Opening a Comic Store in Your Future

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

For this column, I am going to write about opening a comic store. I have done past columns about opening a store though it has been awhile and hope to still have useful advice. Some things I have brought up before though I still feel they are useful to people thinking about opening up a comic store.

One of the main things to remember about opening a store is realising that mistakes will be made. Even after eight years of owning a store I still learn and make mistakes, though not as often as I did when I was a new store owner,

Things to learn when opening a store.

Hours. A common mistake for a new store is to be open for too many hours.  When I opened my line of thinking was the more hours we are open the more sales can be made. That is true though it also costs more to be open more. We used to be open way more than we needed to be. I slowly trimmed the hours. Learned that summer was our busiest time because people typically had more free time. 11 to 1 for us was the busiest during the day do to most people having lunch then. After 3:30 we would see kids that would be getting out of school followed by people stopping in after 5 after the got off work.

Another trap store owners often find themselves is they believe they can take off when they please. I understand the urge of thinking just screw it and leaving when it is a slow day. The oh what a waste of a day mentality. When the Iowa vs Iowa State Game goes on that day is a bore here. Though I have learned to plan on it and get things done that can be done on a slow day such as selling online. There are days that owning a store is like fishing, at times slow going and wondering why I am here. Though all it takes is a few customers to come in and make it all worth it. On one slow day I had two people in the military who were from Virginia driving through and they spent over a thousand dollars on Magic cards.  On one slow Sunday I had a person come in who decided he wanted to collect Aquaman comics. He ended up spending over $500 on Aquaman comics. He was brand new to the hobby. Wanted to buy Aquaman's first appearance and would have if I had a copy. I wish I had that issue, More Fun Comics 73. It is also Green Arrow's first appearance.

Time management is important. Instead of having myself or employees spacing off during down time everyone should be doing something constructive. Here there is a long list of projects. Right now, during the slower times, I am getting ready for our Black Friday sale.

Appearance of a store. One may be used to a dark atmosphere and or a place that is not vacuumed or cleaned regularly. That doesn't mean everyone else is. When I opened I went for a well-lighted store with furniture that wasn't cheap. Now, over the 8 years that we have been open there is wear on the back issue bins that needs patching up. I am hoping to hire a person that not only will work behind the counter but during the downtime fix up the place. I have a certain person in mind that I hope to have on staff this year for fixing up the place.

Our original carpet was worn out so I did replace it. Even with us being a small as the store is it cost a lot. When opening decide on a budget. A big store front sounds great though generally speaking the bigger it is the more it will cost. Figure out what the average amount of sales needs to be to just break even. That is what helped during our first years. If I knew from looking at the daily sales that if it looked like I would be short of what was needed to keep the good fight going then I pushed harder on selling on line.

Figure out if your store should sell online. Some stores do not. Some do. I originally thought it would be best to have a very well stocked store for people that came in and not sell online. I was wrong. For us I learned selling online was a revenue boost that I should have used when we first opened.

Have cash on hand to survive opening. Most stores are not lucky enough just to throw their doors open on the first day and have a crowd rush in buying up everything making the new store flush with money. I thought I had enough. I quickly learned after opening I could be very wrong. As I have stated in a pass column, during our first year there was the day I realized money wise I might not be able to make it. I looked around the store and thought about it. Made some decisions. One tough decision was I believed I had to have a red line where I would call it quits. I know of other stores that went out and when they did they were way in the red. Meaning they did not just owe a few thousand dollars but tens of thousands of dollars. I decided I would not borrow any money to stretch things out. Would not use money from my rental business that I had at the time. If my dream could not be a reality than it sure as heck was not going to be one that kept costing me money after it was done. That I decided would really make me feel bad. I decided if need be some of my own collectibles would be liquated for money. No throwing money into a black hole until I could not get any more money. The biggest decision is even though at the time it hurt admitting that things were going more badly than I thought they would that I would give it my all work wise. Meaning I would work hard at it and try to make it work and hope it all would work out.  I admit it was going to suck badly if I busted butt and gave it my all and failed. Sleep became over rated. Sales improved. Profits were to be had. I would learn. I changed. I became a better store owner.

Becoming a better store owner meant telling people no more. A lot more. I think I said yes to almost everything when I first opened. From a magic player that wanted Snapple stocked for drinks to giving a Magic player a ride home after playing here. I learned those were mistakes. They did not appreciate the extra effort. They expected it.  Typical Magic players that still spent the bare minimum at a store to play and mostly bought on line even though they did not like playing the game online.

I became more of rules person. Meaning people that brought in their own food or drink were told about the rules which is no outside food or drink. I learned people who brought in their own food or drink do so because they are cheap. They want to at all costs not spend any extra money while gaming at a store.

The pull boxes I cracked down on. People that could not get in at least once a month without a good excuse were comic collectors getting out of the hobby.  People who are in the military have a good excuse as to why they do not get their pull boxes all the time.  Other people no so much.

