Comic Store In Your Future: The People You Deal With

Rod Lamberti of Rodman Comics writes weekly for Bleeding Cool. Find previous columns here.

One of the many things I have learned is people make up an organization that shape what people think of an organization. As time goes on people change along with what people are involved in an organization.

Comic Store In Your Future: The People You Deal WithAs the owner of Rodman Comics, I need to try to keep people employed here that helps put on the look and feel I want for the store. By no means do we follow the customer is always right saying. The comic stores that went out of business over the years here in central Iowa all had a perfect Facebook rating. Which told me they simply did not have enough people coming through the doors. Places that deal with a lot of people are not going to have a perfect rating. It just is not possible to deal with nothing but happy people. Though like a politician we need a majority of people that come through here to like us enough to buy from us, it is their way of voting for us. Customers make up who we are and what people think of Rodman Comics. Gamers that fail to get along with others while playing here are customers I need to be gone. Why not just warn them? Adults are locked in for the most part of who they are, the saying "You can't teach an old dog new tricks." is largely true. I learned that. Every customer or gamer when I first opened I tried the three strikes and you're out rule with and not a single person changed before getting three strikes. They were all people I wish I had just said enough you are done here in the first place. Instead, it became a long painful period of time dealing with them. They all became other stores issues. Other stores in the area have no actual employees monitoring their gaming areas which means they have no idea if someone is hurting their gaming group.

Over the eight years I have been open, I have noticed that the vendors I use have changed. The reason? The people that work for them. I will make up some names for some of them. Obviously Diamond is the only vendor available for comic stores to order from and I believe I have had the same sales rep for quite a while with Diamond. Wizards of the Coast, the company behind Magic the Gathering was great for me to deal with and order from. I could call them up weekends or weekdays and place an order and never had any issues with any of their salespeople. Now granted I have other issues with Wizards of the Coast, though I was always happy to deal with their salespeople. Of course, Wizards of the Coast ended their selling directly to stores and then upped their prices while saying do not pass along the increase to our customers and just eat the increase and then they had more business dealings with Amazon and Wal Mart. Thanks, Wizards of the Coast. Other than that great sales team that I no longer get to deal with.

When I first opened one of the first vendors other than Diamond I used, let us call them Star Vendor, their sales rep I had was great. Helped out a newbie like me. That rep left. The replacement was not the same type of person. I have to email and call repeatedly over multiple days to have something taken care of. To add salt to the wound I think the sales rep is supposed to call about our pre-orders, I say that because it seems like when the current rep is on vacation or off for whatever reason a different sales rep calls me out of the blue to verify things. I talk more to the person who subs for my sales rep than I do with my actual sales rep. With games release dates they can change a lot. jUST as comics get delayed games do too. I pre-order and of course want them for release day but they do not just automatically get sent to me like comics. This company will not tell me now if something is coming out and lets me miss the release date. Then I find out from a customer it came out and then I get to send multiple emails asking about it and call multiple times and lose more days trying to get the product in. It is like I am trying to throw money at them and they do not want it. So why do I keep using them? For the same reason I keep using Diamond. They have exclusives through them only. If I quit using them I will lose customers because I will have to stop carrying what they want. One would also think someone might notice at their company this store spent thousands more with them then suddenly at one point we mostly just get the exclusives through them and wonder why. With people who have been our customers for years I know when they cut down their reasons. Life changes such as getting married, divorced, loss of job, new house or lack of interest in current offerings, characters they like not being published, and so on.

Next up, I will name Texas Vendor. When I first started using them it was a mess. My shipment from them at times would go to the wrong place. By wrong place, I mean the wrong city. I would need to do a twenty to thirty-minute drive to get my order. One time after dropping my order off at another store they said the store told them they would drop it off themselves. Days went by and calls were made to the store who had received my shipment and we figured out the owner really could care less if we got our shipment. Which I would understand if the person had not said he would have it dropped off like it was no problem. I jumped into the store car with the Rodman Comics logo on it and parked it in front of their store and went in. Various people recognized me and were shocked to see me there. The store owner came out wondering what was going on and figured out why I was there and gave me my shipment. He had been in my store before asking me what my discount on comics was repeatedly even though I was trying to be nice and duck the questions by not saying that is none of your business. I should have said we get a 90 per cent discount, you should see all the comics we have in the back room looking back at it now. After that last trip, I basically quit using Texas Vendor.

