Friday, June 27, 2008

Inflation Calculator

Just a quick observation about game prices. I was reading a review about the new D&D online tools and read a gripe that the 4.0 books are now $34.95. Lets pull out the old inflation calculator:

D&D 3.5 out in 2003
Price: 29.95

Adjusted for inflation for 2007 (the latest numbers available)
Price: $34.35.
You can probably add $.50 or so for 2008.

Notice how I carefully skipped over the 2000 release of 3.0 and their teaser price of $19.95.

You can read my analysis comparing D&D 1st edition to 3.5 here. The books are a much better value in todays dollars.

The Two Store Dream

I have this recurring bad dream. In the dream, I'm doing fine, running my store, and then I suddenly realize I have two stores! This other store is in a bad location (Pleasanton in my dream), with falling sales, thieving staff, and an owner (me) who often forgets it even exists. I jump in my car and head to this bad store, closing the good store for a time, with the back of my car full of stock that the bad store needs, depriving the good store and it's good customers. I can even envision the quiet corner in Pleasanton where this pathetic game store resides. Implied in the dream is that I'm milking my "cash cow", store number one, to keep this sad second store going. Then I wake up. Phew!

For a year or so I planned on having two stores and thoughts of how I would do it are permanently etched on my consciousness. It seemed like the thing to do once your first store was off the ground and you weren't completely broke. I talked with many people in the industry about my plan, and the consensus was that a second store was more than twice as hard as running one store. There are staff issues, stocking issues, the potential of stealing customers from yourself and the kicker for me: you end up managing your business instead of managing your store. It's probably great for a pure entrepreneur, but I enjoy operations; I'm an operations guy with an operations background. Business stuff can be fun, but it's often a necessary evil to operations.

Worse, beyond two stores it gets infinitely more difficult. Many store owners go from one store to two stores, which works out fairly well, despite the extra work, and then they go to three, four or five stores. Then it all falls apart, and it's back to four stores, then three, two, and finally back to one store. Beyond two stores, I'm told, requires an additional layer of management to make it work. You end up with a full-time buyer, human resources person, and CEO type overseer. Unfortunately, you can't afford that layer of management until you get to many more stores. It's a catch-22, which I often think retail is in general.

Instead of the two stores, as you know, I opened a much larger store and gave in to my impulse to manage a store and not those managing my stores. It means I have greater control over processes, customer service, the cleanliness of the store and the direction the store moves. I gave in to my obsessive compulsive urges and I'm happier for it. All my problems are in front of me, and not spread through different counties. I'm better able to establish my vision and ensure it's carried out. The "dream" of two stores, which I had for a while as a pleasant experience, is now a frightening dream of trying in vain to get my vision across and applying band-aids to major problems that I can't be there to fix. Some people can make the two store dream pleasant, but my guess is that it becomes a nightmare for most.

Here's an article on the basics of opening a second store.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Special Orders

The chance that a muggle customer will come in to pick up an item you've promised to order for them: about 33%.

The chance that the average gamer customer will come in to pick up an item you've promised to order for them: about 50%.

The chance that a regular customer, someone you know by name with a track record, will come in to pick up that item: about 75%.

The chance that a customer will come in and pick up a special order placed with money down: about 98%.

That the last number is not 100% tells you there is no certainty that customers will ever return to pick something up, even after they've paid for it. That's why we require payment in advance for special orders. If someone who pays for an item won't come pick it up, what's the incentive for those who don't?

For some, it slips their mind. I think a lot of the muggle customers just go to the next store to look for that item, as they have no relationship with us. I think many had no intention of returning, despite my promise to get their game and their promise to come back.

Purchasing is a zero-sum game. There is X amount of purchasing money for the whole store. It fluctuates based on sales or releases, but the total stays the same. If I buy a new Warhammer model, for example, it means I'm taking money away from something else I could have re-ordered or brought in as a new product. If I have to sit on some muggle special order Hasbro board game, that means I lost the opportunity to sell something useful and make money. In business terms, it would be called the opportunity cost.

The cost of passing up the next best choice when making a decision. For example, if an asset such as capital is used for one purpose, the opportunity cost is the value of the next best purpose the asset could have been used for.

For example, if I special order a $20 Hasborg board game and it sits on the shelf for a year, the opportunity cost in gross profit is theoretically $80. That's $20, times 4 turns, or sales (money used for a solid game I could have bought). Trust the muggle and you have a 66% chance of losing $80 in gross sales on a $20 game! It's all theoretical, but after a while, these theories become general principles in your business.

Not to meander any further, but this also reinforces the concept that the money in retail is made in the purchasing of goods, not their selling.

Officers (40K)

I took a break from army painting the last two nights and focused on single figures. My army commander and infantry platoon officer are shown here.

The army commander is the model of Captain Al'Rahem, who I refer to as Captain Drybrush because of all the ornate detail on the model. The second officer looks pretty good when the camera angle doesn't make his sunglasses look like a blindfold.

Movies I've been watching while painting:
Life on Mars (BBC Series). Interesting and well written, but running out of steam after half a dozen episodes. UK detective gets hit by car and is transported to 1973, while his body lies in a coma. His actions in 1973 seem to effect his comatose body back in reality. Or is he insane?
Doctor Who (current BBC season). Uneven, but always a fun ride. They finally have a respectable special effects budget, but could hire some better writers.
Romance & Cigarettes. Bizarre musical about infidelity by the Cohen brothers. Worth renting.
Monster. Perhaps the worst movie ever. Blair Witch almost meets Godzilla. One reviewer wrote: If 2 girls running and crying through the streets of Tokyo is something that appeals to you, you will enjoy this movie immensely.
The Wire: Season Five. Are we done yet? It's still enjoyable, but not as good as the first couple of seasons.

What About the Store?
Summer sales finally ramped up last week, with nothing in particular being a best seller. D&D 4 Player's Handbooks are a steady seller, but the DMG and Monster Manual are very slow to catch on. We're in this unusual situation where about half our sales for D&D 4 were booked in May from various pre-orders, and the other half is in June. May may actually turn out to be a better month than June, ironically.

Warhammer 40K 5th Edition continues to get good feedback. Unlike D&D with it's huge commitment of future books, buying a single book is no big deal for most 40K players. There's very little resistance, and thankfully, lots of positive feedback. We've got at least one group playing 5th edition in the game center, running back and forth to the counter to check up on rules in our preview book.

