Thursday, September 30, 2010
Made me nostalgic, even though I quit paying attention to B.B. a long time ago.
Also made me wonder if the season homerun record of Roger Maris, and the lifetime homerun record of Hank Aaron will ever be broken.
Coyotes love Canadian Goose eggs. We need to bring a couple of coyotes downtown...
Looking at the lists of Hot Christmas Toys. Won't have any of them. Nada.
Been trying to come up with a Sedgway joke. Reminds me of the story that the first two horseless carriages in a certain state supposedly crashed into each other at an intersection.
Poor guy, that blinding 12 mph speed was just too much. They should never have taken out the parachute option.
Sedgways are dangerous! Especially if you drive them off cliffs. Of course, people fall off cliffs all the time. Walking is dangerous!
Once again, the MacArthur genieooos grants have passed me by. I think it's because I insulted Gen. MacArthur that time. Called him Dugout Doug. Yeah, that must be it.
As I tweeted yesterday, How will I ever withstand the overwhelming semi-interest in my product by customers? I mean, I'm getting people in the store, and they seem sort of kina interested, and they might throw a compliment my way, but they ain't opening their wallets.
In conjunction to the above observation, it seems to me that I should be way more worried by what I'm seeing than I am.
Somehow, my gut instinct is that we're on the right course and everything will be fine.
Is that just my native optimism?
Either way, my brain can take over the planning around Christmas, if need be.
There is a large element of "If you build it, they will come" to small business. There is no way around it.
But experience tinges it with a, "Yeah, but they may get lost along the way....." feeling.
Wednesday, September 29, 2010
Planning for next year.
I figure I still have a couple of months to get the lay of the land. To try to figure out where I think it's all going.
When I do this, I keep asking myself the same two questions.
What have I done that I shouldn't have done?
What haven't I done, that I should've done?
On the first question, I think I've probably bought too much non-essential product. There have been good excuses -- either really good deals, or trying to establish new product lines for the future. But by January 1, the future will be NOW and there won't be any room for experiments.
Thing about experiments, about trying new material, is you really don't know sometimes what will work until you do it. You really don't know if stuff that doesn't seem to be selling well might be having a bigger overall impact than you think.
I'm trying to establish a kind of tone -- mainstream, but quirky. Slanted to the fantastical, but with enough stuff that would appeal to the average person.
On the second question, it's mostly that I realize I've been taking a lot of time off. I'm cool with that, but I'll have to pay close attention over the next couple of months to see if I can continue that into next year.
I've been extremely generous with the budget, and intend to keep that going through November; but if I don't see good solid results by Thanksgiving, I'll need to cut back to essentials and recoup over Christmas, and hopefully go into next year with a fresh slate.
This is just where my thinking is, right now. I'm enjoying the store a lot right now, because I'm having fun bringing stuff in. But I can't pretend that sales have justified the effort, so far.
Tuesday, September 28, 2010
Since I made this decision, I've had no disputes, no blowups, hardly even a discouraging word.
I admit to doing a bit of eye-rolling here and there, but mostly I've taken a step back. I was gaining a reputation for not being kid-friendly, or teenager friendly, and I didn't want that.
The result has been -- Sales aren't any better and probably no worse. On the other hand, I don't see any more product damage than I saw before. Wierdly enough, maybe even less.
So, ironically, I don't think it made much difference either in sales or damage level. But it has been a lot more peaceful.
Monday, September 27, 2010
Mammals versus Dinosaurs.
It's a subject I wanted to tackle when I thought maybe I could do it justice. Today, there was a nice convergence of another article, which talks about the fall and rise of the small retailer. So here goes....
(I've included both articles below.)
While the article about the big box stores, REALITY CHECK TIME, never uses the words 'ponzi scheme', it sort of says the same things I've been saying-- that the chain stores depend on "the dynamics of a high growth roll out of stores."
Technically, I know this doesn't meet the definition of a ponzi scheme, I've always used the term as a way of pointing out the dubious strategy of depending on future revenues to justify your current tactics. Because there will always come a moment when that 'growth' strategy won't work any longer, and just like a ponzi scheme, the whole thing falls apart.
This guy makes the case that the expansion of the big box was based on borrowing and credit, and that the American consumer is tapped out.
I'd add a couple of other elements -- the pricing strategy of buying material from foreign markets is bound to fail eventually because of it's very success. That is, by making foreign markets more successful, they are bound to breed eventual higher labor costs. What happens if China's workers want more of a slice of the pie? How do you keep them from raising their standard of living? What happens with rising transportation costs? Material costs?
Basing your entire strategy on high volume depends on unending markets, constantly lower prices, and static technology.
And the ever quickening rate of change in technology make the strategy of growing bigger and bigger more of a gamble as we accelerate into the future. I suspect that building such an ediface is going to be looked upon as a ponderous gamble every time a new technology makes such ediface obsolete. Big box stores risk getting caught flat footed, totally committed to a strategy that no longer works. The bigger they are, the bigger they'll fall.
I suspect that when the economic climate changes overnight, that being small and nimble is going to be key. Like the small mammals that scurried beneath the dinosaurs feet, who emerged blinking into a new day.
Thus all the recent news about "smaller" Walmart stores getting ready to roll out in the big cities. Again, this would seem to be the endgame for the big boxes -- that, ironically, they have to get smaller to gain more market share. But if they get smaller, then a large part of their advantage will disappear. Small stores can compete again small stores.
The second article," AS BLOCKBUSTER'S CREDITS ROLL....." talks about small video stores that more or less took the opposite strategy as the big boxes.
These smaller stores focused on "... building a comprehensive film library rather than catering to the constantly changing tastes of the broader public."
See if this sounds familiar to what I've been saying through the life of this blog:
"Others might not get rich in this line of work, but passion keeps them going long after the credits roll.
“I sacrificed a lot to keep this business going,” said David Buffa, owner of New York Video in New York City. “It certainly did not make me rich, but I was able to stay in business and do something I love. It’s not a job for us. We like what we do. Having a passion for what they do is one thing these entrepreneurs have in common. While the big guys were constantly updating their product mix and getting rid of the less popular titles to make room for high turnover movies, New York Video has focused on creating a breadth of offerings.
“We lost business to them initially,” said Buffa, because Blockbuster had so many more copies of each movie. “But, we would sacrifice having more copies of one title to get single titles of more obscure movies. We don’t get rid of anything. We’ve kept every title we’ve ever had,” he told BusinessNewsDaily.
A couple of sentences here really leapt out at me:
"While the big guys were constantly updating their product mix and getting rid of the less popular titles to make room for high turnover movies, New York Video has focused on breadth of offerings."
"....we would sacrifice having more copies of one title to get single titles of more obscure movies. We don't get rid of anything."
And that, folks, in a nutshell is pretty much what I've been doing and pretty much what I think works.
Nice to get confirmation from unexpected sources.
Sure, it may be a case of the most efficient buggy whip makers surviving the longest, but I don't think so. I think the future holds two main possibilities -- online, obviously. And small, nimble, service oriented small business.
Big box stores will be looked back on as a curiosity.
Here's the first article, minus the graphs. (Which are quite compelling, by the way, google the title of the article, because it no longer shows up on it's original site, but was referenced by quite a few other people.)
RETAILERS -- REALITY CHECK TIME. The Burning Platform, Jim Quinn, Sept. 8, 2010.
Having worked for a big box retailer for 14 years, I understand the dynamics of a high growth rollout of stores as a key to increasing market share and profits. Some of the best retail names in the US have practiced the identical strategy of concentrating many stores in each market to drive the small competitors out of business. This strategy worked wonders for Lowes, Wal-Mart, Target and Kohl’s during the early part of this decade. The combination of solid same store sales and opening new stores is a fantastic combination during good times. The results actually make the CEOs of these companies think they are brilliant. Their store expansion models based on rosy assumptions are followed like they can’t go wrong.
What these CEOs didn’t realize was that their expansion plans were based on lies and frauds. If they had advisors who could give them a reality check, they could have avoided the massive downsizing that awaits them. Their hubris didn’t leave room for a reality check. The population of the US has grown from 281 million in 2000 to approximately 308 million today. We’ve had a 10% population increase in 10 years. Consumer expenditures have grown from $6.7 trillion in 2000 to $10.3 trillion today. This is a 54% increase over the course of the decade. Amazingly, real average weekly earnings have only gone up by 6% in the last decade.
The chart below tells the story that retail CEOs have been ignoring for a decade. Consumer credit has advanced from $1.5 trillion in 2000 to $2.4 trillion today. This 60% increase in consumer debt has allowed workers who have barely increased their earnings to spend like they made a lot more money. This debt fueled consumption binge led major retailers to expand in order to keep up with the delusional consumers.
