Monday, October 24, 2016

Isla Sorna

Owning a comic and hobby game store means being in the entertainment business first and foremost. And as anyone who has worked in entertainment can tell you, what appears on stage is only a small portion of the resources being utilized to stage the show.  Backstage and on the studio backlot, the real work of building the business is done.

To explain the reference, Isla Sorna was the fictional island on Jurassic Park II: The Lost World where InGen set up its actual breeding laboratories and test ecosystem.  The main theme park that was located on fictional Isla Nublar, as seen in the first book and film, was the finished, polished product, intended to be staged for the visitors.  Its egg hatchery was largely ornamental, with the public blissfully skipping from cute-little-hatching-raptor to Quiet-they're-approaching-the-Tyrannosaur-paddock.  The park featured curated exhibits, a staged tour, multimedia, park amenities, and of course the gift shop.  Those little reptiles did all their growing up, fighting, and a significant amount of dying, in the visitor-free labs and fields of InGen's backstage area, its backlot.  Without that woodshed, that workbench, there was just no feasible way to set up the presentation of the finished product.

So it is for Desert Sky Games and Comics.  In addition to our primary store facility at 2531 South Gilbert Road and the pitifully small storage office in its back corner, we have other places we use for work and storage, and they have grown full and busy right along with the shop itself.

I type these blog articles from the seat where DSG began, my computer desk in my den at home.  I live in Chandler about six miles southwest of the store.  It would have been easier to locate the store closer to my home, but the objective in opening where we did was to give it the best location possible for customer reach, not the location most suited to our own personal convenience.   I do a considerable amount of work from my desk, moving my workspace at will between the iMac here and the iMac at the shop using the Back to My Mac utility.

Nearby is my garage, designed to house vehicles, but housing no vehicles.  No, it is stuffed almost to capacity with store equipment and merchandise:

This causes some amount of discomfort in the summer.  And in the winter.  And every day, because we have to plug the Leaf in to charge it and we have to padlock the charger so some dirtbag won't run off with it from our driveway.  (Those things are expensive!)

You can see Pokemon product center stage, my Donkey Kong arcade game on the far right (with my Street Fighter Alpha 2 peeking out from behind it), a glass showcase, some slatwall standees, outdated or wrong-versioned Games Workshop racks, tubs full of binders, you name it.  There are tools, containers, vending equipment, bookshelves, and sooooo much gridwall rack.  There is racking pretty much in every part of the garage that isn't in-frame in that photo.  Why did I buy so much?  I did and I didn't.  I acquired a lot from closing stores and other reclamation deals.  I had some when I took things over.  I replaced some that broke over time, though this is rare.  DSG has only so much floor, and I need to use only the rack and fixture I have that is closest to optimal for whatever it is I am deploying.

Elsewhere in my home are even more arcade games that I would prefer to be operating on location, my console collection full of things I'd love to show off in the store if I had room, and... surprisingly little else.  No Magic cards.  My one Commander deck is in the safe at the store.

Other partners in the business are no exception to this rule.  One has a fleet of pinball machines and video games stored in his home, as well as our overflow stockpile of sodas and energy drinks.  He is our scout who finds great pricing in bulk deals and coupon deals on drinks, and then buys in deep so that we're able to improve a little on what is actually a fairly bad margin on refreshments.  The store doesn't have room for all the overflow so he keeps it at his place.  His home also serves as the arcade and pinball workshop, where equipment is taken literally from salvage purchases and reconditioned to be floor-ready and operational.  In order to get some economy of scale out of that, you end up purchasing a lot of parts "on good opportunity" even if you don't have a repair open that needs a part of that type.  That's for general parts.  For machine-specific stuff, we tend to order replacement or reproduction parts within delivery time of needing them.

I have no doubt that I could be featured on "a very special episode of Hoarders" and I'd have to talk real fast and kick the dirt a bit in order to avoid having some smiling fellows and a port-a-Dumpster appear at my residence the following morning.  But the truth is, storage lockers cost a lot, so much that the math suggests you are better off never renting one, and just discarding dead excess and re-buying when you have a new need for it.  Space in our homes is space we're already paying for, though, and while there may be a discomfort factor, it is generally worth the hassle for that degree of savings -- especially when the goods are very clearly still usable.

Various publishers in the game industry have rules about delivering only to actual commercial storefronts used for the primary business, which unfortunately impedes something that is common in the comic side of the industry: the consolidation warehouse.  Atomic Comics used to have everything shipped to a central warehouse, not open to the public, where staff had far more cheap footage in which to triage, sort, allocate, and dispatch merchandise to Atomic's four retail stores, where virtually no footage was wasted storing things.  Large operations like Graham Cracker Comics and Mile High Comics do similarly.  Even if I can never do this for a lot of game product, if at some point down the line I have multiple stores and they're still doing comics for some reason, I believe the central warehouse plan might make sense.  If I can become prominent enough that game publishers will stipulate to it, I might be able to get everything shipped there after all.  Store buys would also be transported for central triage, and that opens up an entire new world of value salvage through reconditioning, combining good parts from multiple incomplete units of a thing, and so on.

That's a quick peek even further behind the scenes than usual, apropos for a blog called The Backstage Pass, I think.  I'm a little surprised I didn't think about our own little analogues of Isla Sorna for an article long ago.  So much of what is going on with the shop now is business-as-usual that I am going to look for topics I brushed aside before and see if I can riff on them now.  If you have any questions or suggestions, by all means send them in.

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