Tuesday, January 31, 2023

I have mostly stopped writing fiction, but that hasn't stopped me from writing. What you see on this blog is only the tip of the iceberg. I probably write ten times more entries than I actually post. Mostly because I have learned, to my chagrin, that I can't be completely and totally candid on posted blogs. Most often not because I think what I have to say is wrong, but because I'm afraid of unnecessarily insulting or hurting someones feelings. I reserve that right to myself, I guess.

Plus who really wants to hear my daily blather? I'm letting myself post this today, because it's an example of why you should be thankful I don't do it everyday and clog up your Facebook.

Not that anything I say here isn't honest and candid, it's just that I censor myself. Lots of observations from an old man may not be suitable to the world these days. Some subjects just can't be touched, no matter how diplomatic I try to be. 

It's always scary to see someone torch their reputation in public. It's unnecessary. Frankly, if you have opinions that cause that much strife, you might want to rethink. If nothing else, you might consider that you could possibly be wrong. 

My blog posts--or more accurately, my diary posts to myself--are just me thinking aloud.  It helps me order my thoughts. I have a habit of asking myself, "How are you doing?" Often the answer is pretty much the same. Not sure anyone would want to listen to that for long. I ponder things, and if the question is thorny, I try to ask myself, "What is the right thing to do, here?" 

For years while working the store every day, I'd go to sleep at night and ask two questions:

1.) What I have done today that I shouldn't have done?

2.) What haven't I done today, that I should have?

These two questions almost always solicit answers, some of the unexpected. They also tend to resolve quandaries that I might have been wrestling with. Now that I'm at an age where things can go sideways at any moment, I'm trying to give myself a break. I've mostly succeeded in what I set out to do, at least to my satisfaction. 

But I'm still working at the store, at least part-time, because I'm not yet ready to completely retreat from the everyday world. There are still the challenges of small business and I more or less relish that. 

Letting go of stuff.

I bagged, boarded, and priced 400 comics yesterday. Took me most of the afternoon. My current estimate on how long it will take to fully install each long box of comics is about 5 hours. Since I'm going to do at least 20 boxes and probably more, we're talking about, at least, 100 hours. My estimate of how much I've done is about 1/3rd of the way.

I'm going to be busy all of February trying to get all this done. I'll do the final touches in March. Quite the chore I took on.

I also took on the job of emptying out the basement and have removed about 150 boxes of used books. I'm sort of alternating the two tasks.

Having a bad back for a month slowed things down, but I'm back on it. I'm trying to keep the momentum without over-doing it. 

But I'm sort of amazed it is getting done. For years I looked upon the piles of stuff and quailed at the thought of dealing with it. Not sure what finally impelled me to get going on it. Part of it was landlord wanting me to clear out some of the stuff. 

I was talking to one of my customers about it, and he mentioned that he was still "pissed" about me giving away all my sports cards. 

"Well, hell," I said. "I have a whole basement of stuff. You want to see it?"

He liked what he saw so we dickered for awhile and came up with a lump sum. I'm nothing if not an opportunist. 

He hauled away a bunch of stuff on Sunday: all the posters, old toys, and non-sports cards plus miscellany. He's coming back for more stuff, and I sweetened the deal by offering him 3000 comics. (Non-bagged, boarded, and priced, thank goodness.)

The older I get, the more willing I am to let go of stuff. I've never been a collector myself, but I always accumulated material for the store. 

This stuff might be worth a lot more than I sold it for, but it isn't liquid and at this point in my life, holding onto it doesn't make sense. I know in my heart that I would never had time to monetize the stuff; nor did I think Sabrina would ever want to take on the task.

I can take the money I'm making on the old stuff and buy new stuff that can sell upstairs. 

Once I actually started dealing with the stuff, it turned out not to be as impossible as I thought.

Monday, January 30, 2023

An Unholy Blessing: Was Covid good for bookstores?

Covid was good for bookstores. I suppose this goes beyond being a mixed blessing to being an unholy blessing. But true, nevertheless.

Ezra Klein has a pretty good summation of why this happened in the New York Times. He's talking about Barnes and Noble, but it's true, nevertheless.

Here's the way he puts it: "There is no joy in sitting your child next to you while you order children’s books on Amazon. And in the teeth of the Covid pandemic, the libraries were closed month after month after month. ...I found myself playing out my own childhood in reverse, taking my kids there day after day, so they’d have a place to sit and play and exist among books."

I think that is exactly what we saw at Pegasus Books. While that bump has subsided a little bit, it still seems to have brought our store to the attention of a whole wave of new customers. It gave me a chance to reorganize the store, mainstream it a little more, bring in lots of new books. 

