Friday, April 30, 2010

Counter Talk

After a bad Yelp review in which someone complained about staff taking too much time talking to a "friend," I have to wonder if people are unfamiliar with relationship businesses. It's not unusual to spend time talking to customers, because we get to know them. I wonder if that's somehow alien and off-putting to some people. It's not like most people experience this in life, especially in a large population area. Perhaps they don't feel comfortable or have experience interrupting such an exchange and have questions or unmet needs? Perhaps it's just the right now mentality of our younger crowd.

The first time this happened (again, a complaint on Yelp), I blamed the staff, and made it clear that they need to limit time with their friends while they worked. I figured their friends were hanging out and taking up their time, and once or twice this was true. Lately it occurred to me that I might be the blabber mouth. The average customer comes in once a month and mostly wants to shop quickly and leave. I call this shopping like a man, usually raising a clenched fist when I say it. They may feel a bit alienated when staff are chatting with a regular, who comes in at least once a week, who we know by name and who we show genuine interest in, be it gaming or what's happening in their life. This could easily be perceived as a "friend," and I wouldn't deny that some are. 

This familiarity is alien to most retail experiences. I wouldn't expect it or desire it in most of my shopping, and even find it a little off-putting to have some faceless grocery store clerk thank me by name after seeing my credit card at the check stand. "Uh, thank you, uh, (squinting at her chest) Carol." Quaint, but not necessary. My weekend diner waitress recently asked me if I wanted my "usual," and I probably beamed with delight like a small child that she even remembered me, but that's different. Why? Because we have a relationship, a client-customer scenario in which I'm there for more than just a hot meal. But does that put out the other customers? I suppose it would if the exchange lasted long enough and they were waiting patiently with an empty coffee mug.

The point of this post is to defend counter talk, after years of trying to root out the problem. There is likely not a problem, there is a relationship. It is not a bug, it's a feature. Just as customers will complain about our competitors being cold and short with them (read their Yelp reviews, wait, never mind, Yelp is wretched), I have to assume there will be those who complain that we're too chatty. Still, we aim to be attentive to everyone and we don't want to be one of those cliquish stores where only the buddies of the owner feel comfortable. If we're being a bunch of chatty Cathy's, please interrupt us and ask your question. I also don't want to be like Artie Bucco, the restaurant owner in The Sopranos, who thinks everyone is there for his stellar conversation when in fact they wish he would shut the hell up, leave them in peace, and cook his decent, homey food.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Useless Books Made Useful (Pathfinder)

I once again have to give credit to Paizo for taking an old, tired, and quite frankly, worthless RPG concept and updating it to modern role-playing sensibilities. Dungeon Denizens Revisited is like those old Dragon magazine articles about monster ecology. In the old articles, an author would ramble on for half a dozen pages attempting to graft modern biology onto a monster, as if the number of the monster's stomachs would somehow enhance game play or provide insight. I often read these articles as a kid, usually fan submissions, as a test of fortitude, to claim I actually had read the magazine from cover to cover. Paizo thankfully updates this model, as they've done with other Pathfinder books, with play relevance as the central design goal.

In Dungeon Denizens Revisited, Paizo takes the most absurd monsters from the Dungeons & Dragons milieu and does a few interesting, and most importantly, useful things. The overview tells you where you'll find them, providing some examples for game masters fishing for new encounters. The ecology is light on biology and instead focuses on how these creatures came about. Dungeon Denizens is full of the bizarre, so there's a lot of potential adventure hooks in finding mad wizards or crazy cults that created these babies. We get ten monsters in the book: bulette, cloaker, gelatinous cube, mimic, otyugh, owlbear, purple worm, roper, rust monster and shambling mound, all creatures you've probably used at least once before. You've got the most bizzare monsters, yet familiar to the D&D audience, re-envisioned for usefulness without breaking their historic roles.

The habitat and society section allows you to take that initial "where are they found" section and expand it. Yes, otyughs live in sewers and swamps, but what would an otyugh society look like?  Campaign Role directly addresses what you've learned previously and provides ideas on campaign integration, including some really scary concepts of what would happen if these insane monster got organized. The Treasure section does this same integration based on what we know about their habits and ecology.

Variants provide a number of solid variations on the monster theme. After all, if you're going to have an entire adventure or campaign based on one type of monster, you're going to want to mix it up or create a boss monster. The original monster stats are also included, which you may find redundant or convenient. I'll go with convenient.

