I borrowed the metaphor from an old boss, who told me over lunch one day his desire to open a hardware store. When I met with him before I opened my game store, he thought I was crazy when I told him my plan. "What about the hardware store?" I asked. He told me some dreams are meant to stay dreams.
The owner of the dream hardware store laughed and handed me a clipboard with nearly infinite sheets of thin, onion paper. Each sheet had lists of weird product categories and random codes. I stared at the top, the department being the only word that made any sense: Paint. The item description had words, but the meaning was lost on me.
I walked around the store, it might have been 100,000 square feet or a million, as I never stopped walking. There were no signs. There was paint here and there, and paint cans on top shelves of other departments, but never did I find the actual "Paint" department, nor the first item on the list. I walked and I walked.
I began to despair. I agreed to do this thing. Clearly this would take a year or longer with one person, and knowing retail, the data would be worthless far sooner than that, probably by the end of the day. It was like inventorying drops of water in a swift moving river. What had I gotten myself into? What was I trying to accomplish?
It was a familiar sense of hubris. Most game store owners have no idea what they're getting into until they actually do it. Also, it's not like you get to a point where you have it all figured out, like the mythical hardware store of simplicity. I can look at every element of that dream and break it down into something I'm grappling with after 13 years in this business.
There are multiple dangers of owning a small business. One danger is you'll fail, which can be a merciful experience if it happens soon, but after the first few volatile years, the chance of failure doesn't ever lower. Ever. If you dream of a failing hardware store, you might insulate yourself with an enormous cash cushion to get through the night undisturbed.
The most dangerous thing in small business is you succeed, just enough to keep going, but not enough to be worthy of your devoted life. You may have been young and not doing anything worthwhile when you opened, but what could have you done? What could you be doing now?
The lucky few will be successful, but their dreams will be haunted by giant hardware stores and infinite inventory sheets. Store owners will say, if you can make it doing this, you can make it anywhere. But where exactly? Also, there is no doubt in my mind there's a hard working hardware store guru, who knows the location of every paint can in the enormous store they work in, who dreams of opening a game store. As my old boss told me, some dreams are meant to stay dreams.
|Am I a game store owner dreaming I work in a hardware store |
or a hardware store owner dreaming I work in a game store?