Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Back to One

Happy Halloween everyone!  The end of October also marked the end of my Tempe location, so for the time being, the new store at 3875 West Ray Road in Chandler is the one and only Desert Sky Games.  Our game room is open, it's gigantic, and its capacity is continuing to increase as we bring in equipment and assets from Tempe and deploy out our rack and fixture.

The effort to build a regional empire that I described last year around this time, and then revised, and then revised again, has finally coalesced into the establishment of One Big Hub Store, which was really a prerequisite to the model I wanted moving forward.  Spokes/branches don't work unless a hub serves them, there are underlying logistics that are mostly transparent to the end user but we did not have them in place and could not have them in place for as long as the Tempe location was configured like a hub, but was not situated adequately to do business as a hub.  Now that the far larger Chandler store is unambiguously the one and only company HQ, branch locations may follow for the low price of buildout and equipment.  Look for our first in the spring, unless we decide to hold off a bit longer and lay in reserves.

Note that the business name no longer includes "and Comics."  Comics are still happening here, though.  I've been asked a couple of times whether that meant we had shed the category.  While I think that's coming at some point, it's not happening yet.  "Desert Sky Games and Comics" was just a really cumbersome and inelegant brand representation, and I saw plenty of industry stores doing dependable business in comics without bolting on the word, such as Millennium Games, Madness Games, Nerdvana, et al.  "DSG" needed to stay lean and mean in the market mindspace.

They say you never have a second chance to make a first impression.  In case anyone reading thought that was only a canard, let me tell you, it's proving more and more real every day.  From day one, DSG Chandler's shelf presence was strongest in TCGs, board games, and miniatures.  We have the video games out but not really set up like we want.  RPGs, comics, and other subcategories are only partly set.  Lo and behold, sales of TCGs, board games, and miniatures far and away lead the pack.

I don't think there is a tremendous market difference between Gilbert and Chandler.  What I think is that Gilbert spent 2012 and 2013 sucking at board games, so the customer public knew to disregard us to some extent.  We ramped it up in 2014 and 2015, but in addition to fighting against our own prior poor impression, the board game market itself went into some upheaval during that time, which I've chronicled extensively on this weblog.  In 2016 I was ready to be out of the category, despite being a board game player myself.  I had a category I loved that didn't love me back.

But as of 2017 we saw some of that work begin to bear fruit.  We started to focus on finding key titles and getting in deep in advance, sticking with protected brands, keeping mainstream-accessible low-price titles available, and like such.  In May and June, we ran a moving sale culling everything that wasn't the latest and greatest; we knew the rebuild would bring back anything that was still relevant.  And then with the move to Chandler, we had a chance to fix that brand impression.  The result has been a board game category that consistently finishes in the top 5 every day, rather than almost never doing so.

It isn't the answer to all things, not by a long shot.  Any category whose buyers were truly as fickle as that would not be worth catering to.  What I hoped to do, and appear to have done, was to be positioned as a legitimate source that people will check first, or almost first.  As long as some number of them do so sometimes, that should suffice to drive core sales in the category and present a dependable day-to-day revenue figure.  My responsibility then shifts to ensuring that the back-end economics are not wasteful or broken.

One category at a time, we need to get the stock deployed cogently, the organized play (where applicable) scheduled and running effectively, and then the marketing underway.  The brand impression has to bring people in knowing they will find things that surprise and delight them.  And when that is happening every day, we will know the time has come to resume the branch expansions.

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