Sunday, September 30, 2007

AT-43 and FFG

We saw the result of the Rackham deal last week. They're now using Fantasy Flight Games to distribute their product in the US (having burned all other bridges). This has resulted in FFG taking a cut, of course. It's worked out differently for different distributors.

ACD, my primary distributor, reduced their discount to an abysmal 38%. Alliance, the biggest distro has made all AT-43 products "net priced" items. This is how Rackham stuff used to be. Net price means you buy an item for say $20 wholesale and you're then free to price it how you want, preferably sell it for $40+. Game store people get flustered about net price items, it's like they need people to tell them how to do their job. Toy people are used to it - just about everything is net priced in the world of toys.

The only problem with net pricing on Rackham stuff is that some of it, such as books, have prices printed on them. It's hard to justify selling a $12 book for $13 when it clearly says $12 on the back cover. Even if you put your sticker over the price, customers get annoyed when they get home and peel it off. They think you're gouging them.

So you might think all this bankruptcy talk is slowing them down? No way. Tabletop Gaming News got info from Rackham of future releases. They're doing at least a dozen new releases each month through January, including the Confrontation rules in November, at the same time as the starter set (see, they can learn!).

For our store, AT-43 sells 4-5 of every new release. That's pretty good. Our problem is that we haven't sold a starter set in months and we're ambivalent about holding AT-43 events. You've got a company in bankruptcy, with a product priced inappropriately, in a sea of other games with more players and a better margin. Why would any store want to give AT-43 table time unless customers clamored for it?

Build It, They Will Come

There are two background voices that keep going off in my mind with the new store.

The first is from the Kevin Costner movie Field of Dreams. The main character hears voices in his head, "If you build it, they will come." He mortgages his life and puts all his energy into building a baseball diamond in his corn field. He's rewarded in the end.

The second voice is from an Isuzu commercial. This guy is driving his Isuzu SUV and he hears a whispering voice say, "Farther!" He goes off road like a brave explorer. He's being adventurous and he hears the whisper again, "Farther!" He turns into impenetrable jungle in his trusty SUV. In the last scene we see him in his SUV on a raft, about to go over a waterfall. The voice whispers: "Too far!"

Saturday, September 29, 2007


Ok, somewhat unrelated. At times when I'm not making money at the store, I pay more attention to the economy. You've got some time between customers during the slow period. The best thing to do would be to come up with a promotional program, clean, research or re-arrange displays, but sometimes I'm looking for someone else to blame.

The weather can be blamed sometimes. If it's extremely hot or there's a storm warning, people won't shop. In Northern California, a simple rain can throw people off. Power outages are too localized, even though we seem to have them on a regular basis nowadays. When I experienced power outages regularly when visiting India and Nepal, it made an indelible impression upon me: This is the experience of an impoverished country. When it happens here regularly, when people know what power "zones" their in, it concerns me deeply. A country should be able to keep the lights on.

Beyond obvious external things to blame is the economy. It's such a vast stew of facts and figures you can easily fall into the worry game. Is the stock market up or down? Is the housing market up or down? Did the Fed chairman signal something when he picked his nose? Is it an indication that interest rates are going up? Is that good for me or bad for me? Perhaps it's good for me and bad for my customers?

It's the housing market and the default rate that everyone's stirred up about now. So I was talking with some folks last night, including an economist, about the California housing market. California has the second highest mortgage default rate in the nation. It's tightening up home ownership requirements. One of my customers is about to lose their house. It's a long-term concern for me. The press hounds loves this story and it's in all the news sources I read and listen to (no TV nowadays).

It has the secondary impact of pressuring renters. This seems to make little sense, but it works like this: Home owners are defaulting. They're moving out of their houses to rent places. This causes rents to go up. So rents are going up AND houses are losing value? It seems to be out of balance.

Back to my conversation in the store. As we sat late last night in the game room and talked about this, I asked them what they think the default rate is for California. One guy thought it must be as high as 50%. Our economist thought probably around 5%. Before I read the Economist stats, I would have guessed between 5-20%.

California with the second highest foreclosure rate in the nation (very close to tying with Texas), has one in every 500 mortgage holder in foreclosure. That's tiny! That's .2 percent. When the press talks about soaring foreclosure rates, just know that it's gone from around .1 to .2%. It's the bad sub-prime loans that are around 5%, but that's factored into the above rate.

