MovieBob - Intermission
MovieBob's Re-Tales II: Tales From The Table

Bob Chipman | 3 May 2013 12:00
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Before I was an internet pseudo-celebrity (hell, before I was MovieBob) commenting on movies, videogames and so forth, I spent nearly a decade in various retail positions selling the stuff. Once before, I regaled you with stories of this tedious time in my life, and it went over reasonably well. So, let's try it again. But first, some quick "inside baseball" about the business in question:

Ever wonder why stores generally place new release DVDs on sale the very first day/week that they come out? After all, it seems counter intuitive. Being new makes them more valuable, so theoretically you should be able to charge more. Well, here's the thing: Stores actually buy (or, at least, pay for) the product from distributors and shippers before they sell it to you for more (sometimes a lot, sometimes a little) than they paid to get it in stock. That difference in cost is called margin, and it's where retail stores make almost all of their profit. Things like DVDs generally don't have much margin to begin with, so putting the newest ones on sale at a minor loss is seen as an acceptable way to draw customers to a store where, ideally, they will decide to purchase other items with a higher margin (i.e., "Do you also need any batteries?").

In any case, circa-2006 I'd found myself in the Media Department (DVDs, video games and the last remains of a forgotten music format called CDs) of a very large electronics store chain which will remain nameless. By this point I'd have been playing this game for close to six years at three companies, and if I was good at anything it was pushing a profitable enough margin to be left alone by my superiors and making as much of those profits as possible contingent on my personal skill set in order to render myself that much more firing proof. To put it another way, my department actually made money on DVDs because I knew enough about movies to almost always find something else a shopper didn't know they wanted to go along with what they'd come in for ("Lord of The Rings?" Good stuff. Y'ever see Willow?"). And while you can teach sales tactics, you can't teach having wasted your life memorizing this stuff.

The centerpiece of my DVD-fiefdom was The Table, a long folding table draped in a tablecloth with company colors on it that had the week's new movies and games laid out in a labeled grid. It was a mainstay of the department, but I volunteered to take over its upkeep, which meant working out what was supposed to go where and filling in spaces when things sold out. This gave me a nice, central view of what was moving and what wasn't and (more importantly) gave me the chance to simply pop similar material next to the new stuff and watch my margin rise without even having to actually say "You might also like..." much of the time.

It also gave me and others in the department the occasional (okay, maybe more than occasional) fun in seeing what kind of combinations would and wouldn't work on customers, and what kind of reaction certain placements would draw (look, retail is hellish. You make what fun you can). If we put copies of the Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat movies out the same day the newest Resident Evil flick hit, would people snap them up? Usually, yes. See also: The series-sets of Captain N and the Sonic the Hedgehog Saturday morning cartoon always saw a surprising sales uptick whenever a new nostalgia property hit the streets for the then new Wii.

Other times, well... other things happened. Here's two of them:

The mid-00s were the high point for Classic TV on DVD. No matter how obscure, if you could throw an entire season (or whole run!) of a show on DVD people would snap it up out of nostalgic reflex so quick they wouldn't have time to consider if only watching one episode of this or that forgotten 80's cartoon might be sufficient. Every week there'd be some new shipment of the stuff in big, awkward-to-shelve boxes, so sometimes they'd wind up in prime real estate on The Table by virtue of there being nowhere else to put them.

One week, the new relic taking up space was the first season of C.O.P.S., an animated series based on a line of action figures from the 1980s that didn't even try to pretend it was anything other than G.I. Joe with police instead of soldiers. Even I didn't have much memory of it, but it's easy to forget what a specific thing nostalgia can be. The C.O.P.S. DVDs actually needed to be re-stocked (on the table) a few times that day - people were buying them at what was for minor TV property a fast clip.

At one point while I was passing by The Table, a customer (black male, mid-20s, there with his girlfriend) called me over excitedly and pointed to the DVD. "Is this C.O.P.S.? The cartoon? With Bullet-Proof??" It took me a moment to remember that Bullet-Proof was the name of the C.O.P.S.'s cyborg-bodied leader, but I did and confirmed it for the guy. It was then that I noticed that the DVD box had no pictures from the cartoon itself on the packaging: Just a sleek black box and the gold C.O.P.S. police badge logo. If you didn't know what it was, well... you wouldn't know what it was.

You'd have thought I'd just proven that Santa Claus existed. This grown man (in front of his bewildered girlfriend, I reiterate) launched into a giddy, profanity-laced victory dance over the existence of this DVD. "This was my s***!" was his refrain, interrupted by his girlfriend entreating him to calm down. "What the matter with you??" she kept asking him, "What, it's some cartoon?" I was curious myself. "You don't even know!" He told her. "This was the only show! Bullet-Proof was it!"

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