Desert Sky Games wrote:
One of the most stressful aspects of the COVID pandemic for game stores is that it artificially amplifies constraints. Dealing with this day in and day out starts to wear on a store owner, and I start to feel like Keanu Reeves in that new Bill & Ted 3 trailer, when he says, "We've been trying to write this song and save the world our whole lives. And I'm tired, dude."
You said it, Ted "Theodore" Logan. I'm tired, dude. Tired of every business component taking more work than it should. Tired of getting chewed out by every deadbeat who thinks we should price-match limited edition product pre-orders against the smallest store in town who pre-sold-out their one case of boosters in an hour at a nickel over cost. Tired of having arrival traffic down 90% because people call to check pinpoint stock on Nintendo Switches and virtually nothing downstream of that. And tired of the vocal minority who think we're political puppets or worse for keeping the game room closed and requiring facemasks.
But I think the amplification of constraints is the most difficult thing, because it forms a vicious circle of interdependency. Here, maybe showing you the moving parts will make this clearer.
The best Dungeons & Dragons product slate ever is on store shelves today. Right now. We have the best new sourcebooks: Theros, Eberron, and Wildemount, with limited edition covers for two of them. We have a staggering variety of dice in every color and material and in every price range. We have the best miniatures the game has ever had in the WizKids Nolzur's Marvelous line, far higher quality at a lower inflation-adjusted price than even the classic Ral Partha pewters. We have maps, dice trays, dice towers, character folios, and more. And now we have Warlock Tiles, head-and-shoulders the finest immersive terrain components D&D has ever seen.
Despite all of the above, we've seen only a fraction of the sales we'd usually get in the category. Many of our regular players have been in, and their purchasing makes up essentially all the sales we've gotten of this merch. But a majority of D&D players disappeared with COVID. We don't know what this means. In-store play is, of course, not happening, and I wonder whether it will ever be back. Zoom/Skype style play seems to be thriving. Tangible game elements become somewhat less important then. I've long speculated that the "giant table-sized iPad" appliance might virtualize much of the RPG experience, but we might reach the same effective outcome because of remote play instead of digitally-augmented in-person play. I think there will be a COVID vaccine eventually or it will burn through and be subject to herd immunity, and people will come back to the table to have wonderful times adventuring together. How long before that? A year? Three years?
So since we placed orders well before the pandemic for current D&D stock, and indeed already owned the bulk of our D&D inventory well in advance of that, we now have a huge amount of somewhat illiquid merchandise, that doesn't ship that well and isn't fast-moving like video games or Magic singles, and that even generous bundle specials only modestly move the needle on. It's not a simple case of $N worth of D&D being on the shelf, where we could liquidate it and have $N. It's the frozen turn rate. We should have $N multiplied many times over as the product comes in, sells, is replaced, sells again, and so on. It's difficult to articulate just how great the scale of this can get to an outside observer.
That same effect is happening in board games as well. We saw reasonable throughput on board games on our way into the lockdown and shortly after re-opening, and board games are a commodity category for DSG anyway. That means we stock greatest hits and new hotness, and discount it all, in order to push for market share and establish a competitive position against other local stores, without risking our real meal tickets, Magic singles and video games. But now that we're kinda sorta reopened, and people are mostly back to work, the public has all the board games it needs, and is buying far fewer of them from us, even with price tags well below Amazon. They just finished a plate of steak and lobster. They don't need seconds. So it stacks up.
With the two main general tabletop categories slowing down sales, we see them overflowing their racks. And we can't get more of the kind of racks we use right now because restocks from China are still pending transoceanic shipment. So even though we're the biggest game store in the Valley, we actually don't have enough room for all our merchandise right now. Even with a giant empty floor where the game room used to be. We should use game tables to display merch, perhaps, but (1) that's awful looking, (2) it has to be taken back apart anyway once we can reopen the game room, and (3) we're buying some really nice upgraded tables so we're currently selling off the existing ones.
Less room up front and lower sales of general tabletop means we need to lean harder on singles sales, where space isn't as big of an issue. But we're also constrained on labor! Fast and furious sales via TCGPlayer since the first stimulus landed have resulted in our million-card inventory being whittled down to, as of this writing, about 450,000 cards. We're still buying every single day, for cash or credit, and it's not enough. We have at least 300k cards in the back office right now in various stages of processing that are not entered into TCGPlayer. We're losing sales every day from people who ask for cards we know we have in the next "waves" to process, but aren't done yet, and are cost-ineffective to deep dive for on an ad-hoc basis. Our existing back-office staff are running at red-line, they have almost zero slow time on the clock.
So why not add more labor? Ah, but how are we going to pay for it? Sales are coming up shallow in D&D and board games, so we don't have "overflow" revenue available to shift toward Magic labor, which is designed to cover its own normal/ordinary pace of intake and sales, and instead is overwhelmed right now. It's fairly common for a game store with large business components to take from some and give unto others, resource-wise, in an internally Marxist fashion of sorts. But when there isn't any surplus elsewhere, and every department is subsidizing every other, there's no wealth to redistribute. (There's probably a greater political lesson to be taught here, but I'm staying well clear of that.)
Thus, we have a dire shortage of Magic singles, our highest-volume category, which we actually do own but can't get processed into the system fast enough, for which we badly need labor, which we could afford if every product category were performing even at average levels, but the two general tabletop categories are both running very thin right now, constraining all parts of this resource chain. And thus it is that Griffin and I spend significant parts of our working days plugging in labor wherever it fits, so as to give both front-of-house and back-of-house staff as much unobstructed throughput as possible. And it's still not enough.
I'm tired, dude.