Rod Lamberti of Rodman Comics of Ankeny, Iowa writes the Comic Store in Your Future column weekly for Bleeding Cool. Find previous columns here. and catch up with Bleeding Cool's coverage of the current Diamond situation and how it affects the comic book industry with this tag. Lamberti writes,
I just wrote my last check to Diamond Comics. Hopefully, this is not permanent or perhaps a new vendor takes over. Ironically, Diamond years ago would not extend my payment terms because they wanted to see my books for the store. When we first opened, we had to pay by C.O.D. Cash on Delivery. As time goes on a store is able to move away from that and gain a week to make their payment to Diamond. The COD was a pain. We were already up to two weeks and I was surprised that trying to get week three involved Diamond seeing the books on the store. My reaction was, shouldn't I see your books due to the fact if Diamond goes belly up many more stores are screwed? I never sent my books. I am sure they were happy with this so they would not have to give me an extra week to pay an invoice. This was years ago. Currently Diamond is in a world of hurt, money-wise. Hopefully, one of the changes that comes about because of all this chaos is we get another vendor out of this. Diamond could use some competition and a second comic vendor would help in the future in case one vendor had an emergency, such as the situation we have currently.
How did we get to this point? For Rodman Comics and myself, 2020 started off well. 2019 end up being a weaker year than 2018 for us. We took fewer risks in ordering new products in 2020. In January and February, we had more cash on hand. At the end of February, I went to Florida and had a blast. Weeks later things would start rapidly changing. Within two weeks of being in Florida, many of the parks and places I had been to were closed due to the coronavirus. While I was there the coronavirus almost seemed a non-issue for the state. The news would talk about it affecting places far away. We had our Rod Deals sale on March 7th. At the time I thought I might have been a bit foolish having the sale on the weekend after getting back from vacation and rushing to get ready for it. We had fewer people than usual for the sale though the average person spent a lot more than in previous sales. I ended up being very thankful we had the sale that weekend. In 2019 we had our sale in March on the last weekend of the month. Had we done that this year, the sale would never have happened. After the March 7th sale the store was still doing well. I was even thinking about giving myself a bonus come April. Then I started reading how bad things were in Seattle. It looked like a ghost town. Businesses there were taking a beating due to the virus. I started to worry. I even started telling people we were going to have a recession due to the virus. I was blown off. After having such low employment for so long and going without a major economic downturn for over a decade, people thought it could not happen. The first week of March was a good sales week for us. Our sales day was a hit for us. I kept reading and listening to the news. Other areas of the country were getting hit by the virus. States were ordering non-essential businesses closed. I still had people in the second week of March thinking Iowa would not order non-essential businesses closed. I thought otherwise. I started encouraging people to come in and get their pull lists and comics while they could. Sales were terrible on the Friday, Saturday, and Sunday before Iowa announced businesses such as mine needed to be closed. March 27th was our last day open. We called, texted, emailed people and posted on Facebook to let them know if they wanted reading material today was the day to get it. Our last Wednesday and Thursday being open did see people getting material to read due to being at home and we were going to be closed. The Iowa governor at first announced non-essential businesses having made their list would be closed until April 7th. Two weeks roughly. I am no scientist, though it seemed extremely unlikely everything would be back to the way it was in two weeks. The April 7th deadline was extended to the whole month of April. I really did not want to call that correctly. The whole daily press conferences with the governor at times seemed like they were needlessly dragging out the businesses to be closed. One day they were closing barber shops, another day bookstores, yet on a different day adult entertainment and so on. All non-essential businesses should have just been closed on the same day. I went to the grocery store once after we were closed and it was crowded. I thought wow, no way will people get the virus here, not. Now I understand there are more rules and arrows at the grocery store to try to better manage the people coming through.
As I write this it is now April 15th. What we have right now is a whole lot of unknowns. Rumors new comics may ship in May. Rumors new comics may ship in August. Diamond, the only current vendor of comics has a weeks' worth of comics they will not ship and are not paying the publishers. Ironically, Diamond was worried years ago about giving me an extra week to pay their invoice and now I am all current with my payments and they are not. I do not even go to Diamond's website anymore for updates, I feel better reading Bleeding Cool to find out what is going on.
Am I nervous? Yes, I have no idea what will happen next. It is a very weird situation. Not only do we have a governor's mandate we are to be closed, I am not even sure having the storefront open would mean much currently. Diamond is not sending new product. I just read an estimate Disney is losing $30 million a day. Even if it is less, Disney is still losing money. Marvel is owned by Disney and could explain Marvel's muted response to the comic industry's current situation. Really Marvel? Better discounts on new comics no one is able to currently get? DC might be trying to get something going. As in getting their own vendor in place instead of Diamond. I am all for it. After years of nothing but Diamond, I am willing to pay more in shipping as long as Diamond gets competition. Competition often keeps businesses working harder and on their toes.
I want some light on where this is all going. Are new comics in May a possibility? Not until August? That would be very painful. Though if I knew, I could plan for it. Right now, bleeding money with no end in sight is a fool's errand. Just borrow money I hear from some. Here is the whole joke, how much? Originally, we were given an April 7th deadline to reopen. Before that, I did check out Iowa grants. Of course, the morning it went live the website crashed just like I said it would. It wanted us to compare our previous year's two weeks to this year's two weeks. This was back in March and it was a first-come basis and the deadline was within two weeks. We really had not lost any money yet. The site also wanted a lot of info on how much my payroll was. My employees at the time either got new incomes or had other incomes. We did not short them any pay. Plus, we were forced to be closed so hiring them back would be foolish. If by some miracle this had only lasted until April 7th, I would be trying to get money that could go to another business that truly needed it. I have been reading about loans for small businesses being held up due to lack of guidelines for the banks. The banks were worried about just handing out money without guidance. The other issue for me was how long does this last? Two months we can do. The longer past that, the iffier things get. I need a finish line, a light at the end of the tunnel. Throwing money into something with no end in sight is not a good idea. I need a goal. I need to be able to plan. Currently, I cannot do that.
The "good" news is currently we are current with all payments. I do not owe Diamond anything. I am going to start selling some artwork on eBay. I was going to wait two months and see where things stand. The problem with that is if two months from now they announce August will be the return of new comics, I could have very well waited too long. I could have a person or people not pay for their winnings from us, which has happened to us a lot on eBay. Instead of waiting and maybe getting into a worse situation better to try now. If interested we have under our seller eBay ID of rodmancomics graded comics, non-graded comics and artwork. I have up for auction a page from Superman 707, where Superman visits Des Moines, Iowa. It was big deal here in central Iowa back in the day. Also, up for auction is an Iron Man cover recreation commission with Spider-Man by Bob Layton. It along with the Superman page has been in the store for years. Also, up for auction is a Spectre head drawing by Ivan Reis. I bought a piece of artwork from him years ago and he thought it took longer to get to me than necessary and included the Spectre for free. Both pieces of artwork only took a few weeks to get to me. Heck of a nice thing to do. I need to make sure there is cash on hand to deal with things if this lasts more than two months. Stay safe everyone.