The general impression I get from long time retailers is this: As long as your customer has a source of income of any kind, they will spend some of it in your store. Rain or shine, war or peace, bad economy or good economy. The exception is catastrophe, like alien invasion, Katrina or the one that killed retail sales all the way to the Bay Area, 9-11.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Coming Along

Remove a fatigue token from my miniature. I'm now just tired.

I'm just about able to put my head around everything that needs doing. I used to be a compulsive list maker, all through college and grad school. I used every generation of the PalmPilot, starting in the beginning when it was actually called a PalmPilot. Batman had a crappy utility belt compared to my IT gear back in the day. I had the PalmPilot in a leather case, a cordless phone (only really important people had cell phones them in 1997), a Leatherman in a case, and my bulky pager. What a dork.

Anyway, nowadays I don't have an organizer. I did when I first opened the store. It was a wireless HP IPAQ that would let me check my mail and surf the Internet. Somehow I was unaware that my life for the next three years would consist of a 1,000 square foot storefront. Do I really need to check my email wirelessly when the point-of-sale computer is never more than 30 feet away?

So without an organizer, I use my brain to keep track of things. Somewhere in the move, the brain stopped taking additional input. Now that the buffer isn't overflowing, I can once again cogitate. It must have happened today when something fell off my list of things to do, somewhere between bigger garbage cans and latex interior primer. In other words, I don't feel overwhelmed any longer. Just whelmed.

Today we got in our Games Workshop paint rack. Racks are the bane of existence for companies. I'm a sucker for a good rack (no, seriously). I'll find myself wanting to buy product that I don't even need if it comes with a free rack display that looks good. Unfortunately, those racks are rarely as nice as they look in the picture. Ask any of the various volunteers who attempted to work with the Melissa & Doug Puzzle (or Puppet) rack. It's not fun. They're made as cheaply as possible, often with missing parts or no instructions and they're rarely packaged properly to avoid damage or loss. The GW rack was no exception.

When I came in this afternoon, the top half was in the back of the game center. That's the I don't want to deal with this crap right now area of the store. Apparently the top of the rack was so badly bent in transit that it wouldn't fit or just looked too grotesque when assembled. I'll have to figure out which. Each row of the rack has a place to insert a strip to show the colors and codes for the paint. This rack's strips were too tall to fit into the rack. Mike's girlfriend meticulously cut each individual paint label, trimmed it to size and placed it in the rack. It was an awe inspiring act of obsessive behavior that took the breath away. It almost brought a tear to my eye. But it shouldn't have been necessary.

Besides the rack, I picked up a car full of gamer snacks. These range from the incredibly salty to the incredibly sweet. In between are token healthy foods that I guarantee nobody will buy, like trail mix. Ethics dictates that I give it a shot before they become a part of my lunch, like the Barillito Tamarind sodas. Hey, they're good! Try one!

Speaking of sodas, I forgot to buy a bottle opener again. Mike figured out how to open bottles with a slatwall hanger. But that's why I hired him. Anyway, the slatwall hanger trick only worked for me half the time (I only made it to Tenderfoot). The Mexican cokes, our best selling drink, require a bottle opener. They have real cane sugar rather than rancid corn syrup. Blech.

My TV commercial script was emailed to me today. It, uh, needs a lot of work, so I'm hoping to get them to reference our excellent existing commercial, possibly updating it or making some sort of sequel. Whoever wrote it had no clue what we do or what we have. Sad really, because promoting a game store has to be a lot more fun than yet another used car dealer. Then again, I would love to do a parody of the old Cal Worthington commercials.

I will stand upon my head 'til my ears are turning red!
Go see gare, go see gare, go see gare!

Thursday, September 27, 2007

So How Did It Go?

We're moved in and the store is shaping up. I'm exhausted and now have a cold, so bullet points today:
  • Broken. The point-of-sale bar code scanner and display both broke in the move. Expensive and inconvenient. The new scanner will arrive Monday.
  • Employees. I had to terminate one this week. It's added some extra hours to my schedule.
  • New Product Arrived. The GW paint rack arrived today. It had been shipped to the old address. We got an order in from US Playing Card Company, including all the varieties of KEM cards. Lagoon Group sent us our various novelty items. My single comic book arrived from Diamond today in a UPS box with five pounds of catalogs. Guess who pays shipping?
  • Busy! Our first day was very busy, with record sales for the year. I learned I need bigger garbage cans in the game center and more than likely two employees at all time (eventually)
  • GW Visit. Our Games Workshop rep from Chicago visited us today to talk about opportunities. As you probably know, we plan on doing a lot of GW events. We'll be adding some Lord of the Rings miniatures to complete our range.
  • Phone Problem. Our old phone number wasn't forwarding to the new number, it was going to a full voice mail box. That's been fixed now. We also have a lot of static on the main line. I'm thinking it's the internal wiring.
  • Exterior Sign. Goes up sometime late next week.
  • Pests. We've got a strange problem with food in the store. Small gnats show up within a very short time. I'm thinking there's too big a gap under the back door
Yeah, but how does it feel?

