Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Four Days of Extremes

Thanksgiving weekend 2017 brought a great high and a troubling low.  I wanted to touch upon a little bit of each.

Black Friday set a new record for us, while not quite hitting the target I had hoped for.  Pretty greedy, right?  Sure, it was the best Black Friday yet, but what have you done for me lately.

At ground level, though, BF's robust sales and great footfall happened despite what we failed to do in preparation.  We really just ran out of time.  With the aftershock move of our Tempe store to Chandler and so much else going on, I didn't spend enough time in advance ordering up targeted inventory for the event, and I didn't have enough time to devise a promotional framework that would better straddle the various departments and reach more products, while still providing healthy returns and not training people to "shop the sale."  A week or so out, I realized I had time to set this much up, and so I wrote it all down and did a bunch of setup myself and delegated the rest.

The promotional "deals" we offered by and large worked. (I'm not a fan of the way "deals" has become a euphemism for "offers" or "sale prices," but that is the apparently the parlance of our time in advertising right now.)  This suggests that given enough time to tie in product groups, simplify, then expand to other groups, then consolidate and simplify, etc, ultimately encompassing a storewide promotion, we should see greater sales still next year.

Small Business Saturday was meh and Whatever Sunday Is Called was decent, outperforming the expectation.  Yesterday was even good, a rare robust Monday thanks to a blast of online sales and higher-than-expected early-day visits.  We expect to see a quieting now, a calm before the storm.  Somewhere around December 9th, the light switch will go on and it will be bananas until Saturday the 23rd, and then from the 26th well into January.

Alas, the holiday weekend was marred by the announcement that the expert and famous cosplayer Christine Sprankle (@Cspranklerun), was departing the Magic community after enduring bullying and harassment by a certain YouTube personality whose name I won't mention and I'll explain why in a moment.  For ease of reference, I will refer to him as Offender.  The specifics of Offender's actions in this matter are well established elsewhere, and I won't revisit them here.

For those of you unfamiliar with the scene and the practice, cosplaying is far more than merely dressing in a costume and schmoozing around.  Expert cosplayers typically create their wardrobe from scratch, or nearly so, and put tremendous time and resources into this process.  The greatest degree of verisimilitude is their triumph and their prestige.  And Cspranklerun is the best in the Magic: the Gathering scene.  The world of MTG provides a rich assortment of characters, and her performances of e.g. Chandra Nalaar, Liliana Vess, Olivia Voldaren, and Archangel Avacyn are the gold standard now.

I have encountered Ms. Sprankle several times at industry events and she has always been friendly and gracious to me and everyone who I've accompanied, and conducts herself as a consummate professional.  Her tormentor, Offender, is someone whom I cannot say the same about.

It's easy to look at Offender and say, oh, he's a typical chauvinist, or a typical alt-right agitator, or a typical bully, or whatever label seems to fit.  But to label him and direct ire toward him or even retaliate against him is to miss the point.  Offender runs a clickbait YouTube channel.  He doesn't have to be right, he doesn't have to be sensible, he doesn't have to make you agree, and he doesn't have to make you disagree.  He only has to make you watch.  He is in the attention prostitution business.

Like Neil Peart famously said, "I don't believe a prostitute is an evil thing."  But recognize what a prostitute is, and what it wants.  A prostitute engages in behavior that elicits compensation from an audience.  Literally, the euphemism of whoring reflects the reality that any given prostitute may not consider any particular behavior off-limits, no matter whether it might be socially questionable, if the result is that the whore gets paid.  If Offender's whoring is for attention, any attention you provide to him is giving him what he wants.  Controversy sells.  Bait draws clicks.  Views draw dollars.  There's no such thing as "bad" publicity.  And this is how Offender stays in "business," as he is a Patreon-based "content creator."  When you tune in, Offender wins.

The best and greatest punishment the community can inflict upon Offender is to ignore him evermore.

Don't watch his videos.  Don't read anything he writes.  Block him on whatever social media you can.  Don't mention him, don't acknowledge him.  Shun him utterly.

Come on, people.  We can do this.

Meanwhile it would probably help if Wizards of the Coast banned him or something.  Lord knows they've banned others for less, in some cases questionably so.  They had not made a statement as of the night before this article went live, but I am reasonably confident they will, and that any delay is/was simply a matter of the appropriate staff needing time to meet and deliberate on the matter.