Usually things revert back to normal, but I'm hoping the families keep coming in. 👪

Friday, January 27, 2023

The basement of my store mirrors my subconscious.

There was no parking in front of the store for me to do another load of books, so instead, I spent yesterday looking around the basement.

It's like a derelict wreckage history of my store. All the things I tried that either failed or became outdated or simply stuff I didn't want to do anymore. 

Material that got so shopworn, I retired it. Almost anything that was complicated, whether a device or some kind of process, eventually got jettisoned. A bunch of marketing approaches that became too labor intensive or involved wrangling with the customers. Promotional material sent to me that I didn't have time or space to deal with. All of it dumped into the basement.

Sports cards are mostly gone, but I found leftovers. A couple of pictures of me in my 40s giving away a signed basketball in our Mt. View mall store. (Lots of dark brown hair on my head.) Paints and displays for miniatures (I always wished I could do something with that, but could never get people to be interested.) Found a huge lead dragon that I painted red with a broken leg. I have fond memories of that figure. Lots of magazines...remember those?

Electronics--what the fuck do you do with old electronics? Enough dusty stationary  and tools and cords to fill dozens of junk drawers. Broken or unused fixtures. (Those I'll probably leave because someone could use them...)

I'm selling off hundreds and hundreds of old toys and posters and especially a huge quantity of non-sports cards. I'm willing to bet that I have a larger selection and quantity of non-sport cards from the 80s and 90s than...well, anyone in the country. I was very heavy into them and enjoyed them and I don't have PTSD over them the way I do sports cards. I always thought if I was somehow confined to a room, I'd fill a wall with non-sports cards and sell them online...kind of a vague backup plan for retirement.

I have a buyer, so I'm letting go of them. They are the one thing in the basement that I'm sorry to see go. 

The landlord asked me to clear out some of the stuff for insurance purposes; and once I got started, I decided to try to go all the way. Used books are being transferred to my new storage shed at home. Used books are my current backup plan for retirement if I get bored.

Over the years I'd already sold or given away almost a million sports cards, and last year I sold off 40,000 comics for pennies on the dollar. What's astonishing is that over the last year, without trying in the least, we've replenished our backstock of comics by tens of thousands. Weird. I don't even remember getting them, except for one collection I purchased last summer. 

Once everything is gone except the comics, I plan to consolidate what's left and take some trips to the dump. 

I think it'll feel good when I'm finished. I'm definitely doing a favor for whoever was going to follow me and have to deal with it all. 

It's been kind of nostalgic... and somewhat triggering (all the stress and drama of failed product and efforts.) Most of it has been out-of-sight so out-of-mind...on purpose. I've finally gotten to a point where I'm willing to face it and deal with it.

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

The local gaming scene is changing.

I've learned that there were three big changes in in the local gaming community in the last half of 2022 that I was unaware of until this month. Which is very weird to me. I used to really have my finger on the pulse of things. 

Then again, I'm not at the store everyday, and games are not our biggest priority. I understand that board games and card games are a sideline for us. It came home to me years and years ago that, no matter how often the situation changed, that there would always be at least one game store in town.

Anyway, not to bury the lede, on to the news. It appears that Modern Board changed ownership in August, E4 games opened in October, and Main Phase games closed on January 31. 

I've introduced myself or been introduced to the new owners and they seem like good people. They are doing the things, like having gaming space and sponsoring events, that I don't. 

Turnover is something that happens constantly. I'm guessing that a combination of burnout and other opportunities means that people move on. But almost always, there is someone there to take their place.

The first few times that new competition happened, again many years ago, the town of Bend was pretty small and it was pushing the capacity of support. Some of the competition back then seemed cutthroat, though that may have just been because I thought it unnecessary. 

I've become much more sanguine about such things. Bend has grown, most stores develop their own clientele, and co-existence, even cooperation, is not only possible, but desirable. For instance, Dudleys Books is just four storefronts down the same side of my street and we seem to both be able to thrive selling books. 

My own perception is that the chain stores will always be our main competition. Amazon? It came later, after most of the damage was already done by Walmart and Barnes & Noble and their ilk. For some reason, online competition doesn't bother me. 

At any rate, Pegasus Books survives into it's 44th year. Not only survives, but thrives. And most of all, I'm really enjoying it these days.

Friday, January 20, 2023

You have to acknowledge problems before you can correct them. 

A major comic retailer (link at bottom) recently posted a column about the troubles with periodical comics. These are obvious, long-running problems that only seem to get worse. Too many titles, too expensive, too much duplication, too many variant covers, and on and on. Basically, DC and Marvel using gimmicks for short term profits at the cost of  long run growth of monthly comics. 