Finally, the monster in Golarian section discusses how the monster functions in the Pathfinder world, or if you don't care about that world (like me), a bunch of good examples of how you can use them in your world. As these monsters tend to be one-off, freaks of nature, it's pretty easy to give them a prominent side roll without upsetting the balance, as you might have with giants or dragons. There's something going on right beneath the surface, sometimes literally.

Every step of the way the authors (there's a differenct one for each monster) keep the question in mind: "How will the game master use this?" It's easy for such a fanciful book to become irrelevant (old D&D) or mired in crunch (new D&D), but Paizo knows its audience and has to actually work for a living. Their fans are the most discerning in the D&D community and without D&D logos plastered over the cover, it doesn't get the benefit of doubt. The 64 page book is in color with evocative artwork on every two page layout. I started reading it last Saturday when I had some free time, and by the end of the day I had an innovative otyugh side adventure spawned from the adventure seeds that littered that chapter.

Lets face it, D&D 3 is no spring chicken. It's creaky and old and quite tired after ten years. Pathfinder not only updates the rules for third edition, it has updated the approach to the game. It strives to be useful, relevant and entertaining. Sometimes it fails, but Paizo usually pulls it off, thanks to a stable of some excellent, creative writers. My impression is Pathfinder players are more experienced. They're willing to forgive the ocassional gaffe in exchange for creativity. I'm continually surprised and delighted by what I'm discovering, and that makes being a DM, with those hours of prep time, so much more rewarding. Dungeons Denizens Revisited is $19.99 and we have it in the store. Now if I could only re-order enough copies after I pimp the Pathfinder books I like.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

IT and Purchasing (tradecraft)

Our various suppliers are working to upgrade their systems in hopes of streamlining order processing. Most are intent on web based ordering. Here are the three scenarios, and why I think most aren't on the right track:

Person-to-Person: In this old fashioned scenario, I either call on the phone or send a PDF of a purchase order to my suppliers. The PDF is automated on my end by various factors, such as re-order points set in my POS system. I then "prune" my PO based on my budget and special considerations. For example, I need extra card sleeves and boxes for this weekend, since it's a Magic release. Once this PDF is sent off to my distributor in an email (some stores still fax their po's, possibly a hand written list on the back of a napkin), they manually type in all this data. "Monkey pound keyboard" is our usual joke about this. This is fairly labor intensive for both parties, but especially for the distributor. Most of the errors are theirs to make. On the positive side, problems can be corrected, out-of-stocks substituted, and product up-sold by my sales rep.  A lot of industry information is transmitted in these phone calls. For example, if something isn't available, I can learn why. There's usually a story, and it's how I learn a lot of what's happening in the trade. It's how ordering works with Games Workshop, Wizards of the Coast and my primary distributor, ACD, along with all the tiny little specialty suppliers.

Web Entry: This is considered the current "state of the art," in which I generate a purchase order, and then search for items on the vendor website that match my purchase order, entering in required quanitites. This is actually the most error prone method for the retailer, as we're taking a perfect purchase order and attempting to match it to another system with none of their feedback. Codes may be different between suppliers, descriptions look similar, and I'm usually multi-tasking while I'm doing it. This method is the most error prone, and worst of all, all the errors are inevitably my fault. I gain no information from the process, such as why something is gone, when it will be back, what I might buy instead, or what's coming out soon from that company. Those who don't have a system like this are working hard to develop one. It's a dead end, I think.

Computer-to-Computer: This technology has been around for almost fifteen years. It involves my computer taking the contents of a purchase order and processing it with the vendors system. This is done using an open standard called Electronic Data Interchange (EDI), and it's integrated into the better point-of-sale systems, such as Microsoft Retail Dynamics. The chance of error is zero, although you still don't get the advantage of substitutions and up-sells. It would save the most time for everyone while removing the errors. Perhaps the best system would be this model with a follow-up call from a sales rep. Diamond currently has such a system in place, and Alliance (their smaller game appendage) is supposedly working on EDI. Alliance is the largest distributor, so my hopes are that they'll lead the way. My suggestion to suppliers is to follow Alliance once they have their new system in place and skip the web entry model. If you've got web entry, closely watch the development of EDI by Alliance and figure out how to take advantage of it.