Retail America has run directly into a brick wall. Below are charts detailing the expansion history of four of the most admired retailers in America. Lowes grew their store count from 600 to 1,700 over the course of the decade, a 183% increase. Wal-Mart grew their store count from 4,000 to 8,500, a 113% increase. Target grew their store count from 1,000 to 1,750, a 75% increase. Kohl’s grew their store count from 300 to 1,050, a 250% increase. Same store sales are the true measure of a retailer’s health. When comp store sales are +5% or better, retailers make substantial profits and confidently build new stores. As the charts below clearly show, comp store sales have been in a substantial downtrend since 2006. The new stores that have been built in existing markets are over cannibalizing their existing stores.
Lowes has 500 more stores today than it had in 2005, $4 billion more sales, and $1 billion less profits. Target has 340 more stores today than it had in 2005, $12 billion more sales, and the same profit. Kohl’s has 240 more stores than it had in 2006, $1.6 billion more sales, and $100 million less profit. Only Wal-Mart has kept the profits flowing, mostly due to its international expansion. The tough times have only just begun for these retailers.The American consumer is still heavily indebted. Much of the retail spending in the last decade came from mortgage equity withdrawals. Using your home as an ATM is history. Home equity is at an all-time low and 25% of homeowners are underwater. Home prices are destined to fall another 20%. There are 15 million people unemployed. Consumer expenditures still account for 70% of GDP. In order for the US economy to achieve equilibrium, consumer spending will need to regress back to 65% of GDP. This will require an annual reduction in consumer spending of $800 billion. The CEOs of these retailers have not grasped the implications of this coming adjustment in our consumer society.
There are three major errors that have been committed by every retailer in America. They failed to recognize that the spending per household was 30% over inflated due to debt financed demand. They then extrapolated the spending per household using a 5% to 10% growth rate. Lastly, they ignored the fact that their competitors had the same strategy. There are 1.5 million retail establishments in the US. Thousands of these stores are going out of business every year.
Lowes, Wal-Mart, Target, and Kohl’s have yet to recognize their predicament. They are still blinded by their hubris. The point of recognition will occur within the next year. Each of these retailers will be closing hundreds of underperforming stores in the next two years. Time for a reality check.
"AS BLOCKBUSTER'S CREDITS ROLL, SEQUEL STARS INDEPENDENT VIDEO RETAILERS." Sept. 24, 2010. Jeanette Mulvey, Business News Daily.
Blockbuster’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing yesterday is being characterized as the final nail in the coffin of the brick-and-mortar video rental business. And, while Netflix, Hulu and Redbox have done their best to render independent video rental stores a quaint anachronism, some Davids have survived where Goliaths typically rule.
Around the country small video stores, many of whom have long struggled against the video rental giants, are thriving even as one of the mighty oaks of the retail forest falls.
By practicing good customer service, finding a niche and staying focused on what they do best, these independent video retailers, some still renting VHS tapes, are succeeding in spite of the burgeoning online video business.
Building a business
“Blockbuster employees literally laughed in our faces when we opened our doors in 2000,” said Matt Martin, co-owner of Black Lodge Video in Memphis, Tenn.
But, 10 years and 30,000 movies later, Black Lodge is one of the biggest video stores in the Eastern United States and its business continues to grow.
The secret to Black Lodge’s success, said Martin, is that the store, which occupies a 3,500-square-foot house with a music studio upstairs, has focused on building a comprehensive film library rather than catering to the constantly changing tastes of the broader public.
“We’ve gone to a lot of trouble to build up a vast film library for movies that are out of print,” said Martin, who started collecting movies in the seventh grade with his business partner Bryan Hogue.
Whether it’s horror, science fiction, or foreign films, Black Lodge has them and continues to add to its collection. Its broad selection, especially of hard-to-find and out-of-print movies, attracts customers who know they will be able to find even the most obscure films at Black Lodge.
The company rents movies for $4 for five days and doesn’t charge late fees. Putting trust in its customers is part of the process of building a relationship with them.
“The honor system works better than you’d think,” Martin said. The mass text messaging the company uses to remind renters to return videos doesn’t hurt, either.
Doing what you love
Others might not get rich in this line of work, but passion keeps them going long after the credits roll.
“I sacrificed a lot to keep this business going,” said David Buffa, owner of New York Video in New York City. “It certainly did not make me rich, but I was able to stay in business and do something I love. It’s not a job for us. We like what we do. “
Having a passion for what they do is one thing these entrepreneurs have in common. While the big guys were constantly updating their product mix and getting rid of the less popular titles to make room for high turnover movies, New York Video has focused on creating a breadth of offerings.
“We lost business to them initially,” said Buffa, because Blockbuster had so many more copies of each movie. “But, we would sacrifice having more copies of one title to get single titles of more obscure movies. We don’t get rid of anything. We’ve kept every title we’ve ever had,” he told BusinessNewsDaily.
The commitment to the business and the customers is what’s kept New York Video in business for 22 years.
The secret to survival? “Have the stuff people ask for and be able to answer people’s questions,” Buffa said.
Buffa also advises that small businesses—in any industry—to tailor its products and services to its customer's preferences.
“Once I started to see what people were interested in I would focus more on those, which in our neighborhood was classic Hollywood and foreign films.”
Finding out what people want isn’t just good business, it’s good customer service.
“People really, really appreciate when you can answer their questions or when you turn them onto something new,” Buffa said.
Back to the future
While technology has made Netflix and other live-streaming services a convenient choice for those seeking instant entertainment, not everyone has embraced the technology. This has created an opportunity for retailers willing to take the road less travelled.
Movie Madness, in the small town of DeMotte, Ind., is thriving by renting and selling “outdated” VHS tapes and video games for discontinued game systems. While the company does its share of renting current DVDs, it also does a healthy business selling VHS tapes to folks who are still using VCRs.
“So many other video stores only have DVDs,” said Mary Holobowski, who has owned the store with her husband, Rich, for 12 years. “But we still have VHS tapes, and a lot of games for game systems they don’t make anymore. A lot of people can't afford the new systems.”
Not only does the business make money renting tapes, it has created another income stream by selling VHS tape collections on commission. The company sells VHS tapes for a dollar each. It keeps 50 cents per tape and pays the owner of the tapes the other 50 cents. It’s a good deal for the buyer, the seller and for the Holobowskis.
Finding ways to serve its customers—even if it means renting a video or a game with nothing more than an IOU on a piece of paper—allows Movie Madness to build an ongoing relationship with customers.
“People still like that personal touch,” Holobowski said. “Being able to talk to someone and ask for recommendations is important. So many people are tired of dealing with big business.”
Sunday, September 26, 2010
Customers are even more illogical.
I can' t tell you the number of times someone walks away from an in-stock book, for instance, saying, "I'll buy it used."
This is almost always an illogical choice.
I'm going to make a blanket statement here. Everytime you walk away from a new copy of a book to look for a used copy, it costs you 5.00.
Example: I have a copy of To Kill a Mockingbird for 15.00 retail. Same copy would be 7.50 used.
Customer walks away looking for the book.
It will take a Minimum of half an hour to go back to your car, drive to the next likely bookstore, go in and shop, get back in your car and get back to where you started.
It will probably take you a minimum of a quarter gallon of gas in wear and tear and gas costs on your car.
So -- half hour of time, is 4.25 at minimum wage, quarter gallon of gas and wear and tear, .75.
Mind you, most of these customers wouldn't work for 8.50 an hour, but there it is....
So....here's the kicker.
My new book buying is based on three things: Classics, Cult books, and favorites. That's what I concentrate on getting. I can tell you, most of these three categories of books rarely show up used --
Why? I already told you. Because........they're classics, cult books and favorites -- the same exact books that most people keep. Buy once and keep.
So whenever we get classics, cults and favorites, it's usually because someone is getting rid of a relative's books, or something like that.
Now Linda's store has pretty much an open door policy -- that is, we pretty much take everything that comes in the door. It amounts to 200 or 300 books a day -- which is more books than it sounds. That's enough books to cover a 6' by 3' table with stacks a foot or two high. Lots of books.
Now most of those books are going to be mysteries, S.F., romances. A large portion will be best-selling, new literature. Some are going to be non-fiction. And so on.
A very small portion are going to cult books like, The Alchemist or Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas or Desert Solitaire. A very small portion are going to be classics, like Catcher in the Rye or 1984. We don't get collections of Hemingway and Steinbeck all that often. An even smaller portion are going to be my favorites.
I know it doesn't make much sense. The world must be awash with Lord of the Flies and Of Mice and Men. You'd think.
But, like I said, I think most people keep them.
"I find these books all the time!" I hear you say. Or, at least, that's what the customers constantly say to me.
But it's a perceptual problem. You found the books you found, you didn't find the books you didn't find. At any one time, all used bookstores are going to have a portion of classics and cult books.
But will they have the specific classic or cult book, at this time, right now, available to buy that you are looking for?
I'm guessing, for instance, that we only get To Kill a Mockingbird in maybe 10 times a year; I'm also guessing that it stays out for sale for less than a week. So, out of every 52 weeks of the year, we'll have it available maybe 10 weeks. Multiply that by all the other classics and cult books, and at any one time we are going to have a fairly large collection of good books.
