Tuesday, September 30, 2008

4th Anniversary Party

Black Diamond Games is having our 4th anniversary party on Sunday, October 19th. We'll have free food, raffle prizes, in-store specials and children's activities. The event starts at 11:00am with our special guest, Fae the Pirate, arriving at 12:30pm. She'll be performing a magic show with special prizes for the kids, followed by face painting and balloon animals. Please bring kids if you've got 'em and feel free to pass the word!

Paladin Club Changes

I signed the contract yesterday on the re-upgrade of the POS machine to the newest version of Microsoft Retail Dynamics. We should have it installed within a week. Included in the contract was the new customer loyalty software for our paladin club program. I went with a package called Hero Points, which works a bit differently than our previous software.

Rather than getting a coupon for a static 10% discount at 200 points, Hero Points offers cash rewards at various point levels that can be redeemed at the register. There are no paper coupons to lose or keep track of. The paper coupon issue for cash rewards is a deal killer for me, since they're fnancial liabilities that aren't tracked.

Each time you buy something using your paladin club card, if you've hit your redemption point target, the cashier is prompted to ask you if you want to use your cash reward now or let it ride to a higher level. For example, you might get a $5 discount at 200 points, but at 500 points you might get a $15 discount. The key is to make higher point values scale with slightly better rewards. This rewards customers who spend more, similar to a percentage discount. I've talked to a few of our regular customers about this and they would prefer to work towards a higher point discount. As an FYI, only about a third of out 800 or so paladin club members have ever gotten a coupon.

Example screen

Club members will continue to use their paladin club cards before each purchase, and should continue using their cards even though this isn't up yet. The big question is whether or not the point values from the previous software can be transferred to the new system. Theoretically this is possible, as it's all stored in the main database of RMS, rather than a stand-alone product. We'll have to determine if it's cost effective or whether it's cheaper to start from scratch and mail out a coupon to every member to make up for past points. That would also be our last snail mail mailing, requiring redemption of the coupons to include email addresses.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Credit Crisis

With the government's finance bailout plan in ruins, the next stage of the credit crisis has already begun. Banks are reducing credit lines on credit cards, which will effect both consumers and small businesses that rely on credit cards for day-to-day operations. Apparently it's been going on for some time, but lately the pull back has been accelerating. One analyst predicts credit cards will implode by early next year. Credit card interest rates are also on the rise, with the increased risk. Some numbers:

In July, a survey of senior loan officers by the Federal Reserve Board found that during the preceding three months, 65% of U.S. banks had tightened their credit-card lending standards by raising required credit scores or lowering existing credit limits. That was up from the April survey, in which 30% of banks reported tightening their standards.

As a business we rely on credit cards for most of our cost of goods purchases, with about $20,000 a month cycling through several cards, some business and some personal. For the most part we (me and the business) pay off cards in full every month, with some cards used as lines of credit and short term loans.

What will this mean for the game trade? If credit cards are tightened up significantly, many small manufacturers will probably be stopped in their tracks. Distributors will probably be fine, except that many retailers use credit cards to pay them. This might gum up their works as well. Retailers like myself can probably survive on less credit, but we'll likely have a transition period of cash flow problems in which new product is passed in favor of increased liquidity. Consumers at the end of that chain will likely see a similar transition. Reduced credit is only part of it, as the banks are likely to raise rates and make the use of credit more expensive.

While the government pondered the financial bailout over the weekend, they had no problem sneaking in a giant $25 billion loan package for the big three auto makers. These companies deserved to fail, unlike the millions of small businesses that will likely suffer now. The big three have spent their R&D on SUV's and high performance cars while their competitors rightly focused on economy cars and efficient technology. It's an election year and both candidates have promised them cash for their foolishness, so here we are again.

And finally the credit card holders bill of rights was passed by the house over the weekend. The president promises to veto it.

Done with AT-43

We were carrying the entire line, but over the past few months sales have stalled out with little interest in new releases and few sales of the back list stuff. I've noticed customers who used to buy AT-43 have moved on to other games. I hate to say it, but the few guys who still buy the stuff have a history of backing good games with poor longevity. Sorry folks.

Fantasy Flight Games recently began re-distributing AT-43 in the US, and they fixed some problems such as the poor discount. It's probably too little too late. The discount issue, supply problems, lack of interest in organized play and simplistic rules did it in. I say the rules did it in because it doesn't quite grab the experienced miniature gamer, instead appealing more towards collectible minis players. You don't want to rely on a collectibles base for your livelihood, believe me.

It's time to call this one dead for us and move on. As for the existing stock, my plan is to dump them on eBay and slowly let the stock dwindle (no in-store sale). We can always special order items if you're still playing this game.'

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Diesel Has Arrived (Cars)

Remember when I was gushing over diesels? They're here. Or at least one of them if you don't include the very expensive and not very frugal Mercedes models. The car I would buy now, if I needed one and had money, is the new 2009 Volkswagen Jetta TDI Sportwagon. It should average about 40 mpg (compared to 26 for my Mazda), it has tons of space, and a lot of low RPM torque for fun driving. Diesel mileage ratings are a little wonky. VW believes the government low-balls them, claiming the Jetta TDI gets 35MPG. VW says it's more like 45MPG and like Prius owners, some frugal VW diesel drivers claim you can get 50+MPG with vigilant driving.

The Jetta itself is a fine car, but given the choice, I would likely go with another marque. However, wagons are becoming harder to come by and VW makes some fun to drive cars that I've found to be pretty reliable. I've owned two Jettas in the past (a 1995 and 1997). I might consider a diesel Passat wagon if given the chance, and of course my dream car is a diesel Alfa Romeo 159 Sporwagon, but I'm just retarded like that. The key with the Jetta diesel wagon is it's here now.

I would probably take the Motortrend advice and upgrade it to 17" wheels and better anti-roll bars to improve handling. My only complaint is it doesn't come with leather as an option. Leather is not a luxury item, it's a childproofing item. I think VW's are a tad overpriced, with every bit of trim inflating the price tag. Also, the TDI Jettas are sold out around here and dealers are marking them up over MSRP (and apparently getting MSRP). I usually solve that with a one-way plane ticket to elsewhere (last time Cleveland). On the positive side, there's a $1300 clean diesel rebate from the government.

