but a sign of a willingness to take a chance.

Different kettle of fish.

If you'll allow me, I'm going to repeat that: Opening a business is not a sign of success, but a sign of a willingness to take a chance.

It's more like doubling down, of moving "all in"; it could be a sign of confidence, or a desperation move, or a bluff. But the move still has to pan out to be considered a success. The move itself is not the success. Know what I mean?

The Tumalo Art Co. all but admit the gamble: "For a brief period in January, Higdon said, she and co-owner Tracy Leagjeld contemplated the gallery's demise.

"We felt it was move forward or perish."

I'm sympathetic to their dilemma. Foot traffic is hard to come by, in this town, since they tore down the inside malls. Downtown Bend and the Old Mill, that's pretty much it.

It's the same reason I've held onto my downtown location, despite the rents.


Amazingly, despite relatively still high rents, despite the economy, many of the downtown locations are still being taken. It may only be the froth from the bubble, but whatever it takes....

There may be enough froth to carry us through the next couple of years, on to the other side.

Of course, renting is a sign of a willingness to take a chance....not success in itself.

See above.....

Still, for the casual visitor, it certainly gives the success vibe, and I'm all for that.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Bloggin' for fun or profit.

I was asked the other day if I thought this blog had helped my business.

I muttered something about having as many doors open to business as possible, and left it at that.

So I've been mulling it over for a couple of days.

My vague answer still stands. Like having the much increased foot traffic in my corner of downtown, like having the 2 new product lines that represent 25% of current sales, this blog has been part of the puzzle of keeping the store viable in down times.

I mean, if I'm down 20% in sales, what would it have been like without the above three factors?

Of course, I never set out to make it a business blog. Probably wouldn't have worked, because it would have been too blatant a grab for attention.

But now? I think I've learned enough about how to do this, what issues to address, that I could probably at least transform my 'Pegasus Blog' into something readable, that talks about my store, and comics and books, does reviews, and talks about stuff happening.

But my inclination is to talk about other things. The bubble economy-- which no doubt bores plenty of readers. Local government, which bores those who are left. Quails nests (my son's friend's visiting dogs ate them, sadly), the weather, my cat, my little trips with Linda, the occasional politics, anything else that strikes my fancy.

So, a focused business blog would be too much work. Writing reviews is way too much work.

Tossing off observations? That's easy.

I've also made no attempt to gussy up this blog in any way. It could be much more visually interesting. Nor have I made any tit for tat connections to other blogs, you read my blog if I read yours, you list my blog if I list yours...type of arrangements.

By keeping it mostly local, my readership is always going to be pretty small. That's fine with me. Who needs the pressure?

I like that the occasional new customer finds me through this blog, and that older customers remember that I exist because of this blog, that friends and family can occasionally check in to see how I'm doing.

The blog has been a huge success in getting my business noticed by the local media. For which I'm grateful. I think I became a real person to some people who either didn't know about me, or thought I was only about comics....

It's also been great for venting steam, occasionally. It's probably been a great tool for a nerdy individual like me to communicate with others. It's at least felt very social, in a strange way.

So has the blog helped business?

Probably, though it's hard to quantify.

Has it helped me?

Most definitely.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Sitting on my hands.

This is one of my periodic pep-talks to myself, so those of you who expect actual content are excused. As I think I've mentioned, I wrote a hard-copy business journal to myself for years -- for more than a decade -- before I started this blog. It was full of such pep-talks, attempts to buck myself up and get disciplined.

Usually didn't work. First little temptation that came along, and I fell of the wagon.

But that's really being a bit unfair to myself. More accurately, I wasn't able to follow through because circumstances would change radically in the middle of the plan.

In the first half of last year, I managed to be disciplined enough to pay off my credit cards. I managed to stay even through the rest of the year, despite the deteriorating economy. It was perhaps the first time I was able to formulate a plan, stick to it, and make it work for an extended period. A great confidence booster.

The first half of this year, I've managed to stay in the black, and even make a bit of money. I've kept away from debt, and completely stocked the store from top to bottom.

It's as if I'm a major league sports franchise that finally has all the right players in place, and the season is about to begin. Now, I just need to let them play.

Doing nothing is harder than doing something. So this pep talk is really about staying focused, and yet not really making any major moves. Staying involved, but without messing with things.

Last year I succeeded, but fear is a bigger motivator for me than greed.

If I can manage to stick to budget, and sales are what I believe they will be, I might be able to make this store really solid for the first time. The budget is more than generous, and my projections are very conservative.

By solid, I mean, completely operational in cash-flow, completely stocked, debt-free, taxes paid, and an amount of cash left over to actually motivate me to keep going.

So wish me luck sitting on my hands.

***Later: To Continue...

I can almost guarantee that sometime this summer a 'great' opportunity will arise, a real deal, a future money maker. If not this summer, then certainly this fall. And if not this fall, for sure by Christmas.

And the rationalizing will begin. It will be a wonder to behold. Hell, I'll convince you guys it's a good idea, as well as myself.

This is advance warning to myself.


Just say no.

Make money for once in your frikken' life....

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Yeah, it's summer!

I'm calling it. This weekend is the start of the real summer season.


All right, Bulletin.

So home prices down just 2% for the quarter. That's the spring quarter, folks. After a dire winter quarter.

Year to year is what counts. -14.56.

Elsewhere in the paper; "Short sale, auctions are dragging down property appraisals."

"...more than 75% of single-family home sales during a recent 30-day period were either short sales or purchased at a foreclosure auction."

I would hate to have to try to sell my house, right about now. Or to try to refinance.


So we enter into the critical Summer business period with all the pieces in place.

Most of the liquidated stores are nearing the end. We have at least 4 new restaurants openings, all planned in the relatively rosy third quarter of last year. It's a strange thing, because the garage has been almost empty every night, including Friday's and Saturday's, and now there are 4 new and relatively large establishments opening.


Now we sit back and see if the tourists show up, and if they show up, whether they spend money.

I'm optimistic. Just reading the tea leaves. Talking to people. But I have no real way of knowing.

My budget for the next 7 months is pretty much set, and I can't imagine what would change my mind. I see no new fads coming along that I'd have to stock up on. The store is fully stocked in every section; like I've been saying recently, that has almost never happened.

And I'm pretty pleased with how it's all selling.

If summer is down the same 20% from last year as the rest of this year has been -- and if I stick to my budget -- it could be a very profitable summer.

I'm going to go ahead and call this weekend the start of summer -- though the local kids don't get out until mid-June, it's the tourists who are going to make this summer profitable....or not.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Betting on a slow news day.

Every time a big 'event' is covered by the media, I'm caught short of product.

I learned a long time ago, big time media coverage will blow my numbers all out of proportion.

For instance, the Death of Superman -- back when. I ordered something like 30 copies, for a comic I was selling 3 of at the time.

I could've sold 300; Hell, I probably could've have sold 3000.

But I also can't tell you the number of times I've ordered that same proportion (30 copies) in hopes of big media coverage, and sold the normal (3 copies.)

For example, we were told Kevin Smith would be on David Letterman to talk about his writing the Daredevil comic, and because he didn't have a movie in the works they'd be talking only about the comic.

Instead, the S.O.B. didn't mention the comic once. Not once.

You get burned enough times, and you quit betting the farm on the hope that it will be a slow news day and that the mass media will pump up the volume.

Another example is the Obama Spider-man cover comic. Again, I could have sold hundreds, but I DIDN'T have ANY for sale. None. I completely missed the boat. Not only didn't I catch the hoops that I was supposed to jump through to qualify, I didn't even know the hoops existed!

I then compounded the problem by underestimating each of the reprintings; because historically, reprints sell poorly.

(Even so, I still don't read the Marvel Mailer that had the announcement, because it is the most spam infested piece of media tripe I have the misfortune of receiving. I could spend days of my life reading their hyped up hype and not learning a thing.)

But the media play on Obama stayed intense, and I messed up.

I'm not kicking myself too much about it, because it wasn't something that was creating future business -- as in readers. No, it created a bunch of 'collectors', who were buying the Obama comic only.

Still....a missed opportunity.

What brought this up is that I've got a couple of these 'events' on the horizon.

First up, a comic from Marvel called REBORN. They won't tell us what it is, only that we should order oodles and oodles of it. (I'm guessing that it's the return of Captain America. He's dead, you know. Oh, you didn't know? But surely you'll be tremendously interested in his return, right?)

The tendency is to over order the next event because you missed the last event, but lightning rarely strikes twice in the same spot. I've got dozens of copies of the white cover Return of Superman in the basement if anyone is interested. Cheap!

Still Marvel is promising "Major Media Coverage!!"

Again, whatever that means and again assuming it's a Slow News Day.

I repeat the most important part: THEY WON'T TELL US WHAT IT IS! Just reassuring us to bet big. O.K. Sure thing. Here's my money, Marvel.

