Comic Store In Your Future – Being Your Own Store

Rod Lamberti of comic shop Rodman Comics of Ankeny, Iowa, writes weekly for Bleeding Cool. Find previous columns here.

I opened up my store and wanted to be different from other comics stores. Why offer the exact same experience and products other stores do? For years there was only Diamond for comic stores to order through. They forced their secret shopper program on us. If a comic store paid $4, they could receive Diamond comics on a Tuesday instead of Wednesday. The $4 a week went towards paying for the secret shopper program. The program hired someone to check out a store, see if they could get two comics sold to them early and if the store would break street date on the two comics. Then Lunar came along as a supplier for DC Comics. No secret shopper program, no paying for comic shipments to arrive a day before the official release date. Diamond did away with their secret shopper program due to Lunar. Lunar surprised me, and their shipment arrived days before their release date on Saturday, Feb 13th. Diamond? They did not arrive on Tuesday due to the weather when they normally would; of course, they did not arrive on Wednesday either. No new non-DC comics for Wednesday. Diamond has been in the business for decades, while Lunar started last year. Thankfully, we did at least have DC comics on hand to sell. Hurting sales, even more, I was told one of the stores in the area had all the new comics on Wednesday while we did not. A great way to get people to go elsewhere.

The Secret Origin Of Comic Store In Your Future
Comic Store In Your Future – Being Your Own Store

With Lunar, I can email a question and get an answer back. Diamond, not so much. I had a person ask about a Pop figure he ordered and wondered where it was. I checked the release date and saw we indeed ordered it and the Diamond website said it was already released. Before I even emailed Diamond, I told the customer I very well may not hear anything back. I didn't. I may have overlooked something. Maybe there was an email saying it was canceled or something I never read; I just do not know. Telling my customer I never heard anything back understandably doesn't make him want to order more through us.

Next week's DC Comics are due on Friday; ironically, while still waiting for this week's Diamond shipment. That is great! Here in Iowa, winter can play havoc on shipping. The last few weeks, we have had snowstorms and below zero temperatures causing schools and businesses to be closed. It plays havoc with our sales. With the DC shipment usually arriving days before the release date, I do not have to worry about it. Diamond? If their shipment for us ends up being shipped in error to Florida or another issue, I don't know if they will respond to my requests. Years ago, that did happen, and we finally did end up getting our shipment. I understand stuff happens. The whole lack of communication to me is not something I understand. My customers ask questions all the time, where are the latest Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comics? Can I order something? Are you able to get this cover in? I may not be able to come through for them though I do try to answer them. Communicating with customers helps.

If one wants to open up their own comic or gaming store, I will try to make it different than what is already offered in the area. Offering the same services and products already offered doesn't inspire people to change their shopping habits. I originally bought comics when I was young from a limited number of stores simply because there were not many around. How did I settle on buying comics from the store I bought from for over a decade? They were new and hungry for business. They offered free bags and boards. The previous store owner where I shopped was getting burnt out and bitter over the start of online buying. So, I shopped at Dragonfire Comics for over a decade. I do worry at times, I will get burnt out and bitter owning a store.

Does that mean being different will get everyone on board with shopping with a new store? No, of course not. One rule or one way of doing things does not work for everyone. One of my customers let me know an online review had a person call me a "madman" because I asked the person not to bring their drink inside. We both laughed; it was a tad dramatic over the no outside food or drink rule posted by the door. Just like everyone, I am different than everyone else. I enjoy comics. I have collected comics for decades. Some people will like dealing with someone like this; some people do not want to deal with anyone face-to-face and buy on-line. Over the years, I have been very fortunate to build up a customer base of people who like to shop at my store.

Does that mean everything has to be different? No. Having free bags and boards was an idea that helped get me to shop at Dragonfire, so I decided we would do it here. Part of me opening up my own store was taking what I liked from places I had been over the years and using it here along with things I wanted to do that would be different. At the time, with Diamond being the only supplier of comics, it did not leave us many options to change what we could sell other than new releases for comics along with whatever else they could supply us. If a store did not have a comic someone requested, Diamond no longer had it on hand, and if a store did not want to buy it offline and resell for a loss, there was little a store could do. Now we are lucky to be able to trade with some other stores out of state to give us some options.

For years to increase our options for getting games and non-sports cards, we have used various vendors: Alliance (sister company to Diamond), ACD Distribution (who oddly enough Wizards of the Coast last year said no more Magic the Gathering sales for you), Southern Hobby, and Wizards of the Coast (back when they would deal with stores directly for sales). Wizards of the Coast was awesome to deal with when buying directly from them. If one vendor was out of something, at least there was a chance another might have items in-stock that we needed. I have been checking out another vendor to get into sports cards. My lack of sports card knowledge makes me worried I will jump into the red-hot sports card market just in time to see the market go cold, spend thousands and take a loss.

What I would very much like is to get more Pokémon products in. Pokémon is currently super-hot. People keep calling for Pokémon and sports cards. Pokémon is currently in higher demand than available supply, which makes it even more in demand. If we could get a thousand booster boxes of Pokémon, then other stores could too, and demand would be killed. Over the years, I have seen various products in high demand due to lack of supply. Dice Masters was red hot for a while when it was new because there was none to be found; now it is so cold I could put a box of packs out and never see any packs sell. Same with Star Wars Destiny. Not everything can be hot forever. Knowing when to get in and out on products is a major betting game. Amazingly enough, Heroclix has done well for us for over ten years.

Ordering comics is incredibly challenging. For us, I thought Future State The Next Batman would do extremely well. Issue two had a heck of a drop-off for us. Many people here flat out did not like the first issue and decided not to keep getting it. Why did I think Future State The Next Batman would do well for us? With Oscar-winning writer John Ridley being involved, I thought it would bring more excitement and even bring in outside customers not already interested in comics. There was hype for the comic online. What might have caused the drop between issues? The $7.99 or $8.99 cover price depending on the cover, might have been too much for what people were expecting. We are able to return any unsold copies of all the Future State titles, which did factor into me ordering more heavily than I normally would. Are people already getting Batman fatigue? Hopefully not; DC has plenty more Batman-related titles coming out in the future. Part of ordering comics is guessing the drop between issues or an increase, such as with Taskmaster #3 correctly. We sold more copies of issue 3 than the previous two. What happened? The issue introduced a new character combined with a low print run, made it in demand.

Covers do sell a comic. Trying to figure out how much a cover will influence sales is subjective. I try to match up what I think looks cool with what others will think is cool enough to make them want to buy a comic. If I'd have known for sure Amazing Spider-Man #55 Gleason cover was going to be so in demand; then I would have ordered far more.

Why not order more? Most comics are non-returnable. Take too big of a gamble on a title, and one will lose money; the more unsold copies, the more money lost.

Last year was a covid shutdown and a derecho hit, causing us to lose power from a Monday to Friday. Ordering comics can feel like playing a guessing game. Iowa winters are always a pain for the shipments. So why do this? I will be honest; it's for the love of comics and for the great people we have as customers. After being open for over ten years, we are established. Nothing is perfect; nothing says we will be around forever. I would love to hear some news from DC stating AT&T (who owns DC) supports publishing comics. At the end of the day, what do I want to do? Be at Rodman Comics selling comics.

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About Rich Johnston

Founder of Bleeding Cool. The longest-serving digital news reporter in the world, since 1992. Author of The Flying Friar, Holed Up, The Avengefuls, Doctor Who: Room With A Deja Vu, The Many Murders Of Miss Cranbourne, Chase Variant. Lives in South-West London, works from Blacks on Dean Street, shops at Piranha Comics. Father of two. Political cartoonist.
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