Monday, January 31, 2011
Bend comes in at #21.
Oregon is really strong here: Medford is #3; Eugene is #16; Corvallis is #20; Salem #69; Portland is #78.
What's interesting, is that if you went back about 5 years, we had only one store in the Metro area, but now we have at least two, and maybe more depending on what they include.
New York is #12; Los Angeles is #36; Seattle is #90; San Francisco is #96.
We're among the best independent bookstore areas in the country, folks.
Let's keep it that way! Shop local!
(Dammit. I tried to hyperlink and jumped through all the hoops and it didn't happen. Someone do that, O.K? I need to have someone show me in person, apparently...)
One of them was making a rope out of toilet paper.
That made me think of my store -- not the toilet paper, but the fact that they could weave together enough strands of the weak material to make a strong rope.
I've never had the luxury of having one product to sell. It didn't take me long to realize that comics alone would only get my about 2/3rd the way to sustainability; maybe only 1/2 way to true profitability.
Fortunately, I had sports cards to turn to back then, which were growing exponentially into a bubble. At one point, sports cards reached 85% of my sales, but something told me to keep trying to do a good job with comics. I not only didn't drop comics, but I grew them during this same period.
Later, I had the idea that a three legged stool was more stable than a single or two legged stool.
I never quite came up with three product lines that stayed equivalent for long. Eventually, it become comics and graphic novels; and everything else: games, toys, cards and books.
Currently, I'm about 50/50 with that proportion.
Ironically, almost every category is declining because of new technology and competition from the mass market. But I already knew that: I brought in new books and boardgames, and toys, knowing that I probably wasn't a primary, or even a secondary, source for most people.
But by being in a busy downtown, with lots of foot traffic and tourists, I've managed to make them viable.
I also never completely gave up on sports cards or card games or manga and anime, even though they have continued to decline.
I figure if I just keep weaving the weak strands together, I can make a strong enough rope to escape.
Sunday, January 30, 2011
Whose side are they on?
(Warning: this blog entry is an Animal Crackers of mixed metaphors -- once you start them, they're hard to stop.)
Over on the Comic Book Industry Alliance, one of the retailers said, "You can't put your head in the sand," about digital.
Yes I can. It's warm and cozy down here, and I can't hear the thundering herd approaching. Maybe they'll miss me.
I don't think we can make accommodations for e-books, anymore than a fish can live on land. In fact, I'd call it appeasement.
I don't think a mating of the two -- paperbooks and digital is going to work. We're not tigers and lions, or horses and zebras. There's no mating here. And if there is, the offspring will be neutered and infertile.
We're -- I don't know -- lions and lambs. If we try to cozy up to the lions, we'll be eaten.
In some ways, I feel like I've been working in a dying industry for 30 years. Comics sales have probably been declining for the entire life of my business -- except for the familiar boom in the middle.
I've seen entire species go extinct -- beanie babies and pogs-- and other species surviving only in zoo's (specialty shops and internet) , like pokemon and sports cards.
I've become an expert at selling what everyone else has given up on.
I think independent bookstores are going to survive as just that -- BOOKstores. Maybe the Borders and Barnes and Noble's of the world won't survive -- there won't be enough habitat left intact to keep those species alive. Too bad, so sad.
But independent bookstores can continue to sell books for a long time to come.
They don't need to hurry the process along by inviting the digital poachers into their territory.
Saturday, January 29, 2011
(....someone must have told him....)
So the publishers are already messing with the Tuesday ship/Wednesday release dates for comics.
Can't we just skip the preliminaries and put our comics out on Tuesday? Please?
This month whizzed by. zzzziiiiiiippppp.
That lazy Sunday afternoon feeling, with train whistles in the distance and airplanes buzzing overhead ---
is that a small town feeling, or just a universal childhood nostalgia?
"Arctic Waters Warmest in 2000 years."
I think I've figured it out. The red states don't care about Global Warming because they aren't the ones going to be flooded out....
Then again, do they really want those Cali's Grapes of Wrath refugees MOFU's moving in?
Sure he's a dictator -- but he's OUR dictator!
Tracy Morgan and Sarah Palin and glasses. Yuck....there's an image.
Looking forward to The Mechanic. Sounds like my kind of movie... whack, smack, boom!
Angelina Jolie sure likes posing....and I sure like looking at her. She's like Bettie Page -- it's hard to find a bad picture of her.
"Kids Fed Unhealthy Foods Learn to Prefer Them." Umm. That seems more chicken and egg-ish.
I can't believe how much I enjoy that Linda is writing again.
We're artists. Artists I tell you!
A better headline might have been: "We're holding our own! We're hanging in there!" but I don't know if that would be news. (In fact, in the text of the article, it mentions there was an actual DROP in the vacancy rate from 95% to 93% from the last quarter.)
It's great though, that there are businesses willing to come in.
I added Let It Ride! to my list. All the others had been included weeks to months ago.
NEW BUSINESSES DOWNTOWN
Let it Ride!, Bond St., 1/29/11.
Gatsby's Brasserie Bar, Minnesota Ave., 1/8/11
Tres Jolie, Wall St., 12/20/10.
Caldera Grill, Bond St., 12/7/10
Bond Street Grill, 12/7/10.
Perspective(s), Minnesota Ave., 11/20/10
Toth Art Collective, Bond St. 11/20/10
Boken, Breezeway, 11/20/10
Dalia and Emilia, Wall St., 10/3/10.
Antiquarian Books, Bond St., 10/3/10.
Giddyup, Minnesota Ave., 10/3/10.
The Closet, Minnesota Ave., 8/11/10.
Showcase Hats, Oregon Ave., 8/11/10,
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 Ave., 6/22/10
Feather's Edge, Minnesota Ave., 6/22/10
The BLVD., Wall St. , 6/13/10.
Volt, Minnesota Ave. 6/1/10.
Tart, Minnesota Ave. , 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 Ave., 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 Ave. 1/10/10
Tew Boots Gallery, Bond St. 1/8/10.
Top Leaf Mate, 12/10/09
Laughing Girls Studio, Minnesota Ave. 12/7/09
Lemon Drop, 5 Minnesota Ave., 11/12/09
The Curiosity Shoppe 11/5/09 25 N.W. Minnesota Ave, 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
(Fall, 2008 or so).
Earth Sense Herbs, Penny's Galleria, 1/2/11
Marz Bistro, Minnesota Av., 12/20/10.
The Decoy, Bond St., 12/7/10.
Giuseppe's, Bond St., 12/1/10.
Ina Louise, Minnesota Ave., 11/3/10.
Laughing Girl Studios, 10/21/10
Dolce Vita, Bond St, 10/21/10
Diana's Jewell Box, Minnesota Ave., 10/15/10.
Lola's, Breezeway, 10/8/10.
Oxygen Tattoo, Bond St., 10/3/10.
Great Outdoor Clothing, Wall St., 10/3/10.
Volcano Vineyards, Minnesota Ave., 10/3/10.
Subway Sandwiches, Bond St. 9/2/10.
Old Bend Distillery, Brooks St., 6/19/10.
Staccato, Minnesota Ave. 6/18/10.
Showcase Hats, Minnesota Ave., 6/1/10 (Moved to Oregon Ave., 8/10/11.)
Cork, Oregon Ave., 5/27/10.
Wall Street Gifts, 5/26/10
Microsphere, Wall St. , 5/17/10.
Singing Sparrow, Franklin and Bond, 5/15/10
28, Minnesota Ave. and Bond, 5/13/10.
Glass Symphony, Wall St., 3/25/10
Bend Home Hardware, Minnesota 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.
(Fall, 2008 or so.)
Friday, January 28, 2011
The following posts are done chronologically from my initial enthusiasm, to my eventual slight buyer's remorse.
January 10, 2011.
I am being extremely aggressive right now in my ordering. It feels right. It feels like the time.
First of all, I don't think the economy is going to collapse. It's always on the verge, you know, but not much more than usual, right now.
Secondly, I don't think my store's sales are going to collapse. Christmas was good, and this month has held up so far. I'm confident I know where the bottom is -- and how much more than that I'm likely to do.
Third, I don't think the product lines I'm selling are going to collapse. Indeed, I think I can actually build on sales in books and games, and shore up sales in card games and comics and toys. Even sports cards and manga. I feel as though I have a good sense of where all the product lines are headed and what can be done about it.
Fourth, I think Bend is still floating downward, but that I'm taking that into account and working around it.
I'm betting that I can get back to my target average, if not this year, then next. I'm betting that I can spend my target budget and at least break-even. I'm betting that by aggressively stocking the store, I can get sales moving upward again.
January 20, 2011.
