Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Game Space

My lust for an unaffordable performance upgrade on my car got me thinking about the various stages of game space in a game store. Most stores will have a fixed game space for their entire lives. If they move, they might upgrade. Upgrading in place happens sometimes, often by taking over adjacent spaces. Sometimes you can go up or down as well. We're considering upgrading our game space next year in some fashion or another. Here's how I see the various game space stages:

Stock. That's it, you've got stock and no game space. You can run a game store without game space on pure retail principles. You can do it on a 9-5 basis. You don't have to be in a shopping mall to do it. You don't have much of a community, except those who appreciate you having things on the shelves. I did this for several years and I could have made a very modest, limited living from it. From talking with other store owners, I think stores that start without game space do better when they finally get it (not that I would recommend you go without it). They're forced to face retail head on, rather than chasing easy sales from events. They're better rounded retailers. No department is really hot in the Stock stage, so you learn to sell everything equally well. The car equivalent would be telling someone the best performance upgrade they could buy is driving school.

Stage 1. This is what we have now. After a bunch of research, I figured if we could accommodate around 60-70 people, we could run most single events, and sometimes two small events simultaneously. I thought this was the sweet spot for most game stores when I researched it, and I still do. However, now I want higher performance (to continue my car metaphor). I don't want to be most game stores. For us, Stage 1 has been 1,000 square feet of game space, custom made by dividing our retail space. Some stores will use temporary partitions and shelving with wheels to accommodate events of this size.

Stage 2. In stage 2 you can seat roughly twice as many people as Stage 1. Let's call it 125 people. Stage 2 means you can run two full events simultaneously. You can run mini-conventions. You can run the next cut-off for CCG events. If you see yourself as more of a regional hub, you want Stage 2. The cost of this is usually prohibitive though, and you can't really fake it with partitions and other tricks. I can't imagine going this route unless you were:  a) very well established (AKA profitable), or b) not paying full retail rent for your game space, or your rent was already on the low side. Stage 2 is my desired next step for my store.

Stage 3. This stage can seat 250+ people. Now you can run everything in Stage 1 and 2, but also the big events, like Yugioh regionals, very large Magic tournaments, and you might even be able to convince manufacturers to run events in your store that might have been run in a hotel. My guess is people will come to you with event ideas. Very few stores do this. It's serious high performance territory and if you're a retailer and know of stores like this, I would love to hear about them. My Stage 2 plan will hopefully include the option for Stage 3 later on, like most automotive performance packages.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Top Board Games this Fall

So what has been hot this season? It's a combination of some classic games along with some interesting new releases. Here are our best sellers since Summer:

ELDER SIGN: Think of a faster, less expensive Arkham Horror. It's a cooperative dice game for 1-8 players. It's not quite a filler game at 1-2 hours (depending on the number of players), but it's still something you could break out while waiting for friends to show up or your slow server at Denny's. It's our best seller this season.

DREADFLEET is clearly more miniature game than board game, with beautifully detailed plastic sprues that need assembly and painting. It's two players only with tactical rules that fall in complexity somewhere between a typical strategic board game and a more complex miniature game like 40K. You can play a game in an hour and it's suitable for older kids. It's stand alone without any expansions planned. It's not cheap at $115, but you get a lot for your money.
SETTLERS OF CATAN: The big daddy of all Euro board games, Settlers is a perfect game to gift to friends and relatives that have even an inkling of interest in board games. It's a gateway drug to a whole world of card stock enjoyment. It does 2-4 players, 5 with the expansion, and works as a semi-cooperative competitive game where you have to negotiate your way to victory. It's a more modern take on the winner take all classic, Monopoly, and has gained fame over the last year as a game played by Silicon Valley executives.

LEGEND OF DRIZZT: Yes, I know you hate Drizzt. Show us on the miniature where the bad drow touched you. Still, it's a good game in the Dungeons & Dragons board game system. "The Geek" still gives it over an 8 on the snooty grognard scale, and that means something. It's cooperative, does 1-5 players, and is a great dungeon crawl alternative to a D&D game if that unreliable player tries to ruin your session again. We grossly over-ordered on this one based on sales of the older game and still have a bunch in stock.

BLOOD BOWL TEAM MANAGER is a card based version of the Games Workshop miniature game based on fantasy armies playing a brutal game of football. The teams vary in strategy, with some more brutal or more likely to cheat than others, and is supposed to last a typical Blood Bowl season from the miniature game. This is another in the line of lighter, "remember when we had time" games that you can whip out with an old gaming buddy while they balance a toddler on one knee.

