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Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Who Knew We Had So Much Crap?

I'm writing this before the weekend because 9/25 through 9/27 are going to be utterly busy days and nights with the store move.  I just figured I'd make a few observations from the vantage point of coordinating the final disassembly and dispatch of the Gilbert location's physical assets.

The staff has been diligently packing and delivering merch to the Tempe location.  It took until pretty late in the game before we knew that opening Chandler on 9/29 was highly likely, and we didn't want to create a situation where someone couldn't purchase anything we had, even if it was only a web order or something.  The singles collection can exist anywhere and be serviced so that's not too troublesome, except that it will have to move in one shot straight to Chandler.

Part of the expense of five years running the Gilbert location is the insane sprawl of tools, fixtures, and storage racks.  Far from being able simply to move merchandise and supplies, we end up dismantling entire moving truck loads worth of racking and shelving.  Toolboxes and bins full of equipment.  Hundreds upon hundreds of grid and slat product pegs.  Mailing supplies by the carton.  Desks, tables, and cabinets.  Aaaalllll those tables and chairs.  And merch?  More cards than there are atoms in the universe.
The good news is that oh man, will the Chandler location ever give us more room for all this stuff.  We are excited on top of excited to be able to put things away in a logical fashion, from where they can be used in daily business without making a project out of retrieving key components.  We know at first everything will be a mess at Chandler and we'll struggle to find things in the flood of boxes and bins, but over the course of October we'll construct a place for everything and put everything in its place.

Anyway, by the time this article goes live, our store Facebook feed will no doubt be keeping current with updates.  And now, I'm going to get back to work.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Myths

Hiring competitive TCG players is a good way to build a staff.

For small stores and owner-operated stores, a point-of-sale system is a waste of money.

It's important to get in the last word when replying to a negative social media review.

Women aren't really serious gamers.

A good use of a store's marketing dollars is paid search engine optimization.

Warhammer alone cannot carry a miniatures selection.

The best deployment for TCG singles at the counter is to keep them in binders so customers can look through them page by page.

Snack and soda sales more than make up for discounts elsewhere.

Make friends with your local flea market dealers and garage flippers, and they will look out for you in return.

If there isn't much enforcement, a store doesn't have to worry about the rules.

Most sales problems at brick-and-mortar retail can be laid at the feet of publishers.

Cash prizes are legal as long as all the players in the event agree on the stakes.

A marquee sign is a waste of money when a banner will do.  Players will find your tournaments on the WPN event locator.

The used video game category is unviable because of digital delivery.

Teams should punt on fourth and short.

The best merchant services companies will call you first.

Your customer base will respect you if you're outspoken about your political beliefs.

Volume outweighs margins regardless of scale.

Rewards points programs and discounts are worth a try, because they are easy to move away from if they don't work out.

Nobody reads comics anymore.

The Reserved List cannot realistically be abolished.

The most important thing for a new store to focus on is event attendance.  Butts in seats.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

The Arizona Gamer Story, Part 5: Cart

Welcome back to the meandering tale of the Arizona Gamer, my second game store in which I was a minority shareholder and served operationally as "the card guy" and "the organized play guy."

I told the tale of how Jason Barnes started Arizona Gamer as a mall kiosk.  Arizona Mills Mall is located at the epicenter of the metropolis, at the junction of I-10 and US-60 in Tempe, just southeast of Sky Harbor Airport.  It was still the newest mall in town when Jason got started there, so even after moving to a permanent storefront at Mill and Baseline, he intended all along (and I agreed) that it was worth our while to get a mall presence again.  Enter the cart.
That photo is about what our cart looked like, though we had it arranged so that the center was an open surface for a Warhammer 40K demo, and the endcaps had mini-shelves full of TCG booster packs and sleeves.  We kept getting moved around by mall management, so we basically played the role of the Tuatha'an and made our camp where we found it.

The part I wasn't privy to was that November and December were triple rent months, wiping out most of our profit on the cart.  We had no point-of-sale apparatus back in those times, so the benefits of load-balancing were essentially absent.  Our employees who worked the cart were sometimes on the ball but sometimes absolutely not.  The mall environment is a weird microcosm and is not entirely unlike what I imagine it would be like to work at a theme park.

You know what?  I'm already tired of reminiscing about the cart.  I'm not even going to stay on topic for the rest of this article.  I thought the cart would hold up for a full-length article because anyone who was part of the Arizona Gamer inside circle back then remembers the cart so prominently.  It was this really unusual way to run a game store, or an advert for a game store, or kind of a convention booth that never closed?  I'm not even sure what the hell it was.  I kind of want to try it now, except that like everything else, it doesn't rate a spot on my priority list, which is utterly dominated by the store move until I have no damned idea when.  Hopefully soon.