Believe it or not, a lot of my thoughts are about the Fall. All of our advertising contracts are up for renewal in October, so that's been on my mind. There will be big changes there. The seminar in Madison is in September, and my blog posts are rough notes that need to be condensed into something that can be presented. The online store project is scheduled for the Fall, but I won't know if we can afford it until the end of Summer - I'm thinking no. Then there are plans for the holidays. Yes, I do think about stocking plans for December in June. It's how my twisted brain works. I'm mostly trying to make sure that I don't stock too deep for the Summer, since the short mid-year buying season will leave me with inventory until December.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008


If you thought oil was going up in price in a dramatic fashion, consider tin. Like oil, it's another case of the developing world outstripping supply, but also like oil, there's a booming commodities market inflating the price. Suddenly wealthy developing countries, like Indonesia are intent on limiting supply to cement their strong position, similar to Saudi Arabia with oil. What does this have to do with you?

Company that use metal in their miniatures have raised their prices in the last several months, except one (I'll get to that later). Reaper miniatures raised their prices about 20% recently. Battlefront, maker of Flames of War did this too, roughly at 20%. Privateer Press has announced their line will go up precipitously in price starting in July. I was searching for the graph above and found it on the Privateer Press blog; they know what's going on. You aren't seeing these price increases in the store, as these companies products are suffering already, for other reasons. Raising prices is something we're doing only on re-stocks. It's a perverse kind of sale.

These aren't run of the mill price increases, these are "we can't stay in business like this" increases. These are severe, critical business model changes and if the commodities market stays like it is, more promises of stable prices will be broken. In other words, don't be surprised to see increases occur again at any time. Companies that rely on plastic (oil based) and tin are fighting for their lives with an incredibly unpredictable price for raw materials.

This is happening at a time when these metal based miniature games are on the decline locally. We're liquidating about a third of our Reaper miniatures and cutting back on buying new ones. When we opened, we carried the full line of Reaper. Sales at that time were respectable. People painted miniatures and used them in their role-playing games. This was almost four years ago, and I'll blame the decline on World of Warcraft, which sucked up RPG gamers like a giant Hoover. The increasing quality of WOTC plastic miniatures is also to blame, but I can't show you a shift from one to the other, as people just stopped using miniatures, period. Sales are way down on both. RPG's are coming back, I think, but the mini painters are not. People who paint their miniatures for role-playing games are a shrinking crowd, and we've "carried" Reaper through this decline for one too many years. They won't all go away, but it's another product line where the free pass has been revoked.

Flames of War has already seen its inventory reduced because of a severe decline in sales. Warmachine still maintains it's place as a top game, but "turns" of inventory are down by a third over the last year. Both of these games suffer from the opposite of my Imperial Guard problem army: Too many models. I get reports from other local stores that they've also seen a decline of all miniature games, save one.

Now lets discuss the evils of the greedy corporate giant, Games Workshop. They've changed their major problem, poor customer service, becoming a model game industry company with the best support for customers and retailers. But what about their greedy price increases? We can now see the advantages of big. GW has a 5-year price structuring program in which the line is increased in a steady, plan of annual adjustments. Face it, inflation is about 3-4% a year when things are normal. GW just tackles this professionally rather than as a "whoops, my gas bill is high and I'm sorry to do this to you" kind of way, which I've seen from Battlefront and others. Because of this, you don't see their prices increasing this year because of the high cost of oil or tin, the main ingredients of their models.

Their long term strategy seems to be able to absorb these swings. You also don't see a decline in players of these games, as they maintain their long-term strategies of revision and refinement. Battlefront can take their late war strategy and shelve it over by the Privateer Press pirate models gathering dust. I think what we're seeing is the minis revolt against GW,started two years ago, peter out. The energy behind it seemed to be about money, as in they keep screwing me out of mine. Now you need to re-evaluate your math and compare what it takes to play these games. GW doesn't seem so expensive anymore.

You can best judge a business by how it handles mistakes. Any monkey can sell you something, but how do they handle returns or screw ups? A baboon can manufacture miniatures, but what happens when parts are missing? Weathering vast economic change, such as recession or wild raw materials price surges will be another way we'll measure the health and good planning of a business. Who will be here a year from now? With the struggling economy and commodities markets, I have no idea.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Ithnayn Squad (40K)

Ithnayn being "2" in Arabic.

This week had me doing some backfill modeling work, like replacing plasma pistols on sergeants with laspistols, messing around with different swords, priming what was left and generally procrastinating. Yesterday I put in a marathon 10-hour assembly line style painting session to finish ... five guys. My hour per figure number is definitively not on track. At least I'm pleased with my work. The goal is to get as much done as possible by mid-July, not only because that's when 5th edition is released (I've got one at the store and a bittorrent copy already, like everyone else), but also because the family returns that weekend and my time will be limited.

About 40K Humans
So we have these Tallarn guys (I made up word supposedly pronounced Tal-ARN), a kind of desert folk who used to live on a lush planet before it was turned to desert by chaos space marines. Their culture, according to the four main sources of information on them (GW website, Imperial Armour 3, the IG codex and the Desert Raiders novel) is Arab. It makes no sense that they have this Arab culture, or that they look incredibly caucasian, but I suppose a lot can happen in 38,000 years. In fact, all IG troops, as far as I can tell, are caucasian, as if the melting pot of humanity came up white, rather than brown. You can go ahead and model an IG army with different color skin, but it doesn't change their caucasian features. I would also like to see some women, since the IG novels have women warriors. There are women in some specialist games lines, but I wouldn't mind just a blister of a couple gals. Anyway, millions of worlds, billions of men, all caucasian. Huh.

The Photos

Group Photo (20 men of 63, not including rough riders)

Button Men: I didn't notice until they were next to each other, but I've got two different lascannon button men (as I call them). One is probably from an autocannon team that I have off to the side.

Sergeant Hand: It wasn't until I finished painting him that I noticed his pistol hand. Yes, he's firing his pistol upside down with his pinky. This was a hand I took off a Cadian officer this week and it's a left hand instead of a right hand. It's had me envisioning how Sgt Hand can fire the gun this way, but eventually I think I'll need a hand transplant. You have to pick up the model and look at the hand to notice, but I'll always know it's there.

Left to Do: They need their muzzles painted, something I only seem to notice when I'm looking at their photos. The first squad had a drybrush of bone white when they were finished. I'm not sure if it's worth the effort to brighten their head scarves. Everyone needs to be varnished too.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Free RPG Day

The store was packed for Free RPG Day yesterday. We had four games going using all the tables, including three D&D 4 games and a Trail of Cthulhu game. The mastermind behind Free RPG Day, Aldo Ghiozzi, played in one of the games. We're his local game store. I ran one of the D&D games, my first time playing the new edition. I had planned to come and play as a player for the first time, but after a couple DM cancellations, I jumped in to run.

I ran Treasure of Talon Pass, the Wizards of the Coast adventure for the event. What did I think? It was a dungeon crawl, of course, which meant role-playing was at a minimum, but the adventure ran smoothly. I never felt as if I was learning a new system and the rules burden was generally left with the players, who had a bewildering array of special abilities. It's a lot like playing D&D 3.x with all the source books, with my usual Pythonesque question to the players with new abilities: "And what kind of thing is that?" I would mostly use my clever special abilities for the monsters and they would do likewise against my evil hordes. I never needed to look up a rule or a stat, except the treasure, which WOTC wanted DM's to roll randomly, ala AD&D style. Ta da! A reason to own the DMG.

