Fortnite & Pokemon Sales Go Gangbusters – Comic Store In Your Future

Rod Lamberti of Rodman Comics of Ankeny, Iowa, writes Comic Store In Your Future weekly for Bleeding Cool. Find previous columns here. And it's time to ask questions.

In-store things are going gangbusters. People are calling for anything from comics (Fortnite) to cards (Pokémon). I have a ton of work to do. Currently, my kitchen table is covered with Magic cards. I just built a binder for the newest Magic set, Strixhaven. Cards are in high demand. Target has been limiting people to buying three packs per person of any cards. I went to a Target weeks ago, and the sign said, "sports card packs limited to three per person." I picked up the Magic set Jumpstart, was stopped at the shelf check out, and was told the limit was for Magic cards also. I bought three Jumpstart packs, and when I went back the next day, all the Jumpstart packs were gone along with half of the selection of other Magic packs, even with the three per person limit. Target is being smart by having the limit. Every time I stop by a Walmart and check out their card section, it is a barren wasteland.

A Comic Store In Your Future
Rodman Comics by Rod Lamberti

Why was I buying packs of Jumpstart at Target? For whatever reason, my vendors cannot get any more Jumpstart to me so we can have single cards. I buy them from big chain stores if I can get lucky enough to come across them, so we have a binder for Jumpstart singles. Jumpstart was very odd. I received far more buy-it-by-the-box cards than I received booster boxes for the set. Jumpstart was also given away during the previous Magic set to get interest up. Why give away products when there is not nearly enough to meet demand? Most local gaming stores received far less than they ordered. I still get people stopping in or calling about if we have any Jumpstart packs for sale; no, but I wish.

I am glad DC made Fortnite returnable. I increased our orders after the news DC would make it returnable and that Snake-Eyes shows up to fight Batman in the third issue. Including a Fortnite code with the comic was genius. I have tons of requests for the comic.

How long will the good times last? I am always nervous about that. Nothing lasts forever. History has shown booms are often followed by busts. That said, now is a good time to be in the collectible business. Curious about getting into the comic and/or gaming business? Then research it as best as possible. Right now, a lot of the reason collectibles are in demand is because they are hard to get. Human nature is to want something even more if it is difficult to attain. Mark Twain's quote I often bring up, "in order to make a man or boy covet a thing, it is only necessary to make the thing difficult to attain." One of the many requests I get is, can you get this comic from Bad Idea publishing? Bad Idea only does business with a limited number of comic stores making their comics hard to get, which makes them even more in demand. They stick out in a crowded comic publishing field by doing so. I wish I could sell their products because I know they would sell. Right now, the supply chains are a mess. For the first time ever, we may not be able to give out free bags and board with each purchase of a new comic for a while. All my vendors are out of bags and boards for comics and have been for a while. People want top loaders for cards; we are currently out of those, and every shipment they blow out of here quickly. We want more though currently, like many stores are not able to get any in making people want the product even more. Pokémon is having a terrible time meeting demand, which makes their products even more in demand.

Serious about opening up your own store? Here are some things to know and hopefully will help.

Save up money. It is very important to have good money skills along with having money on hand. The more money one has on hand, the better the odds of having a successful business. Banks may loan out money to open a new business though they do make money off the loan by the interest paid. Also, by having money on hand and using less on the original loan if needed, the odds are better of getting a second loan.

That said, have a line in the sand about where to cut one's losses. Things look great now for many areas of the country though by the time one gets their business open, there may be a downturn. My original mindset when I opened my store was this would work; by willpower alone, I will make this work if need be. Will power is great, but money is needed to keep a business going. Even after all my prep work and hard work, I realized the money wasn't pouring in. I was having trouble just breaking even. I was losing money. The hard fact was I very well could fail. I decided I needed to decide how far down the rabbit hole I would go; how much money I was willing to lose until I cut my losses. It hurt to admit I might fail, though I needed to be sure not to sink so much money into something which may never make money, and if after it should close, I was not still paying it off for who knows how long. I also had my self-dramatic moment all the years ago in the store by myself. I thought I might fail though it will not be for lack of trying. I wouldn't just give up, or half try, afraid I would fail. I abandoned my original store plans; they were not working.

