Saturday, July 31, 2010
I think the deferred building fees is a wet noodle. No real demand.
I suspect the small business loan program that is being hatched in Congress is the same thing.
In both cases, I'm not sure it's even the proper response. Borrowing more money for already struggling business's? Trying to encourage more houses when we already have a huge oversupply?
Both seem sort of short sighted.
I know that in my store, I'm not going to be borrowing money to expand until I see demand increase. For instance, I talked lately about installing a couple of more shelves of paperback books, but my estimate was at least 1,000.00 to put it in, which I would have to either pull out of savings of use the credit cards.
With the slowdown in sales I saw this month, I'm going to delay that. Or install it over a three or four month period within my cash flow.
In other words, borrowing money in the face of falling demand seems kind of like borrowing from the future.
Friday, July 30, 2010
I was writing about this as it was happening -- but only hinting at it with the posts I actually put up.
For one thing, as I always say about Christmas -- they've never canceled it yet. They've never canceled July and August either. These are the big three months, the months where I can almost always count on a profit.
But by mid-month, sales were not even matching my February sales, traditionally my slowest month.
As it has happened, the second half of the month has been matching last year every step of the way. Roughly speaking, we were down 30% in the first half, but have matched last year in the second half, which means we'll be down by 15%. Still a significant number, but not a complete disaster. In fact, we may end up only about 12% below last year, if the sales over the last five days continue...
As I'll mention in the following posts, we were turning a profit even during the big downturn, but that was because I'd positioned to store for major profits, and instead we were staying in the black.
As one last slam about "Our Wonderful Downtown Promotions" I can document that each and every 'event' day was down an average of 400.00 per day. One event day we did 78.00 worth of business, which wreaks havoc with any kind of average.
To me, it's no accident that our sales jumped 30% as soon as the "Special Events" were out of the way.
Finally, I have to say a word about the purpose of this blog. I've always intended to be honest about the store, but frankly, I haven't been challenged. Pegasus Books has been doing well -- and we've had three of our most profitable years during the Great Recession. I saw the downturn coming and positioned my store correctly, and we've been pretty much sailing through the downturn. Knock Wood. (Not that I wouldn't have preferred the sales levels of 2004-2007; that would've been bankable profits.)
So this was the first real blip on the screen. (We had comparable drops in sales during the beginning of the Great Recession, but it was expected. As I'll continually repeat, it's the profits that matter, not the sales.) Even with the drop in the first half of the month, as I will tell you again and again in the following posts, we were in the black. It's just that it was a bit dispiriting not to be making those profits I was so looking forward to.
So I'm going to post three of the posts that I was writing while the sales decline was happening, with a note at the beginning for context.
I've always said, if I was doing really poorly, I wouldn't say a word. And you guys wouldn't notice. People don't notice what you aren't saying, you know. It's the guys who are doing either really poorly that won't talk about their business, or guys who are doing really well and don't want anyone to know.
No. Scotch that. Most business owners don't want to talk about their business at all, and I can't really blame them.
As far as I'm concerned, there is a double dip recession already happening. Whatever the economists tell you. And I'm planning accordingly.
Anyway for anyone with the gumption or the interest, the following three posts were written in the course of the month.
SOMETHING NO MERCHANT TALKS ABOUT...
Here's something that no one talks about: falling sales.
Just try to get a merchant to talk about THAT, except in the most vague of terms and cloaked with a "misery loves company" patina. That is, if everyone is going through the same thing, it's O.K. to admit it -- sort of.
So I'm going submit that I'm willing to talk about it because I'm feeling pretty secure in the overall strength of my business. It's the guys who don't want to talk about it who you need to worry about.
I'm going to reassure you all that we're doing fine, thank you very much. Which is true. I'm disappointed that I'm not going to make the nice hefty profits I was planning for, and instead will make a smaller profit. And I'm also thanking my lucky stars that the same decisions that make money also save money.
O.K. We got that out of the way?
Nevertheless, we've had three months of falling sales -- Year to Year -- after 7 months of increasing sales, after -- well, the Great Recession over the preceding two years.
Still, it's something I have to be aware of, and I have to examine the causes.
Is it me or the economy?
Is it just my store, or is it everyone?
Is it just my type of store, and are other stores of my type experiencing the same?
Is it the type of product I sell, or something else?
Unfortunately, other than vague and contradictory information for the mass media, which is usually dated months in the past -- or vague and contradictory comments in business bulletin boards -- there is not real way of knowing how everyone else is doing.
Remember, too, there are always exceptions both in the positive and the negative, who don't represent the average but who are often the most vocal and visible.
So it can feel very lonely. I have a saying though, that has been true almost every time. 'If I'm feeling it, others are feeling it even worse.' Because -- well, I'm quick to react and to do something about it. I don't think denial is a very useful activity.
The temptation on my part, almost always, is to immediately assume that it's something I did. That it's my fault, and I need to fix it. More often than not, though, I find after enough time has passed, the growth or diminution of sales was due mostly to outside factors, instead.
Contrary to popular opinion, I don't tend to believe we store owners are as responsible for the level of sales as much as responsible for maintaining the level of sales, of riding the waves of demand up and down. We lay out the menu, we don't make people hungry. If the food we provide is tasty enough, they'll come back. If it isn't, they won't. But that urge to eat -- that comes natural.
Comics are the best example of that. I don't tend to think I create comic readers. Mostly they come in, already primed. The more inventory I have that fits their needs, the more I sell.
Baseball cards were the first example of being unable to reverse a larger trend. I couldn't stop the decline of cards no matter what I did. In fact, I would've been better off letting it happen -- and once I finally figured that out, my store got immediately healthier. It's why I'm still here and still selling the occasional cards. Because I moved on.
This is not to say, I shouldn't do my job. I've been able to attribute falling sales over the years to things like; too little or the wrong inventory, my attitude or the attitude of my employees; over-expansion and resulting quality control failures, and so so on. But these usually either just added to an existing problem; and even if I had done everything right, I probably couldn't have reversed the natural cycle of demand.
O.K. So what can I do?
First of all, I can crunch the numbers and try to identify where the sales drop is occurring. Is it a natural statistical anomaly? (Which are pretty common.)
Secondly, I can ask myself if I'm doing something different that might be causing that drop?
Third, I can ask myself if there is something different I could do to reverse that drop?
Fourth, I can try to make my best guess with limited and dated information whether or not others in my business are having similar results?
Based on those answers, I can decide to:
1.) Take my lumps and wait for it to turn around.
2.) Throw more money at the problem (or less.)
3.) Look for alternative products to sell.
4.) Look at my pricing strategy.
You don't want to over-react. I think lots of business throw the baby out with the bathwater, once the product quits performing at the higher levels. Alternatively, lots of business stick to a failing product or approach and keep throwing good money after bad.
The answer is usually somewhere in between. Which is why I've tried to diversify my store. I can, for instance, crunch the numbers and decide to continue to carry Magic, but to order smaller quantities and price at closer to retail and see what happens. I can curtail my sports card box sales to the occasional brand. I can increase my boardgame and new book buys. I can moderate my graphic novel orders. And so on.
The only thing I'm really doing different right now, is that I have more employees. I just took an entire week off. So what if it's because I'm not there?
Sorry, the answer isn't for me to be there more. I'll accept smaller profits, if it means I can take time off. So I'm hoping that isn't it. I'll explore that possibility around the edges, question what they're doing and what they're seeing. But really, other than hovering over them, there isn't much more I can do. I'm more in danger of burnout than I am of less sales. I'm fresher and more active when I do work when I have weekends off.
Crunching the numbers, the sales are down in three categories -- and I think it's just the way it is. Certainly, they haven't shown enough strength for me to want to reinforce them.
On the other hand, comics and graphic novels are fine -- which is my main source. So I want to fully support them. Books and games are doing very well, and it may be time to support them even more.
So...the answer, at least for right now, is to let those falling categories find some sort of bottom and divert my funds into the parts of the store that are working....
Had enough? No? Here's another one.
I'M ALL RIGHT, JACK.
NOTE: The following three posts were written over the last three weeks, as I realized that the sales drop was for real. I didn't want to post them, at first, because they might make us seem weak. And yet, I realized, we're actually doing pretty well, profit wise, and this is the reality of business and everyone ought to know it.
These posts are similar, and represent my acknowledgment of what was happening and how to respond. The usefulness of this blog is dependent on me being as candid as possible.
In a way, I'm saying, I can post these because we are solid. I'm trusting that by continuing to be candid, you guys can get a true sense of our relative strength and weaknesses. (I've mentioned before, if we ever got into any real trouble, you probably wouldn't hear a peep out of me -- I ain't totally crazy. heh.) Forthwith:
Here's a weird thing. This month's drop in sales for me may be the largest percentage drop in sales since the Great Recession started. And yet. And yet.