And then I hope Cspranklerun will return and I hope everyone who enjoys her cosplay performances at the various conventions, events, and tournaments will provide a heartfelt word of appreciation to her.  Even people who know they have friends and allies can feel awfully alone in the moment when a bully or harasser is doing their worst.  I'd like for those on the receiving end of such abuse to have more confidence that the rest of us are there to back them up.  The only way that's going to happen is if we demonstrate it.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Seasons Calendar Greetings

So, in addition to the spurts and stops of intense sales activity this time of year, we also have to deal with the effects the calendar has on when our staff works, when our shipments arrive, and when our money moves.  Back in 2012 and 2013, it made for some stressful experiences, but by now I know what's coming and I can plan it pretty far out to ensure business as usual.
The Thanksgiving Holiday week (in the United States) brings with it a Thursday in which nobody at DSG is realistically expected to be open or be working.  Some stores do offer gatherings of a sort, which I think is cool because it reaches that part of their clientele who maybe don't have family (or locally reachable family) with which to spend the holiday.  In our case we just close and give everyone the day off.  Salaried employees have a couple of hours bolted on to other days just to ensure we don't suffer for task completion, but are otherwise on paid vacation for the day; part-timers simply aren't scheduled for that day.

Moreover, the day after Thanksgiving, Black Friday, is a day when many businesses are closed and retail stores are open.  We know on the front end that it's a shopping day, but on the back end we see a variety of on- and off-duty vendors.  The mail does get delivered and banking occurs normally.  Our distributors are mostly closed.  UPS and FedEx deliver but most things we need for that day will be ordered the week before, so that they will arrive in the short week leading into the holiday.

Oh, and Veterans Day tends to create a day's unusualness, but since it's a single-day holiday and usually doesn't change much about business activity, I don't have to do very much to "prepare" for it.  It's not an entire weekend, effectively, deeply shared as time off by the majority of American society that does not work in the retail or hospitality sectors or in emergency services.  So there's not a whole lot of accommodation needed.

Thanksgiving's saving grace in terms of preparation (since it already has the great saving grace that the Fri-Sat-Sun frame tends to be pretty good for sales) is that it happens the same way every year.  The dates change but the days stay the same.  The opposite is true of the Christmas holiday, for which the dates stay the same and thus the days change.

This year is an arrangement I love: Christmas Eve on Sunday, Christmas Day on Monday.  For the first time since the store opened in 2012, I feel at liberty to go ahead and close on Christmas Eve and give the entire crew two straight days off.  Saturday the 23rd before that should be a record-breaking sales day, and I will go out of my way to get as much awesome stuff prepped and presented on time for that, but we're usually closed early on Sunday evenings anyway, and every Christmas Eve thus far has seen customer foot traffic taper off dramatically in the evening.  In essence, I don't see us losing much in the way of sales, and the value of having the recharge time for everybody gets much higher.

Best of all, with the Sunday-Monday cadence of this year's Christmas holiday, I don't really have to do any hocus-pocus in terms of ordering, shipping, mailing, banking, or any of that.  And the day after Christmas, Tuesday the 26th, should be a glorious party of youngsters indulging in their greatest material desires, funded by that sweet, sweet Grandma money.  The week before, my orders will go in on Monday and arrive Wednesday and Thursday and our TCGPlayer shipments will go out the same as they ever do.  Aside from what I hope will be overwhelming customer traffic, my crew will not be doing anything unusual mechanically where their schedules are concerned.  After Christmas I can blast in my orders to a rack of distributors who will be fully at battle stations, and have them by the end of the week.  A lot of us get healthy that week, though aside from normal sales I will have a lot of tax preparation to do, activities that need to get paid out and ledgered before the clock strikes zero on the Year of Our Lord Two Thousand Seventeen.

New Year's Eve is also a Sunday and we've always seen customer footfall basically end at rush hour on that day.  Rather than closing for the day, I'm inclined to staff light and keep the 10am-6pm regular hours, with projects on deck and general cleaning and straightening up to occupy the staff time.  New Year's Day is open for business of course and is usually very good.  A lot of people, whether workers or students, are off and ready to play some games.  And we'll be ready for their arrivals.

Whatever you are doing this coming weekend, whether it's with family, friends, or enjoying the solitude, stay safe, stay warm, stay healthy, and have fun!

