Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Adventures in Retailing: Uh... where's the fourth box?

So today I got acquainted with one of those delights of retailing, the unfortunate UPS/Diamond shipping mishap. It's happened a lot, usually with one region getting their books a week ahead of time. Minor when it's something like Madman shipping out of L.A. this week, Plattsburgh next. Major when it's Civil War shipping to everywhere but the West Coast one week, then out to the West Coast the next.

But there are also those that just hit one retailer, and not his local competition. UPS ships a lot of boxes, so does Diamond, mistakes are bound to happen. Unfortunately, we happen to be in a business where product as late as a day late is worth less, because a fanatical customer base will sometimes go to another store in town regardless of loyalty to get their weekly fix. It's the downside of creating such a rabidly devoted fanbase.

So this was a big week. Dark Tower #3, Buffy #2, the last part of Planet Hulk, Avengers: The Initiative #1, the first part of Fallen Son, the first issue of Joss Whedon's Runaways... and out of that list, we only got one of those books. The rest (along with several others) were stuck in Houston. Which doesn't seem insurmountable, given that Houston is only about three hours away and I was willing to drive, but I was pretty much told they weren't going to let me in if I went there, and even if I had gone, I wouldn't have been back until many of my customers had already stopped in.

It couldn't have been the box with the Batman free Heroclix for Free Comic Book Day that went missing. Or the one with about three or four smaller books. No, it had to be the heaviest one, packed with all the big sellers.

It was a frustrating morning. I yelled about every obscenity I knew on the long drive back from the UPS center to the shop, and tried desperately to come up with some great tactic that would make customers coming in pick up something else, then come back for their comics on Thursday. There isn't one, by the way... on Wednesday, folks want what they want, they don't want a substitute. I was frustrated and pissed off and, given that this is the first week we've had to do Wednesday morning pulls, maybe even a little worried.

But here's the upside: We still had a pretty good day. Not just sales-wise, although I have to say that the sales hit was less than I thought, thanks to Dark Tower, 52, the new Omega Flight and a number of other mid-level books that we did get. No, mostly it was in seeing that in such a situation, I can count on the people around me. My staff commiserated with me but didn't let me wallow, nor did they wallow themselves. They buckled down and did their jobs. They told every customer what had gone on with a sense of good humor, they worked their asses off on a busy day... one of my staffers asked if I needed him tomorrow morning and didn't complain for a second about having to get up early the next day when he was supposed to have a mid-day shift. I have the best staff in the world.

And some of the best customers, too. Everyone was sympathetic, nobody got mad at us, everybody made plans to come back tomorrow or just hold off and pick stuff up with next week's pulls. All told, we lost some day's sales, but I don't think that many folks went driving somewhere else to get the copy today. We've always done right by them, they remembered that and they rewarded us for it.

It sucks to have something like this happen, especially on a huge week like this one. And yeah, it was a shitty morning and a hectic day. But in the end, it turned out to be kind of a positive, as I was reminded once again that I'm lucky to have a good store, a great staff and a great bunch of customers.

Not so positive an experience that I want it to ever happen again, mind you. :)

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