Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Breathtaking business naivete.

Business naivete is more common than not, especially amongst consumers. There are so many misconceptions about small business that all you can do is shrug. You have to keep on doing what you know. 

But it's even more breathtaking to me how naive some of the comic store owners who make comments on the comic biz sites are. They somehow see something that has almost no benefit for their businesses as a good thing. They dismiss the dangers as people being hyperbolic. 

Basically, you can divide the owners into two camps--those who fully experienced the collapse of the comic market in the 90s and those that didn't. Far be it for the newcomers--and they may have been in business for twenty years by now--to listen to the old farts. Worse, the newcomers take a moral high ground, lecturing us about how we're too negative.

Some of the things they say are ludicrous. 

The best example is how some of these business owners somehow believe that Penguin Random House--the biggest publisher in America--is somehow going to be good for small comic publishers. As if PRH is going to expend a bunch of money and time promoting publishers who barely make a blip on their bottom line. (They might want to talk to indie book publishers about that.)

One of the things I've always been amazed by is how Diamond Comics has been willing to deal with extremely small quantities of orders. One comic per five hundred stores--things like that. I'm betting it takes almost as much time for an employee to go to the bin to grab a single issue as it does to pick out ten or twenty or a hundred. 

I'm imagining PRH's first conversations with a comic shop owner: "Hi. This is Comic Book Guy Comics. I want to report that two of my five Incredible Hulk comics have dings in the corner.... Hello? Hello?"

Most importantly, our industry is extremely small relative to everyone else. I suspect that even PRH was seduced by the idea of comics because of their prevalence online, in the theaters, and on the streaming services.

Let me just say: what you see is not what you get. Comics don't sell huge numbers because everyone knows who Spider-man is. The clearest way to make this clear is to as you--dear reader--a simple question. 

"When was the last time you went into a comic store and purchased a monthly comic?"

I can guarantee that the vast majority of people who read this blog haven't done so in a long time. And these are people who are interested enough to read this blog!

As I said above, all I can do is take care of business as clear-eyed as I can. 

Monday, March 29, 2021

They're coming...

Woke up to a bright, crisp Central Oregon Spring morning. It filled me with contentment. This is what I've always loved about this place, the smell, the feel of the air. A little white snow on the ground, but flowers starting to emerge too. The whole atmosphere just settles over me with a nostalgic blanket. 

We just had a mammoth week at the store with Spring Break. I mean, it was frightening. If we make it through this, it will definitely show the efficacy of masks, because that all we really demanded from our customers. I've been double-masking ever since I had the thought. 

So at a time of year when we are usually struggling to break-even, we are doing considerably better. I think there is a bit of a surge because of the Covid shut-ins. Pokemon and Magic have gotten hot again. But it's not the kind of bubble that will hurt us if it bursts.

Meanwhile, book sales are spectacular--and I include graphic novels, and especially YA graphic novels in that equation. We seem to be getting a lot of newcomers and tourists. It's like we're being discovered all over again.

I don't know. This seems to happen every decade or so. We quietly go about our business and then a bunch of locals finally get word of us for some reason. 

But to get to the point of the above title.

What I seem to be seeing at the store is a huge surge of people coming to Central Oregon. It reminds me of the mid-aughts just before the bubble burst. I don't think this is a bubble--I think this is a population shift of well-to-do folk finding the spot they want to live and having the means to do it. 

This is probably not a revelation--but I think Bend is about to be a very expensive place to live. Based on the number of people in my store who said they were moving here, were planning to move here, want to move here. 

No surprise to people living here, I suppose. But I feel like I have a front row seat at my store.

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Upsides versus Downsides.

Marvel Comics is moving their distribution of comics and graphic novels from Diamond Distributors to Penguin Random House, the largest publisher in America. This, after DC Comics decided to move to another, smaller distributor earlier this year.

This is going to have huge repercussions for the comic industry as a whole, which I won't write about now other than to say that this could be very bad for everyone else in the industry since Diamond will now be trying to survive with 70 to 80% of the comic market taken away from them. This would seem very dangerous to the other 20 to 30% of the market--all those innovative but smaller comic publishers.

But my first thought was what I once read about Upsides versus Downsides; Corporations will take huge risks for a possible large payoff on the Upside, if the industry is already close to the bottom of the Downside. (AOL didn't have a lot to lose by joining with Warner Brothers--they were already toast, though Warner Brothers didn't seem to realize that...)