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The Tyranny of the Necessary

Thing I am doing: Spot duty putting out daily fires, many of them caused by incomplete infrastructure as a result of the move.
Thing I would rather be doing: Leaving daily operations in the hands of my store managers, knowing the infrastructure was built and the store was at cruising altitude.

Thing I am doing: Physically lugging assets from the closed Tempe location to Chandler.
Thing I would rather be doing: Developing Chandler's infrastructure.

Thing I am doing: Patchwork to keep our Crystal Commerce deployment effective.
Thing I would rather be doing: Moving in-store sales to the Square Retail POS.

Thing I am doing: Triaging video game buys for deployment to the racks.
Thing I would rather be doing: Finishing the new process for shelf proxies and rack layout so that the staff can quickly and easily triage video game buys for deployment to the racks.

Thing I am doing: Swimming through admin every week to navigate and maintenance all the financial moves we made to make the store move happen in one piece.
Thing I would rather be doing: Looking for great new items I can bring in that will amuse and delight the store's visitors.

Thing I am doing: Ongoing buildout iteration and refinement.
Thing I would rather be doing: Ongoing process iteration and refinement.

Thing I am doing: Performing life support on underperforming categories.
Thing I would rather be doing: Developing new revenue streams like cell phone screen replacement, video game console repair, category adds like brick toys and children's games, disc media restoration using our awesome commercial-grade resurfacing machine, and event broadcasting and media compilation.

Thing I am doing: Learning, slowly and inefficiently, how to use the tools to create awesome graphic art assets for the business.
Thing I would rather be doing: Deploying awesome graphic art assets for the business, for uses such as signage, branding media, and wider channels of advertisement.

Thing I am doing: Spending late nights putting in pre-orders on distributor websites and answering emails I was too busy to deal with during the day.
Thing I would rather be doing: Sleeping.

Thing I am doing: Making sure that it continues to be possible for people to play games at the store.
Thing I would rather be doing: Actually playing a game once in a while.

Thing I am doing: Working in the business.
Thing I would rather be doing: Working on the business.

Thing I am doing: Administering a retail business.
Thing I would rather be doing: Writing epic adventure stories.

Thing I am doing: Working long hours to ensure the future of the business.
Thing I would rather be doing: Spending time with my wife and kids.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017


I left an uneaten sandwich on the back table at the store when I closed up.

The console controllers I bought just before closing still have those corroded batteries in them.

I left the door to the refrigerator open at the store when I closed up.

There is a $7,000 order coming in and I only have one person on shift in the morning to process it.

I left my workstation iMac unlocked and all of creation can get into the staff payroll records.

I forgot to sanction the next whatever the hell it is this time in Wizards Event Reporter.

There are new releases streeting tomorrow that I forgot to prepare the pickup invoices for pre-orders.

I left the "OPEN" sign on when I closed.  There are hooligans outside pounding on the door.

I left the door to the safe open at the store when I closed up.

There is a $7,000 autotap going through at midnight and I forgot to move funds from the operating account to the purchasing account.

I left the lights on when I closed up.  There are hooligans outside vandalizing the windows.

Wizards of the Coast just banned the card I bought six playsets of yesterday.  Its market price fell from $38.50 apiece to $2.75 apiece.  Nobody plays it in eternal formats.

There is a $7,000 ceiling job being done at six in the morning tomorrow and I forgot to have someone on site to let the contractors in.

I left the door unlocked at the store when I closed up.

There are hooligans entering my store.

I forgot to arm the alarm when I closed up.

There are hooligans eating my sandwich and drinking my beverages, but they have left the refrigerator door open.

The safe is wide open so hooligans took all my cash.

There are hooligans destroying my store while I sleep.

There are hooligans stoically guarding the storefront while patient, systematic friends of theirs are carefully parsing through my inventory and stealing the most valuable Magic cards and video games that I will have the most difficulty establishing the market value of, while inflicting damage on my fixtures and equipment approximately equal to my insurance deductible, and leaving carefully and quietly so as not to attract police attention.

/rush into den, log in to surveillance system

//there is nothing happening at the store

///all is dark and peaceful

////I sleep well

/////It's a brand new day

//////Time to get in there and make stuff happennnNNNOHMYGOD! That autotap DID try to go through and I didn't move those funds!  AAARGH CARDIAC ARREST