Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Conspiracy: Take the Crown Release Post-Mortem

I've written articles like this for every Magic: the Gathering expansion released since this business blog began!  They are some of the most heavily read and linked articles on this blog, so evidently people enjoy these observations.  Good enough for me!  (Enough that I basically copy the template and write in the details afresh each time.)  Here, then, is DSG's experience with the release of Magic: the Gathering: Conspiracy 2: Take the Crown!
Conspiracy (2014) was successful out of the gate but then appeared to have been overprinted relative to that spike in initial demand.  The set was a special casual-focused standalone expansion where for the first time ever, cards actually had rules text that affected the conduct of a booster draft tournament.  New cards from the setting of the cutthroat-intrigue city of Paliano on the plane of Fiora brought the theme to life, complete with mechanics that played delightfully in multiplayer melees.  The balance of the set was casual-focused reprints, such as Exploration, Misdirection, and Pernicious Deed.  As of this writing, stores can still get the first Conspiracy at wholesale in distribution.  For how much longer?  We don't know.

I have written at length about the jam-packed Magic release schedule for 2016, and Conspiracy: Take the Crown is the fourth of five booster releases occurring in only a six-month span.  It is not part of the Standard cycle, which we left off with Eldritch Moon last month and will continue with Kaladesh next month.  Many players could skip this set if it didn't have enough cheddar.  Last month I wrote that the excitement level for Conspiracy 2 "will depend quite a bit on how saucy the first few spoilers are.  Nobody really thinks there will be fetchlands or anything..." and I speculated and whiffed on what cards we might see.  We did, however, get reasonable value in the set.  On balance it seems stronger than Conspiracy 1.  Show and Tell, Berserk, and a nice array of rare reprints give players across several formats some newly-foiled options and first-time-reprinted options.  Meanwhile, new cards like Sanctum Prelate, Recruiter of the Guard, and the planeswalkers Kaya and Daretti looked great and promised solid utility.  Regardless, I saw only modest pre-sale activity.

There was no pre-release for this set, just a release weekend.  We didn't hear a lot of buzz for the set but decided to spread a feast anyway and see who showed up.  Apparently about mid-evening Friday night, the entire city of players decided they wanted to draft C2 right freaking now.  We were so immediately slammed that even with a modicum of preparation, overcrowding became a problem and I ended up making a public apology.  Great business, though, and drafts happened on and off for the rest of the weekend.

I invented a format called the Conspiracy Megadraft and we ran that for half our start times.  The Megadraft admission was $17.50, and players drafted three packs of C2 and then two packs of C1.  It was meant to simulate sealed deck for the set while still allowing the draft mechanics to work.  Each 8-player pod was split into two 4-player games.  Once only two players remained in a game, that game ended and there was a finale of a 4-player game.  All participants got an additional booster, and players received a prize booster any time they killed another player in the game.  (Suicides counted and did take place!)  The last Monarch standing received a final extra prize of three more booster packs.  Drafts took a while and Megadrafts took even longer, but we had quite a bit of player feedback raving about how much fun the Megadrafts were.  I'll surely run those again.

DSG opened bigger than a usual non-Standard set, but not huge.  We broke 60 boxes for singles.  I wanted to get all our singles stocking done in one shot for this set because there was no Pro Tour with deck builds to follow and no ongoing metagame.  I will probably end up on the punt end of cash flow on that specific product for a while, but ten cases isn't that much cost.  It was nice to open some primo foils right away, like Show and Tell, Prelate, Inquisition of Kozilek, Daretti, Recruiter, Horn of Greed, Exotic Orchard, and some Birds of Paradise.  I was looking for a foil Expropriate for my Commander deck, but no such luck.

Was Conspiracy 2: Electric Boogaloo a success through its launch weekend?  I would liked to have seen more sell-through, but everything that did move, moved healthily.  It was something I did not order in high quantities and I will definitely not need to restock any time soon.  Now the biggest release of the year is mere weeks away, and the preparation must begin.  Kaladesh!

Have a safe holiday weekend, everybody.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

I am Michael Bahr and This is My Pawn Shop

The economics of DSG took a hard right turn around late last October toward the "pawnshop effect" aspect of the business, and this summer as we approach this week the fourth Magic booster release out of five total in a six-month span, I have seen the secondhand business activity accelerate to the point where I am having a genuinely difficult time processing and clearing merchandise to keep up with the volume of buys walking in.