So the downside of this change is that it could destroy the entire comic market. Marvel may not be overly concerned about that: their only concern is whether it will hurt sales of Marvel product. And for that, they may feel it is worth the risk. (Sorry all you small stores and publishers...it's just business.)

My guess is that the Downside doesn't scare them. They could probably stop selling monthly comics tomorrow and still stay pretty strong as a media company.

The Upside is many more (book)stores carrying Marvel comics and a bigger company willing to promote them. (There is also the sneaking suspicion that if the other smaller publishers crash, well...that leaves them on top. I'd submit that being on top of the stinking remains of a burned-out industry is a hollow victory, but "Top of the world, Ma!")

My own experience with such Revolutions in any industry is that it usually doesn't work. That it hurts more than helps. I subscribe more to the "Do no Harm" school of thought. The thing no one tells you about "creative destruction" is that the destruction happens to most of the existing industry to the benefit of a minority of big winners: The Upside.

I've spent years trying to inoculate my business from the vagaries of any one product line. 

In April, 2015, comics were 34% of my overall sales, and graphic novels were 24%, for an overall 58%.

In April, 2021 comics were 13% of my overall sales, and graphic novels were 22%, for an overall 35%.

Sales in my store are also 30% higher overall now, and I don't see graphic novel sales dropping dramatically. So the Downside for me is that comic sales will drop, worst case scenario, by half? That would be only 6.5% of my overall sales, and if that money isn't spent on comics, it probably will be spent somewhere else. 

The biggest change is that the line between books and graphic novels continues to blur in the public's mind. The new "Dog Man: Mothering Heights" book this week would something a smart comic store would carry as well as a smart bookstore. 

I'm fascinated by the choices the big corporations make. For instance, they could have just shored up Diamond Comics, perhaps given them a little more support so they could have Free Shipping, perhaps done something--ANYTHING!--to actually promote comics. 

Instead, they just casually pull the rug out from the entire industry and figure that the other Big Player will do a good job. 

I guess we'll see. I have my doubts that Penguin Random House has any idea what they're getting into.

 It appears the Penguin Random House will soon be distributing Marvel comics.

I doubt they know what they're getting into. I'm going to just sit back and watch as the Comic Book Guy calls and demands a pristine replacement for that obscure $3.99 comic with the random variant cover.

Or not.

Which will mean Comic Book Guy will scream bloody murder. And PRH will look at him quizzically and think, "WTF?"

PRH will look at trying to pick a single comic for 500 comic shops and go, "Why are we doing this?"

So they will ask that Comic Book Guy buy at least 5 copies of said obscure $3.99 comic with variant cover or none at all.

And Comic Book Guy will threaten to bomb PRH with terrible sounding tweets.

And PRH will go, "WTF?"

Oh, this is going to be fun.

Saturday, March 20, 2021

Got my first vaccine shot yesterday. Went very smoothly. No symptoms, not even a bruise or soreness. Did some research and basically, I still need to protect myself for two weeks, which I believe is the outside level, so at least a week before any effects. First dose effective anywhere from 58-85% after two weeks. (No certainty in this uncertain world.) Then a full two weeks after the second dose for full immunity. So basically, I'm looking at five weeks of being careful and double masking.

Bubbles again???!!!

It's very satisfying to make predictions and then be proven right. I mean, my predictions are based on long experience.

Sabrina and I talked about how we would need to limit Pokemon sales on the new wave. I wanted to limit to 3, she thought 5 would be better. We settled on 4.

So yesterday she said, "You were right. I've been getting phone calls and drop-in's all day wanting the new Pokemon." Then last night, she said, "Even though we were really late about getting it out, I sold at least $200 worth of Pokemon...and could have sold more."

Fads and bubbles are hard to understand until you have actually experienced them. What most people think of as a fad is a simple increase in demand. But that isn't it.

No, a bubble is a crazy, crazy demand, over-the-top behavior, stuff you can't believe is happening. Once you've experienced one first hand, you can start to recognize the signs. Once you've experienced several of them, you can start to see the patterns. 

There's lots of new speculative behavior taking place right now. Sports cards (which I'm not doing and you would have to shoot me) and Marvel cards and comics and Pokemon are all exhibiting the danger signs. This after about 20 years of not popping up. From an article I read in the New York Times, this kind of speculative fever is happening all over the place and is probably due to people being home and having a little extra time and cash.

I was pretty sure I wouldn't see this behavior again in my career, so I'm a bit surprised. When the sports card bubble was at it's peak, the "old, experienced guy," who owned the trade magazines about cards and coins and stamps told us that when the sports card mania collapsed, it might never come back--for which he used coins and stamps as an example. 

