Learning should be never-ending. No one knows everything. Even after a decade of owning a store, I am still learning to better the business. I recently learned that our back-issues and graded comics on our wall could have been selling better over the years had we included a brief description that was big enough for people to read along with the price from a distance. We just started doing that this year and it has helped sales a lot; customer feedback has been great.
What else have I learned? Want to sell products to kids? Make sure kids can see and touch the product. Sounds simple. Kids, especially very young ones, are small. I have walked into comic stores and seen comics for kids displayed so high the kid would never be able to touch them and would need to be several feet back from the comics just to see them. Our bottom shelf is for kids' comics and books. Kids love being able to look through the comics. They get excited, and the parents often are happy to pay for their kids' comics to help get them into reading.
Experiment. Failure does happen. Don't be afraid. Learning what works and improving a business is done by trying new things. I did a podcast last year with Zenescope just using my phone. I was way out of my comfort zone. When I had advertisements done for TV, I would be asked don't you want to be in the commercial? I would say no, this is about the store, not me. I was nervous doing the podcast. We were closed, and I walked outside to show off the store's car for the podcast and walked back inside. I did not lock the door, thinking it would look odd, so of course, a shipment showed up, and a person walked in while I was live-podcasting. Things happened; I was told by various people I did a good job; now, if they were being nice, who knows? Regardless, I was glad I did it. Lots of businesses sell products through podcasts, and that is something we should try. Why haven't we? Time, just not enough time in the day.
No matter what, not everyone will like you or your store. The more the customer base grows, the more people the business deals with, and the more people will decide that they do not like you or your store for whatever reason. I just keep on trying, and I am thrilled we currently have such a good solid customer base. Focus on those that spend money with your business. Those that leave bad reviews may simply never have liked the store no matter what. The store is too big; it is too small. The owner's eyes are blue. Who knows? Focus on those that actually matter to the business. Our last sales day on July 16th was a zoo. It was crazy. I foolishly went over the counter and nearly fell over due to so many people that I could not get out from around the counter. My body told me it was not a good idea as I nearly fell over. We nearly broke our sales record that day. So close, again! The morning after, I woke up reviewing what worked and started getting ready for our next sale. Currently, it looks like we will have it on October 1st, a Saturday, and it will mark twelve years of Rodman Comics. That makes me feel old, proud though old.
Give people a reason to stop in. We do free bags and board for each new comic purchased to add value to shopping with us. I try to greet everyone that comes in and let them know if they need help to let us know. I ask my staff to do the same. Some people like that, and some do not. People like to talk. Listening is important. Remembering what people say is also important. Showing that one remembers discussions shows interest and makes people feel better. Talking with a person after our last sale, he said something I liked as a store owner. He said Rodman Comics is like the Cheers of comic stores. You go there, and everyone knows your name. I, of course, loved it. Am I great at remembering everything? My staff teases me that, at times, I do not remember a name though I remember everything they buy at the store and what they have on their pull lists or every conversation I have had with them. Odd, I know. I should have joked to the customer after comparing the store to Cheers and said, "what's your name?"
I love comics, the writing, and the artwork I enjoy. My only regret is I do not have more time to track down comics from my youth. Hopefully, people will figure out that I have collected comics for a while and enjoy comics and find that cool and something to connect with.
Learn to adapt. Things will change; change is out of any one person's hands. Work has increased over the years due to no fault of my own. Just received notice that the state's sales tax will now need to be paid monthly instead of quarterly. That is going to be just something new to get used to. We now order comics through Lunar, Penguin, and Diamond instead of just Diamond. Diamond was the only comic vendor through which we could buy comics for years. That is the way it was for over twenty years for comic stores. People ask me why I deal with three comic vendors. DC Comics is only through Lunar. Penguin for us gets us the best price for Marvel Comics and free shipping. Diamond is still exclusive with a lot of the non-DC and Marvel publishers. Three different vendors with three different websites for ordering. More paperwork for us also.
