2017 wasn't the best year for comic stores. For us, January currently is looking to give December a run for its money sales wise which is something I never thought I would see. Though the increase in business is due to a store closing. Not the way I would like to increase business.
Last week, Rich wrote up this article – 50 stores that have closed in 2017.
Truthfully, I am surprised the number wasn't much higher. Granted a lot of stores that closed might not have been reported on.
Some stores did well, some did all right, some struggled, and others had to close. Here in central Iowa, we ended 2017 with less comic stores than we had when we started. At my store, our sales did drop from the previous year though I did cut costs. Technically all the comic stores in central Iowa are competition though we are also all entry points and places where people are able to get comics.
I have had people ask me how a store, that was miles away that went out of business could cause a rush of new customers at my store. Such as, wouldn't they just go to the stores that were closer? I then have to explain that there are a lot of different factors to why each new person would shop here. They may live near my store and may have worked near the store that had closed and now instead of going to get their comics during lunch, they come here.
For most of my years when I was collecting comics I didn't live by a comic store but, I did drive to Dragon Fire Comics because it was the store I preferred for many years. I shopped there for over a decade. Two of my jobs I had during my collecting years ended up being by Dragon Fire after I had started shopping there. I did enjoy leaving for lunch and picking up comics. One of the two owners of Dragonfire Comics I became friends with, though things change. He ended up moving out of state and selling his part of the store off and collecting wasn't nearly as enjoyable as it had been for me. I even ended up going to another store and still finding myself missing what I had liked at Dragonfire in years past. Leading me to open up my own store.
Different comic stores help keep people collecting comics. My store may be too small for some people. Size does indeed matter to some. I am often confused by people who buy one title a month and are not interested in anything else though they are wanting a bigger store. That for some reason for some people is what they feel they should be walking into. Some people do not like big stores. Others dislike stores that they feel have little to do with comics.
As I have learned, no store is going to make everyone happy. My challenge is getting as many people to like shopping here as possible. Another challenge is getting people to come in here on a regular basis. Meaning making it in at least once a month.
People that like local comic stores, what could they do to help their local store? Obviously, buy local does help. By no means is a comic store "owed" by its community. As I tell people, it is their money and they get to spend it the way they want because they earned it. If a community wants a comic store, they will support it.
However, there are things that people could easily do not to hurt their friendly neighborhood store.
When ordering something actually follow through and pick up what was ordered. When I first opened I could not understand why people would come in and tell me other stores wouldn't order something for them. Then I learned. It was because often times people wouldn't pick what they ordered. Even a prepaid statue that was here for months while our calls to the person reminding them we had their statue were treated as an annoyance. When items are pre-paid for that is great but, after months of being here it feels like we are a storage unit and I wonder how long we have to hold on to it or if they will even show up.
Another thing that puzzles me is people that come in special order something and are hoping we are hiring then don't bother to pick up the comic or whatever they special ordered. If someone is not responsible enough to pick up what they ordered he or she sure the heck are not responsible enough to work here.
Pull boxes. People that have comics put on hold for them so they do not have to worry about missing an issue. I have read about and talked with other store owners about pull boxes. People that come in at least monthly and get their pull boxes are aces with us. Coming into a store at least twelve times a year should not be a problem. I understand at times there are good reasons for not making it but, many times people that fall behind on their pull boxes just flat out abandon the comics they were having a store pull for them. Some people think that comic stores can simply put out the comics that were abandoned and make their money back. No, we order based on what info we have at the time and the pull box comics are ordered for that person with the pull box. If I needed more, I would have ordered more to start with.
Those that keep putting off getting their comics and finally make it in then put most of their comics back on hold due to their being so many. Or those that keep pushing off coming in. Or the "Oh, I will be in next month." However, they still do not come in. That does hurt a business.
For those that do not know comics usually are non-returnable for comic stores. Now when people keep delaying getting comics that they said they wanted that also creates problems.
Comic stores have different dates based on how long they have been open and their credit rating with Diamond that determines when they need to pay Diamond (the only supplier of comics). Brand new stores have it the worst. When my store was new I had to pay C.O.D. C.O.D. does not stand for Call of Duty. It means Cash On Delivery. When UPS drops off the comics on Tuesday or Wednesday they will not leave the shipment of comics with a new store unless they have a form of payment to give back to Diamond. Those comics need to be sold as quickly as possible for quick cash flow. People tend to think "so what if I come in every two months instead of monthly?" That means those comics were paid for by the store while all the store's bills such as for the invoice, rent, utilities, and more still had to be paid in a timely matter or late charges would be applied. One person not picking up the comics they claimed they wanted in a timely mater would not hurt a store that much but, multiply that by however many people are doing that and it becomes a big problem.
"There are very honest people who do not think that they have had a bargain unless they have cheated a merchant." -Anatole France
It is a saying I would not have understood before owning my own store.
People who lie have a negative impact on a store. When I know someone is lying to me I often times do not let on that I know. From gamers who make up reasons why they don't play here instead of just saying they play elsewhere to people trying to make up the wildest stories it does not make a person think this is why I opened a store. People that are honest are the people that store owners want to deal with naturally.
