Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Thoughts, Part 6

I have a few beefier articles in the writing process right now and I don't want to rush them to print undercooked, so I figured I would riff on some tradecraft other than the big items (the mergexpansioner and the 20% minimum wage hike).

I go through a lot of white plastic card dividers.  The little tabs you see separating every card in the TCG inventory racks.  You have to separate every card with a labeled tab at our volume level, there's just no other feasible way to have staff pick and pull orders with any semblance of speed.  We consolidate foil and regular versions of the same card into the same tab, because it's not that hard for a staffer to tell them apart.  We further expect the staffers to learn distinctions of variant versions, special printings, and so on, and generally they do a good job of this.  But without a place for everything and everything in its place, you simply can't functionally sell at scale.  So with Aether Revolt, Mind vs Might, Modern Masters 2017, Amonkhet, Commander Anthology, and Archenemy Nicol Bolas on deck, we're talking about a thousand dividers or so for just the first half of this year.  And that's just for Magic.  We also use them for Pokemon, Star Wars Destiny, Android Netrunner, and so on.  And we use them in the back room for various intermediate sorting and triage stages for collections.  Oh, and customers buy them sometimes for their own use.  Ultra-Pro is going to be resting on a huge pile of money when the industry growth finally tapers off.

Our fulfillment specialist, Justin, has become an inventory specialist almost exclusively now.  We simply get the most bang for our buck from his labor by having him do nothing but grade and enter cards into Crystal Commerce all day.  The rest of the staff spends a lot of time grading and entering cards also, and so do I for that matter.  But the process of scaling up, and seeing our online singles sales continue to ramp higher and higher, and seeing Justin's speed continue to increase and his error rate remain at practically zero, made it clear to us that it was inefficient to waste his payroll hours assigning him to do anything else.  Every now and then we break the monotony by bringing him in on some other project or some ad-hoc work, but mostly his daily itinerary is pretty much set at this point.  Best of all, he spots inefficiencies in the processes he is working on.  That sort of meta-thinking is rare in any profession, but all the more so in small specialty retail.  Most people aren't capable of objective analysis of their functions in a business.  Either they don't know enough, or don't grasp the significance of what they do know.  I won't get to keep Justin because he is a forest ranger during the warmer months and eventually he will advance to year-round wildlife management work.  But while he is here, I am diligently learning all I can from his trial-and-error so I can develop that expertise in my management team.

Rebecca Clark, Travis Parry, Gary Sproul, and John Stephens, in no particular order, run stores in Colorado, generally in metro Denver or northward.  They are among my friends and colleagues in the online brain trust, but more than that, they are the stores in the area where my sister's family and several of my friends have relocated.  In regular contact with this assortment of people through social media, I can experience something I don't think would have been possible even ten years ago: the perspective of my professional and personal life extended into an entirely different place.  I'm probably not doing the best job of articulating this, but it's a profoundly interesting and enjoyable thing and I think it's just going to get better as communication becomes more pervasive and also farther-reaching.  Yeah, the internet has been around for a while, and we've kept up with family by various means for ages.  But it has never been like this, and I think the immediacy and vividness is what makes the difference.  I get the impression I could walk right into one of their stores and function coherently in a matter of minutes.  (Well, after Gary teaches me how to make the coffee.)

Paul Simer, owner and proprietor of Nerdvana in Jackson, Tennessee, frequently chides me for thinking too far outside the mainstream when it comes to product focus for video games.  He is right, of course: the bread-and-butter products are the most popular consoles.  Playstations, Xboxes, Nintendo handhelds, and the common retro stuff like NES, SNES, and Genesis.  These systems were the best sellers in their time and they remain the best sellers today in the used video game trade, and software follows suit every time.  Meanwhile I get my endorphin rush from the Neo Geo, the Saturn, the Vectrex, arcade gear, and so on, even though those systems represent a minuscule amount of sales volume.  But in this industry we do reap some amount of what we sow.  Among other items in stock right now at DSG are an original 1972 Magnavox Odyssey complete and mint in box with accessories; a 1987 Atari XEGS complete without box, which I just finished refurbishing the other day and works beautifully; a 1998 Super Famicom Junior that is going to go under the knife for an RGB video modification; and an SNK MVS-1C system that begs to be console-ized.  These things are the spice of life for me in this business.  But I'll still buy your used copy of Call of Duty Blackest Ops IV.
DSG is located in a part of town that houses a substantial Latter-Day Saint (Mormon) population.  Growing up in Phoenix, this was something I always took as a matter of course: while your typical midwestern, Atlantic, or southeastern state is predominantly Protestant, in this market the two big demographic pie pieces are Catholic and LDS.  There are marketing particulars that apply to the LDS community, not the least of which is maintaining a family-friendly environment.  I know many stores emphasize family-friendliness, but it's a bit of a more exacting degree here.  If you're going to have R-rated content in your business, you're going to face a greater burden if you want to become known as a "friend of the Saints," and they take that relationship seriously, so I do too.  I am regularly in touch with store owners in the Utah Corridor and other LDS strongholds, and we share observations and outcomes to gain a better understanding of what we are doing.  If you don't understand the community norms where you've located your business, you are going to struggle to reach your audience.

That's all I have for this week, like and subscribe and leave a comment on this web zone why not.

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