Everything he says is totally true and obvious. It doesn't mean comics are dying, or that there isn't great stuff being done--it's just pointing out things that could be corrected.

As usual, there are trolls (anonymous, of course) who attack this message. They call the retailer a whiner and accuse him of turning off customers by his complaints. 

I call these guys Quislings. They are basically the "love it or leave it" crowd.  Dummies. Attacking the messenger doesn't help anyone.

These anonymous trolls say they are retailers themselves, (I have my doubts: in fact they sort of out themselves by suggesting that cutting back to a one person store is a solution) but if so, they aren't long for this retailing world. They are part of the problem. I suspect their anonymity is an unconscious admission of their own doubts.

Simply put: you have to acknowledge problems before you can correct them. 

Or even more to the point, by not acknowledging the problem you aren't going to make the necessary choices to survive. Putting on blinders and sticking your fingers in your ears and humming a happy tune isn't going to help. 

I saw this exact same phenomenon in the downward slide of sports cards, pogs, beanie babies, and every other product line that has ever crashed and burned. There were always warning signs: there was always the possibility that the problems could be corrected. 

But,..the more problems, the more deniers. The Quislings only get louder the closer to the end,

Funny thing is, no one is paying attention to all this retail stuff anyway, except other retailers. 

In the end, if you see a problem, you try to fix it. The Quislings only muddy the waters, give excuses, and cover for the Big Guys. In the end, it's they who suffer consequences. 


Friday, January 13, 2023

I used to be so in touch with the marketplace that I knew of the possibility of competition before it happened. I once took a a guy out to lunch for the sole purpose of talking him out of opening a shop. It was a smaller town then and I probably had a monopoly on most product I carried. A monopoly that I probably really needed. I swear for that first decade or two the store existed through sheer stubborn force of personality.

Nowadays, competition can open and I might not be even aware of them for three or four months! I've tried very hard to diversify to a point where I'm not dependent on any one product line. But in backing away from the intensity I've probably stepped out of the loop somewhat. 

Which is totally OK and mostly on purpose. I realized at some point that the store wasn't really functional until it could exist without that intensity--what I call "heavy lifting." Whether sweat or time or tears or energy or blood or space, the store needed to be able to function without using every bit of it up. 

I have the ability now to adjust to present circumstances. If a product line stops selling as much as it once did, why it frees up money to spend on other product lines. There are always improvements to be made. If you're in the middle of a desert and your horse is dead, stop kicking it and get a camel. 

Wednesday, January 11, 2023

Almost all the business advice I read or hear is wrong. Which would explain why most businesses fail. 

When I went up to COCC for some small business advice, I got an adviser who really knew what he was doing. He gave me some tips, some good advice, and some help getting a loan. 

It wasn't until years later that I realized how lucky I was. The guy was a real expert, with experience and common sense, whose advice was tailored to my circumstances. I wish I could remember his name to thank him.

As I commented on the parking garage post, God help us from bureaucratic experts who are in fact idiots. Real experts are rare and a godsend. False experts are numerous and a pox upon us all. 

Automation is not always an improvement.

The parking garage payment system was stupid from the start. 
They improved it a bit, but the exit gate kept being broken. Unlike what they're saying in the newspaper, I don't think it was because people wouldn't pay but because they couldn't figure out the way to Get Out.
They've gone to some kind of scanning license plate, pay upon leaving, credit card only system.
Also extremely dumb. 
I predict continued broken gates until they build a wall. Very friendly. 
Was paying the guys to go around and check by hand really so onerous?
Get this: the original system was to pick up a ticket upon entering. To leave, you had to go the the exact opposite corner of the garage, to a room that even I didn't know existed, redeem it there. 
You then had to go back to your car (which could levels away) and present the redemption at the gate. 
For the first few months, every time I parked I'd see some poor, lost soul wandering around with a ticket in hand. I'd give them quick directions, and wonder why the designers hadn't put the redemption station near the exit. 
Then, months later, they put finally put the redemption station near the exit. But the exit gate was almost never down, because people STILL couldn't figure it out and would break the gate just to get out. Every night upon leaving I feared I get behind some poor lost soul who was stuck behind the gate, cars piled up behind them, and so on. It would have been a lot worse, but the gate was always broken.
There were no gates the entire month of December, for instance. Automation is a great savings, eh?
Meanwhile, we still have parking people walking around downtown giving tickets who could easily cover the garage.
God help us from bureaucratic experts who are in fact idiots. An "expert" who is truly an expert is a rare godsend. An "expert" without real life common sense are numerous and a pox upon all us.


