Saturday, April 13, 2013

Embarassment of Riches

This is one of those rare times of the year when I have a big purchasing budget surplus. I have thousands of dollars that must be spent on inventory. It's my economic engine and it does no good to sit on cash. If I don't keep the money in circulation, it will evaporate. The problem? There's nothing to buy.

In some cases, like several companies at the Gama Trade Show, I threw money at them and they neglected to pick it up, never shipping my order. In the game trade, it's surprising how often you want to buy, but the seller isn't receptive. It's so much work. The stuff. The boxes. The UPS guy has BO. Yadda yadda yadda. I'm waiting for a game company with that name, the honesty would be refreshing. Yadda Yadda Yadda, LLC.

In other cases, what I want is small, esoteric and new and there's no supply for it. That happened yesterday with two fledgling miniature companies and one of our classic games suppliers. "Give me all the stuffs!" Sorry, there's no stuffs. Come back later. The big problem is the time of year.

The game trade is really geared towards a couple big release periods: Summer and Christmas. Stores like mine see big sales during December and we come out of the period with a bankroll that we would like to spend, but there's nothing to spend it on. Since inventory is a zero sum game, we really should spend it, but it makes no sense to buy things that don't work, so we sit on the cash if we're lucky, or spend it elsewhere, if we're not. Instead, we wait for the Summer release schedule to rev up or the more traditional suppliers to get their post holiday manufacturing orders back in. 

When I say there's nothing to buy, I'm referring to new things, what we might call front list, as opposed to older, back list product. The game trade is front list driven more than ever. Weeks where there's new stuff are weeks we're profitable. The worst thing you can do is take your newly minted cash and buy a bunch of old stuff, unless you're filling in holes you might have in games that are doing well. A good example of that is how I went through our Warmachine stock and increased depth on top sellers. I did the same with our Tabletop featured board games. The advantage to that tactic is I can always pare it down later if sales slow. It increases sales to a small degree without much risk.

"Nothing to buy" also refers to inventory performance. There are a bazillion products I could buy. We probably have 5% of the available board games, for example. We just can't buy willy nilly though.  To give you another example, we have five miniature game systems right now and there's interest in another one, although consensus is murky. The truth of these games is none of them meet my performance metrics, so a sixth game, or even that fifth game, is throwing good money after bad. Performance metrics refers to turn rates, meaning either the sales are not strong enough to support the inventory or the inventory is too vast for what passes for sales.

Role-playing is in the same category, with our department never so skewed between D&D and other as it is now. The second generation, 90's era games have been going direct or disappearing and it's clear we need to pay more attention to the third wave, more indie games, although, by their origin and nature, they've never had a strong footing in game stores. It's adapt or die in this area, with "die" referring to shifting inventory, as RPGs haven't kept game stores in business since the 90's.

Patience is clearly not a virtue I possess. Luckily, I've been doing this long enough to know what's going on, so this month we're doing more maintenance related projects. We're painting the bathrooms, repairing the flooring, fixing the pinball machine, moving around impacted inventory, considering merchandising projects, and generally making the store a better place for when we do have shiny new things to sell. It's what I used to refer to as re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. We also started having management meetings, which, if nothing else, keeps me on track. That, along with obsessing over my car, should tide me over until the new release announcements for the Summer.

Brendan, wondering about the strange orders we've been receiving

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