Requisite Game Trade Excuses. Why don't we have this now? Part of this is the slow adoption of technology by many comic and game stores. Quite a few use simple cash registers. A few years ago it was estimated that only 20% had point-of-sale machines of any kind. With such low usage, why invest money in something as complicated as EDI? Again, we see that alpha store phenomena showing its head, wherein only a small percentage of game stores operate like real businesses. Nevertheless, a company like Diamond/Alliance can force the issue to some extent. My advice to everyone else is to ride in their wake.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

April Hits

Looking back at my blog posts for April 2009, we saw much of the same trends: problems in the role-playing game "industry," the large number of people suddenly playing 40K in the store, my getting fat (I've lost weight, thanks to the Wii Fit) and the unknown economic outlook (at least it's taking a form). Here are some updates.

The Dresden Files RPG pre-order system, by Evil Hat, in which you pre-order one or both books from a retail store and immediately get the PDF is pretty revolutionary. It's revolutionary in its simplicity. The publisher signs up a retailer and creates an online "drop box," a creative cloud computing application. This drop box provides PDFs, a shared online folder between the retailer and publisher. The publisher trusts the retailer to handle them properly, which is a no brainer since the last thing retailers want is for free PDFs to be floating around. The customer purchases the product in-store and receives the PDF right there, on CD, as opposed to a more abstract system of requesting the PDF as a stand alone product. We tried that with Catalyst's Code Red system and received no sales. We already have nine books on pre-order (four sets and one individual). About 30 retailers have taken advantage of this so far. Do I dare claim that we're the top 10% of the 300 "alpha" stores?  They certainly have familiar names.

The 40K influx might be seasonal, but there has also been an exodus from local Games Workshop stores. GW stores are going through some regional transition, in which their tactics are finally beginning to match their strategy. The strategy was for GW stores to bring in new players to the hobby (note I didn't say game). This marketing effort focused on training players in the game, the use of GW products to paint and model, and of course capture their initial high ticket sales for the first year, roughly twice what they'll pay in future years if they continue. After this initial period, these graduating recruits would be turned out to the independent game stores, now that their initial demands are met, their early cash extracted, and right as their gaming needs  become more demanding and idiosyncratic. These are my customers.

It's not a bad model. It's the model all of our non game store competitors pursue, slicing the cream off the game industry top and focusing on other things.The GW problem (purely my opinion) was that stores and regional managers were being judged on metrics that didn't align with the company strategy. If you're judged on overall sales, do you really care where those sales come from? Are you going to turn down sales? Heck no, you're going to take as much of the pie as possible. The strategy is something the folks above you worry about. So the strategy of taking the cream off the top and letting the rest go was never really the tactics the troops on the ground employed. Until now. The stores have reduced prize support and have discouraged a lot of veterans from playing in store. Suddenly our group of ten or so 40K players has turned into twenty, as they make their way to their independent retailers for tournaments, bitz orders and other things GW stores are only marginal at doing.

Economic Outlook: Finally, I won't regurgitate economic reports, but I can say that the customer outlook and our sales have improved and stabilized quite dramatically this year. I'm in the boat with many Californians, with wealth devastated and job uncertain, but I still need my hobby to stay sane and I continue to buy stuff (currently Pathfinder supplements). There are new game stores emerging and many will tell you they've got solid business plans and often creative ideas. An interesting example is Just Awesome!, a board game store in San Francisco that has gotten a lot of attention, especially by using micro financing for their start up capital.

I personally feel like I've made my full transition from "gentleman farmer" to permanent, grognard game store owner, although with plans and dreams. We've got a framework in place that should allow our store to be successful with modest growth. We've been transitioning slowly away from toys and plan to increase our family game section dramatically this year, primarily in the 3-7 year old category. I want to emphasize that games for kids are vastly different than toys for kids, an area that parents are more wary about. Toys was a lesson in the problems of diversification, while kids games is a natural extension.

Expansion for us will be about more. More breadth as well as more depth. I think dramatic ideas about coffee shops and multiple stores will have to wait. I would still pay someone to build me a TARDIS order kiosk though. Any carpenters out there?

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Random Thoughts

Some things rattling about my head that would make for perfectly good blog posts for people who don't write in way too long essay format:

Game Store Road Trip. I've been contemplating the idea of heading out on the road to take a look at the best, "alpha" game stores out there. There's this common wisdom that everything you need to know you can learn from your customers and that a good business doesn't need to look back. I agree for the most part, and I rarely visit game stores nowadays (really any store), but the retailer in me is curious to see what's happening.

A trade show, unfortunately, doesn't provide much of this. Part of that is the game industry 90/10 rule, which says about 90% of sales come from 10% of companies. I don't need to see more products, I want to see ideas on how to use them. Such a road trip might take a weekend or a week, but there are some interesting stores on my list, including several regional ones I haven't visited recently or ever, such as Gamescape North, Endgame, Game Kastle and a new board game only store, Just Awesome! in San Francisco. I might need to head north after that.