I think both clean diesel and hybrids are an intermediate technology before the industry goes entirely to electric cars with fuel cells. I think that's still about ten years away, meaning if you need a car between now and then, and you care about things like fuel prices or the environment, you'll want a hybrid, diesel or tiny petrol econobox. There seems to be an energy consensus that the long term goal for automotive power is electric, leaving the real debate on how to upgrade our creaky energy distribution system to homes and busineses, including better storage of excess capacity. Once you say cars are electric and you can shuttle excess energy around the national grid, you can build whatever power plants you want: renewable, nuclear, whatever. The government will need to nationalize the distribution system though. And why not? Nobody cares that the national highway system is government maintained.

2009 Jetta TDI Sportwagon (tricked out)
Available Now

Alfa Romeo 159 TL Sportwagon (tricked out)
Not Available in the US (yet)
Alfa returns to the US in late 2009

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Forty Nine

Forty nine is the number of players for the Magic: Shards of Alara pre-release today. It's an odd number, because a) we only had 48 tournament packs, and b) we only had seating for 42.

The tournament pack problem was solved by using 3 boosters and free land for the 49th player. I never knew this but that's all a tournament pack really is, along with a fancy shiny card. The seating issue was creatively solved after one of the players volunteered a card table from his car. We had plenty of chairs, we were just short a table.

So 49 is definitely a phenomenally good number and the biggest event we've had. Now here's the caveat: It's not a successful event yet. The reason is the pre-release restrictions on ancillary sales. We're only allowed to sell product for the event, and not a single booster more. Usually we go through cases of Magic cards during a pre-release weekend, so although sales are really good with those 49 people, they are not up to snuff with a release event weekend. This event will only be a success if the release weekend is also succesful. If the pre-release cannibalizes customers from the release event, resulting in reduced sales, we have a big problem. I don't think that's going to happen, but those are the parameters for success.

We've got extra incentives for the release event next weekend, including three Magic backpacks we'll be using as prize support. I also know of at least a dozen people who couldn't make the pre-release that have promised to come to the release event instead. It's probably good they couldn't make it today.

Honesty and Sales

Listening to the political wrangling this month and presidential debates tonight reminded me of something important I recently learned about sales. It even applies to dating (I read an article). First, let me tell you that sales is a difficult job, especially in a place like a game store with over 5,000 different items. Some games you know really well, perhaps from personal experience. You can talk about them up and down. Other games you might have seen played or read a review, and those you can describe, but in general terms. Then there are the rest of the games, hundreds of them, where for the most part you've read the description and looked at the photo and you're winging it. You grasp at the concept, fill in the blanks with some thoughtful guesses. Heck you can make things up to some extent, because here's the key: rarely will your accuracy be held against you. You create a narrative that's more or less correct to sell the experience of the game to the customer. Details are irrelevant.

The same is true with dating, a recent study discovered. All the smack the guy is saying at the bar is forgotten after the deal is closed, the digits obtained, or whatever it is the consenting adults decide upon. As long as the general experience is somewhat related to the bill of goods sold, people forget the details of the sale once the product is taken home and experienced. It's not that people are dishonest, it's just natural to apply an extra coat of lipstick to the pig, and customers intuitively grasp that and don't hold it against you. Salesmen are selling, job hunters embellish resumes, and inebriated guys in bars want to get laid. We're not talking outright lying, just gussying up and creating that best-foot-forward narrative. This is also true with politics. The sales pitch is often much more deliberate in politics, meaning there was time to craft a truthful answer but they went the easy route and intentional distorted the truth, rather than simple sales tradecraft. However, it doesn't matter. People won't much care about the truth of what was said once the race is over. In fact, if they're already sold on the product, they'll excuse an awful lot. Just look at McCain supporters.

Oh, it's always the last sentence that gets me in trouble.

Friday, September 26, 2008

But they Don't Fall Down

Continuing on my theme, a Zen master once told me that the only thing Zen masters have in common with each other is hemorrhoids. I'll also throw out there that you can pretty much judge a spiritual teacher by how late they are. Apparently, real spirituality requires throwing away your watch. Applying this to game store owners, the one thing we seem to have in common is spread.

Increasing girth is a common problem for store owners, one that I've experienced over the last four years. My recent trade show experience reminded me of that. The problem is that our jobs are fairly sedentary, along with our "career development," playing tabletop games for fun and education. I spent the last three months painting non-stop, so I'm feeling fatter than ever before. It's not just that I weigh more, it's that everything seems to settle towards the center, like a weeble wobble toy. It doesn't help that I'm getting older, with some gray in my beard along with my expanding midsection. I started working out again yesterday, a minimal distance on the treadmill at home; a circuit mile to start. Man, what a difference. Now I just have to continue it.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

The God Realm (way off the reservation)

In the Buddhist cosmology, godhood is a temporary state. You're this resplendent being, with amazing clothes of beautiful silk. You look down from the heavens upon the lower life forms in their various wretched realms of existence. Tsk Tsk. Poor bastards. You are as high as you can go in the mundane univese. Then one day, sniff sniff, you notice something strange. You stink! You've got body odor, plain old BO. Not even fragrant god-like odor. And what's that! There's a thread loose on your golden tunic, spun over a millennium by sacred silk worms massaged daily by magic monkeys. It's just the beginning; or more accurately just another day on the wheel of life. Eventually you'll fall from your lofty height and enter into some other form of existence, something lesser, that might just give you the opportunity to escape the cycle. Your chances are slim.

There's a kind of god realm for a new store too. In the beginning, everything is shiny and new and you've got nowhere to go but up. Sales increase in dramatic fashion, day after day, even year after year. Everyone comments on how clean everything is. Then you notice the BO. The fixtures start to wear. The carpet looks dirty. Your store shirts are getting threadbare. Your sales stay flat and then decline a bit. And.... your point of sale machine begins to conk out. The key to business is to keep yourself in the cycle. In your own personal gamers god realm. You need to make enough money not just to pay yourself and the bills (in that order), but enough to perpetuate your business. This is where most stores fail. Their chances were slim to begin with but add having to do things over and most people say to the hell realm with it. That's where we're at now, and the finances creak mightily with the expense of just continuing business.

My own personal god realm is also beginning to smell. I bought a new car when I started the store because I knew a used car would be too unreliable and financially unstable. This month hit me both with expensive maintenance and this morning, an out-of-warranty batter replacement. The Mazda is a great drive, but it's beginning to smell too.