I'm still going to turn a profit.
Starting on July 16th, I had paid the last of the big bills for this month, just scraping the bottom of my cashflow reserve. After that, I have three smaller bills left for the entire month.
How can this be?
I positioned the store to make some big profits this summer. Instead, I'm going to make some small profits.
This has happened again and again in the course of my business. Apparently, the same impulse that tells me to start garnering profits, is the same impulse that should tell me that some sort of cycle is reaching it's end.
Thank goodness for the impulse. It's disappointing in the same way that you're disappointed that someone shot an arrow at you, but it just grazed your forehead.
It's clearer this time than ever before. In the past, I might have at least entertained the suspicion that sales dropped because I cut back on spending. Not this time. The store is fully stocked in every category. It's possible that if I had spent two or three thousand more on product I might have had two or three thousand more in sales -- but it doesn't seem likely. And even then, it would've been a gamble only to break even, and what's the point of that?
NOTE: (Since I wrote this, I did decide to up my budget on product....)
Besides, starting next week, I have a fresh new budget for August to spend, that is going to more than fill up all the categories yet again.
Here's a bit of anecdotal observation, and I can't vouch for it except as a feeling.
Who are my summer customers?
If I had to describe them, it would be like this: They are usually relatively well off and willing to spend money on vacation. They are intellectually curious. And they have a taste for the offbeat.
My store is like catnip to them. They compliment me lavishly, tell me that 'wish' they had a store like mine near them. They buy stuff old and new, fresh or stale, and they buy in larger quantities.
I just don't think I've seen many of this type of customer so far this summer. I've seen lots of 'local' tourists, that is locals for whom a trip downtown is a bit of a visit. I see locals. I see older tourists who are buying up my 1.00 books and nothing else.
I don't know. I can't quantify it.
All I know, is it is time to react.
Yes, there's more.
INTUITIVE BUSINESS CYCLES:
People who read this blog probably think I'm a pessimist, and negative person about business.
Actually, the opposite is true.
I always think I'm going to do better than I actually do.
I always think I'm going to turn a profit.
I mentioned before that I thought we were nearing a nexus point, because it was my intent to try to earn a profit this summer, starting in July, and all through the fall, and into Christmas.
Thing is, every time I've ever tried to do this, I've experienced an abrupt falloff on the very same month.
Well, it's happened again.
I have a kind of vague suspicion as to why this occurs. In my 30 year store history, I've probably had 10 or 12 occasions where I experience a period of steady growth and/or stability.
The first 3 or 4 times this happened, my inclination was to take this success and expand.
The second 3 or 4 times this happened, my inclination was to consolidate and diversify.
The last 3 or 4 times this happened, my inclination to diversify and/or turn a profit.
I'm not talking about a daily profit that pays my wages -- Pegasus Books has almost always paid me a minimum wage, at least. I'm talking about the kind of profit that pays for extras, or even more importantly, pays for some sort of post-store-owning life.
Anyway, consciously or unconsciously, I seem to have tapped into some sort of cycle, some sort of rhythm to business -- where I'm inclined try to capitalize on success, at the very same moment that success becomes problematic.
A.) As you can imagine, expanding based on success, only to see a falloff, really hurts.
B.) Consolidating based on success, by which I mean paying down on debt, and trying to diversify the product line within cash flow, while not very satisfying, at least keeps the store alive.
C.) Trying to 'profit' from success, and breaking even, is even less satisfying, except in the most "I dodged a bullet" way.
See, the same steps I take to "make a profit" are the same steps I should take in the face of a downturn.
Ironically, by taking those steps, I've probably saved myself from disaster, and survived all these years. If I was simply responding to a downturn, it would probably take me at least three months, and probably more like six months, to adapt to the new circumstances. Instead, I seem to match the downturn, step by step.
It's apparently an intuitive process. It took me a long time to realize what was happening.
Thursday, July 29, 2010
How did that happen?
So -- I think -- I've enabled anyone to make comments, including anonymously.
Sorry about that.
Won't you come home, Bill Bailey?
Anonymous and open to all comments.
I'm probably being hypocritical here. Not wanting to host such a site, yet wanting someone else to do it.
The bust from the boom is going to take years and years....and years. There are going to be significant developments from here on out.
An "open source" type blog would be very useful still.
In my own plans, I've more or less tacked another year onto the length of the downturn; and wouldn't be surprised to have to do that next year, too.
Lots of weird stuff yet to happen.
Wednesday, July 28, 2010
Bend Developer shot by wife.
I just don't feel like I want to comment on this story:
BEND, Ore. -- A well-known Bend developer was shot and critically wounded by his wife at their home on Bend’s Westside early Wednesday. Police said she told officers she was awakened by a noise and sent her husband to investigate, then thought he was an intruder.Stephen Trono, 60, was in critical condition at midday at St. Charles Medical Center-Bend, officials said.Bend police Lt. Ben Gregory said officers were called to a home on Mount Shasta Drive, off Shevlin Park Road, on a report a man had been shot. Angelicque Trono, 39, was awakened by a noise and sent her husband to investigate, Gregory said.“At some point, Stephen was shot by Angelicque, who (said she) thought her husband was an intruder,”
"In late 2005, he proposed the Mercato, a mixed-use project in the Old Mill District, on the site of the Brooks-Scanlon “crane shed” torn down amid controversy by the site’s previous owner, Crown Investment Group.But the project stalled as the real estate market and economy soured, and Medford’s PremierWest Bank filed suit in March against Trono and his firm, seeking repayment of the loan securing the property, modified several times and totaling 3.8 million.
On The Trono Company’s Website, which listed an “expected completion date” of the Mercato project of last summer, it said Trono and his wife of 16 years “are the proud parents of five children ... and serve their community by helping multiple charities and churches in Bend and across the Pacific to the Philippines.”
The background statement concluded: “What we vividly imagine, ardently believe and pursue with joy and determination, will inevitably occur.”
Hey, didn't you wear that yesterday?
See, I think you can live a 'middle class' life-style, at least to all outward appearance, on a minimum wage level.
Pegasus Book had a good stretch of business between 1987 and 1996, in fact the highest sales totals in our history. (We peaked at 4 stores.) Our profits were also higher, though that included payments on loan principle as profit, so our take-home pay was probably less than today.
Anyway, when we went to Consumer Credit Counseling in 1997, (for the next 6 years), I realized that we had pissed away a whole lot of money on meaningless crap. I'd grab a 20.00 out of the register every day, and buy myself lunch, or chips, or soda, or candy and donuts, or beer and wine, or fast food dinner, or whatever. I know that very little of that 20.00 made it back to the register.
I figure Linda was probably doing about the same thing.
But just consider taking about 15.00 per day, just for me. That turned out to be about 5000.00 per year, for ten years. 50,000.00. Which is actually more money than we owed on our credit cards.
I made a rule. I never took money out of the register for personal spending. If I did, it was earmarked for a specific purpose. I started brown-bagging my lunch, and I stopped dropping by the 7-11.
It's also amazing how driving an older Toyota, (great gas mileage), and not trying to be a clothes horse saved money. Our entertainment was movies and cable; we had all the reading material we could ever need through our stores; our vacations consisted of camping and/or staying with friends and family. By doing this, we could pay for our essentials -- rent, overhead, food, clothing, etc.
To most outward appearances, we were living a solid middle-class lifestyle.
I maintain that no one notices what shoes you're wearing. And frankly, if they did and they judged me on them, I don't care to know those people anyway.
One of the shocking things, was reading "whoa is me" stories in the paper about "poor" families, and realizing that they were making more money than us!
It's been hard, actually, now that our profits are up to actually spend money. We eat out more, we stay at motels, we buy more clothing and snacks, we have better cars. But...frankly, it wasn't that hard to stick to austerity. The debt load hanging over our head was stressful, for sure. For most of those six years of C.C.C. we were paying about 40% of the gross profits from Pegasus Books on debt alone -- and it didn't leave anything for anything.
I'm also realizing that there was a whole lot of deferred maintenance going on; you can't drive those older cars forever, your clothes really do start to fray and become noticeable out of style, you put off dental bills for years but eventually something breaks, and never buying anything nice can get dispiriting. I still never buy anything nice. I still feel guilty. It took my five years to finally spring for my big screen T.V. That's been about it, for me. I don't need or want much.
Because of the bubble, we actually bought our house with a minimum wage budget -- which is pretty amazing, when you think about it. But we have always earmarked a bigger percentage of our income toward our housing, so even at minimum wage it wouldn't have been a problem. Mostly because we've avoided debt since 1996. We still live relatively frugally.