Next vs. Relationship.  It's something I've hit on a few times, but a friend is about to write a newspaper article on the difference between the "next" business and the "relationship" business and why relationship is better. I'm going to wait for him to write his article so I can steal his ideas, but my impression of the debate is that a store like ours, which is intensely hands on, often feels like it would be easier without the relationships. We love our customers, but the hands on management of customer relations is a lot of work and very idiosyncratic. The business is, in fact, the relationship. That we sell games is secondary. Relationships are a lot of work, especially for geeks who would rather play games.

I'm guessing the "next" business, in which people come in and never come back, is a lot of different work. It probably involves spending stupid amounts of money on marketing for a relatively low pay off for one-time customers, customers that couldn't care less if you live or die and are just as likely to try your competitor next time. I'm guessing without the relationships in the first model, I would feel sad and alienated and quite bored with a constant stream of people I don't know. The "next" business appeal is that it sounds like a good absentee business, one I could run four or five of, strictly for the money. It's the laundromat model.

I expect to learn that "next" is not nearly as successful as it sounds due to the need to constantly hunt down new customers and that "next" customers are really looking for a relationship. "Next" is probably doomed going forward, with most "next" businesses desperately trying to establish relationships. So yeah, I'm not going to write that blog post yet.  ;)

Game Stores on Facebook. I didn't start the discussion, that happened on the Game Industry Network forum, but it has been interesting watching game store owners step up their Facebook presence. I'm still tracking down new ones and adding them to the list and occasionally updating fan counts. I'm especially interested in those with over 400 fans, since that's the territory our store is in. Stores with the highest number of fans have a momentum that other stores don't.

There are several factors, one of which is listing them (people immediately "fanned" the top stores), part of it is the efforts of the owners, since they got where they are through more interaction with their fans, and part of it is the Facebook system itself, which has a kind of exponential growth curve for pages, suggesting the page to friends of existing fans, for example. So game stores towards the top grew at a rate of 3-5 fans a day, while those at the bottom stayed stagnant or lost fans during that period. Black Diamond Games is number nine in the world for game stores on Facebook, but a lot of that has to do with shifting my marketing almost entirely to the medium. I'm a believer, if you couldn't tell.

New Website Needed. I've mentioned it on Facebook and got some mild interest, but I'm seriously looking for someone to re-design our website. I'm looking for an easy way to add dynamic content to the front page, so, after talking with other game store owners with similar sites, I've settled on Wordpress as the medium. I'm looking for a web designer familiar with Wordpress who, get this, wants to work for barter. Email me if you're interested. I want to start this project immediately. You can do this from anywhere in the world.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Top 100 Card Games

Just for fun. I track card game separately from board games (I did a board game top 100 back in September). I also don't include "LCG" games, like Game of Thrones in the card game category, so they're not here. For this list, I stripped out expansions (spin-offs were alright).  Expansions are much more prominent in card games than any other department, but it makes for a boring list. You're also likely to see games that might not meet your personal criteria for a card game, like party games or even a war game or two that happens to be played with cards.

The list starts at the top left with number one. The top right would be number fifty-one.

Munchkin Once Upon a Time 2nd Ed.
Five Crowns My Dwarves Fly 
We Didn’t Playtest This At All Phase 10 Masters Edition    
Fluxx Red November 
Monty Python Fluxx Penny Arcade: The Card Game 
Apples to Apples  Frog Juice
Poo   Man Bites Dog Card Game
Zombie Fluxx  Super Munchkin
Killer Bunnies Starter  Pocket Battles: Celts vs Roman
Bang Pass the Pigs
Guillotine Tiki Topple
Gloom Card Game Ergo  
Cookin Cookies Lunchbox Peanut Butter & Jelly Lunchbox
Citadels  Settlers of Catan Card Game
Lost Cities Apples to Apples Jr 7+
Martian Fluxx Scary Tales: LRRH
Quiddler Tichu
SET Game Set Cubed
Chaos Marauders The Stars Are Right
Munchkin Cthulhu Scattergories Card Game
Beer! Card Game Munchkin Fu
Bang! The Bullet Curses
You've Been Sentenced! Wings of War: Burning Drakens
7 ate 9 Wings of War: Dawn of War
Bohnanza  Slamwich Deluxe Tin
Munchkin Booty Rat-a-tat Cat
Uno Card Game Eco-Fluxx
Family Fluxx  En Garde
Whack a Catgirl  Summoner Wars Elves vs Orcs   
Slamwich The Art of Conversation
Wizard Card Game Deluxe Pit
Court of the Medici Snout! Card Game 
Lunch Money Archaeology: The Card Game
Wench No Thanks!
Letter of Marque  Rook
Scrambled States Moose in the House
Time's Up! Title Recall San Juan
Mystery Rummy 1: JtR Deluxe Illuminati
Mille Bornes  Munchkin Bites!
Family Business Are You The Traitor? 
Blink Monkey Lab
Great Dalmuti Ticket To Ride Card Game
Storybook Game Lunchbox Star Trek Uno
Wings of War Fire from the Sky Blue Moon Legends Basic Set
Wings of War: Famous Aces Black Sheep
A2A: To Go Wings of War: Watch Your Back!
Coloretto Rat-a-tat Cat Deluxe 10th Ann
Saboteur Castle Keep 
Kung Fu Fighting Say Anything
Star Munchkin Reiner Knizia's Poison 

