Thursday, February 16, 2017

Tariffs and You

With a proposed 20% import tariff, I was wondering about the game trade exposure and specifically my store. Only six of my top 30 best selling game companies manufacture exclusively in the US. As with everything nowadays, a lot of companies have mixed content, like boards printed in the US and pieces manufactured in China. All that could change with a stiff tariff.

My guess is there's an economy of scale advantage when manufacturing large quantities in the US for the US market. The good news is some of the top game companies are in this top six, especially Wizards of the Coast and Pokemon. Around a third of my sales are products manufactured in the US. For some game stores it's much higher, considering how Magic (Wizards of the Coast) dominates.  If prices do rise dramatically, it may mean a shut out for the smaller manufacturers who can't afford US production, meaning a consolidation and thinning of the herd. This makes a lot of assumptions, so maybe some publishers can comment on that.

If prices do go up and manufacturing continues abroad, the likely scenario for retailers is higher prices and more market erosion, with sales moving online. A $50 board game is expensive enough. Make it $60 and a portion of our customer bases will break off in search of cheaper options. Perhaps publishers will respond with more economical games, either lower quality parts or less content.

This tariff is all speculation, since this is being debated at great length. It's also unclear if a "pass through" tax reduction would follow. That would help someone like me, as I make a good portion of my income on my S-Corp profits, but most small retailers make their income via their salaries. That is, if they make any income at all. So like all things proposed with corporate taxes, the more money you earn, the more the proposed legislation helps you. Personally, I like a steady, even playing field without the massive disruption these schemes entail.

Friday, February 10, 2017

A Book

This week I've spent time thinking about writing a book. Let me tell you up front, I find nothing particular amazing or noteworthy about writing a book. I love books. Some of my favorite things are books. But but I also have giant stacks of unread books. It's just a written medium, no more important than any other.

I used to publish a small magazine that had national distribution in Barnes & Noble. Part of that role was writing many articles, including when we were short content and sometimes under pseudonyms to hide this fact. Seeing my name in print is no big deal. Seeing my hard work published without credit is no big deal. Writing and publishing is kind of a slog, especially if you aren't making money (most writing). Publishing a magazine takes not making money to dizzying new heights, let me tell you. At least when I'm sucking at running a game store I know right away.

I learned the Ten Tricks To Magazine Article Writing, using lists and other magazine industry crutches to generate prodigious content. One time I wrote a completely fictional article about a Tibetan lama living in the hood, under the name of my Top Secret character and channeling my inner lama. I was just trying to fill pages with something true to my spirit, even if it was completely fabricated.  The article was re-published as a truthful account in Harpers, which I found terrifying and hilarious at the same time. I ended up fielding calls from Leno and Letterman for interviews, or at least interviews with this fictional street smart lama. Eventually the buzz faded and the reality of magazine publishing set in.

To help pay for the magazine, I got a entry level job in IT. The magazine eventually fizzled, doomed from the beginning with no proper research that would have been performed with even a rudimentary business plan. This left me in an IT career during the exciting and ridiculous dot-com days, where I quickly discovered adapting and learning new skills meant new opportunities and compensation. Don't know how routers work? Read a book. Take a class. Eventually I transitioned from IT to owning a game store. I read some books. I took some classes. Here we are.

What kind of book would I write, nobody asked? There are two possibilities. One type of book is a nuts and bolts book, similar or possibly just including blog posts massaged to be helpful to new or existing store owners. There have been books like that before and there are a couple out there now.

The second type of book is a more narrative style, "tell-all" about the trials and tribulations of owning a small business. This has broader appeal. It's also much harder to write and could go in many directions. The first type of book is more assembling existing content in a meaningful way, while the advice I got for the "tell all" is to just write it and pitch it, a more daunting task. The end goal is to leverage this exposure towards consulting, but to be honest, writing is a lot more fun, if there was a path with some modest income.

If you're a publisher and reading this, I'm ready to talk. If you're a reader likely to buy my thoughts in dead tree edition, please let me know what you would like to read. Here are my most popular blog posts, showing that even a cursory review of the Imperial Guard codex is vastly more popular than most of what I write about the game trade. Maybe I need to write Game Store in the Hood.

Monday, February 6, 2017

The Order Narrative (Tradecraft)

This is a nuts and bolts article about understanding where a product stands at any given moment. Before an order is placed, even while talking with a customer, I like to run down this flow chart so I have an idea of product availability. I have it in my head, but it's worth printing out until you get it down:

The flow chart may seem complicated, but once you do it a few times, it's quick enough to perform while speaking with a customer. All my sales associates should be able to do this for every item we sell. Where we get hung up though, is information at distribution. The part of the flow chart where it says "tell them it's not available and why" is often a bit of guesswork. If you don't know, tell them you don't know, but there should be a product narrative available from distributors.

This starts with product codes. When I look up an item in a distributors system, it's more than likely by product code, especially if their keyword search is janky. One of my pet peeves is the seemingly arbitrary changing of these codes.
*Often, code changes are manufacturer driven... There are other reasons that codes get changed. But at least in our case, the majority of the time it is either dictated by the manufacturer or done to move to "code synergy" in the industry. One example of manufacturer-driven: Warlord is switching their codes from the long mostly alpha codes to very long mostly numeric codes. Liana Loos-Austin at E-Figures.
GTS has their own codes for a lot of products, especially Ultra Pro, but the standardized code is searchable on their order site. For example, Top Loaders is inexplicably UPTLX at GTS, but I don't care because the description includes the standard Ultra Pro code of 81579. This is smart. Usually when a code is changed, the item is difficult to find. It would be helpful if other distributors kept old codes searchable (Alliance does this sometimes).

Getting back to product narrative, I need a story when a product is no longer available. I need to know why. Some distributors just delete products from view if they're sold out and not expected to return. Others don't add pre-order items to systems until fairly late in the release schedule. This breaks my narrative and results in often not ordering from these distributors. This is because my staff uses the system with the best narrative for pre orders and special orders, which can sometimes lock in that sale to that distributor. The best story teller gets my business.

Alliance tends to be the best story teller. They recently added "X" marks for items no longer carried in a particular warehouse, either because it's discontinued or just not coming. This extra bit of nuance confused some retailers, but it added to the product narrative. I won't be waiting any longer for the "X" product, so I know to order it from another warehouse, another distributor, or give up on it.

Any other status indicators is also helpful: Limited, Discontinued, Pre Order. The goal here is to provide retailers good information to make us informed customers who can help our own clients. I am assuming all this information is true and accurate. This has come a long way in the last decade, where there used to be a lot of disinformation, laziness and accusations of outright deceit regarding information from sales reps. More than likely, they were just as clueless as us and trying to create their own narratives.