I quit trying to be a nice guy and more of a business guy.  I did not open the store to make friends. I deal less with my friends due to the time spent at the store. Though I did make new friends that should not be a concern when opening a store. Is the store a business or a social center? Are you there to make money or make friends?  After I opened I stopped letting people guilt me that I was selling material for (gasp) above what I bought it for. That is what businesses do. I had a Magic player come in and said he looked up what a business pays for Magic packs and said for a little above cost he would buy Magic through me. I just said no. I didn't try to explain that there are things like shipping costs. Or that just because a business sells product above cost that doesn't mean the money goes directly into a business owner's pocket. Most of the money goes to covering expenses. I learned that like most people that work, I work to make money also.

Be flexible when needed. One rule often doesn't apply at all times. When dealing with people be prepared to deal with a wide range of emotions and expectations. Some people will appreciate what you do for them. Some expect it. Some feel entitled to what they want.  One person you do a favor for may think you are the best while another will expect that favor every time they see you just because you did it once before.

Ordering. Comic sales at least for here are all over the place month to month at times. I had six issues of Immortal Hulk 7 left and thought I needed to trim my future orders by six copies. Then oddly enough a person came in I had never seen before and bought all six copies of that issue. Did not buy anything else. Know your regulars. Star Wars has cooled off here after the Last Jedi movie (it really divided the fans, some loved it while others hated it) though it is still a high seller here.

Adapt. Manga was the first product line I cut. It just was not selling. I knew nothing about it though still managed to sell more of it than my employee at the time who was into Manga. There were some people disappointed that we stopped carrying it though it was taking up space and had poor sales for us.

Take care of those that will take care of you. There are the naysayers that for years (many years, like over a decade) that say comic stores are dead. People that buy all their comics online and stop in once in a blue moon because they were shorted a comic, or one they received was damaged and they could not get a replacement.  Those are not the people that are going to help a store. The people that like to get out off their butt and enjoy walking into a comic store and spend money are the ones that take care of your store. Take care of them.  The "Wednesday Warriors", the customers that show up as soon as they can to get the just released comics, take care of them. They are creating quick cash flow.  Seems easy, right? I have been to a comic store in the past where the owner complained there were people waiting for him to open up. That puzzled me, and this was before I had my own store. Oh, no! People want to buy from you. That store isn't open anymore. I am happy to open and have people walking in right after opening.

Stay focused. Many comic store owners become burnt out from dealing with the public so often. Be crisp and focused so says the guy who is often tired and running on fumes. Remember the customer that has done nothing wrong and buys from you is a good customer. If things are going bad or other people have caused a problem taking it out on someone who wasn't the problem is not going to help.  I know all too well it is easier said than done.

Another thing that fits under easier said than done. Have thick skin. I received this email recently simply saying this  "Your service is no good. Your website is ugly and I am sure that you guys are total pigs" . People that have never been in your store will leave online reviews. It is just too easy to do. I could leave a negative review of a store in New York, New York that I have never dealt with just because I feel like it. Two of the comic stores that closed here in central Iowa had perfect five star ratings on Facebook. Fact is once a business starts dealing with a lot of people not everyone is going to like that business. As a store owner you cannot make everyone happy. It is like Free Comic Book Day. Even though the comics are free there are people to them there will still be people that complain. After one of my past columns about me selling the exclusive Wal Mart comics a person that had never been to my store, let alone spent any money here, left a Facebook comment how they were unliking the store's Facebook page because they do not like the fact I was buying comics to resell them. That is what comic stores do. I clicked "like" on his comment. It is online. It doesn't matter. Focus on the people that do matter. The ones spending money at your store. As I have stated before, the landlord, utilities companies, Diamond, and everyone else that a comic store does business with doesn't care about how liked a store is online, they just want their money that is owed them. Focus on making money, not being well liked online.

What makes your store different? This is what was important to me. Part of the reason I opened up my store is I was missing the past enjoyment of comic collecting. Dragonfire Comics had closed and where I was shopping gave me the same soulless feeling as shopping at a big chain store. Their focus was mostly on Magic the Gathering products. So I thought why not open my own store? Like Dragonfire Comics we give free bags and boards with every new comic purchase which I am told is now rare for a store to do. As the owner, I have collected comics for decades so that gives people that like that fact something to look forward to when dealing with me.  That all said reality is I have to work with the budget we have and the current job pool. In the future I would love to have in the store an Avengers meeting table, Star Wars themed parts of the store, Justice League trophy room, and more. Like what a theme park has. Though that all costs money.

No matter what happens there will be surprises. I have given people jobs that needed them in the past and they have stolen from me. There will be good things that happen that will surprise you in good ways. I still remember the person who bought a gift certificate for the Girl Scout group that was here. After 8 years, at times. I think I have it all figured out and then a curve ball happens.

As a comic store owner, I encourage other people that open stores to have goals, have money, have a budget, have a plan and update them as time goes on. Every store is different. Every store will face different challenges.

About Rich Johnston

Head writer and founder of Bleeding Cool. The longest-serving digital news reporter in the world. Living in London, father of two. Political cartoonist.

twitter   facebook square   instagram   globe