Comic Store In Your Future – What Have I Learned In Over 8 Years In Business?

Rod Lamberti of Rodman Comics writes weekly for Bleeding Cool. Find previous columns here.

It is said one is never too old to learn something new. Over the years that has proven true for me in owning the store.

What have I learned?

My love of comics does not equal a successful store. It can help, it can guide, though it is up to others that spend money here to make the store successful. What they like matters even more. I am not a Spawn fan. Though that does not mean I should not sell it. We have Spawn fans. If a hundred people want to buy Spawn then I better sell them a hundred copies.

When I first opened I wanted a big huge store. A store with as far as the eye can see with comics. Nothing but comics and comic related items.

I learned having a small store isn't bad. Keeping costs down by having a small store means I have money for other things. I learned being the biggest comic store was far less important than having as profitable of a store as possible. When we first opened people were disappointed we didn't have more material. We had a wall full of new and recent comics.  That is what people buy the most of here. People seemed much more pleased with the store as we stocked up with statues and action figures. Most did not buy any and stuck with buying new and recent comics from the wall though they were much happier with the store.

I learned "comic store" means Magic The Gathering-sold-here to Magic players. So we started carrying Magic the Gathering. For a few years, they were quite the boost in sales. In recent years, the latest sets are either hit or misses. The increase in new product releases and the currently heavy amounts of reprintings of previous cards in new sets have put a damper in player's card collecting. Wizards of the Coast wants to "help" stores with Magic gaming. I have learned butts in seats is not a business model. Retailers need to sell. Not host gaming events that do not make money. People that have read my store's website column have told me after reading about how when people often go to gaming events they spend nothing or the bare minimum or a least close to it agree with me that it seems like a waste. It isn't limited to just Magic players. I have had people tell me how they went to another store and played in a Star Wars Destiny game and seen people just buy the packs and leave before playing even starting so they could be one of the first to get new product. I have seen Magic players drop out after the first round because they no longer can win the main prize. Others have started figuring out that stores that they go to that are hosting gaming events often times is wasting a store's time and money.  Whose fault is this? Ours. We used to have free gaming. We followed what other stores did. It was a drain of time and money. We can sell product. That is what we should be doing.

If people are unable or unwilling to play a game at their residence then there is value to playing at business. Sadly, some games stores are so afraid of the internet they feel free instore gaming is the way to go to bring people in.

Wizards of the Coast, the makers of Magic the Gathering, over the years it seems they are steering away from gaming stores selling their product and more towards big chain stores. Hasbro, who owns Wizards of the Coast recently announced they will have to have layoffs. The loss of Toys R Us hurt them. Magic the Gathering is a bright spot for them though there very well could be more pressure on their golden goose to produce. Raising the price of Magic the Gathering products yet again and telling us to not raise our prices is pretty much a slap to the face.

The customer is not always right. It is always easier to spend someone else's money. When I first opened I lost a lot of money trying to accommodate people. People said they wanted more independent. I stocked up on them and then those same people did not buy them.

Many things I assumed would be easier over the years have not been. Such as comics ordering. All the first issues and relaunches are insane in my eyes. Captain Marvel should be an easy sell due to her upcoming movie. Marvel has made Captain Marvel toxic with it being relaunched so many times over the years. The character is like the Inhumans property. I liked the characters years ago though with all the forcing the characters down my throat over the years I just want a break from them until a good creative team comes along. I say that as both a fan and retailer. Captain Marvel went from a character I liked when she was Ms Marvel to a character that seems unlikable to me. Civil War II was how to make readership not care about characters it featured.

New first issues are a gamble. The do usually sell. The question is how well will they sell? No one complains when a store has too many copies left over, other than the storeowner. Not enough copies, then customers get upset. Return of Wolverine first issue did well. Amazing Spider-Man is a pleasant surprise. Tony Stark Iron Man and the new Fantastic Four first issue sold terribly in store.  For DC Justice League Dark is a big hit for us. Justice League Odyssey is not.  When ordering we retailers must remember that for the most part unsold material is not returnable.

Venom is still selling well for us. Our back issues of Venom are getting cleaned out. A lot of the critics might have hated the movie though it does have plenty of fans. What some say and think online does not make it a fact.

The internet, while a good source of information, is not always right. As I stated in a past column, Google had us listed as closed on Wednesdays. That was quite the surprise to me. Reviews are easy to fake. We have reviews from people that have never been in the store. Both good and bad. Stores that had a perfect 5 star rating on Facebook, I see are closed. The best way to learn about a store is to actually walk into it.

Part of my education with the store was no matter what the store is not going to be for everyone. It could be the biggest store in the world and there would still be people that hated it for being the biggest store in the world. We greet every person that comes in and let them know if they need help to let us know. Some people do not like that.

Just like someone running for office we try to get as many people as possible to vote for us. To vote for us one has to spend money. People do indeed vote with their wallets.

I have learned that there are many things out of my control. Americans have a lot of debt. Wages for the middle class have been stagnant. Many people do not feel like they are getting ahead money wise. Many of my customers have a lot of college debt. This does not make people feel comfortable spending money on collectibles. As I have stated before if this is a "good" economy it is going to get really interesting when things get "bad", such as when the next recession happens.

Some of these things I have talked about in previous columns. I keep thinking the comic industry will bust out and good times will return. A new exciting project will be coming out to write about, that has not happened for a while. Marvel is not changing course after all this time is confusing to me. Is Marvel's focus so much so on their movies Disney just doesn't care about the comic business?  Has the main publishers budgets been cut so much that we will not see any improvements? The hottest comic this year is going to be Batman Damned #1 because Batman showed a bit much? After waiting patiently for so long is this as good as it is going to get?


About Rich Johnston

Head writer and founder of Bleeding Cool. The longest-serving digital news reporter in the world. Living in London, father of two. Political cartoonist.

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