What else has been popular? In 6th-10th place we have:

6. Bang: The Bullet: The classic Bang card game with (almost) all the expansions in an attractive metal bullet case.
7. Hey! That's My Fish! Fantastic tile game for kids and adults that used to cost a small fortune but has been re-released in a $12 small box. The perfect stocking stuffer.
8. 7 Wonders: The winner of 29 awards, this card development game is perfect for your deeper, strategy gamer. If you like Dominion or Race for the Galaxy, give it a try.
9. Game of Thrones Card Game. The HBO series has brought a lot of people into this game this year. It's got a lot of strategic depth as you play one of the houses of Westeros. The box set is enough to play, but this "living card game" has a huge number of fixed deck expansions, and we regularly have Game of Thrones store events.
10. Star Fluxx. A science fiction version of Fluxx, with ever changing rules and win conditions. It's one of those filler games that's considered a staple of gamer households and is another great stocking stuffer this season.

Others to check out: Walking Dead (by Cryptozoic), Panic Station, Guards! Guards! and the Quarriors Dice Building Game that would have been higher on the list if it had been more available this season.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Mind of the Retailer

One topic store owners tend to keep within their circles is the issue of theft. Theft, both internal (employee) and external (customers) is so endemic to retail that it's a line item and gets a special name: shrink. Shrink can be as high as your net profits, at least if shrink is on the high end of the range and profits are on the low end of the range. It can average as high as 5% in some stores and still be considered normal, or it can be off the charts and your store can die a brutal death of a thousand cuts. So what is shrink really?

Shrink is a nice way of describing how your inventory is somehow smaller without the requisite cash from sales. It shrunk. No need to throw heavy words like theft or shoplifting out there. We just have shrink. It's caused by three things. In order of least denial to total denial: customers stealing stuff (bastards!) employees making errors in receiving or selling items (no, really?), and downright employee theft (not in my shop!).

In my mind, I always blame the customers for shrink first. It's far easier to accept than my employees are stealing from me or that we're making errors in a big way. It's often a combination of all three. A large part of what we do is attempt to train employees to prevent customer shrink, far more than preventing them from making errors. Sadly, I've let an employee go because they couldn't do this, either because the employee was stealing or because they became an easy mark by not paying attention. I'll give them the benefit of the doubt. Still, firing someone because they're just not very observant is kind of rough and I inevitably blame myself for not being able to train them better.

There's also the more malevolent employee who systematically stole, and at this point I think we can describe some of their activities as embezzlement. It's a time honored tradition in the game trade, embezzlement, but it still sucks when it happens to you. If someone wants to steal from you, they'll find ways to get around your procedure. It will work for a while, but the bottom line doesn't lie, providing you're paying attention. We have increasingly strict procedures for cash management that should show discrepancies. My disgust from this is pretty high, and without giving you a motive, let me just say that in another time and place, a more permanent solution to their character flaws would have been found.

This is all very technical, but what you don't often read about, what is hard to grasp, is what all this theft does to you personally, the store owner. If you had a lot of faith in humanity before you had a store, it's certainly put to the test now. You start looking at why people do these things, you question their motives, their upbringing, their sense of entitlement, and societies lack of caring that you've been harmed. Especially with employees or business partners, you trusted them, treated them fairly, maybe even became friends with them, and now this. My advice is if you're a happy go lucky kind of person and you want to stay that way, keep clear of retail.

Society doesn't much seem to care either. The district attorneys office won't investigate bad checks and the police take an hour to show up even when you have a shoplifter on site. It's very easy to get jaded about this, to feel you're the only one towing the line, that only you can reset the balance in the universe. You can go all Batman on this. Plenty of stores have failed when the owners have stopped towing the line themselves. It's usually a seizure by the board of equalization for not paying collected sales tax, which are honestly, a higher percentage than my net profits. The BOE here in California is an understaffed, government office with arcane practices and stiff penalties that works entirely on the honor system. I wouldn't dare slight them or even mention them in a tone that wasn't hushed if I wasn't meticulous about my own bookkeeping.