I have had pull customers who kept telling me to keep pulling comics for them and each week come up with a new excuse. One person after a month told me he just switch jobs so he could not make it in that week. Then when I called two weeks later he said he was sick. Then the next week he broke up with his girlfriend and didn't feel like going out. The week after that his car broke down. Why not just say drop the pull box?
Also even if one has a pull box that doesn't make the comics in the pull box theirs till they actually pay for them. I have heard of many stories from other comic store owners of when a pull customer falls off the face of the earth then months later shows up extremely upset that their pull box had been cancelled even though they never returned any calls or tried to let the store know they were still interested. I have been in the same boat.
I have customers come in that left other stores because they did not understand why their former store did not just wait for them to show up even though they had not shown up in months. I try to be as nice as I can be about it when I try to explain how would they know that one person would actually come in after months of not making it while another person who has been missing for months has no attention of ever returning.
This is very simple though it happens a lot. People for whatever reason picking up a comic and putting it back covering up other comics that are not the same title. Such as, I just found a past issue of Mister Miracle covering up Wildstorm. I was looking at the shelf and thinking that is odd I did not sell that copy of Mister Miracle today. Did someone steal it? Nope, the old someone picked up a comic and just threw it back on the shelf anywhere. Makes a store look unorganized. In addition, blocks sales. If someone wanted that Mister Miracle they very well could have just assumed we were sold out. If they speak up and I can order it, back in I would and then I would be ordering a comic I did not need because I had it on hand the whole time and did not know it. Costing the store money.
I look at owning a comic store as a typical job that people have. No one wants to lose money. Would the person trying to get a discount out of a comic store be willing to take a pay cut at their own job? Odds are good they would not.
Comic stores often sell games along with comics.
Some gamers want to take a store that sells games for everything they can; even to the point, that a store loses money. These are not people that stores need or want to deal with. Gaming is supposed to be played for fun. That is the goal at my store. Wizards of the Coast the makers of Magic the Gathering give out prize support to give to the players. Stores have taken this further by adding product to the prize pool. Many gamers have no problem trying to get a store to give away more prizes. As many as they can get even if the store goes out of business, some gamers do not care as long as they get as much as they can. I have had employees that have refused to work Friday Night Magic events due to how rude and pushy gamers can be. Recently Wizards of the Coast has passed a rule saying stores need to have background checks on their employees that deal with the public. Wizards of the Coast is not going to pay for it. Pokemon pays for background checks for their people who run gaming events for them, while Wizards wants the stores to do it not just for people running events for them but, all of the staff that might sell their product during events. I will admit I would feel foolish running and spending money on a background check on myself. Large staffed stores make background checks cost a heck of a lot just to run Magic events.
I dropped Magic events such as standard events. Magic events are when people bring their own deck spend $6 and usually stay for over three hours. Some want packs that sell for around $4 as prizes. Then usually someone complains they did not get more. The average non-Magic player wonders why a store would offer something that is so cheap since obviously no real money is made. I have been told by a few there is a local gaming store that takes standard a step "further." The other store has standard events for free and provides prizes for free. I try to politely say "that's not for us." While thinking "What the..?"
I am all for safety. I have wondered at times about bigger stores that have a big gaming area that is mostly left unattended by a store's staff. I have heard stories about gaming areas. However, they are just people talking. Meaning I have heard many stories and know not, all of them can be true. At least here gaming is not left unchecked. One advantage of a smaller store is I and my staff can watch and listen in on people gaming.
Magic gamers in larger populated areas have many options as to where to game, there are some spoiled gamers that think they are entitled to a large prize pool and cheap events. With background checks costing money, some stores may opt to drop Magic events or have to raise their prices.
Also with Wizards of the Coast unwilling to raise their prices so stores can share in an increase in profit stores are often times operating over the years at the same profit level or less. Stores over time see higher costs and need to make more money. 2017 was not only a tough year for comics it was a tough year for small gaming stores. Gamers may be in for a heck of a change in the future as stores close or adapt. Magic gaming events have no real impact on our sales. Dungeon & Dragons gaming events did not move the sales need on D&D product. We currently have no D&D gaming and D&D material sells very well. Boardgame nights were dropped. A lot of fun was had by the group though hardly any games would be bought by the group. Currently, our Heroclix gamers are really good for the store. Though in the past I had a group that would play for cheap as possible, tell me they had no money, then after each weekly night of Heroclixs go out for beer and pizza. I will always remember the look on their face when they invited me for beer and pizza and I told them "no, I don't have any money" the phrase they used often at my store. Heroclix gaming currently is a money maker here. We may be ending Friday Night Magic events here soon.
Cheap people are not going to help a store.
There you have it. Some of these points I have brought up in past columns. In short, this is me basically saying treat others how one would like to be treated. It seems pretty simple.
I in no way blame customers for the drop in comic sales and gaming sales. As I have stated before owning a comic store is like owning a movie theater. Provide a clean area for people to come in. Good customer service. Stay out of the way of a sale. None of that matters if people are not interested in what is coming out. It is up to the publishers to put out material that people will want. It is that simple and that complicated.