But will we have THE ONE book you're looking for, the book that I have in stock at retail price and that you're holding in your hand?
Odds are worse than you think.
"What about stores like Powell's?" I hear you ask. Well, assuming you live in Portland, you can probably add more cost to the half an hour -- more time, parking costs, shopping time, etc. Powell's is probably more likely to have it, it's true. Because they buy books, instead of trading. But remember, the supply and demand equation doesn't really change all that much. If I can keep 10 copies in for ten weeks out of the year, and Powell's does ten time the business, then they have ten times as many people looking for the book.
See what I mean?
So you go to the next bookstore, and it costs you 5.00 in time and energy. You get it for 2.50 less than it would have cost you to buy it new. If you have to go to two bookstores before you find it, it cost you 2.50 more. If you got to three stores, 10.00. If you have to give up and come back to my store and buy it new, it cost you nearly twice as much as original retail.
Or you can go online, take half an hour of your time that way, wait for it to show up, pay the shipping costs and take your chances.
Or you can buy the book for retail, right now. AT best -- even if you do find the book at the next used bookstore you go to, you save yourself all of 2.50.
I guarantee you that if you read the book, the original cost will be the last thing you're worried about. You'll remember the book. You'll remember if you liked it or not. You're not going to be thinking of whether you just straight out bought it, or got in your car and wandered around to 'save' a few bucks.
It's illogical, I tell you.
Again, I'll put a little caveat here. Some people just enjoy shopping. It isn't about the book.
But really, most of the time these guys actually find something in my store. It's the guys who walk away because I have that one book they want, but at retail, who are wasting their time.
It's instant karma --- they are being punished by fate for making an illogical decision, though they are probably not logical enough to realize it.
Retailers are illogical.
For instance, I try to ascertain the "True" cost of a product. Not just the price, but how much time, effort, and space is required to carry that product. How much service is required. And whether it's a service I can actually perform at a cost effective rate.
Time is money. More concretely, minimum wage is 8.50 an hour. If something takes you half an hour extra to do, that item cost 4.25 more. Energy is money. Driving 25 miles to purchase an item is 4.00 worth of gas and wear and tear on your car, so you better save at least that amount by driving that distance. Space is money. If you could use that space for something that will sell twice as fast, or at a higher margin, you're giving up that much money. And so on.
I think storekeepers get too hung up on simple cost of goods and margins, when they should be taking into account their precious time, energy, and space.
Most small business owners undervalue those items, and the world at large encourages them to do so.
Every time someone asks my WHY I don't do something, the answer comes down to time, space, energy as well as money. We small business owners are supposed to be willing to work all those extra hours for the privilege of working for ourselves -- 50 hours, 60 hours, 80 hours a week. Hey, you're paying yourself!
No -- you're not. You're costing yourself.
Admittedly, you have to probably work harder, but you have to be aware of the cost in energy.
I've decided over the last decade of watching other stores come and go, that burnout is at least as big a factor in people quitting business, as money. (Of course, it's much easier to get burned out if you aren't making money, and vice versa.)
Ironically, all the solutions that the experts propose for small business require that we give up more of our time and energy to make it work. The emphasis on service, for instance.
In my business, I've been told over and over again that I could make more money at games if I provided time and space. And yet, I've seen store after store go out of business, doing exactly those things. And often, with the departing lament of "I just couldn't do it any longer."
Well, yeah. Staying late, or paying someone to stay late, in order to support a game is going to cost you -- and even if the payoff is commiserate, there is only so much energy that can be given on an ongoing basis. You may make the money, and burn yourself out pursuing it.
So I very purposefully include the cost of using extra space, the cost of my time, the insidious energy drains, whenever I decide to do something or not do something.
Online selling, for instance, looks much better on the surface than it does when you start taking into account all the elements. Do I take time away from what I'm already doing and what would be the cost of that? Do I add more time to my day, and what is the cost of that? Do I try to hire someone to do it, and what's the cost?
Same with space, same with energy, same with all the other factors.
O.K. here's where I completely contradict myself. Business is as much an art as a science. The caveat to the above Logical Choice scenario, is that sometimes you do things because you want to. Because it gives you pleasure, even if it isn't the most efficient choice.
Sometimes there is a 'feel' to a product, or a product placement, that adds to the overall effect of the store. The example I've always used is that I once took out t-shirts and posters because -- logically -- they weren't performing. And yet I got a strong sense that not having them cost me overall sales and I brought them back.
And, like I said, sometimes you do something because you want to -- and the customer picks up on that. And that's why even though it may end up being a minimum wage job, it's the Best Minimum Wage Job a Middle Aged Guy could ever have.
Saturday, September 25, 2010
Linda always says, I get sick when I see an opportunity to remove myself from the wurly burly, and give myself an excuse to slack.
Not that I haven't been slacking. I've taken as much time off as I can. Funny how people always tell me to take more time off -- until I do. And then, it's "You're never here anymore!"
Finished off a book last night, "Peace War", Joe Haldeman, which is a not quite sequel to the classic "Forever War."
Funny thing about S.F. people -- they really like the idea of a melding consciousness, of humanity all becoming one.
For instance, the classic "Childhood's End" by Arthur C. Clarke.
Frankly, the idea gives me the willies. In Peace War, I was identifying with the bad guys who were trying to keep it from happening. The plot was stacked, though, because becoming part of the Humanistic Herd was the only way from keeping the End of the Universe from happening.
It's interesting to me that good old individualistic nerdtypes seem to really get off on the idea.
(Also, it's collarary, a community of high minded scientists that will save the globe through their superior intellect and moral values.)
I think there is an element of Revenge of the Nerds here. But also, they just really seem to get into each others companionship. Despite being a huge S.F. and Fantasy reader, I've never been comfortable with the any of the nerdfests I've been to, whether it was a S.F. convention, or a comic convention, or a Society for Creative Anacronisms.
I don't mean I don't think it's kind of cool. I'm not looking down at the geeks. But I feel like a nerd among nerds, unable to let my freak flag fly. It always looks a little too incestuous to me -- like watching the "Glee" kids in high school trying a little too hard to have fun.
I can understand how nerdy types want to find other nerdy types -- I just don't necessarily want to do it myself. Too much of a weird mirror, maybe. Or maybe I'm not nerdy enough -- I've always had lots of interests and read all kinds of books. Seems a little unseemly to be stuck on one subject -- a little too autistic.
Besides, I prefer to blend into the crowd, not be the weird one. (Maybe because, I've always felt like the odd one no matter how much I try to be otherwise. And there was that time in my life, about 40 years ago now, that I completely self-conscious that my life wasn't going right and desired above all else to be normal again.)
Probably, in the end, I just like my time to myself, and don't really want to spend a bunch of time dressing up. Just not a Joiner, whether it's Octoberfest downtown, or the latest comic retailers conclave.
On the other hand, I do kind of like the online community, to a certain extent. A "familiarity at a distance" is what I call it. I get to express myself, without actually having to put myself out there. I like knowing that I 'know' a certain number of people through this blog.
So maybe I'm not all that different after all.
Friday, September 24, 2010
Never too old to read.
So the challenge is to answer that question with just the right measure of truthiness and cageyness.
Of course, like asking someone on the street, "How ya doin'?" the correct answer may be just, "Great!"
But I think a business that always answers "Great!" gets into a bad habit of not acknowledging reality. I mean, you're asking people to take your word that a certain product is worth buying, and at the same time trying to blow smoke up their ass? So -- like I said -- I'm always looking for the proper response.
Anyway, my latest attempt at an answer is, "Considering how much business sucks, we're in great shape!"
Which is totally true. I mean, I'd like to have higher sales, but I purposely built my sales level to a very high margin over my break-even point, while keeping my overhead as low as possible, so I had a lot of margin to give, and I'm not even close to the edge. In fact, in most meaningful ways, we're doing as well as ever.
I'm taking home the same wages, all the bills are paid, no debt, and we are keeping the store stocked.
We are even making improvements.
The only thing we're not doing in building our retirement through increased profits, which might be unrealistic in the Great Recession. Of course, I may be kicking myself in a decade or so for not being able to prepare better -- or perhaps, I'll just be a 70 year old pop culture dealer.
How old can you be selling pop culture? I mean, when I check out the Living sections of newspapers, and especially online sites like Huffington Post, I don't recognize most of the names. Reality stars, obscure T.V. shows, etc. etc. Don't care about red-carpet style, don't care about the inane opinions of actors.
Will comics switch from being kid stuff to old guy stuff? Will only baby boomers still read real books? Will boardgames still exist? Will anyone want 'collectibles' (or keepibles) when their closets are bursting with stuff? Will it be sad to sell X-Files figures to white haired folk?
Oh, well. I'm 57 and feel perfectly comfortable selling this stuff, nor does it seem weird to most people.
