I have written about opening a comic store before in previous columns. After not writing about the subject for a while, I thought I would revisit it.
People who are collecting comics often dream about opening their own comic store. Wondering, can they? Basically, almost anyone can. Loans are easy. The real question is, should they? Do they have the right stuff? Will they open a store and have customers running in or running away?
How well will a store do under one's ownership? There are a lot of factors outside of anyone's control. Currently, Powers of X is selling well thanks to Marvel. As a store owner I simply need to carry it and try to meet demand. It is far better to sell out than to have too much left over of a title.
There is only so much as storeowner can do. I am a Legion of Super-heroes fan. My love for the Legion did little to help sales of the two New 52 Legion titles. When Marvel repeated their Marvel Now slogan for a second time that had nothing to do with storeowners. It was received with a thud and people saying really? That is the best you can do?
We have been in business for nearly nine years. All the areas we carry have gone up and down. Comics included. DC's Metal crossover event last year was a big hit. This year's Heroes in Crisis was not nearly as well received.
As a store owner I get to order months in advance and try to guess how well a series will do. Over the years it has been quite complicated. Marvel re-numbers their titles so often it makes it a guessing game. Titles that actually make it to issue 50 from Marvel and sell even get canceled, such as Spider-Man/Deadpool. I would have loved to have that series still going. We do not have a single copy of the fifty-issue run. It made the store money. We still have Deadpool fans and now we have no monthly Deadpool titles at all until November? That, again, is out of a store's control.
We had customers that had nothing but the Walking Dead title on their pull list. Walking Dead ended suddenly. I was surprised and wish it was not so. We have a few former Walking Dead fans that are trying out new titles. We have some we lost due to no more Walking Dead. Again, beyond a store's control and I have to be thankful that Robert Kirkman (the creator of the Walking Dead) wrote it for as long as he did.
Should a person open a store? What are the store's goals? If it is simply to make money, then I would suggest more goals.
My goals for the store are of course to make it as profitable as can be. Get kids into reading. Provide a safe and fun place for everyone who can play well with others (believe me having a group of people playing together and getting along has proven to be far more challenging that I ever imagined). Make collecting enjoyable. Be a unique place. Grow comic book readership. Connect with old school comic fans because I am one. Share the joys of comic books.
Do I always succeed? No, UPS once again did not deliver when they were supposed to and I spent a lot time getting the shipment worked out. It seems like a lot of things that should not be an issue are. Most of them are totally out of my control. Often times I feel like I am trying to throw money at a vendor and getting it knocked back like they do not want my money. That is of course, totally the opposite of what we want when people want to spend money with us. I get bogged down on the phone trying to get answers to questions I should not even have. Like where is my shipment?
I may not always succeed, though I do keep on trying.
So, a person has goals for a store what else might be useful? A plan. Yes, a plan. What helped me a lot before I opened was breaking down the expenses and figuring out what sales we would need to at least break even. Of course, anything above would be profit.
Goals and a plan, what next? Money. I stress this a lot due to hearing from people about not having enough capital to have a business survive. This is a heck of a balancing act. Borrow money? Remember they want that money back plus interest. I remember going to a bank and trying to find out what kind of a loan I could get if I needed to. This was roughly nine years ago when loans were supposed to be tougher to get. I could get thirty grand by using my car as collateral. Which surprised me because I paid roughly $12,000 for its years before. I was like can I just get the money and you keep the car? I kid. I was fortunate enough not to need to get a loan.
Save up money. Seriously save up money. The cash that is saved up is cash that does not have to be paid back. Saving money is a good habit to get into. Owning a business means having some discipline when dealing with money. I have to fight the urge to over order. Again, much better to sell out then have tons of left-over copies of a book.
Make sure one can manage money. I am amazed at people that come in here and seem so careless with money. One person once came in and said I am not sure if the rent cleared or not so I am not sure if my card will clear for this transaction. I was like what? It was roughly a $20 purchase. Sure, enough it was declined. Oh, my rent must have cleared. I thought if your rent hadn't cleared wouldn't this going through make your rent payment not clear? If one is having trouble making payments and keeping their head above water, make sure to get better at money management before opening a store. If a water pipe breaks and the furnace goes out at one's store, odds are that will be a major drain on one's resources. One person once told me that they got a $20,000 inheritance and used it to open a collectible store. Within a year the person told me they went through the inheritance and were now $20,000 in debt and closed.
Does the person who is thinking about opening a store have broad shoulders? Not for lifting but the ability to cope with unpleasant responsibilities; to have the ability to accept criticism or rebuke. Even the biggest stores have limited money and resources. Or priorities that not everyone who will agree with. Our gaming is for casual fun players, not prize sharks (a term I came up with for people who are only at a store to spend the bare minimum and take it for the most they possibly are able to. Often, they even drop out when they are no longer able to win the main prize.). Die-hard gamers are often prize sharks which we do not cater to so they do not care for the store.
A store could give away everything and still someone would hate the store for something so minor as the walls were painted blue. A successful long-running store is not going to have a 100 percent rating on Facebook or Google or whatever. Dealing with large groups of people means not having a 100 percent rating. I have reviews stating anything from: we do not play real Magic here; our gaming group looks "shady". This is truly an odd one. It is open to the public. What gaming store says you look shady so you cannot play here?
Is the store being opened so one does not have to get a different job? A polite way of saying some people open up a store so they do not have to work. People see the Big Bang Theory or stores where they think people do not actually do a lot of work and get it into their head that owning a store is "easy" work. Being the owner does mean one can put as much or little effort in as they want. Though I stress the more one tries the more likely one's odds increase that a store succeeds.
Can one learn? Very important. After opening one will need to learn what their customer base is. What they want. Once a person learns, it can all change quickly. Walking Dead was red hot. The trades were the best-selling trades in my store's history. That no longer is the case. Our customer base is ever-changing as will be every store's that is around for a year or more. People move, people change, and sadly people even pass away. All beyond a store's control. When new people come in that means learning what they are interested in and if we can sell them anything.
If you are serious about opening up a store, I stress save up money. Wait a year or two and save up money. Even then it might not be enough it will be better than nothing. This is not me trying to get anyone scared out of opening up a store this is me stressing to protect yourself as much as possible with having as much cash on hand as possible. Learn what things over years of visiting various comic stores does one like about comic stores they have visited? What would one like to see in a comic store? How does one work them into a store?
Remember that many people have tried owning their own store and have had to close. Sometimes all the hard work and preparation does not pay off. After I first opened, reality smacked me in the face and showed me this might not work. For me I learned this was a marathon and not a sprint. Being open for years makes the store a known business. Meaning in central Iowa Rodman Comics is known as a place to get comics, action figures, statues, Heroclix, Magic the Gathering and more.
When one first opens, odds are the doors will not just open on the first day and a stampede of customers come in. They may, if the store has a grand opening sale, though being new means getting people interested in shopping at a new store. Overcoming being new was challenging for me. Some people would come in and say they were unwilling to change stores because they were worried if we went under their old store would not take them back. To me that was foolish, if someone comes back to us odds are, we will take them back. So many things are out of a store's control that it simply may not work out. Be ready to try hard and at times feel like all the hard work does not matter. How do I measure business success? The bottom line. The more money made the better.
If something works and it makes money then it was indeed worth it and it worked.