Comic Store In Your Future: The Trials and Tribulations That 2019 is Already Bringing

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

Comic Store In Your Future: The Trials and Tribulations That 2019 is Already Bringing

January is here. Been contacting people with pull boxes that were last here in store back in November. It is pretty easy to tell who has and who hasn't been in, pull box-wise. Every year on Black Friday, we have gifts in everyone's pull boxes. I went through and had wrapped up three comics per person that the pull person was not already collecting that I believed they would like. A small way of giving back.

Keeping on top of the pull lists so some people's pull boxes do not become a loss is time-consuming and extra work, though it is necessary. If we don't, we could lose money. I know because, when I first opened, I was too nice of a person. Those that would not return phone calls, I would hold out hope that they still might show and kept waiting and waiting until the comics in the pull box were worthless. I was weak and lost money because of it. Those days are long gone.

Oddly enough, I just received the secret shopper report from Diamond, it shows the shopper stopped by in September. Better late than never I guess.

Been planning for 2019. How are we planning for the future and what do we hope to see?

We now have a new employee. This person is good with carpentry. After being open over eight years, the store is showing some wear. With our newest hire, I'm hoping to see repairs and making the back issue bins, bookcases, and more look better.

Presentation of a store is important. First impressions are important. A clean, brightly lit, damage free store is a way to make a solid impression.

Booked some trips for this year. I worked a lot last year and was feeling burnt out. 2019 is the year I travel more.

As I have stated before, owning a business means one can work as much, or as less, as one wants. I have had people come in upset and say they do not know who even works at a local gaming store they went to because they are all playing games and no one even greets them. That is one way to make sure to have fun at one's business without having to do actual work, I guess. I have been to comic stores where the person behind the counter is playing video games. That always seems fun, though not productive.

Everyone gets to run their business their own way. Though there are people who assume just because one is run a certain way, all businesses are run the same. When I am here, odds are I am working. Customers are, of course, are a top priority. If they have work-related questions, then I am there. Though others who want to talk about non-work-related things, I can talk with and work at the same time, though some do not like that. At times people want to socialize, which is fine, but I still have a ton of things to do. I can talk sports or whatever though, I still have the same amount of work that needs to get done.

With 2019 here, I am already planning out the year; from when our first sale will be (March 30th) to our last one in December (the 15th). Looking over the sales of 2018 to see what went well and what did not. Trying to figure out how to improve. Odd fact, our Black Friday sales always get beat out by our sale in December. More last-minute holiday shopping. Though this year, while our in-store sales for October and December were good, November was weak. The lack of typical bad Iowa winter weather helped our year-end 2018 sales. And of course, 2019 has started with some bad weather slowing sales on a slow month even more.

Working on what to write for these columns this year. Hopeful for a great year for comics of course.

Wishing the publishers would change. Noticed a lot of new people coming in being lost by the tidal wave of comics. There are so many new ones coming out, it often overwhelms new people. New people looking for a title and not able to find it. It would help if the publishers made looking for a character's title easy. Is there no Iron Man? No, it is under Tony Stark Iron Man. Which, I can tell they are wondering "why?" If they do not ask, they will most likely just assume there is no Iron Man title. Keep the title simple. The Life of Captain Marvel limited series could have done better if it was instead titled Captain Marvel: the life of, or simply having her name be first.

Pick a cover. By a cover, I mean one. Captain Marvel #1 is now out. What do I know about it? That is has at least 20 different covers. That is what was hyped about it the most. Not the writer. Not the artist. Not the plot. 20 different covers is not going to get people into reading about Captain Marvel.

DC, I would like to pick a cover also. Often DC has just two covers per issues. At times, one cover will overshadow the other. Such as past issues of Catwoman. Artgerm is popular. His cover artwork on the title is in demand when it comes out. It overshadows the other artist. Even when Catwoman had a foil cover it could not come close to selling what the Artgerm cover did. I am not trying to slam the other artist, it would just be better to have one cover that sells.

One cover also makes it less confusing to collectors and new readers. I have had new people decide to pick up a series and think all the different covers are different issues.

Been going over our 2018 4th quarter. I paid the sales tax just once this time. Did get the check for that mistake on the sales tax, so that was a good thing. Mixed results for our 4th quarter. December in-store sales were up. October and December were good sales months. November, which for some reason even with Black Friday has been a slow month for years for us. The Magic set Guilds of Ravnica was released in October. That said, in October I over-ordered. I bet on DC's foil covers and while they sold a bit more, I went over on the ordering. November was a mess thanks to another store going out of business. Not that I want anyone going out of business, I just wish I had over-ordered in November instead of October, to have extra product on hand for the extra customers. December saw a boost with the orders for comics being upped to meet the demand of our new customers.