Way back in my beginning year of business, I got a cassette tape in the mail. On it, Marvel Editor-in-Chief, Jim Shooter, went on and on about some special event, and reassured us it was the second coming of Spider-man, of Superman, of Batman, the biggest thing ever!

It was so bad, I don't even remember what it was. Just that I lost oodles and oodles of money....


The other comic event on the horizon: Archie is Finally getting Married!!

Will it be Bettie?

Will it be Veronica?

Will it be Reggie?

How much do I order, and will anyone care, and will the media decide it's worth covering bigtime?

Because comics are non-returnable in the Direct Comic market, it's become a truism that no one loses money buy Underordering, only by Overordering.

On the other hand, I really hate having to say "No, I have none for sale" to so many people.


Speaking of media coverage. The Bulletin had an article on board games this morning. It has a section at the end where I'm recommending Settlers of Catan, Ticket to Ride, and Carcassonne, Munchkin and Killer Bunnies.

It has a nice description of the 'German' style games. I could do without the three mentions of the word "expensive" in a few paragraphs, though. Really, folks, they aren't THAT expensive.....

I wasn't sure if this was going to be a major article, or a sidebar, and it came out as more of a sidebar. Still, I stocked up on all the games just in case. Summer is coming, and I'm pretty sure I can sell them.

My part of the article below:


"...At Pegasus Books of Bend, owner Duncan McGeary carries numerous board games that you won't find elsewhere. Among them, he recommends his $20 to $25 card games, including Munchkin and Killer Bunnies.

Some of his more popular board games are the strategy games, namely The Settlers of Catan, $42, Ticket to Ride, $50, and Carcassonne, $25.

McGeary says these games are referred to as German - or European-style because they focus on strategy, rather than conflict or luck. They also have more complexity and variation -- each time you play the game, it will be different -- and the game pieces tend to be high quality and expensive. The variations are fascinating and complex, even though the game rules are fairly easy to learn.

"You don't just figure out the trick to the game and win," he said.

These games can cost up to $80, McGeary said, with equally expensive game expansions, which add new elements or variations to the games. Owners can also buy player extensions to allow for more players, which cost $10 to $15.

"Board games can be expensive," he said. "But you get a lot of play for it."

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

O.K. O.K. Downtown Bend is the Place to Be.

Linda and I did a kinda crazy thing. We packed up the car after work on Sunday and drove to Burns. Stayed the night in a motel. Woke up the next morning, and drove to Ontario.

Then drove across the river to Payette, Idaho. Just so Linda could say she's been to Idaho. We resisted the temptation to drive another hour to Boise.

The real reason was to get away, to get out of Bend.

It was hard for me to leave. I did bang up business on both Saturday and Sunday, and there seemed to be a bunch of tourists in town. So my excuse to stay would've been because the store was doing so well; of course, if the store was doing horrible, then that would have been my excuse to stay.

But kept to my word, and we left.

Linda and I really enjoy each other's company. We stopped innumerable times along the way, to take pictures. About halfway through the trip, I decided to take pictures of fences. Just because.

So I have a bunch of pictures with fences. I'm thinking of posting a picture a day on my blog, with no explanation. Just a picture.

Burns felt like a disaster zone. And absolutely infested with mosquitoes.

Vale was a beautiful little down, with great old buildings. Someone with a couple million bucks could fix up the whole main street into a showplace. It could become a classier Sisters-type town, pulling people from Boise and eastern Oregon. Linda was asking about the wall murals, what their theme was, and the girl at the Dairy Queen said, in a mildly bored voice, "Oh, that's just old History. You know, the way people used to have to do stuff...."

"...the way people used to have to do stuff...." You know, history.

Ontario was much bigger than I remember from my ski race trips to Bogus Basis 40 years ago. Wiki says around 12k, but it seemed much larger. The downtown wasn't anywhere near as attractive as Vale.

All these downtowns seem to be suffering, which makes Bend seem all that more prosperous. Too bad they can't revive them, because some of them have good bones.

Most all the stores were closed, because of the holiday, and most seemed to close on Mondays, anyway. There were bookstores in Vale and Ontario, and amazingly, a card shop in Ontario. I feel like calling him and asking his secret.

Bottomline, there just aren't enough people in those places to make a decent living as my type of small business. Downtown Bend is the place to be.

Sorry if this blog seems a bit perfunctory. I'm tired from all the driving.

Monday, May 25, 2009

If things are so bad...

...why are things so good?

I can't explain it. I'm down 20% in sales this year, which is substantial. But I'm not feeling it.

In fact, for the very first time in my entire fricken career, I'm able to order everything I want, pay the bills on time, and still have a little left over.

I can order the new stuff, I can reorder the evergreen's, I can indulge some of my whims, I can incrementally improve my stock, and I can buy tons of "liquidation" product.

That last category is the key, I think. This is pretty good stuff that may be past its prime selling period -- but still very salable to me.

But still, how can this state of blissful affairs be possible? (Knock Wood.)

I can think of four good reasons.

1.) Inventory has finally reached combustion point. That is, I have so much stock and so much inventory that the true 'long-tail' benefits come into play. Someone buys SOMETHING every day that I don't expect.

2.) I'm working the store all by myself. Saved a bunch of money by this, and it hasn't been all that hard. Frankly, I like being in total charge without having to explain things. By taking every possible Holiday (I'll be off today, Memorial Day, for instance) and getting the occasional break from Linda, and by taking a laid-back day to day approach, I don't seem to be wearing down.

Plus, I can put the full weight of experience and knowledge into play by being here. I can be much more effective in ordering. Sometimes, like last Saturday, I can get on a roll, sell the hell out of things, and have my best day of the year.

3.) Access to 'sale' product. I'm jumping on every opportunity. I'm buying a year or two worth of stock at a time. I'm filling every nook and cranny of the store.

4.) I'm no longer trying to build entire product lines. I've reached my limit. I couldn't fit another product line into the store if I wanted to, and I suspect it wouldn't be very effective, or would detract from what I'm already selling.

Making incremental improvements to the stock is a very different kettle of fish from trying to build a whole new inventory.

New books and boardgames are currently double what my original goal was -- and represent 25% of my sales. 25% Stuff that wasn't even in the store 3 years ago. Feeling like I made some good planning decisions.

So, despite the down economy, I'm feeling like the store is performing better than it ever has before.

Knock wood. Knock wood.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Bulletin gets mostly real.

When the Bulletin does one of its surveys of the local economy, I usually find myself taking a counter-view. This time around, it's more like nit-picking.

In fact, it's almost like I'm reading something that I or one of the other bubble bloggers wrote a year or two ago.


But first, I can't help commenting on the other business page article: "Teeny Big-Box Stores."

That sounds familiar. I think we used to have a name for that. Oh, yeah. We called them "stores."


Back to the "Warning of a slow recovery here."

Well, exactly.

My two quibbles.

Quibble One: it's seems unlikely to me that we are suddenly going to get an influx of new firms relocating because "you have lower land prices...Employees can afford to buy a house. Companies can buy property for plant expansion."

Seems to me that the national economy, the Oregon economy, and the long lead time of 'relocating' will preclude much of that happening in the next couple of years, which is the time-line most of us are thinking about.

Several years down the road? Anything is possible.

Quibble Two: Going from 89 homes sold in March to 105 in April is hardly what I would term a "surge." Indeed, seems more like a seasonal uptick. And it represents houses where the original owners lost their shirts, mostly.

The rest of the article -- and most especially the graphs -- speak for themselves.

This year is pretty much toast. I figure the 8 building permits issued in April (which could represent a garage expansion, a new deck, anything that requires a permit) represent summer building. In other words, there isn't any.

There is an overlay of very, very high end homes being built here and there, because I have customers who are working on them. But they don't represent the local economy except in the most trickle down of ways.

Mostly, it's whatever is happening now is going to happen for the rest of the year, allowing for seasonal adjustments. My guess right now is that next year will be very similar.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Downtown comings and goings, updated.

Haven't done this in awhile. Bella Moda has just opened. Colourstone still has it's downtown location, but looks as though they are going to a by appointment/wholesale mode.

Anyone have any additions, deletions?

I've also had several requests for "New Age" bookstores, and don't know where to send people.

Other than regular bookstores, like Between the Covers and Camilli, I can't think of any....


Mary Jane's 6/1/09
c.c.McKenzie 6/1/09
Velvet 5/28/09
Recession Pies 4/11/09
Bella Moda 3/25/09
High Desert Gallery (Bend) 3/25/09
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


Treefort 5/8/09
Blue 5/2/09
Volcano Tasting Room 4/28/09
Habit 4/16/09
Mountain Comfort 4/14/09
Tetherow Property 4/11/09
Blue Moon Marketplace 3/25/09
Plenty 3/25/09
Downtown Doggie 3/25/09
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

Friday, May 22, 2009

"No hands raised."

Bulletin, May 22, 09: "Commercial Real Estate is Next Economic Hurdle..."

"When he asked the crowd of roughly 250 mostly bankers in the audience who had dealt with the problematic commercial mortgage-backed securities, no hands raised."