The store is definitely big. It has a literal life of it's own. The store is separated into distinct sections and people can actually have little private conversations in these sections without others bumping into them or having to deal with noise from a game.

The game center itself seems to have it's own life. Since the center is open, people can come in and paint or play a game without us organizing an event. This "commons" type area, or third place is what we always envisioned, It's even in our business plan, but it's a new experience.

I'm mostly just busy at the store. There are all the usual things that have to be done: ordering, receiving, cleaning. Then there are all these projects and tasks on top of them: receiving new product and finding a place for them, ordering cleaning supplies, etc.

It should be an amazing store, but amazing because of the community it creates and supports. I suppose the predominant feeling is that Ive reached a higher professional level where my actions have an even bigger impact, yet I'm more reliant on others for help and support. It's no longer a one man show or mom and pop operation. Success will be determined on the efforts of a team of people.

Nerve and LARPers

Nerve has an article this week called Sex Advice from Live Action Role-Players. It's part of their regular "sex advice" column from various people in interesting roles. I admit I read Nerve pretty regularly, one of my guilty pleasures. For this column it looks like they got some "prominent" LARpers, rather than just folks off the street.

My favorite advice points:

Would you recommend joining a LARP club as a way to find a date?
You should join a LARP club because you are interested in trying out gaming — it's essentially improv theater. If your sole motivation is to get laid, you are full of fail, will eventually be found out as a fraud, and shall get no sex.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Move Photos

Here are just a few photos from the move. There was an entire legion of packers and organizers in the store doing a fantastic job. Mistress Jess, especially, coordinated packing the store like an expert.

Here's Andy sliding in a comic book rack. Andy likes comic books.

David and Andy in the truck. Joe is on the left, coordinating what to do next. Warmachine Dave is on the right, probably about to lift something too heavy for mere mortals.

It's always nerve wracking to follow your own car. One of the few insurance scenarios in which I don't have coverage is if one of my vehicles hits another. Michael was driving my car during the move, transporting sensitive electronics, glass and other fragile items.

This is a strange intersection because I'm actually still in the store parking lot. I never figured out how to make this turn without going over the curb.

Five-speed manual transmission. Gears 1-3 are all about getting the truck off from a stop. I never drove it more than about 40 miles an hour during the move.

Grizzled truck driver, or Vladimir Lenin?

Umm, yeah, perhaps moving the vending machine with the sodas still inside wasn't a great idea. A can burst within seconds. Here I'm inserting quarters into the machine to unload the cans while kneeling on the lift gate.

Pallet wrap worked wonderfully. We would pallet wrap everything, including paint racks and wheeled gondolas. The wheeled gondolas easily rolled into the parking lot. With a couple people gently lifting the front, they rolled onto the lift gate of the truck. The only problem was the lip of the doorway into the new store. That required a little more man handling.

Despite shrink wrapping the board games in place, we ended up completely re-organizing them on the other end.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Exhausting Setup Day

I just got home after an 11-hour day setting up the store. We had another good volunteer crew. Some thing went smoothly, like role-playing games and miniatures. Other sections were confounding and difficult, like collectible card games and board games.

Andy single-handedly tackled CCG's. It took half the day with a lot of do-overs due to the new layout. We were keeping them behind the counter before. Now they're on a gondola available to customers directly. There is no longer a behind the counter, since the cash wrap is in the middle of the store.

I personally ripped through RPGs early on and started on miniatures. I handed the minis off to various people as we went along. The board game section was the real problem child. We've got lots of them, over 500, and we ended up reducing the space for them back down to around what we had in the old store. That was a little disappointing, but the section can spread out later when we figure it out.

I started with board games and after a couple hours was disappointed with my layout and out of ideas. I went to lunch with John, handing off the board games to Alexis. Alexis had to leave so when we got back John took a shot at them for the afternoon. As John struggled with them, Joe got off work and took a turn at them. Joe added a lot of energy back into the process, so we stayed even after we were too tired to do anything useful. Joe's energy invigorated us to keep going.