I am not a real pawnshop, of course.  Honestly, once we've moved to our new location, I am going to explore getting a pawn license.  Not that I want to be in the traditional pawn trade, but because it unlocks some business options that are currently off-limits to those who lack that credential, in particular taking in extremely high-value buys and loaning money against them at margin.  I don't want to get too far off focus as a comic and hobby game business, but there's a reason stores like mine buy almost everything that a customer brings in, if we even remotely deal in it.  And that reason is that we control our cost of goods on those purchases.  Pawnbrokering takes that up a notch or five.
Unlike Rick Harrison, I do have a pretty good idea what is going to come through that door.  Mostly Magic cards and video games, and a smaller but not trivial helping of Pokemon cards and comic books.  One or two percent of buy requests I get are for other game systems or products, such as Dice Masters collections, Fantasy Flight stuff (which we cannot resell used, and thus we do not buy), and miniatures armies/sets.  That's about it.  There's always "miscellaneous."

The sheer volume of buys continues unabated despite competition offering buy ratios in the same range as mine.  At some point I seriously expected the crowded store market locally to overwhelm the pawnshop effect enough for it to peter out so I could get a breather and catch up.  My staff runs ragged just to move cards and video games to where they need to be.

Isn't it bad EV (expected value) for players to sell their cards to stores?  It's bad EV for players to sell their cards at all.  But they do it anyway.  I see a concerning number of players living hand-to-mouth who have no real financial stability or resource base, who spend recklessly on the latest cards and decks (or comics, or video games, etc) and then end up having to dump it all weeks later to pay rent.  Or child support.  Or their cell phone bill.  Or the repair bill for their car, which has been sitting in my parking lot clearly needing attention while its owner ground his way through a weekly Win-a-Box.  And these players do it over and over.

They then make their weekly cash call post on AZMagicPlayers Trading on Facebook.  But there are like thirty people there needing cash at any given time, far more sellers than buyers.  So whatever they aren't able to sell within the community, they turn around and bring to the local stores, including mine.  It causes many collectors to become garage dealers to some degree, which is concerning, because that is the factor that burned out the comic and sports card hobbies years ago and left them a hollow shell of their former glory.  Instead of a consumptive market with people buying what they want to enjoy and then taking it home and enjoying it, you have networks of sharps pushing the same tree corpses back and forth amongst one another ad nauseam.  Only BCW and Ultra-Pro make a healthy profit out of that, like the suppliers who sold pitchforks and shovels to the 1849 gold prospectors.

I could just sit and watch Teddy KGB eat those Oreos all night, and never say a word to the guy selling me cards to suggest that he should maybe slow it down a little.  And indeed that is usually how it goes down because my advice is usually neither solicited nor wanted, and I gain nothing by judging my customers, so I am very libertarian about it.  If I am ever asked, I readily teach that the highest EV they can get is to buy the cards or games or comics they want, and keep them. I strive to find friendly and non-judgmental ways to at least obliquely suggest healthy financial behavior in my customers, to look out for their well-being in the way I have been taught that I am ethically bound to treat clients.  Unfortunately, that aspect of my role very likely can only be a quest for another time and another career. I certainly don't want to hear my waiter's opinion on healthy eating when I'm out for an anniversary dinner at Durant's Steakhouse.  The guy handing me four Archangel Avacyns who needs cash isn't interested in hearing me blather about budgeting.  His finances are none of my business, even if the consequences of his finances are my business, at least for the moment.

There is a negative side to the used merchandise trade, and that comes from many sellers not being rational about what they are doing.  This is understandable if they are in financial distress.  I don't give them a hard time about it because they're already in their situation and they've come to me to help them get out of it, and it's literally my job to do that.  So I use a light touch, and I've been trying to teach the staff the signals that indicate this may be the case.  That's when they are going to be careful what they say and how they frame it, because the seller's state of mind may be a bit wounded and offering a little bit of dignity will go a long way toward making that customer happy with the buy.   We won't go into the full spiel about why we value the merch how we do.  We just give the buy professional attention and treat it like it's no big deal, just a routine sale, here is your total, will that work for you?  And that upset seller usually appreciates that treatment.