Yeah, Right.

And that, my friends, is why we won't know what'll happen to CRE until it happens. Between you and me and the cat next door, we'll be 'surprised' when someone falls. Like one of those bridges that people drive across every day for 50 years that one day simply drops into the river.

Still, I think the local economic situation has cleared enough for me to make some predictions; at least enough for me to make some decisions.


1.) The level of business I'm seeing now is the level of business I expect to see for the next 2 years, plus or minus 10%. That any improvements in the next 4 years will be incremental and barely noticeable.


I base this conclusion on a couple of things.

A.) I asked myself how long it will be before we need another hotel built, another shopping mall, another office building. Not to mention, another subdivision. And until then the jobs that existed in Bend to build, to sell, to insure, to furnish, and so on will be moldering. I think we could be looking at a 5 year supply, when the "gray matter" (people who would sell if they could) is included.

B.) Commercial real estate has another year or two before it reaches the stage that housing is at now.

"Those five or 10-year loans that were made in the credit-fueled boom times of 2005-06 are maturing in the next one to two years..."

Most of those loans, I'm guessing, were based on 2.50 to 3.00 a foot leasing rates, and a low vacancy rate. Good luck with that over the next couple of years.

There are probably a bunch of businesses that are waiting for things to turn around. Sure, summer will be better than winter, but it'll be a proportional improvement -- that is, if there have been 20% declines year to year, that isn't going to change.


I'm surprised that some of the restaurants and furniture stores were reoccupied by former workers. Sure, they may have gotten better deals and may not be saddled by as much debt -- but I'm afraid the advantage of that has dissipated over the last six months, so they are probably 'proportionally' in the same position as the original owners. Plus, I doubt they have as much money as the original owners, though it's possible they're more savvy about the business.


That moment when the light goes on in a owner's brain that tell him or her that things aren't going to improve anytime soon, will be different for each business -- depending on motivation and resources. But I think it is inevitable.

I bought Pegasus Books in 1984, when Bend was at the bottom of it's last depression. There was a 60% vacancy rate downtown.


1984 was the same year the Reagan got re-elected with the slogan, "It's morning in America." The more appropriate commercial for Bend would have been the one from four years earlier, because we were definitely bear doo-doo. (For those newcomers among you who wonder why Bend didn't manage growth better, that's the reason. Trauma. Pure terrifying, near death Trauma.)

There was a HUGE disconnect between what was happening in the world at large, and what was happening in Bend.


I think we're due for the same disconnect. In some ways, it makes it even more uncomfortable if you're not prepared. You'll hear stories about how other stores in other parts of the country in your industry are "DOING GREAT1" You'll have to take a little extra time to explain to your suppliers why you can't order tons of something that "EVERYONE ELSE" is selling, and so on.

Once again, if I'm wrong on the downside, it's a lot less painful than being wrong on the upside. So far, I'd have to say that I mentally expected this large a bubble bust, but emotionally was still unprepared.

And as always when I write such a gloomy post, I want to point out that Pegasus Books is doing just fine. Really.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The A.I. is staring at me....

The POS (Point of Sale) computer is sitting there, waiting to be turned on.

"It's Alive! It's Alive!"

I fear it.

But not getting the new system, felt like I was giving in to my age. It was offered in a way that I can afford the payments. Every single technical advance I've made, despite my doubts, have proven to be boons.

But I'm in no hurry.... sits. Looking like a Thing from Terminator, all spidery angles and high-techie looking.

Got a call from the Diamond Distributor's tech guy for a tutoring session, a couple of weeks ago. I...ah, hem....put off answering.

My attitude was -- if it's ready to happen, it will happen.

I've got my friend Aaron Leis as my 'tech' guy, and he set the computer up. Last night he came over to the house and set me up with a gmail account, so I should be able to get my e-mails at work again. (Had a devil of a time trying to get e-mail from the Qwest, my DSL provider; and it only takes a couple roadblocks to make me quit...) Aaron is a whiz at this, but he has his own job and so I need to work around that.

Still, I think we're ready to go. Aaron is so good at explaining, that it's worth it to me to hire him to learn the system and then teach me. I'm trying to pay him, but he keeps putting me off. I think I'll just need to hand him a check and tell him I won't take no for an answer.

The biggest deal is that my inventory is totally out of control as far as keeping track of it. I need to get a handle on that, once and for all, and with a POS -- once I've entered it, it should keep automatic track.

No doubt, like my computer, I'll use it for only the most obvious of things. But even that should be a vast improvement.

By the nature of blogs and twitters, almost everyone I'm addressing is more high-tech than I. If it wasn't for my job, I doubt I would've even gotten a computer.

Still, who knew I'd take to blogging in such a big way? Who knew that I'd end up spending hours on the computer?

Strange Days.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Which Bend do you shop at?

Linda gave me half a day off, yesterday. I used it to go get my car washed. (I lead an exciting life, I tell you!) While I was at it, I drove around town to see what I could see.

My main goal was to see if the Kohls was being built. Seems to me, they announced several months ago that it was a 'go.' There was a nice big empty lot behind the Bend River Mall -- or whatever they're calling it these days -- but no building.

Seems that there might be a bit of hedging going on -- not that I blame them. The Gottshalk center had 9 spots for rent (soon to be 10.)


I also decided to check to see how much it would cost to have my front lawn replaced. Got an estimate later that night, and the guy is coming around Thursday to take a look.

I don't know. I think I have a series of improvements I need to make to the house and landscaping, and I think I can probably afford to do them. I also suspect that a couple of years ago, all these jobs would have been too small for most of these guys.

I don't want to stick them on price -- I'm going to try to get 3 or 4 estimates and average it out. But I do think I have a bit more leverage, nowadays.


The thing I noticed driving around town, is that there seems to be three different retail Bends.

There is the Old Mill and Downtown; there are the Big Box Centers; and there are the strip commercial along 3rd St. and Greenwood and Galveston, ect. (Probably a fourth Bend, if you include the West Side, which I didn't get to.)

All of them have a completely different feel.

The Big Box Centers -- the Forum, and Cascade Village, and Factory Outlet, etc. would be where the vast majority of people shop. Say, SHOP, and they immediately think of going to one of these places.

The Strip Stores are almost 'industrial' retail. They don't really care how they look, and probably depend on people driving by, and people looking in the good old fashioned Yellow Pages for a particular product.

Downtown and the Old Mill would seem to be for tourists and/or locals who want to go out on the town and experience the surroundings.

I suppose the West Side would be a Neighborhood shopping experience.

Like I said, it's just interesting how different they feel.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Fair for the Gander....

I often challenge other's assumptions about business -- so it seems especially important to me that I regularly challenge my OWN assumptions.

Seems to me, sometimes, that half the battle of surviving in business is figuring out which 'common wisdoms' are correct and which are wrong, -- and why.

I can come up with several misconceptions off the top of my head.

1.) One must blow out slower selling product.

I mentioned this yesterday. For a specialty long-tail store, this may be counterproductive.

2.) Lower prices mean higher sales.

They may, but they certainly don't mean higher profits.

3.) Advertising is always necessary.

I wish I could figure out which advertising is effective and which isn't, but because I can't I don't do any at all.

I also have a number of misconceptions about my business, in particular.

1.) I'm a kids store.

2.) Superhero movies must help me sell superhero comics.

3.) Downtown promotional events are good for business.

And so on.

So I try to listen to others, as much as I can, to hear where I might be wrong. Or where circumstances might have changed.

It's useful for me for HBM to remind me that SCALE is "always" a retail problem, not just in Bend. (Though I still think Bend has it worse...)

Or the customer yesterday who pointed out the Big Box phenomenon in Bend wasn't just Bend, that it developed over the last twenty years everywhere else, too. (Though I still think Bend has it worse....)

I noticed over the last week or so, that my 'buy-dar' has been slightly off.

I always think I can tell who is going to spend money and who isn't. There are bunch of signals, from what people say, how they act, even body language. I swear I can even tell by the way the front door opens, if it's a regular or a visitor.

But I'm backing down off my -- young families and kids don't spend money in my store -- stance. They don't spend anywhere near as much as most people think, but....they do spend a bit, especially if I keep my mouth shut and the scowl off my face.

Secondly, though the downtown street closures aren't exactly my favorite thing, they seem to have stopped actually hurting me. Probably because I've become much more mainstream in my product over the last ten years. (Though I still doubt street closures create as much future business as most other business owners seem to think.)

So, hey. I'm willing to admit when I'm slightly wrong. Though I'm not willing to admit I could be completely wrong.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Quail Story II

Finally got outside, Sunday, to weed and set up the hoses. Was rummaging around in the storage nook, when this gray fluttering thing flew into my face. I let out a manly guttural roar (the equivalent of a girly scream when I'm startled or scared).

I was only a foot away from a quail's nest, set next to the house, amongst all the pots and gardening gear. I rearranged the stuff so that the nest was even harder to see, and tip-toed back out.

