The January Slump Grumps (Take a Knee, Drink Some Water)

I paid $10 for this stock photo and I feel like it’s a sign that I’m finally growing up.

I’m not a psychologist. In college I bought a Psychology for Dummies book, read it in a day, barely passed the CLEP exam to fulfill the requirement, and promptly forgot everything. Even though I don’t have any formal training in helping people with their feelings, I am a person who has feelings at least once or twice a month.

Something I noticed this week as I dealt with the aftermath of my aborted expansion came courtesy of Facebook, which has started helpfully showing me posts from my account on the same day in previous years. The thing I noticed is that I’ve been a genuine bummer this time of year ever since I purchased my business. I’m frequently angry, scared, or sick in January, in contrast to December and February when sales are rocking due to Christmas or Tax Refund Season and I’m king of the world.

As I investigated further, I found that this wasn’t limited to my posts. As I looked through January posts from the half-dozen Facebook industry groups that I’m in, I found that people were being awful to each other, in contrast, again, to their nominally-civil behavior at other times.

This is a hard time of year. You’re probably seeing what feels like a dramatic slowdown in sales as Christmas wraps up and the Grandma Money that was given to your customers runs out. Our sales are never bad in January, but with the payroll and credit terms coming due from the comparatively-bonkers holiday season, it can feel like a pinch. This is in addition to all of the the things that non-retailers go through this time of year, like family stress, Seasonal Affective Disorder, disruption of diet and activity routines, and the post-holiday-shopping financial crunch.

Once again I’ll stress that I’m not a professional brain-helping person, but here are some things that are helping me:

Make a list of the the things that are making you sad.

This week I was struggling with the feeling that my business was in a spiral. Everything was a giant hassle, every product line was doomed, it was all a lot of trouble, and I didn’t want to do it anymore. I found myself in the shower leaning my forehead against the wall when I decided to make my list. I hope you won’t be weirded out if I share it.

  1. The disappointment of cancelling my expansion plans.
  2. Stress related to the Magic Prerelease and all of the problems caused by too-limited allocation and flawed technology.
  3. Stress related to what is probably a vent hood problem at one of my neighbors, which has caused my store to intermittently smell like farts through no fault of anyone inside.
  4. Unusually-intense pain related to an injury sustained in my previous career.

Once I made the list, I realized that my brain was lying to itself about the overall state of my business and my life. Nothing is perfect, but these problems are far from insurmountable. The last three were probably exacerbated by my feelings about the first. I made the decision that it was okay to be bummed about curtailing my expansion, as long as those feelings were honest, specific, and not outside the scope of the decision’s actual consequences. For instance, it’s okay to be sad about the fixtures I bought that will not be used. It’s not okay to feel like I’m a failure and that giving up was a show of weakness.

Make a list of opportunities and the things that are going right.

I can give you a few of those right now, too!

  1. We had a steady 2016, and process improvements meant that it was our most profitable year ever.
  2. My staff is wonderful. We have no problem children, and my managers are growing into the professionals that every store owner wants.
  3. Cancelling the expansion means that I suddenly have extra cash, which is allowing me to correct some of the tightfisted budget behavior that has held us back in areas.
  4. We have lots of inventory, which means that our profits in Tax Refund Season should be obscene.
  5. My store looks flippin’ awesome, my technology is all humming along correctly, and we have a more-professional presence than ever.
  6. The GAMA Trade Show is only a couple of months away. I get to see some really great friends. I have so many opportunities to help and be helped! They’re letting me present about video games!

Step away from social media, or at least try to understand the stress that your peers are under.

I have turned off Facebook notifications on my phone. I’m going to limit my Facebook time to intentional daily time spent using it, rather than grazing throughout the day. I have sent notes of apology to several of the peers with whom I’ve been snarky this week, even if they totally had it coming. I’m going to make an effort to be positive, uplifting, and helpful for the remainder of this month when talking to others in my industry. Edify, stupid!

Engage in therapy through generosity.

If you’ve been under the gun, your staff have been feeling it, too. This is a great time to spread around modest bonuses if you can afford it. If you can’t justify something in the paycheck, then consider a little extra store credit or a pizza. If you’ve got staff that have knocked it out of the park this holiday season, it is not an insignificant gesture to write them a note telling them how much their work means to you and your business.

Reconnect with the things that you love about your business.

This week I’m going to intentionally make some time for process improvement, repairing some game equipment, and making quality-of-life changes to our point of sale system that our employees have been requesting. Your list probably looks nothing like mine since I do my best work for the store while away from the store, but the important thing is to attempt to put yourself into the situations in which you do your best work for the improvement of your business.

“There’s no ‘should’ or ‘should not’ when it comes to having feelings. They’re part of who we are and their origins are beyond our control. When we can believe that, we may find it easier to make constructive choices about what to do with those feelings.” -Fred Rogers, The World According to Mister Rogers: Important Things to Remember