Sunday, January 20, 2008

Emerging Themes

Trade Show Hiatus. I'm thinking I'll take the year off from the trade show circuit. My reason for wanting to go were the usual ones of finding what's hot this year. Instead, the new store finds me with more things I want to buy that currently exist than I have money to spend in my budget. This includes Games Workshop product and lots of new game/toy crossover items. The sales level is actually high enough in the new store to try just about everything that comes out, a big luxury and a potential danger.

Dungeons & Dragons adventures. I figured out today that the new Wizards of the Coast 4E adventures are exactly what I'm looking for. The first one is a Village of Hommlet type open-ended adventure for 1st level characters. I'm hoping to re-capture some of that 1st Edition wonder, the sense of place, the desire to explore over the next horizon. What I don't want are dungeon crawls, exotic urban adventures or travel. I want a group of players to feel invested in their local environment. My main concern: That a group of experienced, possibly jaded adults, can't recapture that. Can you really find wonder over the next hill, exploring a ruin, after you've spent years playing characters who explore different planes of existence? I sure hope so.

The Power to Say No (Gatekeeper Model). I'm starting to look around and notice that our local competition is gone for the most part. This is a double-edged sword, as there is synergy between local stores, as opposed to winner-takes-all competition. If it was winner take all, retail stores would mysteriously burn to the ground on a regular basis. We're in the unique position of being the only game in town for most games. We always have the option of saying no to a product or product line. I'm wondering out loud how much control we really have. If I deny a new CCG, for example, a serious customer may buy it online, but their interest will wane when they find they have nobody to play it with locally. That happens with games we actually sell too, so it's not unrealistic. As that only game in town, people expect us to carry everything. However, we have to walk a fine line as product gatekeeper. We have to decide what we'll let in the door and what we'll deny because of lack of interest, margin, ethics of a company, lack of money you name it. This is new for us and we're already feeling pressure from our expanded customer base. For the most part, we give people what they want, but sometimes it takes time.

Toy Transition. A lot of effort in the first half of 2008 will be transitioning our toy inventory. This includes accentuating what works: craft items, Schleich animals and fantasy items, toy vehicles, science kits, puzzles. It includes reducing what doesn't work: Thomas, stuffed animals, doll stuff, etc. There's a theme of fun creativity that will run through the toy section. There's also a gender trend, with girls gravitating towards crafts and boys gravitating towards science and vehicles. I don't assign gender roles, I just cater to them.

Inverted Sales Hours. This is kind of unusual, but in the old store, most of the sales happened mid-afternoon, probably between 3-5pm. In the new store, they happen later, between around 6-8pm. Part of this is our extended hours, 10am-10pm instead of 10am-7pm. I work the mornings and early afternoon, because that's when business is done: ordering, receiving, paying bills, you name it. My concern used to be that my evening employees would be out-of-touch with the realities of the business, as they mostly managed the store during the slow evening hours, making sure the game center ran smoothly. Now I'm learning that with inverted sales hours, I'm the one in danger of becoming out of touch, as I miss most events and the sales driven by them. It means asking more questions and maybe having employees document some of their interactions in a store log.

Record Inflation. With inflation numbers skyrocketing, we're already hearing about price increases and potential fuel surcharges. UPS is predicting $4/gallon fuel by this Summer and we can expect distributors to pass that cost on to retailers.

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