Thanks for Taking My Card. Here’s the Greatest Hits.

If you’re here because I handed you a card and you were interested in the URL, then this post is for you. Thanks for your interest and for treating me like a human being. The blog title is a reference to a short story in Heinlein’s Time Enough for Love about a man who hated wasteful and unpleasant effort so much that he made excellent choices and succeeded wildly.

If you’re interested in my professional history and qualifications, you can find them on my LinkedIn page. I am at a crossroads, professionally, so I’m pursuing multiple avenues and allowing my path to be determined by which place hires me first. My current interest is in development and IT, but for an interesting opportunity I’d be happy to look at other occupations.

If you’re interested in a guided tour through my approach to business and problem solving, you can browse some of my favorite posts:

Spending Twenties to Chase Fives – This was early in the life of my custom-written Point of Sale solution, and I was just starting to discover that being able to solve business problems with code could save all kinds of time and money.

Defining Game Store Success, Survival, Failure, and Collapse – The independent game store business is a rough one, with most entrants under-capitalized and completely unprepared. Worse, they sometimes don’t know how bad they’ve got it. I urge my peers to take a hard, honest look at their livelihoods.

Emergency Used Video Game FAQ – In the Fall of 2016 Magic: The Gathering hit a rough patch after several awesome years. Many retailers who had gotten started during the good times were suddenly thinking about diversification. I was a vocal proponent of hybrid business models, and in my not-so-humble opinion I was doing the used video game business better than almost any other single-store independent retailer in the country. I was getting a lot of messages asking questions, so I wrote a FAQ.

Magic would stabilize somewhat in 2017 and most of the surviving retailers were never willing to commit to the business process changes that the crushing volume of used video games demands. I did end up getting a couple of messages years later from retailers who told me that I saved their businesses with this post and my trade show presentations on diversification. That was neat.

Stop Closing Early (You Must Be Present to Win) – I know that this sounds ridiculous, but one of the chief controversies in retailer groups that month was whether it was okay to close your store early if you wanted to go home. I argue that there are costs greater than one day’s lost revenue for retailers who don’t treat their business like a business.

Variable Trade Value (Fair Payouts, Great Stuff) – This automated trade-in value algorithm was the cornerstone of my entire business and can be fairly blamed for the lion’s share of my current modest success. I explained it here hoping that POS/e-commerce providers serving the industry would equip video game and collectible card game stores to do likewise. Several did through implementation of user-defined rules, but to my knowledge nobody copied the implementation directly, despite its superior robustness and simplicity.

Self-Deception and Breakfast in Your Bathrooms – This is a ridiculous post that highlighted my rage at otherwise-competent retailers who could never nail down the processes and documented procedures to prevent awfulness in their stores. At trade shows after this post I wasn’t approached as “the guy who knows video game diversification” but as “the guy who ate a chicken sandwich on his bathroom floor for a blog post.”

Snowflake Store Ownership – In response to an organized effort by the more-toxic elements of our local playerbase to normalize their despicable behavior, I abandoned efforts to be a store for every type of person and doubled down on decency. This was a turning point for our store and our community became much more amazing in the final two years of my ownership.

Point of Sale: You Need a Hot Inventory Process – Most retailers in the game trade do inventory once a year, if that, and they do it in the most painful way possible. Again, I’m mostly talking to software developers serving the industry here, but the ability to do inventory while the store is open is a game-changer for an industry with so many SKUs.

Famous Last Words – In which I announce the sale of my business and beg for a job.

Point of Sale: You Need a Hot Inventory Process

This post is not truly actionable for most retailers, but I’m making it anyway. Taking regular inventory is an important part of maintaining accurate counts, which is crucial for all kinds of reasons, but many of you are doing it in the worst possible way because there’s no good process solutions in your toolset. I’m not providing that solution to you today, but my hope is that in describing a solution, I’ll equip you to ask more of your current point of sale vendor. If you’re a POS developer, particularly in the game trade, I’d like to hand you what should be an easy-to-implement killer feature.

How it’s usually done

For most small retailers the solution involves clipboards and handwritten notes about how many of each item was found. Inventory Day is an all-hands-on-deck affair, with the whole store being turned upside down by everyone on staff, who then turn in their notes to a manager or owner, who frets over entering the quantities into the system late into the night.

This is expensive, because the store is usually closed for this event. Retailers can’t have quantities changing while they’re being counted, so the doors are locked. I’ve seen retailers set aside a day or more every year for this nightmare, frequently starting on New Year’s Day. Nothing starts a new year off right like a day of disappointed customer door-tugs and a payroll percentage of infinity percent!

