Sunday, August 12, 2007


It sounds dumb and I've said it before, but I never expected to actually be working in sales when I planned to open a game store. Things were bought. Sales were made. It was all passive tense. These were things that happened without my involvement, kind of like shopping in a 7-11. If you need help finding the milk, the clerk can tell you where it's at, but he's unlikely to sell you the merits of 2% versus whole milk. I figured I would work in the back a lot, probably on a computer, unseen, feeding the bottles of milk onto those racks from the back.

I had this strange idea because of the lack of sales going on in the stores I used to shop. The owners of the stores where I shopped were always hidden away somewhere. It turns out this is why they had bad stores and why I thought I could do better. So what I discovered when I opened my store was that I kind of had to be there to sell things. People needed help and there was clearly no money to hire a sales person (there still isn't and you wouldn't want that anyway).

Stepping up to the task, I discovered I was an abysmal sales person. I was the worst, with no knowledge of sales and pitiful levels of product knowledge beyond what I played as a hobbyist. My first few months open I was coaxed into learning the board game Carcassonne, so my first Christmas, two months into the store, I sold a metric buttload of Carcassonne and nothing else. It was all I knew unless you wanted Risk or Stratego. It was sad. An elderly woman scolded me for being so bad at my job. I'll never forget that.

Luckily I've had a number of different careers. I've gone from studying Buddhism academically to running a magazine to a career in Information Technology before, during and after the dot-com boom, and now the store. On the way I've had a huge number of different jobs, including chauffeur, security guard, long distance driver, and almost as a special agent with the DEA (I dropped out of the interview process to study Buddhism - those guys were dicks). I've gained one minor skill along the way: accepting I have no idea what the hell I'm doing... and then figuring out what to do.

This is a very important skill in starting your own business. Most people fail in business because they came from somewhere too similar, burdened with pre-conceived ideas. They worked in sales in a game store and therefore they thought they could run a game store, or their spouse ran a store, or maybe they sold used cars, or they have insane amounts of game knowledge. In other words, they thought they knew what they were doing. Big problem. It's best to have no clue, like in my case.

The other factor for starting your own business is that you're usually someone who is difficult to employ otherwise. Maybe you're a maverick, a pain in the ass, a visionary, or someone who can't stick to one thing. That's the definition of an entrepreneur. It's a fine line between entrepreneur and loser. This attribute is important because anyone with half a brain would realize they could work a lot less hard for a lot more money for someone else. Not the entrepreneur. They're the type that would rather rule in hell than serve in heaven.

In my case, I thought of myself as an IT ronin, never staying at one job more than a couple years at most. To penalize me for my behavior, I averaged a 20% pay increase each time I pulled this stunt. I was mostly just bored and irritated with management because, get this, I could do it better, right? (I had a clue, very bad). Now I could never go back to IT and if I had to, I would be working towards my next business. My three years at Black Diamond Games is the longest time I've held a single job - and look, I'm moving!

So I think I had two important factors going for me: I accepted I had no idea what I was doing AND I was only marginally employable. These qualities and a bucket full of money and you too can have a game store (we'll be taking that bucket, thank you).

What I learned right away was that salesmanship was about people (duh). That could have been the end of me because I thought I didn't like people. However, I was really just an introvert and I didn't like being around people I didn't know. In sales, you also don't want to be around people you don't know, so you're taught how to get to know them better. Like saying hello. How many stores don't do that?

I listened to people who taught me about sales, read some books, went to seminars and suddenly I liked people, especially if they said hello back to me. Sales turns out to be an awful lot of fun, especially if you're making some money at it. It sucks if a) you don't have what the customer wants, or b) they can't afford it, or c) you can't tell if it's a or b.

1 comment:

  1. Chanced by your blog, enjoyed readng it.
    Have a nce day