Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Roller Coaster

January is always a quiet, end of the party kind of month. Sales for me are generally around half of busy December, and below break even. Worse, I've noticed that the better my December, the more returns that show up and erode my January. It's probably just a percentage of sales, but it seemed higher this year. What I've been learning to do is see this period as a unit: December-January.

This way I don't feel as down that I'm losing money. As a unit, it means I'm saving from earlier in the two month unit to pay for the latter. It's mostly psychological though, if you're an "even keel" kind of person, roller coaster retail can mess with your head. It's like a crazy girlfriend with bi-polar disorder. In one month you're on top of the world, while in others, you talk in a near whisper and remember back on better days. They key is to sense these "moods" coming on and plan accordingly.

February is ironically our second best month of the year, and we were joking yesterday about not making any decisions in a foul January mood, just wait a couple weeks until February. February is when post holiday releases finally show up, like the new Magic set and the beginning of convention season for us, with Dundracon. Add our Ding & Dent auction and February becomes a feast month, albeit one that has to get us through the dark times of March through May. These cold months are the "real" game store months, if you ask me. They're not part of Summer or the holidays, there aren't any crutches, like hot conventions to keep us going, just bread and butter times.

We usually break even or lose a little money during this period, making it up with Summer sales. Summer is a quirky time. It's a little like the dark side of Christmas. Kids are out of school, people are looking for things to do, but the sales are only a slight bump above normal, while the labor seems twice as intensive to keep everyone satisfied. Summer is where gamer cred comes into play, as customers want what's new, what's hot, what was or is going to be released at GenCon. It's where game demos are important, where you set the seeds for what will get played for the next year. Summer is an awful lot of work for us, yet without the high holiday rewards. On the positive side, it's your people coming in, not a lot of grumpy strangers who don't know you. It's a little like a family reunion at times and the mood is happy. You're doing the thing and there's a participatory mood.

Fall is like the air slowly coming out of the party balloon. Sales begin to falter, and it's almost like you don't want to tell customers that the party is over. "No, have one more drink. Don't worry about those people heading for the exits. Let me tell you about my character." Customers are back to their usual responsibilities, and with the holidays on the distant horizon, they may have been told to stop spending on themselves. Last Fall was a mini retail Armageddon that I hope not to ever see again. You just never know in retail.

Of course the post-Thanksgiving holiday season is a time of relative plenty, even measured against dismal January. For us this is where any real profit for the store is eeked out, something left over from January losses and hopefully not squandered on some capital expense that seemed relevant when I was selling three thousand dollars a day in in December, compared to the five hundred from yesterday. There is no money in retail, and that should be the December mantra when the money is flowing in as if your friends, family and accountant were all wrong about what a big mistake it is to run a game store.

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