The store is completely stocked, top to bottom.
Now all I need is customers...
I probably have made a huge mistake. If so, I'll be carrying the balance through until the summer. No real harm done.
I continue to find ways to stock everything. My instincts seems to be pretty finely honed. For instance, I got 3000.00 worth of retail games yesterday, and there was just enough room to put them out, with nothing to spare. Literally, I spent the last half hour trying to find a space for the last box.
A few days ago, I stacked all the Penguin books on one shelf, and probably made room for another 20 books. I've got three bookcases devoted to fantasy art, and I always figured that would be winnowed down to about two cases, so that will free up room for another 75 - 100 books. (I've got another 300 coming, but I'll deal with them when they show up...)
And so on.
As long as everything goes out on the floor for sale, I'm cool with it.
I've packed the store because that seems to be the thing that works. It sometimes feel a little over the top, but I can't argue with results. If product starts having to be stored in the basement, I'll know I reach the limits. So far, except for except toys that come in every case, and unsalable back issue comics, most everything has found a place on in the store.
Makes life interesting.
January 25, 2011.
I may have overdone it a bit.
It's not that I can't sell the product. It's not that I can't afford it. It's not even that I can't find a place to squeeze it in.
It's that...well, it's slightly unnecessary. I've already got a full store. This is...extra.
I have a tendency to want to fill in every single niche, to fell that beer stein to overflowing.
It's like I can't accept a weak product, even when it's weak. I've been ordering manga, for instance. I've been ordering superhero action figures.
I have to say, though, I've been a pretty good boy through most of the Great Recession. It's only been in the last couple of months that I have felt comfortable enough to buy to my limits.
Now we find out if the store is rewarded with sales, or not...
January 28, 2001.
What I've done is spruce up categories that I was letting sit fallow. There is a time to do these things, and I gauged it was time to reinvest in action figures, manga, and especially magic cards.
Magic sales have gone up, for whatever reason. So I decided to bring in all the affordable packs I could get.
I can see a path to growth in manga, though it remains to be seen if it actually happens. Picking the best ongoing series and filling them in.
On toys, I just decided that it was time to fill in; so I ordered Iron Man, Marvel Superheros, Spider-man, Twilight, and Star Wars. All were slightly discounted, so the 10% or so I save, makes it slightly easier to justify.
The book orders, which I enjoy immensely, are probably where I didn't really need to order, but did anyway. Because they were available.
Thing is -- they are always available. That's where I question my spending.
But, I also know that a healthy store needs to be somewhat aggressive to keeps it's edge.
Time to flex my muscles a bit.
Thursday, January 27, 2011
Wiki Definition: BOONDOGGLE: A term for a scheme that wastes time and money. (See also:
Cost Overrun; Megaproject.)
Once upon a time, the City of Bend was gifted 1500 acres of land. Yes, "gifted."
Caught in the throes of a land boom, the city council decided to create a 'megaproject,' and hired outside consultants to develop the land. The plans flopped, but the consultants were paid off millions of dollars. So far, Bend has spent 18 million dollars in development costs.
Meanwhile, the Oregon Department of Transportation said, "Wait a minute. You don't have the infrastructure for a megaproject!"
Meanwhile, it turns out that developing megaprojects actually costs some investment; like with sewers (estimated $15 million) and roads and such ($7.3 million.)
Meanwhile, the boom collapses.
The Bulletin's Headline is: "Bend May Profit off Juniper Ridge."
But reading the fine print, you really have to wonder why they chose that wording. (Actually, I'd love to know why they printed that headline. Did they read their own article?)
Turns out, Bend has to sell 7.5 acres A YEAR, for ELEVEN YEARS STRAIGHT, at DOUBLE THE COST OF OTHER INDUSTRIAL LAND and with ESCALATING RATES!!! ($7.5 million profit on $82 million in sales? -- ouch.)
Sorry to shout, but just read that sentence again....(??!!?)
This, of course, in a down economy. With competition from Redmond and other parts of Bend which have suddenly become very, very available. As the city of Bend's general fund is facing a $17 to $27 million dollar shortfall over the next five years....
Since 2005, the city has managed to sell $9.5 million worth of land to three businesses. (All of which had a presence in Central Oregon already.) By my reckoning, that's less than 2 million per year, of which the first three years were in an unprecedented boom. A once in a lifetime boom.
But suddenly, we're going to sell three and half times that much land per year, with no hiccups, at twice the going rate? (And the reason a business would pay double the going rate? Because Juniper Ridge is "unique." I'm sorry, as a businessman I'd like to know how that translates into profits for my business...)
The two new city councilors express some doubt, but they've obviously been captured by the group think over there at city hall. They seem so married to this project, that they can't let it go.
It's a quagmire, and they can't seem to extricate themselves. They seem to be worried about morale and momentum and wounded pride; when they should be worrying about not bankrupting Bend.
I don't know what the costs of mothballing would be, but this just seems like throwing good money after bad. They mention that they can sell some land before improvements need to be made, and it would seem to make sense to sell that land first and then see where they stand.
At least get some commitments, before going forward. How about some nibbles?
Let's see if I can sum this up: In an economic time known as the Great Recession, the City of Bend is planning to sell $7.5 million dollars a year for the next 11 years at twice the going rate (and escalations built in) when they've only managed to sell $9.5 million in the preceding five years, three of which were in one of the biggest land booms in history but in order to do so they have to invest at least 22.3 million in infrastructure not counting what ODOT is going to want at a time when we are facing a $27 million dollar shortfall in the general fund.
Because....we don't want to retreat. It sends the "wrong message."
But really, you have to wonder what they're thinking. Sound like a big roll of the dice, to me. A Hail Mary pass. Actually, those have some chance of success. I think this is more like jumping out of airplane and hoping you land in pile of hay.
Wednesday, January 26, 2011
Tried watching the second episode of The Cape and it was unwatchable....
Off to a rip-roaring reading start for the year. I'll have read at least 8 books, depending. (I'll try to do reviews at the end of the month...)
It pulls me away from the T.V., which is a good thing.
I have to say, my comic sales are surprisingly strong, considering how weak my subscription shelves are. I was always in fear that without my subs, the comic sales would die off. But that doesn't seem to be happening.
I also make 20% more profits from comics purchased from the display racks.
On Monday, just to get out of the house, (Linda was at a doctor check-up), I got in the car and just started driving North. I like exploring all the "market" roads between Redmond and Sisters.
About ten miles toward Sisters, I pulled off on Fryear Rd. and about four miles beyond that I found the Fryear Canyon Trails. (I pulled off on a utility road about a mile before that, but I got the willies from the remains of homeless camps and whiskey bottles.)
I don't know if there are maps to be found of all the public access trails -- local, county, state and federal. But I'm going to start drawing my own crude maps in a notebook, so someday I won't have to wander around for so long before finding a likely spot.
Funny how you have the same schedule for years, and then it changes -- but your body still thinks the old schedule.
I wake up Wednesday mornings thinking I need to hurry to get ready for the comic shipments.
Then I remember I dealt with them last night.
But having dealt with the comics, I think I need to do the weekly liquidation orders from Diamond -- but those aren't until tomorrow.
I think I'm autistic. I don't like the routines messed with!
Having money in the stock market is just weird. It seems so detached from day to day reality. Making money doing nothing at all.
Of course, I'm aware I could just as easily lose money doing nothing at all.
But it's weird.
Every time I read an article in the Bulletin like today's "Older Workers Lean On Each Other In Job Hunt", I'm thankful that whatever happens, I'll be able to adjust up or down, without someone else pulling the rug out from under me.
I read somewhere that stress induced by a-hole bosses was way worse than any stress that comes from self-owned business -- because you can't do anything about your bosses and what they may do to you. It may be an illusion, but I feel like if I have problems, I can try to respond to them by changing.
Meanwhile, the split between the national and the local economy starts to grow larger.
Some of the questions bubble bloggers had a few years ago are starting to be answered.
There was a school of thought, for instance, that Bend would do better than the national economy. I thought the opposite, because I had seen in the '80's that Bend has to struggle alone out of the abyss, without much synergy from the surrounding communities.
Housing prices continue to drop, both locally and nationally. A double dip, if you will. Again, there were actually quite a few people who thought Bend housing prices would hold up -- whereas, I thought the opposite. I thought we'd be hammered. The worst. Devastation.
(You still see local real estate blogs blurring the lines of national and local, and cherry-picking statistics....I have to wonder if they're fooling anyone, or just damaging their own credibility.)
Still, nationally, consumer confidence is rising.
