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Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Deeds

"A deed once done is done forever.  A task returns over and over again.  Some are doers of deeds; others are managers of tasks.  Few can master both." - Some Guy

It's a good thing I have staff who can master tasks, because tasks set my teeth on edge.  I am the quintessential doer of deeds, and naturally there are deeds stacked to the ceiling right now as the move has wrought an onslaught of work that has to be completed once and then stays completed.  It would be nice to spread these deeds out over the months and years to come, but of course that's not the way these things work, and if wishes were fishes, we'd all cast nets.

Since it's down to ceiling lights and then the play area can open, I have a bunch of deliverables upcoming that can't really start yet, much to my irritation.  Meaningful retrieval of assets from Tempe in our preparation to close that location can only happen as quickly as we can rack it in the compressed Chandler front room.  Once the game room does open, it will be a race against time to get the counter fixtures from Tempe so as to build the front counter down the length of the side of the store, since there aren't nearly enough showcases at Chandler to do the entire thing in advance.  I can't really deploy comics at all, aside from new and recent releases.  There isn't a place for them yet.

The top move, then, is to do as much work as possible that stays done after the consolidation of locations and the opening of the entire facility.  Product gondola racks are perfect.  These are being built the same way in every instance, I have the materials to make several more, and I will soon have the floor to deploy them and fill them with games.

I've got a couple hundred gridwall mounts and some eight-foot panels that will mount to the walls in the next week or so, which on one side of the store will accommodate sleeves and backcounter merch, and on the other side of the store will display new and recent issues of comics.  That will stay done as well.  And a ton of gorilla racks that are holding product now will stay built for use in housing additional singles and supplies later.

Got my security/network/AV hub built and situated.  Every workstation that has to exist is at least functional, though that won't finalize until the shipping room gets built, which is much later.  My crew took care of consolidating the gargantuan amount of cleaning and maintenance supplies that Gilbert had built up due to its horribly constrained space largely preventing us from centralizing those supplies in a functional commissary.

There is a lot of virtual work still to do, all the marketing materials and contact updates beyond those weekly distributors and vendors who already had to know and were updated as the move proceeded.  I'll be catching these and updating them for years to come.  Mail forwarding will stop after 90 days or 180 days or whenever it is, so hopefully all the crucial updates will be done by then.

I've been fighting exhaustion so this process has been slower than we wanted, but we'll get there.  It's not like I'm going to be moving the hub location any time soon.  Or ever, from today's outlook at least.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Mostly There

We were able to get the front area of the store and one restroom up to code on time to open them to the public, so there's a delightfully spooky passageway between the two zones and it's nicely in keeping with the Halloween season.  Meanwhile, the HVAC is finally fully online throughout the building, and we're down to needing overhead lights, ceiling tiles, and some miscellaneous hardware installation in the closed space, and then it can join the open space.

Construction isn't finished yet.  That's the way of things in commercial property.  It's done when it's done, and not until then.  I've made a habit of magnifying the delay, expense, and logistical difficulty that any construction is going to cause my business, and yet I still manage to undershoot the mark.  It's that bad even when it's better than par for the course.  Stores aren't wrong to seize opportunities to move into "finished" space even when that space is not optimal for the deployment.  The difference extends to more than cost savings, but also time savings.  You get to operate right away in full, with cash flow.

We prepared in advance for the cash flow irregularities we knew would accompany the move, and we did some borrowing in the end, and mostly we've weathered the storm fairly well.  It helped that our TCGPlayer Direct business basically never stopped.  We ran uninterrupted singles sales throughout the move and it wasn't storefront volume but it was a damned sight more than zero.  The Tempe location also stayed open and business as usual.  A store move where you're simply dead in the water for any length of time?  You shut your mouth, nobody needs to hear such horror stories.

The best part is that, when everything is finally open and the transition is long since paid for and our clientele has all found us again (and a huge portion of our clientele made the transition without a hitch), we will get literally years of enjoying the cost savings of a below-market lease rate and enough room to continue to grow operations without climbing up the walls.  It will be a little while before we're freerolling, but if we can reach the lease renewal point and continue in place, the sky is the limit.

I'm afraid that's about as much bloggery as I have ready right now, as the store punchlist is a mile long at this point even without the back-end space open.  So much to do.  We're going to Grand Open in November so it's early bird time right now, and I want this place looking awesome for the big unveiling.  Right now, it does not look awesome.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

The Price of Open Doors

We made the move.  DSG Gilbert is entirely empty, and DSG Chandler stands in neonatal form, much of its merchandise and racking still not properly deployed on account of the game room still awaiting completion of construction.  As such, we had to do a Phase 1 deployment, to be followed by Phase 2 (completion of everything but the back room), and finally Phase 3 (all done).  As you might imagine, this is frustrating and slow and has built-in redundancy.  But we're open now.