Anyway, I have been moving steadily toward books: Never too old to read.
Thursday, September 23, 2010
Stuff and nonsense.
Bend Oregon Real Estate Blog: "The Recession is Over. Existing Home Sales Move Up in August."
Except, if you dig a little deeper, like over on KTVZ:
"....August"..." the second-worst month for sales in more than a decade."
"Sales were down 19 percent from the same month a year earlier. July was the worst month for sales in 15 years."
That's nationally, of course, which probably bears little resemblance to Bend, Oregon.
It's like saying, "Hey, I think that corpse just twitched!"
I mean, I could see muttering to yourself, while quivering in the corner, that "things are better.....it's better than last month....really, I think things are getting better......"
But to go on Bend Blogs and trumpet it, is just stuff and nonsense.
Technically, true. And totally false.
There seems to be a ton of things to comment about -- none of which are of earth-shaking importance. So I write an entry, then ask myself if it has heavy enough content to post. If not, I move on.
So today, I'm going to post a bunch of these little posts into one and hope that all together they say something.
The Bulletin editorial about minimum wage. Well, here's one employer of minimum wage employees who isn't worried at all about the .10 increase. In fact, I start my employees at 9.00 an hour, anyway.
Really, either you can afford an employee, or you can't.
There is a whole lotta gloom in the comic biz these days. 20% drop in comic sales nationwide in August. There's a whole lotta gloom in the book trade, too. There's a whole lot of gloom in the game business, for that matter. Hell, cards and toys have already suffered Armageddon.
But string them all together?
We gotta winner!!!!
Talk about lowered expectations.
I went into September expecting very, very little. In fact, if you had told me in March of this year, that I'd be expecting the kind of numbers I'm getting today, I would've been shocked. I guess that's what happens when you have four down months in a row.
Basically, we're back to 2008 numbers again.
Oh, I could put a shine on it. "I'm doing my projected numbers," I could say. But what the hell does that mean? I can project any old numbers I please.
Still, it does mean something. If I 'expect' and 'project' lowered numbers, and I adjust my spending accordingly, we can come out the other end just fine. I've always said, it isn't what you make it's what you spend.
So I've been totally relaxed this month -- in fact, rather pleased with the sales level. Which just seems weird, when I think about it. But it's true.
It's expectation that can be disappointed. As long as the expectation is realistic, I'm just fine with it.
As I mentioned before, once I realized -- about mid-August -- that we weren't going to come even close to the kind of profits I was hoping for, that we were probably only going to break-even, it totally removed the pressure. Breaking even is a much easier goal, a much easier expectation to meet.
It's the Great Recession, after all. And the W of the double dip is starting to look more like a little squiggle tailing off at the end.....
To put the biggest cliche of the last few years to work: "Breaking Even is the New Black." I use it because it's true.
Wednesday, September 22, 2010
The high cost of cheap.
"THEIR LOSS (Leaders)
"How to use retailers' profit-losing specials to your advantage."
By Eleanor Pierce.
In fact, I think I'll just quote my section in whole out of the middle and comment on it. The reporter quoted me accurately, but of course there is always a little context and info left out of any article:
"Duncan McGeary, who has owned Pegasus Books of Bend for 30 years, said it takes more than just good customer service to make it. He said he watched bookstores fail with the advent of Amazon.com, plus the arrival of discount retailers like Walmart and Costco and the national chain book seller Barnes and Noble.
He said businesses can keep most of their customers by offering great service. But they can't keep all of them, and the few they lose can mean the difference between success and failure.
(O.K. The failing bookstores I'm talking about are almost all the bookstores that existed in Bend when B & N arrived. The crop we have now have come in since.
This also makes it sound like I think service is more determinative of success than I probably really do. It was in reaction to the "Expert" in the article saying that small business can "compete" by offering more service. I didn't know this expert's comment would be directly before my comments, but -- you know -- it's what all the experts say....)
"It isn't the fact that they take all your business, they take the cream. It's that little bit extra you need to make it work," he said.
(Can I rephrase that? "It isn't that they take all your business, but they can take the cream off the top. The little bit extra you need....")
McGeary's approach is to specialize.
"I purposely carry material I don't think chain stores are going to carry at all," he said.
"For instance, I carry lots of new books, but I don't make a huge effort to get the best-sellers. They're almost always in the stacks at Costco. People can get those for half price, so why get them? But I'll carry all the Hemingway books, all the Ken Kesey books. I know those are not going to be loss leaders, so my price is the same as their price."
(A bit of conflating everyday low prices versus loss leaders, but the principle is the same.
"He said there have been a few times he's been hit over the years. Sometimes a specialty item goes mainstream, and he has to give it up.
For instance, McGeary sold sports cards from the mid 1980's until the early 1990's.
"I did very well with them," he said. But then they went mainstream.
"I remember a cold chill going down my bakc the day a customer came in saying, "I just bought this box of baseball cards at Costco in Eugene for this price." It was $2 less than I just paid at a wholesaler."
So he stopped selling them."
(Actually, I didn't stop selling them -- I just stopped depending on them as a main product line.)
"That just didn't work for me any longer as a specialty item."
(The expert goes on to say that:)
"....smaller businesses also tend to draw customers by offering services big-box stores can't."
( True enough, except that these services often don't really result in higher sales: the 20/80 rule applies. The chain stores scoop up the best-selling 20% and leave the other 80% to be serviced by the specialty stores.)
(There is one great quote from the expert:)
"There's a calculus as a human," Kahle said. "As you go from store to store it costs you time. You're going to end up spending a lot of money on travel and a lot of time, and time is also costly."
(I'm amazed by how little people value their time, energy and travel costs. For instance, I might have the book I'm looking for at full retail price, but they prefer to look for it used: Never mind that I've pretty much told them that they aren't likely to find that book used -- either because it's too new or too popular -- but the retail price is often just a few bucks more....Hell, minimum wage is 8.50 an hour and many of these folks would never deign to work for 8.50, but they'll keep looking for an hour to save a couple of bucks...."
All in all, a pretty good article.
Tuesday, September 21, 2010
Picky, picky, picky.
"O.K. We have a shelf of them right here...."
"I need it to be smaller..."
"You mean like this?"
"Yes, only I need it bendy, so I can put it in my back pocket."
"You mean like this one?"
"Yes, but I need it to be more nondescript...."
"Is there any other place downtown selling these?
"You might check the Paper Jazz down on the corner..."
"Too fancy. Any place else?
"No and NO!"
O.K. I made up the last five lines, but I wish I could have said them....
Monday, September 20, 2010
Is it ever appropriate to be purposely blind to new stuff? Or benignly neglecting to reordering old stuff? To saying, No mas? Please, my brain will explode if I try to squeeze another title or author into it?
I think, perhaps, new books have been a tipping point for me. I used to joke that I didn't carry video games because the new volume of knowledge would splatter my brains all over the walls.
But I thought I could handle books because I'm very familiar with them; and I read a heck of a lot of them.
Little did I know.
Most books look pretty good. Most books have intriguing covers. Most of them are recommended by other authors who I trust. Same thing with boardgames. They ALL look interesting....
I have an in-store analogy to this phenomenon:
Every week, I get my new comics in, and every day I get regulars in to pick them up. Many regulars have 'subscription shelves.' When I try to get them to look at the 'new' arrivals, most of them demur.
"Don't have time."
"Can't afford them."
"Don't need to be tempted."
I used to be somewhat impatient with this attitude. What harm is there in looking?
The other day I got a phone call from a reputable publisher, offering to send me free samples of some of their titles.
The lady on the other end of the phone said, in a slightly sarcastic tone, "Well, you wouldn't want too much information, even if it's free."
And I felt like saying, "Exactly."
It's not just a matter of money and space. It's a matter of trying diligently to get the best stuff for MY store; the material that best represents what I'm trying to do and has the best chance of selling.
I'm not talking about whether the books worth reading, or the game is worth playing. I'm talking about selection.
I guess the new big word for independent booksellers is "Curating." We are supposed to function as quality curators -- the job of hand-selecting the very best titles and authors. Not just the mass market best sellers, but worthy books that need a nudge, for the discerning reader. A little individualism and idiosyncrasy welcomed.
Oh, I could do a "Cheat Sheet" method. Just ordering from the best-selling and award winning and 'best of' lists.
But these are the same books that are in stacks at Barnes and Noble, and at huge discounts.
It's not so much that I begrudge the hard work and energy it requires. I have a Five type personality, I'm an INTJ, and you couldn't find someone who enjoys this process more than me.
And it's not that I worry about the money or the space trying to keep up, though of course that's a concern.
No --- it's that I'm afraid of losing balance and perspective.
When I'm selecting material for the store, there is always a sense of: "This is right for my store. This fits. I have a place for this, and I know who might want it." Or maybe I just like a certain book, or I think, "This is the kind of book that every good store should have."
