Sunday, August 3, 2008

The Circle is Now Complete

So says Darth Vader when he meets up again with Obi Wan. Our Warhammer 40K selection is now complete, with every item in the line. We started by saying we would never carry Games Workshop products. "“Hokey religions and ancient weapons are no substitute for a good blaster at your side," said Han Solo to Obi Wan and Luke. We wanted to do a game store right, and what most customers didn't know was that GW had a reputation as a ruthless predator of a game company. If it was possible to do a store without turning to the dark side, I wanted to do it.

That was nearly four years ago. They turned away from the Dark Side a couple Summers back. Why, had to do with sliding sales, and of course we all worry that they'll go back to the Dark Side when sales improve. For now, they're the best company in the game industry and their recent annual report credits courting independent game stores for stopping their sales slide in the US. Who thought it could happen?

GW changed their trade policies and we took advantage of their newfound largess. Two years after swearing them off as Sith lords, hearing horror stories of how they slew noble jedi store owners, we became a Games Workshop partner store, one of five spread throughout the Bay Area and the only one in the county. This has been the natural result of a 900% increase in 40K sales since we moved, a statistic attributed to the closing of the GW store in Concord at around the same time, along with our simultaneously increasing 40K inventory to at least a minimal level, providing play space and our excellent 40K league run by Justin. If you're looking for a regular time to play, our every other Saturday 40K league might be the answer (other than the two open play nights every week). If you're looking to get into the game, this league is great for beginners and receives 100% of our very generous GW prize support. I've been to the league day twice and hope to continue playing when my schedule permits.

We're still figuring out how to stock 40K, and we're sometimes out of key products as we figure out depth of stock, now that we have breadth. I kick myself when I'm out of a battleforce box, which the kids refer to as "starter boxes," a telltale sign that they've been trained recently at a GW store. That's their next stop on their shopping trip when we're out of stock. Continued growth means I'm making constant inventory adjustments to prevent problems like this. Where stocking one of an item, say a box of Chaos Space Marines, would have been fine before the new store, we've gradually increased our stock on hand to two, then three, now four. Talking to past GW managers (they're all over the place it seems), some GW stores keep as many as 12 of key items in stock, but we're not quite there yet. Our goal is to be the one-stop shop for 40K in the area, along with having a solid organized play program for the game.

This is a difficult balancing act, of course. New 40K products are released almost weekly and few are discontinued. Combine that with our rapid expansion, and we've seen a massive shifting of inventory dollars to the game. Remember, inventory is a zero-sum game, so any increase in one area means a decrease in another. For the most part we've downsized our toy section, mostly because toy companies made us order high quantities of each item when we started. Just reducing that number creates ready cash while not affecting our toy selection.

Anyway, the issue of 40K inventory creep is a big issue, but it's on the back burner while sales are so intense. I have been warned and common sense dictates that growth won't last forever, thus the hesitancy to not go crazy on the ordering. The circumstances around 40K's ascendancy can be given credit for keeping the store going since the move. Without 40K, I think we wouldn't have made it this far. The creep issue may yet be a problem. As Princess Leia complains to Han Solo: “This is some rescue. You came in here and you didn’t have a plan for getting out?”

1 comment:

  1. As much as I was one of those voices warning you about GW at one time, I think you'll find your creep stabilizes soon, at least in terms of SKUs.

    You mention that they don't discontinue a lot, but they do move a lot of stuff out of their "active" list that they actually stock in a GW store. If they aren't stocking it in a GW store, then you probably shouldn't stock it either (except where you know you have customers).

    They seem hyper-aware of shelf space as a result of running their own stores in small locations, you just need to make sure that you leverage that knowledge in deciding what to stock.