Locally? I noticed the population sign at the edge of town is 80,999 which-- correct me if I'm wrong -- is several thousand less than a couple years ago. (Another disputed point; I thought it likely we'd lose population, but most doubted that...)
A quote from another business article, "Economic Forecast To Include 1,000-Day Road Map,"
"Three years after the recession started, Bend is still losing jobs. That is not a good sign for area businesses," said Bill Watkins, director of the Central Oregon Economic Forecast Project..."
As bad as it is, and as bad as it still may get, the one positive I'm taking from all this is --well, at least I know where we stand. I can make reasonable assumptions and forecasts, and operate from there.
Because I own my own business, I can make the adjustments I think are necessary...
Tuesday, January 25, 2011
The entire business world is being turned upside down. It's fascinating to watch.
My own little niches are being affected perhaps more than most retail. Books, comics, games. All are moving to digital manifestations. Sales of everything else I carry -- toys, t-shirts, etc. can all be found online at basically wholesale prices.
Yesterday morning it was announced that Wizard and Toyfare are ceasing their print editions. This is a big deal; Wizard was part of that comic boom in the 90's; and the go-to price guide for much of the last two decades.
There are rumors of cutbacks at both Marvel and DC; which both moved more into the mainstream parts of Warner and Disney, after being segregated for a generation as an overlooked backwater.
It confirms to me that being diversified is the ONLY way to go. Comics and graphic novels are half my business -- but not my entire business, which they easily could have been.
Strangely, I don't see future overall strength in any of the product lines I carry -- but I see ways to be a stronger player than my competitors, which should be enough to see me through to the end of this paradigm shift -- or the end of my career, whichever come soonest.
In other words, if I'm very savvy and canny, I can assemble the strongest parts of a bunch of weak sisters, into one strongly meshed business.
I find it all interesting to follow, like watching a trainwreck. You know the wreck isn't a good thing, but it's so damn mesmerizing!
Monday, January 24, 2011
I'm trying not to bug her, which is hard, you know. I always have comments to make, but I don't want to break her fictional dreamstate.
She often dreams names of characters, which are so evocative to her that they invite story. She also usually dreams up a scenario to start out --
Her writing is usually a cue for me to start writing fiction too, but I've decided not to do that this time. It's not that we become competitive, but the focus gets diluted, and I think it's her turn to have the full attention.
I'm not sure if she's going to read at writer's group tomorrow (7:00 PM at the Bookmark): I think I'd almost advise her not to. I don't think she need anything but encouragement to keep writing.
I'm going to listen whenever she wants to read, but not offer comment. I think that's the best way to keep her going....
I'm trying to be more thoughtful this time around; more supportive. She deserves it.
Five years ago, the message the American Booksellers Association was pawning off was: Be interactive! Have events! Coffee and magazines! Book signings! Contests! Wine and Circuses and Clown costumes!
(They still say that, though it doesn't seem to be working...)
At the same time, the ABA seemed to be telling all their members to sell online. Maybe that's the salvation of independent bookstores!
(Only that didn't seem to work either...)
Now they are saying we should sleep with the enemy -- if you can't beat them join them -- cut our own throats. Sell e-books!
So the numbers I'm hearing is 2200 indie bookstores left. Ouch.
Central Oregon has 5 full service independent bookstores -- which is probably about 4 times more than most metro areas our size. (Not that there is anything wrong with this -- the other areas need more bookstores, you know?)
Shelf Awareness is constantly posting the closings of stores; and/or the selling of stores. They try to counteract this negative news with positive messages from new owners.
Thing is, the voice of experience -- closing or selling, have a whole lot more weight with me than the starry eyed declarations of new store owners -- either those who buy an existing store or those who are opening new ones.
A significant development is that Looking Glass Bookstore in Portland is going to close if they can't find a buyer by March. My memory of this bookstore was that it was the kind of bookstore I wanted to be when I grew up.
I don't think e-books are putting independents out of business -- but they are the straw that breaks the camel's back. Years of competition from the likes of Barnes and Nobles, followed by years of Amazon and other online retailers, followed by mass market incursions from Walmart and Costco, and ---now -- e-books. Only so many battles you can win before you use up all your soldiers.
I'm fortunate that I'm coming from a different direction -- everything but e-books was in place before I started buying new books. I call this coming up from underneath the problem (instead of having the problem cut out the ground beneath you.)
But I make no pretense of being a full service bookstore -- just a store with good books. I pass almost entirely on non-fiction, except popular authors like Tom Wolfe and Hunter Thompson and Jon Krakauer and/or pop culture books. I don't spend a whole lot of time pouring over new releases, unless they already interest me. I'm picking off the low-hanging fruit; books I know will sell.
Classics, favorites, cult, and quirky.
I still think independent bookstores are going to be around when all the dust settles; they may handle the e-book phenomenon better than the big chains even.
But it isn't going to be easy.
Sunday, January 23, 2011
My store has slowly transitioned away from being a "collector's" store with collector pricing, to a store that sells everything for the original retail price. (Exceptions would be singles -- comics, cards, that have to recoup their cost of opening, or cover the cost of storing and displaying -- but even here, it's rare that anything is priced very high.)
"Collecting is what happens after the product leaves the store," is what I've been telling people.
It's my belief that the internet has flattened the prices for most collectibles.
Imagine if you will, 20 years ago, someone had been searching for a long time for a particular toy, and he finds it in a 'collector's' store. He would've known that he might never again see that toy, and would've paid a premium for it.
Now? He can go online, and there will be more than one person selling that item -- and because there is more than one, there will be some pricing competition.
I think, in fact, there is no longer a "Market" for most collectibles I used to carry: toys, cards, comics, books, games, whatever. There are individual items that people are looking for, but usually it's only the hardest to get, and the most rare, and probably the highest priced.
There just aren't enough of those to go around.
If, for instance, the only sportscards that will sell are Mickey Mantle cards, in fine or mint condition -- well, only a few stores are going to have the wherewithall to carry those.
A "Market" implies a broader range of material selling: high price, low price, medium price. Rare, Uncommon and Common. There is a synergy to the process -- selling old cards (comics, books, toys, etc.) helps sell new cards helps sell supplies helps sell price guides, etc. etc.
Unfortunately, if you take away too many parts -- like selling boxes and packs of cards cheaply at Walmart -- then the singles market no longer functions, either.
I have to tell you, I'm totally O.K. with all this. I really want to sell product for the original reason anyone ever bought anything -- because they enjoy it. They read the comics, they collect the cards, they play with the toys -- because that pleasure will always be there.
In fact, selling a toy that will never be opened is --- anti-toy. Selling a comic that will be slabbed in a "Graded" sleeve -- is anti-comic/anti-reading.
And I'm happy to no longer have to justify, to explain, why my prices might be different than what it originally was. There is a liberation in being able to say to folk: "We charge retail. The Suggested Retail Price." Most customers instinctively know what I'm saying and they either accept it or they don't; but it doesn't require anymore explanation than that.
Like I said, this doesn't have to keep people from collecting: after they leave the store. I'm just no longer part of that world.
Even though I'm not much of a consumer, on those rare occasions when I do buy something, I try to take the advice of the salesman. If -- and admittedly this is a big If -- if I think the salesman is trying to give me his best advice and not just trying to sell me something.
I can't tell you the number of times I've known -- known from 30 years of selling this stuff -- exactly what the customer wanted and needed. Only to have the customer pick something that I knew -- just knew -- wouldn't satisfy him in the end. After remonstrating a couple of times, trying to use soft reasoning, I'll give in. The customer wants what the customer wants.
But basically, a smart retailer wants you to be happy and satisfied so you'll come back.
I also use this approach when I start buying into a new product line. I'll ask the rep. for advice. If he steers me wrong, I never go back. But if he steers me right, I listen to him even more the next time.
There have been occasions when I had a preconceived notion of what I wanted, and the rep would try to talk me out of it and I ignored him. And almost always -- he was right. Not always, but often enough to make me take notice.
Confrontational tactics probably backfire more often than not. Ask me nicely for advice, and I'd be more likely to bendover backward to find what you need. I might even give you a discount. "I'm giving you a bit off," I say, "Because I talked you into it." Being demanding will probably just get the retailer to close down and hide behind polite but fixed regular procedures.
If you've given the salesman sufficient and accurate information about what you want, he'll probably be able to steer you right.
Now, I suspect this works with repeat type business; not so much that once in a blue moon purchase. (Which is why car salesmen and real estate agents are more dangerous...)
And you have to have a pretty good bullshit detector; which being a salesman myself I like to think I do. You want to avoid fly-by-night stores because they aren't in it for the long run and could care less if you buy the 'right' thing; which is also a pretty good argument for avoiding flea markets and e-bay, come to think of it.