The weight of being closed is pressing down on me, so I'm hoping to have a soft opening tomorrow for at least a few hours to get back into the swing of things.

Besides the setup of product, we got the office computers running with power to the cash wrap, but no networking to the cash wrap. At the moment we can process transactions, but credit cards have to be done manually or possibly using the back-up dial-up connection (it's untested).

The stereo system works. We've got music in the game room out of four speakers, but the retail space speakers haven't been installed yet. Satellite radio is working fine. The office is a wreck with none of the boxes unpacked yet. I was too busy today directing traffic in the retail space.

Sorry again for no photos. I forgot the camera once again. Tomorrow I'll start making lists of things to do so we can start prioritizing. Bringing home the camera will be number one.

So what does it look like? Yeah, I know, no camera.

About 95% of the product is on the correct shelf. The rest is scattered around the store in small pockets. The cash wrap area has a new power pole and is awaiting CAT5 for the network. The display cases need to have the shelves put in and items placed inside.

The store looks easily as good as the average game store, provided I remove the boxes of hooks, brackets and miscellaneous junk. That's probably the priority for tomorrow. Move everything that doesn't belong into the game area and focus on getting the store in open condition. Then work on cleaning up the game room. Right now the game room is a staging area for the retail space.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

We Moved!

I'm way too tired for details right now, plus I left the camera at the store. We'll have an update tomorrow. Here's (almost) everyone at dinner afterwards.

We had over a dozen volunteers, made three trips in the Yellow Peril, and a lot of set up got done by one group while the other moved. Excellent progress!

Today is the Move!

Many photos to come this evening....

The Joy of Comics

Here's an example of why comics are hard to deal with, well Diamond at least. I just got emailed an invoice with one item, a trade paperback that must have been automatically back-ordered a month or two ago. Being that the company is oh so advanced (and the system mindless), it automatically ships this crap out without anyone wondering if, perhaps, they may want to call me and see if I want a UPS shipment with a single book in it. Even Alliance does that.


Diamond Comics--14.99--7.05
Diamond Comics UPS-----5.00
___________ ___________
TOTALS----------14.99-12.05 # USD

So my $14.99 book cost me $12.05. Sigh. It could have been worse. Many smaller press books have a 35% margin instead of a 55% margin like this one. One of those books at the same retail price would have cost $14.75! With the stamp required to pay for it, I would lose seventeen cents.

At least the electronic invoices have the billing address, unlike their print variety. You would think they would use the same form?

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Day Before the Move

Today was crunch time and I realized I had a lot to do and nobody was scheduled to help! Luckily Joe showed up and helped for most of the day.

My main task was receiving the Hanson order. The order was mostly comprised of jigsaw puzzles, kid's science sets, and various toys and games only available from them.

Some of the fun items from John Hanson Co.

While I was receiving Hanson, Joe was working to place the Thomas stuff on the rack. My sales rep told me it should fit on the one Thomas rack that I ordered, with maybe a shelf or two on a second bookcase. I still believed this even after receiving a massive quantity of Thomas stuff. Joe walked in and saw the forest of Thomas and knew right away I had a problem. As you can see, Thomas took up the entire wall!

When I got home my two-year old crawled into my lap and pointed to the thumbnail image of this photo. He was very excited and when we blew up the image, he spent a long time pointing to various items and telling me about them.

Hanson and Thomas took half the day. I started looking around to see what was left and realized the place was filthy. The contractors had been drilling holes and patching drywall and the landlords repair people had spent the last few days replacing the lighting ballasts. All the junk that accumulates above the drop ceiling was now over everything in the store.

We started cleaning. Soon the vacuum cleaner broke. Stores go through a vacuum cleaner every eighteen to twenty-four months. We just hit that magic day. The vacuum pulled up a thread from a carpet seam and the motor died. Joe and I went over to Fry's to buy another one. In the past I would talk about the interesting features of the vacuum and all it's bells and whistles. Now I just see it as the disposable appliance that it is. It's an Electrolux. I think it's kinda feminine and dainty. Joe likes it better than the Royal it replaced.

While I cleaned for four hours, Joe accomplished another great task, putting together the Melissa & Doug art rack. This item arrived with missing parts. Joe went through all the little packets of parts from the various fixtures we've put together over the past few weeks and found what he needed to put it together:

Here's another photo of the Games Workshop section. We keep refining the layout.