Then I worried all night that I might have made the nest too hard to get into for the birds, or too hard to get out of for the nestlings.

Oh well. Don't interfere with Mother Nature.

Saw something on Oregon Field Guide that said success rate for nests is pretty low, so I feel a little better about last years tragedy.

The mother is back this morning. I'll tell you, though. Even a yard away, that nest is impossible to see, especially with the mother sitting on it.

This is just outside my office, and the male quail was chattering warnings all morning. I wanted to come out and scare away whatever was alarming him, but I learned last year that I can't be there every moment.

The cat is inside for the duration, or at worse, I'll let her out in the front yard long enough to poop. She's too lazy, usually, to make the trip to the back of the house.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

paper fodder.

What? You can't serve to a "visibly intoxicated" person? How do bars make any money?

Oh, yes. Petty Tyrants. I had one of those once, and never did win. I just had to wait until he transferred. My condolences to the downtown bars.

Stupid headline of the week: "Spotted Knapweed? Good luck finding any more after these folks were finished." If only it were so easy.

8 building permits in Bend in April. Eight. Wow.

Prostitution in Bend. We've always had prostitution. We just called them politicians.
(Just kidding. Just kidding!!)

"Another forecast...showed Americans are expected to take 2.2 percent fewer leisure trips from June through August." 2.2% If only....if only....

Finally breaking out the shorts and sandals today. Which is a sign of 3 more weeks of winter...

Saturday, May 16, 2009


Bendbubble2 has a rather harsh assessment of the Pegasus experience...but I'm not going to argue the point, except to say that just about anyone else would have done the same thing I did.

Paul-doh says, as follows:

"Dunc is a perfect encapsulization of Bend:

* Buys first store at True Rock Bottom Price.
* Does surprisingly well. Thinks it is personal genius, not cresting wave of fad.
* Expands in short order. 4-5 stores
* Fad implodes.
* Stores implode.
* Hanging by fingernails. For 20 years."

I call it the Peter Principle of Small Business -- that owners will expand to their level of incompetence.

But I would point out that it wasn't all retreat. I sold the mall store, and I was able to double the size of the downtown store while all this was going on.

They say that in war, a well-ordered retreat is much more difficult to pull off than an advance. I think being able to extricate myself from all the other stores was one of my major accomplishments.

I also need to point out, that as miserable as some of those 20 years were, we did come out the other side with a Pegasus Books that is giving me a living, and which is still fun to do. And we were able to apply all our lessons to opening the Bookmark, which is doing even better.

On the other hand, I made other major mistakes besides opening four stores on the strength of a baseball card fad. I made an almost equally large mistake with comics -- they sort of changed the rules in the middle of the game but that's what bubbles tend to do -- and went backward with card games and non-sports cards, as well.

On the other hand, I handled four other fads rather well: the Shaq basketball fad, beanie babies, pogs, and pokemon. In fact, I often say I pitched a no-hit ballgame with pogs.

So it is possible to learn from one's mistakes.

I would go even further. I had the fortunate experience of inoculating myself from the biggest bubble of all: the housing boom in Bend.

Most people, most businesses, suffer only one huge bubble in their lifetimes. Because the pain of it lingers through living memory. Most people, and most businesses don't even get to learn from their mistakes, because it really only happens once, and it's usually enough to wipe out the true believers. painful as my little fad busts were, they prepared me for what's going on now.

lost pleasures....

Gardening and reading (two of my favorite activities) have pretty much gone by the wayside, since I took on the store full-time.

I told myself going into this, that there would be a price and that I would have to accept the price.

I thought the price would be tiredness and stress. But I've handled those relatively well, by sleeping and eating regularly, not taking on any outside projects, and because the store has settled in just above the level that would've caused me financial stress. (I've often said, my mood is directly proportional to how much money I'm making.)
That, and not having had a drink since Christmas.

There are some compensations, of course. If it's slower business,'s slower energy drain. I actually find myself relaxing at the store more than I did when I had an employee, and I allow myself that luxury. If you catch me playing solitaire instead of filing comics, that's what's going on.

It's my own choice. While I couldn't afford my previous employee full-time or at his level of wages, I could easily afford a part-timer at modest wages. But having made it through winter and now spring without help, and without doing my usual going into debt before summer, I'm sort of inspired to keep going.

I'm just going to go ahead and bull through the summer. Then, this fall, revisit the whole idea.


By the way, ask me if I miss having the Pole, Peddle, Paddle, Puddle, Piddle thing going on downtown. Go ahead, ask me.

I told another downtown business owner this, and he muttered, "You and no one else."


Which brings me to HBM's comment at the Source:

"This is a go-along-to-get-along kind of town, and anybody who had dared to challenge the Doctrine of Bend Exceptionalism back in 2005 or even 2006 would have been ostracized by the "business community." It was like a vast tacit conspiracy of denial."

Which is a great argument for blogs, especially anonymous blogs. (I'm not agin anonymous, but I do wish they were pseudonymous, instead.)

Or...., if you can't be pseudonymous, you need to be an outsider, like me.

Trouble is, the powers that be listen to neither outsiders or anony--mouses....


Speaking of reading. I was getting tired of huge books that take a month to read. I went to the .50 cent section at my wife's store, and started grabbing 200 page or less books, mostly thrillers.

What I was wanting were short, punchy novels -- like the Richard Stark books. Seems as though they quit writing those around 1985 or so.

Problem is, most of them are kind of dated. Amazing how many thrillers would be solved with cell phones. And the KGB and IRA aren't quite the threats they once were.

After several false starts, ended back up with a dense and long science-fiction novel again...

Friday, May 15, 2009

Long tailed Pegasus.

Yesterday was one of those days that made me feel good about my planning.

It was a relatively slow day, and I had 5 or 6 regulars in the store buying between 5.00 and 20.00 worth of stuff. In the old days, that would've been it.


Instead, I had about 7 other groups in, families or couples. All of them the kinds of people who ordinarily don't spend money. Half of them were behaving in ways that had me grumbling in my beard.

But my "Buy-dar" must have been off-kilter, because each of them walked up the counter with a 30.00 to 50.00 purchase, and I ended the day at slightly over average. Even more satisfying was that they bought unique and one-up (one of a kind) type items that I won't be replacing. Pure profit.


(By the way, did I invent a new word? Buy-dar? Googled it, but nothing pertinent came up.....)


I've been trying to figure out why I've continued to sell enough, despite the slowness of the buying climate, to meet my goals. It's becoming very clear to me that my attempts at diversity are paying off even more than I thought they would.

It isn't just the diversity, it's that I have core stock in each category, that makes them viable. Having such a broad selection of pop culture items, allows me to experiment with things that don't quite fit.


Having eight or ten different product categories, depending on how you count them, allows me find innumerable connections, carrying product that may not fit strictly in any one category, but which still don't seem out of place.


I have tons of one-ups, single items that are unusual and single and fit into categories only in a general way.

I bought them because:

A.) they were singles and I didn't have to buy in quantity.

B.) they were on Liquidation Sales.

C.) they were unusual and off the beaten track.

In the normal course of events, you'd think I'd want to avoid this kind of product. After all, I never know if there is a constituency for them -- indeed, if anyone is interested all.


But what I find is, EVERYTHING in the pop culture that is produced, HAS a constituency, even if it's just one a year. Enough one-ups, and enough visitors, and you may sell several each day to those once a year persons.

It certainly runs counter to the common adage that you should clear out everything in the store that doesn't turn over fast. There is a theory that partly explains it -- the long-tail retail theory (A Wiki explanation below the rest of the post....)


The long-tail theory is usually applied to outlets like Amazon, but I think there is a small specialty store analog.

1.) We are "niche."

2.) We sell small quantities of a relatively "large number of unique items."

3.) We have "hard to find items."

4.) We have our version of "negligible stocking costs" by buying as much as possible "on sale" and finding a way to keep them in stock long after their usual selling period.

5.) We may not have a "large population of customers", but we do have a high foot traffic downtown location, and we have stayed in the same spot for 30 years, so we have a backlog of possible customers.


And it also seems rational to me not to compete with the stores that sell large volumes of the top "20% of items.


The temptation is to cut down on these types of items and stick to the 'evergreens' and best sellers, but I think this would actually be the wrong move. I'm noticing, if anything, even more interest in the unusual stuff. Not sure why that is, but I'm selling a higher proportion of one-ups, which almost but not quite compensates for lower sales on my usual best-sellers.


Plus, helping me in my decision to keep stocking slower sellers, is the fact that there is more of it "on sale" than ever before. I've seen some absolutely great art books that are a fraction of the cost, and I've been buying multiple copies while I can. They may not sell fast, but they sell steadily.

It also helps that I've had some experience during the boom times of selling this kind of one-up product, and knowing -- in general -- which items to take a chance at, and at what margins. (Slower items with larger discounts, or faster items with smaller discounts.)


And most of all, it keeps things interesting and challenging, but doesn't cost too much. One-ups, on sale. As long as you know your product, that kind of diversity can only help.