On the full converse and flip side of that we have the poseur who flips storage lockers (or who read a bunch of Gawker articles about the tricks of that trade) and thinks he is going to trick us into paying top ratio with an "Is that the best you can do?" on product he knows less about than my greenest rookie staffer.  My guys know how to identify these types and how to take them down.

A lot of sellers are in between, they ran into a financial pinch and need some quick cash, but don't really want to sell the goods.  As such, they find it hard to reconcile the buy value with what they paid for the merch new or what they think it should be worth.  This is when our technique is best when we just lay out the spread right in front of the customer for them to buy.  Yes, sir, I appreciate that you paid $300 for that 240GB Xbox 360-S brand new.  However, the newer 500GB 360-E console sells for under $200 new now, and the market rate on used is around $140.  Our cash offer really can't be any more than $70.  You may be able to pick up a few bucks more if you sell it yourself on eBay or Craigslist.  I don't think you're going to get the $225 you're looking for, realistically.  But if you want to check around and you don't find an offer you're happy with, you're welcome to bring it back to us."  (We examine it again, of course, and recheck market pricing.)

Fortunately, many sellers are highly rational.  They put the merch on the counter, they wait for the total, and they either take it or not.  Likely they've done it before.  A lot of those same Magic players who keep selling and reselling at least get pretty acclimated to the process; they know how we're pricing the stuff, they know the market values from TCGPlayer, and they understand how the ratios work.  There's not a lot of emotional baggage there.  For all that I worry about the sustainability of the constant churn of buys, sells, re-buys, and re-sells from these players, I can at least appreciate that they're matter-of-fact about it.

The foregoing is a very condensed look at the skill processes of secondhand buying, but it should be evident that this business component has a lot more going on under the hood than it may appear to a casual observer, and it absolutely does pay off and makes it possible for the store to do more and offer more for customers, even for those customers who never resell anything.  They still benefit from every upgrade, every amenity, all those resources that the buy-and-sell cycle enables.  If I were still stuck in the situation Arizona Gamer had in late 1998, with only one product category, Games Workshop miniatures, and only one locked gross margin, I think it would be a tremendous struggle for the business to advance and improve.

The main people I can look out for proactively and openly are the ones who work for me, and that means getting after the store's bottom line so that the business grows and they have plenty of opportunities to get hours.  Ever since the Pinch of November 2015, when our cash reserves were hard-pressed to keep up with the desperate dumping of players needing to pay that Visa bill for their Zendikar Expedition quests, I have put tremendous resources and attention into maintaining as large a cash war chest as possible for buys.  It's still not big enough; I had to turn down a five-figure buy last week and refer it to another vendor.  I would loved to have gotten those cards because they were really strong stock.  I never want to turn down a buy out of lack of funds, and most of the time I don't.  If I am paying the right amount for merchandise coming in secondhand, it will only ever produce healthy sales for the company, even if I have to push it out the door on eBay or something due to the exigencies of time and expenses.

Will this rampant pawnshoppery within the comic and hobby game trade continue to accelerate?  I think the machine has been redlining its transmission industry-wide for a while now, but if I am wrong, this is the new normal.  In either case, I will make hay while the sun shines.  And maybe I can talk Greg into letting me call him "Big Hoss" and have him work the counter when he gets a little older.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Thoughts, Part 4

I think it's time to step off the topical work and continue my anthology of general observations from within the industry and DSG.

It's surreal to have the Summer Olympics on the store TVs, since the last time that was the case was the week the store opened in 2012.  We got to have the Snow-Covered Corruption Olympics back in early 2014, but most Arizonans are only marginally interested in winter sports, and I was in rough shape at that point, occupied by my day job while DSG struggled.  Not so back during the London Games, which evoked memories of the excitement and untapped potential of the business during its nascent hours.  (Tokyo 2020 is going to be about the coolest Olympics ever, worth trying to travel in my opinion.)

In fact, the entire anniversary week has been a nostalgia bath for me.  For the store's 4th Anniversary, I gave our Game Day participants each a free booster pack of Eternal Masters, and other tournaments going on over the weekend got similar freebies: Android: Netrunner players got to pick any Data Pack, and HeroClix players got a free extra tournament booster for their storyline event.  No advertising, no warning, I didn't want grinders coming across town to play just so they could poach the highest EV Game Day in local history.  I wanted to give a special treat in gratitude only to the players who had already chosen to play at DSG.  I like to do that sort of thing once in a while.  I try to mix it up and make it rare and random, and I seize upon things like big events at other stores as a good indicator that anyone in my shop that day is probably truly part of our player community.