Still, I think generally, most storekeepers want you to buy the right thing because you'll be so happy with it you'll come back and buy more.
This takes more faith in the average goodness of retailers than most customers possess these days, but there it is. I suppose you might test the salesman with a smaller purchase, and see if he's right.
Of course, in the mass market world you're in danger of running into salesmen who: 1.) don't know anything or 2.) don't care. And, of course, all bets with phone or e-mail salesmen; in fact, I refuse to buy anything that way. Buying something cheaper isn't helpful if you buy the wrong thing, or if you buy something this isn't as good as something slightly more expensive.
It's a false savings.
Another argument for buying from a specialty retailer.
In essence, I'm saying "Trust me." Which is a phrase that usually has customers backing away.
But I just haven't had that many bad experiences buying product from salesmen in my own industry. They are usually honest and helpful. So....I'm willing to believe that in most cases -- obviously not all, that would be naive -- but in most cases, the salesman in front of you isn't trying to screw with you.
Saturday, January 22, 2011
"An Ambitious Plan," says the headline.
To say the least.
Reading about the financing made my eyes blur. O.K. I'm just not that wonky about public policy. But what I seemed to be reading was: An Urban Renewal District would raise revenue by renewing the urban landscape and increasing land values. They would do this by investing. The money they would invest would come from ....
It's magic. Money for nothing. Land values would increase -- because....they would improve the land. Land would be improved because land values increase. A perfect fusion machine. A perpetual motion money raising machine that would cost us nothing.
If I may be impertinent, I'd like to ask a couple of questions.
1.) Are you going to raze all the existing structures all at once to create that parklike zone?
If not, how will a piecemeal tearing down and replacing affect existing businesses, who are trying to make a living now, today, and tomorrow? (Have you ever tried to conduct a profitable business while the streets and buildings next to you are torn down?)
2.) If you don't even have the money to fix up existing buildings, what makes you think you'll have the money to build brand new ones?
Are these pie in the sky schemes a Central Oregon phenomenon?
Plans are fine. Ambitious plans are....O.K. as a guideline. But really. One step at a time, One REALISTIC step at a time.
Friday, January 21, 2011
"You mean, Balllllll-zac, as in The Music Man?"
"Er, I guess. You should try Cousin Bette."
So, I think to myself, any good bookstore should have Balzac, so I order a Penguin copy.
I've sold two in two months. Which is pretty good.
Aren't readers great?
I think I may have to try reading this Cousin Bette, by Honore' de Balzac.
Had a lady bring up a big trade of Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy.
"How much is this?"
"Well, we usually charge half the cover price," I say. I look and it's 5.00. "Oh....how about 3.00."
"That's not enough," she says.
(Contrast this to the woman who wouldn't pay the 1.00 minimum for a .35 cent book. She wanted it for .17).
"Well," I mutter, "If I had caught this I probably would've charged a bit more. But.....I quoted you 3.00 and 3.00 it is...."
"That is not enough," she insists. "I feel guilty..."
"Give me four dollars and walk away with a clear conscience...."
"Thank you!" she says.
Aren't readers great?
Speaking of the Penguin imprint. Another customer told me of a deal he heard that you could get a truckload of every Penguin book in print for 14K or something like that.
I told him, I thought I'd heard of stores that do nothing but sell the Penguin imprint.
When I put Penguin in my distributor's search engine, I get over 5000 answers. (Many of these, are probably duplicates.) As far as I can tell, this is the only publisher imprint the search engine finds.
Meanwhile, in my never-ending quest to find room for books, I'm thinking I may just take all the black-bordered Penguin books and stack them on a single shelf.
Aren't readers great?
One of the interesting things about the book liquidators is they are chock-a-block with classic books. I suspect this is because they have fallen out of copyright and they don't actually have to pay anyone for the titles.
Anyway, I'm thinking it's a no-brainer to order classic novels for a cheaper rate.
And the customers buy them, because they're happy to find a copy of Silas Marner, or Tristam Shandy, or Moll Flanders, or ....well, a world of classic literature.
Aren't readers great?
Another interesting thing about the book liquidators is that they often have copies of graphic novels I've never heard of. Now I'm pretty up on graphic novels, so I'm not sure if these where never offered by Diamond, or I just missed them.
I could have missed them, because they are offering us 100's a month nowadays.
Still, like the classic books, I'm a sucker for any unknown graphic novel I can get for a lower price....
I figure there has to be someone out there looking high and low for these titles.
Aren't readers great?
Thursday, January 20, 2011
I think the big splash was already made -- so unless a whole lot of time passes, like for instance the 16 years between the first Batman movie, and the reboot of Batman Begins, these are going to feel like warmovered leftovers.
Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe they'll be so spectacularly original that everyone won't shrug.
Then again, it's a lot like what the comics themselves do over and over again. Reboot, start over with a #1.
They get a small boost every time they do it, but it quickly fades.
Christmas and summer sales aren't just healthy because they are bigger than the rest of the year.
They're healthy because they are broader than the rest of the year. That is, you sell a wider array of material.
During regular months with regular customers -- you tend to sell within a narrower range of material. The more specialized the customers, the more specialized the material.
For instance, I can go hours, or even days, where the vast majority of sales are to regulars coming in and buying what's on their subscription shelves and nothing more.
And once all your regulars have passed on a particular product, chances are they aren't going to change their mind later.
Whereas, someone new in the door is going to be open to everything in the store, because he's never seen it before. In fact, he's more likely to buy the passed over product, because he's already gotten the in-demand product in his own base store, and it's more than likely the left-overs at his store are different from the left-overs in my store.
I'll try to explain the benefits of this.
Take a random 10 different items. Let's say that I have doubles on three of those ten items. What this means is, my regulars stopped buying before I got down to the one-of-each I like to keep in stock.
If over the course of a busy season, I sell one each of all 10 items, I won't have to restock at least 30% them, because I had duplicates. (Any product I don't have to replace is worth, more or less, 4 of product I do have to replace.)
If over the course of the slow months, I keep selling say, 5 out of the 10 items, but never the ones I have duplicates of, then I have to replace all 5 items.
But usually, in the slow months, it's worse than that. I'll keep selling, over and over again, the 3 most in demand of the 10 items. Since the other 7 aren't selling, my margins shrink -- and what happens is, either I go into the red to replace the best-sellers, or I start developing spot shortages.
But you need to buy the 3 best-sellers; and if you sell them enough times, they may or may not end up paying for all or part of the 7 slow-sellers.
(One of the advantages to staying mostly out of debt, and having a cash cushion, is that you can replace spot shortages faster, without hurting the store. But then you have debt....)
I don't know if all this is clear: it's a concept I'm still trying to figure out. Much like the realization I had years ago that you can have an active store selling lots of stuff, but still be bleeding red ink under the surface.
(Example: you sell 60% of a product in a week and think you have a winner; so you reinvest. But you only sell 20% more over the next 2 months, and then 10% over the next 4 months; and basically never sell the last 10% of the original order. Meanwhile, you've done the same thing with the second wave of material. If you aren't paying close attention, you will end up with your profits frozen in slow or unsaleable inventory...even though on the surface you may feel you've been busy selling.) (""Ah, yes," says the Professor, "The Carson Formula....")
Wednesday, January 19, 2011
It's rather endearing.
So we'll be watching Jon Stewart and he'll mention the Kardashians -- and ....I count....one....two...three...wait for it.....
"Who are the Kardashians?"
Heh, heh. I rather enjoy it.
I roll my eyes, and mutter, "You're hopeless, babe. Totally hopeless..."
Last month it was Justin Beiber. So I yell out every time I see him, thoroughly embarrassing her. When we went to movies last week, there was a large stand-up of the little mophead.
"Look!" I nearly yelled. "It's Justin Bieber! It's Bieber, babe! It's the Biebs!!!!"
He said he'd change it to -- McGeary the Wonderdog.
Dick Cheney needs a heart.
For God's Sake give him a heart!
Aspen Lakes files for Chapter 11.
Always funny how they try to make this sound like a GOOD thing...
Got my comics on the shelves in only 40 minutes last night. But I still didn't get home until an hour later. I was able to prepare throughout the day, probably cutting full hour of labor.
But still, I hate staying past regular hours.
Dare I wait until Wednesday morning? I'd still be done by noon, shaving a couple hours off the usual time....
Snow was definitely NOT in the forecast.
Panga came in from her morning Vole-patrol.
She let me know with some full-throated meows she wasn't happy with the white stuff.
So far, with the new changes in shipping, I'm getting regular reorders at least a week later.
But I'm also not getting billed for direct shipping until a week later. I'll take that trade.