Learn what your customers want. Matching customers up to comics that they will like is challenging. There are so many comics that come out that I fail to keep up on all of them. Just the other week, I read Marvel's Variants title to see what it is about. It features Jessica Jones. One of our customers is a Jessica Jones fan and was not getting it, so I made sure to let her know it featured Jessica, and she picked the first and second issues. Knowing what writers, artists, and characters people enjoy are useful to lead people into new comics that could lead to more sales.
Deal with expectations. As they say, one only has one chance to make a good first impression. I know over the years, I have failed at times to make a good first impression. I once had a lady come in and ask for two comics the day before Wednesday when we are supposed to sell. I screwed up and thought, great, a secret shopper and was less than kind. She was not a secret shopper, just new to comics, and she had been a regular customer for years. Luckily my knee-jerk reaction to reading her as a secret shopper did not ruin that. To this day, I keep thinking, should I bring that up to her? Would she even remember? I do try to make a good impression. People have expectations of what they expect and think they deserve. Everyone is different; some people are very reasonable; some feel entitled to everything, and no matter what we do, it will never be enough. Does that mean I leave a great first impression whenever someone comes in? No, sadly, I am human. Sometimes I will receive bad news while at the store. By bad news, I mean very bad news like a death of a friend or family member. I may have felt good when I came to work and, like many people, unexpectedly got a bad headache or something while working. It happens to everyone.
Often people like to complain and post online about what they feel is a slight to them. Over the years, it seems online reviews have cooled off, at least. Currently, I rarely read online reviews about the store. It is, for me, a time drain when I should be doing something more important. I had a customer send me an email with the store's various reviews, which I did read. One review said I am a "madman," another is that we will destroy the comic market, which is very dramatic. If Rodman Comics can destroy the comic market, I fail to see how. One posted we sell comics ahead of their release date. No, the good thing about when comic shipments arrive early is we can show customers the various covers for the same issue, and they can just tell us which one they want us to hold for them in their pull box. Lunar often shows up very early. Penguin with Marvel shows up early at times also, though not as much as Lunar. Diamond? Well, they still like to cut it close and be on Tuesday and make us sweat that they might be late. That might also be due to Diamond now getting Marvel Comics through Penguin. Many customers appreciate picking out the cover they want for themselves. I told the person before they left that we are not selling early in front of our customers, and after they left, apparently, they thought I was lying and left a review claiming we sell early. It is the way it goes.
I remember the goals for the store and why I opened the store. Obviously, money is a factor in opening a business. People work to make money. Over the years, I learned my time means as much as any other person that works. Meaning the free gaming, we did when we first opened was a terrible use of time. Shifted our focus to people who spend money here instead of people hanging out for free. I have many reasons for opening the store. One was to get kids into reading and into comics. Over the years, there have been parents that are thrilled that their kids started reading comics and they became better at reading. At school, they became more focused and less resistant to reading. Reading comics made reading fun for them and less like work.
In a move, that might be considered bad business. I have a few things in the store that remind me why I do this. A comic book on our wall is a copy of one I read as a kid. The signed posters by Geoff John and Ant Lucia, along with the card from Steve Lieber, all hang here to remind me of the cool people in the industry. This I call mental fuel.
Accept failure. At times new ideas do not work. It happens. Trying is the important part. In my early years as a store owner, there was a point when I realized that this might not work. Hurt like hell that said it was all in my head. Meaning I was worried and thought that if I failed, that would be reflected on me. Like I am a bad person or something. No, many people have opened up a business and had to close. That does not make them a bad person or a failure. Forces beyond anyone's control happen. As I had stated before, if Covid had hit in the early years of me, opening odds are we would have been done. We simply did not have the customer base back then that we do now. People were worried about the store when we shut down. We did curbside, and I sold some of the store's artwork for a discount to get funds. We had customers that rallied for the store that we did not have during our first few years of business. I told people not to get gift certificates from us if we do not reopen. They were surprised; they did curbside and outright bought from us.
I write these to remind myself why I own a comic store and hope people learn from sharing these columns. What else have I learned in all these years as a store owner? I am one lucky son of a gun.