Tuesday, June 9, 2015

When I'm the Customer

Last week, we got a visit from the executive VP of GTS Distribution, Lloyd Kee, and our GTS rep, Randy Sitz, here at the DSGCW.  This is apparently usually an annual-ish thing, and since I took over operations last July, this was my first time being on hand for the visit.

It was a great meeting.  See, I am their customer.  I am the person walking in their door with money, demanding that they have everything I need at a great price and in perfect quality.  I am the person placing pre-orders and expecting everything to land in beautiful boxes on Day Zero.  I am the person demanding that they figure out all the fiddly things that I need when I place a ledger-sized order and need it pulled in the time it takes me to drive over to the warehouse.  And when there comes an allocated product, like say, oh, Modern Masters 2015, I am the one looking for a strong quantity fulfilled based on the truly frightening amount of money I spend with them.  And they deliver, consistently.  I can't count from memory the number of times I needed ten of that thing like yesterday and Randy got it into my hands with the rapidness.

Most of the time, a customer relationship at my store is somewhat more pro forma.  The individual walks in, tells me what they wish to buy or pulls it off the rack, buys it, and leaves.  Or, more often, they tell a staff member.  I am not present for the overwhelming majority of DSG's sales transactions.  I might be in the building a lot of the time, but I'm not engaging in that task specifically in most instances.  So, in order to do my job of making sure we have the goods and that the store "works" mechanically, I study sales reports, inventory reports, metrics, that sort of thing.  Customers don't often communicate to me.  They don't often communicate with the staff.  It is upon us to divine their happiness or frustration with various aspects of the experience by reading those aforementioned tea leaves.  In observing their behavior, in what sells and what does not, we hope to learn where to fine-tune the behemoth mechanism.

Some customers, those who have an extensive relationship with the business and spend in higher volume generally, are somewhat more communicative.  That is because in the course of doing more sales activity with them, we naturally interact with them more.  Whether it's me, Patrick, or one of the staff Brand Ambassadors, we end up creating a relationship with this customer that is more than we might create with a one-time walk-in.  (This is, by the way, one of the strengths of the comic category.  There is a very low barrier to entry to subscribing in a pull box at the store, so we open up communicating relationships with customers whose buying volume might not otherwise get us talking to them to any meaningful extent.)  It's not that we aren't willing to listen unless you spend $X.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  We'll listen to any customer at any time, and it takes a specific situation to get us politely to tune that customer out -- usually some indication that they are not, in fact, "our customer."  (Such as, the entire discussion centers on whether we're going to match the bottom internet price on whatever product, or whether they can bring in a grocery bag full of snacks and soda for their D&D game.)  But as a natural matter, we just happen to end up with more frequent and deeper communication with higher-volume regulars.

Now, imagine that you spend $200 or so per week at your Friendly Local Game Store.  We have probably 15 to 17 people who do that at DSG, for real.  They may go a week or two without a visit sometimes but then they come back and buy two boxes of Modern Masters or half a grand in Legacy foils or a pile of Warhammer models and paints as a gentleman did an hour ago.  But, averaging $200 per week.  If you were doing that, you would expect the store to be happy to find you special order stuff, happy to hold your new releases until you get off work, that kind of thing.  If you told them a product sucked, you know they'd take you seriously.  They might even discontinue it if nobody seems happy with it and your negative feedback is the lion's share of the word-of-mouth they've received.  And you would be right to expect these things.

For perspective, DSGCW's average spend with GTS Distribution is... well, it's a cardinal rule that we store owners don't get too detailed on dollars in published articles, but our monthly outlay in months without a Magic: the Gathering release would be enough to buy a brand new Honda Civic, with options.  In months with a Magic release?  A new Honda Odyssey.  Give or take.  And that's just for now.  That number is growing organically.

So, do you think Lloyd and Randy want to hear what I have to say?  They do and they are extremely diligent at taking any good information I can get them and using it to optimize the process of exchanging a high volume of game and hobby products to me for money.  The same as we at DSG are in spending our time and effort optimizing for the exchange of a lower volume of game and hobby products to our customers for money.

This brings with it a responsibility, a duty on my part.  I won't waste Lloyd's and Randy's time with trivialities.  You know the kind of thing I mean.  I am not going to bother them about a booster box with a dented/crushed corner.  I am not going to yell at Randy because the UPS truck was late.  I am not going to jump from one distributor to another for Magic prereleases because somebody is offering fifty bucks more worth of promotional supplies.  The relationship is on a higher level than that.  I am a volume client and I need to behave like a professional who is one, if I expect them to give me that kind of priority.  And I am a capitalist so I know they have to make a profit too.

(I have other distributor and manufacturer reps who do a great job of taking care of me as well and are the next ones down on the list of my substantial regular spends for DSG.  I approach those relationships similarly.)

You may have noticed an underlying theme in this article that ties my behavior when I'm the retailer to my behavior when I'm the customer.  And that is that the relationship is built so that there is mutual benefit.  That relationship can break down when it's adversarial.  Randy is a professional so I'm not going to suggest that he would ever short me on an order or anything, but how much priority is he going to give me if every interaction is a hassle?  If I grind him for every dollar, if I complain about every hair-splitting problem?  Or, perhaps more importantly, what if I don't communicate honestly at all, but attempt to do my buying procurement the way the "MTG Finance" speculators and binder grinders buy cards from me as customers, through misdirection?  Do I have a leg to stand on in complaining about the outcome then, if it is not to my liking?

Ultimately, the benefit I accrue as a customer depends on how I manage my interactions.  Retailers are professionals who try to make this process easy and managed for our customers, but nothing is stopping you from stepping up your game and making the relationship a two-way street.  You might be amazed at the results.

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