Especially since I appear to have finally paid off my useless Point of Sale system which was costing my 42.00 every week. That's almost enough to pay for the direct shipping.
Unexpected bonus from the early shipping.
Tuesdays had gotten pretty boring. Now I can process this week's shipment, as well as make direct ship orders for Thurday and Friday. Makes for a fuller week.
It's been a year or two since I settled on the current product mix.
I've got enough experience under my belt with both new books and boardgames, to feel comfortable making large orders.
I more or less ordered an entire quarter's worth of product this week, and I'll try to pay it back by one/third a month. If it doesn't happen, at least I gave myself a chance -- and Summer will eventually arrive.
But I almost don't have anything else I feel I NEED to order -- which is an enormous luxury. And a goal that I spent most of my career trying to reach.
(Well, I could probably use some stand ups -- I'm out of John Wayne and Chewbacca and Johnny Depp.)
Tuesday, January 18, 2011
I'm getting more and more comfortable that they will sell. I'm assembling a track record of books that have already sold. Once I identify a novel that people will buy, it's a simple matter of reordering that novel every time it leaves the store.
The trick continues to be; order favorites (Name of the Wind, Game of Thrones); classics, (think anything that would fit the Penguin imprint); cult (Vonnegut, Palahniuk, Bukowski, Kerouac); and quirky (Zombie Spaceship Wasteland, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter); and a smattering of best-sellers -- especially if connected to a recent movie or a subject that fits the store: Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk, The Sherlockian, Freedom.)
My biggest problem isn't really whether the books will sell or not. It's whether I have room for them, especially room to gives them any kind of decent display. (Art books only showing spine out are a hard sell obviously.)
I just keep trying to be creative in how I put them out. Necessity being the mother of invention.
Meanwhile, the store is now in the February billing period, and I have a clean slate with the budget.
I'm going to be making a massive boardgame order this week, as well. Basically, these are quarterly orders -- made toward the beginning of the quarter and then paid back during the next three months. Frontloading, if you will.
This takes faith -- in the economy, in my store, in the product, and in my own judgment. Paying off the debt at Christmas has really freed me up to take some chances -- that plus having adequate cash reserves.
Sales so far in the first half of this month have been pretty good, though I have to be careful about the usual second half slide. So far, I'm about 10% above my projection (what I budgeted for) and about 10% below last year (which was in the midst of a seven month increase in sales).
All I know is -- I'm pretty proud of the store right now.
Monday, January 17, 2011
Sometimes, when I'm confronted by a massive amount of information, I have to learn how to deal with it. And the N.Y.T.'s has the content of a full book, basically. So I'm learning what to ignore and what to skim and what to actually read.
There is very little to say about the City of Bend's budget woes. (I told you so?)
If only they had all those millions they utilized on Juniper Ridge; if only they had charged sufficient rates while the town was actually growing; if only they hadn't taken on expenses they couldn't pay for (BAT). If only, if only....
Linda and I went to see Season of the Witch yesterday. It was our -- "Let's go see a really bad movie!" moment. We are suckers for all things fantasy.
O.K. It was cheesy.
But I kind of enjoyed it, in a cheesy way. There is no way I would recommend it -- but if you had to see a bad movie, this a good bad movie to see.
The acting was O.K. , the story actually wasn't bad, the special effects were adequate.
It was the dialogue and character development that were rudimentary and uninspired. You have to wonder sometimes in movies like this if they didn't have a production meeting where someone said; "Hey, we could make this movie a whole lot better if we hired an average T.V. sitcom writer to spice up the dialogue!"
It was funny to see the audience for this movie -- I don't want to sound all elitist, but it was a pretty blue-collar, uneducated group, by appearance.
I guess they hadn't read the reviews.
Or -- maybe it was their "Let's go see a really bad movie!" moment.
We're going to have another "Let's go see a really bad movie" day, today. We're going to see The Tourist.
So I can stare at Angelina Jolie for a couple hours. (And Linda can stare at Johnny Depp for a couple hours...)
But it also pointed out something that defies conventional wisdom -- that one can be a successful gambler at all.
It brought me back to that moment about 20 years ago when I realized that I needed to change the way I did business.
First, for context. This was after a seven year growth spurt. I had 4 stores, around 12 employees, pretty high sales.
But sports cards were collapsing.
My first response to that collapse was to lower prices to compete with the chainstores and fly-by-nights that suddenly popped up.
Secondly, the moment of epiphany: There was a PBS program at the time, usually aired around mid-afternoon, about small business. I wish I remembered the title of the show, because it had a big influence on me -- but I suppose the program would be dated by now.
Anyway, there were actually two moments of clear-sightedness. The first, was a epidsode where a young businessman was walking along the banks of a pond (I remember it being Walden Pond, but that seems doubtful) and reflecting on what had gone wrong with the business he had just closed.
And the thoughts he was saying out loud, were the same thoughts that were going through my head.
That scared me, it scared me enough to actually make some very big changes. That very afternoon, I went back to the store, and moved all the prices back to full retail, Suggest Retail Price, or where not applicable -- I moved everything to a 40 to 50% markup. Because that was what I needed to survive, and I figured I might as well give myself a chance.
The second program that had a huge influence on me was about a "successful" gambler. I remember thinking, "there's no such thing as a successful gambler." But what the guy was saying really had an impact on me.
Basically, he recounted how when he started out gambling as a young man, he had a number of contemporaries. But one by one, they fell away after running into trouble. But he kept going, and finally -- after many failures and setbacks, he finally learned how to do it on a consistent and reliable basis.
"Why quit," he asked. "When you've gone through all the hard work of learning through your failures?"
I took this to heart. Even though I lost a whole lot of money on the sport card boom and bust, and the comic book boom and bust, and the non-sport card and magic booms and busts, I still felt there was a way to play it -- to gamble, if you will.
My first shot came with pogs. I pretty much pitched a no hit ball game, there. Nearly flawless. (It was an unusual fad in that I could buy exactly as much material as I need, when I needed it. Usually the problem with a fad isn't SELLING the material, it's ACQUIRING the material.)
The second success was with Beanie Babies, followed by Pokemon. In both of these cases, I was able to "Time The Market", get in on the Golden Age, but get out before it became a disaster.
I mostly did this by not actually buying direct from the manufacturers, but through middle men. I paid slightly higher prices for the privilege of being able to get out and cut my losses at a time of my own choosing.
But it really doesn't matter how I did it. The point is, I learned from my mistakes and failures, and applied those lessons to the next situation. Instead of quitting altogether.
There hasn't been a fad over the last ten years that I could find a way to tap into. But that's all right. I'd much rather have solid if unspectacular sales on a day to day basis. If a fad came along that I thought I could profit from, I'd do it, but I don't mind if one doesn't come along. Manga and anime looked like it might go that direction, but technology short-circuited those possibilities. I probably broke even, over the long run. It isn't the fad cycle I'm concerned without nowadays, it's the technology curve.
To tie it back to the stock market; I do indeed think you can probably "time" the market, at least in the broad sense. I suspect the same lessons apply. Get in lightly, test the waters, leave yourself an escape clause, get out when the getting is good. Don't be greedy. Don't be foolish.
But don't quit altogether.
Sunday, January 16, 2011
------(Thus this blog will be jam packed with "yes, buts"...."Yet(s)"...and "on the other hand(s).")----
Part of me never wants to spend another minute inside a classroom. I feel like I spent way too many hours in classrooms, basically getting very little out them. Instead, I'd go back to my own room, read the course material, and learn most of what I learned that way.
There were the occasional teachers and moments where a lightbulb lit up over my head, but it was relatively rare for all the many hours I spent listening. I'm a visual learner, big time. Audio goes in one ear and out the other.
On the other hand, my limited experience with the Small Business people up at C.O.C.C. was extremely useful. It was a one-on-one situation, which may explain it. But I not only got some simple formulas that I have used ever since, I was also helped in getting a loan to expand my business, something that probably never would have happened without their help.
They put me through my paces, making me develop a business plan. And best of all, they more or less validated my instincts ("You have a primitive sophistication," said my adviser) and encouraged me to go forward with my planning.
However, I think that in many cases, the advice and knowledge available is not completely applicable to a small Mom and Pop style retail. Like most business advice books, it's almost too much knowledge.
I have a similar ambivalent feeling about technology: I want to take the easier elements and use them, but discard most of the complexity. Most of possible uses of technology are overreaching for my little store. Too much time, money and effort spent on marginal improvements.
And no offense to the experts, but I've seen way too many small businesses come and go over the last 30 years to believe there is a single method of succeeding. I suspect that unless you already know what you're doing, you'll get at least as much bad advice as good advice.