I don't get to play enough games, but games that I have learned recently and enjoyed include Costa Rica, Castle Panic, and the new Empires expansion for Dominion.  I turned to some video game fun the other night, only to discover that my son had ruined my Rock Band 3 game disc.  I looked up my inventory at the store, thinking, "Hey, maybe, right?"  Nope.  Played some Beatles Rock Band with the girls instead.  They aren't fans, they know the rest of classic rock better than they know the music of the Fab Four.

Wallet Fatigue is real for Magic: the Gathering.  Eldritch Moon is actually a pretty decent set of cards, especially for Standard, but the player base just can't keep up with the purchasing tempo for this year.  Pre-orders were down, and now pre-orders for Conspiracy: Take the Crown are close to nonexistent.  A nice spicy spoiler would help.  Kaya isn't it.  Inquisition of Kozilek... partial credit.  A fair showing of casual-relevant stuff in the early spoilers.  Kaladesh in late September should be gigantic, but oh man, I hope it has the legs that Battle for Zendikar didn't.

We kind of knew right away, and they aren't finished really tucking in and doing the heavy lifting of deep enforcement, but the Asmodee/Fantasy Flight/Days of Wonder etc online ban is doing a pretty good job of preventing product dumping across those game titles.  In the aftermath of Black Friday, I know I was not the only retailer teetering close to cutting them loose, conceding to the reality that they appeared content seeing $100 titles perpetually available for $52.95 online.  As I type this, the biggest $100 marquee title of the month, Mansions of Madness, is available on Amazon for $95.20, a scorching 4.8% discount.  That's parity.  Retailers can compete in that ballpark.  We don't need the restriction to be near-absolute like it is with Apple or PING or LEGO.  It just had to be a bit tougher for garage resellers to source product to earn their pittance.

More workflow than an outsider thinks is devoted to moving merchandise into place.  For new product, it's the endless weekly litany of breaking down orders, entering them into the system, tagging, and deploying.  For used items it's more labor-intensive, which is yet another reason why stores dealing in any used goods buy as low as they do.  For example, for video game systems, there is now generally a need to restore the system to factory contents because of jerkwads leaving porn on the hard drives or camera saves, and we can't be selling that stuff to some kid and have an angry mom come back.  In more mundane triage, a lot of video game gear is dirty and needs cleaning, removal of corroded batteries, sometimes new amaray cases, and so on.  For cards there is the well known deployment of pick bins, penny sleeves, dividers, and the grading and entry process by and through.  I also buy used CMGs such as HeroClix and Dice Masters, and by no accident at all, almost none are yet available because I haven't gotten as far as to build their storage and define their triage processes.  I am grateful that my staff ran with the football of processing used Warhammer buys.

There is little in this business that makes me happier than putting a standard-issue item out for sale and having it get bought within hours or even minutes.  I know that probably means I under-ordered on it, but that's a great problem to have.  I tend to order in minimum quantities of two for anything that I expect could get re-ordered.  This is because you get far better data from when it sells.  If I stock one copy of Knights and Jello: The Board Game and it sells three days later, is it a hit?  Did I just get lucky and catch the one guy in town who would have wanted one?  Should I restock?  A lot of board game and RPG products are one-and-done.   Did it sell faster than expected or slower than expected?  I don't know!  But if I ordered TWO copies of Knights and Jello and one of them sold on release day and the other one sold a month later, now I have information!  The game is not a hit, and my shelf stock level for KaJ is going to be one... or zero.  Whereas if both copies sold the first week, that stock level is going to be at least one and might be two.  If both copies sold the first day, I might re-order a case.  If the game is that hot, I might already be too late to get more until it gets its next print wave finished.

I appear to have crossed some kind of event horizon where I am known about in the commercial real estate community, because not once but twice in the past week I have been contacted by property managers with space available and competitive rent rates.  I have to do my diligence on these, it's irresponsible toward my investors if I don't.  But neither of them was a location I had scouted.  Hey, with the right set of numbers, anything is possible.