Perhaps this is when you know you're truly doing the thing. It feels a bit like you're a gentleman farmer when you first start. Yeah, you're planting things in the dirt, but you're not really a farmer until you owe the bank a staggering amount of money and the callouses tell a story of your labor.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Chasing Versions

The new point-of-sale system is up and running. The hardware worked out fine, which was a relief. Our big issues came with software versions. I was unwilling to jump to the current release of RMS Retail Dynamics 2.0, because my customer loyalty software wasn't compatible with it and we hadn't finalized our decision for its replacement. For the customers out there, that's the software for the Paladin Club program.

We found today that Windows Vista isn't compatible with our old 1.2 version of RMS, so we had to make a minor jump to RMS 1.3. No big deal, I figured. Unfortunately, the customer loyalty software would ONLY install on 1.2, so it's not working with our 1.3 installation. We're now looking at another upgrade, this time to 2.0 along with a new loyalty package. This was all a big unknown, as the loyalty software company (ADI) refused to answer my upgrade questions after a long run around. The most likely outcome is that club points won't port over to the new software and we'll issue a 10% off coupon to every paladin club member to make up for it.

Monday, September 22, 2008


The new Dell arrived today. I hope it's not a sign of the poor economy that they got it to me about 10 days earlier than promised. But yeah!

I've got it configured and ready for the POS install tomorrow morning. It's a tricky install, with plenty of idiosyncrasies, so my local POS consultants will be doing the heavy lifting (unlike this photo).

Bottom line: Optiplex 755, twice as fast and 50% cheaper than a purpose built POS machine from Dell.

Talk like a pirate day was Friday and I missed it for the most part. Here's my 3-year old Rocco dressed up for the part.

Pirate games are a funny thing. I mention this because you would think such an international event like TLAPD would generate some interest, or at least see us exploiting this special time. However, the secret of pirate games is that most of them suck. There is the decent constructible pirates game from WizKids, which is in its twilight times, but most pirate games are actually pretty poorly done. The exception is Pirate's Cove by Days of Wonder. Check it out if you get a chance. Also, Manila has a piratey theme, kinda, and that's a very enjoyable game by Rio Grande.

So my issue with the bailout of Wall Street is more a philosophical one. It's the kind of game I enjoy most. Capitalism has seen a major shift; the death of Capitalism as an ideology, a creed, a philosophy of how the world works. To be a "true" Capitalist now and to be against the recent actions of the government is surprisingly, a fringe position. Because it happened on a Republican's watch, it should have extra powers of disillusionment for the faithful. So my big question is what kind of psychological effect will this have on American economic thinking? It's like an avowed atheist calling out to god for help when in mortal danger. Will we suddenly become an overweight version of France? And if not, why not? It's a big unknown. A lot of FUD (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt). Oh yeah, and there's no Easter Bunny either.

And finally, the security camera system is up and running on all cylinders. We haven't caught any shoplifters yet, at least none that I'll admit to (that's why I have tinted windows in my car). I'm able to view the cameras from anywhere via the Internet. It's not exactly compelling viewing, but it can be amusing. The resolution isn't great remotely, but you can make out the regulars with little difficulty.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Black September and BDG

Customers, friends, and investors regularly ask me how we're doing with the economic downturn. This upheaval is unprecedented in the lifetimes of all but the oldest Americans. The effects so far have been subtle for us. There are effects, however, and there are numbers that I carefully watch.

The biggest effect has been the drying up of home equity lines of credit. As home values fell, banks became nervous with homeowners with open lines of credit based on the value of their now depreciated homes. This is old news, and I've only heard this reported in the press last week, months after it started. My HELOC was no exception. I used it extensively to build out the new store as the primary loan. It was also the source of daily cash flow for us. Most small businesses need credit sources for expansion and day to day operations, and we're no exception. So when that line of credit was closed, money became more expensive to borrow, usually resulting in using credit cards with higher fees either as loans or just not paying them back in full right away. Also, if this had happened earlier, I can guarantee you that the the new store wouldn't have been built and the old store would have been closed down. It was go big or go home for Black Diamond Games 2.0.

As for the current Wall Street crisis, there is not a one-to-one connection between Wall Street and Main Street, as they say. Banks and businesses for the most part have continued to lend me and the store money throughout all this. We just bought a new Point-of-Sale machine last week with credit from Dell and business credit cards are still easy to get. Lenders are still being rational. What would be devastating is if banks pulled back from consumer and business credit like they did home equity lines of credit, deciding that risk of repayment was too great and closing down cards and credit lines. That would cripple (but probably not crush) both us and our customers. I'm assured by my finance guy that it's not likely to happen.

What is likely to happen from the Wall Street debacle are tens of thousands of layoffs that will ripple through the economy, starting with the closed companies in the news, but rippling out beyond that. Unemployment is the key fear for a hobby oriented business like ours. Games, I submit, are an excellent value, and if you're short of cash, you'll get much more bang for your buck by buying say, a board game, than a night on the town. Sales are very strong for us right now because of this. It's generally believed that hobbyist gamers will continue to buy their games, provided they have an income. It's the unemployment numbers that I watch, and a 6.1 percent unemployment rate like we have now is still modest. 6.5 is the magic number for me, which is where we were with the dot-com bust. Nevertheless, there are noticeable drops in certain game sales associated with a hanful of known unemployed key customers; more than ever before.

Finally, I was listening to the Wall Street Journal small business podcast in which they surveyed retailers about this same topic. The bottom line: slow is the new baseline. They're tired of hearing about the economy and have accepted that it will be slow for some time to come. Accept it and move on. Businesses that are teetering, hoping for change, will not be around much longer, as things are not likely to improve for a year or more. On the positive side, during a downturn like this, there are winners as well as losers. I believe we're a winner, having survived through this period while building the business off of the carcasses of our closed competitors. Note that most of our competitors closed based on retirement of the owners, rather than financial disaster (at least three). This is a gigantic advantage that may create a mini boom for us, while all around us businesses close. We're expecting a very good holiday season.