Bottom line, DSG Chandler opened its doors to the public on September 29, 2017.  And there is a world of difference between being open and not being open, in terms of brand strength and optics and logistics, but especially sales.  People are buying things, sales are high for an opening frame, but less than what we'd have seen in place at Gilbert with our established draw.  I'm glad to see as much traffic as we are getting, with another few days still yet to wait for the sign company to move our marquee so people can even see us.

The worst part so far is the loss of sales from where we are not caught up.  Where the item someone wants is packed away in one of the many boxes scattered about the store and attempting to guess its location is laughable, and we have to tell the visitor their money's no good here.

Moving a card-focused shop is easy.  There's not a lot of live inventory on the floor, so if you can get to your singles and packs, you can basically operate.  TCGPlayer orders proceeded uninterrupted all week, so we had that moved and operational very rapidly.  Boxes of cards.  Take down off racks, move, put back up on racks, back in business.  Friday Night Magic drew three pods of drafters and a nice healthy raft of Magic sales.

The same is not true of other product categories, where if it's not merchandised properly on the floor, it's tough to sell anything.  Our regulars have been patient while we dug in boxes for a requested product here and there.  But even today my heart aches at each visitor who walks in, looks around at the almost nothing on the racks, and walks out, because I know we not only missed any sale, but also made a terrible brand impression.  We had a short window to move and that's a consequence I accept.

I should come in late, or early, and do some more setup.  But at my age, I no longer have the physical stamina to keep up with it.  I've moved homes something like ten times.  Moving a store is orders of magnitude worse than moving a home.  There are a lot more items that will only fit into a moving truck, and a lot more heavy or unwieldy items that were designed to be installed securely, safe from public damage, and largely not moved or adjusted in day-to-day use.  I had a staff and payroll and no sales coming in to support them, and insurance and tax issues precluded our use of volunteers, so largely it fell upon our own team to lug all the contents of the Gilbert store into a truck and back out again at Chandler, all by main strength.

By the second day, my back and legs were shot, my hands were cracking (despite gloves), my neck was sore, and each night I was collapsing into bed like a corpse.  I have kids, so of course I had to drive them to school at oh-dark-thirty every day before starting up the entire process again.  I can't remember a week in years when I more fervently needed a mulligan.  None was available.

Two days with the moving truck was barely enough.  Two large loads, each taking the better part of a day to deal with, followed by a day of sending small vehicles full of the remains back and forth ad nauseam while I coordinated with contractors and hurried to prep for what they needed.  Finally a walkthrough, which I only had to postpone once, and then passed.  Thus endeth the glory of Gilbert.  And assembly of the Chandler store ramped up with a vengeance.

Friday, we got our all-clear to open very late in the process but had people in immediately at that point.  There's a spooky and fun lamp-lit pathway through the darkness to the restroom in the back (the one that's up to code; the other needs tile work) and enough seating up front for maybe 32 players at most.  Griffin and Jake built us a batch of grid gondolas and we're starting to populate them, but on Friday it was a race against the clock to be ready for FNM.

Around mid-day Saturday, I hit the wall.  I just collapsed to my desk and could barely move.  I had to stay at the store, though, because our crew was already stretched to the limit in coverage and I was the only person who could run assorted spot logistics.  Moreover, we had to rebuild the store opening and closing procedure to account for the new facility.

It might have been nice to throw a pile of money at the move and just let the concierges do it.  But that wasn't in the cards.  Our budget only went so far.  Wounds heal, sleep renews, and we made it through the weekend.  After Sunday I was a little better rested, after Monday better still.  Even in my elderly decrepitude, recovery abounded.  Plenty of deliverables to muddle through in the weeks ahead, but they seem so much more achievable now with clear heads and strong hearts.

We are open.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Who Knew We Had So Much Crap?

I'm writing this before the weekend because 9/25 through 9/27 are going to be utterly busy days and nights with the store move.  I just figured I'd make a few observations from the vantage point of coordinating the final disassembly and dispatch of the Gilbert location's physical assets.

The staff has been diligently packing and delivering merch to the Tempe location.  It took until pretty late in the game before we knew that opening Chandler on 9/29 was highly likely, and we didn't want to create a situation where someone couldn't purchase anything we had, even if it was only a web order or something.  The singles collection can exist anywhere and be serviced so that's not too troublesome, except that it will have to move in one shot straight to Chandler.