Some time would pass and I would be surprised that a manager of Texas Vendor would pay a visit to my store. They are not located in Iowa. He was professional and wanted to know why I cut down on my orders with them so much. I told them I was done driving around to pick up my material that I paid for. He said he understood and if they fixed that would I try them again. I said I could do that. Long story short my shipments from them have never gone to another store again and the customer service improved. I currently use them for our Magic prereleases which is thousands of dollars for them. Oddly enough Star Vendor seemed less than interested in our prerelease business and Texas Vendor seemed more than happy with the business.

Election Vendor is the name I will give this vendor. Until things changed I did not realize what a good sales rep I had. Once a week he would call just to see if I needed anything. I was loving Election Vendor. Life was good. Then my all-time favorite sales rep got another job within the company. His replacement I have never even talked on the phone with. That sales rep at times I have sent multiple emails to with no response. A few times I emailed my old sales rep just to get a response from my new one. In fairness, the old sales rep spoiled me. I was even hoping to meet my old sales rep at one of the Gamma Trade Shows I went to in the past. He helped me out a lot and made his company thousands of dollars off us when he was my sales rep. Another vendor who does not seem to wonder why my orders have dropped by thousands. Election Vendor also did not seem interested in my Magic prerelease business. It does puzzle me when people contact me wanting to spend money I do not blow them off.

There are a lot of times when dealing with vendors I do think if I treated my customers the same way I would not have any customers. I know that my thousands of dollars are most likely a very low amount to big vendors though it could grow to more. It is like when customers that come in here and buy one comic a month. It doesn't move the money made needle, though in the future that customer may very well increase how much they spend. Plus it is still a customer.

I have learned that it is all about the people I deal with. The vendors are still the same, though the people I deal with have changed which has changed my business dealings with them.

That is what I have to watch as the owner of Rodman Comics. It is part of the reason I try to be here throughout the week at different times even if I am not scheduled to be here. I do not want to be like in episodes of Undercover Boss where upper management is so high up they have no clue what is really going on and then seem shocked when they go undercover and find out what is going on in their own company. Bad employees can cost companies a lot of money. It is part of the reason I am so hesitant to hire. The job market is tight and sadly a bad employee can outdo all the good a good employee does. One of the businesses here in the strip mall just found out one of his employees was stealing from him. Not just a few dollars' worths of material but thousands of dollars. It is quite the setback.

I hired younger recently in an effort to get more of a younger group for Magic gaming. Kids actually spend money and like the fact we like them here. Just the other day one of the kids even brought up the fact that the adult magic players do not spend money beyond the bare minimum to play here. I almost did a facepalm when the kid said it. The kids even notice now.

I take pride in the store. It does make money despite what some say or seem to think. I also want it to keep making money. Right now we have the best group of employees we have ever had. I am nervous, we are expanding with employees again. Though I am expanding with people I know. Too often people think working here is "easy". Or "brainless". Or they have seen the Big Bang Theory and think it is like the comic store on the show. I did have one person come in once and said that is why they thought they could work here. Or people think they can be lazy and get money by working at a comic store. They are wrong for here at least. Even if there are no customers here there is plenty to be done here. I have what feels like a never-ending list of things that is like a never-ending battle.

Another never-ending battle is having people in place to be the face of Rodman Comics while I do all the fun things like paperwork and management. If I am here all the time I am not taking care of other things. To create money value in the store I need a set of employees and the store working seamlessly without hardly any involvement from me. By money value I mean make it worth money to buy if I ever go to sell it. I also need others in place so my future plan of opening up another store I can be at the other location getting it off the ground. Training people takes time and money. Having people on staff for who stay on a short amount of time is a poor use of time and money. Having good people on staff that want to work and learn is great. Ones that customers can connect with are priceless.

After typing this up some of my vendors surprised me last week. Some things changed again already.

Change happens. It is just the way things are. My hope is to guide change for the better.

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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