Monday, April 12, 2010

A Million to One

I'm always saying we don't really know much about the game industry due to a lack of a strong trade organization. The first question I always ask, the baseline for my understanding, is how many game stores are out there? That depends on how you define a game store. I started asking people in the industry and the numbers were pretty similar:

Mass Market. Before even looking at independent retailers, we have a plethora of mass market stores that sell gaming products, such as role-playing books, miniatures and board games (increasingly, Euro board games). We've got over 3,000 Wal-Mart stores, 1,000 Barnes & Noble stores, and over 500 Borders. I noticed last month that you can buy Settlers of Catan at one of the 1,750 Target stores, and collectible products and a growing selection of board games at the over 600 Toys "R" Us stores. You might argue that yeah, these stories carry some games, maybe even the cream of the crop, but would most gamers be happy there?  Last years sales of products in which we compete against mass market totaled 27%. So over a quarter of our hobby crowd could exist just fine in the mass environment.

Dabblers. The next group of stores are independent businesses that touch games to some degree, without it being their primary focus. Consensus is that we've got around 3,000-3,500 of these stores. They might be comic book stores that hold Magic tournaments or some other game seller whose primary focus is not games. It's incredibly easy to "dabble" in games, compared to other trades. There are no minimum orders, no trial periods, no punitive discounts based on order quantities, and generally enough competition to find distributors anywhere willing to deal. This contrasts sharply with the comic book industry, with one behemoth company that sets the terms, the standards, and the methods that essentially rewards established stores and prevents all but the most devoted from engaging. Dabblers in games make up 20% of what we sell.

Serious Game Retailers. The next group are retailers whose primary focus is the game trade. The magic number for these stores seems to be 2,200. My guess is that the 800 or so Wizards of the Coast premiere stores fit into this category, although the bar is low. The good news seems to be that the number is fairly stable. Anecdotally, if you look around, most stores seemed to have made it through the recession unscathed. It was the easier times that seemed to trip them up, which makes you wonder if it's true that the game trade is counter-cyclical, at least for retailers. I know it brutalized manufacturers and publishers with that "flight to quality." 

Alpha Stores. Finally, we have game stores that many of us retailers aspire to become. There's a general idea that about 10% of game stores are full featured, well rounded, professionally run enterprises. They carry a broad range of games, usually all the top games, and usually with some depth. They're likely to carry that new, specialized or obscure game that was just released, because their enormous customer base will guarantee a sale. The days of "full line" stores are mostly behind us, when game stores would carry the entire line of every game of a particular manufacturer or segment. You'll see stores carry the "full line" of systems, like D&D or 40K, but rarely 100% of everything available in, say board games. We'll call this number of stores 300.* With the population of the United States at around 300,000,000, there is roughly one alpha game store for every million people. An alpha store is literally a million to one enterprise.

* more discussion put this at the high end of my original 220-300 range.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Game Stores on Facebook

This page has been revised and moved here.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

From the Ministry of Pretty Charts (Minis)

We have our miniature game sales for the last 12 months, similar to what I posted last year around this time. I would postulate that the "flight to quality" concept was in effect in 2009, as customers focused on established games at the expense of other, lesser known (riskier) games. Market share of the leaders grew. There's really only a few companies of note: Games Workshop, Privateer Press, Battlefront and whatever skirmish game is popular at the moment (Malifaux). I think this will start loosening up this year and can't wait to see some of the new innovators.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

My Gaming is the Prep

In the last couple years I've done a complete role-playing circuit, moving from D&D 3.5 to D&D 4th edition, and recently finding comfortable ground with Pathfinder, not entirely inaccurately described as D&D 3.75. In between, I tried Warhammer Fantasy Role-play third edition and messed around with Dragon Age. Right now I'm looking over the Dresden Files RPG, but really, I'm back home with my comfortable D&D, a game that fits like a worn pair of jeans.