But like a kid with a giant bag of Halloween candy, it can all be too much. It all becomes just a huge mass of sugar. Until I throw up all over the carpet.
Oh, well. It may be that it's because I'm really at the beginning of the process of deciding which new books and games to carry. It seems overwhelming because I haven't quite figured out how to weed out the chaff.
I keep saying that I need to find a process to pick and choose which items to carry.
I suspect that it will, indeed, require some kind of filtering system. Something that passes through a buffering system.
I just haven't figured it out, yet. I think I probably can't wing it any longer. I need to work out a plan of attack.
Too much of a good thing.
Sunday, September 19, 2010
I foresee wet straw in every nook and cranny of my store.
Jeter Cheater? Don't really care. Just like the rhyme.
Dog went flying out the sunroof instead of into Crater Lake? That's one lucky dog.
I blog rather than twitter, 'cause I should humbly be omnipresent in only one medium at a time.
Linda said, "It's the 100th Anniversary of the Pendleton Roundup." "That's alotta bull," I said.
The W of a double dip, looks more like a little squiggle to me.
Someone dropped a watermelon off the parking garage. Wonder if they had an audience?
Customers say, "You have a lot of collectibles, here." I've started responding, "No....we have a lot of keepibles...."
Could I twitter? All day long....
I do seem to be getting more vague compliments about the store. From people who have barely looked around yet.
Sure looks to me like there's a beer bubble brewing in Bend.
Reckless disregard for the American Democracy. That's what the Tea Party is starting to look like.
I'm torn about Labor Unions. I think they ought to be easy to start, but ought to be easy to disband, too.
Little side bonus to a makeover at the store. I always lose about 5 pounds. I basically forget to eat, I'm so busy.
Bank of the Cascades has 8th extention from "investors." Truth is, they have no choice. The investors are in for a pound, in for a dollar.
I continue to have doubts about Westside retail. It requires a big city neighborhood buying pattern, and what we got in Bend is a city-wide buying pattern.
My god there are a lot of books. When you start to look to buying them. Crazy.
Moses the camel falls into a sinkhole. We have lost our way in the desert.
Saturday, September 18, 2010
Godzilla dustballs 5.
It's like I've turned on a new Compliment Spigot at the store. It seems like every other person in the door is telling me how interesting my store is. (Hopefully, not in the neutral answer of "How did you like it?" "Interesting....." way.) Or "cool" or "neat."
Weirdly, though, it's mostly newcomers and off-the-street browsers who are saying it; as if they can tell something has been improved, even if they don't know what. They often say it having just walked in the door.
Customers are psychic, I tell you.
Regulars are just sort of oblivious to it, until I call their attention to the changes.
So lot's of compliments; but not a lot of buying. As I always say, a compliment is just another way for the customer to think they're paying you -- but a compliment and .50 won't get you a cup of coffee anymore.
"Oh, my god." I'm thinking. "What if I've made my store attractive to people who aren't interested in what I actually sell?"
Like a cat making itself really attractive to a dog. Or something.
I'm kidding......I think.
I finished stocking the new bookcases, yesterday. I was able to get some of my old thematic shelves back together; my Pirates shelf, my Dragons shelf, my Robots. (Find me another bookstore that has Zombies and Vampires and Pirates, etc. on their own shelves....)
One entire bookcase has the Fairy stuff -- which looks nice.
It turned into more display space than I thought. Every art book shelf now has at least one book facing out, and many of them have two. As well as books laying flat in front of them.
If anything, it may be a little too much. I have to admit to myself that simply doubling the number of art books that customers can actually see may not actually increase overall sales. Afterall, I had nearly 50 art books face out before, and if a customer couldn't find something they liked in that, I have no real belief they'll find something with 100 books face out.
Anyway, it looks great for now. We can give them a chance to prove themselves, and meanwhile it adds to the overall appeal of the store.
I suspect that about half that space will be taken back, eventually, for one simple reason: I happen to know that I have several hundred "classic" and "cult" books that I'm pretty sure will sell -- because they have sold before, or because they are of the same type as the books that sold before. These are my "Evergreens" when it comes to novels, and I just need to get back on task in ordering them.
One of the nice things about books, is that I don't necessarily always have to reorder, as long as I keep a good selection in stock. On the other hand, I'm probably depriving myself of sure sales when I don't immediately reorder Catch-22, or Desert Solitaire, or Sometimes a Great Notion.
So, now that I'm done, and now that I have the shelf space, I need to get back to keeping up, and keeping a lookout for other "great" books.
By plan and design, my new budget is now available to order, so I'll be restocking the store over the next couple of months. Which is always fun.
Friday, September 17, 2010
Godzilla dustballs 4.
The last bookcase is built.
I moved all the novels into their appropriate spots. Pretty much filled up on young adult, general fiction, and science fiction and fantasy. Still have a bit of ordering to do on mysteries, but not as much as I thought.
So I have three large bookcases that are blank slates. Which I'm going to finish off today.
All and all, it feels just great.
One customer said, "It doesn't so much look like a big change, as it does an upgrade." Which is good, I think.
I can see already that my regulars are perfectly capable of coming in and following their normal routes and barely seeing the changes. The changes, if they are going to have an effect, are going to affect people off the street who don't even realize there WAS a change.
Again, I'm not sure that it will necessarily increase sales on books. It's probably too soon to really come to any conclusions, but just from the reaction over the last few days, it seems as though more people are buying Used Books -- which is a bit unexpected, but very welcome.
Also, I just think it probably makes the store more attractive to the casual browser. Getting more compliments than usual -- but as usual, that doesn't always, or even mostly, result in more sales.
I've been bugging Linda to come by and look things over, so my first hour today I'm going to try to get displays nice and attractive for her. I hope she likes it.
Thursday, September 16, 2010
Anxiety dream, anyone?
I'm visiting the store, and beginning to realize that I know NOTHING about the store. The former owner is acting evasive and shifty. I keep meeting more and more and more employees. One of them takes me aside and says, "The free beer is a problem...."
"You guys get free beer?!"
Everywhere I look, there is old tired product, that doesn't look like anyone has ever even picked them up, much less bought them. Weird, odd and singular stuff.
And yet more employees. I take out a notebook and start writing their names down. And meanwhile, I haven't seen a single customer the whole time I'm there.
I think it comes down to my computer glitch and the makeover and a comment Chuck Arnold made while visiting the store yesterday: "Do you have a lot of Shrinkage?"
Cameron says, "What's Shrinkage...?"
We both laughed, but then I said, "You know ... that really is a jargony word. Why the hell don't we say theft? Or shoplifting?"
(I suppose shrinkage is used because it covers both employees and customers....)
Anyway: Anxiety Dream, anyone?
Godzilla dustballs 3.
First of all, they're always extremely doubtful I can pull it off.
Secondly, most people like things the way they were when they first saw them. Especially, EMPLOYEES like it the way it's always been. I call it the rubber band effect.
(This is true of writing, as well. You read a chapter to someone, and then come back with a revised chapter, and most of the time the listeners will say they liked the first version better. Because it's what they heard first, I guess.)
But, I just have to keep the faith that I am actually improving things, both objectively and subjectively. Eventually, like I said, the store will get that 'lived-in' look, the look that says, 'everything in it's place, and a place for everything.'
It just takes awhile.
At first, it can be rather disorienting. Jasper was saying that one of fixtures was obscuring the line of sight. I just looked at him, and said, "Errr....it was already that way."
Thing is, once you start changing things around, it casts doubt on everything else. Everything starts to look new -- or out of place. It's like staring at a word for too long, and the letters just become a jumble.
This is both good and bad. It highlights material that people haven't noticed before -- but it is also a disquieting feeling, and you really don't want too much of that. People shy away from changes -- I've always noticed that sales go down when I'm doing makeovers. Not because we're not available to help; not because we have less inventory or that it's harder to get at.
Just because of the change itself.
I'm not sure if it's because they don't want to bother you (Yes! Please bother us with your money!) or because they aren't seeing their stuff in the same place. It's dangerous to make changes, but if they are good changes, eventually people come around to seeing it that way.
Or -- eventually -- it just becomes the normal, again.
(Yes, crew. I'm talking to YOU. Trust me. You'll like it.)
Meanwhile, Matt made a suggestion that I use the new bookcase on the graphic novel side to have "Staff Picks."
So we're going to try that for awhile. I picked Rocketeer: "A fun Adventure, Great Dave Stevens Art, and best of all --- Bettie!" And I picked, AMERICAN VAMPIRE: "Uncute Undead. And written by Stephen King!"
Cameron picked POWER GIRL: (from memory) "Cheesy Fun, and great art."
I now have 3 fresh bookcases on the book side, and I'm trying to decide which categories it would be best to show face out: I'm thinking fantasy art of the fairy-tale realm; Pop Culture art (book covers and so on, cult work from the 50's and 60's); and 3 shelves for my mainstream art and movie books, and 3 shelves for Overstock Artbooks. Something like that. Won't really know until I do it.