So I'm surprised.

Nevertheless, we have to deal with it. We can't ignore it.  

Economist John Maynard Keynes said, “The stock market can remain irrational longer than you can remain solvent.”

This is true of all bubbles. If we ignore the bubble in comics or Pokemon or anything else that is essential to our business, then our customers will go elsewhere. We may be right about it being "irrational" but that is farther down the road than we can survive. So we have to deal with the reality. 

Basically, the way you handle it is by enforcing allocations, not putting everything out at the same time. Trying to spread the in-demand product out as long and as thin as you can, keeping your regulars happy. You have to be willing to take smaller profit margins by buying from those who have the product for sale at higher than wholesale. You do have to adjust pricing to cool the demand. 

What no one ever understands is that if we raise the price slightly, it isn't to make more money but to slow down the trajectory and to give us enough of a margin to buy more product at higher prices than normal wholesale. Counter-intuitively, even with slightly higher prices we are usually making slightly less profit. (If the differences are too extreme, we let them go.)

The good thing about speculative bubbles isn't the stuff that's super hot, it's the way it helps sales in all the normal product. So it's important to keep people coming in.

A good rule of thumb is: It's better to have the product at a higher price than to not have the product at all. 

We warn people off as much as possible, but we do have to play the game at least long enough to survive until the bubble bursts. 

At the same time, we have to be careful not to get sucked into the dynamic of ordering far more product than we actually need at normal times and then watch the bubble collapse with us holding the bag. 

It's a very tricky process and almost impossible to get through without suffering some damage. 

At least I've been through it before--a bunch of times. The last time this experience was useful was during the housing bubble. I saw it a mile away and spent a full year preparing for the collapse. In the end, I made the right decisions and we weathered the storm without much harm.

So now we get to try to thread the needle again.

Thursday, March 18, 2021

I'm still working on my own credibility as a writer.

 I'm still working on my own credibility as a writer.

I think my original assumption was that you weren't really an "author" unless you could make a living at writing. Of course, there are a lot of exceptions to this idea. Lots of legit writers have to supplement their income. Lots of writers make their living in the field of writing--publishing, editing, etc, but might have a hard time surviving solely on royalties.

But it still seems like a clincher to me. A writer makes his living as a writer.

Then again, I came back to writing with the intention of writing books and not worrying about the commercial-ality of them. The only real way to make money from books are:

1.) Write a book the traditional way, with an agent and one of the Big Four publishers, have it sell well, build on the franchise.

2.) Write a book independently, be a wizard at self-promotion, and spend most of your time hawking your books.

In both cases, the chances are slim to none. 

Neither of these avenues appealed to me, so if my goal was the "make a living" as a writer I was depending on sheer luck. 

Of course, I'll never know what might have happened if I'd stuck with writing in my early 30s instead of buying my store. My very unsatisfying guess about my chances is: Maybe, maybe not.

Really it's a moot point because I was such a mess at the time that talent was way down the list of things I needed to succeed. I had horrible habits that probably needed a hiatus of 25 years in order to get out of my system. 

I came back to writing fresh and without pressure and with more life experience and maturity--but also a little too old to be trying to make a "career" out of it now. 

Looking back at the beginning, I think I thought all a writer had to do was write the book and everything else was taken care of. Then, of course, the actual hierarchy of writing set in: the next step was to get an agent; then to get published; then to have that book get good reviews; then to sell a lot of copies. 

And then repeat. 

Hey, no pressure. 

So I'm happy with the books I've written. As I keep saying, outside any objective standards or any outside opinions of them, they are much, much better than I, myself, thought I could do. 

Whatever that means.

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

If you write a bestseller and no one knows, did you really write a bestseller?

Later this year a book will come out that will almost certainly be a Top Ten bestselling mass market paperback. Every title this author puts out (and I've been keeping track for a couple of years) reaches the top ten, usually the top five.

I doubt you can guess who the author is. It's not the usual suspects. If I didn't know who it was, I probably would have never guessed that this particular author sells so well. I think he sells in big numbers in places like Walmart. 

I can't hint any more than this. Please don't ask. If I tell you more, I'll have to kill you.

Anyway, my writing life is in a weird space right now. I'm not really doing a whole lot of writing, but things are happening anyway. I wrote this particular book years ago--I've been waiting for it to come out for a long time. 

I wrote this book in hopes that the publisher--who is distributed by Penguin Random House, by far the biggest publisher in America--would publish something under my own name. Instead, the editor ignored every submission I sent. I would have understood if they were rejected--instead, I didn't get an answer for years. 

