Mixing It Up
Evaluating Product Mix Options

  Originally published in Joe’s “The Big Picture” column for Comics & Games Retailer’s
magazine, no.146, March 2004

Diamond Previews is running at close to 500 pages a month. Every day, catalogues of one variety or another come by mail, from all sorts of distributors. Role-playing games, candy, t-shirts, novelties, posters, toys, stickers---hundreds more pages heaped upon not just Previews, but also the other book distributor catalogues now carrying items of interest to specialty retailers.

The primary key to evaluating all the merchandise we're offered lies within our individual store identities. The Flying Colors mission statement reads: "Flying Colors' goal is a comic book store that's fun for the whole family, with excellent customer service and an environment that is friendly, convenient, clean and fair." The focus in that statement colors everything we do, from the way our store is laid out, to the ways we price and represent the merchandise we sell, to how we treat our customers. The focus is especially apparent in how we choose the merchandise we'll stock, sell and promote.

Staying In Focus
Many established retailers seem to have established a sixth sense for what merchandise will work and what won't. After all these years, I can take a quick look at an item and know whether it's worth pursuing for my store. With our store identity tied to comics, our merchandising focus is almost entirely comics-related. When I ventured too far outside that comics' focus in our early years, the results were largely disappointing. It's liberating to have a focus and stick to it, but it's also worth noting the reach of comics into nearly every consumer product category still gives us a wide array of choices.

Primary Market Demographics
Most of us did some cursory research into the demographics of the area in which we located our stores. That research should lead to better decision making for what products to stock and how deep we should stock them. The adult male between the ages of 18 and 35, still the demographic core of comic book sales, is the die-hard group that will find your store wherever we locate. But in our suburban store, with a higher than average percentage of traditional families with young kids, we stock Archie and Gemstone's Disney lines in more depth than most comic book stores. Knowing the quirks of your primary market demographics will lead you to more enlightened product mix decisions.

Knowing Your Competition
When considering the myriad merchandise choices, a prime consideration should be your local competition in retailing. Not just other specialty market retailers, but it's wise to regularly visit other stores in your area that might be carrying some of the same or similar products. You can do a quick visual inventory to see what stocking choices other merchants are making and at what prices they've marked the same items. It only makes sense that your sales of some items will be suppressed by their ready availability at other nearby stores. Some shopping center management companies wisely have non-compete clauses in merchant leases, preventing multiple stores within the same shopping center from specializing in the same products.


Staff Knowledge and Interests
Whether you hire staff with no prior specialty product knowledge, anyone working in a comics or games store will develop a genuine enthusiasm for some products, along with occasional disdain for others. While we hope for a lot more of the former and as little of the latter as possible, those we have on staff can give us critical input, helping us make some of the tough choices among the thousands of potential products we choose to carry.

I recommend having each staff member look through at least the primary merchandise catalogues for their advice on which products will get them motivated to show to customers. Having missed the last couple of Alternative Press Expos in nearby San Francisco due to family conflicts, I've enlisted staff members---with store cash in hand--- to find new comic titles they can sell. As a veteran retailer, I find myself glossing over sales hype that finds its way to me, through the various catalogues, e-mail, Internet news sites or good ol' snail mail. But what may totally lose me could be highly engaging to others on staff here.

When considering new merchandise, here are a few questions to ponder:

1) Does the new product fit your store focus?

2) Do you have the space to adequately and attractively display the new items?

3) Is it priced to allow for making a decent profit?

4) Does the new merch have the potential to attract new buyers into your store?

5) Does the manufacturer back up the product with advertising, promotion and sales tools?

6) Will the product lead to additional sales or will it merely be an over-extension of an already-crowded category?

There are risks and rewards in extending your product selection. Hopefully, as you learn what works in your particular situation, you'll be rewarded with solid sales growth for years to come.

(The preceding was part of a presentation given to retailers at the recent GAMA Trade Show. Joe Field runs Flying Colors Comics & Other Cool Stuff, 2980 Treat Blvd, Concord CA 94518. E-mail is joe@FlyingColorsComics.com)

Last updated: 06-Aug-2005 3:50 PM  
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