So the question that keeps coming up in my mind is: Will this result in higher sales?
The answer, I suspect, it not so much. At least not at first.
But it will FEEL so much better, and that is very, very important to me.
I'd have to say, the change is more a "Shoring Up" than anything.
I was thinking about how a store is like a dike holding back a river-- it needs to be fairly strong across the whole width of the span, or it doesn't work. One weak spot, and the whole thing cracks.
I've never been one of those who thought you should carry "Best-Sellers" only. This seems like a short-sighted strategy for all kinds of reasons. Like making one part of the dike higher and stronger than the rest of the dike. So I tend to take whatever 'extra' money I have to spend to try to shore up the weaker elements of the store. Try to lift the category into a viable position. And keep trying.
The only other alternative is to remove the product and replace it with something else.
But for reasons of diversity and design and being a specialty store, I think it's important to not have too many Dead Zones. And not to narrow it down to what's currently hot. You need to have mid-list stuff; the long-tale theory of retailing.
But, like I said, in the end it comes down to the FEEL.
Casey, my U.P.S. driver thought it looked "Tight" in the slang meaning -- sharp. I heard someone say it looked more like a "mall store." (I think that's good -- I'm not too worried about losing the Funk.) Most people thought it felt "roomier..."
Of course, to all this I replied: "Right Answer." They knew what I was wanting.
There were also a whole lot of folks who simply didn't notice the changes at all. Or just noticed that 'something' seemed a little different. Like shaving your beard off -- "Did you change something?"
I filed the science fiction and fantasy paperbacks, and there isn't an urgent need to get more. Mysteries need more fill-in, and I've decided to just order all my favorite authors. Most of the other categories just need to be incrementally improved in selection. By Jan. 1, I want to have a complete ordering plan; one that is sustaining (easy and routine) and up-to-date and within budget.
One final reason for the changes.
Wednesday, September 15, 2010
"Hello, Screwup, my old friend...
Came to work yesterday, and my internet service was offline. In removing the desk, and disconnecting the wires, the modem decided to give up the ghost. So I was without internet all day yesterday. I called my techie friend, Aaron, who came by that afternoon and decided that, indeed, the modem was the problem. We called Qwest, who is going to send us a new modem, free of charge, but not until Thursday or Friday.
So, thats.......Screwup #1.
When it came time to make the last bookcase, I took one look at the box and knew it would be broken. This has happened at least three times over the years with these bookcases, which are 6 ft. tall, and only flex so much. (When I hear that corporations are more efficient, this is one of those contradicting facts -- stupid wastage.)
Called Staples up, and they agreed to send another shelf, again by Thursday or Friday.
There it is.......Screwup #2.
Funny, when the screwups happened, I had the strangest reaction -- "Oh, THERE you are, Mr. Screwup. I KNEW you'd be coming along." I figure Screwups come in threes, so I'm expecting one more.. At least, I've taken the measure of them.
So as soon as the last bookcase shows up, and the modem is hooked up, I can finish the job.
I'll stock everything else between now and then. (Basically means I have to leave the bookcase that goes on top of the modem wires empty -- and of course, the bookcase yet to arrive.)
In the end, everything fit, and to my eyes, the store does looks cleaner and more streamlined -- as well as roomier. Weird how that happens. Subtraction by Addition.
There wasn't a centimeter to spare. Not one. But it all fit, which was extremely gratifying.
I've got a rough idea of how I'm going to stock the shelves -- the green shelves are going to look a little bare for awhile.
My usual strategy when I'm making significant structural changes is not to order any product while I'm doing it.
What does that mean?
I think it means that I don't just order product because it's stuff I think I can sell.
I order product to create a sense of "happening" as much as anything. To give the customers something new to look at. To make the case that I'm constantly evolving. That there will always be something surprising and new.
Makeovers do all of the above -- and also cost a bit of money. So, in a way, I'm just diverting the inventory budget into the infrastructure budget for a few weeks. I'm letting the structural changes make the case that I'm improving the store; that I'm committed to the store; that I'm a happenin' place.
I'll be out of touch for a few days, except in the morning and when I come home at night. It's already driving me nuts.
Tuesday, September 14, 2010
The 25.00 price of a ticket. That sort of leaped out at me.
Really? I'm really out of the loop these days, but I had no idea. I'm not complaining here -- prices are what prices are, and there is -- usually -- a good reason for them. I just had no idea that a local production could charge 25.00.
(Yeah, yeah, comics are 3.99. What of it?)
I'm probably just chronicling my sad descent in Old Fogeyness, but I couldn't name you a Gaga tune, and I wouldn't know one if I heard it. Not proud of that. At least, unlike my wife, I'd heard of her.
Walked out of the movie theater last night (Resident Evil) and both Linda and I stopped dead in our tracks. A solid sheet of water. A huge flash and a second later a boom. Ummmm
We looked to our right and saw the Hawaiian restaurant -- (Kona Plate? Like I said, we didn't wander off into the street to see the sign) -- and we ducked in there. "Want to have dinner?" So, one of those rare times when Linda and I actually ate out. Nice food.
The sunset looked like the end of the world.
Ready to finish up the store, today. At least the physical part. The stocking of inventory is going to take longer.
I don't know why, but the whole process is kind of euphoric for me. I think it must be a bit like Shopping Addiction, or something. I just really like to dive in and move things around, and fix things up.
I have to restrain myself. This changeover has been two years in the making. I was planning to do it last September --but decided to hold pat. I wanted to sell off a few more manga and anime and toys and cards to make room.
It's good to delay. I have lots of ideas come to me the longer I dwell on it. Even taking more time to do the project -- though it hurts sales in the short run -- is a good thing to do. It's less stressful, and it also gives my subconcious time to work out creative solutions.
In fact, it's an awful lot like the creative high I get on the first draft of a fictional story. But also like writing, the actual process is always so much more difficult than the original ideas....
Monday, September 13, 2010
More Godzilla dustballs.
Had the whole crew at the store to move the big fixtures downstairs. This part of the process always makes me nervous, because things rarely go according to plan, and if something goes awry, it's goes awry in a big way. Plus, I don't want any of my employees hurt.
I always make a big talk about going slow, not trying to lift too much. I tell the crew about my double hernia operation. But I know, once we get started, it will be almost impossible for red-blooded American males to admit they need a rest, or that it's too heavy, or that they are feeling a strain.
Went as smooth as could be, got it done in less than half an hour.
We went Egyptian style moving on the biggest rack -- using cardboard skids. (Egyptians had cardboard? asked Cameron.)
I was deep in thought, and thought I heard Jasper say something to me. I didn't answer but just stared blankly at him, and then heard him say, "he's gone...."
Well, I did warn them. I joked that if I don't like how it looks, we'd be hauling everything back. Worse than the proverbial New Yorker cartoon housewife, I am. "I want it there --- no, there -- no, put it back where it was...."
I had to make a couple of small changes to my plans, but nothing major. I never can quite situate inventory where it makes the most sense -- I have to situate inventory where it will fit.
Still in the jigsaw puzzle phase -- and won't really be able to complete the look until the other half is done.
Sometimes, there's a nice surprise. I consolidated all my Star Wars books into one of the bookcases; and I realized that the 18"s that I had left over were EXACTLY the same size as the Star Wars toys spin rack, and they fit snugly next to each other. BONUS!
I still have to construct the 5 larger bookcases (or rather, have Matt do it) and then I'll need to move all the manga to the back wall. Then I have to pull the green bookcases up to the front of the row, and move the toy spin racks and t-shirt rack to the back. I have to move the remaining card rack four inches to the right -- which will take most of a morning. (Four freakin' inches...)
I have to transplant the posters from the two racks, to the one new rack (or rather, I asked Jasper to do that today.)
Then I need to move all five of the big bookcases against the wall, transfer the designer toys to two of them. Move the two small bookcases to their pre-chosen spots, and so on.
Only then can I really begin to move the inventory around.
I'm hoping that a friend well come by to pick up my desk. I decided that with my laptop, the whole big desk isn't really necessary. I'll can just use the counter top.
Anyway, the whole process is kind of uplifting. It makes me feel rejuvenated. I just like doing this sort of thing -- I mean, I dread the actual process, and I'm not crazy about all the hard work, but I enjoy the planning and the results.
I don't know if it will help sales, but I know it was time to make a change. Stuff needed to be retired or moved; and in the process, a lot of cleaning and straightening goes on. Godzilla dustballs.
I need to withhold judgment until it's actually finished -- things can look pretty bad halfway through, and then miraculously come together at the end. (Which seems to be true of many creative endeavors.) It can look either like less of a change than I expected, or more of a change -- and sometimes, in some strange way, both. It needs to gain -- to earn -- a 'lived in' look. At first, the inventory will look out of place.
If it niggles at me long enough, I know I need to move things around until it stops niggling at me. (That isn't the N word, folks.)