A trend for 2018 with our pull box customers was what has happened in the past when a comic store goes out of business. We gain more pull customers, but our average pull customer gets fewer and fewer comics pulled as time goes on. Meaning, they are dropping comics from their pull lists faster than they are adding to it. Same story with our walk-in traffic, that have no pull lists. They are getting fewer titles and not more as time goes on.

2018's 4th quarter had a surprise for me. Over 50 percent fewer online sales than the previous 2017 4th quarter. With the expensive Magic Ultimate Masters set being released in December and us selling expense cards from the set online, I did not see that happening. I'm already training our new employee for online selling. Magic cards are easy to ship and sell online. Getting ready to mail out some Sonic the Hedgehog comics and a Harley Quinn comic today.

2018's biggest, pleasant surprise was the sales growth in back issues. Feedback from customers throughout the year was is it is getting harder to find comics from a series' first run from decades ago. Such as comics from Amazing Spider-Man volume 1, Uncanny X-Men volume 1, The Flash volume 1 and so on. Still not seeing much movement from issues between first volumes of a series and its current series. Meaning, the New 52 and the various Marvel Now issues are a dead product for us. Even the trades collecting those issues are dead. I remember selling multiple copies of the New 52 Batman 1 for $80. Now, it is completely forgotten. The publishers may not make money off back issues, though one would think they would want all their trade paperbacks selling as well as possible.

Did buy issues of Amazing Spider-Man, Marvel Team-Up, Marvel Two in One, Flash issues all from their first volumes, and more to help restock what we have sold. It helps that I enjoy a lot of that material. For whatever reason Marvel Two-In-Ones as a kid I would come across, though not Marvel Team-Ups. Weird, I know. The Thing: Project Pegasus I miss. Dealing with back issues helps my enthusiasm at the store. I enjoy a lot of the older comics. Hopeful the increase in back issues sales will continue throughout 2019.

What to do for 2019? How do I improve sales in store? Or how am I going to try to?

Been debating about trying to get a comic pro in store again. The last comic pro here was artist Ant Lucia, which was over a year ago. Ant Lucia was great on all levels. We are lucky to have him as local talent. Great with everyone and a big hit. For whatever reason, I just got busy and did not work on getting another comic pro in store for 2018. That said, unless one has a connection to a comic pro it is tough to get one that would want to come to central Iowa. Not trying to be rude, I understand if one gets a choice between visiting Ankeny, Iowa or say Las Vegas, Nevada I know which one I would visit.

Something that has been in the back of my mind is trying a mini-con. Though in recent years comic conventions have slowed down I would like to at least put something small together and give it a try at least once. Wizard World received a lot of dislike, for whatever reason, though I do remind people they did get Stan Lee to visit Des Moines, Iowa. It would never have happened if not for them. Though now, it sounds like Wizard Entertainment (as they are now calling themselves) is not coming back to Iowa in 2019, sadly. Des Moines, Iowa is listed for 2020. Maybe there's a demand for a small comic convention to fill the void. One comic pro. Lots of actual comic vendors. A strong focus on comics. Not people that have nothing to do with comics. All that said, that is a lot of work that might be better used directly for the store and a mini-con may still not be a hit.

Gaming. More or less in 2019? Wizards of the Coast still has the hottest card game with Magic the Gathering though it has cooled off. Wizards is also doing some moves that are pushing away the small stores that carry their products and that are hold gaming for their products along with upsetting the players that play their games. On a recent Friday, there were not enough players to play Friday Night Magic (Wizards says it is only official if eight players play and it gets recorded on their online system). The few that showed then left. A person then came in spent hundreds on games and left. That one person spent more than what twenty Magic players would have spent staying for over four hours playing. That one person was in and out in fifteen minutes. We also did not have to give away packs as prize support. It was a win-win for the store. As I often say, we can sell product, is having Magic gaming worth it?

I am hoping to get a younger crowd for Friday Night Magic. Younger players have not taken up the typical Magic diehard mentality of play for as cheap as possible and take the store for everything possible. Now the question is how do I do that along with can I get the current players that do not have that mentality to join? When we first hosted Magic gaming it was on Saturdays because everywhere else had it on Fridays. Maybe something as simple as switching to Saturdays would work.