I dropped carrying manga; it simply was not selling for us. I dropped having free gaming here; it was just something for me to lose money at by having people just hang out here and waste my time and money. Why did I have free gaming? Because it is what other gaming stores were doing. A bad idea is to simply do something because others are doing it. Currently, we have no gaming at all and are making a killing with sales. Focus on good customers. Everyone is different; some will appreciate you when you go the extra mile for them, some will just expect it and more after going the extra mile for them. When I first opened, I wasted so much time on time killers and things I thought would make certain customers happy. Some just used me for being willing to go the extra mile for them, or by having the free gaming, I should have just said no to in the first place. I was desperate at the time and thought I needed every penny I could get. I was wrong. A $4 comic or pack of cards sale was never going to make or break any store. I was scared. I could spend over ten grand in one week, not something I was used to. Now after over ten years in business, I can write one check for a large amount and, having done so often through the years, it isn't a concern.

After opening a store, one will have to learn on their own. What do I mean? Manga might not have sold here though it very well could at another location. Free gaming might work for you if you get customers that are not cheap and just there to hang out for free. How does one figure out what works? Money. Is it making the business money?

I once was going to write about how much work it is opening and running a store. I realized it is all up to each person how much work one puts in. I have been to other stores, and there have been somewhere I have been completely surprised by the lack of work. I have been to stores (yes, multiple stores) where the person working there was playing video games and did not even say a word to me while visiting. Or the person there is watching a video. Others have told me of going to stores where they do not even know who is working because everyone is playing games and no one even acknowledges them.

Hiring is super important. No one ever says during an interview they are lazy and just want money and/or they are going to steal as much as possible. I had people tell me former employees blame me for not getting new jobs; just one problem with the theory, none of the businesses they applied at even called me.

That said, be prepared to be the bad guy. You own a business, so you must be the bad guy. Ban a person from your store because they stole or were rude to others? It is somehow your fault. No one who was banned ever admitted they were at fault and have said yeah, I was a real jerk and should not have done what I did.

No shoplifter has ever said sorry, I was in the wrong and will pay you back. Nope, it is something else at fault that takes the blame, such as it is society's fault. Medication was once used as an excuse, even though I pointed out the person stole before they even started taking medication. Or it is a misunderstanding because you know the item just jumped into their backpack without paying, and so on. In today's society, it is lie, lie and lie some more.

An important thing I have learned is people are what they are. Meaning after years of being who they are, they are not going to change. For all the gamers here playing for free, I would try to give three strikes, but it never changed their behavior.

One could do everything "right" owning a business, and it still has to close. Right now, things are going gangbusters because of things completely out of my control. I wish I could say I was a genius why things are going so well, though that is not the case. Stimulus money boosted the economy big time. It wasn't anything to do with me. Supply issues have made things harder to get, leading to more demand for collectibles. Again, nothing to do with me. I could be the greatest business person in history though it wouldn't mean anything if no one had any money.

There are things I have done to improve business. Such as cater to good customers. Freeloaders are a waste of time. Free gaming brought in freeloaders. People did not want to spend a dime here though they spent money after leaving here on things such as pizza and beer. They had the money; they just did not care that they wasted mine. Having freeloaders just brought in more freeloaders. They told others, "hey, hang out here for free," and that is exactly what others did. I was a free babysitter to kids and adults.

Right now, I am fortunate to have a good staff. I am trying to take advantage of the good times. We had another sale on the first Saturday of May. It was going to be Rodman Comics Day, our counter-event to Free Comic Book Day. Because Free Comic Book Day was moved to August, we will have it then. Rod Deals went down May 1st, and people were still in a spending mood.