In addition, it's unlikely that a viable competitor will show up during this period, as we were able to tap credit sources a year ago that no longer exist and aren't likely to arise anytime soon for a retail business. We're not going to rest on our laurels, but the likelihood of a new competitor emerging in this economy is slim.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Two Weeks with the iPhone G3

Will I return it? Is it a glorified phone? Is it a glorified organizer with telephone functions? I've had the iPhone G3 for two weeks now, including a trip to the Midwest. The phone has actually changed dramatically since I first got it, the biggest change being the software upgrade that improved battery life. It was the major flaw of this phone a week ago, but now it's a distant memory. The second big change was the realization of all the fantastic applications for this, particularly the GPS based ones. The G3 uses cell towers to pinpoint its position, usable for nagivation in a variety of applications.

The GPS functions offer everything you could want, except for turn-by-turn directions, which I've read TomTom is working on. The two most useful GPS apps have been WhereTo, which allows me to find what I want based on categories (a yellow pages), using my location as the basis, and WhitePages, which allows me to search for people or businesses and get maps to them. Want ice cream? We used WhereTo to find the closest Cold Stone Creamery. Want to find Pizzeria Picco in Larkspur? WhitePages is your tool, and we used it this afternoon with its dynamic map showing us where to go. I'm about to download Taxi!, GasBag, Take Me To My Car, iBart, and Emergency Distress Beacon (I have been lost in the woods). I paid $.99 for an app called Compass, because I found myself wanting that feature recently.

I'm definitely keeping the phone. In fact, I find it to be the most amazing device I've ever owned. It's the equivalent of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, or at least the Internet connected galaxy. Speaking of that connected world, the iPhone is most definitely an urban device. It works fine in major metropolitan areas, but it reverted to a brick of a phone in Wisconsin, lacking support for the more advanced functions from the local AT&T network. So it's not for everyone. It's galactic reach is somewhat limited.

What does it lack? Mostly interoperability with my PC. There's this giant firewall that Apple has created that won,'t allow me to port over MP3 files, AVI files, or run applications that other "smart" phones use, like Microsoft Office (Microsoft is looking at it). Using an iPhone means forever being attached to iTunes and its store. With this closed system, some IT professionals find the iPhone fatally flawed. Still, if you don't mind having other people define the limitations of your device, even really really smart people with very few limitations, the iPhone G3 is an amazing device. The big question is whether I will continue to get $30 worth of value each month out of the iPhone or whether the novelty will wear off. This will require all those advanced features to becomes so ubiquitous in my life, that I can't imagine not using them.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Scanner and BOE

In more positive IT news, the new scanner arrived. I spent many hours yesterday scanning and tossing a years worth of invoices. Another day and it should all be finished (although I'm tempted to put the unscanned papers in a box marked "2008").

My problems with the Board of Equalization continue. When we moved they changed the address on our new sales tax license but continued sending payment forms to the old address, a mistake they admit. I never got my monthly forms, so I improvised. One of my customers is a sales tax auditor for the BOE who told me that they don't care about the forms as long as they get their money. Just write it on the back of a napkin for all they care, is what he told me. That's where the problem began.

I didn't use napkins, instead I downloaded the monthly payment form instead of the quarterly payment form (which I couldn't find online). With the monthly form I was paying them the full amount instead of the 90% required amount. I was also paying on the last day of the month instead of the 24th of the month. They actually benefit from this, but there's no excuse for not having the right form. This resulted in them claiming that I was both late and that I didn't file at all. Apparently the wrong form is like no form.

The BOE assessed a bunch of penalties and late fees and late fees on the late fees and penalties, with most of those rescinded when it was finally straightened out (I filed the right form for that). They sent me a letter saying it was cleared up and now they'll be watching me extra carefully. Nice. I had to go back and file the right forms for the first six months of the year, which I've done and it looks like I'm getting money back. They called yesterday to remind me of a $78 penalty that I owed them that was late. Did I want to pay it with my $6,000 of surplus payments not associated with anything? Since I"m getting a refund, did I want to skip this months tax payment? Unbelievable. I feel like my coat is caught in a lawn chipper that's pulling me slowly towards it while I desperately try to pull away.

About That New Computer...

After 5 trips to Fry's on Tuesday, the Acer went back. The problem with finding the right POS machine that also acts as a workstation is that you want a small machine with good performance that also supports legacy peripherals. In the computer world you can generally choose two of those.

What I mean by legacy peripherals are the various label printers, barcode scanners, cash drawers, and other supported point-of-sale devices that connect to a computer via serial ports. Most use USB ports now, but my very expensive peripherals are four years old. Modern computers have a limited number of serial ports, with new computers having no ports (Acer) or maybe one (Dell). You need to add a special card for these ports, which is no big deal, unless you buy a computer with a small form factor, however the case is too small for full size cards.

Thus the dilemma of getting both a small computer and a peripheral supported computer. Custom build point-of-sale machines are both small and peripheral supported, but their performance is weak, as they're built with one function in mind, as a glorified cash register. They also use small form factor parts that can't be upgraded, like our current Windows XP POS system that's maxed out with 500MB of RAM. This is a big deal, since we could probably forgoe a new system today if we could simply double the RAM.

The solution? It wasn't going to be anything at Fry's. Computers were too big or too small. I was having a Goldilock's moment. I looked on the Dell website and found several small form factor computers that may support full height cards and also found point-of-sale systems, but with poor performance and a high price tag. Nothing on the website would work, but I called them anyway. They main tech guy brought in the point-of-sale team and we put something custom together using a small form factor Optiplex 755 and and a serial card with adapters that weren't available on their website. Thus we get a computer that works with legacy peripherals, has a small form factor, with high performance, and 50% cheaper than a dedicated POS machine while also being upgradable. It was twice as expensive as the Acer, but it should work .... when it arrives in a couple weeks. Until then, we limp along with no HTTP connectivity on the POS system (HTTPS curiously works).

Don't pat me on the back yet. This is the third Dell I've ordered in my lifetime (other than work) and I've yet to have any of them actually arrive.

Now you understand why I had someone else get me a machine when I first started the store. Getting the right one has been incredibly time consuming and it's not something I wanted to do while juggling a dozen other new business tasks. Plus back then I didn't have any of those peripherals yet so I only had a vague idea of what I needed.

The Dell shipped this morning.