I wish I could be one of those gamers that flits from system to system, using the entire realm of the gaming universe to satisfy their story needs, choosing the right tool for the job, but I'm not that guy. At the heart of my gaming needs, I just need a set of polyhedral dice and I'll make the story fit my system. D&D is my hammer and any story you can think of looks an awful lot like a nail to me.

I've described getting into Pathfinder as going down the rabbit hole. I played 4E long enough to know that making adventures and encounters for it was easy, especially with a DDI subscription. Doing the same with Pathfinder, like with 3.5, is incredibly time consuming, partly because of the structure of encounters, partly because there aren't any good electronic tools, but mostly because there's ten years of content to draw upon. It's an embarrassment of riches.

I was a little panicky at first, with so many resources. I recalled all the prep hours of the past and as I began working on my campaign, the hours started flying by, hours that I used to spend with my family. Then I remembered it was about the story. Focus on the story and the resources will show themselves. For me, most of gaming is this kind of prep work (and anxiety), along with setting up blogs, forums and Facebook pages to encourage player collaboration.

For role-playing, I enjoy the world building and adventure writing. For miniature gaming it's modeling and painting. My brief foray back into Magic only interested me when I was doing research and deck building. That's probably why I'm not much of a board gamer and find computer games to be an absolute and utter waste of my time. Where is the creativity? Where is the art project?  Where is the many hours of prep time for a few hours of game time? The prep isn't a bug, it's a feature. This is just my personality, and as a White Dwarf article recently pointed out, people are in the hobby for a variety of reasons, and playing the game is just one of them. The same reason why people play board games and video games, their limited time required for preparation, is what drives me away from them.

The Mogra, original artwork commissioned for my AD&D Planescape campaign. 
A pre-cursor to my ten year urban 3.x campaign.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

The Third Variable (Tradecraft)

Lately I've had to add a third variable to our ordering cycle. The first is the release date. This is the day that our distributors will ship an item to us. Since we have next day delivery, it's usually the day before the street date for most items and it's only used by big distributors. The second variable is the street date, when the item can be sold, and can be a hard street date (not before this date, or else) or rather soft, "around" this time, which is how Games Workshop usually works. The third factor is fairly new for us, it's pay day dates.

The new, rebuilt, thrifty and frugal economy has created some discipline out there, and just because something is new, it no longer means our customers will flock to get it. They're budgeting and showing some self control by waiting until they can afford what they want, something I greatly admire. Then they predominantly use cash and ATM cards to pay for it when that day comes. So how is this unique?

Pay day shoppers bend the sales curve in interesting ways. They create secondary spikes in sales that adds one more variable to how I order product. For big sellers, which I now know are 25% of our sales, it's not a problem, since we usually order a 30 day supply to avoid potential outages (something most stores don't do).  However, for the 75% of our sales in which we likely have less than five items on the shelf, it requires more vigilance on our part. It's a difficult maneuver to pull off actually, when you realize how few of most items we actually sell. A spiky release day is hard to manage without overstocking, but having a couple more smaller spikes after that initial spike can leave us unprepared.

I want to ask customers to be patient as retail stores re-calibrate, but I'm not big on expecting them to excuse our faults. Consider this an explanation, rather than an excuse. What I do ask customers to do is pre-order if they can. For us, this requires payment in advance, so it doesn't really address the problem. Second best is to express interest. If 75% of what we sell will be four or fewer copies, then it's important to know if a customer is interested, especially if they plan to come in up to two weeks later, their pay day, to buy it.

This all may sound esoteric, but I'm a firm believer that retail success is primarily about purchasing. You can commit a variety of deadly sins in retail and still survive if you remember that it's all about having the stuff, when people want it, and in the correct quantities. If half of our sales are of a single item, think of the chaos a purchaser would introduce by ordering just one more of each. Ordering two instead of one or restocking after that single item is sold would be disastrous. As I've mentioned before, I think the difference between success and failure is 1 and 2 (or more accurately half the purchasing job based on our stats).