Comic Store In Your Future: The Pros And Cons Of The Pull Box

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

There have been various stories about how comic stores have pull boxes; how people suddenly without any warning abandon their pull boxes sticking the store with comics. I've been through it also, of course. Trying to call people and leaving messages and still getting blown off. Even talking to people on the phone about their pull box and being told "Yeah, I still want those comics! I will be in next week." And then next week the same story. Why people simply don't say, "No, I am not going to get those comics," I do not know.

I once ran into a person years before I opened my own store, who had a pull box at the previous comic store I went to, Dragon Fire Comics. He talked about how he had a pull box there, and joked that he helped put them out of business by not picking up the comics or bothering to let them know he wasn't going to. I did not find that funny. Costing people money is not something I would ever consciously do to someone. Owning a store is one's job. One's income. Just as most people get paid for what they do and they expect to get paid, they do not want to take a pay cut or lose money for any reason. But some people don't realize, or don't care, that when they abandon their pull boxes without word or warning, they are hurting a store owner's livelihood.

I understand that things happen. I once lost my job and canceled my pull box with Dragon Fire Comics — though I did get all my comics that were on hold and I did have the courtesy to let them know. For most of my time shopping at Dragonfire, I never had pull box. After cancelling my pull box, I never got one again.

Pull boxes at times get some people out of the habit of coming in to pick up and buy comics. The mindset is "Oh, they're on hold for me, so they are basically mine, but I don't want to actually pay for them." A lot of the time, people have the money; they just don't want to part with it. Then, after a month of not coming in, that weekly cost of picking up comics becomes four or five times more than they want to pay, because they didn't come in weekly to pick up their comics. That weekly $20 cost becomes $80 or $100. And often times that's just too much in their mind.

The pull box for some becomes a crutch, a thought process of "Well, I'll pick up these $20 in comics now and leave the other $60 for next month." Then they do it again the following month, bringing what they have to $120, leading it to be too high in their mind — and then the person abandons their pull box. Which we often learn the hard way.

When we had our last sales in the store, I had people wanting to put comics in their pull boxes. I said, "Why? You get them today and you get the discount." All the people said, "Yeah, that's true," and bought the comics. It showed me they had the money, but didn't want to part with it. Somehow, in their minds, letting comics pile up in a pull box was the thing to do.

Why don't we get the pull box customer's credit card info and charge as the comics comes in? That would be ideal. But the fact is that I have no desire to keep that info on the store computer or any computer I have. That is a big responsibility and liability if something goes wrong. Plus, I have done pre-pay before, and we still have people not pick up what they paid for. Or they take months to stop in. Having to make phone calls reminding people their pre-paid material is in, along with them acting like we are pestering them by calling them once a week to remind them, just isn't worth it. It's odd. I've even had people pre-pay for more expensive material like statues, and then blow us off.

With pull boxes, we get people who live right here in town, but don't stop in once a month. I once spotted someone, who had a pull box but hadn't been in for over a month, go to the fast food place across the street and then drive on by afterwards without stopping in. No response to phone calls about their pull box. No call back, even though I only want to know whether or not they're still interested in the comics. Then, oftentimes, after five or so weeks I'll sell what I can out of the assumed-dead pull box.

I have had people stop by over four months after their last visit and get upset that they don't have a pull box anymore. This annoys me to no end. No response to any of my messages over that time, but in their mind, those were still their comics. The fact is that until a person actually pays for something, it is still the property of the store.

What people often fail to understand is that comic stores pay for those comics. Some a week after they receive them, and some longer. If people with pull boxes wait long enough, that often creates a loss of money for the store during that time — meaning the store does a reverse loan, so to speak. They pay for the comics. Now you take that, multiplied by all the other people who dawdle on picking up their comics, and that can add up to be quite a bit. Newer stores have it the worst, because oftentimes they have to pay for the comics as they come in, or the week after they receive them. It takes time to build up better credit with Diamond to pay them later on.

The people that come in and get their comics every week are great. That creates quick cash flow and is a great habit for a customer to have — though not everyone can make it in every week. Once a month is completely reasonable. That's only 12 times a year. If a person feels that is too much, then odds are, comic collecting isn't for them.

For us, I feel pull boxes have for the most part out lived their usefulness. People who don't have pull boxes don't cause comics to just sit in a pull box if they get out of comic collecting, and those comics have a chance to sell on the shelf. That said, we have longtime pull customers that are great. But some people take something that was meant as a useful tool and twist it in a way that causes businesses to lose money.

Pull boxes take away from the got-to-get-it-now-mentality — meaning that since the comics are in a pull box, there's no rush to go get them. Before pull boxes, a lot more people would try to make sure they got their comics right away, because they were worried the store would sell out before they got them.

pull box

I have had people stick me with pull boxes, and then get upset because I refuse to use their side business. Printing up shirts, printing up play mats — why would I? Because it's alright to cost me money?

All my pull customers who make it in once a month or more: you rock. Of course, all our customers are the best. I write this up with the hope of educating people. When someone abandons a pull box without letting the store know, it's detrimental to the future of the store. It's hurting a person's income. Comic store owners are small businesses trying to make a living, just like the person sticking them with an abandoned pull box.

Things happen in life. Divorces, job loss, money issues, and so on. They can be embarrassing to talk about. But sometimes doing the right thing and being responsible isn't easy. And oftentimes, it isn't that painful to simply tell the comic store that you're no longer able to pick up their pull box, and once it's done, both parties can go their separate ways. Everyone who has told me they are stopping their pull boxes are still alive. I simply tell them thanks for letting me know.

There was a time before pull boxes. Maybe it's time to go back to the basics. For other store owners, they may say pull boxes are their lifeline. Feel free to discuss the pros and cons.


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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