Just an aside, the new Wizards of the Coast D&D 4 GSL is so incredibly restrictive that publishers cannot quote any rules text in their product. This means a) You'll absolutely need the core books with any third party product and b) There's a gigantic disincentive to produce third party products, especially with a clause that makes publishers relinquish their legal rights.

Combat went smoothly. Notice that I didn't say fast. These were second level characters and we were having some pretty epic combats. It sure beats the one pump chumps of 3.x. The players found these longer combats enjoyable and they were able to use their full array of options. I think some of the players petered out early though, with a lot of the same at-will attacks later in the game. Resting is now more about recharging cool abilities than regaining hit points. As D&D 4 is somewhat front-loaded with abilities, my main concern is that high level characters won't have enough options in longer combats, making it just as repetitive as a 3.x game. This was a complaint from play testers.

Despite combat being more epic for 2nd level, my group finished the adventure in 5 hours without their characters resting. Yes, finished, defeating the evil necromancer at the end and getting the magic treasure. This included seven encounters. If in the next session they finished exploring the other three encounters, they would level up. That's fast. Characters are supposed to level in 10 encounters in 4th edition, compared to the 14 in D&D 3.5. Add in faster game play, and you'll see some pretty quick progression.

Faster level progression is not a big deal, I think. It just increases the frequency of carrots provided to the players. It reminds me of martial arts. As a kid I spent two years in Japanese karate, eventually getting a yellow belt with a stripe; whoop dee do. It was a serious, traditional dojo aimed at adults who wanted to perfect their art. They taught kids mostly to keep their parents coming. Afterwards I moved to a Korean karate tradition taught specifically to kids at the local YMCA. In two years, it was not uncommon to go through a rainbow of belt colors, maybe even approaching black belt. Lots of carrots for the young-ins. You can divide up competency into an infinite amount of artificial levels. But are you having fun? Are there good enough incentives to progress?

We had drama in our game. The party split up and was not instantly slain, despite battle reports I've heard where DM's seem to suggest a more regimental combat style. The party often fought on two fronts and succeeded. There were pitched battles on catwalks with defender characters, while the rest of the party below fought minions and lesser creatures. Several times the key fighters in the party were knocked unconscious and needed rescue. At the end, the necromancer ambushed and killed the party's wizard with a couple of guard drakes, flying velociraptors. We had a great time for a dungeon crawl.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Hey Sarge (40K)

I searched through my bitz from the vehicles and found enough las pistols for the sergeants. I also used a Cadian officers blister to steal another pistol and a chain sword, again for some variety. The metal pistol was a chore, but the plastic las pistols took about half an hour to assemble on all the guys.

Breaking the Monotony (40K)

The first squad will definitely be the most fun. However, what I have to look forward to is 4 more identical squads, since the Tallarns are metal and difficult to modify. Today I did a couple of modifications below:

These are minor modifications. There is a second sergeant on the GW website, but he's no longer listed for sale. I'll be searching for him. The figure on the left has a different sword from a Reaper weapons pack. The one on the right has a gun replacement. These aren't big changes, but they're something. The Reaper packs have a variety of swords, but I think this is the only one different enough to use.

I went ahead and ordered some Forge World figures for the first time today. These will add some character to the squads:

The 3 man sniper team will be split up into three different squads for a little uniqueness. The lascannon team will also break up some of the monotony, since I've got 5 total in the army.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Wahid Squad (40K)

Wahid, being "one" in Arabic. A temporary name until I actually add some background fluff to this army. These guys are essentially done. The camera can be brutal on close ups, showing off imperfections that I can't see without much effort. They could probably use some touch ups here and there, They're based (still a bit wet, so you can see some white PVA glue) and ready to be varnished.

This first squad is about 15% of my men. There's no way I'll miss my July 12th deadline, when 5th edition 40K is released, but I would be happy if I could get a squad a week painted. When the family returns from Alaska in a few weeks, the pace will probably slow.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Selling Online (Madison V)

You can get advice on every aspect of your business from other game store owners, but there is one topic that few are willing to discuss: selling online. This is because I can give you advice on just about anything and even share my sales numbers, because you're not a threat. You don't compete with me. Even if you opened up shop across the street from me, you would still have an uphill battle to take away my customers. That's just the nature of retail. Selling online competes with everyone and the barrier to entry is so low, and the competition so high, that few stores want to see someone else get involved. Therefore, you can often hear crickets chirping when you start asking questions about online selling.

I'm going to go over two methods of selling online: you're own online store and dabbling with the "secondary" online market.

The reality of selling online is that it's a business, like any other. Creating an online store requires a plan, marketing, in-depth product knowledge, and a huge amount of time. Customer service is just as intense as with a brick & mortar store and I think requires even more organizational skill and planning. It requires a brick & mortar presence to obtain merchandise from distributors, so it's not an alternative to a "real" store, although a "real" store can often be a front for a successful online store. Doing it right is very difficult. Doing it wrong is easy and relatively cheap, and because of this, online stores come and go at a dizzying pace. My main advice for considering an online store is to create a business plan with the primary question being: What value am I adding to the experience that is not already covered by my online competitors? Build your store when you can answer that question. Building a store with an eye towards a small amount of supplemental income for your brick & mortar store is probably a waste of time. Your online store business plan shouldn't be a paragraph in your brick & mortar store plan; treat it like it's own entity, because it will be.

Selling in the secondary market. The secondary market is an industry term for places like eBay and the Amazon marketplace. These are great places to "dump" merchandise that you've been unable to sell. Used with in-store sales, the secondary market allows you to liquidate slow-turning merchandise and free up capital for additional purchases. However, you'll find you usually don't come out ahead and only occasionally break even on these transactions. You'll have a rough time making money selling this way, but at a certain point you need to cut your inventory loose and move on. As a new store, my main caution is to make sure your a product line is truly dead for you before dropping it. This could take a year or so to figure out. Also consider alternatives to the secondary market, such as in-store sales, auctions, and charitable contributions.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

D&D 4 at 10 Days

I found the sales pattern interesting for D&D 4. The early folks picked up gift sets in the first three or four days of release. About half of those pre-ordered and saved some money with us. The first 10 days also saw lots of Player's Handbook sales, as potential players and unsure game masters wanted to check it out before committing further. We're selling a steady 3-4 PHB's a day right now. After the first week, we're now slowly seeing those early PHB buyers return for the Monster Manual and Dungeon Master's Guide.