Finally, the editor cheerfully contacted me about rewriting the ghostwritten book.

I responded less than enthusiastically and they did the final rewrite without me. (I still got paid more than I've ever made from a book.) Truth was, by that time I realized the direction they wanted to take the story was one that I didn't want to go, so they did me a huge favor. By that time, if I could have, I would have bought the book back. 

I doubt I'll ever read the final product. From the description, it still sounds like my book, but with a lot more guns. Heh. 

Other than this, I don't think I'll speak of it again. 

One thing is for sure. I'll never ghostwrite again.

Monday, March 15, 2021

Amazon? Whatever...

My attitude toward Amazon is probably a little unusual for an independent bookstore, but the truth is, we aren't a destination bookstore, we are a drop-in bookstore, and those are two different breeds of cats. I carry new bestsellers for those who happen upon them, but that is not my main focus. My main focus is on books that have a longer lifespan.

My job is to catch the customer finding a book they wouldn't find otherwise, or which they've always heard about, or which I can tell them is a "great" book.

So when I don't have a title, I'll often tell people, "That's where Amazon comes in." I mean, first I send them to other booksellers, especially Dudley's, down the street. But so many books that people want are mid-list books from a few years ago--the least likely for an independent bookstore to carry, but which Amazon probably does.

Perhaps strangely to my my customers, it's the big chainstores I don't like. Amazon wasn't really up and running when the chainstores came along and stomped on so many of my product lines. Toys, cards, games, and so on. That's where I saw the harm.

By the time the internet came along, I'd already made adjustments. 

It's the "click" phenomenon. I can't do anything about people who are willing to look something up on Amazon, click the buy button, and wait for the product to arrive.

It's the people who are browsing in a physical location that are my customers--and Barnes & Noble is more of a competition for them than Amazon. 

But the way it's worked out, even that isn't true anymore. I have so many newcomers and tourists and just drop-in traffic that 95% of my book sales aren't to people looking for a specific book.

Of course, the "single" book buyers are the hardest to satisfy. People are still unaware just how many titles are coming out and how unlikely it is that any store, including B & N, are to have what they are looking for unless it is new and popular.

So I have no trouble referring customers elsewhere. Often, if it's book that I think Pegasus should have, I'll tell them, "I'm ordering it. It will probably be in my store the next time you come in."

And finally, the real answer to why I can't upset by Amazon--because there isn't a damn thing I can do about it.

Thursday, March 11, 2021

Marvel sells what Marvel sells.

When I bought Pegasus Books in 1984, it was primarily a comic book store. And what sold in comics was, to winnow it down to basics, X-Men, X-Men, X-Men (and a little Spider-man.)

I spent much of my paltry initial budget at comic books shows buying up all the back issues of X-Men I could afford. Chris Claremont was still writing the storylines that have become so basic to the Marvel Universe.

As time went on, Marvel diversified--into X-Force, Excalibur, X-Factor....well, you get the picture. Plus a host of individual characters, Wolverine, Kitty Pryde, Cyclops, Storm... (all kinds of characters, as long as they were X-Men.) The occasional Daredevil or Fantastic Four (the latter which always seemed to flop, and still does...)

Even then, I thought it was strange how Marvel all but ignored The Avengers, and the individual Avengers--I mean, I wasn't a huge comic person when I bought the store but I was well aware of the Hulk, Captain America, Iron Man, etc. 

These titles came out but got zero promotion; they got artists and writers who were second-tier or just beginning their careers, and so on. 

When people would say to me, "You must be selling tons of comics. They are so hot," I'd answer, "How many copies of the Incredible Hulk do you suppose I sell? I'll tell you: 3. 

This was true for most of the Avengers. They just didn't sell.

And it made no sense.

So what happened?

What happened was the Marvel in their financial struggles had sold off the rights to the X-Men and Spider-man and Fantastic Four and Daredevil. They got little of the money from the hit movies.

All they had left was the Avengers.

It's interesting to look back at how there was some doubt that the public would go to an "Iron Man" movie. Seems ludicrous now. (I thought at the time that the "experts" were underestimating how much the Marvel Universe had pervaded the public consciousness.) 

So they switched gears and the rest is history. It was such a reversal that for awhile I couldn't sell the X-Men anymore. It was reversed: I was selling dozens of the Hulk and three copies of X-Men.

The point being--whatever anyone turns their full efforts and attention to--that's what sells. It can take some work and it doesn't always succeed, but roughly that's how it happens.