The Long Tail
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

An example of a power law graph being used to demonstrate ranking of popularity. To the right is the long tail, to the left are the few that dominate.

The phrase the Long Tail (as a proper noun) was first coined by Chris Anderson in an October 2004 Wired magazine article[1] to describe the niche strategy of businesses, such as or Netflix, that sell a large number of unique items, each in relatively small quantities. Anderson elaborated the Long Tail concept in his book The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business Is Selling Less of More.

A frequency distribution with a long tail — the concept at the root of Anderson's coinage — has been studied by statisticians since at least 1946.[2] The distribution and inventory costs of these businesses allow them to realize significant profit out of selling small volumes of hard-to-find items to many customers, instead of only selling large volumes of a reduced number of popular items. The group that purchases a large number of "non-hit" items is the demographic called the Long Tail.

Given a large enough availability of choice, a large population of customers, and negligible stocking and distribution costs, the selection and buying pattern of the population results in a power law distribution curve, or Pareto distribution. This suggests that a market with a high freedom of choice will create a certain degree of inequality by favoring the upper 20% of the items ("hits" or "head") against the other 80% ("non-hits" or "long tail").[3] This is known as the Pareto principle or 80–20 rule.

The Long Tail concept has found a broad ground for application, research and experimentation. It is a common term in online business and the mass media, but also of importance in micro-finance (Grameen Bank, for example), user-driven innovation (Eric von Hippel), social network mechanisms (e.g., crowdsourcing, crowdcasting, Peer-to-peer), economic models, and marketing (viral marketing).

When Australian tourists notice.....

It feels like a kind of disaster camaraderie is developing around here; as though Bend was hit by an earthquake, and the desire to pull together and help each other has kicked in.

Customers seem very sympathetic and supportive.

There is a multiplier effect to Vacancy signs. There are only 3 of them on my block, but because they are within a 100 feet of each other, they give off a forlorn feel.

I do believe a bit of capitulation is going on -- ironically, just before summer hits and we have the inevitable seasonal boost. The boost may be down proportionally just as much as the rest of the year, but it will probably still be a boost from where we're at now.

Still, it's as though many merchants and residents are finally willing to admit that things aren't going all that well. Not only that, but admitting that the economy won't be coming back soon. (I still don't know that they have admitted to themselves that we are going to be in the shits deeper and longer than elsewhere....)

There was a fairly long period of 'wishful' thinking going on. I think the stock market going up, a new and active President, the changing season, and most of all, no huge shocks, had set people to believe things would get back to normal.

It's an optimism bias, if you will. It's a mindset; it's hard to change one's way of thinking. In a way, it would be a good thing is there is some of that residual good feeling left when we bottom out, because the alternative is a shift to negativity that may takes years to come out of.

On the other hand, there is also some revisionist history going on. My own personal little models of bubbles and their consequences had this figured out several years ago -- though I don't know that I was completely emotionally and mentally prepared.

Still, I remember that there weren't that many of us sounding the warning.

Now? It's as though everyone knew it was going to happen.

I used to hear a fair amount of smugness -- "It isn't going to affect me!"

Well, it's affecting almost everyone. And that reality has probably kicked in.

I've tried to resist the cheering of doom. It's a natural tendency for us Cassandras-- you can even come up with a rational explanation. It "needed" to happen. That we'll be "better off" that it happened. And so on.

Problem is, this kind of thing doesn't punish the wicked and reward the righteous.

As Marge pointed out, "I feel the slowing of big things going down. I thought the fall may come faster." This slowdown seems to be accumulative, not sudden. We've got a long ways to go.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

"I'll get you, Roadrunner!! Beep, beep.

Turns out, the actual making of money is a fairly boring process.

I'll probably turn a better profit this year than I have in my 25 year career.

Why? Because I'm paying attention to my budget.

And I'm not sabotaging myself.

I'm ahead a few thousand dollars this year, which isn't much -- except normally, I have a hard time NOT losing money in the first five months of each year. To actually turn a profit, however small, is promising.

Paying attention to my budget and not sabotaging myself.

Or, more to the point, NOT SABOTAGING MY BUDGET!

Actually, I have undermined myself more than I should this year: I've probably spent several thousand dollars on unnecessary product. I've ordered a ton of 'Sale' books, because the margins are so great.

On the other hand, I'm not going full-tilt-boogie trying to increase my inventory selection width and depth, like I was during the boom. I'm not adding entirely new product lines (like new books and boardgames.) All I need do is receive the new stuff as ordered, reorder the 'evergreen' product, and pay bills, and I'll turn a profit. It's the equivalent of putting the store on autopilot, and very boring.

In an 'eat your granola', sleep regular hours, don't drink, and exercise every day' sort of way.

Summer is when I usually turn a profit, because it's busy enough to keep me just doing my regular business and not look for 'idle hands' mischief. I just keep the store humming along, and selling material that often won't sell the rest of the year because it's being exposed to so many more people, and I'll end the summer with a profit.

I was thinking out my budget for the summer, and if I can keep the current pace of sales plus, say 10% summer boost, and I stick strictly to budget, I could do very well. My budget is more than generous enough to keep the inventory stable.

As long as I stick to budget.

And not sabotage myself.


One of these years, I'll actually do it. The Acme roadrunner kit is in the mail.

Lost (spoilers)

Woke up this morning, thinking I'd figured out some of last night's episode of Lost.

Big Spoilers.

Rather than being a 'free will' guy, ("It's your decision...") Jacob is the master manipulator. The weaver of fates. Oh, what a tangled web we weave, once we practice to deceive....

He personally visits most of the main players in the nuclear event: making sure they come back to the Island, even establishing some of their motivations. Jack's need to prove his father wrong, Juliet's fear of abandonment, Sawyer's need to let go of bitterness, Sayid's anger and willingness to die, and so on. Making sure they are there to set off the bomb.

So that the future where Jacob is killed never happens.

A loophole within a loophole.

Of course, it would've seemed to be easier just to kill Ben, or something.

So....what do you guys think?

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Knows No Scale.

I've been thinking a lot about the matter of scale.

It's been bothering me ever since that nice Victorian-style house on the corner of Mirror Pond was torn down, and replaced with a Jabba the Hutt monstrosity with its belly hanging out over the river.

Like my first sighting of a Hummer, it was a harbinger of things to come.

Linda was saying that she "Kind of liked" the Franklin Crossing building. When I looked closely, I decided I liked the first two stories of the building, which has simple brick facing -- before it rears its ugly head on the third and fourth and fifth stories.

But the biggest problem is that it is just so out of scale with the rest of the buildings on that block. Whose design I prefer. Small town America. Versus -- what?

Pretentious and overweening design.

Same could be said for several other of the new buildings downtown.

I don't expect everyone will agree, or have the same taste as me, but that's how I feel.

Merenda was another example of something that I thought was out of scale for Bend.

Another example is more recent and pertinent. DiLusso has closed their Galveston location. Why does this ring a bell? Because Dilusso bought out another business that I thought was out of scale (and which our county commissioners in the infinite wisdom saw fit to loan a buttload of money): Royal Blend Coffee.

I thought at the time that that DeLusso was taking on an outsized business, and adding it to their own business, that made it even more problematic. I don't know the reasoning behind the scenes, but it just seemed too much for a local.

The big chain stores, of course, Know No Scale. They build as big as the local community allows them to build, with a generic architecture that apparently appeals to the majority of consumers. (Old Mill, Factory Outlet, Forum Shopping Center, and Cascade Village.)

But if you're a local business, you probably better have a pretty good handle on what the local economy will provide you.

I'm convinced that most newcomers totally and completely overestimate the scale. They look at the population of Bend, they compare it to communities that have same sized populations, and if those communities have two of something, and Bend has one, they see an opportunity.

Or if Bend's outlet is smaller than the outlet in the other community, they see a chance to be bigger and better.

Problem is, I'm convinced Bend -- mostly because if its isolated location, as well as other factors like having no Interstate, no real four year college, and mostly minimum wage industries -- faces unique challenges.

Above a certain minimum, I suppose, just about any business can survive -- if it has the proper scale. Too big, and you're playing catch-up on finances from the beginning. Too small, you can always ramp up.

The psychology of Bigger is Better doesn't always work for the little guy. Because, you're the LITTLE GUY!!!

Certainly, it's possible to go fairly big and succeed. I always have Deschutes Brewery as an example, but most of the time I think one would be more prudent to plan on a smaller scale, and then grow the business.

Finally, another reason to start humble and then grow is that -- unless you have actually run a retail business -- you may not be aware of the true customer counts.

People often shop at the same time -- weekends, Christmas, and so on. They look around and see crowds of people just like them. What they don't see is that just about every business has 'down' times, when it's pretty quiet.

It's supposed to average out.

But because they have in their heads the image of busy stores they see on T.V. and movies, they think it's just a steady flow of customers. The last few years have been completely misleading about how much business is normal for Bend. I suspect if you want to get a reasonable estimate of sales over the next five years, you'd be better off looking at the numbers from, say, 1998 to 2003.

