Previewing: Fun with Numbers

I broke down MacGuffin's approach to FCBD ordering the other day and I thought I'd try something similar with our total February order (this may take several days worth of posts, so bear with me).

First, I begin with a rough budget for the month. Because we're still in the early stages this budget is based primarily on how much we will be able to afford assuming slow sales. This budget is far from ironclad, though, but it does help when it comes time to decide just where to chances.

Budget balanced precariously in the back edges of my mind, I throw myself into Previews. I always try to go through the catalog once to see what jumps out at me before I start writing numbers down. If something looks particularly intriguing, I'll make a mental note (or occasionally a real note) which will almost always translate into an extra couple of copies on the shelf no matter what the numbers tell me later.

After a quick pass through, it's time to start with the numbers. February was unusual because I began w/FCBD but I treated that as a completely separate order, so the net effect was really just that I had less time to put together February's order (often times a good thing since it cuts down on the opportunities to overanalyze). One of the things I'm particularly conscious of is the diversity of our inventory and with that in mind, I always start with the "back of the catalog." for the two of you out there who have never seen a Previews catalog, this means I skip the brokered publishers (Dark Horse, DC, Image and Marvel) and start with the rest of the catalog (usually Aardvark-Vanaheim, but since Cerebus ended, there's not much to order from them).

I go line by line through the retailer order form rather than the catalog itself because Previews is often a confusing jumble of color and black and white ads combined with almost alphabetically arranged publisher solicitation copy. It's a mess to be honest (though I'm sure it is not fun to put together). So I use the retailer order form to make sure that I don't miss a title and then search for the solicitation info on the title in the catalog (the retailer order form has a handy key indicating with page the solicitation text/images are on).

So, how do I decide how many of each title to order? Well, a small part of the equation that will become more and more important as data accumulates and the stores grows, are cycle sheets (for a much more indepth discussion of using cycle sheets in monthly ordering, check out Brian Hibb's column). Because we're such a young store, though, we don't have much in the way of sales history or even Reserve customers to base orders on. What this means, of course, is that its all a shot in the dark. To be honest, this generally leads to one of two scenarios: #1 I order too tight on a title and end up selling out within the week (Supergirl #5) or #2 I over order and have 10-15 copies sitting on the shelf collecting dust (see Identity Crisis).

I do try to take a chance, if not a deep inventory position, on just about any non-brokered title that looks interesting, particularly if there's a creator track record to back it up. A good example of this from January was Supermarket which I ordered more heavily than most new series because it's from IDW by Brian Wood, two known (and somewhat successful) commodities at MacGuffin thus far.

Only after a first pass through the back half of the catalog do I return to the brokered publishers at the front. Dark Horse and Image I treat much the same as the rest of the publishers, taking a shot in the dark at what I think will sell. Marvel and DC, on the other hand, I have rules for. Every regular series starts with a 4 copy order which gets adjusted based on how they've sold thus far and what sales potential I see for this particular issue (DC's One Year Later is going to play havoc with these numbers). This strategy will also change as we get bigger, but we're still at the stage where we're building our customer base from just a few people and I want to have as much material as possible available without spending rent money on something that won't sell a copy (i.e. Aquaman before Mr. Busiek took over).

As a quick overview, here's how our orders for February broke down:

Percentage of Total Order by Dollar Value (followed by the average Direct Market Store's order placed w/Diamond for January in parenthesis) :
Marvel: 28.3% (36.8%)
DC: 28.6% (35.3%)
Everyone else: 43.1% (27.9%)
(Image and Dark Horse combine for 15% of the everyone else for those curious)

This tell me that I'm either throwing money away, or developing a very different customer base than the "average" Direct Market Store. More fun with numbers yet to come (maybe some off the cuff analysis too).


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