Comics, cards, action figures, statues, and more are collectibles that we sell. What have I learned after over eleven years of owning a comic and gaming store? A lot. Even after all this time, I am still learning. I am always learning to be humble. Last year with covid I dreaded this year. Other businesses owners and managers I talked with also were worried. Never would I have said I bet we will set record high sale records in 2021. Yet, we did. Our eleventh-anniversary sale was crazy—crazy good.
This year we have had tons of new customers, customers that are enthusiastic about us. Business is good, and people are happy. Last year I thought it would be a challenge to make it through this year. It shows what I know. Why did I not know?
For the same reason, many businesses thought it would be the opposite of what this year is currently doing business-wise. It is new territory. A paper shortage and supply issues that could affect comics this late into the year? I did not see that coming.
Businesses struggling to get employees after last year? People are still trying to figure out what is going on with that.
What have I learned? What do I know? I am lucky. I tried and kept on trying. I want my store to feel open and a place people feel comfortable coming to. Sounds crazy? I remember as a kid, my dad left me in a comic store with another kid to get a bite to eat, and the store owner threatened to break the other kid's fingers for setting a comic down too hard. Not everyone is a people person.
Be different. Offer a unique experience and products not found at other stores. We need to give a reason or reasons to shop here. Why drive the extra mile or miles past another store if we offer the exact same experience or products? I have been involved in comics for decades which brings passion and experience. Some people like that. We carry individual Heroclixs; we have been told we are the only store in central Iowa that does this, which brings in the Heroclix players and collectors.
There are people that do drive past other comic and gaming stores to shop with us, and there are people who drive past us to go to other stores. It is the nature of the game. People want different things. Some enjoy a small customer service-focused store, while others want a huge store with as little human interaction as possible. As many people who work in retail know, there are some people that are rude or just plain do not have people skills. Those types of people are more than welcomed to go elsewhere.
I often get asked if I have thought about getting into a bigger space. When I first opened, the dream was to expand. After last year's shutdown, I am grateful we are small. Same with being asked about having a gaming room. More space means more rent. A gaming space last year became dead weight for stores. Bigger fixed costs while being closed would have been much more harmful.
Another dream is to open up a second store. With the labor shortage and how swamped we currently are, that is not going to happen anytime soon.
Take care of those that take care of you. Last year I was mentally preparing for it could be the end of the store. It was not what I wanted by any means: it just could have been the cold hard reality of everything that was going on. I was amazed by the people who were concerned about the store. The Binc Foundation helped a lot of comic stores out last year, including us. I was amazed people were bidding on items through the Binc Foundation on our behalf. People reached out and asked what they could do to help. I stunned people who wanted to buy gift certificates from us when I told them no. If the shutdown had lasted a long time and we were being forced to close permanently, I did not want anyone out of money with unused gift certificates. Those people ended up outright buying from us when we did curbside instead. My faith in humanity was restored. People actually carrying about others was great. I never dreamed we would have so many people concerned that this little comic and gaming store might be no more. If covid had hit during our first few years of being open, we would have been in a lot more trouble. We had good customers, just not nearly as many as we do now.
Almost everything has advantages and disadvantages. I have had in the past people come in looking for a new store because their comic store had closed, and they were out money due to prepaying for product. We do not do prepay. It would be a quick way to get money. The downside is if the product does not get to us or if there are delays. The issues may have nothing to do with us, though if we took money from people for prepay, that could put us in an awkward spot. With material getting delayed more and more this year, that is going to be more of an issue. To keep things simple, we just have people pay when the product comes in. This also means if something happens to the store or me, no one is out any money which is a selling point I make to new customers that want to open a pull box with us. It is a good sales pitch telling people they will never be out of any money by shopping with us.
One can indeed work as much as they want to when owning a store. I once was going to write about the amount of work to own a comic store and realized everyone is different. I have been to stores that the person was watching shows or playing video games. I admit a part of me was envious when I saw that. I have a chair behind the counter that I never use; I actually use it more as a shelf. I have what feels like a never-ending list of things I can do in the store. Even if there are no customers, there are plenty of things to do.
The change will happen. Some change is for the better, like when DC instructed Diamond all those years ago to let us receive comics on Tuesdays. With the UPS hub being in Des Moines, it meant the Des Moines stores would easily get their comic shipments before we did. On Wednesdays, the comic shipment could show up any time of the day. This meant customers would come in, and we might or might not have the shipment. To avoid this, I started driving to the UPS hub from Ankeny to pick up our comics at 8 a.m. By having Tuesday deliveries, I ended up saving a lot of time and gas. My store has also changed in some not so good ways. Gaming brings wear and tear to the countertop and chairs. By not having gaming it slows down some of the grind. After 11 years in business, we have done things to make the store look good. We have repainted the inside and installed a new carpet. We still have work to do to make the store look better. Am I excited to keep making improvements to someone else's property? No, though it is part of the commercial rental game. I hope our next improvement project is to restore the back issue bins (which, of course, are ours).
Treat people well. That seems like an easy thing to do. For some, it isn't. Some people are full of prejudice. As a human being, I do not understand that. Everyone is different. Life is tough enough without others making it tougher. As a business person, money is money. Respectful and appreciative people are who I want to deal with.
Try to let people know what your store is all about. The best advertising for our events is simply telling people about when the next sale or gaming event is. Social media is great; through face-to-face communication is still the best form of communication. The customer gets to know the store owner or employee and vice versa.
I have learned a lot over the years though I still do not have all the answers. The covid situation has proven to be the great unknown. I do not know of anyone who thought that supply chains would be as challenged as they are this year. At least 2021 has been better for us than 2020. With the holidays coming up and supply chains still a mess, will we see even more business? Will we lose business due to not being able to get product in? Will a paper shortage make comics as hard to get as it was getting Pokemon packs in last year? If so, will comics be flying off the shelves like Pokemon packs did last year? I wish I knew so I could plan accordingly.
Best thing I have learned. Try. I have had eggs on my face many times over the years. I will keep making mistakes in the future. Those who would look down on me are not people I want to know. Everyone makes mistakes. Pointing them out and laughing helps no one. Those that help you when you stumble are the ones you want to know and want around you. Standing back up after a fall and trying is the tough part. One of the hardest things I ever did was come to terms with my store might not make it after we opened. My worst enemy was me. I was beating myself up like I was a failure. The reality is things do not always turn out the way we want. I had to decide how much money I was willing to lose and the stopping point instead of pouring money into a bottomless pit. It was not the proudest moment of my life. No one wants to think they failed or may fail. I did decide even if I did fail, it would not be because I did not try. I wanted no doubt left in me that I did not try hard enough if things went south. The first few years were tough, the complete opposite of what things are now for the store. In the beginning, after I opened, I had shoplifters and employees stealing from me. I had people hanging out just to play games for free because I foolishly allowed it. I was forced to change—no more free gaming. I became more vigilant. I bought a camera for the store. I stopped bending over backward for everyone and focused on those that actually appreciated the work and the extra mile we go for them. In short, I changed and kept trying.
Over the years, it has been a roller coaster of highs and lows. I still love comics. What will the future hold? There will always be twists and turns, some surprises, both good and bad. Hope for the best and try to be better, both as a business and as a person. Be grateful for what I have and the people that care about me and the business. Take what I have learned and hopefully help grow the comic business and, of course, keep on learning.