So it can be a real shock to have an hour of twiddling your thumbs. Especially, if you built out of scale.

(I do have to point out that there are exceptions: any smaller, and I think the Bookmark wouldn't have worked. Like I said, there is a certain minimal size needed for the business model.)

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Middle muddle.

I just noticed that there are 11 Anime offerings in the current Diamond catalog. Eleven. Count them.

Out of curiosity, I found a catalog from February 2006, and there were 48 offerings. This steady decline has been happening for awhile now.

Most anime fans download what they call 'fan-subs' for fan sub-title translations.

This isn't just a problem in the U.S. It's happening in Japan, too.

I have no answers.

Just pointing out the problem. Music can keep being made, with a new model, even without fans buying albums.

Hard to see how expensive animation and/or movies can be made unless they are paid for.

Wolverine had a good turnout at the theater, despite the pirated edition being widely seen.

It'll be interesting to see how the DVD does.


Meanwhile, the lull in economic news, both locally and nationally, continues.

Not to worry. I'm sure something outrageous will be along shortly.

I've been mulling over the meaning of this lull, and decided -- I suppose not surprisingly -- that it doesn't bode well for the near long run (next decade or so.)

I think the half measures that the Obama administration took aren't going to solve anything, but just sweep them under the rug, to fester, to become dustballs of doom.

After agonizing over it -- fear of massive collapse -- I came to the conclusion that the bail-out wouldn't do anything for the little guy, and would be a massive money grab on the part of the banks. It would've been scary, but I would've pushed the little red button that let the banks fend for themselves.

Alternatively, I wish they had just taken over the banks.

This middle ground gives the banks enough to survive, but not to be of any use to anyone.

So, I think we'll see a decade of very slow growth. I'm actually O.K. with that. But I don't think some of the business models of small business in Bend are set up for that. There's a kind of slow bleed going on, businesses dropping away, little by little.

(Linda's comment. It's an internal bleed, mostly, and the public won't see it until the patient flatlines....)

It's becoming very noticeable to out-of-towners, which I didn't really expect.

So far, every time 4 businesses go out, 3 or 4 take their place. The danger point is going to be when only 2 come in. After that, all bets were off. Downward momentum could really drag down neighboring businesses. I think there are good strong businesses on every street which will PROBABLY keep that from happening, but then again....I never thought we'd have so many lease signs.

The middle muddle is also going to encourage a lot of happy talk. Sure. Great. But if you're a small business, you need to look at the realities. Sales aren't going to pick up any time soon. We may have a nice boost this summer, we may not. But the downward trends are still in place: High Unemployment, no building beyond what's being finished up, businesses and people vacating.

The boom probably will never come back again. A nice 5% growth rate would be fabulous about now -- but if we're so lucky as to have that happen, it will seem rather tame to all the people who opened up in the 2000's.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again. The current slowdown feels awfully familiar, and it just reminds me that during probably half of my career in Bend, it has been a challenge to get people to spend money. Short bursts of frenzied activity, followed by a inexorable slide, a bumpy ride along the bottom, and a long slow climb that you don't even notice at first, a period of nice steady growth -- that turns into another burst of frenzied activity.

Welcome to my world.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Just in Time

At the end of every day, just before I total out the cash register, I try to make a guess about how much I made. Over the years, I've gotten pretty good at it.

Lately, I seem to be overestimating the sales total by about 30%.

I feel as though I've had plenty of activity, lots of transactions. I'm plenty tired.

But the totals aren't quite as good as I expect.

Looking back over the day, I realize that I had quite a few transactions that felt like sales, but somehow never really became sales, either because they were aborted, or because the person bought less than he originally intended, or because I just worked harder for the sale I did get.

Over the years, I've often kept a customer count. Checking off each person that walked in the door. I could compare to previous years.

I haven't done that for awhile, and nothing is more unreliable than estimating customer counts in hindsight -- a couple of boisterous customers can seem like dozens, and a bunch of quiet customers can seem to be ghosts.

Still, I do believe my customer count hasn't really diminished all that much.

Which says to me the the customers' buying spirit is alive, but his pocketbook is slender.


Meanwhile, I seem to be having one of those lucky streaks where the product flow is just right. I'll sell something, only to see it on the next week's invoice (having been ordered months before.)

I know I'm operating on all cylinders when my ordering exactly matches my sales. It's probably a by-product of my being there everyday, and getting a sense of the flow. I've always been really good at estimating quantities and volume. Which is a handy quality when you have a Just In Time ordering system.

With lower volume in sales, I'm not able to reach my minimum shipping standards, so spot shortages tend to develop. Lately, I seem to be avoiding even those.

I spent the weekend in the basement digging out toys that I'd sold, and my toy accumulation, which I thought was out of hand, was winnowed down by half. It seems to me that 1 out of 10 toys are just clunkers, no matter what I do. I don't have choice in the case mix, so it's just part of doing toys.

But lately, some of the clunkers have become old and rare enough to actually sell.

I've got a saying, everything sells eventually.

I'm resistant to blow-out sales -- I'm a blow-out sale buyer, not a seller.
But I've noticed a couple of toy lines that I simply have too much of, so I'm going to start offering them at half off to people, on an individual basis until I have a couple of each left.

Good toys, too. Star Trek, Star Gate, the Big Lubowski.

The two overstocks I'll probably always have are the boxes and boxes of semi-star cards, and the boxes and boxes of back-issue comics. But -- I've always operated with an instinct of what I think will happen in the future, and I am convinced that these are going to prove useful at some point.

If not, they'll be passed on to the next owner, or blown out in an huge clearance sale at the end of my career.

Trekkie Mom.

Trekkie Mom?

Well, she wasn't really.

In fact, I don't think she ever willingly read a science fiction novel or went to a science fiction movie on her own.

Never the less, by being exposed to two S.F. nuts in Dad and I, she picked up it up by osmosis.

Dad and I watched the original show every week, and I suppose she was there with us, or at least overhearing from the kitchen.

Later, when I became so enamored of Lord of the Rings, she was a bit doubtful, but supported me anyway. She encouraged imagination in all us kids, even if it veered off in unexpected directions.

I'll always remember what she said when she came back after seeing Star Trek, the Voyage Home, (the one about the whales).

"It really surprised me how much I enjoyed it," she said. "It was like visiting old friends...."

Seeing the new Star Trek movie on Mother's Day was appropriate, somehow. I think if I could have dragged her to it, she might have said the same thing. "Like visiting old friends."

I miss her, and marvel how the threads of my life are still full of her presence.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

But, hey, three new restaurants and a hotel are coming!

The most revealing statistic I've seen recently is that commercial property values in downtown Bend, from 1997 to 2007, went up 1600%. Crazy, man.

I started getting worried about the commercial growth in Bend early on, perhaps because I am retail oriented. You all know, I think most of the Big Box stores are nothing but a Ponzi schemes, but that is a national problem, and will probably play out over the decades, not over the next year or two.

But locally, we got a little nuts, too.

When I looked into it, I found that the timelines for commercial property were different: explaining why buildings are still being constructed during the bust, explaining why Gottshalks would open two months before closing.

The timeline at the nether end is also different: these loans won't come due for several years after the residential loans come due. In some ways, they haven't even started.

I believe this is going to be a particular problem for the local banks, who are already shaky from the residential busts. Many of these same banks were using the same low standards on commercial property -- the damage just hasn't set in yet.

Frankly, I'm surprised that any of the landlords downtown didn't sell out when they could. I mean, 1600% was a once in a generation peak. I guessing, because I don't know, that rents must be so lucrative, that even getting 16 times the value isn't enough to compensate.

I think there is probably a big caveat to that: rents are lucrative if the building is paid for.

For everyone who bought or rebuilt from 2003 to 2007, rents are probably a trap.

I watched the Mountain View Mall decline because the banks finally drew the line at lowering the rents (which had been done over and over again to fill up the mall and then sell it). Stores just couldn't survive; but the Mall was falling apart from lack of tenants. It was a vicious circle.

We've just lost Treefort, across the street. And I've noticed that Colourstone has gone to a "Wholesale" by appointment storefront: which I'm assuming is only to play out the remainder of the lease. The clothing store, Blue, is also closing.

The garage is pretty empty when I head home at night, even on Fridays and Saturdays, so I'm guessing these aren't good times for restaurants.

I'm guessing that most of these new buildings won't even return the borrowed money at much less than 2.50 a ft, certainly no less than 2.00 a ft. Appropriate rent, given current conditions, should probably be in the 1.50 range, but I doubt any landlord down there is willing to go that low.

At the peak of the boom, I was actually concerned that both the building across from me, and possibly even the building I was in, would be built up. After all, that sq. ft. I was walking on was worth 16 times more. Build another couple of stories high, and it was worth 48 x's. And so on.

The building across from me sold once, but was returned to the original owner. I believe my building is still in the possession of the family that owned it when I first started.