Sales are sluggish of these supplement books. We'll likely see a much slower sell through of these than in previous editions. I call them supplements because the PHB is really D&D 4 self contained, a great bargain, a weight saver, but I think it will relegate the other two core books from core to supplements. You don't need a DMG to play the game; it has no significant rules content for a game session. You only need a monster manual if you want to build your own adventures or use third party adventures (not available yet). I think WOTC broke their own marketing model here, but it benefits the players, so all is good.

Reviews so far have been very positive. Early PDF downloads created a lot of excitement. Buzz from web forums and podcasts have been strong. The 2d6 feet podcast had a long D&D 4 analysis which I recommend listening to. It's one of the only podcasts I attempt to listen to regularly, although I'm usually a few months behind. World D&D Day at both our store and Endgame was packed, as people came to try out the new 4th edition. Packed means 5-6 tables of games going throughout the day. All gaming buzz is local, and I know there are rust-belt stores that have seen a lot of player resistance, mostly for economic reasons. One interesting dissenter in all this is Chris Pramas of Green Ronin games. His blog has been fairly negative about 4E from day one, but he has lots of good analysis of why. I don't usually agree, but that's mostly why I read it.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Five Oh Pump

I listened to this fantastic podcast about 5th edition 40K last night. It was on The D6 Generation and featured the head of Dakka Dakka as a guest. It was an hour and a half going over all the changes in 5E, including play testing. Having not played previous editions, I was happy to hear how it added familiar concepts from Warhammer Fantasy. The podcast is highly recommended if you have an hour and a half to spare.

Bottom line: new players should find it more approachable, while grognards might not appreciate it. Many of the rules, taken invidividually, sound broken, but as a whole it works to create a more cinematic game. Listen to the podcast.

Three Five Dump

Wizards of the Coast has made it clear that they're moving away from D&D 3.5 as quickly as possible. They'll be eliminating 3.5 completely by the Fall, and asking us to stock up now on what we want. I was expecting a slow, gradual disappearance of 3.5, but now I expect most of it to be gone by the end of the year. I'm not unhappy enough to stock up on it, but I would have continued supporting it like any other game.

D&D ver 3.5 only available through the summer -
We only expect to have the previous edition of D&D available through the summer, so now's you time to stock up on the multiclassing fest that is D&D 3.5 Come the fall, we don't expect to have any more of the D&D 3.5 books available, so don't miss out on your last opportunity to round out your customers D&D 3.5 collections! With most D&D 3.5 books still in stock, you should encourage your customers to finish out their collections now instead of waiting until they have to pay a premium to get those same books.

Oh, and if I wanted to bang my head against the wall, I would discuss the much delayed, now mega document known as the GSL. It was up around 75 pages last time I heard, and still being reviewed.


I got back from my mini vacation in Monterey yesterday. I value travel and even from a business perspective, I think vacations are important. They clear your head and get you out of mental ruts. Some people are proud that they don't take vacations or didn't take vacations during the first years of their business. I wonder how they survived. It sounds so dreary and lacking in creativity. Coming back from vacation gives you new eyes to see with and clears the head.

As a kid, we did car trips. These were usually excruciating road trips cramped into a station wagon or van along fairly dull interstates. Destinations were usually touristy spots along the way, and the trips were always measured in thousands of miles, rarely hundreds. It was an eye opener as a child, but as an adult my road trips are more deliberate, off the beaten path. Nowadays a road trip along a major interstate anywhere in the country looks much like my commute to work. It takes work to find character on the road.

International travel was never something valued by my family. Part of it was having four kids to contend with, but my parents didn't have passports of their own and found foreign countries to be more a vector for disease, discomfort and violent death than a place of education and wonder. As an adult, my first choices for travel were the most exotic, potentially infectious, uncomfortable and dangerous destinations possible. Better yet, don't plan it. Just go.

India called me first, along with Nepal and Thailand. With a friend we went without a plan, often spending $8/night on migrant worker hotels with interesting character. Like the Bangkok hotel where the toilet bowl water would slosh into the shower. Travel meant an arduous journey, bad food, rough lodging and illness. It was fantastic! Along the way we would have experiences, not purchased experiences, which my Generation X book preached "didn't count," but the kind of travel experiences you can only have on a budget, with bad planning. We saw dead bodies checked as luggage for the train to Veranasi in India, and later watched them burn, several feet away from the hot pyre. We saw a peasant uprising in Honduras, which was far more interesting than the ruins that they were preventing us from seeing. All along the way, I would catch every bug in existence, spending maybe a quarter of my travel time in bed, but happy, knowing I was experiencing the world.

As I've gotten older, I've discovered Europe and other places that don't require a pound of flesh to visit. Europe captured me not because of old churches and museums, but the fact that I could go on vacation and not get sick! European vacations were the opposite of my early travel, and usually revolved around a shiny new car. They were planned carefully with mapping software and GPS systems to get us to the hotel with the best parking facilities. These were regimented, military operations that had no resemblance to my "third world" travel, a term that I learned is deeply American Cold War, that nobody else uses. I've relaxed a bit on the scheduling and my buying of European automobiles is on hold for the foreseeable future, but European travel is luxury compared to my early travel years.

Nowadays I want travel to be a break and I don't want to work for it too much. I've got enough frequent flyer miles to take the family anywhere in the world, but I don't. It's too inconvenient, with airport security and delays being a barrier to travel that I'm no longer willing to put up with. Worse, the dollar makes travel to all but the poorest countries extremely expensive, and I'm no longer willing to sacrifice my body for more rustic locales. Vacation for me now should at least be a slight step up in comfort from how I live.

When I was sleeping on a futon and living a near monastic student life, India and Guatemala weren't much of discomfort and occasionally I found myself living better than at home. Nowadays, as an adult with a nice bed and good food, I have higher standards. Even luxury hotels are likely to fall short in some fashion, be it the pillow that wrenches my neck or even poor air circulation. I want a distraction and a break, but I don't want to work for it. Maybe I'm becoming like my parents?

Time is also important. A hotel stay and a walk on the beach are infinitely more valuable if I don't have to spend a day each way getting to them. My international travel days are mostly behind me now. There are plenty of US destinations that won't waste my time in airports or suck my wallet dry with ridiculous exchange rates. There are still international destinations that interest me. I would love to spend a week in the Czech Republic or explore Mayan ruins in Honduras(without a peasant revolt), but how many small towns and broken temples can you see in your life before you've had enough? How much illness and inconvenience will you deal with? Of course, when my son is old enough to explore the world, all those problems will be forgotten and I'll dust off my passport.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Building the Great Wall (40K)

Saying you "only have men to paint" with an Imperial Guard army is kind of like being the first Emperor of China saying "now I only have to build the wall."

The first model took two and a half hours with the second taking an hour and a half. If I can get it down to an hour a model, I think I'll be happy, that's only 60 hours or so.