There is only so much prime space and it can be hard to squeeze everything into that prime space, so all of us purveyors of pop culture have to pick what to promote. 

Marvel got incredibly smart about their properties. Sadly, at the same time, they started neglecting the comics side of things. The movies make so much money that comics seem paltry in comparison.

Of course, from a comic shop owner's perspective, comics are the Golden Goose and we retailers are the ones who have fed and protected that goose for decades.

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

You sell what you sell.

I often get someone in who tells me that a certain product sells like crazy in the store they come from. I always listen. If it isn't something I carry, I might try it. If it's something I carry but which I've not done anything with, I might give it a more prominent display.

Of course, this is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Roughly put, whatever product you pay attention to, or talk about, or give prime space to, will sell better than it otherwise would. This can give you a misleading perception of the true interest.

I've learned that for a product to truly be a bestseller it needs to sell itself--at least to some extent. Whether you add or subtract to that momentum has to do with tons of factors. For instance, there may not be a way to display it well because of the size and shape. Or the profit margin sucks. Or someone else in town has the franchise, so to speak. Or it's too hard to get. Or there is market manipulation in supply and demand. And so on and so forth. 

When you walk into my store, the first thing you might see is my stack of Settlers of Catan, and in the display next to it, my Calvin and Hobbes cartoon books. Not surprisingly, these both sell consistently well. I have not incentive to move them out for something else.

Fact is, you can only highlight so much. As I once tried to explain to a lady in charge of sign ordinances in Sisters, if you highlight every letter in a sign, then NOTHING is highlighted. It's a contradiction of the very meaning of "Highlight."

Signs? You can't put a sign on everything and if you do, you just wear people out. 

Some thing sell themselves so you don't really need to highlight them. Others just need a little boost. Others will eventually sell if you have it. The trick is to mix these together in a way that they work together synergistically. It's intuitive, but to me that is the very basis of marketing. 

In the end, a healthy store shouldn't have to heavy-lift every product to sell it. You can pick a few items to push, but you need to make sure you don't push too hard. 

You can also trap yourself. Here's the thing--if you bring in a 100 units of a new product, it will obviously sell better than if you bring in 10. If you sell, say, 40 of those 100 and order another 100 units, it's likely you'll sell another 40 units right away and so on . 

What you have to watch out for is the illusion of movement simply because you're carrying more of it. If you need 60 units to break even, and you constantly sell 50 units, you end up loosing money. It's the momentum that can fool you.

I have a rough guess I use to measure a product's viability. Whatever time it takes you to sell the first half of what you ordered, half of what's left will take twice as long, and of the quarter that's left, half of it will take four times longer, and so on. 

Which is fine as long as it doesn't stall somewhere along the way. 

So you can get trapped selling hundreds and hundreds of units of something you've ordered a ton of, but are left with 10 or 20% of them each time, which is covered up by the selling of the new wave. 

What happens is that at some point, you take a break from buying. And the product stops selling. In truth, you never made a whole bunch of money, you just tied it up in unsold inventory.

No one taught me this. It's very subtle. I had to learn it the hard way. My impression from talking to other retailers--who are excited by how well something is selling--is that they never do learn the lesson.

My best example was the original interest in manga. I started with no manga, so the first few orders of what I got sold like crazy, so I ordered a ton more, and they sold like crazy, and so I ordered a bunch more. 

Of course, with manga there is literally no end. Half of Japanese books are manga. There are literally tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands if not millions of titles. No exaggeration.

At some point, I ran out of room. I took a break from buying figuring I could concentrate on the bestsellers.

Instead, the product just started stinking up the shelves. Same with anime. The hunger for "new" made it impossible to earn a profit. So when I sold 80% of what came in at a 40% margin, but was growing new inventory by 30%, I actually was going backward. Ouch.

We've been (Sabrina has been) much smarter about the new interest in manga. We make sure a series sells consistently before we move on to trying something new. It seems to be working. Constantly selling Demon Slayer and My Hero Academia, allows us to try new series. 

But I always take the instant sales on new product with a grain of salt. Better to take a wait and see attitude. If the product you have in stock when you stop buying new product sells at least three or four times, then you may earn enough profit to buy something new. If not, stick to what you have or move on to the next thing.

I have come to the conclusion that if you can design a store in such a way that the product more or less sells itself, without the constant need to push it--what I call heavy lifting--then you have a viable, profitable store. If you don't, you can survive, but you will eventually burn out, or eventually get it wrong. I still push product I believe in when it makes sense, but I try not to depend on it. 

