Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Sucking (Tradecraft)

It is quite possible, through no fault of your own, that you suck.

Sucking is quite common in game trade retail, or really any small business, because there are few exits besides financial ruin. You run a store, perhaps you become good, then great, and then you really need to go do something else, but you can't. You either don't have the means to go elsewhere, or you have what they call golden handcuffs. You do have means, through painstaking mining of capital and sweat, and if you go now, you'll lose your paycheck. You suck and your stuck.

Not sucking is the goal, and sometimes that means you need to stop doing the same sucky behavior expecting non-suck results. For me that meant giving up my day to day place at the counter. I was burned out, I needed to do something else, but I didn't know how. As it turned out, I was like the baby elephant in the circus, where they chain up its little leg and it learns not to pull on the chain. When it becomes an adult, it never occurs to the big elephant it could break free. You don't want to be the elephant with a chain on its leg.

Luckily for me, I had built the business up enough to have the means to step aside and let someone else bring the day to day passion and enthusiasm to the business. Some will tell you nobody can replace your enthusiasm and passion, just as they'll tell you other lies, like you can't work with friends, or making a hobby into a business will ruin your hobby. You can most definitely hire passionate people. In fact, the advice I often give is you don't personally need to bring the passion, but someone does.


Now let me take a step back and say a lot of times you are not sucking. We are running businesses here. The business needs to be profitable or there's no point. If your customers are dwindling and your sales are falling, that's certainly your fault and there are things you can and should do to address that. But if your business is growing and you have critics, people angry at you for following your business model, then you may (but not always) be doing something right.

People don't get angry at irrelevant people in their lives. When a random plumber in Ohio is a jerk, well, there's a jerk. When the president of the United States is a jerk, the person who speaks with their voice, in your name, to rest of the world, then you're angry and have something to say. The president has relevance in your life. As a local business person, the angry ones are often those who don't like your behavior, but still see your business as relevant in their lives. Otherwise they would be indifferent. They want it one way, but it's the other. The textbook definition of suffering (I have unusual textbooks).

If you have a bad experience in my small business, it was either:

  1. Because you were treated shabbily, in which case I'm truly sorry and you may enjoy learning whoever treated you that way is likely no longer in the business (or customer facing if it was me). My job is trying to minimize those bad experiences through training and improving policies and procedures. We've come a long way. We've always got a long way to go.
  2. Because you are a difficult person, in which case you more than likely had it coming, as my staff bends over backwards far, far beyond my spinal tolerances. This is incredibly rare, and you probably know you're a difficult person if you're that difficult. This is not news to you and maybe you have reasons. Whatever.
  3. Because you wanted it one way, but it was the other, in which case you need to put yourselves in our shoes and understand the insanity that is running a game store. More than likely you want us to carry something, but there's no market. It's math, not vindictiveness that results in stocking decisions. The other, more common complaint is we have a "pay to play" system in which you add a small amount of money to your store account to use our magnificent play space. It's like going bowling with the promise of buying a slice of pizza in the snack bar. It's frankly a ridiculous system and it blows my mind anyone complains about this. It's entitlement at its worst. The cost for hours of entertainment is so close to zero people often insist it be.
As a store owner, your job is to know which of these things is the issue when a customer is unhappy. Issue number one is obviously intolerable from either you or your staff and you have a lotta 'splaining to do. Issue number two is rough, and you can try bending backwards a little more, but this is usually where I give a well practiced shrug. It's perfectly fine to fire a customer. Issue number three? This is where you might be tempted to change your business model to make people happy. The truth is they still won't be happy, they won't support your store, and they'll sap resources from you that could go to better, real customers that accept your reality. This happens a lot. Stop bending backwards. Stand up straight. Find your spine.

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