Order Number: 460990611

Item NumberQuantityItem Description

223-68401OptiPlex 755 Small Form FactorPentium Dual Core E2180/2.0GHz1M,800FSB
420-36991NTFS File System,Factory Install
311-744012GB,Non-ECC,667MHz DDR2,2X1GB OptiPlex 740
310-80101Dell USB Keyboard,No Hot Keys English,Black,Optiplex
320-37041No Monitor Selected, OptiPlex
320-56421Integrated Video,GMA3100,Dell OptiPlex 755
341-54731160GB SATA 3.0Gb/s and 8MB Data Burst Cache,Dell OptiPlex755
341-39111No Floppy Drive with Optical Filler Panel,Dell OptiPlex 745and 755 Small Form Factor
467-48801Vista Business,Service Pack 1 with Media,32 Bit,English,DellOptiplex
310-96271Dell USB 2 Button Optical Mouse with Scroll,Black OptiPlex
310-94921ASF Basic Hardware Enabled Systems Management (No Upgrade to vPro/iAMT) Dell OptiPlex
313-609018X DVD-ROM,OptiPlex Small FormFactor
420-88561Cyberlink Power DVD 8.0,with Media,Dell OptiPlex
313-48251No Speaker, OptiPlex
310-87621Resource DVD contains Diagnostics and Drivers for Vista Dell OptiPlex
313-71681Resource CD contains Diagnostics and Drivers for Dell OptiPlex Systems
310-95041Energy Smart,Energy Star,EIST for OptiPlex (if applicable)
310-66191PS2 Serial Port Adapter,with Dongle for Second PS/2 Port Half Height,OptiPlex 330DT/740/745/755DT/SFF
310-93321Shipping Material for System Cypher Small Form Factor,Dell OptiPlex
985-60301Basic Support: Next Business Day Parts and Labor Onsite Response Initial Year
989-15871Dell Hardware Limited Warranty Plus Onsite Service Initial Year
989-15881Dell Hardware Limited Warranty Plus Onsite Service Extended Year(s)
985-05821Basic Support: Next Business Day Parts and Labor Onsite Response 2 Year Extended
991-28781Dell ProSupport Service Offering Declined
900-99871Standard On-Site Installation Declined
310-86421You have chosen a Vista Premium System
466-90451Thank you for buying Intel/Dell
310-89771Info SKU-Software and Peripherals products and solutions catalog included in system boxes
Subtotal: $737.00
Shipping and Handling: $0.00
Sales Tax: $41.55
Total: $778.55

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

POS Death

While I was giving lectures on how to optimize your point of sale machine in Wisconsin, my own POS machine at home was acting up. It's got this terminal disease where fifteen minutes after rebooting it looses HTTP connectivity, meaning you can't use the Internet for web browsing. It will still process credit cards over the net, but no web based activity will work. That's a critical function of the POS, believe it or not, so the problem is serious.

Usually it has this symptom after a Windows update is installed, and the solution is to use system restore to send it back in time before the update. Yesterday this failed to fix the problem after about 8 hours of messing with it. The solution? A clean Windows installation, according to all the websites discussing the problem. Nobody knows the problem, but consultants around the country have found the only solution to be "bricking it," a full re-instalation.

As you may have heard me talk, this POS machine is correctly named (aka Piece of Shiite). It's four years old and was weak sauce when I bought it, thinking that all we would do is POS stuff. The hardware is now inadequete to our needs and I was planning to upgrade it in January, but alas, the computer gods are capricious. Just like when my laptop was stolen from the office the day after ordering a new Dell, I can't wait any longer and had to buy local.

The machine I bought was an unlikely choice, determined by such things as the size of the case and available USB ports in the back. Budget pushed the selection over the edge, as the machine I bought was half the price of a comparable Dell (and arrived 3-5 days sooner). The winner is: Acer Aspire X1200. It's not the machine I would buy for home and it's not the machine I would even buy as an office PC, but it should make for a quick little POS machine that never gets upgraded, has a need for wireless connectivity or is asked to do anything spectacular.

Acer Aspire X1200-U1520A

Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 (64-bit); 2.5GHz AMD Athlon 64 X2 4850e; 4GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 256MB (shared) Nvidia GeForce 8200 integrated graphics chip; 500GB, 7,200rpm hard drive.
Now the work begins with prepping it for the POS installation and having our local POS consultant come over and do his magic for a couple hours. I was hoping to do an upgrade to the new version of the POS software, but I think that will have to wait until I can budget it.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Solano Stroll and iPhone Followup

I went to the Solano Stroll today with the family. You can see an album of the photos here.

The iPhone is working out alright. After a week with it, it's definitely an urban device. The special third generation phone features require a sophisticated network to support it. I got none of that support in Wisconsin for three days, but it does great things in the Bay Area and in the Minneapolis airport. Without the 3G support, you're expensive phone loses its mojo, transforming it into a standard old cell phone (while you still pay for 3G service).

Battery life is actually pretty good on a full charge. I spent about 4 hours on planes watching videos, mostly free TV shows from iTunes, like Battlestar Galactica. iTunes seems like that next great thing for watching TV, provided shows are posted in a timely fashion (I haven't checked).

Also, for podcasts, video is the way to go. Boardgames with Scott is vastly more interesting with video, for example.

What does kind of suck with the iPhone is portability. There are things I watch on my laptop that I would like to have on the iPhone, but haven't been able to figure out how to get them transferred over yet. For example, AVI files are the format of choice for a lot of video, and I've got a MP3 ringtone I would like to install. I'm sure I'll figure this out later, but it's not as seamless as I would like.

Applications are fantastic, and the free ones are often better than the pay ones. My installed apps include:
  • Dice Bag
  • eBay
  • iFlix
  • Showtimes
  • WeatherBug
  • Air Sharing
  • GPS Tracker
  • To Do's
  • Where To?
  • WhitePages
  • Wikipanion
  • Blackjack
  • Labyrinth LE
Absolutely amaizing apps include White Pages and Wikipanion. Want to know the details of anything? Use Wikipanion for an instant encyclopedic lookup. Want to find something? Look it up in White Pages and have it create a map for you from where you are now (a feature using the iPhone GPS) and the White Pages location. Pretty cool stuff.

Price Elasticity

I've been thinking about this term a lot this week. Price elasticity refers to the range of prices that a retail store can charge for a product, without alienating a customer. Some games have more elasticity than others, but all games have far less elasticity than other types of products. In the rest of the retail universe, there is far more elasticity than in games. How much is a gallon of milk? Poll a bunch of people and you'll get a large range of numbers. If you're a presidential candidate, you're probably wildly off. Milk is a commodity item, but how about other specialty trades? Toys have a lot of price elasticity, and consumers tend not to notice a whole lot. The cost of a Blokus game sells at our store for $30, but you'll find it at many toy stores for $35, and even upwards of $50 at fancy toy stores in boutique communities in Marin.

