Science fiction, fantasy, & horror - web design, graphic design, interactive media development by greententacles

Science Fiction, Fantasy, & Horror - Web Design, Graphic Design, Interactive Media Development by Greententacles 2019-06-18 GMT


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Speculative Fiction Retail

~ by N. E. Lilly (January 2001) ~

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Among the businesses that sell speculative fiction merchandise there exists a love-hate relationship between the mega-marts and the small specialty shops (comic, hobby, or other). It consists of a vicious cycle of small specialty shops taking chances on new products, hoping that the product will become the next craze, only to have the mega-marts begin stocking the item when it does become popular.

This becomes a double-edged sword for the specialty shops. The mega-marts increase the popularity of the range of products based around that item by promoting it to a greater number of people, but, by stocking the core items that specialty stores have traditionally sold, the mega-mart are cutting into the sales of the specialty shops.

Specialty shops have had to console themselves by offering the depth of products. The so-called fringe products that the mega-marts would not sell enough of for it to be a profitable item to stock. An example would be that a mega-mart may stock The Dungeons and Dragons Players Handbook, but not any of the other Dungeons and Dragons products, such as Character Sheets, Adventure Modules, or Dice. You might find Pokemon Starter Decks, but perhaps not Pokemon Booster Packs.

This has been a precarious way for specialty shops to exist, and they have tried to make up for it by offering expertise that wouldn't be found at the typical mega-mart, as well as offering a greater number of niche products and maintaining a loyal customer base.

All in all, this was a pretty stable existence, with the mega-marts catering to the general populace (breadth), and the specialty stores attracting a smaller group of people specifically interested in what the specialty store had to offer (depth).

This was the way that the market was between five and ten years ago when certain mega-marts began a wave of expansion that changed the dynamic just enough to drive many specialty shops out of business. The mega-marts began arriving in small and not so small towns and out performed and under sold the local hardware, craft, and hobby stores, among others.

Eventually the market stabilized. The successful specialty shops (those that remained) focused on what made them different than the mega-marts. People became aware of the depth of products and services that the specialty shops offered, and the remaining specialty shops became just that much stronger.

Markets Change

Then came the World Wide Web. Initially it was a boon to forward thinking specialty shops who felt the presence of the mega-marts in their area. The web sites that were launched by the specialty shops helped to promote their stores and fend off immediate trouble. Now, however, online mega-retailers can offer both the breadth and the depth of products on the market.

A simple survey of the local resources, which includes local mega-marts and specialty shops as well as online mega-retailers, yeilded the results of the following table:

PRODUCT \ LOCATIONspecialty shop-1specialty shop-2specialty shop-3mega-mart-1mega-mart-2online mega-retailer
Superman comicYYNYYN
StarWars comicYNNYNN
The Maxx comicYNNNNN
StarWars Trilogy videoNNNYYY
The Matrix videoNNNYYY
The Maxx videoNNNNNY
PRODUCT \ LOCATIONspecialty shop-1specialty shop-2specialty shop-3mega-mart-1mega-mart-2online mega-retailer
Dungeons & Dragons: Player's HandbookYYYYNY
Dungeons & Dragons: Dungeonmaster's GuideYYYNNY
StarWars Roleplaying GameYYYNNY
Call of Cthulhu (complete game)YNYNNN
Call of Cthulhu: Creature CompanionYNNNNY
Multifaceted Dice (for role-playing games)YYYNNN
PRODUCT \ LOCATIONspecialty shop-1specialty shop-2specialty shop-3mega-mart-1mega-mart-2online mega-retailer
Pokemon Starter DeckYYYYYY
Pokemon Booster PackYYYNYY
Magic: The Gathering Starter DeckYNNNNY
Magic: The Gathering Booster PackYNYNNY
Dragon MagazineYNYNNN
Games UnpluggedYNNNNN
20 years of Dragon Magazine CD setNYNNNY
As you can see, the most popular products are carried by general stores and the specialty stores carry the products that my grandmother has never heard of. The online mega-retailers offer both the core products that are offered by the mega-marts and the niche products offered by many of the specialty stores.

How can specialty shops compete?

The competition is closing in, but there is one thing that still works in favor of the specialty shop. When someone thinks of a specialty product, they think of a specialty shop, and not mega-mart or online mega-retailer. The online mega-retailer carries the products listed, not because they are speculative fiction products, but for the simple reason that they are products. Return to the root of what kept specialty shops from dying out altogether when the mega-marts arrived:

There is no one, single, cure-all that will help a specialty shop to survive. It would be best to offer as many of the above services as you can. The mega-marts aren't willing to do this. They are still trying to capture the general market, leaving the niche markets to specialty shops.

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