THE METHOD: Primed white, which I now think was a mistake. It was either try to paint white onto black, or try to paint terracotta onto white. Both are difficult with standard Citadel paints. The uniforms are terracotta. The browns of the rifle, boots and pouches are graveyard earth. Tanned flesh was used for skin. Chainmail was used for anything metal, with a contrasting color of codex grey. The final wash is devlan mud from the new wash set. A last step which I probably won't do, is to go back and highlight the various colors.

This weekend I'm painting from a fancy hotel in Monterey, using some of my moon-shot worth of frequent flyer miles. It's The International Clement. The last trip was never billed, so I'm ahead of the game. I could tell you stories about this hotel, but let's just say that they've been open one month and they've got some bugs to work out.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Basilisks Done (40K)

I just finished painting the last basilisk. I'm sure it has a few minor details I've missed. Except for my special extra Armageddon basilisk, I'm done painting vehicles. This one felt a bit rushed, but really, it was just running through the techniques I've been using for weeks now just a bit faster. I mostly wanted to finish this last vehicle so I could leave for the weekend with only men to paint.

Summer 80/20 Rule

Summer is an interesting time, especially compared to Christmas. During Christmas, customers come arrive in smaller numbers and buy large "tickets" worth of stuff. The store is actually less full than normal, but customers need more attention, because they don't know what they're doing. These aren't my customers, they're friends and relatives of my customers for the most part. Considering the hand-holding and hand-selling required during the holidays, I would characterize it as 20% more effort for 80% more sales. It's the 80/20 rule, which I wrote about before. That's phenomenally good, but unfortunately it only lasts about a month.

Summer has it's own 80/20 rule, only in reverse. Summer is our primary sales season. Kids are out of school, adults are on vacation and people generally have more free time. I don't understand how, because I always worked through Summer like any other season, but adults seem to shift gears during this time. Kids, however, make up the majority of the sales boost, but they're incredibly labor intensive.

Children ask lots of questions, which is actually a good thing. I wish adults would ask questions when they don't understand something. Children also mess up shelves, haggle endlessly with their parents in a way that makes me want to gouge my ears, and eventually make small purchases with handfuls of change acquired from their sock. There are lots of children and occasionally you can even catch a fad that boosts sales even further. One Summer Star Wars miniatures was being played at the local Summer school and there was a kid coming in every 30 minutes to buy a booster. Amazing sales but pretty labor intensive. So Summer's 80/20 rule is that it takes 80% more effort to make 20% more sales.

The conundrum is that the labor justifies an additional employee, but the resulting sales do not, so we make due.

I like this graphic. I believe it refers to the Pareto principle applied to sales,
in which 20% of sales people make 80% of the sales. Can you live without the other 80%?
If you drop the other 80%, will the good 20% re-distribute back to the 80/20 rule?

Gary of Krieg (40K)

I've had pretty bad respiratory problems from allergies, colds and more recently, primer, for the last two months. I've been resistant to this stuff most of my life, but this trifecta has taken its toll on me lately. I tried a simple mask to avoid some of the fumes, which worked the first time but not the second. Yesterday I bought a respirator from the hardware store for around $30. It's designed specifically for painting and is completely sealed on my face.

I primed the majority of Tallarn warriors today. I still have another box to assemble along with the lascannon teams and the rough riders. I'm spending the weekend in Monterey and I hope to get some painting done. I'm working on the last vehicle tonight, the third basilisk.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

First D&D 4 Character

I made my first D&D 4 character for Michael's game yesterday. I probably won't get a chance to play him, but the process was interesting. I figured out what the party needed, and got started. A wizard was the only criteria I had. The group was playing hippy style and collaborating to build their world. So far they had a village with some surrounding mountains and a river.

I "tagged" that the river was navigable by halflings, Spirit of the Century style, and Muddy Bottoms, the halfling wizard, was born. So I'm looking at the halfling, with it's charisma bonus and dexterity bonus and I'm wondering what that has to do with a wizard. It became obvious as I started computing how the stats effect abilities. His Int of 18 trumped his 15 Dex for an armor class bonus, but then I noticed the "war wizard" specialization uses Dex for a number of offensive spells. A halfling wizard, therefore, is suited as war wizard, as opposed to controlling wizard. Charisma became my "dump" stat, although if I had wanted a high Will, that would have been my ticket. Dumping Cha got me that high Int. Michael assigned me a 27 non-standard point buy for building my character, much more complex than the book method, but fine with me.

Working out skills was a pleasant surprise. No more skill points! Pick the skills you're proficient with and you get a +5. I was using an excellent fillable PDF character sheet that even did some of the work for me. If you like to make your character on the computer, get this. Anyway, for Muddy Bottoms, skills were obvious choices, since Int was his only positive bonuses for Wizard skills. I also noticed how high some of the roguey skills were getting, thanks to his Dex and Halfling bonuses, and made a mental note to take a multiclass rogue feat later on. Meanwhile, I bought him thieves tools, since you can use most rogue abilities without being a rogue now. The party has a rogue, but an extra set of nimble fingers couldn't hurt.

Spells got a little complicated with various cantrips, rituals and powers, but once I figured out where everything was laid out in the book (rituals are in the back), it was a breeze. The same could be said for weapons and armor. It's just like 3.x with these items in the equipment section.

Overall the character took about half the time it would normally have taken. A wizard is probably the most complex character to make, but this was pretty easy. I read the Player's Handbook before making the character, so it took me much less time than the rest of the group, some of whom were cracking their PHB's for the first time. Choosing the wizard's role was a big time saver. Once the role was chosen, options were somewhat limited. I mostly went with the book's suggestions, except for choosing the almighty sleep spell, still a no-brainer in 4th edition.

The best part about a 4th edition character? I'm pretty sure that I made it correctly. Gather up a bunch of character sheets from a 3.x gaming group after they've just made their characters, and it won't be an issue of whether they made mistakes, it's about how many mistakes they made. If you don't believe me, download any pre-generated 3.x character from the Wizards of the Coast site and you'll find from 3-7 errors per character. Worse, hand those error ridden characters to two different DM's, and they'll find a different number of errors! I'm a big fan of the simplicity of 4th edition.

Oh yeah: The Improved Initiative feat was a house rule bonus feat, if you're checking out the character sheet.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Top Sellers for June

I haven't obsessed over statistics in a while, which means sales have been improving.....

