Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Don't Mess With Austin

Actually one of Texas' motto is: "Don't Mess With Texas" (it's okay to mess with the other 49 states though, right?). This past weekend I was down at Austin for a DC retailer summit (called the DC RRP). I thought it was funny that the first song I heard at the Austin airport was George Straits "All My Exes Live In Texas" (I didn't have any girlfriends the one year I lived in San Antonio, so that song doesn't speak to me).

This was my third DC retailer summit (the last few times they've been having them about every three years). DC has been doing their RRP (retailer representative program) for over twenty years and it was created as a means for DC editorial (and other important DC personal like Paul Levitz and Bob Wayne) to get together with comic store retailers (representing stores of various sizes and demographic mixes) and have dialogues on how business could be better for everyone. DC actually listens and makes changes based on feedback presented as the summit wasn't just created for retailers to praise DC, rather they want honest opinions on what is working and what's not and how to correct these things (you'd never see Marvel doing this, probably largely because most stores just order Marvel titles on automatic pilot).
The meetings didn't start until Friday afternoon, but I got there on Thursday. DC had made plans for those that were arriving on Thursday to go to a barbeque. Well I thought that I had gotten in too late to go to the barbeque (not that I really wanted to go anyway, being a vegetarian), but when I got to the hotel, I found out that they were driving some more people over. So I thought I'd just go to hang out and visit with fellow retailers. My first mistake was assuming that this barbeque was at one of the local retailers house. Nope, it was at this huge hall fifty miles in the middle of nowhere and the best way I can describe it is that it was something out of a vegetarian's nightmare (especially a vegan like myself) and I'd say probably that for the most part anything that wasn't meat in Texas was probably rubbed with meat before hitting the table. Obviously I didn't eat anything there (didn't plan to) and fortunately I wasn't really hungry because we didn't get back to the hotel until 9pm. I did order a great vegetarian panini from room services that seemed animal free. But overall, since I got to the barbeque late, most of the other retailers were already in little groups so I mostly just sat around waiting to go back to the hotel. I had a nice night watching bios on Hillary and McCain.

The meetings didn't start until noon Friday, so I decided I'd explore downtown Austin a bit. Walking to sixth street (where I was told was the center for most of Austin's live music scene) only took a half hour (at my fast pace) so I also walked to the Austin capital building, which I thought was farther away. On the way back to the Hyatt, I walked down sixth street again and saw that this Vietnamese / Thai restaurant called the Mekong River was open so I ventured within and had a great pinapple tofu brunch. It turns out that DC was starting the meeting after registration with a buffet lunch (which had food that I could have eaten), but I was glad that I got to support a local establishment with vegetarian selections.
Overall I thought the DC meetings weren't terribly productive, although I'm sure that's partially due to the internet age we live in with any upcoming info shared running the risk of being all over the internet five minutes later. So while I wish that more communication between DC and retailers took place than I feel actually happened at the meetings, I do think the DC RRP summits are great ideas and think that any retailer that doesn't leave with at least a couple of ideas on how to make their operations better, certainly aren't retailers that are going to be in business for much longer. As with DC's 2005 Montreal summit, the theme seemed to be the rapid chance that is occuring in entertainment and how we best adapt to these changes will determine our places in these changing entertainment environments.

Just because I didn't get much out of the DC meetings (and dumbly didn't bring up my concerns either, which I hope to correct by continuing to have a dialogue with DC personal via email or on retailer online forums) that doesn't mean that others there didn't get what they were looking for out of this summit (DC stated that they were happy with some ideas they were presented with). For me, the greatest value of the summit this year was talking to other retailers in person (while I'm thankful for the internet, face to face interaction with people doing the same thing you're doing is invaluable), especially talking to others that are using POS (point of sale) systems. My talks with Brian Hibbs (owner of Comix Experience in San Francisco) about his recent use of the MOBY POS system and Ben Trujillo the person who created MOBY (and owner of Star Clipper in St. Louis), convinced me that the MOBY POS system was the way for me to go in terms of further streamlining the operations within my store and I look to be having this system operating for me by early April (I need to schedule training days).
At the DC summits, those attending largely don't leave the hotel unless we get taken somewhere for a function. I figured that since I was in what is called by some "the live music capital of the world", that I was going to experience some of the local scene. So Friday night after our late dinner, I walked back to sixth street, went into a bar called The Troubadour, and listened to a couple of sets by a band calling themselves Shur Flow. They had a bluesy / rock sound and between sets the lead singer told me the name of the band comes from the bassist who owns a beverage company called Sure Flow Beverages. They played mostly cover songs, but had some really good sounding originals and I don't think it's just the three beers I had talking when I say that Shur Flow has a great sound and could really go somewhere if the music industry wasn't as fragmented as it is. Between hearing some good tunes, having some brews, and talking with some of the band members and some other patrons at the bar, I'd say that if anyone reading this goes to Austin, they should look up Shur Flow and The Troubadour (on sixth street) for a great time.
A funny shirt I saw in a gift store late Friday night / Saturday morning as I was walking back to the Hyatt. Another thing I learned from a gift store there, is that Texas is larger than France (I never thought of that before, but it's true)!


aaron s. said...

I'm kind of intrigued about the comment you made concerning ordering Marvel books on autopilot. I suppose I just figured both Marvel and DC books would be ordered that way. Are you saying you approach the two differently? And if so, why? Just curious. If its prying too much into your business practices or whatever just tell me its none of my business.

Ralph Mathieu said...

What I mean by retailers ordering Marvel titles on autopilot is that there are more people that will buy a new Marvel title (series or mini series) without the considerations that they'll make before buying a new DC title so retailers can order Marvel titles with more confidence that copies won't just sit on the shelves unsold. I really think that for a lot of people that buy comics there still exists a perception that DC's superhero titles are old fashioned or not as cool as Marvel superhero titles (I don't agree, but DC never had a cheerleader like Stan Lee) and this is why DC has to have programs like the retail summits and Marvel doesn't.

I hope that made sense!