So retail hardens your heart a bit. It tests your own morality. It makes you temper your compassion with some fairly laser focused wisdom to see through bullshit. To understand retailers, you need to understand how they share their profits with everyone ripping them off, everyone stealing food from the mouths of their children, the various government agencies that extort cash from them, like the county farm bureau that now collects hundreds of dollars from us for having a point of sale machine.  You have to get this to understand their minds, especially compared to more ... whimsical ... elements of the game trade.

This has been put into sharp contrast lately with my experiences on Google Plus. I now follow a bunch of RPG designers, whereas on Facebook it's mostly store owners. I recently offended someone by describing the rantings of designers as a visit to the Elemental Plane of Bourbon. In other words, the imaginative daily lives of an RPG designer is intensely alien to someone wondering if that kid in the corner just stole a Red Bull, while simultaneously managing a budget in their head of several hundred thousand dollars. It just seems so freakin' trivial and drug induced. The designer rants that is.

Retailers promote a hobby of fantasy and escape, but our businesses are run on some hard scrabble practices. Ever see a store owner that only turns on the lights when a customer walks into his store? Crazy, right? It's that thin a line between success and failure for many retailers. Don't think that guy doesn't know what it costs per minute to have those lights on.

As a retailer, your sense of wonder can be shattered through these practical day to day attempts at not getting eaten alive by the shrink monsters. That's when everything seems like a widget, when employees become overhead, and customers are a necessary evil. Thankfully, we have our fantastic, bourbon inspired games and we don't sell widgets. Widgets have a much higher profit margin on the up side, but games, games provide an escape. Games are a way to recharge the batteries, to experience a sense of the heroic, to add some humor, Games open up spaces in our minds so we can be a little more compassionate to those around us, bringing back some of our faith in humanity.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Opening Nuts with Laser Beams (Miniature Games)

If you're a regular customer and you even hint that a board game is good, I'll likely bring it into the store, often without a pre-order, but a pre-order is always preferred. This is pretty much true with RPGs and occasionally a CCG. One of the most important thing in this job is to listen to my customers, especially when it comes to game selection. They'll often know more than me. There's just too much out there.

However, if you want to talk to me about a new miniature game, you'll probably meet with strong resistance that even surprises me sometimes. Miniature games are the most stable, most predictable, most resistant to change part of the store. There are reasons for this.

First, there is no dabbling in miniature games, unlike the request to bring in a $50 board game, a $100 box of boosters or a $200 line of RPG books. Miniature games don't work that way. We're talking about half a dozen starter boxes to start ($300) which really doesn't get you very far. Then we've got additional models that will likely add another couple hundred bucks, eventually leading to thousands. And for what? It's so one guy and possibly his buddy can play each other. That's great for special orders, I like free money, but the demand is usually that we stock this game, in the (customer risk free) hope that more people will play. Sounds like an opportunity, right?

Rarely. It comes down to how people play these games. Miniature games are expensive, and while a board gamer or RPG hobbyist will buy multiple games or game systems, most miniature gamers have room for one core game and often one, one-off, "break" game. Games Workshop understands this, so they'll encourage people to play Mordheim, Blood Bowl or Space Hulk for a while, with the understanding that they're recharging their batteries before diving back into their core game, 40K or Fantasy. So at best, that new miniature game is the break game, and at worst, the break game becomes their new core game.

I say worst because inventory is a zero sum game for a store. A new product line is an inventory budget suck. Would I rather you play a new off-the-shelf 40K army, or would I rather spend $1,500 on a new thing for you to dabble in (my current Malifaux stock number)? Duh. And what happens when Shedworks Games goes out of business, inevitably raises their prices and alienates everyone, or allows a third grader to write its next expansion? That's right, clearance bucket, the lot of it. What happens to that customer? If I'm lucky they return to 40K, their core game, and if I'm really unlucky, they discover the new panda expansion for World of Warcraft and I never see them again.

Even when a game is moderately successful as a "break" game, there comes a time when it inevitably begins to wane as all the miniature hobbyists who play that break game finds they have everything they need. After all, it's the break game, they're not looking for infinite expansions and new armies, that's what their core game is all about, that's why they're taking a break. So what we see is a slow build up of a new break game (Mordheim, Infinity, Malifaux), followed by strong sales, a long decline and a total crash. It's not that players hate the game, it's just that they have what they need. They've taken a break. They still play those games in our store, they just don't need anything else from me, thank you very much.