Top Items for the Last 30 Days
  1. 4.0 D&D Core Rulebook Gift Set
  2. MTG - Shadowmoor Booster Pack
  3. 4.0 Player's Handbook
  4. D&D H1 Keep On The Shadowfell
  5. D&D Minis - Dungeons of Dread
  6. MTG - Shadowmoor theme deck
  7. MTG - Shadowmoor - tournament
  8. MTG - Shadowmoor - fat pack
  9. 40KRPG: Inquisitor's Handbook
  10. YGO: Light of Destruction
Not a lot of surprises here with new D&D and new Magic taking most of the top spots. Keep on the Shadowfell was a surprise hit. It was our best selling RPG product in years ... but that was before the release of the 4.0 gift set. Number of people who bought a gift set or player's handbook from us in the last 5 days: 86. I would like to say sales of D&D have surprised me, but they're exactly what I expected.

Top Games for the Last 30 Days
  1. Dungeons & Dragons
  2. Magic
  3. Warhammer 40K
  4. Warhammer Fantasy
  5. Warmachine
  6. Fantasy Flight Games
  7. Dark Heresy
  8. Mayfair Games
  9. Bleach
  10. Yu-Gi-Oh
It's nice to see that Fantasy Flight Games doesn't suffer from the Euro decline that we've seen lately. FFG is more American style (some say Ameritrash), appealing to the mainstream gamer crowd, a more consistent customer type. Bleach is the flavor-of-the-month for the alpha card gamers. Yu-Gi-Oh is about to slip off the charts into oblivion since we fired those customers.

Top Departments
  1. Role Playing (+1)
  2. Tactical Miniature Games (-1)
  3. Trading Card Games (same)
  4. Used Games (+3)
  5. Board Games (same)
  6. Collectible Miniatures (-2)
  7. Paint (+3)
  8. Card Games (-2)
  9. TCG Supplies (+6)
  10. Dice (-1)
  11. Classic Games (same)
The number next to them are their positions from a year ago. I see the increased decline of collectible miniature games, a Bay Area phenomena. Paint and TCG supplies are both accessories associated with in-store gaming, something we do much better now. Note that these are movements in sales position, not in sales dollars. Sales dollars are dramatically higher in this location.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Store Identity (Madison IV)

Part of that Madison technology discussion...

A new store needs an identity. What's it about? What will you sell? Who do you want to attract as customers? You want something general, but something with personality. You don't want to specify a narrow product range unless you're certain that's all you want to sell, and all the money you want to make. Gary's Miniature Haven sounds like the perfect place to buy your miniatures, and nothing else. You may want to sell nothing but miniatures, but customer demand will determine where you eventually focus. The Dunge0n of D00m sounds like it might be a fun, but my mother wouldn't walk in the door. You want to avoid appearing to be a niche game store and you want to avoid alienating potential customers. You also may wish to avoid making it personal. For example, I don't want myself included in my store identity.

This I wouldn't include, but I don't mind posting it here:
I don't want Gary's Games, the corner store where you'll find the shopkeep Gary wiping down the counters and talking shop. I want Black Diamond Games, a potential enterprise, where you'll find excellent, well trained sales people who consistently help with your every gaming need. That person might be me. That store might be part of a chain of game stores or just one store, but I want it to feel professional. You may wince at the idea of a franchise for your store, but a well run franchise does more things right than it does wrong and is more of a model to emulate than despise. I wince whenever someone is speaking on their cell phone and says, "Yeah, I'm at Gary's." I want them to feel comfortable with my store identity.

Logo and Identity. Once you have a comfortable identity, you need a way to visually express this. Graphic designers are the people you want to go to. You could spend hundreds or thousands of dollars for logo design, but there are online resources that I would recommend instead. Sites like will host a logo design contest for a small fee. You tell a private forum full of graphic designers from around the world your business identity concept and they will attempt to come up with logos that meet your approval. You pay the winner a small prize, perhaps a few hundred dollars. You get to see them try different things and you get to hone your identity by presenting it to a group of people. You'll want to use this logo on everything you can get your hands on, from your sign outside, to shopping bags, business cards, store receipts, staff shirts, yellow pages ad and in store signage.

Email and Website. There's no reason nowadays to have an AOL or hotmail address if you own your own business. Before the store I ran my own web and mail server at home, but I'm not in IT anymore, so that makes no sense, even for me. "Hosting" of these services is very inexpensive. For example, I use Yahoo to host For $12.95/month, I have email for up to 10 employees and a website, all under the domain Yahoo appears nowhere in my identity and the service is far superior to what I could provide myself and about the same price as electricity for a server.

Your Website. Websites should include basic information such as a short explanation of what you are, your mission statement, directions to your store and contact information. Later you can add more dynamic content, like a schedule of events, photos and information about past events, and new releases. Who will design your website? Sponsor another contest or contact the designer who won your logo contest. It's often fairly inexpensive to have them create a template with your store identity. Your ability to manage and update your website will determine how dynamic you'll want the content.

Community Building. Websites are fine, but they're static billboards of content. Consider a more dynamic approach to your content where you can interact with your customers. A web forum is another service you can have hosted inexpensively. Forums are great for posting events, talking about dynamic content like new releases, and interacting with your customers. If you've got open gaming, it's perfect as an opponent finder or scheduler. With a forum, you have to be open to feedback from your customer base. New stores need to remember customers will try to pull your store in every direction, attempting to make it fulfill their vision. You'll have to be firm with your vision to pull off a forum in the beginning.

Blog. A more one-sided dialog that still invites comment is a store blog. Customers will be fascinated to hear about your store as it comes together and it can dispel many myths about game stores and running a business. If you're not comfortable posting a lot of dynamic content to your website, you can always use your blog for this purpose. Blog sites are free and can be semi-customized with your store logo and identity. Depending on what you discuss, you might want your blog only loosely associated with your business, especially if you talk about things other than the store. If you believe your personal identity should be separate from the business, a blog actually works against this.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Paint Rack

We got our new Games Workshop paint rack in today. It's a nice, tall rack that includes a place for the brushes, tools, painting guides and all the paints, including the Foundation paints, new wash sets and primer. I must not have been paying attention, however, as there were quite a few colors that got dropped from the range starting with this new rack (hints of this were in a recent White Dwarf I've come to learn). My favorite new color, terracotta, was discontinued, along with such well known favorites as tentacle pink and bronzed flesh. The inks are gone as are empty mixing bottles. These will all be put in our old Foundation Colors cardboard rack, since there are exactly 18 discontinued items, the same number as the foundation paints.

What kind of irked me about the rack setup was how they printed their description tabs. Colors that they consider best sellers now have multiple slots, if you use their tabs. Sometimes a color has up to three slots in the rack, such as skull white and chaos black. I can just imagine some bean counter at GW looking over their overall sales figures and saying, if skull white sells three times as many pots as any other colors, why not have three times as many slots in the rack? The answer is frequency. I may indeed sell the quantities they think I do, but I can't imagine a time when I would need 30+ bottles of a single color on-hand. Better would be tabs for those 18 lost colors. Meanwhile, you can find clones of some of those missing colors in the Vallejo Game Color line, although most GW painters are loathe to cross-over.