If nothing else, this economic collapse has eased the danger of that disruption.

Still, you have to wonder how this is going to play out for all these newer buildings downtown.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

"Too stupid to quit, too mean to die!"

Slave Labor Comics slogan.

One thing I haven't been very good about, is checking out the local competition. I tell myself it only matters what I do ---- not what they do.

But really, walking in a competitors store has always felt a bit uncomfortable. Like walking into an Old West bar, where everyone falls deathly quiet and turns and stares at you as you sashay up to the bar and order a 'sarsaparilla.'


I did visit Third Millennium enough to realize I had totally underestimated the Goth material. The best selling title for a few years after that in my store was, Johnny the Homicidal Maniac, followed by the rest of Johnen Vasquez (Creator of Invader Zim) material; Squee, I Feel Sick, Filler Bunny.


I used to buy these titles from an independent distributer called Cold Cut, but they went out of business a few years ago. I then ordered it from my main distributer, Diamond comics.

Problem is: I haven't be able to get the individual issues of JTHM and Squee for quite a while now, and yesterday, I couldn't even get the main JTHM book.



There has been a bit of controversy in the Comic World because Diamond, which has a near monopoly on distribution, has started to limit which titles they'll distribute. Personally, I believe because of that 'monopoly' label they have a duty to be as open to new material as possible.

But it's a business decision, and it's hard to argue with that.

Anyway, I just couldn't see being without the Vasquez material forever, so I contacted the publisher, Slave Labor. Turns out they're starting a small distribution company, Big Kahuna Comics, for independents.


I'm all for it. It means adding another company to buy from, but really I've had it easy. Diamond has so much material, that I could go strictly with them if I wanted, and it probably wouldn't have much impact on my bottom line.

But, I like supporting the little guys. Sometimes, they have a couple of titles that I can't get otherwise. It's just a matter of fitting it into my budget. With summer coming, I want to order a bit more, so I'm going to make one of my periodic forays into the independent distributors; Bud Plant (sells retail, but has enough bargains to make an order); Last Gasp, the last of the 'underground' distributors; and Big Kahuna Comic Dist. As well as one of my semi-annual orders of standups.


Much as I want to support the little guys, I can usually only make an order once in a long while. They often have forgotten me by then. I sometimes have forgotten my passwords and the procedures, which makes me not want to order.

However, In the current economy, I do believe the indy distributors are less likely to get snippy with me. None of that, "Who the hell are you and why haven't you ordered from us in two years?"


Here's the problem. I feel overwhelmed. The great books being offered by all three of these distributors could eat up my budget in one fell swoop. If I want to be honest with myself, I haven't ordered from these guys for awhile because they are a temptation. Like being on a diet and walking into a restaurant. Or being on the wagon and walking into a bar.

It's hard to restrain myself.

Fortunately, it's the weekend and I have time to get my bearings. By Monday, I may have talked myself off the ledge.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Big fluffy Pandas

I was talking to a customer and was saying, "Some stores have 'cockroach' ability to survive anything."

Before anyone objects, I include myself in that number. Common denominators, are:

a.) Single ownership.

b.) Niche business.

c.) Catering to hardcore fans, who hang out and spend money, akin to a Cheer's bar where "Everyone knows your name."

d.) Side street locations, humble fixtures.

e.) Low to Moderate income.

Fair enough?

Other businesses are like big Fluffy Pandas. Cute and adorable and pretty to look at. But located in a environment that is being decimated.

Is that too harsh?

Meanwhile, marking time.

Does it seem to anyone else like we're all just marking time -- until something significant happens?

Over on BB2, Buster seems to be missing, and Bruce is splitting, and Paul-doh is begging off due to his workload. Buster missing has dropped comments volume by 2/3rds or something.

I wonder if this downturn affected even those of us who saw it coming and were trying to warn others --- it's affected us more than we thought. I always say, it's like seeing someone walking down the street toward you who you know is going to sock you in the jaw and you can't avoid him and WHAM! It still hurts like hell.

I've had a harder time coming us with juicy tidbits to write about. Many of my blogs are more in the conversational, how you doin'? Doin' fine, how are you? tone. Hopefully not too boring. I know for myself, that once I find a blog I like to read, I'd rather have a constant flow, than an on again, off again.

Many of the local blogs seem to be turning into puff pieces for people's businesses. I suppose if I want personal, I can go to Facebook or something....

Anyway, I think Onion has the best take on the current economy, so I'll just quote that:


WASHINGTON—After nearly four months of frank, honest, and open dialogue about the failing economy, a weary U.S. populace announced this week that it is once again ready to be lied to about the current state of the financial system.

Tired of hearing the grim truth about their economic future, Americans demanded that the bald-faced lies resume immediately, particularly whenever politicians feel the need to divulge another terrifying problem with Wall Street, the housing market, or any one of a hundred other ticking time bombs everyone was better off not knowing about.

In addition, citizens are requesting that the phrase, "It will only get worse before it gets better," be permanently replaced with, "Things are going great. Enjoy yourselves."

"I thought I wanted a new era of transparency and accountability, but honestly, I just can't handle it," Ohio resident Nathan Pletcher said. "All I ever hear about now is how my retirement has been pushed back 15 years and how I won't be able to afford my daughter's tuition when she grows up."

"From now on, just tell me the bullshit I want to hear," Pletcher added. "Tell me my savings are okay, everybody has a job, and we're No. 1 again. Please, just lie to my face."

The national call for decreased candor began last month, after the Department of Labor released another soul-crushing report that most Americans agreed "wasn't helping anything" and "didn't need to be so specific, at least."

The report estimated that 663,000 private and public sector jobs were lost in the month of March—a revealing statistic many people found shockingly blunt. Responding to the new information, an overwhelming majority of citizens said they believe that, during these extremely uncertain times, our leaders have a responsibility to come together, sit the American people down, and lie through their teeth about everything from misappropriations of taxpayer dollars to the severity of the credit crisis.

"I don't need to be constantly reminded that the lack of regulations on Wall Street compounded with failing institutions like AIG basically plunged the world economy into a global recession," said 32-year-old office manager Alexis Harrington. "What I want is for someone to tell me with a straight face that the GDP is through the roof so that I can feel better and instantly forget what all these terms even mean."

"For the first time in my life I know who the secretary of the treasury is," Harrington continued. "And I don't like it."

Reluctantly informed citizens like Harrington have also asked that CEOs of the nation's five largest banks release a joint statement saying that the October bailout worked perfectly, normal lending has resumed, and that we're nowhere close to having the entire monetary system collapse upon itself like a house of cards.

According to a CBS News/New York Times poll, 98 percent of Americans no longer appreciate President Barack Obama's attempts to break down the economic crisis into simple terms they can understand. Instead, many say the president should have the decency to insult their intelligence by using complex jargon to confuse and deceive them, perhaps even implying that the subprime mortgage fallout was just a big misunderstanding that resulted from a clerical error.

"I know when he's telling the truth, and it bothers me," recently laid-off schoolteacher Mary Hanover said of Obama. "He gets this serious expression on his face and says things like, 'This is the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.' Who needs to hear that? For Christ's sake, smile a bit and say we just found a diamond mine under Montana that's going to pay for everything. I'll believe you."

"Please, treat me like a child. Treat me like a five-year-old," Sacramento resident David Cooke, 64, wrote in a letter to Congress. "I lost everything when the Dow tanked, and I'm too old to start working again, so why punish me further by explaining in detail the clever ways these investment firms ripped me off and how they're all going to get away with it?"

Thus far, many policymakers in Washington have responded favorably to their constituents' requests, saying they respect and understand the public's need for dishonesty.

"I think we can accommodate the American people on this," Senate majority leader Harry Reid (D-NV) told reporters. "Why, just today we made excellent progress with GM, whose CEO Fritz Henderson told us that every penny of federal and taxpayer funds would go directly to the construction of three new auto plants in Detroit that will create over 90,000 new jobs and spark the economic rebound we've been waiting for."

Continued Reid, "Things are looking very, very bright."

Bust on through to the other side.

Last month I had surprisingly strong sales in sports cards. This month, so far, I've had surprisingly strong sales in DVD's. These have been week components in my store for quite a while now, so it's always a nice boost.

At the same time, my Magic sales are down quite a bit for a release month. I attribute part of this to new competition, and part of this to a weak release and an overall decline in players.

Books are also surprisingly low this month. I suppose some of this might be due to Dudley's. I've noticed that if people find Dudley's first, they satisfy their book urge before they get to me. Dudley's also fits many people's image of a bookstore better than ours. Some of it is just coincidence, the normal ups and downs.

Despite this, sales are pretty good. Very good, in fact. I expect that some of that surplus will get whittled away in the second half of the month, but still....

Anyway, it's gotten to the point where I can't imagine having a store that didn't have a diverse product line, that smooths the ups and downs of each category. I know other business models can succeed. Linda's Bookmark is doing even better than me; but she designed it for a single purpose, and the size, layout, and location all lend support to that purpose.