The real trick it to diversify in such a way that something will sell everyday without having to put on a clown suit. Talk to people, but not push hard. Let them decide. 

Not the American way, I know. But it isn't about the money you made on any individual sale, it's the flow of customers that counts. Fill your store with things that sell and then you don't have to push so hard.

Of course, that's the trick of it. 

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Making a living as an artist.

It's my belief that every artist faces a moment where they have to decide whether to go all in, or take a step back. I'd posit that that moment occurs sometime around the age of 30, give or take a couple of years. Old enough and mature enough to understand the consequences, and to have some experience in the real world.

At least, that's what happened to me. At 32, I was faced with the choice of buying Pegasus Books or to continue to work as a landscaper/writer. That is, mow lawns and construct stories in my head while doing so, or spend 8 hours a day behind a store counter with zero creative energy leftover. 

I had a mentor in town who was well established and respected in his field, but he lived very modestly, and it was my feeling that for many years, his wife had been the main breadwinner for the family. I also knew a couple of artists in their 40's who were just scrimping by.

What happens if you reach 50 and have had no financial success? It seems a little late to start a new career. (I'm old enough now to think you could do that, but I didn't feel that way at 32.) I did some research on what writers really earn--not the myth--and it was alarming. 

See, I'd thought all I needed to do what get books published. I had my first three books published by a mass market national publisher, got myself an agent, and then hit a wall. Then I went to Ore-con and came away with the feeling that nobody cared. The attitude seemed to be "If I haven't heard of you, you can't possibly be any good."

I slammed up against the reality of writing. 

I bought the store. Admittedly, I thought I'd be able to write in my spare time. The image of sitting behind the counter and writing stories turned out to be figment of my imagination. At the same time, though, owning the store required some real creativity--creativity that was immediately rewarded, unlike my novels which took years (at the time) to reach fruition. I used to call sending off my manuscripts, "Sending them into the void."

Looking back at it, I think that if I'd had the maturity and experience as a 60 year old when I was 30 years old, I might have had a shot. But the truth was, I was mired in some very bad habits and I think I would have flailed around for years. I realize now that I don't have the best commercial instincts, and I'm abysmal at networking. But I'm also damned persistent and perhaps that would have won out.

Instead, I struggled with the store for 20 years, found my footing after another 10 years, and finally freed myself enough to start writing fulltime again at the age of 60. To my great surprise, I had enormous reserves of creative energy, and I was freed from the worry of trying to make a living at it. 

So that worked out very well for me. I got my creative itch scratched.

I've backed off a little. The reality of writing has never really left my consciousness, but I accepted that going in and I'm very grateful for whatever progress I've made. Like I said, if I could have brought what I currently know to my 30 year old self, there might have been a chance.

But I'm glad now that I didn't put myself through that. The store always had the potential to earn me a living--and that I struggled was my own fault--but in the end, it appears to have done what was needed. 

Writing? Frankly, I shudder to think about it.

Monday, March 1, 2021

February was strangely busy. I mean, I'd love to pinpoint why, because if I don't know the reasons, maybe it's just luck. And good luck ain't nothing to count on. Or it could be one of those cycles--or an anomaly--or because the Californians had their pre-spring break. The hotness of Pokemon.

I'd love to believe that we've been found. That we've hit the grade school kid grapevine (nothing more powerful than the grade school grapevine.)

I'd love to believe that it's because I've done such an excellent job of stocking and diversifying.

I'd love to believe it's because of our sparkling personalities--well, at least, Sabrina's sparkling personality. 

There is a tendency to credit your own self--but the truth is, we're just riding a wave. There is some skill in riding that wave but don't ever think you created that wave. 

I have a terrible habit of spending whatever profits we make on more material. I mean, it's not the worst decision; it may be why we've survived so long. But I always told myself if we had another surge, I'd set at least some of the money aside.

The first two times it happened, I was so intent on building the store that when the train stopped, we had nothing left in the tank. In fact, we kept having to spend on our commitments, which put us deep in debt. So the next two or three times we had a surge, all it did was service the debt.

Then in the early 2000s we got out of debt, but the store was so threadbare that I spent all of that surge just trying to restock the store in preparation for the next collapse (the housing bubble, which I saw years in advance.)

And finally, as we started coming back again, I transformed the store yet again, bringing in games and new books at a much higher level. 

So we're there. There isn't even any real space to diversify more or bring in much more stock. We're doing well, and I should for once sit back and let it happen.

But old habits are hard to break.