Part of the expense of five years running the Gilbert location is the insane sprawl of tools, fixtures, and storage racks.  Far from being able simply to move merchandise and supplies, we end up dismantling entire moving truck loads worth of racking and shelving.  Toolboxes and bins full of equipment.  Hundreds upon hundreds of grid and slat product pegs.  Mailing supplies by the carton.  Desks, tables, and cabinets.  Aaaalllll those tables and chairs.  And merch?  More cards than there are atoms in the universe.
The good news is that oh man, will the Chandler location ever give us more room for all this stuff.  We are excited on top of excited to be able to put things away in a logical fashion, from where they can be used in daily business without making a project out of retrieving key components.  We know at first everything will be a mess at Chandler and we'll struggle to find things in the flood of boxes and bins, but over the course of October we'll construct a place for everything and put everything in its place.

Anyway, by the time this article goes live, our store Facebook feed will no doubt be keeping current with updates.  And now, I'm going to get back to work.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Myths

Hiring competitive TCG players is a good way to build a staff.

For small stores and owner-operated stores, a point-of-sale system is a waste of money.

It's important to get in the last word when replying to a negative social media review.

Women aren't really serious gamers.

A good use of a store's marketing dollars is paid search engine optimization.

Warhammer alone cannot carry a miniatures selection.

The best deployment for TCG singles at the counter is to keep them in binders so customers can look through them page by page.

Snack and soda sales more than make up for discounts elsewhere.

Make friends with your local flea market dealers and garage flippers, and they will look out for you in return.

If there isn't much enforcement, a store doesn't have to worry about the rules.

Most sales problems at brick-and-mortar retail can be laid at the feet of publishers.

Cash prizes are legal as long as all the players in the event agree on the stakes.

A marquee sign is a waste of money when a banner will do.  Players will find your tournaments on the WPN event locator.

The used video game category is unviable because of digital delivery.

Teams should punt on fourth and short.

The best merchant services companies will call you first.

Your customer base will respect you if you're outspoken about your political beliefs.

Volume outweighs margins regardless of scale.

Rewards points programs and discounts are worth a try, because they are easy to move away from if they don't work out.

Nobody reads comics anymore.

The Reserved List cannot realistically be abolished.

The most important thing for a new store to focus on is event attendance.  Butts in seats.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

The Arizona Gamer Story, Part 5: Cart

Welcome back to the meandering tale of the Arizona Gamer, my second game store in which I was a minority shareholder and served operationally as "the card guy" and "the organized play guy."

I told the tale of how Jason Barnes started Arizona Gamer as a mall kiosk.  Arizona Mills Mall is located at the epicenter of the metropolis, at the junction of I-10 and US-60 in Tempe, just southeast of Sky Harbor Airport.  It was still the newest mall in town when Jason got started there, so even after moving to a permanent storefront at Mill and Baseline, he intended all along (and I agreed) that it was worth our while to get a mall presence again.  Enter the cart.
That photo is about what our cart looked like, though we had it arranged so that the center was an open surface for a Warhammer 40K demo, and the endcaps had mini-shelves full of TCG booster packs and sleeves.  We kept getting moved around by mall management, so we basically played the role of the Tuatha'an and made our camp where we found it.

The part I wasn't privy to was that November and December were triple rent months, wiping out most of our profit on the cart.  We had no point-of-sale apparatus back in those times, so the benefits of load-balancing were essentially absent.  Our employees who worked the cart were sometimes on the ball but sometimes absolutely not.  The mall environment is a weird microcosm and is not entirely unlike what I imagine it would be like to work at a theme park.

You know what?  I'm already tired of reminiscing about the cart.  I'm not even going to stay on topic for the rest of this article.  I thought the cart would hold up for a full-length article because anyone who was part of the Arizona Gamer inside circle back then remembers the cart so prominently.  It was this really unusual way to run a game store, or an advert for a game store, or kind of a convention booth that never closed?  I'm not even sure what the hell it was.  I kind of want to try it now, except that like everything else, it doesn't rate a spot on my priority list, which is utterly dominated by the store move until I have no damned idea when.  Hopefully soon.

If you want to make sure you have every good idea on the planet, just be busy enough with an overwhelming deliverable that you have no time to allocate to anything new.  Inspiration will spring forth.  A geyser of profitable ideas has been flooding in basically all year, starting right about when I finalized DSG's previous lease with the existing landlord and concluded that renewal was simply off the table in any realistic way.

