It ended up taking us about 3 months to get it our shit together to open our doors to the public, but a majority of the third month Wil and I spent doing online sales to help try and generate further startup revenue so that we could hit the ground running. All in all things were coming together perfectly, and it seemed like we could do nothing but succeed. We got our storefront and financing no problem, with the use of my home as collateral on the loan, that is. We set ourselves up with several wholesale distributors in a matter of hours. We thought it was way too easy, but just kinda went with it. Our store wasn’t the biggest we’d been in or around, but it was big enough to do what we needed and it had a basement that was dry, so we could use it for storage and a sort of ‘not in the storefront’ impromptu meeting space and a place to play the role playing games we all loved so much.
Surprisingly though, when we finally did open our doors it seemed like destiny or fate or what have you was on our side and business was good, really good. At least it was for the first month anyways. Around that time was when those douchebags across town opened their fucking big box comic and gaming superstore. ComicWorldMart, they called it, and all one word too. It was so goddamn obnoxious at how brilliantly fucking original these guys were. It had everything we had and more but in a bigger space and with longer hours and all at lower prices. This looked to be a pissing contest that we were doomed to lose from the start. It also occurred at what was a crucial point in our business development. We had a couple of options though, for the things we could do if we wanted to keep our doors open and even hope to try and compete.
First, we made the decision that to try and cut some of our in store costs we’d up our level of online selling since we were generating about half our money from this anyways. So if we upped what we were doing then we figured we could probably milk another five to ten percent out of it. This wasn’t much of a change as we’d been talking about doing this anyway. Turned out to be a lot easier than we thought it would be. All the same, it was the easiest thing we could think of to try and help weather the coming storm. It was just a matter of reallocating Stevie to our online sales department and making Ralphie our primary sales staff on the floor. Stevie didn’t mind at all, and Ralphie finally quit bitching about being treated like a dog.
The increased online sales really did help but it was clear when we started that it just wasn’t going to be enough. We were still having problems making ends meet and paying our loan payments, which month by month could only put us closer to getting in beyond our means and going under. It didn’t help that we were all running out of our personal savings fast. In the end all it did was buy us a couple of months breathing room.
So after that couple of months passed the decision was made to extend our store hours and we all also agreed to take a pay cut, which really did hurt because we all had pretty much taken a reduction in our incomes when the opening the store took place. Still though, it was a sacrifice we were all willing to make, in the hopes it would just be on a temporary basis and would just be until we got the business back off the ground. Just like our increased online sales, it did begin to help. But, once again, it was obviously not going to be nearly enough to make a big enough impact on our bottom line to prove effective. In the end this too bought us a couple months to try and formulate additional plans to “get by”. Except that by now we had all started to dig into our personal savings pretty hard to help keep things going, but even what little savings we’d all had were starting to run out, and we were running out of options, and fast.
As a last and somewhat desperate resort we just started slashing our prices to try and move some of, any of, our products off the shelves. This plan worked, just like all the others up to now, but by now we’d just fallen too far and spread ourselves too thin and we had bank loans that needed to be paid, and we were running short of coming up with enough money to keep getting new product.
We were finally making money for the store, which was a good thing, but on a personal level, all of us were becoming so financially fucked it was truly looking like a lost cause. We had finally plugged the hole we were losing money from, but weren’t making any at the same time. And so finally, despite all of our brilliant and best efforts we just ran out of options.
So where do you go when you’ve hit the bottom of the barrel? The answer of course is that you make some really questionable choices that seem like good or at least sensible ones at the time, but only succeed in making you and your friends look insane or incredibly stupid in the process.
So now it looked like it was time for me to call another of my big meetings. Since we all worked on Saturday’s, I told everyone that we were gonna be closing our doors an hour early so that we could have a meeting to discuss the ultimate fate of the store. I was met with some strange looks, mainly because we never closed early, if anything we closed late, but at this point I figured “Eh, what the fuck?”, and that if we were leaking money anyways that one hour wouldn’t fix our problems and couldn’t possibly hurt us in our wallets any more than we already were. With luck, I was hoping we’d be able to brainstorm something that could save us from the hole we’d fallen into.
“Alright guys, I think we all know how fucked we are. Things can’t stay like this any longer, or we’re all gonna go broke and lose the store and most of what we own. I don’t think I’m the only one of us who’s on the verge of losing his house as well. I’ve heard the rest of you talking about how tough things are at home. It’s now more than just a matter of store survival, but a matter of not bottoming out across the board. Anyone got any ideas?”
I figured there was no reason to pull my punches and so I opened with it all out on front street hoped that we could fix it. I still believed that together we couldn’t fail. Hell, even now after all that’s happened I still do. Everyone just kinda looked at me in a sort of deer in the headlights kinda way. Almost as though they didn’t quite understand the words I was speaking.
“Come on guys. You guys have nothing at all?”, I couldn’t believe it. I just couldn’t believe it.
“Whatever we do we need to do it soon, I’ve only got another couple of months before I lose my house.” It didn’t really surprise me that William responded first.
“What can we do that we haven’t already tried?” T always did try to be the voice of reasonable solutions.
“Can’t we take it more online? It seemed to help when we refocused that way before. Why can’t we do it again?” Ralphie asked this like it was a simple thing to do. Wil and Stevie just looked at each other in a kind of scared, frustrated way, and Wil spoke up.
“Not with what we currently have as far as inventory, space and staff levels go. We don’t have enough people to manage the level of online sales that would be necessary to keep things going and make a bigger profit, and take on that level of staff. We’d end up even more in the hole than we already are. Stevie and I are already busting our asses to do what we can, but dude we are only two guys and there is only so much we can do.” He said it so plainly I didn’t even bother to add that we just didn’t have the room to maintain the level of inventory that would be needed to do what Ralphie was suggesting we try.
