Friday, June 28, 2013

Store Rescue

I'm on vacation/home sick, an unfortunate combination, and decided to queue up a marathon of my favorite new show, Bar Rescue. I absolutely love this show. An expert in the field shows up to a failing bar and applies his knowledge, mostly a hard earned social science, in hopes of saving the business. I enjoy it because retail has similar concepts, and those are the kinds of ideas that ignite my passion for business. Even better, there are some commonalities that have direct cross over for my own business. Here are some core concepts.

Staff. Somebody needs to lead. If not an owner, then an empowered manager. They need to be qualified and enabled to make decisions, including hiring and firing staff. Even better, have multiple people like this. Also, there's almost always an impediment to success, a toxic individual, possibly the owner, who keeps the business from performing. Those people need to be reformed, nudged out the door, or kicked, if necessary. It needs to happen fast. I know I've had my share of under-performers, burn outs, unsuitables, and even thieves, but it's easily made up by our fantastic team of all stars, leaders, go getters, and future greats. Without the right staff, you're doomed.

Cleanliness. While people will get sick or die from an unclean kitchen, a clean retail store is a requirement for getting customers to feel comfortable enough to shop. Odd smells, stray trash, dirty bathrooms, and a grimy cash wrap are sure to show customers you don't care about what you do. With a game store, a dirty place gives the appearance that you are the lazy, slovenly gamer stereotype, rather than the professional business owner. I honestly can't feel proud of my business if it's not clean. I can't look a customer in the eye and claim to have much to offer if I can't even keep the shelves clean.

Length of Stay. Like food and entertainment in a bar, a retail store profits from length of stay. Our Game Center, when we first opened in our new location, increased retail sales by 60%, as events both required and fed into the need to buy product. Other areas that impact length of stay is the environment, like music, the previously mentioned cleanliness, and our kiosks, like our Fantasy Flight Entertainment Center and our Tabletop videos. A mom's lounge, a simple place to sit, will allow a customer to shop while their less interested companion takes a load off their feet. Displays like our painted models, or even seemingly unrelated displays of product in interesting positions, all hope to increase length of stay to increase sales. In the past we've had a miniature village and champagne flutes full of polyhedral dice on display to grab the eye and hold that interest. We need more capricious displays like this.

The Numbers. Bar Rescue will measure pours and analyze food costs (30% is the target) in hopes of making the business profitable. We do the same thing, with our three bucket approach, our constant attempt at reducing overhead, and tricks of the trade to lower cost of goods, such as used product. You often don't know where to begin if you can't identify the problems, and the numbers elucidate the issues.

The Community. Customers are key, but there are many types of customers along with competition that drives you to create a unique value proposition. A game store in a college town will be different from one in the suburbs that will be different from one in a heavily urban area. Demographics of race, education level, and income will determine customer interests, and thus what you sell. Will you be a card centric store, a value driven operation or can you take the high road when it comes to stock and pricing? The game trade isn't terribly flexible here, unlike toys, but there is room for some variation. Regardless, customers are king, deserve respect, and anybody who doesn't understand this should be shown the door.

One final commonality is the delusional nature of failing business owner of both types. Small business owners who are failing often can't see the obvious signs in front of them. They can't see the trees for the forest. A bit of advice I got early on was to walk outside, stand around for a couple minutes, and slowly come back into the business, taking the time to view it like it's your first experience. Simple tricks like that allow you to see obvious problems, and vacations are often perfect for coming back fresh, questioning what has always been done, if it doesn't appear rational, with new eyes.

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