On an Odd Harry Potter Musing

Friday afternoon, for reasons that still mystify me somewhat, I began musing on Harry Potter. But not in the way that people usually muse on Harry Potter. Who ends up with whom, how the seventh book will end, that sort of thing–not my interest, sorry.

Rather, I thought back a few years to the release of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Specifically, I thought back on a business proposal I’d written six months before its release.

At the time I managed a store for EB Games, the leading video and computer game retailer. A large part of our business model was built around the pre-played video game market–taking games back in trade from customers and reselling them with a nice margin. There’s no margin in new video games, and what kept EB Games (and its competitor GameStop) afloat and growing was the growth of the pre-played business. When I began with the company a store who did ten percent of its business in pre-played games was considered a success. When I left seven years later a store who did less than thirty-five percent of its business in pre-played was considered a failure. Store managers were encouraged to find new and creative ways to expand the pre-played business, both in taking games in and in getting them out the door in the customers’ hands.

I had an interesting thought. I wrote up a business proposal, and I submitted it to the corporate offices. Nothing, unfortunately, ever came of it. Yet, for idle reasons I began thinking of it Friday.

My idea was this.

We needed to carry the sixth Harry Potter book. We needed to take pre-orders on the book from customers. We needed to sell the book at thirty percent off MSRP (because there would be places selling it at forty to forty-five percent off MSRP, and there was no reason to go that insane, but neither was there any reason to sell it at list price). We needed to have a trade-in deal–perhaps every PS1 game we took in trade toward a pre-order on Half-Blood Prince would be worth at least two dollars, every PS2 game would be worth at least ten dollars, every XBox and GameCube game would be worth at least fifteen dollars.

The idea was fairly simple. Appeal to a different demographic, capture a new generation of customers. Parents would like the offer because it would encourage their children to read rather than play video games. Kids would like the offer because it was giving them something tangible for the games they no longer played. The people who might take advantage of an offer like this might be different than the customers we saw every day. This would appeal to the more casual consumer, the one who came in on weekends.

I thought the idea had a lot of merit. The numbers I suggested for trade-in values weren’t perfect, and I knew that. In terms of average costing and margin a deal such as I proposed may not have ever been financial viable at the numbers I suggested. They were adjustable, though, depending on how aggressive we wanted to be. The numbers could have been made to work.

Ultimately, the plan had no wings. It didn’t fly. We never carried the sixth Harry Potter book.

It wasn’t our business. I know that, too. People never came into EB Games looking for a book to read, and the few times we carried books–The Two Towers, the Halo and Brute Force novels–they sat on the shelves unwanted and unloved and, occasionally, undusted. It’s possible that we would have few takers of a trade-in offer as I suggested. Yet, I wonder.

Even now, a few years on, after having left EB Games, I still look back on that and think, “That was a missed opportunity.” A one-shot deal with relatively little risk in terms of unmoveable inventory in the short term with a long-term financial outlook that would have reaped the company rewards down the road. If the goal of business is to grow the business, this would have grown the business in ways that would, ultimately, have reaped dividends.

Not at all the sort of Harry Potter musing other people have. 😉

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