Me? I've had to evolve, scramble, backtrack, experiment, and finally just add and add and add, until I finally found a mix that was functional both in good times and bad.

I think my store probably doesn't make quite as much as it could in the good times because my product is so broadbased, but survives downturns better than if I specialized more.

Turns out, subconsciously, I've been spending the last 5 years preparing for this slowdown.

It's kind of funny how people come in and it's obvious they expect you to be tottering, and even when you reassure them you're O.K. they still seem kind of skeptical. Which makes sense -- I'm doing the same thing with other stores.

I've tried to find a phrase that will both admit that sales are down but reassure that we're in good shape. Something like, "Considering the economy, we're doing surprisingly well."

The real proof will be to just humming along, even thriving, and coming out the other side.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Product as Wallpaper.

I'm about to claim the last two half-walls for product. Regulars probably don't believe I have any space left.

I literally will have Wall to Wall product.

I'm not totally happy in a design sense over filling every inch of the store. But I discovered a number of years ago that 'design' for 'design' sake may be satisfying in an artistic sense, but doesn't really pay. I have found the more product I have, the more I sell.

For every person who is overwhelmed by the visuals and feel of the store, there is another who is more likely to unlock his wallet. It's a trade-off, made necessary by only having 1000 sq. ft.

I could easily, easily fill a space five times bigger and still seem stuffed. Making wonderfully designed displays and putting more product face out, I could probably fill a space 8 to 10 times bigger.

I've tried, in a weird way, to make the overwhelming product a design of its own. Its own artistic statement. Creative juxtapositions, color and design patterns, neat rows and stacks.

Sometime in the next ten years, I'd love to create my vision of a 'superstore.' I have it all mapped out. I'm pretty sure I could make it work. But I'd probably only get it to profitability and then need to sell it.

If I was ten years younger, there would be no question. If I had 25k I could simply blow, there would be no question. Now, with a POS computer, it would be feasible. I'd still need that dependable right hand employee, which is always the biggest challenge, but....I'd go for it.

I'd use Linda's used books model for about 1/3rd the store, put in new books with my philosophy of new book selling, to take up half. The other half would be comics, cards, games and toys.

It probably wouldn't be all that more profitable than the current store, and it would entail a huge amount of risk -- but, oh my, it would be a wonder to behold.

I need to start buying a lottery ticket on the way home every night...

Anyone feel like buying the Boomtown building for me?


What's necessitating the covering of the last two walls is that there are some mammoth sales going on, especially by Marvel. I mean, I can't pass them up. The margin is so good, that I can basically put half in storage and still come out better than normal.

I guess this is where the advantage of actually having positive cash-flow works to my advantage in a downturn.


A downturn which I still haven't figured out. I had my worst non-Sunday of the year on Tuesday, followed by a Wednesday ten times better. That plus the great Friday and Saturday means I'm a full 20% ahead of my goals, despite having one of my worst days in the first week.

Summer's almost here. I'm not expecting much, but I'm at least hoping business won't fall from current levels...

Stuff that seems obvious.

Bristol Palin says "Abstinence is realistic." Ex-boyfriend Levi Johnson says it's unrealistic." --- Is this a guy thing?

Paula Abdul admits to 12 year pill addiction. --- Um....How come I already knew this?

Dom DeLuise has died. --- God love him, but I thought this already happened.

Wall Street Journal headline, GOP should forget Reagan. --- Who?

If ever a show was aptly named, it's LOST. --- I am. Totally. Lost.

Bend 1031 Exchange 'arguably' a Ponzi. --- Arguably?

And the Bulletin circles back to basics. --- Petersen Rock Garden?

BAT Fare Increase. --- Oh. That's how you raise money! Why didn't I think of that? I need to raise my prices!!! I'm sure people will buy just as much....

Another Bulletin headline: Current Health Care System is Popular. --- Wait. Huh?

Green. GREEN. GREEN!! ---- Why does this raise my scamster alarms?

Stress Tests Indicate Banks Still Need Capital Boost -- Oh, hell. You didn't need a massive stress test. Here. I'll do it. Banks want more money. There. Wasn't that easy?

Verizon and Captital One are the good guys, right? -- Two biggest phonies in the Corporate World that I've had the misfortune of crossing paths; and not co-incidently, two of the biggest pain-in-the-ass advertisers. ---
Capital One and Verizon.

Onion Headline: Trekkies Bash New Star Trek Film as "Fun, Watchable." -- snort.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009


You all know my fascination with mugshots.

There is a comment over on HBM's blog, that the Bulletin should drop the police reports.


No, No, No, No, No.

Not only shouldn't they drop the police reports, they really should include the mugshots.

Their circulation would double, I tell you!

Anyway, I'm always amazed that the guys in mugshots are almost always skinheads; and/or very wild hair. The women are all wild hair.

I used to think the criminals in Bend were all cross-eyed, but I finally realized the photographer is telling them to stare at some point in the middle of the camera, or something.

If I ever get arrested, I'm going to be sure to look off a little bit.

The reason I bring this up, is I found a book to order that is all historical mugshots, called BOOKED.

Will be interesting to see.

Mental health tip.

Here's a suggestion.

Quit calling the bottom.

Quit using the word recovery.

It's going to drive you crazy. Especially in Bend, because it's going to take us even longer to get there.

It will happen when it happens. Better to be pleasantly surprised than to be constantly disappointed.

I noticed this article in CNN Money, and agree with it totally. Except -- like I said -- I think Bend is probably a couple years out, and not reaching a new top but just starting back up.

Stores won't buy into rebound talk
Retail insiders are betting that it could be 12 to 18 months before consumer spending returns to pre-recession levels.
By Parija B. Kavilanz, senior writer
Last Updated: May 5, 2009: 3:06 PM ET

NEW YORK ( -- You can't sell the nation's retailers on the idea that the economy will rebound soon.

Despite some economists' forecasts that the recession could be over by the end of summer, industry watchers say merchants are betting that it's going to be 12 to 18 months before consumer spending gets even close to pre-recession levels.

That's significant because no real rebound in the economy is possible without a pick-up in consumer spending, which accounts for two-thirds of economic growth.

"Anyone who thinks that consumers will return to carefree shopping by September, you have to wonder what they're smoking," said Paco Underhill, an expert on consumer psychology and CEO of retail-focused consulting form Envirosell.

Slashing orders: Merchants have dramatically slashed their orders for new merchandise that they expect to sell in the summer and later this year.
0:00 /3:26The recovery is near

One sign of that, February's volume of retail imports -- such as clothes, shoes and home furnishings -- dropped to the lowest level in seven years, according to the latest Port Tracker report from the National Retail Federation (NRF) and forecasting firm Global Insight.

Import volume for March is expected to be down 19.7% from a year earlier, with April 22% lower, the report said.

Retailers typically order new goods six to eight months in advance of when they expect to sell the products in stores. Declining orders indicate that sellers don't see a pick-up in sales in the coming months.

Craig Shearman, NRF's vice president for government affairs, agreed.

"The retail import volume is a leading indicator of how much retailers think they can sell," Shearman said. "So a lower amount [of volume] is a clear indication that retailers think sales will be down in the spring and summer."

Recovery in 2010? Retail buyers, professionals who help stores select and buy merchandise, are bracing for a tough year.

Although Underhill expects improvement in housing starts and consumer lending by the fall, he cautions that no one should expect consumers "will party like it's 1999."

"It will be another year before spending truly picks up," he said.

"I've talked to fellow buyers and some have cut [orders] by more than half," said Andy Beauchamp, found of the National Association of Retail Buyers, a non-profit buyers' networking group that lists Macy's (M, Fortune 500) among its members.

Because of the economic uncertainty, Beauchamp said some buyers have stopped importing certain items and turned to domestic vendors to better manage inventory levels.

"I was a junior buyer in the 1980s and I remember that it took 18 months before I saw strength come back in spending," he said. "Even after 9/11, it took nine months before confidence returned and people were spending well again."

Experts don't expect consumers to come back to stores on a spree. "Our retail culture is in a major transition. Conspicuous consumption is now bad manners," Underhill said.

But if there is a big consumer comeback, the stores may be out of luck.

"A friend of mine who is a senior buyer for Macy's is terrified," said Beauchamp. "She's being told to keep inventory low. So what happens if sales pick up in the fourth quarter and she has nothing to sell?"

"Usually in a strong economy, vendors can ramp up production quickly and turnaround a new order in 10 days," Beauchamp said. "But the economy has made vendors cautious and many don't have the resources to do such a fast turnaround."

Besides the big chain stores, Main Street mom-and-pop sellers are also "ordering products very close to their need," said Ed Butler, founder of the Butler Group, which represents wholesale manufacturers and importers of gift and home decor items.

"Their orders are running about 20% less than last year," Butler said. "I think this level will continue in the second half of the year."

"We don't see a change [in spending levels] until the first quarter of 2010," Butler said.