Comic Store In Your Future
Rod Lamberti of Rodman Comics, Rodman Comics, Awrites weekly for Bleeding Cool,
After communicating with Rich he was thrilled to have me write a weekly comic column. Well it went something like "well you're not Jude Terror, so that's a plus, but I suppose as long as you don't break the internet too much, keep the nazi punching to a bare minimum and stay away from Frank Cho, we can give it a go. Pip, Pip!"
Have suggestions for future columns? Let Rich know.
Often times owning a comic store looks cool when we are younger. It is something that many comic fans at one point daydream about. And some actually do open up a store. Don't look at me like that. I thought it would be a wild and exciting adventure. Which I was right about. Just not in ways I thought it would be at times.
Currently if the tea leaves are being read correctly (Meaning clues such as less stores being involved this year in Free Comic Book Day) there are currently more comic stores closing than opening.
What I hope to do with this article is to help give advice and help point out some things that they might not have thought of for people looking to open a comic store.
My best advice in my mind would be save for it. Meaning wait at least a year and save money. The more money you have on hand the better. But wait a year? That seems like a long time. In that time while saving do research, budget. And plan. What are the store goals? Well duh, make money. Yes, but is that the only goal?
Here are four of the goals for Rodman Comics. One was and still is to make money. DUH!
Expand comic readership. Meaning get more comics into more people's hands.
Help kids get in to reading.
Share my passion for comics.
Things to be good at before opening a store. Math. It is very important. It is part of a budget. After I started figuring out costs such as rent and so forth for a store I figured out how much I would need to sell just to break even for the first year. Have numbers to try for every day, every week, every month, and every year.
Planning on offering discounts on comics? Figure that in. For me discounting doesn't work. That 20 or so percent off each new comic does not increase sales enough to cover that lost 20 percent for discounting. Someone who is a Spider-man or Superman fan still gets all the related titles they normally would and pockets the 20 percent off. They don't think hmmm I am saving 20 percent so maybe I should try another title. That discount is less money per sale while my costs keep going up each year. Again discounting while it doesn't work for me there will be others that say it does for them.
Also another thing I have learned. I am not going to make money off cheap people.
Other questions to ask when opening a store. What do I think owning a comic store is all about? What will I be doing? How much do I expect to make?
I have been to many comic stores. I have seen people play video games while at the counter and never say one word to me while I am in there. I have been to others with a person who is just going to play on their phone at the check out counter and if you walk up and actually buy something they will at least scan what you are buying and get your money and then get back to their phone.
That's not going to impress people coming in. A small business has limited resources. Giving people the same experience they would get while going to a soulless big chain store to pick up dog food is not a good idea.
A small business has to be nimble, outgoing, and try.
One of the many things about starting up a business is the odds are against a new business. Most close in two years. If it was easy opening a business everyone would be doing it.
Want to improve the odds of staying in business? Try. Work. Learn. Adapt.
People will often ask me what TV shows I watch. Other than maybe on Monday evening at home I rarely watch TV Often times I will be asked why don't I bring a TV to my store? Why not watch a show on the computer? I actually do work at the store. I have a long list of things that need done. One of things that most likely will be a forever project is getting what is in store on our online market site. Taking a break I will do but never would I watch a TV show here.
Unless your wealthy then save money before opening. Yes, I can not harp saving money enough. This will also help you get into a better habit after opening a business.
But how do I save money you ask? Perhaps some habit changes. Not eating out as much. A bowl of cereal and toast in the morning. Taking your lunch to work. Making dinner at home. Not going out drinking as much. Quitting smoking if you smoke. Not buying a new vehicle this year or next. Instead of a vehicle or house payment make a payment into your own business start up savings.
Why not just borrow all the money needed? Banks do not loan money unless they make money off it because they are a business. The loan will cost interest. Also if a loan or loans are an option there is only so much they will loan you. The smaller the loan the smaller the interest payments. And the better the odds are you may be able to get a loan later if need be.
I know in this day and age of college students starting their adult life with college debt that colleges are often times teaching people to be in debt. While debt is a large part of almost everyone's life. There needs to be a end plan. A point where the amount of debt gets smaller and when one is older in life out of debt.
