To Be Is To Be Perceived – Comic Store In Your Future

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

Perception. A quick Google search comes up with the definition of perception as: "Perception is the organization, identification, and interpretation of sensory information to represent and understand the presented information or environment. All perception involves signals that go through the nervous system, resulting from physical or chemical stimulation of the sensory system."

When a person first meets someone, a lot of unknowns are filled with assumptions. Same as when first dealing with a business. The assumption, a thing that is accepted as true or as certain to happen, without proof.

At my comic store for business purposes, I hope when someone walks in, they see it as well-lit, the store is clean, and there are lots of comics and comic-related items. Of course, I want people to think this is where I can buy something. I want people who come in to have a positive experience and come back repeatedly.

When a person comes in and deals with me, I hope they find me friendly, sociable, a good listener, knowledgeable, helpful, someone they want to do business with. The same goes for my employees. I want people who come into my store to have a positive experience and make it a habit to come in again and again.

Sometimes people who come in may perceive I am not friendly, sociable, a good listener, knowledgeable, or helpful. Sudden bad news may have my mind elsewhere. A question may get asked where I do not know the answer, such as when My Little Pony's next issue comes out? I may not know the answer off the top of my head though, as long as Diamond's web site is up, I can look it up. Those who will think what an idiot, he owns a comic store and does not know when a comic book comes out? That makes him a bad comic retailer. We have a large metal calendar hanging up that Wizards of the Coast sent us years ago for Magic the Gathering Events. We list on the calendar various upcoming comic releases on it. At times, I can look over at the calendar, give a quick answer, and sometimes impresses people even though I did not know it off my head.

To Be Is To Be Perceived - Comic Store In Your Future
Comic Credit: Wizards of the Coast

As they say, first impressions are important. Many things about a person when they first meet someone are filled in with assumptions. The fact I own a comic store fills peoples' heads with different assumptions. Some people think comic store owners are cool. Some people think the opposite. Some think comic store owners are lazy. Some people think all people do at comic stores is stand around and do nothing. I have been to other stores, comic stores, gaming stores, and hybrids of the two and have seen people doing nothing or being unproductive. People are watching TV, videos online, or playing video games. That does not mean every store does the same thing. I have been to plenty of stores where they are busy working. First impressions work both ways. What impression does a new customer leave? Are they a decent person? Rude? Is someone worth doing business with? I have had people come in and ignore the no outside food or drink sign saying other stores let them, meaning they think if one store lets them, all stores do. Wrong; why would I post a sign saying no outside food or drink if that was true? I am tired of cleaning up other peoples' messes. The main reason I am against outside food and drink being brought into the store? Those people do not ever buy anything. They have one hand holding something else, which limits them from checking out the product. Then those same people get upset they have been asked to follow the rules and think I am a jerk. I may think they are jerks even though we really do not know one another.

I have people, for whatever reason, look down at me because I own the store. It is scary; there are those who think it is a complete fool's errand to own a business. Some younger people come in and seem baffled about how a physical comic store can even exist in this day and age. There are those who think the complete opposite.

Some people, for whatever reason, think I am hurting for money because I own a store. People spread a lot of rumors about comic stores. I remember when shopping at Dragonfire Comics, people said the same thing about them, Dragon Fire was hurting for money. Once when I was there, one of the two owners was so tired of the rumor, he showed a customer his books to prove they were making money. Of course, I thought you guys are making money, or why would you stay open? It never made any sense to me. Dragonfire had been around for over a decade; Rodman Comics has been around for over a decade. If either were losing money, how were they staying open? I once, years ago, put out a jar for a new air unit collection because it had gone out at the end of the warm season. It was meant as a joke. The comic customers here laughed and knew it was a joke. The Magic players? The ones who spent hours here playing games thought it was real. They were worried that come spring and summer; we would not have any air. They spent far more time here and spent far less money than the comic buyers and apparently knew so many of them (not all) were playing here for the bare minimum.

Many of the Magic players thought we were not making money. Some of the Magic community has a weird thought process when it comes to gaming. Play for as cheap as possible at a store, buy online instead of where they play, take the store for all the prizes possible, and if the store goes out of business, not their problem. For months we have had no gaming, and it has had no negative effect on magic sales. Wizards of the Coasts has not had authorized in-store Friday Night Magic or any official Magic gaming for months, and they have not seen any negative effects on their sales. We are making more money by not having Magic gaming than when we had Magic gaming. Many Magic players seem to think they are doing a store a favor by just playing there. They aren't. The idea behind having gaming events is it will be like at a bar. By being there, people will spend money. For many Magic players, the group mentality is "just play for the bare minimum." Take a store for everything one can and buy elsewhere. That is their perception. I bought a new air conditioner for the store, and once I got the bill, I simply wrote a check for it with the store's money.

If Rodman Comics was not making money, I would shut it down. When the store first opened over ten years ago, it was not making money. I made adjustments, such as no more free gaming events, dropping products not selling for us such as anime, and so forth. There was a time when we did not have nearly the amount of great people we deal with now. My thought process was if this place was not making money, I would get out. During the governor's mandated shut down this year, we were, of course, losing money. Currently, the store is making money, and the people we have as customers make the work worth it. We are all hoping to make it through to when the vaccine is plentiful, people feel much safer, and things feel more like they did in 2019 than in 2020.

Here at Rodman Comics, we continue trying to gain new people to shop with us by providing a positive experience along with keeping our current customers so they keep coming back. My perception is we currently have the greatest group of customers we have ever had. I have been fortunate to meet good people through the store throughout the years and hope that never stops happening.

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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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