“Oh, I guess I didn’t realize it was so hard to do it. Is there anything else I can do to help you guys?” It was clear he really just wanted to help, but he really was just perfect for working the sales floor.
“Ralphie, you are amazing on the floor. You have the perfect level of excitement over the things we sell that it helps to push product on the customers. Don’t get pissed man but you’re like a kid at Christmas every month when the new issues come in. I, for one, don’t think we can afford to move you away from directly working with the customers.” I had to just hope he’d understand. He just nodded and sat there quietly for a second.
“No, you’re right. It’s cool.”
“I’ve been running through the books looking for corners to cut, but I can’t find anything else we can do to squeeze any more money out of what we’re doing. Short of working for free, I can honestly say we are probably just straight up fucked on this.” T, ever the pragmatist, had to just ground us all in reality.
I fucking hated when he did that. It always felt like he was pissing on the dream, not that he was usually wrong.
“Well, there is one thing, but I don’t think you guys will like it.” Stevie had an idea which never happened. I had to have looked like I’d been hit by a prizefighter, and then I realized I wasn’t alone.
“Hey man, if you got something to offer then I’m pretty sure we’ll at least listen to what you have got to say.” I had to give him that level of encouragement sometimes, because he was a little skittish about being taken seriously. He almost wilted when all the eyes were on him. But he continued.
“Ok, so you guys know that guy Russ that comes in all the time?” Everybody just nodded at this. We all knew who he was talking about.
“Crazy Russ? Yeah, we know him, but I don’t see how he fits in this though.” I didn’t.
“Ok, well he says he’s got a line on a guy who is looking to unload some guns and stuff. Military grade or so he says. Maybe we could sell those and make the money we need. I mean, you guys are always going on and on about how you’re all such wicked criminal fucking geniuses, maybe you can find a way to make some money at it.” Stevie had a confidence I’d not seen him display before. He had been giving this some serious thought before he brought it up.
As a quick little aside here, he wasn’t wrong, we did like to play a game we might as well have called “If I was a criminal” wherein we would create these fantastical situations of our own supposed, more like fantasized badassery and how we would turn that into running some sort of a criminal empire.
“Ok, wait a second, what the fuck do we know about gun running? It is called gun running right?” William had a tendency towards paranoia sometimes, but he was right. What did we know about running guns?
“True, but how much worse can it get?” I had to admit Stevie piqued my interest and I wanted to see where this was going.
“I’m at least curious about this. We need to do something, and soon. Leah’s talking about taking the kids and going to her mother’s and I won’t lose my family. I just won’t.” Wil was clearly a little frightened by the thought of losing his wife, and I couldn’t blame him. Meryl had already gone to her sister’s a couple of days prior with our baby girl and I’d not said a thing.
“Mer already went to her sister’s. I just haven’t said anything to you guys. I’m willing to do whatever it takes to get her back. I know that things have been rough for you boys too. You don’t even have to say anything.” I knew that although we were different people, we were still kinda the same. Or maybe we were just different aspects of the same person. The guys just looked at me and nodded.
“You guys can’t be seriously considering this?” T’s concern wasn’t entirely unfounded.
“You said when I first brought the idea of going into business together that it sounded kinda out there. Just think of this as an extension of that initial ‘out there’ idea. I will not lose my family.” I had made up my mind about things without even realizing it.
“You really might be crazy you know. If all of you guys are sure about this, then I guess I’m in.” T was always a team player and we were a fucked up family of sorts after all.
“So what do you say fellas? We gonna do this or what?” I saw no reason to fuck around with this conversation anymore.
“I’m in. I don’t wanna lose my girls.” I couldn’t believe that William was the first of those remaining to respond. I thought he’d be one of the last as always. It almost floored me when I heard him chime in. That seemed to be all it took for everyone else.
“If you’re sure dude, I’ll see what’s up.” I knew I could trust in Wil to just go with the flow.
“All right big man, back to you. You in?” No reason to mince my words. Stevie had what was looking to be a course of action we could at least explore.
Movies did glorify the kind of people we were apparently looking at becoming, and we were one man down from total agreement.
“Sure. Why the fuck not? I always knew we were a little fucked up but I can’t believe this would come from Stevie.” He did look a little dumbfounded at the whole thing. The prospect of running guns looked to confuse Ralphie, and if I’m being honest he wasn’t alone. We knew less about running guns than we did about running a successful business. And lately it looked like we really didn’t know much at all about that.
“Wait so we’re gun runners now? Nobody answered me. That is what it’s called right?” William could get so fucking freaked about shit sometimes.
“Yeah dude, I think that is what it’s called and yes I think that is what it’ll make us.” Wil was saying almost as though he was trying to convince himself as well.
“I really think it will.” Yeah, he was trying to convince himself. I’d kill if it meant Mer would bring the baby home, and know the rest of the guys would do the same. That’s just how we were. Loyalty to each other and the love of our families were about all there was outside the store.
“Stevie, since it was your idea, you talk to Russ and work out the meet with his guy. We need to be on this as soon as possible, so you got seven days to pull it together.” I figured he would like the opportunity to start pulling his keep anyways. He was gonna be sixteen in a couple of months anyways so this would give him a chance to start acting like a man.
“Sure, dude. Consider it done.” I knew it would be. He never, and I mean never, failed to do what he was told. It was like a damned illness.
And with that we started down the path to becoming gun runners. At the time we’d not yet met with a supplier and we didn’t have the first idea of how to unload guns and shit even when we did, but at the time those were just some details. We’d figure it out, we always did. At least that was what I thought at the time anyways. Amazing how far you can stretch your luck before it breaks like a taut rubber band. We were just too stupid to realize that at the time.