Comic Store in Your Future – When Diamond's Secret Shopper Comes By

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

2019 has been a heck of a year so far. A few weeks ago the weather delayed our comics and slowed our sales. That was taken one step further the following week by most of our new comics arriving in Kansas City, Kansas on Tuesday. Which is just a few hundred miles from us here in Ankeny, Iowa. On Wednesday they were in Illinois. No new comics until Thursday afternoon.  That really hurt sales. My store being the only one in central Iowa not to get comics on new comic Wednesday means some people who would have picked up their new comics here ended up going elsewhere. Most thankfully did wait. Those that did not wait are not doing anything wrong, they want to read this week's new comics as soon as possible. As has been done in the past Diamond blames UPS and UPS blames Diamond. From what I pieced together Diamond sent our shipment off a day later than usual and then UPS routed it wrong. Last Wednesday was the worse sales day for a Wednesday that I can remember. Never a good day telling people who come in that the new comics are currently in another state.

Tuesday evening, while talking with my employees about getting ready for Wednesday (basically get some signs made up and get ready to tell everyone we have no new comics) of course that night Diamond's Secret Shopper shows up. I had not even heard anything back from Diamond Tuesday about our missing shipment of comics and then the Secret Shopper shows up asking for Amazing Spider-Man #15 and Savage Sword of Conan #1. I explain we do not even have the comics to sell for tomorrow because they are in Kansas currently let alone to sell now to break the release date. I was asked repeatedly for them. I go over multiple times about not even having the comics due to what happened. I thought about just handing her Amazing Spider-Man #14 and a Dark Horse Conan comic book just to get the secret shopper out of my hair. The secret shopper asked about our gaming. Where do we host gaming, how do we do it, ect. So it can go on the Secret Shopper report. The whole time I am thinking Diamond does not care about my comic shipment though they still charge me so a person can see if we will break the release date over two comics and to waste my time. This was going on so long one of my employees held up her notebook having wrote "Secret Shopper" on it without the secret shopper noticing, The secret shopper after annoying the heck out of me asked if she could take a picture of the store (because Diamond wants a picture of the inside of the store to show they actually went in) I said no just get a picture of the store off google.  The secret shopper took a picture anyway. I thought why did you even ask. I then asked so how much does a secret shopper make. She replied, "I am not a secret shopper!" It went downhill from there. Something about secret shoppers are only at beach resorts. Yes, beach resorts. Yes, it was a little weird. The secret shopper left not happy with me though I did make sure to say a pleasant goodbye because Diamond also includes that on their report.  Yes, Diamond likes to see if we welcome people, if we have a TV, if we say goodbye to people, and so on. The rest of the businesses among our strip mall do not go through anything like that. They usually laugh that a vendor (a company that gets money out of me) does that to their customers. My main beef with the secret shopper is they are often a distraction when I or my employees should be helping real customers. If another store breaks release date so be it. Selling two comic books a day early is not going to flood the bank account with money.

After years of having the same script, it might be time to change it up for the secret shoppers. Or have them just go to new comic stores. If a store has been open for years and is unable to spot them I would be amazed.

That whole episode with the secret shopper was awkward.

Over the years there have been a few awkward times here at the store.

Had a mother and son come in. The mom asked me about what the "big" deal was about Batman Damned #1. I thought she was joking at first. No, she was serious. I said Batman went full monte and it got a lot more attention than DC attended by catching the attention of late night comedians and oddly enough DC does not plan on doing a reprint of it and just shadowing the "questionable" panel.

Years ago for Heroclixs WizKids sent a Heroclix Supremacy league board. Yes, the word "supremacy" was not the best word to use.  It is currently in the backroom collecting dust.

Things seem to go almost like a 'who's on first' routine at times when talking about the Marvel Heroclix, Her. I want, Her. Do you have, Her? Who? Her! Who? Her dang it!  Just need the Heroclix of Adam Warlock when he was Him to come out next.

Jesus being on the cover of Walking Dead. One of the variant covers for Walking Dead featured the character Jesus along with his name on the cover. I had multiple people stunned thinking that Jesus had received his own comic. I was glad to have the next issue come out.

When people are talking about Magic cards or Dungeons & Dragons and other people who have no idea about either come in. Magic player: "Do you have the Magic card Surgical Extraction? Do you have the Magic card Hot Soup?" Non Magic player players are like what the? Sometimes Dungeons & Dragons players like to brag about how many people they have killed. In their game of course. Though usually they excitedly let another Dungeons & Dragons player in the store know "I killed fifteen people last night!"  Which makes for some curious looks from other people in the store.

After years of working at Rodman Comics I have learned a few things. What to do, what not to, what to expect, what not to expect. Here are some of them.

After dropping a HeroClix or magic card on the floor never move the chair one is sitting in for it will roll over the HeroClix or Magic card even if only moving a few inches.

When a new person comes into the store never try explaining all the different titles a character or team is in. Focus just on one. Trying to explain the differences between Amazing Spider-Man, Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man, Spider-Man/Deadpool, and more will just overwhelm a new customer. Their thought process is, I just want to buy the latest Spider-Man title. Why so many different choices? WHY!?!?!?!?

Give up all hope that a new major release by Marvel is going to have just one cover. Marvel is unable to do that.

Give up all hope that Marvel will get a new superhero title to issue 100 without renumbering.

Give up all hope Marvel can have a month when there is not a new first issue being put out by them.

Stop believing some people will stop hoping brick in mortar stores will go out of business. I do not wish anyone to lose their job. Some people just have to hate for hates sake.

Be ready to have any mistake be made out as a big of a deal as possible over an article's actual subject or subjects when written online. Many do that as a way to distract or change the subject.

So far this year looks like more challenges with few improvements for the direct market. Marvel is the same as they ever have been. Unable to change. DC is changing, though their focus looks to be focus less on the direct market and more on chain stores. Does DC not publish comics to make money? Batman Damned 1 reprinted would have been more sales. Vertigo's Second Coming would easily have been a rare commercial hit for Vertigo if DC had not decided to chicken out publishing it. If Vertigo is now afraid to publish things that might offend people then what is the point of Vertigo? Sandman, Hellblazer, Preacher, and more were hits thanks to Vertigo having the stomach to publish such titles years ago. Wizards of the Coasts with their Magic the Gathering products looks to be doing the same thing as DC, looking to get away from the small brick and mortar stores and do more with big chain stores.

I understand wanting to expand a business into as many markets as possible, I just do not see diminishing one market well trying for another. Keep all the areas as healthy as possible for a bigger return.

That is it for this week. Thanks for your time.

Comic Store in Your Future – When Diamond's Secret Shopper Comes By
Photo by A. Munar

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.