That's about it for this installment.  Thoughts, Part 5 will be along an indeterminate amount of time in the future!  The Backstage Pass will of course return every Tuesday at 9:00 a.m. Arizona time.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Four Years Facilitating Fun

Though the Desert Sky Games LLC filed its Articles of Organization in March 2012 and engaged in eBay operations in the interim, the retail store in Gilbert opened to the public on August 10th, making tomorrow our fourth anniversary, and the start of our fifth year!
There is a popular canard that 90% of businesses fail within five years, though longitudinal studies suggest the odds may be somewhat less unfavorable, roughly a coin flip at that duration.  If August 2017 dawns new, clear, and free, and DSG isn't there, well, I guess some jerk called "tails."

Last year I wrote prophesying a fourth year in business that would bring us to a new location and permanent home.  As you may observe, that event has not yet come to pass.  Not for any lack of willingness, I can tell you.

It would be easy enough to ink up a lease somewhere and just go -- our landlord has been extremely accommodating and has put renewal and in-plaza suite swaps on the table, for example -- but thus far none of the key factors have come together like we need.  If DSG is going to go big, it needs a permanent home.

Thus far, of the three primary criteria, the best locations we've examined are pick-two: Affordable rent, good plaza/building, favorable location.  The great spaces that are affordable are tough for customers to get to.  The great spaces that are easy to get to are too expensive.  And the affordable spaces that are easy to get to are not in the greatest plazas/buildings.  We are still under lease for another year, and I will continue to chase that triple crown until the clock runs out.

And then?  I'm curious about that myself.  The lease will go month-to-month; that part is not a mystery, but at that stage I will have tremendous leverage to make a business move.  Let us hope I select a good one.  Let us hope, more to the point, that I find our new location long before that.

Disposing of that issue for the time being, then, how is it that we are still here after 48 months paying commercial rent and payroll, and have managed not to go under despite a turbulent market, logistics challenges, and buyout after buyout reducing our partnership count from 11 people on opening day down to only three today?  Survival is not a given: we just about cleared our orbit in the past year, with three nearby stores shutting down and a fourth sold off to a distant investor.  Feels pretty good to be standing here intact right now.

Inc. Magazine fell into the high-failure-percentage trap with their clickbait headline, but in this article made an excellent point about how businesses fail: "Profit is theory; cash is fact."

This is something I knew from previous business experience, and if anything I think Inc. has understated how hazardous cash flow management is for a growing enterprise.  For example, there have been months when our books reflected profits upward of $20,000, and yet we were down to a payroll worth of cash reserves in the bank, sometimes less!  That's because a Profit & Loss (P&L) statement is not a balance sheet, but many businesses treat it like one.  A P&L is a tool for assessing the operating performance of a business.  A balance sheet answers, "What do we have?"  A P&L answers, "How are we doing?"

That $20k+ net month led to great later months, because most of that gain on the books was inventory accumulation.  In other words, to "profit" that much and not run out of cash, it meant we probably bought some valuable Magic: the Gathering collections that month and paid a good price for them, and had not yet churned through the cards.  Our operational cash came from regular day-to-day sales and was just enough to hold par.  Over time, those valuable cards sold through and produced ongoing revenue.

There have been other months in which we gained cash but showed a loss on paper.  In all likelihood those were months of deep inventory depletion.  Possibly we were liquidating a large product line that wasn't meeting turn-rate metrics.  We got some money but the value of the business decreased due to the negative delta on that holding.  In a real-life sense, that value was already gone if the product line was performing that badly, but the changed increment is realized on the ledger at the monthly COGS calculation.  A P&L does not reflect capital expenditures, sales tax, or like such, so it was clearly an operational loss.  Yet we had cash to operate because we monetized those assets in the manner we thought most advantageous at the time.  As long as you have the money, you can open those doors and anything is possible.

Every small business has to learn to manage cash, and much of the mental adjustment from the work-for-someone-else world to the work-for-yourself world is to recognize that if you are trending behind your upcoming bills, you don't get to take any time off.  You have to go to work.  Perform, fundraise, capitalize, monetize.  You have to put your foot on the gas.

