Monday, May 8, 2017

Dance of Desire (Tradecraft)

When I think about long term plans for the store, whether it means keeping it well into retirement, selling it later, or keeping it going after my death, I'm reminded the value of the business is the dance of customer desire. It's an elegant, free form dance of constantly shifting movements in which your partner is thousands of people and their desire for joy. Sometimes we forget we sell joy and happiness, since after a while our passion for games can wane. This dance creates waves throughout the organization that informs sales, purchasing, finance and personnel. It's the finger on the pulse, the ability to listen to the music and adapt in time.

The tendency is to think of a hobby game store as a static business, in which we sell the same stuff day in and day out. Sometimes customers will walk in and try to get a deal on some box, since it's been there for months, not understanding that this static, unmoving box is a vibrating string in our symphony of retail, having been sold half a dozen times since they last visited us. The dance is dynamic.

The movements are constantly changing. Our ability to dance and change to the music is our strength, our security even, as large stores can't possibly hope to adapt as quickly as us. If we were static, for just a moment, we would be devoured. We don't just dance for customers, we dance for our very lives. We move to avoid being devoured by the slow moving leviathans of retail.

It's not just stock that's dynamic, it's every element of the business process. There's no better way to see this than visiting a store that has lost its manager. The staff go through the empty motions, the dance they've been taught, without any connection or understanding of the movements and their purpose. I was at a store once that continued to demo a board game that hadn't been in stock for months. Their manager had set up this demo program and then disappeared. They showed me this great game, I asked to buy it, they declined. It didn't exist. They were dancing without a partner.

My goal as an owner is to teach the dance to my managers who will then teach the moves to staff. There's no way staff will grasp all the nuance of the dance, only the movements with correction needed occasionally. I can't claim to have mastered this model, as I still dance myself, rather than fully focusing on developing the dance and passing it along. That's the problem with game stores and determining their value, as they really don't have any unless the manager is entirely off the dance floor. The dance instructor does not come with the sale of the studio.

Removing yourself from the dance floor is a Catch-22 of sorts. It assumes you have someplace to go, another dance to engage in. Yet, until you do it, until you're off the dance floor, you don't know if your choreography was properly transmitted to your dance troupe. So you disengage slowly. Your troupe thinks you've lost interest and have abandoned them, but it's the only way to build value, to let them do the dance. Does your staff know how to pivot and turn to the rhythm of the music, to the response of the customer and the trade, or are they just going through the moves, like some stiff and empty karate kata? Do they listen and adapt or do they use demo games to sell false promises? You don't know until you disengage. You can't really disengage until you have a new dance. You can't have a new dance until you decide to stop dancing.

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