The one thing I wish I could have accomplished earlier, that would have saved years of stress, is to get a cash-flow savings fund for the store -- so that there never was any danger of having to pay overdrafts. I paid for a lot of overdrafts during those CCC years, which is admitttedly crazy, but when you're just scraping by, it hard to hold onto a cushion.
Anyway, I think maybe the whole country is learning that they can get by on less, that it doesn't make you less happy to drive an older car, to go out to dinner a little less often, and to brown bag our lunches. At least, it didn't make me any less happy. It was fine.
Tuesday, July 27, 2010
Bend is a modest town. With glitter.
Then again, I pointed out the dangers at the time they opened, and it's fair to point out that those observations were correct.
There was a period between 2005 and 2008 where a series of stores opened; the Bulletin would herald their coming, and at the same time actually trumpet the amount of money invested in these new ventures. But it was those very 'enterprise costs', the very thing that made the stores and restaurants seem so interesting, that made it all that much more difficult for them to succeed.
The amounts of money talked about, as initial investments in equipment and inventory, made me cringe. Two especially, seemed to be way more money than could ever be recouped --even by a very profitable business. Even if the business earned enough money to keep open it's doors. The Investment itself was the problem.
One of those two ventures is still open. The other, Riley's Market is closing.
I mean, could you find a more bubbly moment that September, 2007, to open? Could you find a more bubbly spot than N.W. Crossings nascent 'retail' center?
The article in the Bulletin only makes passing mention of: "....part of the closure is related to debt on the store."
They also mention paying 2.35 a foot in rent, plus not being able to sell cigarettes. (Does N.W. Crossing think residents will stop smoking if they don't have a local outlet?)
When I finally had a chance to visit the store a few months ago, they'd basically turned it into a deli.
Linda was talking about some friends of hers, who had moved here from California, and opened a farm where they sold jellies and jams and spices and vinegars. They recently lost the land to foreclosure. They found out, the hard way, that their land was too far from anywhere to get many visits.
I've often thought -- you shouldn't open a business in a town until you've lived in it for at least a couple of years. By then you will have gotten more of a sense about which locations are busy all year long, which locations are seasonal, and which locations look good but really aren't. Or, vice versa, which locations look bad but are good.
There is a tendency, I think, to just follow the crowd.
Linda and I came very close to not opening the BookMark. I mean, we wanted to but we looked everywhere for a good spot, and damned if we could find one. I kept mentioning -- "I wish that spot would come open, I'd grab it in a minute..." and sure enough, just as we were about to postpone our plans, up popped the space and we were on the phone to the landlord.
So Location is #1.
Inventory is #2. What I see happen over and over again is way too much money is spent on the furnishing and equipment and fixtures and fancy new everythings -- and way too little on inventory. You know, the stuff you're supposed to sell. But even there, start with a smattering of many types of inventory, and THEN -- by holding back on spending too much upfront -- pursue the types of product that show some strength.
#3 is labor. Why is it that most closed business I visited never had the owner working? I've been in one local business 4 times, and only once did I see the owner, who was going out the door. A business that recently called for "help."
Really, you know, the hours in a downtown business are at most 48 hours if you close on Sundays-- not so much that a serious owner couldn't work all the hours if he or she was serious about staying open. If you open a business and aren't willing to work 48 hours -- don't open the business. Really. Expect more like 60 hours (working at home, as well) for the first few years....Sorry. That's just the way it is.
#4. Miscalculation. As I said above about living in a town for a couple of years before opening, it'll give you a chance to gauge 'real' demand. Not the demand you saw wherever you came from. Not industry averages. Not the demand you imagine from watching too many Christmas movies which only show the hoards of customers in Hollywoods' version of retail.
Bend, itself, I'm convinced, is an illusion. We have enough retail to serve a town twice our size, in my opinion, while costs aren't much lower than bigger metro areas -- and in some cases, MORE expensive than much bigger metro areas.
So my advice to anyone wanting to open a store in Bend; be very careful in location, spend less on accoutrements and more on inventory, work the store yourself, make sure you have enough flexibility in your costs to last long enough to gauge demand for your product. Don't invest all your money upfront, but hold back and get a sense of the business, and do it in stages. (Grow the business.)
And in Bend, expect to make half the sales you expected, at least at first, and twice the expenses.
Monday, July 26, 2010
The Rise and Fall of Twitter.
"...most of the top Central Oregon Twitter users are selling or promoting something...."
Let me ask you this: If you were asked to a party and you knew that everyone at that party was going to try to sell you something, would you go? If you walked into a room where you are pummeled from all sides by someone yelling at you about their product, how long would you stay?
Blogging has always been in danger of this, too, but somehow the odd or quirky or personal manages to squeak through, and somehow it's easier to weed out the relentless self-promoters from the titles. I'm usually able to categorize blogs into subject matter: Mommy blogs, travel blogs, promotional blogs, teenage angst blogs, etc.
By the time you read a tweet to find out if it's personal or promotional -- well, you've already read the tweet.
I suppose all social media becomes prey to the self-promoters, and the answer is to try to limit your exposure. Facebook, for instance, I've heard the trick is to accept as friends people who are truly friends. But I think what happens is that we all wander in newbie-like and get overwhelmed and then...we can't be bothered.
Even though I own a business(es), I've tried very hard not to turn either my blog or tweets into self-promotion. In fact, I've actively avoided it. I quit looking at the "hit" rate a couple of years ago, and haven't checked since.
I realized early on that the temptation to gussy up my blog to make it more attractive to the casual reader, to write about only "positive" things, to try to make me or my business to look better than it was, to constantly refer to my wonderful relationships, were all things that might, in the short run lead to higher readership. I've made no attempt to play the -- you sign me up, I'll sign you up -- game.
I have a feeling sometimes that people are simply yelling past each other, a circle of self-promoters who think they're accomplishing something but are simply making themselves known to other self-promoters.
I think it's a catch-22. In the end, I think it destroys the usefulness of a blog. At least to me. I'd rather keep 50 very interested readers, than garner 2000 readers who merely browse. Or never actually read the damn thing, or comment. It isn't a race to see who has the most followers before you die, folks.
Sunday, July 25, 2010
First they come for your neighbor....
Williamson Park has always just had one or two houses for sale at a time. Now we've got 4 houses for sale, and I know that a couple of the houses that were for sale previously, are being rented.
Thing is, our neighborhood is really well maintained, with only a few weeds here and there, and no dead lawns, leaning fences, or overturned flowerbeds.
Still....it looks like it's catching up what I've always thought was a very stable neighborhood.
So, looking at the "For Sale" prices, I'd have to estimate our house is worth, maybe, 10% higher still than we paid for it (not counting improvements, which I doubt would count for much in asking price). We bought at 1983 prices (prices started jumping just a couple of months after we closed), but I wouldn't be surprised to see prices drop to or slightly below what we paid.(CORRECTION!: Holy Cow, where did that come from? I meant we bought our house at 2003 prices. Sheesh.)
We've paid down about 35k so far, so even then we probably have a small amount of equity.
Doesn't matter. We're staying, and we're rapidly paying off the house, so it's all pretty moot.
Book 'em, Danno!
I got a ticket a couple of weeks ago. In the fine print, there is an option for a business owner to 'validate' the ticket.
I paid the ticket, in full. But I wondered...
Sure enough, it appears there is "rampant" fraud in the validation program. My first response, is that they should penalize the abuses to the maximum extent. But that would probably cost more money than it's worth. So, dropping the program seems to be in the wings.
Too bad, a bunch of business owners acting like irresponsible kids. Maybe that's why there is such a turnover downtown. Seriously. If you are that much of a pathetic ninnie that you can't park where you should -- for YOUR OWN GOOD! It creates space for CUSTOMERS! -- then you are probably a ninnie in other parts of your business as well.
I still say, throw the book at them. Or at the least post their names, so I'll know who NOT to shop with.....
Saturday, July 24, 2010
Comic retailers shoot themselves in foot....
After being given a range of options from terrible to O.K. to horrible to meh...comic retailers reliably, dependably, predictably pick.....the absolute worst option.
I'm so proud of us.
The way the system works now: We get our comics on Wednesday and scramble to put them out as quickly as possible.
The rest of the world gets their stuff on Tuesdays; music, movies, books, etc. etc.
Our distributor, Diamond Comics, ran a poll asking retailers whether they would like comics delivered a day early, for sale; or delivered a day early but usual Wednesday put out.
To my utter amazement, a hefty percentage of comic retailers want to stick to Wednesday release date; so it's looking, as of now, like we'll get our comics on Tuesday but won't be able to put them out until Wednesday.
Not only do we miss the extra day, but we run into a problem with the national release date that everyone else has.
