Across the game store world, purchasing is feared but not understood, and thus we, who do well with purchasing, should make our views understood.
That's adapting the Communist Manifesto's opening language to my post, but you get the picture. I was going to post something like this after my 5,000th purchase order, but I'm a little early. What have I learned from nearly 5,000 purchase orders?
- The history of all hitherto existing game stores is the history of product availability.
- Budget Purchasing Separately. Most stores buy product with available cash. They pay rent, payroll, utilities, and, oh yeah, some games. Budget purchasing separately, so that stock is never reliant on your bills. This requires having a buffer of cash on hand for the ups and downs of any given month.
- Customer Centric. You can't stock everything, but you do want your customers to spend all their gaming money with you, so focus on special orders. One of your catch phrases should be next day delivery, or two day delivery, or however long it could possibly take to get that customers game in their hands. Customer pre-orders are important, as are back-orders, so you can lock in those sales and teach them that you are a reliable source for their gaming needs. This promise means you'll actually place that order, even if it costs more, even if it means seeking it out across the country, or from another retailer. It should be your policy to bend over backwards to acquire that item, even at a loss at times, if it maintains your customer centric policy. It pays off in the long run.
- Order Often. It's much better to make many small orders than large orders, provided it's cost effective, such as hitting free freight minimums. This reduces your labor costs if you need help receiving, and it also plays into the customer centric model. If you order daily or near daily, it's not a hassle to throw on one more item. Ordering also works to your advantage in getting new releases. You don't have to plan nearly as much if you've got a constant stream of new orders. You should get new releases on the new release date, every time.
- Pre-Order, Pre-Order, Pre-Order. I pre-order everything and I'm almost never caught out in the cold. Distributors are running with thin inventories and you take your chances by not pre-ordering in sufficient quantities. I try to pre-order a 30 day supply of obvious evergreen product like D&D, Warhammer and Magic. While on the topic of pre-orders, back-order as well. Some distributors can't handle back-orders; find one that does and make sure you have a loose enough budget to buy this stuff when it arrives. Track this stuff somehow.
- Avoid Fees. COD fees, shipping charges, freight upcharges, credit card surcharges should all be avoided as much as possible. Credit cards might seem like an excellent idea for purchasing, with their bonus points and benefits, but it takes iron discipline to pay them off in full every month, and inevitably you become a cycle behind. Fees are the enemy and should only be incurred at the risk of customer service.
- Cheapest Supplier. Planning ahead and buying from the correct supplier is important. It might seem to make sense to throw on a box of Magic cards to round out a free freight order because it's got a special order item, but doing this regularly is a waste of money. Plan ahead and use the cheapest supplier. This will mean keeping deeper stock of some items, so nothing is free. This is my biggest pitfall.
- Many Suppliers. It costs nothing to open multiple distributor accounts and it provides you many sources for product. It's also a hedge on information. Sales reps are a source of information, but not always a good source. Open up more accounts and more lines of communication to the industry.
- Know What to Buy. Know how you expect your inventory to perform. If you want strict inventory performance, ruthlessly prune out games or departments that under-perform. Use performance metrics, like turn rates and costs per square foot. You may let some stock slide because the game is growing or it completes a section, but do it deliberately and not because you like the game or think your store should have it. Game stores should have what sells, not what you think should sell. Throw out the vision of what you think a game store looks like.
- Know Who You're Buying For. Try picturing the face of the customer who is going to buy that Dog Fart Monopoly game. Have you asked him about DFM? Did he pre-order DFM? Have you made a DFM announcement and sign up sheet? Are there DFM events planned for the store or are customers kind of tired of the whole DFM line? Ordering a game because you think the dog fart crowd might enjoy it is not good enough.
- Budget Cutting Edge. If you are going to try cutting edge product, budget it carefully. Giving yourself some cutting edge budget means you're also giving yourself permission to be that much more ruthless with regular inventory.
- Purchasing is the Business. The game is won or lost in the purchasing. It's forecasting sales, knowing who exactly will buy your stock before you order it, and knowing the industry so you know what to buy. It's having in depth operational knowledge of the business and it's more important than anything else. It's the last thing to be handed off to an employee and the first thing to be mastered by a new owner.
Profits can be attained only by the forcible overthrow of all existing bad processes.