Then again, I'm the guy who is always horrified by how little homework most people do when they are opening a new enterprise. When I wanted to be a writer, I read every book on writing I could get my hands on, I took adult classes in writing, and I joined a writer's group.
When I started my business, I read every book I could find on small business I could find, and joined the professional bulletin boards.
Like I said. Most of the time, I tend to think this type of advice is useless. It's probably most useful to those small business people who have already experienced enough ups and downs to recognize the value of the advice.
Saturday, January 15, 2011
Does that really work? I mean, 20% just doesn't seem like enough enticement for consumers used to deep discounts. At the same time, it would represent half of my profits.
I think having 50% sales on items you are actually clearing out -- make a tad bit more sense. At least you'd recoup your money on something you don't intend to carry. But even here, my theory in my store is, I'll sell everything eventually.
I prefer to offer incentives at the point of purchase. If a customer is undecided over two items, I'll make the offer -- "Buy both, and I'll give you 10% off." Or, "I'm totally overstocked on that item, so I'll give you 20% off."
Of course, you have to have people in the store for that to work...
I know you're not supposed to do this -- I mean, I should buy it and forget it -- but the Barnes and Noble stock I bought one week ago has gone up 3.6%.
Of course, if you factor in the costs of buying -- and the no doubt equal costs of selling -- this ain't near enough, but still.....it's encouraging.
Interesting that the Trono shooting has not been resolved -- and looks like it may never be resolved.
Apparently the husband vouching for the wife isn't enough -- which means there is doubt in the minds of the investigators. Simply not prosecuting will leave a cloud over the entire affair.
Which sounds like where it will probably remain.
A big gray cloud of doubt.
Customer shows his girlfriend the Walking Dead books. "This is a great new show on T.V."
"Yeah," I say, "and the graphic novels are just as good."
"I know. I immediately download them on my I-Pad."
They laugh uncertainly.
"Hey, support your local retailer, " I say. "You'll miss us when we're gone."
Again, they laugh. They're not certain if I'm kidding or not.
I'm not certain if I'm kidding or not.
Got my Tuesday Reorder of comics today. Totally thought they were stuck in the snows of the Memphis shipping area.
"You mean the deep 1" snows of Memphis?" my UPS driver asks.
Woman came in with a headpiece --"Do you walk down the street talking into that?"
"Yeah, and you should see some of the reactions."
"Really? I was hoping I could walk down the street crazy talking to myself and no one would notice....."
I think I kind of know what's happening with all the "Free" stuff. The online model that says, "We'll give it to you free, because we know we'll catch you on something else later on down the line." (They may not yet know what that "something" will be, but they seem certain it will happen.)
I think it's much like what happens when you sell stuff super cheap.
I know, obvious. But bear with me.
I'll try to use a specific example. Again, as I often do, I turn to sports cards. (I made every mistake in the book with sports cards...)
When sports cards were selling like crazy, I kept the prices probably lower than I could have, because I reasoned that it would build the market and possibly keep away competition. And that seemed to work for awhile.
I sold and sold and sold cards, opened four stores, and really looked to the sky for my limits.
And then the whole market plateaued and then -- Wily Coyote like --dove off a cliff. It took all my earning with them. The competition I had so hoped to avoid came in with a vengeance.
And yet -- for the average consumer -- prices got even cheaper.
Others seemed to take my model and go even further with it -- the mass market using cards as a loss leader, and the smaller 'sprung-up-over-night' shops seeming to play the "We sell everything for a loss, but make up for it with volume" game.
Selling super cheap does indeed generate a whole lot of activity -- and free does even better.
And yet, and yet.....
Eventually, I got to the point where I wanted to make money on what I sold. I wanted a real markup, and decent profit, and I wanted to work a sane amount to get it.
So my market shrank dramatically, while most of my customers went elsewhere. I could no longer even make a small profit, much less the decent profit I'd been making when the market was raging.
Really, there was no choice. I couldn't have played the 'give-it-away' game even if I wanted. I kept thinking the customer would come back, that the other guys couldn't keep selling for nothing, and I went deep in debt.
What I'm trying to say, I guess, is that this cheap strategy actually seems to work -- for a fairly long period of time. On a steep upward curve in sales, you may actually turn a regular profit, and a semi-steep curve in sales, you may turn a small profit, and on a slight upward curve, you may break even. Of course, you're working twice as hard, gambling twice the money, spending all kinds of your energy and space and all those hard-to-measure costs pursuing the market.
So the next danger is burnout. Which is a very real danger to a small business.
Afterword, postmortem, I figured I'd probably churned through literally millions of dollars worth of cards -- with nothing but debts to show for it. I was tired and upset and I had to reinvent the store from scratch.
My advice to new small business owners is -- don't even go there. Start out with a reasonable markup and stick with it. If your business isn't viable, at least you'll find out right away.
If, by some happenstance, you get a chance to charge a "what the market will bear" price, by all means do it. Believe me, the day will soon come when you can't even charge a decent markup and you'll be glad you did.
So, in the end, I guess I would encourage small business not to mistake activity, (sales and turnover), -- for substantial gains, ( profits and a livable life-style.)
Like I said, I know this seems utterly obvious. But sometimes, I think it helps to illustrate with a specific example.
How can something so obvious happen so often? Because the costs are hidden. Like I said, as long as the market continues upward, you can get away with it. But behind the scenes, you might be experiencing slow bleeding. Hidden by unsaleable inventory, for instance -- or just the amount of stress and risk you are taking in pursuit of sales. It's like sprinting at the beginning of
marathon, you may look like you're really moving ahead of your competitors -- but the hidden costs will catch up to you later.
Friday, January 14, 2011
Is there some universal rule here? The more you're in a hurry, the more roadblocks you'll run into?
I always take a break from ordering in the two weeks after the first of the year. This year, I got winnowed down on the boardgames to an uncomfortable degree. Sold out of: Settlers of Catan, Ticket to Ride, Dominion (Base), Settler of America, Small World.
Next week I'm going to make a massive order --- and try not to run out again for the rest of the year.
How many of you would be offended if I monetized this stupid blog? I'm torn. I mean, if it actually amounts to money, I'd be even stupider not to do it, but I hate to clutter up the blog for a few bucks.
Anyone know what kind of numbers you have to do? Say, per hundred of visits? Anyone?
I mean, this blog has gotten more important to me over the last four years, instead of less...
I'm starting to dream blog entries -- and everything, every little thing, is starting to turn into blog fodder, which worries me because how much is grist and how much is meat? Or does it matter? Cyberspace is free.
And even if I did monetize this thing, I'd probably still not do any promoting of it. That's where the danger lies, I believe.
A guy in the store, who was waiting at the IRS office for a ride. "IRS office? We have one of those downtown?"
"Yeah, on the third floor of the building down from the Phoenix Inn, with a guard and everything."
"A guard? Really?"
"Yeah, a glass enclosure -- and there isn't a sign on the building...."
Even watching clips of The Big Leibowski on "The Dude Abides" American Masters -- had me rolling on the floor. I've GOT to rent that movie again.
I thought he already was...
Can't we just ignore Her Royal Pettiness Sarah now?
Central Oregon economic forecaster asks for more money?
Sure...but first, can't we get a refund for all the forecasts from 2007?
Apparently we have entered that phase in the cycle of superhero movies, where campiness reigns.
I worry that Thor and Captain America are just going to look -- Silly.
The state "Transportation rules" hinders economic development in Central Oregon?
Don't you have to have development before it can be hindered?
A Final Salute.
KODACHROME. Paul Simon
When I think back
On all the crap I learned in high school
It's a wonder
I can think at all
And though my lack of education
Hasn't hurt me none
I can read the writing on the wall
You give us those nice bright colors
You give us the greens of summers
Makes you think all the world's a sunny day, oh yeah!
I got a Nikon camera
I love to take a photograph
So Mama, don't take my Kodachrome away
If you took all the girls I knew
When I was single
And brought them all together for one night
I know they'd never match
My sweet imagination
And everything looks worse in black and white
You give us those nice bright colors
You give us the greens of summers
Makes you think all the world's a sunny day, oh yeah!
I got a Nikon camera
I love to take a photograph
So Mama, don't take my Kodachrome away
Mama, don't take my Kodachrome away
Mama, don't take my Kodachrome away
Mama, don't take my Kodachrome away
Mama, don't take my Kodachrome
Mama, don't take my Kodachrome
Mama, don't take my Kodachrome (away)
Mama, don't take my Kodachrome
Mama, don't take my Kodachrome
Mama, don't take my Kodachrome (away)
Mama, don't take my Kodachrome
(Leave your boy so far from home)
Mama, don't take my Kodachrome (away)
Well, I would submit that a business that is built on a "cult of personality" is no business at all: it is a C of P. Churches, classrooms, business, and other organizations -- all have this phenomenon occur, but unfortunately, it is rarely transferable to another personality, a 'lesser' personality, if you will.