The best thing about the rack is it consolidates all their products into one place. Hopefully Foundation Colors will get more respect and visibility when they're better integrated with the line. Tools as well, have been apart for some time, at least in our set up.

Dropped Colors:

  • Bad Moon Yellow
  • Brazen Brass
  • Bronzed Flesh
  • Fiery Orange
  • Midnight Blue
  • Tenticle Pink
  • Terracotta
  • All Inks
  • Mixing Pots

Sunday, June 8, 2008

End of My D&D Campaign

We played the finale of my D&D 3.5 campaign tonight. The party bluffed their way into the final ritual chamber by convincing the vrock demon that they had a powerful being soul trapped in a gem that they were presenting for sacrifice. In fact, they did have such a being trapped, a celestial that they found but did not release from earlier in the campaign.

When Wuntad, the evil half-demon leader spotted them, all hell broke loose. They had fought before, with the party killing his party, with Wuntad narrowly escaping. The party managed to eventually destroy all the containment chambers and kill all the priests, effectively ending the ritual.

In this photo, the vrock demon makes his last stand to preserve the ritual. Once the ritual was disrupted, he teleported away, his commitment to Wuntad fulfilled. This changed the encounter from utterly hopeless to just incredibly difficult.

On the left we have Wuntad, who has come down to the ritual level to deal with the party. In his right hand he holds the faerie cleric, who he has grappled and is slowly killing with his evil power. In his left hand he holds a chaos cube, a container of pure chaos energy. He is threatening to crush the children with it. The party is attempting to block his throw, NBA style. They eventually "stuff" his first shot, sending the cube down to the lower level. Eventually the trick is repeated with a Gust of Wind spell and now two chaos cubes sit in the far corner.

In a final act of desperation, the party's resources close to exhaustion, the wizard, hiding behind the evil black throne at the far end of the chamber, brings lightning down on the cubes, destroying one and creating a cascade explosion that destroys the second cube. In D&D term each cube does 20d6 points of damage in a 100' radius. In the first cube's destruction, everyone in the chamber is killed except the wizard, the sorcerer on the high level, and Wuntad, who is badly injured. The second, cascading explosion kills Wuntad.

Once Wuntad dies, the giant black throne that the wizard was hiding behind collapsed on top of him in a lake of acidic goo. He dies as the sorcerer runs over to save him. The sorcerer was the sole survivor. He releases the captured warlord, the final sacrificial victim, which prevents her troops from sacking the city in search of their missing leader. The world was saved and war averted.

40K: The fluff or the crunch?


I acknowledge that I'm somewhat of a power gamer. I gain enjoyment out of building characters and army lists, maximizing combinations and creating "what-if" scenarios. I was in a debate recently with someone at the store about this. My issue: A game shouldn't provide bad rules choices, known as "crunch," for the sake of flavor, or "fluff". If the designers intend for a player to take a flavor option, it should be given an appropriate value to encourage this. Fluff choices shouldn't be traps that result in uncompetitive armies.

Dungeons & Dragons has done this for years, but Wizards of the Coast has moved away from it. They've declared war on flavor vs. effectiveness in 4th edition, where they've balanced character classes for combat, rather than balance for overall effectiveness. Since the game is primarily about killing monsters and taking their stuff, it's not fair to balance a class based on social skills or similar non-core abilities.

The army I've chosen for 40K, Imperial Guard, has a lot of flavor "traps" as I see them. Most doctrines are crap (doctrines are rumored to be dropped in the next codex), and much equipment and character options are just not worth the points. So if I want to play an iconic Tallarn army, for example, I need to choose one bad doctrine, a poor HQ choice, an overpriced special weapon and a mediocre heavy weapon. If I were more into the fluff than crunch of this army, I would gladly do this. But why make good fluff choices bad crunch choices?

The argument I was given was that it was alright to have bad crunch for the sake of fluff and the game was more about modeling than winning. Granted, I can see that, but why can't we have both?

Basilisk II (40K)

This is my second of three basilisks, four if you count the Armageddon class experimental basilisk I have someone else working on. That one has an enclosed crew compartment.

I haven't varnished this one yet, so you can see some shiny spots, like around the transfers. Gloss varnish solves the silvering effect. You can see my first Tallarn here, the tank commander. This is the gunner from a heavy gun blister, the idea coming from a White Dwarf issue. This guy took a lot of work. As my first human model, I was trying to get the look right. I was going by a guide online, but I changed the recipe by using the new Citadel washes.

I started with Ogryn Flesh wash, which was too light and moved to Devlan Mud, a kind of dark brown. What I liked about the washes was that I could experiment out of the bottle. There were several looks that I liked and they were effortless to obtain. Eventually I went with a kind of intermediate filth look. Things like his shoulder pads took about four different colors before I settled on black. I think I'm going to go with a dark gray on future models.

The black wash has become my all purpose weathering wash. It's great for things that look too clean, muting colors, or making things look intentionally worn or dirty. It did a great job on the floor behind the big gun, which is now more black than gray, which bugged me about the first basilisk.

I knocked over the entire bottle of black wash, which had me questioning the bottle design. I don't like how the cap connects to the bottle; it's too fiddly. A minute later, I squirted out a Vallejo color and found that the tip had come off when I opened the bottle. Same effect, with paint all over my work space.

So far my only Forge World component is the box of grenades you see here. Kinda cool, although I don't use grenades with this army.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

D&D 4 Sales and Supply

Sales were very strong for the D&D 4 release. It wasn't our best sales day ever, but it was up there. In addition to the 40 box set pre-orders, we had a steady stream of customers, who didn't pre-order, buying sets and Player's Handbooks throughout the day. Some of these people we haven't seen before. A couple mentioned they were buying from us because Amazon couldn't ship until July. Many people were interested but cautious, content to buy a Player's Handbook but waiting to see if they wanted the other books. It was a pretty clear division, and we sold zero individual Dungeon Master's Guides and Monster Manual's. A nice surprise were the sales of the new 4E adventure, Keep on the Shadowfell, which we went deep on and still have many on the shelf. Other stores reported strong sales of dice, mats and accessories, but sales weren't appreciably larger than normal.

What has been surprising is the supply problem. Wizards of the Coast ran out of gift sets as they under-predicted demand. Baker & Taylor never did get me the other half of my order, promising the books sometime in June, so they never sent us Player's Handbooks or Monster Manuals. This is a company that shipped early and shorted my order, despite ordering 5 months in advance. I'm told WOTC had some words with them about their shipping times after I reported my early arrivals. Then again, a Forbes article reported that shipped about 100 copies rather than the 8 WOTC told me, so who knows what to believe.

