Thursday, May 7, 2009

Baseline Impossible

Sales patterns have been wonky since the economic troubles of last year, with the most obvious symptom being a lack of a stable product sale baseline. Baselines are a line in the sand, drawn so you can determine if things are trending up or down. It can be done by game, by game category, by department and the ever popular, how is my store doing report. While a baseline was easy to establish in the past, current patterns are well, not really fitting a pattern. The usual suspects, like D&D, 40K and Magic are fairly stable, but everything else is up in the air.

So what does that mean for the store? First, it makes ordering a headache. I've had a kind of shotgun approach lately, trying to test the waters, to see if well established games are indeed dead or alive. We've got quite a few games, especially RPG and miniature games, that might be "zombies." I'm not talking about actual games with zombies (those always sell well), these are games that appear to have gone dormant. These games may be victim to a certain type of customer, the dabbler. These are the games people buy because they're cool. This is a shrinking category as customers move more towards games that will actually get played. Thus the bread and butter games are doing well and games that nobody really played anyway are not getting sold.

I shouldn't really complain. As I've mentioned before, this is how I make my money. It's this added work and "value add" that keeps Wal-Mart and Barnes & Noble from eating my lunch. Game store owners walk this fine line of low turning stuff, sales levels that wouldn't interest a big box store. Still, it used to be that I could use past data to predict future results, and that's just not true anymore. The big question: Am I establishing a new baseline now? Or will this be a time of uncertainty for some time to come? Again, from a macro perspective, we're doing well and sales are up. It's that day-to-day store micro-economics that has my scratching my head. I think in the future there will be entire game segments that cease to exist or are paired down substantially. Collectibles come to mind.

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