So how do you make a new miniature game work in a store? First, I listen very carefully and have a much higher bar for bringing in a miniature game than other types of games. Second, I consider the source. Do I know this customer? Am I likely to see sales from this guy, or is he a perpetual dabbler that loses interest quickly? Third, can I get some play? Is there someone involved in this transaction that is likely to run events, even if it's a time for him and his buddy to play on our tables at a set time?

Ideally a staff member gets all excited about this, which is often the key in game stores that do well in this area of the trade. Finally, have an exit strategy and be clear when the run is over so you can recoup your costs and move onto the next game, preferably by selling off stock outside the store. Nothing is worse than training your customers to wait for a clearance sale.

Miniature games are the hardest nut to crack in the game trade, a nut that is likely going to blow up in your face and ruin your day if you're not careful. It's far easier for a game store to do something else instead: take a chance and go deep on an RPG, expand their board game section, or throw money at their Magic singles budget. Miniature games? Buckets of "dead lead"? Now that takes some true dedication. That's opening nuts with laser beams.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Battlefoam at the Range

Battlefoam bags are made from Kevlar, which you may know as a material made by DuPoint for bullet proof vests. Sure, it's also used for racing sails and bicycle tires and all sorts of things that aren't designed to stop a bullet, but the vests are how you remember Kevlar. This, of course, meant that eventually someone was going to shoot a Battlefoam bag. And because we live in the age we do, it was going to get recorded on video. Yeah, we did that.

Romeo makes it look so easy. This was all in good fun, of course, and nobody was expecting the bag to be bullet proof. If you do care at all about ballistics, the .45 round came the closest to wrecking the bag. I was a little surprised when we opened it up because I thought the bag had plastic inserts, but actually has thin, stiff particle board. There were wood particles everywhere, and the .45 round spider webbed the front wood insert on impact, while the other rounds went straight through.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Million Dollar Game Store

I've now had a store long enough and a mouth big enough to be a go-to guy for prospective store owners. Lately I've seen an increase in such visitors. It's not unexpected. I think there is a huge pent up demand for new businesses with lots of people waiting for the economy to improve. All the indicators say that if Europe doesn't crater, 2012 will be the year to make a move. There seems to be money out there, despite tight credit and the car crash of a housing market. Money looks to be coming from unlikely sources, including overseas.

When I get visitors, my job, as I see it, is to explain the harshness of the game trade. I love my job. I love going to work in the morning. I'm proud to own my own business. But it's a literal labor of love. It really doesn't make financial sense to do this and it's hard for me to justify re-investment, which is where I'm at now. We're looking at expansion, but the brain it took to make the money has a hard time coming to terms with spending it, compared to more rational uses of capital.

Anyway, here's an example of a recent game store scenario we discussed. The average game store in this country has gross sales of $250K a year. Lets ignore that. Lets swing for the fences. Lets create a game store that does a cool million in sales each year. There are maybe one of these in every major US market that has a gaming sub-culture. They are the 1%. None are created overnight, most are not created rationally, they evolve organically, despite the best efforts of their owners, but lets pretend.

For your million dollar store, you'll avoid the "shock and awe" approach of dense, slow turning, inventory and instead use smart inventory management. You'll invest maybe $100,000 in setting up your shop and start-up losses and another $100,000 in inventory, assuming this will eventually get you 5 or so turns ($200,000 of inventory at retail gives you your million dollars with 5 turns). Assuming you make all the numbers work, which again, I don't think is reasonable or rational, your $200,000 investment is getting you your million dollars a year in sales. Voila! You're a millionaire!

Well, no. Your gross might be high, but profit margins are thin in retail. A good assumption is you'll make about a 5% net margin, or $50,000 a year. (before taxes). So you're on a beach somewhere, at least in theory. That can happen. It's rare though. The reality is that you'll have so many balls in the air, you'll have a hard time getting much tanning done. More than likely a lot of that fifty grand will be used to pay off your $200k in debt, unless you happen to have that money free and clear.

If you do have that money free and clear, what else could you do with it? How about sit on a beach now with $20,000/year? It's not as nice a beach, sure, but there's very little risk and far fewer interruptions. That's the return you'll get, on average, if you just invest it in the stock market.

How about buying a business that has a reasonable chance of success? A Subway sandwich franchise costs between $100k-$300k and is rumored to have a profit margin of around 25% (minus 8% to Subway). You know what else you can do with a Subway store? You can sell it when you get bored. Try that with a game store. Ha!

