Daniel Kline: Even now, nothing ventured, nothing gained

Published 10:15 am Friday, August 7, 2009

Sleeping the normal amount of hours at night stopped weeks ago, replaced mostly by sweating and running various success/failure scenarios over in my brain.

On a good night I’d catch a few hours before heading into one store to catch up on e-mail, paperwork and other correspondence before making the hour-plus ride to our about-to-be second location.

The inability to sleep coupled with a manic desire to work has always been part of my package of mental quirks as launch day for a new venture approaches.

There’s an enormous amount of stress involved in trying something different and the pressure I put on myself has gotten worse as the personal stakes have risen.

When I was a major part of launching a men’s lifestyle Web site in 1999 with very little money¬† and founders who seemed somewhat intent on replacing me right up until we actually launched, I had little to lose.

My then girlfriend (current wife) and I rented an apartment, had no child and had not even gotten our first cat.

I didn’t know enough to be scared and, frankly, failing in the Internet crazy days of the late ’90s would have just meant taking a higher-paying job at some other new company.
Now, my company, under my direction, has decided to launch a new store during the worst retail economy since the 1920s.

Worse yet, it’s an entirely different kind of store than our first, very successful location.
Whereas our current store is the largest of its kind – carrying pretty much all of everything – the new one will be 1,000 square feet carrying a very focused selection of everything.

The new store is based on my theory that most local hobby shops and gaming stores close because they have too tight a focus – usually only selling whatever the owner collects or plays.

Our new store (hopefully stores) will combine traditional hobbies such as model building and trains with games, radio control planes, helicopters, cars and trucks along with collectible gaming and plain old toys.

Since nobody except us in a pretty different setting has used this exact mix of products (hobby and toys or hobby and gaming sometimes get mixed, but not usually all three) I am either a genius or an idiot.

It’s, of course, the fear that I may be an idiot that keeps me up at night running through various mental spreadsheets as to what it will take to break even and waking up sweating in fear that we will build it and nobody will come.

The night before launch day was particularly sleepless as I became mentally convinced that no customer would ever come to our store.

This made no sense as we had a visible location that had until its owner’s recent tragic death had housed a successful hobby store. I also had commitments from local model, radio control and gaming clubs to show up and I was pretty sure my wife intended to stop by.

Nerves aside, there’s a certain thrill to doing something contrarian. Opening a store in the worst economy since the 1920s often strikes people as foolish, but the rational part of me (as opposed to the panicky part) says that we sell quality products that people want and demand for toys, games and hobby items increases in a recession.

Of course, rational thought, does not occupy my mind in the middle of the night and I’m rapidly becoming a vampire who has a day job. If this store works, I hope to open hundreds more over the next few years.

Someone should probably get a pot of coffee started.

Daniel B. Kline’s work appears in over 100 papers weekly. When he is not writing, Kline serves as general manager of Time Machine Hobby New England’s largest hobby and toy store, www.timemachinehobby.com.
He can be reached at dan@notastep.com, see his archive at dbkline.com, or befriend him at facebook.com/dankline.