My main Wizards of the Coast supplier ran out of books before the release date. My last minute dozen copies of PHB's, to make up for Baker & Taylor, was shorted to 9, the last of their supply, with no Wizards re-supply to them for at least a week. I think we'll be fine, but this is not how an evergreen product should be treated. I think this says something about these companies larger, overall view of the economy. Wizards under-printed. Distributors under-ordered. Pre-orders from retailers didn't guarantee supply. On the other hand, mainstream game distributors like ACD and Alliance were well prepared with plenty of books available.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Tower of Power

Our D&D 4 display sits in front of the cash wrap area, waiting to be unwrapped tomorrow. The pre-orders are in one of the display cases: 38 gift sets and 3 Player's Handbooks. The freight company delivered everything right to the floor of the store, so the delivery went as smoothly as possible. I had to order more books, however, since the Baker & Taylor order didn't ship any Player's Handbooks or Monster Manuals. They said they were back-ordered until sometime in June. I canceled the order, but man, with 5 months advance notice, you think they could have pulled it off.

This release should give you an example of what it's like in a small retail store. You take a big chance on a giant release. That release is sold by a variety of very large competitors, both online and brick & mortar, who may or may not sell them early or at a gigantic discount. As far as I can see, any attempt at a huge profit on anything is tempered by these competitors. It's like a release valve when the pressure gets too high. That's great if you're a consumer, but it's a tough way to run a business; many down sides, no longer many upsides. It works well when you get lucky, but any of the players along the way can screw over the small store without recourse.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Watching Customers

Sometimes I feel self-conscious about watching customers, especially when they're not regulars. Some people get a little paranoid about being watched. Some people are not accustomed to friendly staff. Some want to be left alone like in the big box stores, where many people shop almost exclusively. Some want to avoid high pressure sales tactics. Anyway, I thought I might shed some insight into why we take an interest in our customers, why we observe them and try to help.

Shrinkage. The most obvious reason to watch customers is to make sure the small percentage of thieves don't walk away with the stuff. Rule number one for employees is protect my stuff. Rule number two is sell my stuff, followed by number three, which is keep my stuff clean. Those are the highlights of retail right there.

Customer Curiosity. Store managers are desperately curious to divine what customers are thinking. We watch as customers walk the aisles. What direction do they turn? Do they pause? Heck, are they in any danger? Once a customer knocked a precarious plastic model off the shelf down onto their small child, who began crying. What a jerk I was! Looking back, I saw that problem coming as that shelf wobbled each time a customer handled the model.

Product Curiosity. We're also wondering about product interest. I know some products are picked up and examined because of their superior packaging. Other products might be good but get passed over. They might need some explanation. Puerto Rico is the highest ranked board game, and has been for years, yet the photo on the box is of a German version of the game. Some explanation on our part could help. Sometimes we'll discover that an item is damaged or shelf worn, and would normally sell if it was in better condition. It might take months to realize this.

Sometimes we'll notice synergies that aren't being exploited, like the fact that RPG books are in one part of the store, while RPG miniatures are at the opposite end. Why not put them together? We're not a grocery store where customers will walk to the back to pick up their milk. Small children will not cry at night if they don't get their Reaper miniature of a snakeman.

Watching customers peruse product also allows us to make suggestions, part of rule number two, sell my stuff. Suggestions or conversation are two way streets, and we gain lots of information from knowledgeable customers. The goal is to be helpful, so you can sell them stuff, but it's also a social outlet, if time permits. Not that it's the goal, but the longer a customer spends in the store, the more they buy. That's mostly a justification for some social time, rather than a cynical reason to engage customers.

The Dark Side. It's hard not to profile people. As you gain experience, you know your target audience. You also know who steals from you. Eventually you start seeing patterns emerge and we are talking about money here, your personal money as store owner. It's the money you use to feed your family. If red headed teenage girls keep stealing your Bella Sera cards, aren't you going to pay a bit more attention to the card section when these gals are around? It's unfortunate if you're a red headed girl, as even the most liberal of sales person will be treating you with a bit too much attention, but that's life and my family needs to eat. The key is to try to be fair about it. Some red headed teenage girls make excellent customers.

Controlled Chaos

Today our main Dungeons & Dragons 4 shipment is scheduled to arrive. It's kind of a crap shoot. It's arriving via freight (meaning on an 18-wheeler), which is the exact opposite of efficiency, especially compared to FedEx, the usual Wizards of the Coast shipping method. It's not uncommon for truck drivers to get lost and attempt to call us. There's also a chance they'll arrive without a lift gate. This is the thing on the back of the truck that allows them to unload freight without a loading dock or forklift. Arriving without one happens about a quarter of the time. It's also up to the truck driver whether or not he'll be helpful unloading. Some roll up the back door and tell you to get to work. Some will unload it and bring it inside (rarer). Still considered helpful is handing down stuff off the pallet. This is all supposed to happen while I'm running the store by myself.

We're getting a wooden pallet of D&D 4, the largest order we've had that didn't involve a major store expansion. Without a lift gate, it means we have to unpack the pallet in the truck and hand it down to someone on the ground. It's something we need extra people for, so we've got staff and volunteers standing by. In exchange for this potential hassle, we get the books on Wednesday instead of Thursday, which means if all else fails, I can get them from a second source if the freight delivery goes all wonky. Remember, they forgot to ship us Keep on the Shadowfell. As smart a plan as that may sound, it turns out I'll have problems if I need that second source (really third), as I'll explain.

If you were thinking people are still on the fence about D&D 4, you would be wrong. They're sold out already at WOTC, and they've gone back to press. The print run was 50% higher than D&D 3,5, but we all know what a fiasco that was. The gift set is #4 at Amazon, while the Player's Handbook is curiously at #130. With that kind of ratio, I'm thinking the intense gift set pre-order is only the calm before the storm. What happens when those DM's or alpha gamers start their games? Unfortunately, the intense demand also means the distributors are down to a very small supply.

My main distributor has fewer gift sets available than I have pre-ordered. So much for plan C. Plan B was our book distributor order and they shorted us, despite having ordered months in advance. Talk about not giving us any love. Just an FYI, that the gift sets are in limited supply. The three core books are plentiful. The difference is the fancy cardboard sleeve.

The dual concerns of early release and piracy have been overblown, in my opinion. Other than the early release of what I now believe to be more than 8 copies, there has been little widespread breaking of the street date. There is the occasional mistake, but nothing serious. Today will be somewhat telling on street date breaking. The big stores got their Tuesday orders in yesterday, and it would be a common error to release the books early by mistake. We'll be listening closely for that and sending people around if we hear rumors. However, it will take a store receipt and a discussion with WOTC for us to break the date.

There's a lot of retailer concern about piracy, with the books easily downloadable via torrent, but I think in this specific case, it has actually knocked people off their fence. Early reviews from these pirate copies are everywhere and additional pre-orders have rolled in based on review impressions and electronic acquisition. These are books that really should be made into electronic format, but they're also books that are important to have as paper copies.