As it is now, we get most of our graphic novels on Wednesday, but the mass market doesn't get theirs until the following Tuesday. What this new system will do is allow the mass market to get the shipment on the same day as us, but they will put their comics out A DAY EARLIER!
To me, this is the worst case scenario. I really, really want to put my comics out on Tuesday, even if it means putting them out on the same day as they arrive. The benefits of taking shipment a day earlier is a small one, as far as I'm concerned, especially since I don't really want to stay a couple hours after work to put away comics, and will probably put comics away on the day they're for sale anyway.
We'll see, I guess. But right now, it looks like the retailers have managed to paint themselves into a corner.
Why? As far as I can tell, it's because it's simply change -- from Wednesday to Tuesday -- and that apparently has freaked out a majority of comic retailers.
Friday, July 23, 2010
Research and Development.
Most of the year, I sell these little things that almost no one wants. They're called comics. (What!? They still make comics? What do you do, collect them? Surely, no one reads them. Hey, I bet my kids would be interested in this store? Or the weird cousin, Johnny -- he's into this stuff.)
And then, in July, it's the biggest thing in the world. There's Angelina Jolie at a comic-con table! It's weird, I tell you.
But, of course, it's not about the comics. Anymore than the Batman or Superman movies are. Or even the Scott Pilgrim movie. It's about movies and games and mass entertainment.
Somehow, unworthy comics become cool games, toys, books, and movies. How does that happen? Those adapters must be geniuses! Because, well, it couldn't be the actual story and art of the comics. That's a ridiculous notion!
Comics have become the Research and Development arm of the entertainment world. Inspiration and creativity abound. And Hollywood and Silicon Valley have taken notice. I'm sure they assign underlings to read those pesky comics and mine them ideas.
We're like geek scientists who are shuffled off to a lab out of sight out of mind and given a small budget to explore and create, and then the office types scoop up those ideas and hand them to those CEO types who hand them over to the promotional types and WOW! Look at this great idea this company had! Where did that come from????
But will the public ever explore this world at the source? Will they ever say to themselves -- hey, it's just story and art, and anything is possible.....?
I doubt it. In fact, I'm positive they never well. Apparently, everyone is able to hold two -- what to me are -- contradictory ideas. That comics are stupid kid stuff, but many of the movies, T.V. shows, games, and books made from them are great entertainment.
Thursday, July 22, 2010
That's more like it.
It was kind of dispiriting to just sit here and wait for people to come in the store and spend money -- or not spend money.
It's much more fun to figure out what I can get that will interest people. The process is fun, as well. I've always enjoyed the searching and finding and ordering of new product. I've always enjoyed taking shipment and finding a place for the new product.
Plus, I've always thought people can instinctively pick up when you're doing things and when -- you're not doing things. They pick up on the 'dispirited' part, even if it doesn't really point to the relative strength or weakness of the business. They pick up on it, because -- well, in most cases, probably because it does point to weakness.
The only reason I was sitting back was because I felt the store was full. Almost too full. So ordering yet more product seemed a little silly. Plus, well as I've said before, I'd really like to see if this store can turn a major profit someday.
But now that I've reversed course, I'm finding solutions to the space problem. (It usually involves taking 'dead' product and either consolidating it, or moving it.)
I've winnowed my manga and anime down enough, that I can probably use my green bookshelves for books instead of manga. (I can pile the unsold manga on an endcap and sell it for half price...)
That would give me a spot for paperbacks, and a row along the top for hardcovers and tradepaperbacks.
1.) S.F. and fantasy.
3.) Paranormal romance.
This was something I intended to do close to Christmas, or even at the beginning of next summer, but I'm thinking I'll do it over the next ten days or so, instead. Why not? It accomplishes what I wanted to do, and stimulates the store at the same time, and I will still have about 5 or 6 weeks to take advantage of summer business.
This will also open space on the white bookshelves for the other kinds of books.
So I'm engaged in improving the store, and that is much more like it.
Wednesday, July 21, 2010
My own little stimulus package.
I've been thinking how, in an odd way, my decision parallels the national debate of austerity versus stimulus.
First of all, I waited for the full three months of falling sales before I declared it a trend. This is a fail-safe mechanism for me, because I can overreact to short term gains or losses. But there is now little doubt that -- at least for me -- I'm going through a double dip downturn. (I've got some independent information that it isn't just happening to me, too.)
Secondly, up to now my focus this summer has been on profits, not growth. As a result, I've been able to 'balance the budget', if you will. But sales have been dropping, and there is the danger of continued decline, or 'deflation', if you will.
Personally, I think the falling sales are more dangerous. So I've reversed course, and decided to prop the sales up again. (This has been my goal for most of my career, as long as I was taking enough home to pay the bills. What I'd been hoping to change was the ability to bring home 'extra' profits -- extra in the 'putting it in the bank' sense.)
Just throwing money at the problem isn't very useful. Fortunately, I have two categories in my store that are showing signs of strength -- even growth. Books and games. I have a long list of product that I can order that I either 1.) have sold in the past, or 2.) am pretty sure I can sell in the future.
I have the luxury of growing the categories with salable product. (There is also the side bonus that being proactive is much more fun and interesting, and my engagement in the process often, in and of itself, encourages sales.)
On the other hand, I don't get the sense that buying more Magic will help. Or toys. Comics and graphic novels are pretty well stocked -- these are mature product lines that are already selling about as well as they are likely to sell and I'm already keeping my inventory up and buying more might boost sales a bit, but wouldn't be terribly cost efficient. I don't want to just "buy" myself into sales growth.
By buying more games and books, I've probably insured that I'll increase sales through August and hopefully through the end of the year, but I've also probably given up my chance to make the 'extra' profits. That goal will have to wait for another day. Now is not the time for foregoing growth in viable product lines.
I suppose the big difference between me and the federal government is that I'm not in debt. I have no loans out, my budget is currently balanced, and turning a profit. There is a chance that if this new product doesn't sell in a timely manner that I might have a budget deficit, but I'd be surprised if it happens. It wouldn't hurt us much if it did.
Also ironic -- and typical for me and Pegasus -- is that I'm buying heavily into a product -- BOOKS -- that many other people seem to be having doubts about. I've been selling more books than ever, and I still see a path to selling even more, (trends that are evident, authors who sell who I can buy more of) so that's where I'm headed. Contrarian, as usual.
One of these days I'd really like to prove the store can be Very profitable, not just modestly profitable.
Maybe now isn't the time to try to prove it.
As everyone keeps saying, "Breaking Even is the New Black."
Tuesday, July 20, 2010
Kindling a bonfire.
When sales first started dropping this month, my response was to cut back on spending even further. Despite a rather steep decline, I'm still in profitable territory -- which is quite an achievement, actually.
But my instincts are now telling me to make strong orders of books and games and graphic novels, which have become the strong base of my business. Magic sales have all but collapsed, toy sales are down, and so are sports card sales. Not sure what's going on with Magic, but it certainly isn't due to not having product. Toys sales and sports card sales are impulse buys these days.
My sort of off the cuff estimate is -- I'm getting lots of folks in the door, but not a whole lot of impulse buys.
Games are strong -- even though I'd expected much more of the 'new' customers, instead of sales to regulars. Book sales are even stronger -- despite the news about Kindle outselling hardcovers on Amazon. I don't really carry many HDC's. Mostly tradepaperbacks (the larger P.B.'s) . The price point on T.P.'s has always been better for us -- not so outrageously high as H.D.'s -- which I'm not surprised readers are foregoing.
Anyway, I'm going to make strong game and book orders for the month of August -- which means starting today.
Build on what's working.
Monday, July 19, 2010
de facto, or life in the real world.
June starts were 20. ........ For all three counties........... In June.
Meanwhile, Paul Krugman among others is calling this a "de facto" double dip recession, which I do believe is the same exact terminology I used. Heh.
Anyway, for me three months is enough to call it a trend, and this month is without a doubt going to be one of worst months I've seen in a long time. I'm taking satisfaction in more or less breaking even, (probably a small profit) rather than turning a big profit like I'd planned.
Thing is, if the official definition of a recession is two quarters of down, well then, 5 months of down and one of up doesn't count.
Except to those of us who actually experience it, I guess.
Sunday, July 18, 2010
Saturdays are my day off with Linda working, and if I want to watch a show or movie that I know Linda doesn't want to watch, I'll sometimes pop one in. But I really save up watching the boob tube until evenings, usually, so I try not to get carried away.
I'd planned to redo that Black Book of the store yesterday, after intending to do it the weekend before, but first...I thought....I'll pop in the first hour of The Pacific.
9 hours later, I'd watched all 10 episodes, fast-forwarding the credits and re-caps.