The years have helped. Experience, of course, means learning. Over the years, I have been very lucky to meet people that help out the store. I know had last year's shut down hit us while we were in our first two years of being open, odds are we would have been done for. We frankly had fewer great customers back then. We had people who used the store just to play for free and could care less about the store. By focusing on making money, we manage to have people that did not want to just freeload here but rather be a part of something. A place that supplied comics and games to people willing to spend money with us. Most of the freeloaders did not thank us for having them; they went away mad because we started having pay-to-play events instead of freebie events. We acted like an actual business.

Every person that comes in here and asks if we have free gaming, I notice they all have the same buying pattern. They come in, ask and leave without buying anything. Quite frankly, those are not people I want coming here. I have better things to do than babysit for free.

Having a staff that is part of a team instead of individuals just out for themselves is a tough act to pull off. Having a customer base that loves the store was far easier. I just had to stop thinking this is the way other stores do things and stop listening to people tell me what to do when their "ideas" were in no way were in the best interest of the store, such as to have free events. Gee, they want a place to hang out for free because they don't want to have people over where they live. It sounds like a reason to pay money to be at a business.

Get ready to have people talk down to you. Get ready to deal with a wide range of people. Some who talk down to you as a store owner may not ever have been a part of retail; they may not even have a job at all; though for whatever reason, maybe they collect comics or play magic, so they think that means they know more than someone who actually works in retail. They may just look down at everyone; who knows? I just act like I am listening and keep working, wondering, do they just like to hear themselves talk? Luckily it is far rarer as the years have gone on. It helps that I make sure good customers are treated well and just let snotty people go. Telling someone that they are rude or an idiot has done just as much as ignoring one. If they don't know by now, they are rude or an idiot, they never will. I had a man and lady come in here once with who I assume was their daughter.

The kid I could hear just running around. She was so small I could not see her over the back-issue bins. Then the lady asks do you have any towels? Even though there are signs saying no outside food or drink, they let her run around with a McDonald's drink, and she spilled it. I spent over two grand on the carpet, so I was less than thrilled. I gave her some paper towels and asked her what kind of drink it was. Hi C. She spends a few seconds with the towels and then hands the drink back to the kid. I was like, wow. The man then asks if I can order him something. I flat out say no. He asks again, surprised. I repeat no. I could, though I do not want them as customers. They leave, thankfully it is was then after closing time. I closed down, got some carpet cleaner, and then wasted time cleaning up the spill.

Be ready to make friends. This is not why I opened the store. I actually spent far less time with my friends after opening trying to do everything I could to make it work for the store. Some people look down on comic store owners or gaming store owners just because they are biased. Haters are going to hate. There are good people out there. It will take time, though you will find out the hard way who will be there for you, who cares about you, and who wants you to succeed.

After being open, celebrate! Made it to the first-year anniversary? Celebrate. Made it two the second anniversary? Celebrate. Most businesses do not make it to the two-year mark. Make reasons for people to come to your store. Make the reasons that work best for your store. Communicate with your customers. I was stunned at how few customers cared about the comics offered during Free Comic Book Day. I just figured it was free, so they would want the free comics. Free Comic Book Day is not something most of my customers care about, I learned; they enjoyed Rodman Comics Day far more.

Gone are the days of spending hundreds of dollars on comics to give away when we can market something unique while other stores continue free comic book day. We have enough comic stores in the area carrying the exact same free comics to buy, to give away as they do makes it less special. Some stores swear by Free Comic Book Day; some don't. Figure out what works for you. Rod Deals is roughly every other month. It works amazingly well. I almost did not go through with the first Rod Deals because I thought it sounded corny. I went through with it because one of my sayings is, "We can try it. If it works, we will do it again. If it doesn't, we won't." I have had egg on my face being here throughout the years; by making mistakes, I learned, and by admitting my mistakes, I have grown the business.

In the next few months, I hope to know if I am able to get another over-qualified person on staff. I would say the odds are against it. I shall try, though; it is what I do. Stay safe, everyone. If you have any suggestions for future Comic Store In Your Future columns, drop Rich a line or email me at rodmancomics@aol.com.

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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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