What creates price inelasticity in the game trade is the MSRP, the manufacturers suggested retail price. This price is reinforced by the manufacturer, who publishes this price on their website and often sells the game direct to customers at this price. There's nothing inherently wrong with an MSRP, but the game trade goes a step further and tightly controls the cost of the product sold to the retailer. This is done with discounts, averaging around 45% or sometimes net pricing, where the item costs "X" but you can charge what you want for it. However, the benefits of net pricing are often destroyed by the MSRP. An item might be net priced at $40, meaning the "keystone' amount to charge for it would be $80, but when the manufacturer turns around and sells it for $70, a de-facto MSRP is created, they deny the retailer the ability to sell it at a price of their choosing. I would also argue that manufacturers are forced to sell direct to customers at MSRP because of the inefficiencies of the game distribution system. Fix this, or remove it, and manufacturers can forgoe all that hard work.

This discussion is nothing new, but what I'm coming to realize is that the game trade, which is continually shrinking their margins for retailers, is limiting the ability of retailers in the types of stores that can be successful. The game store model that work is a well defined promotional model involving large amounts of unproductive game space to promote product. Those who don't want to go that route, or can't afford it, are forced to put great efforts into promoting their stores through community involvement our other tangential activities besides selling games. These working models and outside activities are fantastic; nothing wrong with them, but in the past they've been the domain of exceptional, top tier stores. Now they're required for basic survival of ALL game stores. It's a sign that the model is distressed.

In contrast, a retail model with greater price elasticity is able to charge more for a product in exchange for more versatility in their store operations. A store could exist in an expensive downtown area, for example, or in a lucrative but high cost shopping mall. In fact, game stores that do this tend to sell the games with the highest price elasticity, board games, often reinforced with other high elasticity products, like toys. Board games sold to consumers and not hobbyists have much higher price elasticity, as they shop infrequently and aren't dedicated to board gaming as a hobby. Meanwhile, straight game stores must pimp their product like circus geeks to hobbyist consumers who are well informed by the manufacturer of precisely what their product costs, a model that is increasingly obsolete for real-estate markets with rising rents. What works in the MidWest for a modest store with low costs per square foot only works for an exceptional store in expensive urban areas.

The solution is to give up on the obsolete model based on cheap fuel (the free freight model) and for everything to be net priced. Everyone pays freight. Everyone gets their product at "x" amount, whether you spend a thousand dollars a year or a hundred thousand dollars a year. If a distributor wants to offer further incentives or discounts, that's their decision. Once the benefit or penalty of free shipping is removed, a rising cost that forces distributors to shrink margins, the playing field would be de-leveled. A level playing field is not what we want. We want a variety of true costs that works against MSRP, the enemy of price elasticity and store creativity. Then we'll have more of a chance to run a variety of different types of stores that will promote and reinvigorate the hobby.

Friday, September 12, 2008

ACD Game Day Followup

The event went off well. It seemed slightly less attended than previous events, but that might be my imagination, since I haven't been back here in two years. My first POS presentation yesterday had about ten people. To my surprise (dismay?), all of them not only had POS systems, but almost all of them were using the advanced stuff I was going over. Gulp. The turn rate discussion was the highlight for them.

In contrast, we had a smaller group today, but none of them had advanced POS experience, and one had no POS. This was the target audience for the presentation and I think those folks got a lot out of the seminar. I think a larger group with mixed experience would have worked out better. Technology is a tough topic too. I think it might make for a better panel discussion than a single presenter.

The one thing that struck me from talking to retailers at this event was that everyone had their special thing they did at their store, and few had stores that did everything well, or at least competitively. Some worked to promote their store through schools. Some focused on local conventions or boffer games. The paintball game stores were there too, a definite Midwest thing. Many were discussing holiday mall kiosks or other ways to extend their holiday sales. I think it comes down to the focus of the owner being the focus of the store. So the bottom line I got from this is that most stores need to find their "core competency" or passion within their store, and follow that.

I don't think Black Diamond Games really has that kind of special thing, but our sales are also unusually broad (maybe that's our thing). Most stores have a sales weak spot, mostly because a competitor owns that local market or because of their location. The mall store that does really well with board games and toys might sell few fantasy games. Most miniature stores seem to do poorly with collectible card games. Role-playing games are the wild cards in this, but because they don't benefit much from game space, and they're ubiquitous and cheap online and off, they're rarely much of a store focus. You either do fine with RPGs or do poorly with them, but nobody talks about them as their store focus.

I think we're lucky in the success of our breadth. This is caused by a couple of things. First, we spent three years running a store with no game space, where all games were given equal treatment. This diversity was the only way to survive what I consider to be an outdated business model. Some games were held back by this approach while others were given more time than they might have in a store with game space. On the positive side, stores with similar experiences seem to come out the other end stronger when they finally figure it out their formula.

Second, the move to the new location with game space and local store closures allowed us to capture a lot of business in multiple categories. Friday Night Magic, for example, is something we don't deserve; it was dropped into our laps. We got lucky. Now we work hard to maintain our Magic events and keep customers happy, but there are things we don't do because of our multi-department focus, like Magic singles and specialized Magic events (I'm returning with ideas for these though).

The big question for us going forward is whether a focus will emerge. Will some games take a back seat to others? Will other competitors emerge to better support a weaker segment? Or better yet, can we keep all the balls in the air and give equal billing to all the departments, maintaining our existing strong sales across the board? I vote for the last one. What I got from this is that we have work to do, but we're doing fine. That guy who hundreds of boxes of Magic doesn't do 40K sales. That guy who brings in dozens of new boardgames can't find a D&D customer to save his life. I can learn from these people how to do my job better, but really, we can all learn from each other.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Interesting New Stuff

I'm at the ACD Games Day today.

There are the new games that will do what they do; new versions of Magic, World of Warcraft CCG, and Space Marine stuff from GW. At the show today I looked at some of the interesting Fall releases that might be overlooked otherwise. Some premiered at Gencon, while games like the World of Warcraft collectible miniature game was only showed to a handful of people via lottery.