Now here's where I could comment on the show: It was Great.
But instead, I'm going to comment on my addictive personality. This was the equivalent of staying up until 4:00 A.M. reading a good book. I try not to do that anymore. In fact, I try to stay away from most addictive substances -- alcohol, drugs, video games, anything that's too much fun, heh.
When I watch these more realistic war shows, I'm thankful I missed my generation's war by getting a high draft number -- and sobered by the sacrifice of those who didn't.
Saturday, July 17, 2010
"...truly a model of how a comics shop should be run.""
There is a famous comic shop in Brooklyn, N.Y. which has been open for five years, that apparently has just had it's doors locked. I'm not going to say the name of the store aloud, because I really don't want to get into an argument with the national fanbase; but no one pays much attention to my little old blog, and those of you who read BMWJAMAGEH probably don't care. I can take anything Buster can throw at me, but comic fans scare me.
(google " brooklyn, comic shops, " further hint -- 'what blasts off?')
Anyway, the owners blame "real estate" problems.
They say further:
"...my partner and I are suddenly making some large life decisions about what comes next. We love the shop, and as fun as it is, we have to figure out what makes sense for us on a practical level."
First of all, I have to say that's a real shame, because it sounded like a great shop. And yet,....and yet..... as another comic retailer was so imprudent to ask: "But was it profitable?"
From the above information, I'd have to guess no.
I've mentioned before, and I'll say it again; no one will EVER SAY they went out of business because of not making money. Usually there is a good excuse. It's only human. It's almost always a problem with the lease, or insurance, or the partner, or....or....just about any other reason.
Saying you have a "real estate problem" is like saying a guy who has a stake hammered into his heart died of a heart attack.
The biggest two reasons stores go under. 1.) Not making enough money. 2.) Not having enough fun(burnout).
Or both of the above.
To handle the latter reason first, I'm guessing, again based on the owners comments, that it wasn't quite as fun as they expected:
"Comic retail was never something either of us wanted to do forever, and if it happens that we close, we had a great five year run, and look forward to what comes next."
They leave open the possibility that they'll be back, but it sounds a bit wistful. It's a strange statement in some ways -- when you start a store, you need to be very committed. It puzzles me that someone would invest the time and energy it takes to get started, just to have a five year window.
Anyway, I'm going to go out on a limb here and make a guess that the very elements that made the store famous contributed to it's demise. Listen to the description of the store in the article and comments:
"With a lineup of art shows, parties and signings including release parties for the last edition of Scott Pilgrim, Achewood, Brian Wood, Top Shelf and many other notable books, (insert comic shop) has been the center of a social scene in its gentrified Brooklyn neighborhood, as a gathering place for comics readers and creators."
"On a more personal level, we’ve spent many a sociable evening at (insert comic shop) hobnobbing with colleagues and friends. It’s the kind of place you want to hang out in and a model for the way comics shops should be run."
This description, along with the killer hours: 11:00 A.M. to 10:00 P.M.; Seven Days a Week:
are enough to make me shudder.
Sounds great, if you want to work 77 hours a week -- and I'm guessing from the social aspects of the above descriptions, that it often went well beyond 10:00 P.M. -- or you're making enough money to pay for others to work the extra hours, (and a basic problem here is that for 'special events' you really need the owners there.....) Or if you want to eat, drink, and sleep comics....
Me, I'd like to go home in the evenings and kick up my heels.
So am I arguing against excellence? By no means, but I am saying you have to be realistic about how much you can keep doing....and doing....and doing.
See -- while your customers can pick and choose when to "hang out" (and I suspect hanging out is almost always bad for business -- I wonder really if Norm and Frasier and Cliff were really good for Cheers, or just nursed the same drink all evening long....), you are committed to a major time suck -- and perhaps not getting paid enough for the pleasure.
Here's where Dave will pop up and tell me how well 'special events' do for the bookstore in Sunriver, and I believe you, Dave, I really do. But I'm still going to try to make the case that you have to be careful just how many 'special events' you do; and you have to be conscious of how much money you're making, and how much hassle it might be, and whether it detracts from what you do on a regular basis, and whether people are rewarding you with their cash, or just lavishing their attention and praise on you. (Lavish attention and praise and .50 cents won't buy you a cup of coffee these days.)
Because you're in the business to sell books -- or comics -- or booze, or whatever, and everything you do needs to be in service to that goal -- and NOT the other way around. Sometimes when I hear bookstores explaining their problems, it seems as though they are more concerned about all the accouterments than they are about actually selling books.
The current bookstore model seems to be -- provide meeting space, and drinks, and soft couches, and tables, and let people look through books to their hearts content, and stay open late and have signings and club meetings and so on. Well, except for the 'drinks' part, libraries are already doing most of those things, and they are supported by non-profit and governmental monies. Huge stores like Barnes and Nobles apparently have a model that works on the above premise, but small stores are a different species.
But what about selling books?
Well, that ain't very glamorous.
So those are my answers to the second part of the equation: Not Having Fun Anymore.
What about the first part of the equation: Not Making Money?
Well, here too, I think the description of the store is very telling.
"It was also in the forefront of the graphic novel store revolution, as comics shops evolved from stores that relied entirely on the weekly periodical market to ones that operated more like bookstores with wide ranging material for all ages stocked in-depth."
That plus the pictures of the store, which show it to be gorgeous; and "...clean, well-lit, well-stocked and open to anyone of any age or gender." I can't argue with that last part, except....well, how much did it cost?
I'll tell you a little secret. I have enough money and credit and experience, that I could go out right now and spend money on a fresh new large space in an expensive area of town and buy brand new fixtures and lights and carpets, and display my wonderful product face out and carry all the best graphic novels and have space to sit and talk and having meetings and so on and so on.
So why don't I do it?
Because 1.) I'd go out of business within a couple of years, and leave a beautiful corpse; and 2.) it would be absolutely exhausting, stressful, and terrifying.
But, hey. People would love the store as long as it lasted! And they would be shocked, shocked! that their favorite store is going out of business.
There's sort of a reason that most comic shops still carry those pesky "weekly periodical" comics, and don't look like a fashion boutique,and have cheaper rent, and even go so far as to -- gasp! carry those dusty old back issues, and action figures, and decorate their stores with posters of spandex heroes, and have reasonable hours and the owner works most of them, and so on.
I think -- I have to believe -- that the kind of excellent store mentioned above is possible. Not only that, they exist. I try to be that store, myself. Each owner's level of energy and commitment will be different and that doesn't preclude special events or large investments in overhead -- but you have to be careful you don't reach too far too fast; because whatever you make part of your business plan you have to keep doing...and doing....and doing....
I subscribe to the theory that if you want to stay in business -- if you want to enjoy your business for more than a few years -- you need to keep it simple and basic and within budget and keep reasonable hours and focus on selling product. Plan to keep doing it for years and years and ask yourself; what is a reasonable level of expense and effort? Keep it to the basic and simple plan of profit and loss.
Because that's hard enough. You can grow into excellence, but I can almost guarantee it will take more than 5 years unless you're just throwing money and your very blood into the pit.
So...what happens if -- at the end of five years, and you're exhausted and your landlord is raising the rent and you haven't made much money and your significant other is grumbling and the industry looks like it's going to go through some major changes and you have a signing that night but you haven't really had the time to read the graphic novel and the author is a bit demanding and the last event you held a patron threw up all over the Sandman statue and you didn't get home until after midnight and your employee just called and says he can't open for you and the shipment of graphic novels the author was going to sign haven't arrived and you have to run down to UPS to pick it up and your anniversary dinner with your significant other will just have to be canceled and your roof has sprung a leak and the landlord says it isn't his fault and those shiny new carpets and fixtures are starting to look older and the neon Superman sign you paid 600.00 for just went out and you had horrible day in sales and will have to pull money out of your meager savings to cover the shortfall and it was money your significant other had hoped to use for vacation....and the landlord calls and starts playing hardball again.....
Having a store that operates on reasonable hours (that you can work yourself, if necessary)
and who's goal is to sell product with or without fanfare
and which makes a small profit because you're careful about overhead,
but which you are proud of the inventory and you go home at night
and stop thinking about the store because you know the bills are paid....
well, that looks pretty attractive at that point. Doesnt' it?
You may not make it as the standard-bearer in the national media, the example that is used that "all" stores should follow, but...well, you'll live to work another day. You'll get up in the morning and want to go to work, and sell books and comics, and have nice little chats with the customers and --you may dream of the 'perfect' store, but you know the perfect store isn't possible.
Finally, I'll leave you with another -- apparently non-ironic comment -- about the 'model' store: "Thanks....for proving the concept."
Well, no. Actually, it didn't.