There are a lot of intricacies in something like this, and I'm not saying Subway is the answer, it's just symbolic of what's possible. However, I can promise you, running a sandwich shop is going to be vastly easier than a million dollar game store. I think of this all the time. It's where my rational brain goes when my gamer lobe (a vestigial mass missing in most people) thinks about a second store. My point is if you're investing "real" money, in an intelligent way, perhaps it's time to separate your business brain from your gamer lobe.

My motivation in writing this is to avoid failures, especially the constant flailing I see in my local market. Every gamer with a lawsuit settlement, dead uncle or rich buddy dreams of running a game store. It's rarely a rational choice. A good game store competitor, with a solid business plan, a site feasibility study, and an understanding of the game trade could potentially help everyone. A bad one hurts the community, erodes our sales and slows our growth before eventually becoming road kill. Most of the customers they once served drift off into other pursuits (competitors get a very small percentage of them), telling their children in later years about the cool games they used to play.

If you still have a hankering to open your own business, go build your sandwich shop, hire some college kid to manage it, and spend your evenings and your 25% profit margin (minus Subway's cut) in my store. Everyone will be much happier. If you just want to game and you think owning a game store is a method to do more of that, let me tell you you're way off base.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Our Reaper Problem

In a nutshell: We've got 90 miniatures on the wall. We've got 90 miniatures on back-order. Back-order means Reaper hasn't supplied them to the distributors for us to order. When 50% of a companies inventory is unavailable, it's kind of pointless to run metrics. Charts and graphs aren't necessary to know that this isn't working.

We're not planning to drop them, mostly because it's impossible to even evaluate them when they're in such a constant state of fail. However, it's awfully hard to take them seriously as a product line with a 50% fill rate. There are some serious problems here.

Prices have risen dramatically over the last couple of years, to where an average model has jumped from around $3.99 to $5.99. Before this, it probably took five years to get from $2.99 to $3.99. You may have noticed Games Workshop has dropped metal miniatures from their entire product range. Who wants to be in the middle of a commodity battle between Indonesia and China?  That's not where I would want my company. Metal miniatures are all about tin and tin is in short supply and high demand. Unfortunately, I don't think Reaper has much flexibility in picking their materials, unless it's some cheaper alloy, which they've messed around with in their P-65 line (lead alloy). They don't have vast quantities of anything that could be produced in plastic, for example.

There are cultural shifts too. Fewer people seem to be painting fewer miniatures, from what I can tell. They just don't get bought as often anymore, and I know many people eagerly awaiting the new Paizo plastic pre-paints to resume their miniature collecting without the butt pain of a tedious paint job. I could easily imagine the demise of paintable miniatures as a natural thing at this point. There is no game imperative to these things. They're just nice. Sure, there are things we could do to breathe life back into miniatures, such as table gimmicks to give players in the store in game bonuses for painted miniatures, or the good idea that never quite works how we want it, the painting contest. But really, does nobody want to do this for fun anymore?

I've gone from carrying every Reaper miniature in 2004 to just those 90 plus my wish list. This didn't happen by accident. It was a slow decline associated with the malaise in the RPG industry. During that time we went from six local game stores to just me. You would think we would see an uptick in mini sales then, right? Not so much. I'm sure some other store owner will tell me they're doing great with them right now. I can't say I'm hopeful, although I would jump on those 90 back ordered models if the opportunity presented itself. I even called Reaper to order some, but they were busy.

Our goal is to use Reaper packages to create a "core" selection of miniatures that we endeavor vigorously to keep in stock. Then we check the metrics on "core," and if they don't work (as happened with Flames of War) we drop it. If it does work (as has happened with Warmachine) we celebrate and engage further. Dropping Reaper is as inconceivable as Dungeons & Dragons not being top RPG dog. Oh wait....

I'm far from a hater. The way I often make my RPG characters is to find the miniature first and use it for inspiration for a character concept. "Aziz," above is the Moroccan Merchant mini from Reaper's Chronoscope line. I rescued him from our clearance bins where he had been sitting for weeks. I vowed such a cool model would one day be my character (Inquisitor of Abadar in a Pathfinder Serpent Skull campaign, sometimes called "The Morsel of Abadar"). He then sat on my nightstand for months before I could figure out his concept. He's not a great model, probably better suited in an NPC role, and he doesn't have a great paint job, but it was extremely inspirational nonetheless.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Blowing Bubbles

There are two types of periods when I delve heavily into our numbers, when things are down and when things are up, really up. We're thankfully in that "really up" period where our annual sales have skyrocketed. This is always worrying, because when sales are down, it's natural to tighten your belt, cut costs and act smarter. That is almost always the right thing to do anyway.