So the next big moving day is Tuesday, and by the end of that day, I should have the basic framework in place. Then another week or so of situating the inventory -- and another month or so, of moving stuff around until I feel comfortable.
I should gain the equivalent of at least seven large bookcases, plus the two green shelves that are probably the equivalent of another 3 bookcases in linear feet. My guesstimate is about 140 more linear feet of shelves. About half of that new space is due to better organizing and consolidation, and about half is due to retiring dead product.
Strangely, despite the new shelves, it should free up some floor space and make everything look a little cleaner and streamlined. Subtraction by addition, I call it.
I'm going to try not to fill all the shelves at once, but use them to more properly display what I already have -- well, at least half that space. This is the real battle. I always want to order more stuff, but I'm not the sure the flooring will stand it much longer....
Sunday, September 12, 2010
So, according to Jason Evers, he did those things because he was afraid for his life.
Gosh. He wouldn't lie about that, would he?
So one in seven Americans have fallen into poverty, and we're arguing over a tax 'increase' for people earning 250,000.00 a year? Whatever.
Old Fogey alert: Kids should not be allowed to use spell check in school. The only way I learned how to spell was by systematically looking up words in a dictionary, and memorizing...
Seems like there should be a juicy investigative report in sidewalk ramp fiasco; especially since it coincides with Juniper Ridge and BAT fiasco's. What happened?
Spotted Mule is going out of business.....and out of business....and out of business...............
I bet if Wimp Way had been named Chuck Norris Way, (Testosterone Avenue? Schwarzenagger Drive? He-Man Boulevard? Muscleman Street?) they wouldn't have closed it. They wouldn't have dared.
Hurricane Igor? Oh, oh.
Saturday, September 11, 2010
Well, I figure having three part-timers is more like paying myself -- with time.
Meanwhile, as far as changing the store around and spending money, I just feel it is time to make changes. I think the store will look and feel better. But I'm not sure it will result in more sales.
I was expressing those doubts to Linda, and she just sort of laughed.
"You say that every time," she said. "But it always ends up working out."
You just develop a sense of when it's time to stand pat and when it's time to make changes. I trust that impulse.
I don't want anyone thinking I'm spending huge amounts of money -- on either the makeover or the employees. I try to get as big a bang for the buck as possible. It's within my cash flow budget.
Set Matt to making the bookcases, and it wasn't until he was done making four of them that I realized I'd been dreading that. So I've told him to make the other two cases we'll need on Sunday; and to come back on Tuesday and finish off the other five cases. By the end of Tuesday, I should be done -- except for all the fine adjusting.
You want to know what's scary? How much dust can accumulates behind a fixture in a few years.
I think the store will look more streamlined, cleaner and less cluttered, at the end.
Did you see the median housing prices in Bend last month? Wow. Scary.
Glad (!?) to see I wasn't the only one that had a horrible August.
I'm waiting to see how Sept. and Oct. go before I decide whether it's just one of those anomaly months -- like throwing out the highest and lowest scores in a test to grade for the curve.
Back when I first started this blog, I used to toss out completely made up percentages as to what I thought was going to happen.
I haven't done that for awhile, so here goes.
I think there is, say, a 10 to 15% chance of a complete and utter collapse in the economy; Great Recession turns into Great Depression #2. If you are a great believer in Murphy's Law -- Watch Out!.
I think there is a 10 to 15% chance we'll pick up quickly, and get back to a truly growing economy. (Hard to say how this can happen, what with the debt load out there, but I don't underestimate American's ability to convince themselves -- )
Which leaves a 70 to 80% chance of, what? Muddling Through.
Of that, I'd split it 60/40% that we'll struggle for the next three or four years down, and then three or four more years along the bottom, which along with the two to three years we've already experience, means a Dead Decade.
The 40% chance is that we start bumping along the bottom soon, and have extremely slow growth thereafter, for a very Dull Decade.
Dead or Dull. Some choice.
Friday, September 10, 2010
"Let's change everything today!"
But it's hard to be accurate, and the more employees I have, the harder it gets. Since I have three part-timers, right now, the counts would probably be all over the place. Ultimately, it probably really doesn't matter, except to satisfy my curiosity.
Anyway, it's hard to gauge whether I'm getting, say, 50 people a day, or 60 people a day, and that's a whomping 17% difference right there.
My sense is, that foot traffic was probably down, especially early in the summer, but that it didn't account for the fullness of the drop in sales.
Coming to work, today, another measure really leaped out at me. A cash register full of 1.00's, 5.00's and 10.00's.
Sure, that's great and all. But I'd much rather have a cash register full of 20.00's, 50.00's and 100's, you know?
It says to me that the heart is willing, but the flesh is weak. 5.00 sales are what people do when they want to 'shop' but they really don't want to 'spend.'
Sort of like my 'Empty Parking Spaces in Front of My Store' gauge, it's pretty hard to measure. It's easy to fool oneself, to confirm one's own biases. Still....sometimes, that's all you got.
Of course, the ultimate measure is money in the bank.
Meanwhile, going forward with the makeover. Went to Staples and bought the 3 more new bookcases I need, for a total of six 4' tall shelves, and five 6' tall shelves. Those, plus turning my manga shelves over to fiction, will make more of a bookstore statement. The more I look at the store, the more I realize that it is past time to retire old toys and cards that simply haven't been selling. I'm hoping that I can restrain my impulse to fill every inch so that some of the new bookshelves can display my books better.
It's hard to know until I do it, but I think this change will make the store look more streamlined and less cluttered. Sometimes I put everything in place and realize it doesn't work, and I have to make secondary changes. Giving myself time to ruminate helps avoid that.
I just sit on my stepstool and stare at the walls and try to visualize and stare some more and try to visualize alternative looks and then stare some more.
The best way to do a makeover is all at once. Stressful, but you get the business killing chaos out of the way. The worst way to do a makeover is slowly, which customers seem to instinctively recoil from.
So which am I doing? You got it. The latter; mostly because I just don't want that kind of stress level, and I'm just hoping that I can get away with doing it in stages. I don't really want to stay until midnight for a couple of days; but instead would like to do most of it during store hours.
My youthful -- "Let's change everything today!" days are over, I guess.
Of course, once I actually get going, I tend to accelerate. So, hopefully, I'll be done within a week or so. Just in time to order more books.
Thursday, September 9, 2010
Maneuvering ourselves into a corner.
But when the mass transit in Bend was first formed, my hackles were raised a bit by the tone the whole enterprise took. There was an assertion that, "no problem" it will be easy, "won't cost much at all!" which simply didn't ring true. If that was so, why hadn't it been done before?
I suspected there was more to it.
Anyway, like a bunch of rubes, we got taken for a whole lot of money by buying 'Brooklyn Bridge' buses that continually broke down. (the same rubeness that seemed to have infected the whole Juniper Ridge idea, and ... I have to wonder... how did we end up with sidewalk ramps that didn't fit code? How do these things keep happening? Is it because we grew so fast? We weren't ready to be a real live MetroArea, in some ways....)
And, because of the way mass transit came about, I started doing some adding up on costs, and it seemed a little crazy. It seemed more like we were doing it because it was expected of us, than because it was actually an effective system. For the riders who need the bus system, it's a great good. But is it a cost effective good for the town? It literally seemed as though we could pay for taxi rides for everyone who needed one and save money.
Turns out, not so cost effective after all. Turns out that it will have to be supported by public monies -- forever. It's something we do for the sake of the people in need, and -- though again, this seems sort of less than convincing -- for the environment
Fine. But that isn't the way it was sold to us.
"Get over it," I know some of you will say. It's a public good, and it needs to be done.
So...I'll lay aside my concerns about whether it truly is an effective way to spend public monies, and address it's current problems. Assuming it's a public good. Assuming that our public is willing to support the public good just as much as all the other towns and districts.
Why hasn't that happened?
I think it's because the public has a long memory. You can't just sweep the failures under the rug. And in a sense, that's what local officials are trying to do. They're trying to present us with a fait accompli.
"See?" They want to be able to say. It works now. It's worth supporting now.
I predicted that when they sloughed off the transit to a wider district, it was to obscure its troubled beginnings and to spread the blame and the risk. The city of Bend is still paying out a large chuck of it's general fund in support, though. They really need and want a tax district and are hoping that by supporting the system just a little longer, they can present the public with the dilemma of dismantling an already existing system, or biting the bullet, and paying for it with a tax measure.
I believe they may have outsmarted themselves, however. By spreading the risk into smaller outlying areas, they may have made it impossible for a measure to get passed. Check out the votes for any county wide measure -- there is that solid core of public minded voters at the center of Bend, but the further you move out, the more NO! votes you'll get.
Growing up in Bend, I swear every school measure would fall by about the Negative Vote total in the rural districts.
So they've diluted the most solid supporters of mass transit, and brought into play voters who will almost automatically vote down ANY tax measure.
Hard to believe that our town will dismantle an existing mass transit. I wonder if that has ever happened?