Friday, July 16, 2010
"Oh, my gosh! Look at that? Where did she find it?"
"I think she found it under the vole-canic rock out back."
"Yeah, she vole-enteers to hunt the little varmints for us."
"She's really excited. She hasn't looked this pleased with herself in years."
"Well, you know. She just got charged up by some major vole-tage."
Anyway, we've had vole-umous puns over the last few days...
Spinning wheels keep on turnin'...
Apparently, the City Club in Bend had a "debate" about whether Bend was hosting too many athletic events.
Though, from reading the KTVZ report, ("Bend's Big Events, Is Enough, Enough?") there wasn't much debating. Sounded like most of them already had their mind up that the "More Is Better" stance is the right one and were circling the wagons in support of that view.
Strangely, most of those who were quoted, also owe their jobs to finding and promoting such events, but never mind....
Anyway, the fact that the subject even came up probably means that there was some grumbling going on by some members somewhere -- probably not willing to go on the record. I mean, as Bruce so aptly put it, that would be like taking away away their lollipops! Not a popular view -- to the promoters, the organizers, the officials, the merchants who do profit, the event attendees, the media, or the public. Pretty strong lobby to argue against.
Still, I think maybe a few citizenss are starting to realize that blocked or clogged streets, and outside vendors, trash and litter, and insensitive placements have some downsides. I've heard pretty much the same thing downtown -- that even merchants who are in overall favor of the 'events' were not completely happy about the way they were handled. But no one wants to go on the record.
There have been a couple of minor rebellions over the years. I know the Drake Park neighborhood was pretty unhappy for awhile; I can't remember if they got any events canceled or moved. And the Skyliner Rd. folk were grousing recently.
I'm sure we objectors come across as selfish -- but in most cases, what we're really asking are adjustments and some consideration. For instance, I told Chuck Arnold I saw no real reason they couldn't hold the Cascade Bike Race on a Sunday instead of a Saturday, except that it was inconvenient for them to reschedule. This is an entrenched event now, so I doubt anything will change. Ditto Sunday for the Car thingy....
I know my yearly disquiet with these interruptions to the flow of my business isn't really making any headway with changing anything. But the next person who comes along who discovers the same circumstances won't be starting completely from scratch. Maybe, just maybe, someone a little more politically savvy and willing to fight the good fight, will be able to change things.
Thursday, July 15, 2010
To borrow or not to borrow?
Bernanke has been lecturing banks about the need to start loaning to small businesses. But my question would be -- should small businesses be borrowing money?
There is a recent article about how some of the smaller, regional banks are having trouble paying back the Tarp money. Who'd have thunk? Borrowing money and having to pay it back only added to the amount of payments they have to make every month?
I realize that there are seasonal type businesses (though even those should probably strive to save up enough cash to pay for the seasonal swings themselves) but the main reason that I ever borrowed money from a bank was to grow my businesses.
O.K. I can understand how the government might want 'growth'. But borrowing for growth is another word for RISK, in my opinion. Living within the current parameters of your business would seem a wiser choice right now.
If you have to borrow money just to pay the bills, you're already in trouble and borrowing will only compound your problem.
I'm not an absolutist about this. I can come up with plenty of scenarios where loaning to small business would be a good thing -- both for the business and for the economy. I can even see loaning small business money just to tide them over until things improve. It would probably be much more efficient for everyone to keep already operating businesses alive than to have to start all over from scratch.
But as a small business, I'm trying to avoid adding any more payments to my monthly overhead, especially payments that involve compound interest.
Of course, if everyone thinks this way, we're probably looking at deflation for a long time to come.
So -- I'll be prudent.
You other guys borrow the money.
In the past, faced with this conundrum, I would try to entice customers with discounts, but I'm wondering -- what's the use? I can keep the brand in stock at regular price, and my budgeted money on books and boardgames.
Meanwhile, it's also the season for "late" blockbusters.
Did you know I sell unicorns online? Not in my store, mind you. If I sold real unicorns in my store, I'd actually have to produce them. But selling unicorns online? No problem, just send me the money.
I try this tact all the time, but most people just act mystified. So let me lay it out. The internet lies. Yes, lies. It tells you what you want to hear. Just because someone posts a date and someone is 'selling' it online doesn't mean it's actually out.
And, why do you believe an anonymous online site over a living breathing storekeepers who after all would like nothing better than to sell you the damn product?
So...this week's villains; and probably next week and the week after if history is any judge, are Scott Pilgrim #6, which is supposed to arrive next week; and most especially Walking Dead #12.
Here's a hint. Walking Dead Vol. 12 was offered in December of 2009.
It was then offered again in April of 2010.
Which means the original offer would be, oh, I don't know..... six months late. The second solicitation would be -- if it showed up next week on time which it apparently will not -- would be at least two months late. But that "Arrival Date" you find online won't change.
Actually, you know what? I'm just hiding it in the back room because I don't really want to make any money by selling it to you....
I'm not actually that annoyed. I just wanted to express a little faux outrage. One things for sure --this phenomenon of the web trumping reality isn't going to change anytime soon.
Wednesday, July 14, 2010
Downtown Openings and Closings.
Meanwhile, the new art gallery will be a nice corner to Oregon Ave.
NEW BUSINESS'S DOWNTOWN
Red Chair Art Gallery, Oregon Ave. 7/13/10.
Earth Sense Herbs, Penny's Galleria, 7/12/10.
Mad Happy Lounge, Brooks St., 6/2910
Common Table, Oregon Ave. , 6/29/10.
Looney Bean Coffee, Brooks St. , 6/29/10.
Bourbon Street, Minnesota St., 6/22/10
Feather's Edge, Minnesota St., 6/22/10
The BLVD., Wall St. , 6/13/10.
Volt, Minnesota St. 6/1/10.
Tart, Minnesota Av. , 5/13/10
Olivia Hunter, Wall St. 4/5/10.
Tres Chic, Bond St. 4/5/10
Blue Star Salon, Wall St. 4/1/10.
Lululemon, Bond St. 3/31/10.
Diana's Jewel Box, Minnesota St., 3/25/10.
Amalia's, Wall St. (Ciao Mambo space), 3/12/10
River Bend Fine Art, Bond St. (Kebanu space) 2/23/10
Federal Express, Oregon Ave. 2/1/10
***10 Below, Minnesota St. 1/10/10
Tew Boots Gallery, Bond St. 1/8/10.
Top Leaf Mate, 12/10/09
Laughing Girls Studio, Minnesota St. 12/7/09
Lemon Drop, 5 Minnesota, 11/12/09
The Curiosity Shoppe 11/5/09 25 N.W. Minnesota, Suite #7.
Wabi Sabi 11/4/09
Frugal Boutique 11/4/09
5 Spice 10/22/09
Cowgirls Cash 10/17/09
***Haven Home 10/17/09
Dog Patch 10/17/09
The Good Drop 10/12/09
**Volcano Wines 9/15/09
Singing Sparrow Flowers 8/16/09
Northwest Home Interiors 8/5/09
High Desert Frameworks 7/23/09 (*Moved to Oregon Ave. 4/5/10.)
Wall Street Gifts 7/--/09
Ina Louise 7/14/09
Bend Home Hardware (Homestyle Hardware?) 7/1/09
Altera Real Estate 6/9/09
Azura Studio 6/7/09
Mary Jane's 6/1/09
Bella Moda 3/25/09
High Desert Gallery (Bend) 3/25/09
Great Outdoor Store
Luxe Home Interiors
Dudley's Used Books and Coffee
Bend Burger Company
Old Bend Distillery, Brooks St., 6/19/10.
Staccato, Minnesota Ave. 6/18/10.
Showcase Hats, 6/1/10
Cork, Oregon Av., 5/27/10.
Wall Street Gifts, 5/26/10
Microsphere, Wall St. , 5/17/10.
Singing Sparrow, Franklin and Bond, 5/15/10
Glass Symphony, 3/25/10
Bend Home Hardware, Minn. Ave, 2/25/10
Ciao Mambo, Wall St. 2/4/10
***Angel Kisses 1/25/10 (Have moved to 'Honey.')
Ivy Rose Manor 8/20/09
***Downtowner 8/18/09 (moving into the Summit location)
Chocolate e Gateaux 8/16/09
Finders Keepers 8/15/09
***Tangerine 7/21/09 (Got word, they are moving across the street.)
Micheal Cassidy Gallery 6/15/09
St. Claire Coffee 6/15/09
Luxe Home Interiors 6/4/09
***Volcano Tasting Room 4/28/09** Moved to Minnesota Ave.
Mountain Comfort 4/14/09
Tetherow Property 4/11/09
Blue Moon Marketplace 3/25/09
Downtown Doggie 3/25/09
***King of Sole (became Mary Janes)**
Made in Hawaii
Stewart Weinmann (leather)
Pella Doors and Windows
***Pomegranate (downtown branch)**
Pronghorn Real Estate office.