Monday, January 9, 2023

The Christmas Carnage.

Putting the store back together after the Christmas Carnage. Oh, it was horrible. The humanity! Oh, the humanity!

Once I start filling holes, I can't stop. I mean, there are always holes--that's what happens when you sell something. 

Stop buying! You're creating a hole!

I'll probably end up with more books than I had entering Christmas. In my first years of business I did what probably most people would do: I stocked up for Christmas and Summer and cut back during the slow months. 

At some point, I figured out I should be doing the opposite. During the busy seasons, people will buy whatever you have in the store. In the slow seasons, inventory is all that much more important. People are much more likely to be looking for a specific book.

Now, I've never thought people looking for a specific book are the most important buyers. I tend to cater to people who stumble across books (plural) they like. Amazon and B & N are more likely to have a specific book. But if I start carrying an author or a series that people like, I will usually go all in. Rather than have twenty different series of books with random titles in the sequence, I'll carry perhaps a few less series but with as much of the sequence as possible, concentrating especially on the first half dozen titles, and filling in as best I can.

So if I'm going to carry Vonnegut or Bukowski or PKD or Chuck Palanhniuk or Murakami or any other well-loved author, I'm going to carry as many as I can, all of them if possible. This fits with the constraints I have for space because I can horizontally double stack dozens of Agatha Christies or Louise Penny or Lee Child books in the same space that would hold only half a dozen books stocked vertically. 

I've gotten very good at using the space I have for maximum effect. 

So what ends up happening is that I get as stocked as I'm ever going to get even in the slow times, so that when I go into the busy months, I'm already there. 

I enjoy all this. It's fun to figure out what books I can carry, it's fun if they sell. 

I find that my own taste really seems to work. If I get a hankering for carrying Edward Gorey books or Frank Frazetta art books or want a section of Euro Style graphic novels by the likes of Mobius or decide to carry the random Van Gogh or Freda Kahlo or Pre-Raphaelite artist, then almost inevitably, someone will come in and be excited by their find. 

I can't be a snob, because no matter how esoteric I think something is, someone will always come in who knows exactly what I'm offering. It very reaffirming.

Anyway, as much work and expense filling the holes is, it's also fun and challenging. 

I'm expecting over 20 boxes of books today, and almost as many tomorrow. 

I will beg Arno, my UPS driver, forgiveness.

Sunday, January 8, 2023

My friend, tech-wizard Aaron Leis, was at our house and noticed the stacks of book order sheets spread out over my desk and said, "That looks like a lot of work."

"Not really," I say. "I mean, it is, but I like doing it. Just ordering books I learn all kinds of new things, find all kinds of new connections." Wave my hands vaguely.  "All that."

How fortunate the person whose job's most tedious aspect is fun to them.

Monday, January 2, 2023

2022 at Pegasus Books.

I always love doing the end-of-the-year reckonings at the store. It clarifies where we are and where we need to go. I'll be somewhat vague about totals, but nevertheless I'll be honest about how things are going.

Overall, we were up 3% this year. But to put that in perspective, 2021 was a monstrous year for us: we were up 56%  from the previous high total in 2020. So to be able to do even better than that is impressive.

We would have been up 7% if not for the last two months of the year. We started to see a slowdown in November, which continued though not as far down in December. 

We were down 6% at Christmas, which for a corporation would be serious but for our small business is more of a rounding error. We managed to save (for taxes) exactly the same amount as last year, plus extra. When we reinvest the extra saving, our inventory will be back up to normal. 

Can't do much better than that, I think. 

Books and Graphic Novels are now about 2/3rds our total sales. I've tried to keep them as separate categories, but over the last few years that has been become almost impossible. I order a huge number of GNs through my book distributors and I tend to categorize them as books when ringing them up. 

What we've basically done is overlaid the equivalent of a second store over the existing one, while maintaining the same overhead. 

But that isn't to say that comics, games, and toys aren't also a critical part of the store. Probably the difference between break-even and actually turning a profit. 

Things are probably going to get tighter from here on. Overhead is definitely going to increase and I do believe there were be a recession in the coming months, but if budgeted properly, this shouldn't hurt us too much. We are well above the break-even point these days. 

Downtown is doing great, and the customer count continues to grow. More and more customers are discovering our book selection, and that is a welcome thing. We've probably reached peak capacity as far as inventory goes, but we can continue to  increase the quality of what we carry. 

In other words, there is no reason to make major changes. 

Most importantly, it's fun these days and I'm hanging in there as long as I can.