I really, really want to punch the person responsible for the abortive attempt to build out the Chandler suite before we got to it.  Every day is a new adventure in discovery.  Oh that floor covering?  It's actually stucco and is proving hideously difficult to remove.  The drop ceiling above the restrooms?  No, they didn't dismantle it, they just cut all the beams flush at the edges.  Tile glue?  Oh, don't we wish.  No, they used tar, because of course they did.  There's Cat5e run everywhere that we don't need any and never will.  I'm fully ready to discover a chupacabra nest somewhere under the electrical panel.  (Which was a hideous mess and cost us almost four figures in labor to have our electrician fully refit.)  It's like that movie The Money Pit, except without the charm of Tom Hanks and Shelley Long in their prime.

Concurrent with this insane behind-schedule buildout, I'm going to have to assemble the store while contractors continue work, and aim to get all our ducks in a row quickly enough to avoid downtime.  If you asked me today what the odds are, I'd say 50/50 at best that we close Gilbert and open Chandler without skipping a beat.  And this is a ton of up-front expense that doesn't go toward inventory or other stuff we use to generate revenue... no, it's just a sunk cost that amortizes out over five years.

It's enough to make a guy want to abandon the entire plan and just open a mall cart.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Muddle Through Somehow

Twice in the past week, I've had days where by whatever combination of fatigue, stress, focus, or other factors, I was not effective to the standard I expect of myself.  I did not punch my weight class as an owner.  And as a result of these days, there was some effect on revenue, though it's speculative how much.

At a lot of jobs, including those I've held in the past, if you're just not dialed in, you can dog it for a shift and maybe have nothing happen, or you can get into a heap of trouble with the boss if he or she is observant and sees that you aren't participating.

It's a little different now.  My boss(1) is the ownership group, and my boss(2) is the consumer public. So basically I answer to nobody, but I also answer to everybody, which means there's really nowhere to hide.

Moreover, the consequences could be immediate or could occur on a delayed blast, and it might not be obvious to me which has occurred.  If I slip up and upset a customer and they put an item down and leave without buying it, well, that's pretty obvious cause and effect.  It is rare for the consequences to be on such evident display, however.  More often when I've run low-octane, what I've done is slowed down the process of advancing infrastructure projects that multiply revenue, and therefore I have slowed the process of the compounding revenue from those vectors.  The process of getting all of a store's singles listed on TCGPlayer, for example, provides an almost logarithmic ROI.  Any time I slow down the process of fueling that engine, I lose both speed and acceleration.  An hour spent out-of-sorts on Wednesday the 11th might end up making a $50 revenue shortfall on Friday the 27th, or it might make a $500 revenue shortfall.  Both are within normal parameters.  For one hour of me being off-task.  It's the kind of thing that haunts you at night.  Fear is a motivator.

The good news when you run your own business is this: It works both ways.  Going the extra yard and working it harder and cleaner can erase a multitude of sins and make up lost ground.

There are more days when I am running sharp than running dull, so in the aggregate I offset to the positive, I am fairly certain.  The ongoing challenge is digging out of a sub-par session.

One very simple answer is to work more.  It's not a universal sovereign but it works more often than it doesn't.  Within the limits of avoiding physical burnout, pulling an evening shift or going in earlier in a morning can provide an opportunity to focus well in the quiet of the hour.  I am rarely upset to have "gone in for a little longer" on any given day... it's true that I gave up a chance to log an hour or two in the catharsis of Ori, but I always end up creating value within the business and that makes me happier.

When I'm having focus issues due to digestive or blood sugar or protein problems, an unfortunate reality for post-bariatrics like me, I like to revert to tasks I know will generate income, but are solved processes, no judgment required.  Lately this has been parsing through the loose video games and creating proxy cases for them so they can be shopped more effectively.  Sometimes it's as simple as sorting cards.  That task is the great equalizer and nobody in the organization should consider it beneath them to do it.

What not to do when trying to banish the drag-a-lags is buying.  Buying is where my money is made or lost, and the judgment in setting pre-orders and other procurement is so absolutely vital to the health of the enterprise that I dare not engage in it when I am not cold and crisp.  Secondarily, any other judgment-heavy activity such as personnel reviews or tax planning is right out.

The stakes are high, and I'm manipulating live wires, which means I can make high-voltage moves, but also get shocked hard.  Would I trade this for a nice secure desk where I no longer controlled my own destiny?  Well, it would have to be a hell of a paycheck.  So until we're speaking in those kind of figures, I'm going to stick with the capitalism plan.