Monsterpocalypse was the first game I played. This was actually kind of fun, using my giant monsters to push around my opponent and destroy buildings. The game play was a simple dice pool system that alternated between your main big baddie monster and the smaller support pieces. I'm not much of a collectibles mini player, but I liked this game.

The World of Warcraft CMG has well sculpted minis with nice paint jobs. They're not "standard" 30mm or so scale; they're much larger. The game play used a 10 phase system, in which various actions would click your model forward, meaning you could do cool things but it would take up turn phases that would change your "initiaitive." Various monsters have basic attacks, wounds and defenses but also come with cards that allow for special attacks. What did I think? I think I'll sell a lot to WoW players, but the game play seemed a little stilted. I'm not a fan, but absolutely everyone else I spoke with thought it was a clear winner.

Other games? The Battlestar Galactica board game is supposed to have phenomenally good game play. I hope to play that this evening, along with the little Red November card game about the survival of a group of gnome submariners. It's by Bruno Faidutti, who does my favorite card game, Citadels.

What else? Asmodee is doing a new version of Formula De. It includes the traditional game, but it also comes with a street racer version, with drivers with special abilities. They say they have plans for new tracks once each quarter.

Go Go Gadget

A couple of new side-bar items to the right:

Followers. Should allow you to better follow the blog.

Subscribe. Says it will allow you to follow all comments. Let me know if that works.

Trade Show Paper. At the top, for easy reference for those at the show.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Just Flew In

I got into Wisconsin this evening after an uneventful trip. I spent all of my flight time watching my iPhone. It's sad when you pop open your laptop on a flight just so you can use it to charge your phone. Then again, videos actually play better on my iPhone than they do on the laptop, which is kinda sad. Oh yeah, with the iPhone, without a wireless Internet connection, doesn't the iPhone have the same communication capabilities as a regular phone? Why am I paying AT&T an extra $30 a month then?

Have you noticed CNN is everywhere when you travel? It's such an inane station, full of broadcasts of something that's about to happen. Nothing is happening, but something is about to. I wonder if anyone has tracked how much CNN airtime is comprised of waiting for something to happen. It brings the validity of broadcast media into question, along with the inane hosts which seem grossly out of touch with reality. Then again, if you watch as much CNN on a daily basis as I did today, just through osmosis, it is your reality.

I just got back from the hospitality suite, where game store owners drink and share horror stories about their customers. The socially inept (more inept than us), the thieving Yu Gi Oh players, the disloyal Magic players, the product slaves, the strange correlation between game stores and Asian restaurants (it used to be nail salons). The stories are all similar, which makes the insanity of this business seem somehow more real. We share war stories. These are people who understand you when you talk about this stuff.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Weekend Follow-Up

We sold half of our Assault on Black Reach 40K starters over the weekend and they're now out of stock at Games Workshop and Alliance for at least a week. All sales other than the few pre-orders were for individual copies, with the promised purchase of multiples not happening, at least yet. I'm very pleased with the sales so far.

One of the top posts on Dakka Dakka last night was "The Las Vegas GT is Green." Orks took top position, and the feeling is the 5E rules favor them most. Witch Hunters, another 5E favored army, also did very well. Witch Hunter popularity has skyrocketed lately, enough to where I'm considering stocking their special order items in the store. Anyway, with 5E and Black Reach, orks are suddenly a very competitive army available at a very good price.

Monday, September 8, 2008


Yesterday my wife called on a borrowed phone to say her cell phone had been stolen at church. This apparently happens a lot, although I don't understand why. The service was suspended within minutes of the theft and the phone itself has a value of next to nothing. I started shopping online for another phone for her, with the intent of going to the local AT&T store to pick it up. Then it occurred to me, we have GSM phones, which are somewhat portable (between people, but not so much between GSM networks in the US), so why is she getting a new phone and not me? I didn't lose my phone. Our two year service agreement was going to end in December, so I already had phones on my mind, but not one in particular. I was hoping to wait until then and shop providers, but the theft changed things.

I started with the holy grail of phones, a tri-band GSM phone. Holy grail? Nowadays a search for such a phone on the AT&T site pulled up 85 different phones. Alright, I narrowed that down to Nokia phones, since I've been using one since 1997 and deviations from Nokia usually resulted in trouble. I've had Ericsson and Siemens a while back and they blew big chunks, with dropped calls and phones that would lock up during charging. Nokia has always been the tried and true. Nokia had cutting edge technology and a simple interface.

The Nokia I selected was a 6555. It was a smart looking phone, with just enough bells and whistles and, like most world phones nowadays, quad GSM, meaning I can use it on vacation around the world (I've got no money, but LOTS of frequent flyer miles). It took photos and video. It was a pleasant new addition. Then I got home and started reading the reviews. Battery life was kinda low, like two hours of talking low. Plus it needed charging on a near daily basis. Oh no. This was going to piss me off to no end, so I quickly boxed it back up and returned to the store, hoping to find a similar phone among the 84 other choices.

It turns out Nokia has fallen on hard times in the US. The US has the most restrictive cell phone operation in the world, with GSM phones locked down to providers. Although you can buy a third-party phone that will work with their GSM network, the provider won't configure it to do anything but make calls. In the old days before a lot of data content, I would order some immensely cool cell phone from Europe and just use the voice features. Who needed incredibly slow, hard to use micro web browsing? Nowadays, there's a lot of content out there that wouldn't be available going that route and it's no longer dog slow.

The rest of the phones at the AT&T store were, well, crap. The top ranked LG phone had a funky interface with tiny buttons. It made me feel like a fat fingered old fart. Other phones had snarky interfaces that were too clever fo their own good, like menus with foliage around them, like I need my cell phone interface camouflaged. Most had confusing, frustrating menu systems. There was one solution left to me, the phone everyone has been talking about for over a year. Resistance was futile. I bought an iPhone 3G.

I am not a techie anymore, really. The iPhone is a small fortune compared to the subsidized, rebate rich phones available from AT&T. My $70 purchase blossomed to over $250, when you included accessories and tax. However, it's a known quantity, a winner, plus it has iPod capabilities. I lost my iPod on the store move. This phone would change my life. I sighed, as I didn't particular want a life changing event, especially with technology.