Sure, you have to have a fairly strong personality to start, to persevere and to succeed. But if you can't eventually make the store itself the focus, it will all fall apart it you're not there for any reason.
It also kind of brought to mind how most "hobby" store like mine start -- even more than most businesses, comic or card or game or book stores are brought to life by people who love the subject.
In the comic, game and card business, most of these start-ups don't have a whole lot a capital. They start off as "scroungers". Nothing wrong with this, I started off that way myself.
But eventually, you need to grow out of this phase -- to become "professional", if you will. What I notice is, that even successful 'scrounger" businesses very rarely move up that that next level. It's still based on that one guy, wheeling and dealing.
I think I've moved a little past that, but certainly not all the way. I wouldn't call it scrounging, anymore. I'd call it smart buying and stocking.
But even this isn't all that transferable -- except if I get a chance to train the next person, and if the next person is willing to actually listen.
I think a store should purposely strive to become focused on the inventory, the layout, the location, all the objective and measurable standards. Personality comes and goes, and popularity comes and goes, and energy levels and interests come and go.
The store itself, done right. should be able to stand on it's own, at least with a adequate amount of work and effort, and yes -- personality.
Thursday, January 13, 2011
Comic distributor Diamond has cut off shipments to Borders. At one point, Borders sold near 1/3rd of all manga books in the country. Hopefully, this won't hurt the publishers or Diamond too badly.
After all, these are MY publishers and distributor....
Housing prices in Bend have now dropped to a 5.5 year low. Thus outlasting my advice to people a few years ago to "Wait a couple of years before buying a house."
Hey, these prices could still go down significantly. Forget the rest of the country. Focus. This is Bend.
Interesting thing about the Stress Index rankings to me, is that Deschutes County, despite having a lower unemployment rate than Crook County, has nearly double the number of foreclosures, and more bankruptcies.
I suspect that Bendites were more likely to overextend.
This is painful to say, but it's probably unfair for us to expect Rep. Gifford's to magically revert to what she once was. Like I said, The Damage Done. This isn't a T.V. movie.
Today comes news that only 10% of people even survive such a wound. And that she opened an "eye" not "eyes" with all that signifies....
I KNEW I didn't want them sticking that thing into me!
"St. Charles: Colonoscope Not Fully Sanitized." KTVZ, 1/12/11.
Either because we Americans are thinking what a fine machine it is.
Or because we're so uninformed as to believe that Congress is going to immediately outlaw them.
Meanwhile, the rest of the world is watching the high school pep rally in Arizona (Go Team America! -- and there's the bossy mean Sarah Palin shoving her way to the front and whining, "Why are you guys picking on me?") and the world is thinking, these guys have the biggest army in the world by orders of magnitude.
And they are thinking, be afraid. Very afraid.
At worst, (and I doubt this will happen), the powers that be might restrict us to shooting into crowds with a 13 round Glock, instead of 31. Your average American citizen of 1776 (you know, since we're being strict constructionists -- white, male landowners) would be horrified that we might take away his 31 fully primed and loaded flintlocks. (Which by all accounts were totally inaccurate and obscured the battlefield with smoke after the first few rounds...)
The only country with more guns per citizen than us is Yemen, with 60 guns per 100, instead our 90 guns per 100. (Somehow those poor Afgans get by with less guns...)
Why the next thing you know, they'll try to take away our right to our own personal atomic bombs. (How would we ever get that gopher in the backyard?) Because there's no chance, you know, that any wacko citizen would ever use that power of overkill.
But don't worry, it won't happen. Why it would be the Prohibition all over again!
Only with more guns.
There's no chance that we'll ever have a War On Guns, because, you know, the War on Drugs and Poverty and Terrorism worked out so well....
Wednesday, January 12, 2011
Apparently, a number of stores in the U.S. got "secret shoppers" in; we're paying $4.00 a week for this.
Anyway, no one came in. I kept my open signs on, because over half my business these day is non-comic related, and it doesn't make sense to turn down possible business throughout the rest of my store.
It took me all of half an hour. (Clearly, a normal order would take at least twice this long, if not longer.) This morning, all I have to do is sort the stack of comics for the shelves, and put them out for sale.
It was a bit of an experiment -- I think, because Tuesdays are so damn slow, I can probably get comics in some kind of order before 6:00, then try to put as many comics away as I can by 6:30, and then do what's left in the morning.
I had writer's group at 7:00 last night, as I do every second and fourth Tuesday of the month (All writers welcome.) A genial group of folk, and a fun subject, even if the only thing I'm writing these days is this blog.
The actual Comic Selling Day changes aren't really that much. Tuesday shipment helps if there is a delay -- weather, holidays -- getting comics out on Wednesday anyway. But I really don't want to spend hours at the store at night; so, like I said, I'll do some for the first half hour and do the rest on Wednesday morning (without waiting for UPS.)
Meanwhile, everything else about the change is very confusing. I wrote the following message on the Comic Retailers Bulletin Board:
I'm trying to wrap my brain around all the ramifications of this change.
I'd already figured that regular reorders were going to take from 15 to 20 days to show up, instead of 10 to 15 days, so I was going to go back to direct reorders, damn the shipping costs.
Then today's invoice arriving on Tuesday, which means I could make a direct ship reorder today, and not get billed until the Wednesday after next.
Then I look at this invoice, and I have a direct ship charge --which almost has to be the one I made on Sunday, but line items aren't included in the invoice. And the postage is 81.00!
At the same time I'm assuming I'll get the Sunday order sometime later this week. (Been told it didn't ship Monday, and it's looking a little doubtful today...)
And most confusing to me, I thought I'd made a 500.00 direct ship reorder, but the total on the invoice was 325.00. (I suppose this could be my mistake.) Like I said, I haven't made a direct ship order before this since before Christmas and I've already been charged for those.....
This is going to take some getting used to. I mean I like it, but it's more of a change than I expected.Duncan McGeary
Pegasus Books of Bend.
Turns out, the 'direct' shipment was actually the Scott Pilgrim consignment program, that they mislabeled. I never would have figured this out, but one of the other retailers did, once again proving the worth of communicating with your peers. (Doesn't explain the huge shipping fee, though...not looking forward to hammering this out with my rep.)
Anyway, we're having some change pains. Nothing for it.
So is this?
LIVE for the day.
Live FOR the day.
Live for THE day.
or Live for the DAY.
Boy, do I overthink things.
But really, this fits right into what I've been thinking about lately.
I woke up this morning to two headlines in the Bulletin: "Kelly's 'Win the Day' takes Oregon far..." and (subtitle) "How much should you set aside?"
The last article I read before going to bed last night, was about studies in delayed gratification.
My last blog was really about: Did the residents of Bend get ahead of themselves and buy too big of houses, spend too much of their 'Boom' money, and otherwise not plan far enough ahead?
But mostly, I'm at the age (along with Linda), where I'm having to make decisions that will affect the rest of my life. How long do I work? How much do I set aside in these last working years? Should we live more today, instead of waiting?
My tendency is to put everything off for a better day. But my observation of life is -- unexpected things happen, and that better day may never arrive.
It comes down to a choice of; early retirement but not much more than 'get by' money; or later retirement and having some 'play and travel' money.
Or...try to do both, in a way. Keep a working store, but take more time off.
Or some combination thereof.
For the time being, I'll be working through at least one more lease, and probably two more. (Yes, I time my working life around "Leases." Small business.....what can you do?)
As much as I like traveling around with Linda, I also know I have a tendency to get isolated if I don't have some place to meet people on a regular basis. (Frankly, until recently, I thought I probably never retire -- but circumstances have changed enough that I have some options.)
So it's all pretty much up in the air.
Tuesday, January 11, 2011
"The rich treated themselves like royalty this holiday season. That spun the holidays into gold for Tiffany and other high-end retailers.
Wealthier shoppers traded up to more expensive gold and diamond jewelry from silver charms at Tiffany. At Saks and Neiman Marcus designer clothing and handbags were the hot holiday items.
The strong reports are a big improvement from six months ago, when wealthy Americans got spooked by a stock market slide and cut back spending. It shows affluent shoppers are trading back up to higher-status brands as the stock market bounces back. The rich in booming Asian economies, especially, are ramping up spending..."
This last year has been a bit of test for Bend, Oregon.