The blister rack still needs to be organized. To the right of the big bookcase will be a magazine rack with rulebooks and codices for all the miniature games. This will replace the Manglers that you usually see used to display GW books. Those wire racks destroy the books over time.


Totally unrelated to anything, check out this close call video from Iraq:

You're just driving along in the middle of nowhere....

Here's one for Griffin:

This one has dice:

Star Wars remix with other James Earl Jones movies:

Friday, September 21, 2007

Friday Before Opening

It's been a long day, so some photos before bed. My camera settings got messed up while in my backpack so about half my photos are blurry. Here's what I was able to salvage:

Friend Pat worked to install our lighted signs. It went amazingly smoothly.

The Yellow Peril sitting in the parking lot. This is the massive truck I rented for the move. The guys at the rental yard wanted the weekend off, so they gave it to me for three days but only charged me for Sunday. It's a scary thing to drive with a manual five-speed transmission and giant proportions.

The Thomas Wood Railway stuff finally arrived. It's being staged here on the puzzle and board game shelves. We put the rack up in the afternoon and I should have a photo of it fully populated tomorrow.

We took the Yellow Peril over to Griffin's house to pick up his second 4x8 table for the store.

Dale in a Red Bull coma

Other stuff:
  • The Hanson order arrived at the old store. We picked it up on the way to Griffin's with the Yellow Peril.
  • The TedCo order arrived. Don't ask.
  • The GW section is nearly finished being set-up, but the photo was too blurry.
  • Slatwall is up, with extra boards to spare.
  • MIA is ERTL (also by RC2, like Thomas) and a smaller order of novelty items.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Thursday Before Opening

With only a few days left, we worked on some final touches to the store, like outlet covers and banners. Some updates on past items:
  • Table Problem. The company that manufactured our bad display table will be sending someone out to drill new holes.
  • John Hanson Co. order. Was shipped, but to the old address. We'll likely be shuttling the 13 boxes to the new store tomorrow -- or using the truck were picking up tomorrow morning. This order contains a lot of puzzles and games not normally available through distribution. It fills in a lot of holes for us.
  • GW Paint Rack. It hasn't been available until now, so it's shipping for arrival next week, after we open.
  • RC2. Thomas and ERTL (same company) are MIA. My rep is trying to contact them. They likely won't show up before we open, but that's no big deal.
  • Parts. We're waiting on parts for one gondola (got the wrong parts yesterday), for our tiered display table (bad drill holes), and for our Melissa & Doug art supply rack.
  • Truck. Gets picked up tomorrow morning. They're only charging me for one day, but the guys don't want to be there during the weekend when I pick it up. I'm only paying for Sunday.
  • My Contractors. Tonight they're installing the remaining slatwall and working on electrical and telecom.
  • Their Contractors. Coming in tomorrow to finish replacing ballasts and bulbs and the leaky toilet. There's a special cleaning company coming in Saturday to spruce the place up and wax the bathroom floors. Dunno, it's something the property management company does.
  • The Old Store. What a basket case. I need to figure out how much of the walls are my responsibility. They need to be patched (definitely my responsibility), but I wonder if I should have them painted. I also need to replace a broken door (my doing).
As you can see, not everything went according to plan, but so far there haven't been any show stoppers.

Here are some photos from today:

I put up the racks and displayed the product. Mike is putting up signage.

Here's the minis section from across the store. It shows where the Warmachine, GW and Flames of War sections are located. There will be a magazine rack to the right of the bookcase with codices and other mini related books.

Here's the cooler "fully populated." Can you find Mike's Cherry Coke?

This is our sophisticated telecommunications center. I especially like the alligator clips. My IT buddies would pity me if they could see this. This is likely to be fixed this evening or tomorrow.

GF9 Scenics rack. There is only one way to properly display this stuff without it driving you nuts, and it's in this rack. If I had known this earlier, I would have used the rack in the store or left the scenics in the box.

This is a corner of the game room where we're placing terrain on racks. Most of this came from the GW store. They brought it over last week when they closed.

This is the Melissa & Doug track rack. It contains individual pieces of track for Thomas compatible railroad systems. It's a lot cheaper than RC2 but still high quality. I'm just a sucker for racks.

This is the M&D play table that we're using to display a train setup. David hot glued it to the table last Saturday. Gluing down the track is something I learned by visiting other toy stores with my son.

Toy vehicles and stacking toys

Various craft toys

Floor puzzles

Blocks and food toys. I don't quite understand why children play with fake food, but people buy them.

More puzzles.