But also hard to see how they're ever going to fund it.
Wednesday, September 8, 2010
Black Bart Bank.
Actually, it turns out, she overpaid.
So there was a balance of about around 600.00 left, that they owed US. Despite her asking to pay off the entire loan, in full, everything.
So we get a statement, and they're charging us an 86.00 "finance charge" because we still have a balance.
You know, a POSITIVE BALANCE!! They owe us money, so they charge us for still having an account with them!! After asking them how much we owe them, IN FULL.
When we first went in to get our Home Equity Loan, we wanted about half of what we ended up getting. We wanted a fixed loan. And so on. We got talked into a loan limit twice what we really wanted --"Because we'll waive the fees--" the guy says.
And it turned into an Interest Only loan for five years.
O.K. My bad. I didn't walk out when I had the impulse. I just told myself that I would hold back the half we didn't need, and pay off the loan early. We also made hefty payments over the last four years, and had it about half paid off. The interest rate was really low.
But I remember specifically telling the loan officer -- Countrywide, before all the news came out about this mortgage company and before B of A took them over -- "We WILL be paying this off early, and we don't want any charges for that."
So it turns out, the over-600.00 they held was, in fact, early payment fees.
Linda challenged them on that, and they backed down, which I suspect means that in fact we weren't supposed to be charged early payment fees.
They still managed to screw us for 86.00.
We'll see if we get the balance back. Or whether they'll continue to cause us grief. And whether they'll wait long enough to continue to charge us a finance fee:
For owing US money....
Books are arriving.
I've decided to do the makeover in stages -- the biggest stage is getting all three employees in at the same time to move the bigger fixtures. It's going to be a struggle to get them downstairs, but it has to be done.
Meanwhile, over the coming week, I've got to start storing the product I plan to retire in boxes, without being too disruptive.
Despite ordering more bookcases than I thought I needed, I'm coming up short a couple of cases. Staples hasn't had another sale, so I may be forced to buy them at full retail price -- Horrors Greeley!
I've been questioning myself about this new expenditure. Is it likely that my book sales will go up significantly? Am I just wasting money?
The answers are, probably not and probably not. No, there won't be an immediate payoff, but I think I'll get the money back over the course of year or so. Not much return on the investment. Will have to carry that debt for awhile.
But getting new inventory to spark sales was only half the reason I did it. The other reason is because I wanted to do it.
That's important. I keep making the case, and it seems stronger every year, that keeping interest and enthusiasm in my business, and avoiding burn-out, is at least as important as making money.
I've done the job with graphic novels. I'm carrying the best I can get, already.
So I'll enjoy having the best mystery and S.F. and paranormal romance and mainstream and classic fiction as I can assemble. I'll have fun thinking about it, ordering it, displaying it, talking about it.
I want to be sure I don't just immediately fill up the extra space. I want at least half of it to be available for better displaying.
I started moving toys around, and realized that I have lots of henchmen. I'm going to term this, "The Henchmen Problem." Out of every set of toys, there are the main characters, the secondary characters, and the henchmen. One of my strategies in avoiding losing money on toys is to sell them all sets: want the main characters(?) buy the henchmen too. Or I price the henchmen a little lower and the main characters a little higher.
But I still end up with the odd Road Warrior henchmen, or Matrix henchmen. Tons of Star Wars henchmen.
If I toss all the leftover henchmen in a box, I probably increase my available space by a significant percentage.
I was able to winnow down the sports and non-sports by about 25%. I need to winnow it down by 50%; so I'm simply taking dead brands and/or brands that only have a few packs left. Stick the rest in boxes.
A significant percentage of my back issues are now packaged as 'sets.' They don't sell all that much better than individual back issues, but they feel more complete, somehow. More like something that someone might actually want some day. But I often have multiple sets -- up to five or six. I really need only one or two each, so I'm going to play CONCENTRATION and try to winnow them down.
It wouldn't seem like have much space left in the store; but I have a pretty good idea how much I can squeeze together existing product without adding the overwhelming visuals.
It will probably be a month or two of moving stuff around until I'm finally satisfied. And that's all right. Gives me something creative to do.
I also figure, down the road, it might be easier to sell a 'bookstore' than a comic, game, toy or card store. Indubitably.
I was reassured by the quality of the new books. I ordered them more for price and availability than anything -- but of course, I was ordering the best books I could find within those perimeters. So the actual quality was a nice surprise.
I'm obviously never going to have enough room to be a full bookstore -- even a bookstore that can make headway on non-fiction. But I can have a very decent selection of fiction, handpicked, of all kinds, and maybe that will be enough.
Tuesday, September 7, 2010
Interesting to get his perspective on the family, which is both similar and completely different than me.
Took him out to the Badlands east of Bend, which coincidentally had just opened on Sept. 1, for foot traffic.
He's enamored of Sante Fe and plans to retire there, and I figure he got some of his love of the high desert from growing up on Bend.
No real news here, just that I've been in a contemplative mood about family and memory.
Monday, September 6, 2010
"Only long term fixes that do not add to debt can change consumer sentiment which in turn stimulates the economy. Examples are permanent tax incentives and pro business legislation."
First of all, I question how "pro-business legislation" and "permanent tax incentives" would affect "consumer sentiment," and aren't instead just further giveaway corporate welfare.
But even more, it got me to thinking about how all these hard political positions -- frankly on both the right and the left -- seem to have little real world effect on my business.
I try to envision just what 'tax incentives and pro business legislation' would actually help or hinder my everyday business, and I'm damned if I can come with anything significant.
Admittedly, I'm a pretty small business, but I can scale up 5 or 10 times and still see little or no effect from legislation of any kind. Most of what I read about are Economy of Scale measures, that -- when you get right down to it -- benefit BIG, BIG corporate entities.
I'll tell you what, I'll feel sorry for corporations when they start paying the same rate of taxes that I do. But as far as I can see, while corporations have the legal rights of individuals they sure don't pay the same rate of taxes as individuals.
Sure, it would dramatically contain their growth. Maybe they'd have to charge the same prices as me. Maybe they'd have to try harder to get their workers, if the playing field was more level, and they'd have to offer higher wages and benefits.
I know, I know -- they'd send even more of their work overseas...but what kind of fucked up answer is that? Not that it seems to matter -- they have been doing that as fast as they possibly can already.... If that is their answer, then tax them out of existence.
But it seems to me that many of those "pro business legislation" and "tax incentives" helped enable corporations to move their workforce over the borders, instead. We're broke, and we can't buy the damn goods, and the conservative answer seems to be -- "let's do more of that, because it's worked so well for the average citizen...." Average citizen being someone who earns more than 100k a year.
I'm not just slamming just the Republicans here. Both parties are enabling big corporate interests above all else -- who have returned the favor by buying influence. I haven't seen much trickle down in the way of wages and benefits for the working class. They're completely arrogant about management bonuses and wages. But they've managed to frame the argument in a way that the little guy -- small business owners and blue collar voters -- have often chosen a side that if they would just think about it a little more -- has absolutely no benefit to them.
Tax increases? 3% more for people who earn five times what I earn? As a small business owner, I'm supposed to be concerned about that?
The argument against the local and state measures that supposedly drive away 'business' don't really apply to the vast majority of businesses -- even businesses five or ten times my size. (Or if they do, those businesses are so shaky from other factors, that the legislation is the least of their problems.) Which is why they probably aren't crucial for a business staying or leaving, growing or shrinking.
I'm just saying, I wish that voters would take a step back, and instead of solidifying into hard political positions would ask themselves -- do these measures actually affect my position in any way? Or are they scaled at a much higher level of income and size? And why the hell am I voting for a position that -- if anything -- probably detracts from my own best interest?
I say this as a liberal -- but I think most voters on all sides of the political spectrum ought to try to look past dogma and look at what's actually happening on street level.
Sunday, September 5, 2010
My store based experience tells me something different.
I don't know how many parallels one can draw between a small Mom and Pop and the national economy. Maybe it's just not comparable.
But the principle seems the same to me, just much bigger in size.
So what happens when I have a downturn in the store?
Well, I could borrow money and spend it on inventory and infrastructure. There isn't much doubt that would spark higher sales -- maybe even to the point that I might increase employees hours, etc.
But, more often, the correct thing to do is to take my lumps, work my way through the problem, CUT spending and wait for a turn around.
By all accounts, such a response is largely responsible for Great Depressions, and may result in a continuation of the Great Recession.
Still --- Like I said, as a small business owner I'm leery of trying to spend my way out of trouble.
I will say this, though. IF I were to decide to got that route, to try to stimulate business -- I would go BIG. I wouldn't just double the size of my store, I'd quadruple it. I think I'd be much more likely to get the response I need from that, than from smaller, incremental increases. Even doubling in size probably wouldn't achieve the results I need.
So, while getting way BIGGER, and spending considerably more money to get there, would be a huge risk, it might very well work.
Whereas, I think increasing spending tentatively would just be a waste.