The more debt a business takes on the more money spent paying off that debt.
When running a business there will be unexpected expenses. Such as I rent the space for the store. Anything that breaks I get to fix out of pocket. Meaning commerical renting isn't like residential renting. I rent the space. Do not own it. But I get to pay for repairs. When I first opened the fuse box broke. It was weird some outlets worked but there were no lights and some outlets didn't work. No lights makes it tough to sell product. The water heater broke. I had to have a new one put in. The furnace has been repaired. The air was fixed. Again I do not own them but I get to fix them when they brake. Cash on hand makes that an easier pill to take.
Getting into the habit of saving helps in a business. Helps fight off the urge to go all in on that new comic book or new product line. If one of the months in business goes bad there is still money on hand to make it through thanks to cash on hand.
Be ready to adapt. When I first opened I carried manga. It did not do well at all here in store. It was the first product line I cut. I admitted it was not working and used the space for RPGs such as Pathfinder and D&D. I am human. It wasn't a pleasant experience to admit to myself I made a mistake. Mostly knowing the money lost tied into carry manga hurt the most. Though moving on to a product that does sell helps ease the hurt.
Now does that mean manga wouldn't be popular in another store? No. I just learned the hard way it wasn't popular at my store.
My store is in Ankeny, Iowa. As most people say when hearing Ankeny, Iowa "Where is that?"
Being in Ankeny, Iowa is going to be different than say in Houston, Texas. The rent is cheaper here. The population is way smaller. So the customer reach is a lot smaller.
Learn your customer base. That top 100 Diamond comic sales list isn't going to match your top 100 in store sales. Some of it may but not all. Learn what your able to sell. What you are able to sell is what is important for your store's ongoing survival. The whole DC vs Marvel fanboy debate? Forget about it. Your personal comic tastes will influence your store and at times your sales but everyone is different. It is what makes the world interesting. If I can sell over a 100 copies of my least favorite title then by goodness we will. I am a Legion of Superhero fan. The last two series didn't sell here in store. I promoted and pushed them but most people were not interested. As I stated before as a comic store we are like movie theaters. There is either something coming out that people are interested in and willing to pay money for or there isn't. Keep the store clean. The staff friendly. Stay out of the way of a sale. But if there is no interest in a product its just the way it is.
Haven't ever read any of the smaller publisher material? Not interested in every comic that comes out? That is totally understandable with the large volumn of comics that come out each month. Though you will need to sell more than just the comics that you are interested in. Reading more than just the most popular selling comics will be a good thing. It will help to broaden what you read amoung the various comic companies. Here is what I read from the non big two publishers. Transformers and the James Bond limited series from Dynamite. Back to the Future from Boom. Rom from IDW. Simpsons from Bongo Comics. X O Man O War when it comes back out from Valiant. Walking Dead from Image. These are all comics that are properties that are popular with comic readers not into the big two. While I don't read it My Little Pony from IDW also is enjoyed by people not into the big two's output. Every comic store owners reading list will most likely be wildly different.
My reasoning for reading Transformers? There always seems to be a new movie coming out and I always seem to get at least get a few new people coming in asking about Transformers so keeping up on it and the spin offs seems smart. The other reason is the fanboy in me. I enjoyed the Gen 1 Transformers cartoon as a kid and the first Marvel comic series. So reading the various Transformers series also feeds my inner fanboy.
James Bond. It's James Bond. What more needs to be said?
Back to the Future is a popular property. The first movie is a classic. The average non regular comic reader knows what Back to the Future is.
Rom. Rom 1 back years ago by Marvel was one of the first comics I read. So yes the current series feeds my inner fanboy. And Rom did have his own action figure. He was his own toy line. Yes, I had one as a kid. His leg fell off. Though years later I did get one that is still in a box.
Simpsons. Often times when parents come in with their kids a Simpsons book is an easy sell. The parents know the Simpsons from TV so they know what the comic is going to be like. Kids enjoy the Simpsons TV show and figure they will like the comic.