Do we have another exclusive Rodman Comics variant cover done in 2019? In 2018 I was thinking of having one done for Batman #50. The infamous "wedding" of Batman. I had seen an image online drawn by Ed Benes of Batman and Catwoman and thought I should have had him do an exclusive cover for us for that issue though by then I was too late to have one done. Then Batman #50 came out and they did not get married. My regret turned to thank goodness we did not have one done. I would have to look at a Rodman Comics variant cover for a wedding that never happened. Thanks to the non-wedding in Batman #50, I have been very gun shy about having another exclusive variant cover done for the store. Plus with so many exclusive variants having been done by so many stores, it is getting harder and harder to have one that sticks out in the crowd. We had one done for the New 52 Harley Quinn first issue. It was re-launched with a new first issue years later. Making the New 52 Harley series forgotten. For me to have another variant done, it would have to be for a truly landmark issue.

Expand or stay with our current group of employees? I would love to have an army of good employees working here. Right now, I have a group that I can trust and that want to work. Sounds easy right? I wish it was that easy. As anyone who has had people work for them over the years can tell you, there are some great employees and not so great employees. As of now staying with a smaller work force that is worry free and efficient.

2019 currently will be a "play it safe" year. Meaning, comic sales for last year did see a little increase nationwide though nothing to get excited about by any means. Action Figures have cooled off a lot over the years. Wizards of the Coast is all over the place. Another exclusive expense card set only available through them is coming out soon. Though the way they did it last time selling directly through Hasbro caused a lot of problems so this time I am hearing they will sell their newest exclusive set through eBay a site that can handle the traffic. Hopefully this year for an exclusive available through gaming stores something better is offered than last year's Jace's Spellbook. It bombed due to being a single pack of cards packed in a bigger box for $19.99. This replaced the much more popular exclusive through gaming stores From the Vaults, which were $39.99 and even at the higher price much more in demand. The first prerelease of the year is this weekend for Magic. Hoping the weather is nice for the weekend because a Magic prerelease has to be on the weekend before a new set comes out. Right now the weather is looking like snow and winds to blow snow around for reduced visibility.

How to have comic stores and games stores invest more? Help them make money. More money makes it easier to take risks. More money means happier store owners. 2018 I paid myself more again than the previous year, though I would like to see more excitement and more truly new customers get into the hobby. One of my employees brought up he would like to have his own store someday. I told him hopefully the market gets better, right now I do not see another store making it in central Iowa. Over the years, we have seen a decrease in comic stores in central Iowa. That is not good. If Rodman Comics were not established and tried opening this year or last year, it would be a very trying time. Reading online about stores closing is not something I want to see.

Thankfully, we have years more left on our lease so renewing is not a concern this year. This month currently working on inventory along with getting the back issue bins back in order. Just the Superman section alone took hours. Some people just throw stuff back anywhere. Odds are even after we go through all the back issues, it will not be long before they are a mess again. I will be pushing our newest employee into online sales to get more money for the store. Hoping that some pictures are released from the Birds of Prey movie with Harley Quinn soon and that will get interest in Harley Quinn up again. Same thing with Valliant's Bloodshot. They are already filming Bloodshot, though I have not seen much about it yet. Captain Marvel's film is not helping her comic sales here, though that is because Marvel has canceled and re-launched the title so many times, it is now toxic much like the Inhumans now are. Marvel publishing is the opposite of a TV show. If a TV show gets canceled due to low viewership odds are it is done, gone. Marvel has a low selling title that gets canceled their answer is just to bring it back with new first issues and watch it lose readership faster than the title did the first time. Canceled two or three times already? No problem, just keep throwing a number one on it and repeat the cycle. Another Marvel publishing mandate, if a character or title is selling, make sure to milk it out for everything possible so it doesn't sell. People were excited for the return of Wolverine. Marvel had multiple "hunt" for Wolverine limited series running at the same time which drained fans of money and sapped their excitement for Wolverine's return. Marvel does not believe that less can be more. It is more more more more! When Marvel has a new series coming out, what is mentioned and talked about the most is how many variant covers the title has.

Currently, we are easing into 2019. January is historically the slowest month for retailers. The closer it gets to summer, the better sales get. Corrected the mistakes that we could from 2018. Should be a better 2019 than 2018 even if sales stay the same. Though, of course, we will be aiming to increase sales and hope to have better offerings from the publishers. Free Comic Book Day, it looks like we will give it another go this year. 2019 will be the first year we will not be able to donate the leftover free comics to our local movie theater. No more private showings for our customers either. Not having a private showing for Aquaman was weird with people were asking me about a private showing. Ankeny's old movie theater is no more. The private showings I always thought were really cool. They did a great job and treated us really well over the years. Who knows, maybe one day they will return to Ankeny.

After typing all that up, it will be interesting how things proceed. What twists and turns happen and what do we get done. Currently feeling pretty good. I look forward to the challenges and possibilities we could see in 2019. Let us see how long that lasts.

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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