What threw me wasn't the high price, but the iPhone add-on service plan. $30 a month is an awful lot, especially when I've proudly cut back my expenses over the years. $30 is basic cable, or much faster Internet. Then again, it's four days of soup at the Japanese restaurant next door, so maybe I could brown bag it for the sake of progress. I would be digitally connected ... while eating peanut butter and jelley sandwiches. This was beginning to feel like a cyberpunk novel. I would be the impoverished hero living in the U-Store-It, but with an awesome computer and high speed Internet.

My impressions of the iPhone are that it's not really a phone. Yes, you can talk on its phone functions, but it's really a mobile Internet device. It's an organizer, a driving assistant, a music player, a mobile email platform. It plays videos fantastically well. I wouldn't balk at watching a movie on it. It changes the way you interface with the Internet and adds value (or at least content) to your life when away from a computer. And that is my problem with it.

To spend $30/month, you need to be willing to drink the cool-aid. You need to want to have your life changed by technology. It's not like the features of a regular cell phone that you can safely ignore. You're paying for this access, so you need to justify using it. I'm no Luddite, but I think I was doing just fine without it. Then again, how often have you been in the car and wished you had printed out a map? Or maybe came to the end of the road with a "turn left on unnamed road" instruction. How about looking up flight information? Then there's the data content, including a couple gigabytes of gaming podcasts, every photo taken on my digital camera, and a cool merging of contact information from my old phone and my email account. Oh, and did I mention it's got something like 6 or 7 bands of GSM? How worldly is that? Pretty slick. Of course the battery life is just as bad as the Nokia. I've got 30 days to decide.

Sunday, September 7, 2008


I just created the PowerPoint presentation for the trade show this week in Wisconsin. I really dislike PowerPoint, having sat through one too many pointless slide shows in IT, often given by people who don't know what their talking about and hide behind their wooshing slides with fancy effects. I also don't like speaking in front of people, so no wonder I have some animosity towards the tools for doing so.

My goal in making a PowerPoint presentation is to avoid the glazing over of the audiences eyes. It seems to require a minimalist approach. You want something nice to look at, but you don't want a lot of text. The worst feeling is to travel to a presentation and realize the guy could have just emailed you the PowerPoint, considering he's just reading it verbatim. They're supposed to be talking points for the presenter and visual aids for the audience. Anything else and you've got too much (I think). The key for me is to learn how to pace my undocumented talking about a topic with the time allotted, while having some good interaction with the audience.

My best ever presentation was for a speech class in my senior year of college. I was also taking bodyguard classes at the time for a career I never went into (don't ask), so I combined the two, giving a talk on bomb identification. This was in 1992, so you could talk about bombs without Homeland Security running an armored personnel carrier into your living room and sending you to Cuba. For the presentation, I arrived to class a half hour early and hid homemade bombs throughout the room.

These bombs used batteries and various triggers attached to flash cubes. One used a mercury switch, so when you tilted a pack of cigarettes, it went off. Another used an old Russian wristwatch that went off at a certain time as the metal hands closed a circuit. Another was a collapsing circuit bomb that went off when the batteries died or you got clever and tried to cut the wires to the explosives (flash cube). As I presented the speech to the class, I walked around and revealed the hidden bombs, under chairs, behind the TV, duct taped under the podium, and set them off, using their mechanisms with an exciting flash. You couldn't even talk about something like that nowadays without law enforcement coming down hard on you.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Horses! (40K)

Look, horses!

Nothing dispels rancor and controversy like an equestrian display. Everybody likes horses. Anyway, I took Usi's advice and used a wash on the horses, not just the riders. The horses got a Gryphonne Sepia wash, which is a kind of light brown, lighter than my standard Devlan Mud wash.

My original list called for 10 rough riders broken into two squads. That's what I finally have. My strategy will be to use the standard lances, keeping both squads in reserve to help keep them alive. They'll leave armor alone and focus on lighter targets.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Empty on the Inside (politics)

Conventions in a nutshell:

Democrats: Their speeches resonated with me, elucidating the problems facing this country, the causes, and the solutions. It's the same resonating talk I hear when Obama speaks. Unfortunately, I'm old enough to realize that this great talk won't result in much. The Democrats know the problems but will lack the will and ability to do much about it. Soft on the outside, empty on the inside.

Republicans: Cynical as hell, with a denial of serious problems in this country and belittling of those who solve problems in ways different than their own. Socially hypocritical, featuring a frighteningly inexperienced vice presidential candidate who is a poster child of failed Republican social program, such as teaching kids abstinence. In some states (like California) her daughters 18 year old boyfriend, flown in from Alaska for the event, would be charged with rape. Oh golly, what a portrait of family values. Lots of flag waving and patriotic talk, because only Republicans love their country. Hard on the outside, empty on the inside.

Black Reach

It's not often we get to build power displays. Game stores just don't sell that many new releases in high quantities, which is why we're specialty stores and don't have to worry too much about the Wal-Mart's of the world. Today I got in our Assault on Black Reach order, the new 40K starter set. The thing with this set is that it's got about $300 worth of models for $60, it's a great starter set, but and this is a big but, veteran players can also build really cheap armies from this box. One customer is buying five boxes to instantly field an Apocalypse 40K Ork army.

EDIT: Just a note that we're sticking to the Saturday street date on these, with a Friday at Midnight release.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Technology Tuesday

With the CCTV system working over the Internet, I started looking at other issues. It started with the office, planned as a useful work environment but ending up as a storeroom and a place to dump documents that will likely never get filed. In all honesty, I haven't filed since June ... of 2007. Paperwork gets processed up front, bills paid with my laptop, then it gets put in an in-box in the office, an in-box that overflows and gets put aside, with a new in-box taking its place. We're choking in paperwork. It's not a ton of stuff, probably a banker's box full of papers each year.

Since there's really no time for anyone to spend in the office, it's also a place where items get dumped for use or consideration later. Later rarely comes. So with talk again of an online store, we're looking at turning the office into both a work environment and a foolproof storeroom. I want a place where everything has a clear place and purpose. So step one in this process was to stop abusing the office with paper. I ordered a document scanner.

The goal is to have a paperless office. Paper comes in, it's processed on my laptop (bills paid etc), scanned, and discarded. Paper never goes in the office. I think this also completes my desire to completely digitize the office. With documents on my laptop and remote access to the POS system, I should be able to conduct all the business of the store remotely. The last piece of the puzzle is a digital signature pad for credit card transactions.