Tuesday, July 13, 2010
One of the interesting things I noticed about fads (or booms, if you will), is that the maximum number of purveyors appeared long after the peak in demand. The product would reach its height, and then, slowly, almost imperceptibly start its inevitable decline, but the number of stores that would pop up to sell it would accelerate.
I used to explain this by using a 'froth' analogy. The cup runneth over...and over and over....
But I think the mechanics of it are deeper than that.
First of all, let me state this is just a theory, so take it for what it's worth.
Secondly, when I say the boomlet reached its peak, I mean the 'golden age' is over. It no longer is difficult to get the product, the prices are starting to fall, and thus the profits. But the product may be selling in greater numbers overall than ever before. Just nots so you can make any money off it.
The temptation is to follow the prices down, to deny that the product is failing. Failing to make a profit.
It seems crazy that so many stores could possibly be selling what -- just a short time before -- you had been the only one to see the potential of, the only one to take the risk, to develop the market. How are they doing it? you ask yourself in disbelief.
Usually, I'd get hit from both sides -- the big guys would take notice, and the bigger the fad the more likely they'd use the fad as a 'loss leader' and lower the prices to close to wholesale. They just want people in the door. Then I'd get hit by the little guys, who's best idea of how to generate business is to try to steal the customers you have already created and the only way they know how to do that is to undercut in prices.
I tried the first couple of times this happened to keep my customers -- by both competing in price and keeping the same level of service. But this is pretty much impossible, because the service was costly in time, money, space and effort and my competitors were apparently willing to lose money in order to gain market share. How do you compete will someone who thinks they can name that tune with one note?
Here's the kicker.
The overall market might -- to outward appearances -- even by objective numbers -- still be expanding in sales. Sometimes for years. Each outlet is selling less, each outlet is making much less profit, but there are so many outlets that the overall industry continues to expand.
None of this made much sense to me the first couple of times -- until I realized there was no sense to it. I was competing against people who had little imagination, who only really noticed the fad while it was in full swing and only then decided to jump on the bandwagon -- this goes doubly for the mass market, who usually only jump on when the fad has reached its ultimate mania.
Then it really gets crazy. The stores that opened at the peak start to fail, and two other stores will pop up to take their place. Then they'd fail, and two more stores per store would open up. This goes on for years, sometimes. These stores were generated, propagated, at the height of the mania even though they may not have opened until long afterward. They don't see the failing sales or profits because they have nothing to compare it to.
Nuttiest of all, is the phenomenon of stores opening to replace failed stores who follow the exact same business model of the failures. They don't copy me, or some of the other established stores, who are still in business.
No, they liked the failed stores because the stores were "CHEAPER" and the owners were too stupid to realize why they had failed (or unwilling to admit it) and would usually point their fingers at the landlords, or the wholesalers, or the spouse, or whatever as the reason they failed.
So these nitwits decide that selling the product for next to nothing, and spending all their time and energy in a losing proposition is the way to go. And go and go.
Once it reaches this stage, the best strategy for me is to take a step back. I'll maybe moderate my prices a little bit if I want to keep up some volume but not go whole hog crazy discounter, or I'll raise the prices a little bit and order much less product and hang back.
It's hard to compete with "the new kid in town", who in his or her naivete seems so much more of a booster of the fad, (while I'm trying to warn people to watch out), who's idea of competing is to be cheaper, who provides suicidal services like opening product to get the 'best' from it, selling it cheap, then taking what's left and selling it even cheaper.
I play a little bit of rope-a-dope then, wait for them to become disenchanted, or split in the middle of the night and just hope that some of my old customers will drift back to me.
But usually, it's pretty much over.
When I was visiting Brett's store in Roseburg, he mentioned how interesting it was that so many of the old-line stores that existed 20 years ago are still around: Heroes Haven, Emerald City, Things from Another World, Excaliber, Pegasus Books, and so on. Of course, that is a prediction of a natural phenomenon -- that is, the survivors would be the survivors. But I also think it's a valid observation -- and the only answer I could give him was, "None of us became crazy discounters."
I see Magic as having entered into a phase where 'price' will become paramount, because Hasbro has decided to promote the product in the chain stores, because its readily available at near wholesale online, because the progeny of the magic boom are being born in every town, but where the pressure will be for stores to provide tremendous service to retain their customers is stronger than ever, so the strain will be in both price and in services (space, time, effort.)
I'm not going down that road. I'm sticking to my price.
And the customers are disappearing in droves. Which means, I guess, that my budget for boardgames and books has gotten a sudden bonus -- and I'll pursue product where I can still make a decent profit.
Meanwhile, the conflagration of the fad will burn and burn, cheap being the common denominator, services becoming more and more costly and stress inducing and resulting in less and less customer loyalty instead of more. It's a vicious cycle to get into, I tell ya.
O.K. Some of you may have figured out where I'm going with this.
Way back when I first started writing about the boom in Bend, I mentioned that I thought downtown Bend would continue to fill with stores even after the bust because of the demand created at the peak, that the 'froth' would keep filling the space.
I've been more right about that than I expected. For one thing, there really are only a couple of vital places for 'small' business in Bend, right now. Downtown. The Old Mill is more for what I consider 'medium' sized businesses -- same with the Factory Outlet or Cascade Village, etc.
But if you wanted to open a small business and get immediate foot traffic, downtown Bend is the place.
So the irony is that we are still experiencing the Echo of the Boom. Now it may be that this echo will continue to fill the space until some kind of economic recovery begins. It won't be like most fads, where the product falls and falls....and falls. Eventually, there will be a bottom to the recession, and if we are lucky, downtown Bend will have placeholders all the way until then.
But like the boomlets I talk about above, the profits may actually be less, the service stress even more, and there may be more turnover than most people are aware of. But I do believe downtown Bend is an echo of the boom right now.
Monday, July 12, 2010
When did that happen?
It can be hard sometimes to visualize a point. I find that saying I pay 2.00 a foot rent in downtown Bend never resonates much with out of town storekeepers until I multiply it times their sq. ft. Then their eyes grow wide.
Linda has been saying for some time, now: "We get nearly 200 books a day in trade!" Most people shrug it off -- doesn't sound like all that much. Just as an experiment, I counted the books in the display table in front of the store -- 5 ft. long, with three rows of books -- and it came to exactly 200 books. So, about 15 linear ft. of books per day. When Linda stacks that number of books on her sorting table, it's like she disappears behind a great wall.
Just to keep score. Yesterday was our second slowest day of the year. Thanks, downtown promotions!
Check out Jasper's blog, Otter Space Pirate, for his take on things; I swear I didn't try to influence him.
I'll say it again, especially since the Bulletin has an article about just how "local" the Farmer's Market really isn't -- these events aren't put on for the benefit of local merchants, even if local merchants buy into the notion.
That's manifested by the way they set up; with just a little thoughtfulness, they could set their booths up in a non-disruptive way. But since it doesn't matter to them, they are usually pretty careless. I try to tell the workers that if they would just move something a couple of feet, but they ignore me.
Saturday, there was a huge truck and trailer parked across the sidewalk on Bond. I called the liaison officer, and he agreed that it was parked illegally, and got it moved. Simple -- if you can just get a guy with a uniform to ask. Unnecessary with a little bit of foresight.
Sunday, July 11, 2010
Being right doesn't make it hurt any less.
Is there a gracious way to say, "I told you so?" Probably not. I certainly take no pleasure in others misfortunes.
And it's not have if my own business and finances haven't been impacted by this downturn.
The only real difference was I clearly saw it coming, and prepared for it. While others were expanding or adding expenses, I was cutting back on overhead; while others were piling on the debt, I was cutting it down to zero.
And to be honest, even I, careful as I was, took on a bad second loan that could've come back to haunt us. I was taking care of business at the store, but still let my desire to improve my home overcome my misgivings.
I knew it was coming, just not exactly when.
Nevertheless, it's like having the knowledge that someone is going to come up and smack you in the face. It doesn't hurt any less. You just may have the bandages and medication ready.
But, honestly, go back to third quarter of 2007 and read what Bend Economy Man, and a little later -- Bendbubble Two and me -- were saying, and compare that to what the local media and experts were saying. All our alarmist talk was, if anything, an underestimation.
So pardon me if I take a little pride in that.
It's not been as clear as that ever since, by the way. I keep holding to my original observations that:
1.) The bust lasts longer than you expect.
2.) It goes deeper than you expect.
3.) Get on with your life and don't expect a turnaround anytime soon.