How we did it

Let’s do a simulated inventory of concessions. SURELY you want to inventory these more than once a year, right? We’ll do this in my development environment, since I kind of sold my store and don’t have access to production anymore. I still have a non-exclusive right to the POS software I developed.

Employee selects Inventory from the menu.
Employee selects Concessions from the list of categories.
Employee counts our simulated and very small inventory of concessions.
Disaster! Another employee just sold a soda!

This is where an inaccuracy would creep into a manual inventory process, but our point of sale system checks to see what items from the category being inventoried have been transacted against during that inventory count. There’s no trivial way to know whether the count took place before or after the customer took their item from the shelf, so the software asks the inventorying employee to check that item again.

The employee grumbles to themselves and re-counts the Mountain Dew, finding that there’s 19 this time. If another transaction impacts the category while they’re re-counting, the cycle repeats until there are no possible transaction timing issues.
And we’re done. The reports screen indicates that all ended up being well with the Mountain Dew count, with the only discrepancy being an overage of one Sprite. Usually this happens because it was counted incorrectly the previous time, but in this case I intentionally introduced the error.

Get it together and break it down

Doing this sort of inventory well requires software smart enough to work while the store is open, but also an inventory that can be broken down into small enough chunks that one employee can inventory an entire chunk in a reasonable amount of time. If your store carries 30,000 board games and they’re all in a giant “Board Games” category, you’re going to have a really bad time. Furthermore, a too-large inventory chunk can cause an infinite loop if an employee can’t possibly re-count ambiguous items faster than customers can come mess with them again.

My store kept board games in one category, but we were not primarily a board game store so it was manageable. You may want to break games into genres, or do this by manufacturer. It seems like a bad idea to me, but you could even do it by starting letter. That would work okay for Magic singles but poorly for a large video game collection. Then you have all the old problems of categorization: Are Citadel paints included in Hobby Supplies with the other paints, or in Miniature Games with the Warhammer miniatures they’re intended for? There’s no one right answer and a bunch of wrong ones, but if this is the thing keeping you from being able to do Hot Inventory, you’ll find that finding your solution makes the rest of your store run better, anyway, so do the work.

Reap the benefits

If you’re closing your store to do inventory, the primary benefit of Hot Inventory is easy to see: What kind of sales volume would you expect to have on the days you’re counting inventory if you were open instead? Not to mention staffing normally instead of calling everyone in.

Being able to inventory while the store is running moves the taking of inventory to an apocalyptic event to something your employees can do on a slow day. This means that not only can you stop hurting sales with the closed-for-inventory day(s), but you can do inventory much more frequently. On slower-moving categories like Board Games we did inventory quarterly. We inventoried Concessions every other week. If a new employee messes up the process on a set of Magic cards or Sega Genesis games, you can inventory them ahead of schedule instead of living with unreliable numbers until Inventory Day.

You have not because you ask not

If you’re using QuickBooks or some other POS, you’ve already got to shoehorn your business into the capabilities of your one-size software solution, so I can’t help you. If you’re using something industry-specific, then you are probably capable of finding the ear of your POS developer. Ask for Hot Inventory. Tell them I sent you.

In an industry where retailers making a middle-class income are considered wild success stories, the money saved by addressing the pain of Inventory Day can make a big difference in owner income, and that’s the most important thing.

Famous Last Words

Oh yeah. I used to be a salesman. It’s a tough racket.

I sold my store in December 2019. I inflicted a many-pages-long post on some of my retailer friends about the why and the how, but the short version is that I’d solved all of what I found to be the interesting problems, but that left some boring, frustrating problems that would always be a part of that particular kind of business. I found a buyer who is willing to work on those problems in exchange for an obscenely profitable buy-a-job. He’s a smart guy. I hope he doesn’t mess it up.

I’m still young enough to start a fresh career. Thanks to the profitability of the store, my dirt-cheap standard of living, and the lump sum I received on sale of the debt-free business, I have time to look for interesting work, or maybe boring work in interesting places. I’ve got a broad range of competencies across management, finance, and technology. I’m looking for something with “analyst” in the title but for the right company in the right location I’d happily start with “technician.” If you think I might be a good fit for your company, I can be found in the usual place. My wife and I are exceptionally mobile. We can relocate without assistance, and for the right opportunity I can start anywhere in the country with seven days of notice.

There are few posts rolling around in my head, still. I’d like to get them published here, but I refuse to be one of those guys who perpetually apologizes for a lack of activity. I hope you’ll forgive me if posts pop up out of nowhere with no context or overarching theme. I’ll work on them if and when I feel the urge.

In the mean time, I hope you’re making good decisions, and I challenge you to take care of something at your business that you’ve been putting off this week.