Sunday, December 23, 2018

People Gotta and Three Ring Circuses (Tradecraft)

What is a successful product? It's about opportunity cost. A successful product is one where you make the most money compared to other product opportunities. This is why GMROI, Gross Margin Return on Investment is a superior tool to turn rate analysis. Given your gold pieces, what inventory you sold to the adventurers brought you the most return?

There is a caveat that says this product enables you to continue what you're doing. Sometimes a product line is slow, but it enables you to continue selling something fast. Right now I would love to drop my Magic singles. Lacking any meaningful tools for performance analysis, it appears to be an area I would normally give the axe. I find it unbelievable the IT leaders in this field can't provide the most basic tools for this analysis. When was that card added to my database? That's enough to begin providing me data. I continue to sell Magic singles because it's a major part of my Magic Industrial Complex. There are singles, sealed packs, card supplies, events, and at the rate of player involvement, even snacks play a major role in the MIC. Cutting Magic singles imperils my ability to continue doing what I'm doing.

I was at a store in Alaska many years ago that sold games, weapons and porn. That store is still there, dominating the landscape. They understand their target market, and apparently there's no worry that weapons and porn turn off a particular segment of their customer base (they are a culturally resilient crowd). It does not imperil their ability to continue doing what they're doing. Meanwhile, there are stores in the Midwest that are regularly harassed for carrying Dungeons & Dragons. Myself? We just received these really cool Frank Frazetta puzzles that I had neglected to inspect very closely. Barbarians on piles of dead bodies is perfectly acceptable in American culture, but there's a bare breast I hadn't noticed. I sighed, said something about art and a different time, and put them on the top shelf of our puzzle section, setting the item not to re-order. That puzzle imperils my ability to continue doing what I'm doing.

Frazetta Jigsaw Puzzle Barbarian ALC Studio ALCRHRZ003
That continuation assumes I have a personal focus. My business partner once compared selling game to widgets, as in "games, women's shoes, it's all the same." For me, that's not true. Well, not entirely. One concern many of us have is losing passion for what we do. I just finished writing a 300 page D&D campaign, so I love that this stuff permeates every part of my life. I have no passion for selling women's shoes. It might personally make me wealthy, but I would dread going to work in the morning. Selling a 13 year old girl a starter box of D&D gets me out of bed in the morning. Explaining which of the six monster books we carry is best for what you're doing puts a twinkle in my eye.  I mention girl, because I love the fact this game, that has been such a big part of my life, is branching out into so many demographics. Plus girls are more likely to ask for directions, while the guys are hesitant to look ignorant. That this puzzle box is next to this paragraph tells you of my plight in this field.

So we worry about the focus of our store. When I had golden handcuffs from selling Yugioh, in which my duel terminal investment required me to put up with a loss of focus and really poor behavior, I was counting the days until we had freedom to ask them to leave. We didn't hesitate when the time came, it was days after we sold the terminals. Likewise, I see the future of retail being one of two things, somehow, laser focusing on your one thing, using every trick in the book, every promotion, every three ring circus trick to eek out a living before Amazon and local government regulates you out of business. That's one option, and I know a group of top retailers doing that thing. It requires boundless passion to continue doing your thing.

The other option is selling women's shoes. You stop focusing on that one thing, stop trying to up your value proposition in this one area, and shift to something else. People gotta eat. People gotta get their hair cut. People gotta get gas. It's the people gottta strategy. You find that thing that's immune to the persistent pounding against value employed by the publishers, distributors and retailers in the game trade and you instead find something else, your women's shoes. Retailers stocked up like mad on Amazon on D&D books this month because Wizards of the Coast cares nothing about brand value protection. Wizard's allowed their partners to dump. Distributors likewise dumped. Retailers are hoping to sell the dumped product in the first quarter. I shake my head and look closer at the people gotta strategy.

The problem with people gotta is it's not continuing to do what you do. Most game store owners can't employ the people gotta strategy because they are not retailers, they are game store owners, a subset of gamer, a value seeking creature that employs short term satisfaction with rampant consumerism. Bless them all. Just as I balk from women's shoes, game store owners would be unenthused and pretty terrible at running a cafe, or whatever other people gotta business they fell into. But most are also incapable of maintaining the three ring circus of the one thing. Most will fail either way. I want to both help them and encourage them to fail faster.

Which perhaps brings up a third strategy, of waiting for the retail apocalypse when the crowded marketplace of 7-10 times the retail space needed, finally gets reduced to a manageable level. But knowing I get little benefit when competitors close, I wouldn't hold my breath for that. I'll continue with the three ring circus, get the occasional thrill of turning on a kid to my favorite game, and fantasize about what people gotta do. Until then, please ignore that puzzle on the top shelf. It's art and it was a different time.

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