Telling a Secret: How Shutting Down one Store Launched My Business to New Profits

Closed storefront

The single most critical launching station with my game stores was leaving the register full time and moving to a position where my full-time job was “improving my business.”

It took some staging to reach that point. I couldn’t have started out like that.

Staging: Procedures

Prior to this step, I had to create written procedures for everything. How to greet a customer, how to ring up a sale, how to buy Magic singles, how to open the store, how to count money—everything. If it came up and I didn’t have a written description of the procedure, I made one. This isn’t a project you do and put to bed. It’s an ongoing process that shapes your business. It must adapt to technology, trends, and the scale of your business.

Staging: Tools

I had to create as many tools as necessary to give crews (and later managers) the ability to do their job. Some of the things I created were

  • a price sheet showing how to price goods according to cost
  • a budget utility for placing orders
  • a detailed spreadsheet to help with counting money
  • count sheets for counting merchandise (both a shoplifting spot check and ordering tools)
  • a training guide for training new crew
  • systems for promoting events and along with that, procedures and guidelines for social media use

 Staging: Staffing

I had to hire people, but that’s ironically what led to me taking the final jump. I had acquired a second location, and the storefront that came with that purchase didn’t work out. I closed it (fortunately the purchase price was worth it for the other assets). I did not want to cut anyone’s hours while closing the store, so I merged the two crews. That gave me hourly coverage for every hour we were open—something I didn’t have before. I had been doing about half the store’s open hours myself, about 50 hours a week.

I didn’t hand over everything at that point. I did not have a store manager. I made the schedules myself, placed the orders myself, and still led monthly crew meetings.  

How Did This Help?

First, it allowed me to prepare for growth. By watching my crew instead of doing most of the work, I could see where I needed to refine the written techniques. I could lay down procedures that would help us expand into our next (successful) location.

There’s a cost to me not being at the register. I can turn $100 hours into $150 hours. My sales staff can’t. I have to be profitable to make up for that dual cost—the expense of the payroll and the opportunity cost of the lost sales. What did I do with this 50 hours a week?

Well, it’s not 50 hours a week. I still have to spend part of that time managing the crew. If I take myself off the sales floor for 50 hours, I might recover 40. Also, I still had to do some tasks I used to do while on the sales floor. Maybe 30 hours a week.

I could pay detailed attention to merchandising. Merchandising needs change over time. As product lines grow or shrink, you need to adjust the amount of space they receive and their placement in the store. Optimizing this placement helps. One of my favorite merchandising coups was card sleeves. I moved the card sleeves from a spinner rack at the counter (that’s how few we had at the time) to a wall display where they were much more visible and better-ordered, and sales tripled.

Analyzing procedures as you write them down helps optimize your buying costs and sales prices. I realized that my crew who weren’t familiar with Games Workshop weren’t buying minis when no expert was on staff because they couldn’t identify the models. My first reaction was to fire that person. My calmer, “fix the problem” reaction was to change my buying procedure. I noticed that I could almost always predict how much a new model costs based on its size. to one of “this size base always costs this much. Here’s a template you can lay the model down on.” They still have to do some adjudication (small tank/monster vs. medium tank/monster) but it’s much, much easier. With this procedure in place, the crew can do its job and we bought more models. The reduction in complexity also allowed for some optimization in pricing, reducing how much we paid for the models.  

Time Enough At Last

While I didn’t make more time magically appear—I still worked about the same number of hours–I had more efficient time. Instead of workflow being interrupted by customers and register activity, I could engage in a task until it was done. I could place orders in less than half the time. I could conduct interviews on a more flexible schedule. I could explore new products lines in detail, giving each a hard assessment for viability and fit. Perhaps most importantly, I could spend more time and effort on promotion, which had been inconsistent before this move.

Did It Work?

Less than a year later, I managed my next acquisition, which increased my personal income and again helped standardize procedures for the next growth stage. It completely changed the course of my business for the better.

Percent vs. Dollars

One of the major advantages of this kind of “lead from the rear” strategy is that everything is a gain of percentages, which only increases in value as you grow. A 10% increase in profit when you’re doing $200,000/year in sales gives you dinner at Applebee’s. A 10% profit gain at $500,000/year in sales might give you $7,500. That same profit gain when you have 3 stores or 5 stores or 10 stores is worth far more than the hourly wage you replace yourself with (although, admittedly, diminishing returns means the percentages are harder to find).

Using This Strategy

I don’t recommend this strategy for everyone. I suffer from contact fatigue if I don’t get a break from the counter, so removing myself from the counter and allowing me to interact at my own schedule works well. You might want to keep your finger on the community pulse a little more tightly than I do. As with all things, there is no one right answer, and you need to find a model that works for you.