Gary Ray, owner of Black Diamond Games in Concord, California, speaks in terms of the number of operational days left until the business runs out of money.  When he built up months worth of cushion, he finally felt like he could take a breather.  Any time I take time off, I want to be as far ahead of the bills schedule as possible.  In fact, one of the biggest reliefs in the fourth year has been how less often I have had to worry about this.  There were a few pinches since last summer, but it was nothing like the chronic cash shortages of years one through three, especially year two.  Year two was difficult.  This summer I managed two brief vacations.  For that matter, last week I threw out my back and was largely ineffective for about five days, so I durdled along in the office, catching up on finances and computer maintenance, and my crew picked up the operational football and just ran with it.  Seeing that organizational culture emerge has been extremely encouraging.

Looking into year five, I already know I have to answer the location question.  That's a given.  But I think what I want most is to become less and less essential to the day-to-day public work of the business.  My crew are already the stars of the show -- they know the regulars better than I do and they let their personalities do the heavy lifting in terms of cultivating our player and collector community.  Virtually my entire contribution is backstage, the way I prefer it, except that I handle the marketing.  But I'm still working in the business, not on it.  And that is holding DSG back from what it ought to become.

I may spend the next 12 months learning how to get out of my own way.  First-world problems, without a doubt.  Let's see what happens!

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

FATCQ: Fast Answers to Customer Questions Volume 3

Greetings once again!  As in previous iterations, I am answering customer questions candidly and within no more than five lines of text in Google's composer.  Depending on whether you view this on a computer screen or mobile, the actual length of answers will vary.  But any way you cut it, this is definitely a collection of fast answers.  In this article series I endeavor to answer any customer question, as long as it is not disingenuous and does not request confidential information.

For the previous articles, questions came from a Derium's CCG's Let's Talk that I took part in.  Not sure whether Kevin ever used the video I cut, but I like the format and the back-and-forth, so this time I have collected my own customer questions to continue the series.  Readers sent me questions here on the business blog, emails to the store or to me directly, and Facebook messages to the store or to me, et cetera.  A couple of these are from handwritten notes so if memory serves they were verbal questions from customer visits.

Let's get right underway then, shall we?

Q: Why haven't you moved yet?
A: Money.  Not money on hand, but the numbers on the lease.  We have yet to reach agreement with a landlord on a deal that works for us.  I'm a capitalist, I know they have to make money on the deal, and I respect that.  But I am looking for a permanent home for DSG and I need a lease that will sustain that.  Twice in the past month I've been within one signature of having a new location and slammed on the brakes instead.  The deal just didn't come together.

Q: Wait, so what about store #2?
A: It won't happen any time soon.  When the Hug family departed DSG, the multi-store plan departed with them.  The remaining owners are on the mega-store plan, and only the mega-store plan.  We are going to go big or go home.

Q: What miniatures-based game is the most profitable?
A: Warhammer 40K is the most profitable by volume.  Warmachine/Hordes is smaller but has the best margin, which is why it was dumped online for so long.  Guild Ball is the best pound-for-pound, followed by HeroClix.  X-Wing has the largest player base but has the most players who only buy online and not in-store, though this appears to be trending in a better direction lately.

Q: Why aren't Pokemon TCG singles available on your website yet?
A: They will be.  They're actually fairly high up in the long list of inventory that has to be ingested into Crystal Commerce, that was previously not being kept in Light Speed.  With the blowout success of Pokemon GO, we were sort of caught with our pants down on this one.  I apologize that it's not done yet.  No excuses, that's on me.  We should have been ready.

Q: Why don't you price-match Amazon anymore?
A: I've alluded to this here on the blog, but it became unnecessary.  With distribution changes this year from publishers like Asmodee/FFG, Mayfair, Privateer Press, et al., we saw a pretty pronounced divide between products that sell well enough at MSRP and products that fail to sell even with the price-matching in effect, or sold only at a full loss.  We let the price-matching promotion expire and simply stopped supporting the products that get dumped the worst online.

Q: Which system do you sell the most new release video games for?
A: Playstation 4, followed by Xbox 360.  Lot of people still hanging onto their previous-generation gear, where games are a bit cheaper.

Q: Why don't you collect more cards? [Responding to my previous article where I explained that I have only one Commander deck of my own.]
A: It's best not to get high on your own supply.  Any card I buy for myself has the potential to lose me a sale later.  Accordingly, I have to be sparing with that.

