The Christmas Crunch
It is the week of Christmas as I write this hurried column. I will try to remember to spell check it. No promises. :)
Christmas time is a wonderful thing for retailers, and I, like any retailer, love the ringalingaling of my cash register the past couple weeks. And, like every year, I hope the upsurge in customers coming in is not just a seasonal thing. We have been wishing everyone in the store a Merry Christmas, most people like that, a few take a bit if umbrage with it, saying "I don't Celebrate Christmas!" all gruff. I usually just tell them, well, I don't celebrate Chanukah, but if you wished me a happy Chanukah, I would be polite enough to say "Thank you". Then I smile, like I was not calling them an idiot. I mean, when I go to the convenience store near my house, and the guy says "Happy Ramadan" I don't say "I don't celebrate Ramadan!" I just say, "Thanks, you too". What happened to polite?
As we have moved this year into a new territory, that of "Entertainment Exchange" rather than "game club shop", I am hopeful that the increase in customers is more a reflection of our increased viability as a business, not just a holiday surge. Our foot traffic is up 400% over last year's 4th quarter. Yea!
Until recently, we were still trying to be the epitome of a great game shop: Everything in stock, long hours, late open gaming, and 7 days a week hours. Now, things have changed quite a bit.
I mention this, this month, because people are asking me to write more about how and what to do in order to open their own game shops. That has been the constant requests this year.
So, in no particular order, cause I have 15 minutes to write this whole thing, here is what we have done to increase our foot traffic this past year, by over 400% versus 2003.
* Better lighting. The place was, I thought, well lit before. But, when we asked customers what they thought we could do to make our shop more friendly, better lit was a well-reported suggestion from dozens of people. We simply added some additional fixtures, and brighter bulbs, and the place now has the lighting almost comparable to a Best Buy or Staples - which are universally well lit and clean (at least in my experience).
* Better Fixtures and better Store Organization. We took out the noisy and cluttery game tables and folding chairs, and move them to a back room. The store now has 7 aisles, all running parallel to one another, side to side. And, we bought a LOT of new fixtures, some really nice used fixtures, and more stuff than we could really fit into our shop, then made them fit. The result is that we have about 300% more product out. Our used fixtures and home made fixtures that we felt were at the "Pawn Shop" level of nice were discarded, thrown away, donated to Salvation Army, or given away. We replaced them with 9 matching professional constructed bins, new gridwall and slatwall fixtures, better and newer display cases, new book cases and other fixtures. We also built some nice bookshelves out of top quality 1-inch thick particle board, and we built them nice. Our stock is more face out, and not spine out, so it looks better here.
* Cleaner. We vacuum twice a day now, and have the windows professionally cleaned once a week. Burnt out light bulbs are replaced as soon as noticed, and we specifically do a 3-hour shop maintenance each week with all of our crewpeople, staff and owners. We paint things, wash things, repair things and keep things sorted.
* Wider Selection of merchandise. We have gone thinner and wider. 1 or 2 of a new RPG book, and ordering 3 or 4 times as many titles, rather than 6 or 8 of a given item. We have also brought in video games, DVD movies, computer games, T-Shirts, a wider selection of CCG's, used Novels, over 5,000 Music CD's and much more. Our goal: To have something that would interest every person who walks in. From little kids to Grandma's and single women to married with multiple kids type families. Our goal is to make more sales, not sell more games.
* Better Signage: We have a new sign, specifying what we sell. We have our windows stenciled with our highlights, and have a curb sign out saying what we buy. We put up banners, flashing lights and a couple neon signs, too. We are hard not to notice now. The 4 foot by 2 foot sign above the door says it all:
The Coolest Store in BATTLE CREEK!!!
* Better service. We have daily training sessions with all personnel to teach people how to answer questions, how to answer the phone, how to bag merchandise, make upsale recommendations, and encourage attendance at our events. We cover how to sell gift certificates, how to handle returns, complaints, and theft.
* Better inventory control. We are installing our POS (point of sale) system as I type this. At the moment, however, we have come up with a nice way to track our sales, reorder merchandise, and liquidate older inventory in a more reasonable timeframe. Our on the floor stock is newer, nicer, cleaner and in better condition than last year. If it sells, we restock it. If it sells really slowly, we don't. If it doesn't sell, we liquidate it online or at a convention.
So. 2004 has been a time of growth for us. We hope to continue this trend into 2005, and more than double our 2004 sales levels. We are tracking our results, and learning from the effects different decisions we made in 2003 and 2004.
Now, if I could come up with a polite way to tell people not to come into my store unless they've showered within the past 5 days, I'd be set. With more customers, come more customer related problems, and the one I am having this week is the "Stinky" people problem. Two individual, and one whole family of dead-possum-smelling folks. I don't mean people who had a hard day at work, and perspired a bit. I mean folks that are nas-tie and are some stink-stank-stunk butts, that ain't washed in weeks.
My current tact is to just walk up, ask them to come aside for a moment, then tell them that they have a bad odor, and should feel free to come back when they have freshly cleaned clothes on recently washed bodies. It does not always go well, but one smelly person can clear a store, and I don't want anyone to every think that stink is coming from me, or anyone who works here, or our shop, or merchandise.
Everyone have a Merry Christmas, and a happy new year. Or, any other holiday you may be celebrating.