Valiant in store we may have a small group of fans. But by goodness they are loyal. Every title from Valiant that they have requested they have made sure to pick up. The upcoming X-O Manowar looks good. Has people excited. Hoping for more die hard Valiant readers as a result.
My Little Pony, I may not read the comic and that by no way is a knock against the title, I have multiple people who only have My Little Pony comics for their pull list. It does appeal to both adults and kids.
Walking Dead. It's a popular property as everyone knows. A great easy sell since there is only one Walking Dead comic. Someone enjoys the T.V. show comes in interested about the Walking Dead. Here is the comic. Here are the trades. Like printing money. No twenty some spin off titles to bog down, confuse, and distract a new person. No Walking Dead east coast, Walking Dead Secret Society, Walking Dead We Want Your Money, or Pip Pip the Walking Dead are here.
I find it helpful to actually read what I can of the comics I sell. Some stores don't read the interiors of any of their comics. They feel their time is best spent doing something else. Which I can understand. Again with the vast amount of comics that comes out every month it would very tough to read them all. It's all what you decide is best. Though I find it helps connect customers to us when I ask something about the comic like did you like it when so was revealed as so and so? The customer is usually surprised and likes the fact I read the issue.
Do you plan to work a lot at your new store and give it a good hard effort?
If yes that's good. Your improving your odds.
That said do not burn yourself out.
Also are you religious? Are you dating or married? Do you have a family?
I ask that because being a not rich new business owner is going to take up your time. You might want to be closed on Sundays to attend church. Maybe be closed on Mondays to be with family. If you can afford it maybe have someone work Fridays so you can have date night. You are taking on new responsibilities. Not losing your old ones.
Starting up a business means having a plan (I hope at least you do). Are you going to be sole owner? A positive for that would be you get to do it your way. The negative would be all loses are totally yours. Are you going to have a partner? A positive is you have help. Someone shouldering the burden of small business owner ship with you. The negative could be though it might not be, owning a business with a partner is somewhat like going from dating to getting married. When just dating money is not as much of a sore subject as it often becomes after getting married. Business partners who have been childhood friends often times end up not being friends. The relationship has changed. New responsibilities are shared. Adjustments have to be made.
If you are able to get a job at a comic store before you start one you may want to. If you do pay attention. Learn.
Be ready to have to close. What? After all that hard work starting up a store how could I close? Again if it was easy everyone would open a store. People have had stores for longer than I have and have ended up closing. Not because they did anything wrong. Things changed for them. They might have lost the fire for owning a business. Their costs might have kept rising and they might not have been able to keep up. Just because a store closes it doesn't mean anything was done wrong. Or that the owner or owners weren't trying their best. Retail isn't easy. I am going to be completely honest. Rodman Comics has been very fortunate to be able to stay open for over six years. One of the reasons I opened was because I wanted better control of my job so to speak. Meaning not worried about being laid of or not getting along with management or whatever. I may be my own boss but I still have to make sure there is enough cash flow at all times to keep the store going. If my landlord decides during one of our lease renews to jack up the rent. I don't have control over that at all. My options would be to close or move. Which guess which year this is?
After reading this there might be some people saying I am trying to scare people from opening a store. I encourage people to. I want more stores out there putting comics in people's hands. Though opening up next to an established store I would say would be foolish. What is the point of that? It's like having two McDonald's across the street from each other. Open in an area that is not serviced. That could use a comic store. I get people who stop here from out of town that are so excited that Ankeny has a comic store because there isn't one close to them let alone in the town they are from. It makes me want to open up another store. I would like to. What's holding me back? I beat the odds once but would I be able to again? Also I would need to save up money for it. This year our lease is up so we may be moving. Maybe staying. That's currently what we are saving up for. If you think moving to a house can be expensive moving a business is more. How is that? Just the signs alone would most likely have to be replaced since the odds of them being the same size for a new location are slim. Think around five hundred to over a grand for new signs alone. Meaning not just the sign over the store but the one in the mall sign also. I know what the cost was over six years ago so odds are its even more now.
In short protect yourself. Cash on hand is good. Learn. Be a good comic store owner or owners. Help make us all look good.