Q: Why don't you carry blu-ray movies and such?
A: Lack of space.  Once we're in a bigger facility, we'll see if that market is still active.  Of all consumptive media, music and movies have taken the biggest hit from the ease of purchase online and storage in the cloud.  I never buy a physical compact disc if the content is available on iTunes.  The trend lines say I'm not alone.  But for now there is still market demand for used movies and such, and the economics are forgiving.

Q: Do you guys get to keep what's in the Lost and Found?
A: You mean the travel coffee mugs, sweatshirts, and moth-eaten bags of table-worn dice?  At last I can retire and give up this life of crime.  In truth, we actually had a point a year or so ago where the lost and found was empty of everything but absolute detritus.  All the meaningful things had been claimed.  I took that opportunity to enact our current policy that leaves us free and clear to dump stuff after holding it for 30 days.  For anything of real value we continue to try to reunite it with its owner.

Q: Why won't you take older Xbox, older Xbox 360, PS2 fat, toaster NES, etc systems?
A: There are some consoles that have unacceptably high failure rates.  We stand behind what we sell and don't want to send someone home to a bad experience.  For stuff like the NES you're better off getting a Retron clone now, or using the Virtual Console, if you just want to play games.  As time goes by and we improve our repair chops, we might start buying those systems in some fashion.

Q: Are you interested if I can save you money on your credit card processing?
A: No, because you can't.  Real stores like us run volume that gives us better rates directly from banks than anything "independent affiliates" can ever offer.  I know the interchange MLM you bought into tells you to network among small retail shops to find clients, but they were just lying to hook you into their affiliate scam.  Sorry to break it to you.

Q: I sent in a resume but you never interviewed me.  What gives?
A: That is not unusual.  We get unsolicited resumes from job seekers every week, and when we put out a recruitment we get inundated with responses.  The reality is, many people, especially college-aged employment prospects, want to work at a game store.  That means we get our choice of the very best of the best of applications we receive.  A candidate who would easily get hired elsewhere in retail might not be hired here simply because another strong candidate applied around the same time.

Q: Why do you have ESPN on those TVs?  Nobody is watching it.
A: During football season they get watched more, but that's not the reason for it.  We play Pandora Business over the speakers and sports on TVs because the sound and imagery are kinetic, and business psychology has proven they make a comforting and upbeat atmosphere.  Compare that to any time you were in a store full of still silence, or just the "flip flip flip" of card sorting.  Or a restaurant where all you hear is the clanking plates and pans.  Awkward.  You'd hurry to leave.

Q: Are you a Mac or a PC?
A: My home is a 100% Apple household, but DSG is hybrid.  Not counting mobile devices, there are ten computers at DSG, five of each.  If Wizards Event Reporter were a web app like it needs to be, I could go all-Apple at the store too.  That won't happen for a while yet even if WER does go cloud, though, because I still have a lot of ROI to churn through for my new PC register terminals.

Q: Why won't you carry [my favorite indie board game or minis game]?
A: Because of DSG's market.  We're in a suburban middle-class family demographic.  We're not an urbanist, hipster, cutting-edge store.  We are not tastemakers.  Like a mediocre NBA forward, we can't create our own shot.  This means we carry games that are already hits, or new releases by well-established publishers or creators.  For game systems such as TCGs, CMGs, or miniatures, the game needs to have reached flight velocity on its own already; we will impart no assistance to it.

Q: Why won't you take trades from 17-year-old customers anymore?  You used to.
A: Sigh.  Yes, we did.  Part of being a responsible business is regularly researching laws, regulations, and ordinances that may have been overlooked.  We recently became aware that our locality does not permit us to accept merchandise from minors regardless of whether it is for cash or trade.  Thus, our existing policy that we would not pay out cash to minors, has been expanded to include store credit.  Sorry.  I would love to take those cards or video games, but the decision is no longer in our hands.

Q: How can you get along with other store owners when they are competing for the same pool of customers?
A: Some of those assumptions need to be unpacked.  A customer in front of us might never have been to any other store; it's best to focus on their immediate needs.  It's also best to cultivate our own audience rather than trying to poach players from across town.  Finally, hobby game and comic stores have common enemies in the mass market and elsewhere, so fighting each other often ends up being a "waste of ammunition."

And that's it for this week's article!  I will be back to answer more customer questions in a future article.  Maybe I'll challenge myself to cut it down to two lines or something.  That would make for some damned fast answers to customer questions.