Friday, September 23, 2011

Fighting the Matrix

Owning a game store can sometimes feel like being in the movie, The Matrix. With thousands of products on the shelves, it's difficult to know much about all of them, so they can fall into the category of "widget." We have as many products as your average Costco in about one percent of the space. Products have a cost, a profit margin, a turn rate, and oh yeah, they're games too, but that's not always relevant when you're looking at them.

When a product is a "one shot" release or like half our products, doesn't get re-ordered, it reinforces widgetness as there's no incentive to get to know them. Over time, if you're not vigilant, games can come and go without you having even read the summary on the box, which can make you a bit jaded. As for one shots, why should I care about what's in the latest Magic card pack that I can never re-order again that will sell out forever by the end of the day? Does it really matter? There's not even a sales need to know what's in the box. The green zeroes and ones clearly show on their black background.

When in Matrix mode, improvements or repairs on the property all look like expenses with no real benefit. Our employees are top notch, but as you fatigue you begin seeing hourly wages projected over their heads, sales per hour sliding by them and general overhead costs counting up like the national debt clock. You recall back when you ran the store yourself, forgetting all the amazing value employees add and the things they do that you would rather not.When things get really bad, when customers start to feel like zeroes and ones, I know it's time to for a break. Sometimes Michael sees it in me first (it has similar effect to cold medicine). Part of this Matrix mode is natural, as it's only by pounding down expenses in this tiny profit margin trade that we survive, let alone thrive. However, it's losing the spirit of the business, and that can't be tolerated.

The antidote is pretty simple, it turns out: Breaks and vacations. Breaks are the kinds of customer appreciation events like our recent Gamerati Game Day, which re-connect myself and staff to why we do this. It's about the customers and the games we love. The cool and really interesting thing about our game day event, as it turned out, was it really wasn't anything special. It was like someone gave us permission to have a game store block party. We had an  impromptu sale, some fun open gaming, and a bunch of regular customers enjoying themselves, myself included. We need these kinds of events more often. Sometimes we get so close to the business that we lose focus.

As for vacations, I've learned they're not optional, self-indulgent or something only successful business owners do. They're a requirement to avoid the Matrix effect, of making a dull boy out of Jack. My best ones, like last week, are about unplugging from technology, breaking the work cycle, and letting the staff find the kinks in our process armor. This refining of process is actually pretty critical, to where an owner leaving for a while should really be a regular requirement. Process and crushing costs are all great in a small business, provided you can work on them while preserving the essential nature of the business, which should be joyous and full of wonder.

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