However, strong sales, really strong sales, are dangerous as it leads to stupid behavior. Really strong sales encourage structural changes, like expansion, new hiring, taking on debt, and the kind of stuff you regret later when you realize you were experiencing a bubble. We are in a bubble now.

CCGs this year have propelled our sales up 30%. A new store, lesser experienced store owner or prospective store owner might find this very exciting and could be tempted to make bad decisions. You might be inclined to start a new store to capitalize on this huge trend, which is obvious for everyone to see. Heck, we're looking to use the extra money to make some structural changes ourselves, but the thought is this is temporary, providing an opportunity to better position ourselves in the future, rather than the expectation that sales will continue to rise like this. Like the stock market, by the time you usually spot a trend, the opportunity to capitalize on it has probably passed.

What we see instead is slow and steady growth of around 6%, when you flatten CCGs and their supplies. D&D is on the ropes, 40K hasn't seen a new release in 6-months and it's a down year for board games. My holiday forecast is flat unless CCGs come to the rescue again. That 6% is still respectable retail growth but certainly doesn't call for big changes. Certainly stock better for the CCG crowd, buy some new tables and chairs, pay down debt and maybe even pick up some new fixtures or other needed things for the store, but my advice, if you're seeing what I'm seeing, is consider it temporary.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Math Hard

One of the few blogs I read regularly is by Seth Godin, because he's insightful, terse and provides a laser focused insight that often applies directly to whatever I'm doing (AKA not my blog).  His blog today was entitled Are You Doing Math or Arithmetic?  As it's our 7th anniversary this month (our party with free tri tip sandwiches is on the 13th), this got me thinking about how I do things now, how I did things early on and how I think most people do things. And yes, that math analogy holds up pretty strong in my case.

To summarize the Godin blog post, there's basic, nuts and bolts "arithmetic" kind of stuff that people do in their jobs, which is mostly repetition, going through the motions. Most of this is necessary, but there is so much more. Then there is "math," which is cutting edge, intuitive stuff that includes as much art and intuition as it does science. The thing about running a game store is there's a lot of arithmetic. There is enough arithmetic, rote stuff that gets done over and over, that you could very easily think that's all there is. For most store owners, that is all there is. You could do that job, fail, and blame the system, because you had no idea there was actual math beyond your arithmetic.

My game store career involved doing an awful lot of arithmetic, in fact learning arithmetic on the job. Where most experienced retailers who had perhaps worked in other stores would show up with arithmetic skills, I was still learning the basics of arithmetic, sometimes literally, trying to process margins and discounts and trying to figure out exactly how the numbers were supposed to be crunched when it was clear they were made of granite. The key for my transition from arithmetic to math was both education, as in seminars in which people who seemed like me were doing real math, as well as pure frustration. Is this it? Isn't there more? Followed by questions like, "what are smarter people than me doing?"

Math turned out to be quite a few things beyond basic arithmetic for me. It's a ton of marketing, usually guerrilla style, almost entirely social media marketing nowadays. It's merchandising and displays that push the envelope. It's better event management, better financial management, better purchasing and forecasting, better staff management, and finding and allowing others to do some of the arithmetic (and even math!) so I can concentrate on my real job. It requires making a bunch of mistakes, to be honest, hopefully with enough foresight that they don't sink you. It's about being open to opportunity, even when your basic arithmetic skills say it can't be done. Math is hard after all. Math is constantly changing for me, I'm never quite doing it right, and my efforts and aim are never quite on target. But I'm getting better at solving the big equations and I have a strong sense of awe when it comes to better mathematicians.

So while I do arithmetic on a regular basis, and must continue to do so, the key for me is to remember I'm here to do math. Usually when I find myself in need of a break or change, it's because I've fallen into only doing arithmetic. It's easy and comfortable. Managers do arithmetic; owners do math. If as the owner I find myself consumed by arithmetic, those rote activities that can consume the day, I'm doing it wrong. I'm not doing my job of evil scientist, arithmetic genius in training.