4.) If there is a recovery, it will happen so slowly that you won't notice until it's already here.
I mean, this has lasted so long now, that most of the bubble bloggers have even disappeared. Also, people are usually folding up and leaving Bend without a whole lot of fanfare, so you could almost put a gauze over the lense and pretend she's still pretty.
It takes a lot of guts to write what Andrew Moore wrote and I give him credit. I also will credit the Bulletin for looking the problem square in the face. I don't think they were trying to fool us three years ago, I just don't think they believed it would happen.
We've got a long way to go. Years, probably. Years of dragging sales, foreclosures and bankruptcies.
The one prediction that most of us bubble bloggers missed was downtown. I had a suspicion that downtown wouldn't empty out, but I couldn't be sure. I think I have an explanation for that, too. In my next blog.
Saturday, July 10, 2010
"Sure!" he says.
"My god, I think you're actually looking forward to it!"
"Well....I think it will be fun."
"All righty then, I'll be in my garden if you need me....."
Friday, July 9, 2010
Implications for Bend.
When the Bend Bubble Blogs first popped up, one of the arguments used by the real estate promoters was that we were getting wealthier inflow, and these -- dare I say, rich?-- newcomers wouldn't be affected by a pesky little thing like a Recession.
There is a new article in the New York Times that, in fact, the rich are walking away and defaulting from mortgages without a glance backward....
"Whether it is their residence, a second home or a house bought as an investment, the rich have stopped paying the mortgage at a rate that greatly exceeds the rest of the population.
More than one in seven homeowners with loans in excess of a million dollars are seriously delinquent, according to data compiled for The New York Times by the real estate analytics firm CoreLogic.
By contrast, homeowners with less lavish housing are much more likely to keep writing checks to their lender. About one in 12 mortgages below the million-dollar mark is delinquent…"
I was always doubtful that we were getting quite as many "rich" folks as all that; I felt there were more aspirational overreachers than really wealthy. My joke was, if you saw a real estate agent and a millionaire at a downtown restaurant, guess which one paid the bill?
I've actually changed my mind about that -- I think we have indeed attracted a wealthy group of people to Bend. Driving around town, looking at all the mansions and the fancy cars -- it seems pretty clear, though I'll hold to my contention that many of them are living an illusion.
Will they stay?
Most of them, of course. But if we do indeed have an abundance of 'second' homes, it doesn't bode well for the future of housing. If rich are walking away from underwater homes, who's more underwater than Bend? Who has more second homes than Bend?
But Bend was immune, right?-- especially the West Side; ah, yes, the West Side, where 100K former mill houses were turned into 500k 'bungalows.' No danger there. Where every vacant lot was filled with a new house, shaped to fit the triangular or octagonal or whatever weird shape the lot was in. Where expensive houses were built next to each other like townhouses.
My doubts about this came from what I've seen in small business. Over the years we've gotten plenty of outwardly 'wealthy' people opening businesses downtown. My observation was that not only didn't they last, they usually were the first to go.
I've always thought there were two sturdy legs to a business -- profit and motivation. They aren't always the same thing -- you can accept a small profit if you have a strong enough motivation; and you can accept a lower motivation with a higher profit. But they are equally important, and eventually they merge -- lower motivation will bring about lower profits and vice versa.
Anyway, what I noticed was that those of us who actually DEPENDED on our businesses to make a living were much more likely to hang in there in good times and bad.
I was sometimes astonished by the caviler way another business owner would fold up his tent. "Oh, it wasn't fun anymore. " "I want to move to Montana, Bend has gotten too busy." "My former boss offered me more money."
O.K. Good. See you.
I'm here to live in Bend, thick or thin, inconvenient or not. You're out for....a good time? An easy life? Hell, I don't blame you.
But not a completely dependable, reliable motivation, in my eyes.
Thursday, July 8, 2010
half an inch, half an inch, before you know it, yards....
I spent an hour and a half the other night after closing just straightening up. Everything in the store seemed just a little out of place. My "Half-Inch" rule just never seems to sink in with my employees, no matter how often I repeat it. I just don't think they see it, or that they see it as important.
So I go around from top to bottom, squaring things up, making things look even, and otherwise demonstrating my OCD tendencies....
It's the deal I made with myself: it's O.K. to pack the store from top to bottom, but ONLY if you keep it neat and tidy, dude.
Wednesday, July 7, 2010
Still catching up.
Listened to the first four chapters of PETER AND MAX, as part of my birthday gift to Linda.
It was fine....but it wasn't reading....
My sister Betsy is in town, and she talked about how if she isn't reading books she feels "off-kilter", which is exactly the way I feel.
Popped over to CACB site at 9:00 this morning (Wed. the 7th) and it's dropped to a new low of .41, or down 10%. It will be interesting if the 'saviors' come along at the end of the day and prop up the stock again. And how long they'll keep doing it. Either that, or there are some people really 'playing' the stocks ups and downs.
P.S. Looks like they tried to boost the stock at 2:30, and then the bottom fell out. Ended at 17% down, a new low of .38.
This might be an apropos moment to state that I think we are in double dip for sure. I'm pretty sure we're in fourth consecutive month of down sales Year to Year, after seven consecutive months up, and I just don't get the sense that tourists are spending as much.
Bend still has some tough years to get through, in my opinion.
I'm having a bit of a hard time deciphering it, because three of my main categories are way, way down. But the two newest categories, games and books, are up considerably. But I'll go with my suspicion that this here Great Recession is far from over.
Thankfully, I had budgeted to try to make some major profit this summer, and this just means I'll be closer to a small profit, or at worse break-even. Nevertheless, a bit disappointing.
Who's askin', bud.
(With one significant exception, which happened on the way home after I wrote most of this entry.)
Then on the way back to Bend, we took a sidetrip to Roseburg. I knew there was a longtime comic shop (HEROES HAVEN) there, and we drove through a half-empty downtown hoping to stumble across it, and sure enough I saw comic posters in some windows.
We went in what was the back door, and found ourselves in a nice comic shop, about twice as big as mine. The owner, Brett, was there along with his parents, who apparently have always been involved in the store, in fact, they had been running the store for a couple of weeks while Brett took his sister down to college in Arizona.
Since we both belong to the Comic Book Industry Alliance bulletin board, I took a chance and introduced myself.
"Of course!" he says. "I read your blog!"
"Really!" I was feeling inordinately pleased. "But you never comment!"
"I tried once, but it wouldn't post. Anyway, we have so many of the same concerns...."(so far so good) -------"but we have completely opposite solutions."
You know, I thought about this comment for a long time on the way home, and decided that it was completely O.K. And not all that surprising.
The main thing is -- he recognizes some of the same problems as me, which is the most important part of the equation. Recognizing the problems.
His solutions would be dictated by his space, his inclinations, his history and many other factors, just as mine are.
Besides, in talking to him, I realized that really we weren't all that far off. For instance, he had also decided that 'play space' for the gamers was a non-winner. He too had recognized that boardgames could sell, and that few others were competing with us.
His magic competition was such that he felt compelled to lower prices, and I'm facing the same dilemma. I'm probably going to just scale back my orders and concentrate on better selling product, but we more or less had the same problem.
He told me he had gotten in early on Warhammer, and it had always been a valuable part of his store. When he had some tough competition, he found that steadily ordering and having in stock the newest releases had eventually overcome the 'new' guy. Which is another similarity we have in the way we stock our stores.
The biggest difference I saw was that he had many more monthly comics displayed on the wall, as well as back issues. He had less graphic novels than I carry, and he didn't have as much 'independent' art type books. He had a similar selection of toys. And he had avoided sports cards and manga -- "There were 14 card shops in Roseburg and now there are none!" I told him I thought he was probably lucky to have missed those two fads.
Anyway, we talked for over an hour and it seemed like we barely scratched the surface, and Linda was pulling on my arm, so after getting his business card, we left. I told him that if I ever took the plunge into Warhammer I'd be asking for advice.
A couple of other things. He has more subscribers and obviously sells more monthlies than I do, even though he's in a smaller town. But when you walk into his store, it obviously is a "comic" shop, and my store is a bit more "pop culture" store -- which if you are into comics you probably find them, but if you aren't into comics you might hardly know they are there. Same with games and the rest.
I pay a penalty by having the limited space and high rents, but I feel like I have to do it because of the location. That is, devoting twice the space to comics probably wouldn't result in enough sales to compensate for the lost sales in everything else.
If I was in a cheaper location with more space, yeah, I probably would sell more comics.
The second remarkable thing is that Brett started his store when he was 15 years old, (I think he's currently in his late 30's) and that he has almost never missed any of the Oregon comic conventions. He is a true, blue comic guy.