If it's true that we have a large population of well-off people in the area, they made a whole lot of money in the stock markets last year. Spending money.
If, on the other hand, most of the "well-off" people in the area are more in the nature of aspirational -- living the high life without really having the resources -- well, they got hammered last year.
The irony being that I'm not sure either group are among my baseline customers...
But the rest of downtown, I would think, it would very much describe their customer base.
No way around it. Bend is seasonal. It's the Faustian bargain we made with the tourism industry. But, hey. We could be subsisting on government checks, like Burns or John Day. And not that we had a whole lot of choice. We can dangle Juniper Ridge in front of outside industry all we want, but it was always going to be an uphill task to get industry to move here, and in a recession, I suspect all but impossible.
We've got our guestroom all fixed up -- now we're just waiting for guests.
Are you guys going to let me get away with such sweeping statements? I welcome disagreement, I want to get some discussion going.
My feeling is that we just have to grin and bear it. This is going to take time, here in Bend, much longer than just about anywhere else. Too many houses, too few jobs.
For many businesses in Bend, the Boom was the "norm." If a business opened anytime between 1995 and 2008, the Boom was the majority of their existence. The years between 2002 and 2008 would seem the proper level, the years before that maybe would seem 'start-up' levels, and the years after would seem to be an unfortunate recession.
The "norm" to me would be more like the 1990's. Nice growth, but still a struggle. Not so bad as the 80's, not so great as the 00's.
So when the 00's came along and started booming, I figured it for a lucky streak, tried to take as much advantage of the extra boost as possible, but never expected it to continue. I expected to end at any time.
And when it ended, I figured -- if we were lucky -- we'd settle back into the 1990's rate of growth.
So far, it's been more like the 80's. (As bad as the Great Recession is, I'll submit that the mid-80's were much much worse for most of Bend, especially downtown Bend.)
The 90's level of business looks like UP to me.
I'm talking percents of drops and increases, here. Even now, my overall level of business is much higher than most of the 90's. (But, so too, are my costs.)
On the more immediate front, despite having a good December, I'm expecting this next six months to be the slowest of the recession yet.
Sept., Oct., and Nov. were all down, and a good rule of thumb for me is to expect Jan. and Feb. to be worse, and April, May to be not much better.
I did average business the first 8 days of the month, but the last two days have been ultra slow, and I'm really not expecting much the rest of the week. Trouble with doing average, is that slow days can drag down the average, and we need the occasional really good day to bring it back up.
That's the part we're missing.
The problem is compounded by the paltry offering from DC and Marvel, In Their Infinite Wisdom, Glory Be, the Masters of My Fate.
While I like the lowering of prices, it's going to hurt in the short run. And not releasing much is only going to make it tougher.
Then again, I'm well prepared. That's the whole trick. Be ready for it.
Monday, January 10, 2011
Meanwhile, my backyard is still more than half covered with snow. This explains why my garden takes so long to bloom each spring/summer.
I don't know how it explains it, it just does.
Oh, my god. I hate to say it, because I think the right wing's rhetoric has been out of hand. But all they have to do is show that mug shot of the shooter.
Crazy as a bedbug. Fruity as a fruitcake. Wacko. Batshit nuts. (I'll refrain from using my thesaurus.) Looney Tunes. Barmy. Bats in the belfrey. Bonkers.
One picture says a thousand words.
I'm going to watch the Ducks game tonight with curiosity instead of with boosterism.
I graduated from the U of O, but just to get my degree. Don't think I ever identified with the place that much. It was just a place I went to school....
You know what? I don't think I even like the U of O....
I've been to a couple of Duck games. So, I guess I'll be rooting for them,....
Ah hell, who am I kidding?
I was trying to save myself from that disappointing feeling of having the team I root for getting crushed. (Damn you, Drexler, Porter, Duckworth, Kersey and Williams!)
But....maybe....just maybe....Ducks will be #1.
If I haven't just cursed them.
Nah, they're doomed.
See the roller coaster ride? -- and the game hasn't even started. Maybe I should just skip the game. I don't really care.........
It took me an entire week to finish off the New York Times Sunday edition; I'm determined to read or at the very least browse, the whole damn thing. It gives me a window to a new world (fashion and glamour and Broadway and all that), as well as more in-depth stories on subjects I'm interested in.
But damn, it's a lot of information. It's like reading a book -- the number of words.
I finished off the New York Times Magazine yesterday, after the new paper arrived (with it the new edition of the mag), and I've still got the Book Review (the whole reason I subscribed) yet to read.
We had our two boys home last weekend, so that probably explains my tardiness.
It also occurs to me, as I read all these book reviews, that I read them instead of the actual book, mostly. And to wonder if book reviews may actually tamp down actual sales. Probably not. If I was truly interested in a subject -- and a review made me notice -- I'd be more likely to buy the book.
I've also thought of subscribing to The New Yorker or Atlantic Monthly -- but, then I'd never have time to actually do anything.
I got the impression yesterday, that much of media was looking for signs from the other media about how big the Gifford's assassination attempt really was....
....and that the public's interest drove this story to get bigger and bigger.
These are impressions, but here goes:
I first got wind of this with a News Alert on KTVZ. I didn't know what to make of it at first; perhaps it was domestic violence. Perhaps it was a disgruntled employee.
What caught my attention next was the number of wounded. This was starting to look like a big deal.
Nothing on the USA Today for nearly an hour, but Huffington Post was on it; with what limited knowledge they had. And what limited knowledge they had was often mistaken; as in announcing that she had died.
But at some point, I went upstairs and turned on the cable news. Sure enough, MSNBC and CNN were all over it. Fox seemed strangely reticent -- with only one of their many news outlets covering it; and they had kind of strange 'terrorist' slant; as if this didn't have anything to do with American politics.
In fact, I got the impression throughout that Fox was reluctant to even follow the story, and was tiptoeing around many of the obvious ramifications. However, I can only watch so much Fox at a time, so I could be wrong about this.
MSNBC was the opposite, jumping to conclusions -- if you will -- that I think mostly turned out to be correct. They brought in the big guns -- The Oberdofferman -- interviewing Eugene Robinson, and so on.
I turned off the T.V. when they started to repeat themselves, and when I realized they were contradicting themselves.
But I came away with two impressions: one, that the Washington politicians were truly shocked and alarmed from both sides of the political spectrum. And, two, that the mall where the tragedy occurred looked liked "Anywhere USA." It could have been Bend -- it looked very very familiar..
Back to the internet, and KTVZ had a whole bunch of stories, so did Huff Post, and Salon and Slate were starting to enter the fray. The question of the 'political climate' started coming up, not only on the liberal sites, but also on most of the lamestream -- I'm sorry, mainstream media -- (who will ever take Sarah Palin seriously again, after this, except the lunatic fringe?)
Well -- the lunatic fringe is alive and well -- if you take the comments on KTVZ as any indication. Later in the day, most if not all the comments had disappeared, and I suspect that Barney chose the better part of valor and just stopped publishing them.
Over on the Big Picture blog, there was is a huge, nearly 300 comment reaction to -- what was to me, a common sense blog of, "can't we get along without violent talk?" The focus was on Sarah Palin and her irresponsible "crosshairs" map. What was interesting was that the moderator's announcement that he had gotten hundreds of inappropriate remarks that he didn't publish.
Finally, we come to the newspapers. The Bulletin has been a bit odd about this. I suspect they might have been just about the only newspaper in America that chose not to put the story on the front page. They had a bit of an excuse in Duck Mania, but -- really, isn't that rather provincial of us?
They have a small story in the front page today -- about heightened security for politicians, which seems a side issue to me.
I dare say, it seems like the more conservative the media, the more they downplayed it. The more liberal, the more they explored all the ramifications (because, frankly, I don't think it reflects well on the political rhetoric of the right.)
This is one of those times when the more mainstream media gave a better middle of the road indication of the importance of a story -- and they made it a very big story indeed.
Sunday, January 9, 2011
I told Linda that, and she said, "Yeah. And you're the information guy."
"Oh, right. That too."
It's true. I like the little bits of info I can glean. Like I sat through the end credits of TANGLED, today, and at the very very end there was an acknowledgment of "The Baby Chameleons." I caught the names Sticky, and I think Icky, and there were three or four others. I like the image of a bunch of baby chameleons running around the feet of in the animators.
Disney (indeed, most animators, especially Pixar) just seems to get better and better at animation. Heart and wit and adventure. Best romantic comedy of the year.
I was caught unawares that it was a musical, and I kept thinking how this would make a great stage play.
Grownups who don't go to animation, are really missing the best movies of the year, sometimes...