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Monday, October 10, 2016

Glorious Consistency

For many people, doing the same thing over and over again is boring.  Nay, intolerable.  Not so in business.  Consistency in business is an achievement devoutly to be wish'd.  With consistency comes predictability.  With predictability comes certainty.  With certainty comes efficiency.  And with efficiency comes net income.
The fine folks at the Facebook feed of The Same Photo of Jeff Goldblum Every day (sic) are absolute paragons of consistency, offering up the same smoldering visage of Ian Malcolm / Seth Brundle at 12:33 each and every afternoon.  Theirs is perhaps the far extreme of consistency, with absolutely zero variation in their content or delivery.  Yet they have two hundred and sixty thousand "Likes."  People may say they want adventure and spontaneity, but then when push comes to shove, they drive through at Mickey Dee's.  Consistency works.

Consistency starts on the operations side of the fence.

Every Monday, I confirm that the weekend's deposits have landed, then I pay the bills, then I place my primary game orders and pre-orders.  That's most of my work for the day aside from advancing projects, and lately the shipping duties as I've been between fulfillment staffers.  Lately this has been a day for Reimbursement Invoices as well.

Every Tuesday the Diamond comic order comes in and the staff's general day of work is set from open to close.  Since I put in orders from video game suppliers and other various vendors over the weekend, they tend to arrive Tuesday also.

Every Wednesday I pick up my stock order at the Phoenix GTS warehouse, and by the time I have returned to the store with it, the Alliance weekly order has appeared as well.  The early afternoon is all about inventory.  Entry, merchandising, prep, and display.  Later in the day we have another RI and we prepare the room for X-Wing, the one organized play weekly that requires adjustment to our table arrangement.

Thursdays we receive any other lingering orders and the staff focuses on processing through as many Magic singles as possible for the weekend ahead, which basically starts that evening with Commander and Standard paired up.

Friday is when the Games Workshop order usually arrives, because naturally it takes four days for a parcel to ground from Memphis to Phoenix.  From Friday night through Sunday evening, the staging is mostly over and it's pure customer business.  My media manager is on site for about half of that timespan so comic projects get some advancement as well.

On the customer side of the fence, consistency is less about the labor calendar and more about what's going on under the hood.

Elon Musk of PayPal, SpaceX, and Tesla fame recently observed that price variation hurts a business's integrity.  The rationale underlying Musk's policy is sound business psychology: Most price-sensitivity is driven by a fear of missing out on a better deal.  Perhaps that better deal comes from shopping another vendor; proximity counts for a lot, so mostly this won't kill the sale if there is some degree of value parity there.  But you don't see anyone shopping around (much) for deals on Apple, LEGO, or Nintendo merchandise because there aren't any.  The product is almost never discounted.  You can buy that iPhone or MacBook Pro with confidence knowing that the price you paid is basically the price everyone is paying.

And there we reach the part of Musk's equation that hits hardest in the comic and hobby game trade.  Since so many of our stores look little better than flea markets, many customers naturally feel inclined to haggle.  And they continue to do so because often neophyte business owners give in to them.  What this does is drives other customers away.  Customers who are not given a "special deal" believe that door has been closed to them arbitrarily, because they failed to guess the magic words.  Even for items where brick-and-mortar has price parity, such as used merch, a customer gives up and just orders online or visits a competitor instead.  Nobody wants to think they got the sucker's deal.  So it's crucially important that we as retailers not offer sucker's deals!  De profundis, I know.

Consistency in policy reaches farther than just pricing, of course.  Beyond the soft/social factors of treating all arrived customers with respect and inclusion, there are matters of how we handle store credit (good for any purchase on anything, ever, the end); affording table priority to calendared events even when someone wants them for open play on a more popular game; consistent tournament prizing, which I still think we need to refine a bit; and simple things like fast transactions, greeting every visitor, and being open on time every day.

Observing chains within our industry (GameStop, say) and outside it (Starbucks, for example), the structured policies that are executed in a uniform fashion across a multitude of locations, markets, and customer demographics, lend tremendous strength to the organization.  Nobody haggles at Starbucks.  Nobody but the most dense try-hard haggles at GameStop, and when they do it's on buy pricing rather than retail.  Price integrity is highly consistent, so shoppers visit knowing they will get a fair deal and not a sucker's deal.  The deployment and customer experience are sufficiently predictable that a customer has a benchmark against which to expect a positive experience, and that prophecy helps fulfill itself.  And because of the consistency throughout, when something goes wrong, the customer knows there is going to be a conduit of redress to make things right.

My individual store is, for now, just one store.  But these are just some of the ways I can emphasize and improve the consistency of my own operations and the customer experience.  Predictability, certainty, and efficiency follow... leading to dependable net income.  And that net income isn't skinned off the back of a "sucker."  It is fairly earned by doing business with integrity.  Everyone is looking for the get-rich-quick shortcut, but the reality is that quietly, consistently, dependably doing business with integrity every day, on both sides of the counter, is the truest path to success.  Consistency in business is truly a glorious thing.

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