If you want to make sure you have every good idea on the planet, just be busy enough with an overwhelming deliverable that you have no time to allocate to anything new.  Inspiration will spring forth.  A geyser of profitable ideas has been flooding in basically all year, starting right about when I finalized DSG's previous lease with the existing landlord and concluded that renewal was simply off the table in any realistic way.

I really, really want to punch the person responsible for the abortive attempt to build out the Chandler suite before we got to it.  Every day is a new adventure in discovery.  Oh that floor covering?  It's actually stucco and is proving hideously difficult to remove.  The drop ceiling above the restrooms?  No, they didn't dismantle it, they just cut all the beams flush at the edges.  Tile glue?  Oh, don't we wish.  No, they used tar, because of course they did.  There's Cat5e run everywhere that we don't need any and never will.  I'm fully ready to discover a chupacabra nest somewhere under the electrical panel.  (Which was a hideous mess and cost us almost four figures in labor to have our electrician fully refit.)  It's like that movie The Money Pit, except without the charm of Tom Hanks and Shelley Long in their prime.

Concurrent with this insane behind-schedule buildout, I'm going to have to assemble the store while contractors continue work, and aim to get all our ducks in a row quickly enough to avoid downtime.  If you asked me today what the odds are, I'd say 50/50 at best that we close Gilbert and open Chandler without skipping a beat.  And this is a ton of up-front expense that doesn't go toward inventory or other stuff we use to generate revenue... no, it's just a sunk cost that amortizes out over five years.

It's enough to make a guy want to abandon the entire plan and just open a mall cart.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Muddle Through Somehow

Twice in the past week, I've had days where by whatever combination of fatigue, stress, focus, or other factors, I was not effective to the standard I expect of myself.  I did not punch my weight class as an owner.  And as a result of these days, there was some effect on revenue, though it's speculative how much.

At a lot of jobs, including those I've held in the past, if you're just not dialed in, you can dog it for a shift and maybe have nothing happen, or you can get into a heap of trouble with the boss if he or she is observant and sees that you aren't participating.

It's a little different now.  My boss(1) is the ownership group, and my boss(2) is the consumer public. So basically I answer to nobody, but I also answer to everybody, which means there's really nowhere to hide.

Moreover, the consequences could be immediate or could occur on a delayed blast, and it might not be obvious to me which has occurred.  If I slip up and upset a customer and they put an item down and leave without buying it, well, that's pretty obvious cause and effect.  It is rare for the consequences to be on such evident display, however.  More often when I've run low-octane, what I've done is slowed down the process of advancing infrastructure projects that multiply revenue, and therefore I have slowed the process of the compounding revenue from those vectors.  The process of getting all of a store's singles listed on TCGPlayer, for example, provides an almost logarithmic ROI.  Any time I slow down the process of fueling that engine, I lose both speed and acceleration.  An hour spent out-of-sorts on Wednesday the 11th might end up making a $50 revenue shortfall on Friday the 27th, or it might make a $500 revenue shortfall.  Both are within normal parameters.  For one hour of me being off-task.  It's the kind of thing that haunts you at night.  Fear is a motivator.

The good news when you run your own business is this: It works both ways.  Going the extra yard and working it harder and cleaner can erase a multitude of sins and make up lost ground.

There are more days when I am running sharp than running dull, so in the aggregate I offset to the positive, I am fairly certain.  The ongoing challenge is digging out of a sub-par session.

One very simple answer is to work more.  It's not a universal sovereign but it works more often than it doesn't.  Within the limits of avoiding physical burnout, pulling an evening shift or going in earlier in a morning can provide an opportunity to focus well in the quiet of the hour.  I am rarely upset to have "gone in for a little longer" on any given day... it's true that I gave up a chance to log an hour or two in the catharsis of Ori, but I always end up creating value within the business and that makes me happier.

When I'm having focus issues due to digestive or blood sugar or protein problems, an unfortunate reality for post-bariatrics like me, I like to revert to tasks I know will generate income, but are solved processes, no judgment required.  Lately this has been parsing through the loose video games and creating proxy cases for them so they can be shopped more effectively.  Sometimes it's as simple as sorting cards.  That task is the great equalizer and nobody in the organization should consider it beneath them to do it.

What not to do when trying to banish the drag-a-lags is buying.  Buying is where my money is made or lost, and the judgment in setting pre-orders and other procurement is so absolutely vital to the health of the enterprise that I dare not engage in it when I am not cold and crisp.  Secondarily, any other judgment-heavy activity such as personnel reviews or tax planning is right out.

The stakes are high, and I'm manipulating live wires, which means I can make high-voltage moves, but also get shocked hard.  Would I trade this for a nice secure desk where I no longer controlled my own destiny?  Well, it would have to be a hell of a paycheck.  So until we're speaking in those kind of figures, I'm going to stick with the capitalism plan.