Comic Store In Your Future: Which Kind Of Customer Are You?

Comic Store In Your Future: Which Kind Of Customer Are You?

Posted by August 25, 2017 Comment

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

Customers are what keeps a comic store going. The more customers — especially loyal ones — a store has, the better off it is. Good customers can make a good store even better.

Customers, though, are hard to pin down. They’re made up of a wide variety of personalities. We never know what types of people will be coming through the door.

The purpose of this column isn’t to insult or pigeonhole people — it is to show (in a hopefully at-times somewhat funny way) what people that deal with the general public and at comic stores deal with. While reading this, hopefully people get a chuckle out of it and maybe even learn something.

There are customers that are great to deal with, while some are not so great to deal with.

Some people are just fine taking advantage of a store. From shoplifters, to people just wanting to hang out to read comics for free, to others wanting to play games in a store for free. If a store lets people hang out “sampling” the merchandise for too long, then they will get freeloaders. Some people have no problem loitering while the store gets to clean up after them.  I learned long ago not to allow freeloaders.

The best customers, of course, are the ones that come in weekly and pick up everything without putting anything on hold. That creates a quick turnaround and fast cash flow. Monthly customers are good, also, of course. For pull boxes, the rule here is they must be picked up once a month. If coming in 12 times a year is too much,  then odds are, comic collecting isn’t for them. We have all heard or read the horror stories about pull boxes piling up.

There are the people that still want a pull box, even though they haven’t came in for over a month. Or they’re a former pull box customer that just disappeared off the face of the earth. If people want something, then they need to come in and get it. If they decide they no longer want what they asked for and let us know, then at least it is on the shelf and has a chance to sell. It’s amazing how some people will not communicate with us. Even people who I call and talk to will tell me, “No, don’t cancel it,” and say they will be in. They just buy more time for the comics to sit in their pull box further decreasing the odds of it selling until I just give up and put it back on the shelf for sale.

Here are some of the types of people that stores have dealt with:

The “I hate anything that is popular!” customer. For some reason, when a comic that actually sells and is popular, this type of person has to hate it. Not just not buy it, but make sure everyone knows they hate it. I’ve never understood it.

The type that claims they spend a lot money in a store and will say that every time they come in. I was never able to figure out if this is a form of bragging or saying the store owner owes the person for spending money. The sad fact is: every person who’s come in here and said that didn’t actually spend much.

The customer that is either drunk or high. One of the downsides to having Magic midnight pre-releases is there are usually a lot of cars in the parking lot, showing that something is going on inside. Even the police have stopped in to see why we are still open. Nothing like having a Magic pre-release and a cop stopping in asking if we are serving alcohol. Um, no. Then, I had one person whose friends dropped him off for some reason at two in the morning. He loved the store; kept calling it “Glorious!” Not just one or two times, but closer to 10. He stumbled against a wall, almost knocking down some product hanging up. I rushed from behind the counter to make sure he didn’t damage anything. He apologized and was nice enough to let me know he was high. He said his friends dropped him off and he lived nearby. Great friends, right? I encouraged him to go home. Glorious indeed.

The customer who is just here to check out products and then buy them online. I am fine with people buying online, but helping a person who has no attention of buying anything in store is just a waste of time. I know some people think the typical comic store staff sits around and does nothing, but it isn’t that way at all stores.

People who ask for a discount. Even at times when a sale is going on and the item is already discounted, we get asked for an additional discount. Yeah, I made a mistake and was weak and gave a few people a discount not too long ago. That snowballed into more and more people asking. I’ve even had people ask my employees call me to see if they could get a discount when I wasn’t in. That didn’t go over well with me. Discounts for some and not others are not fair. Plus, a store needs to make money. Whatever sells over cost doesn’t go directly into a store owner’s pocket — there are a lot of costs that come with owning a business.  People who want a discount often think that small business owners are hard up for money; some feel entitled to a discount. Oftentimes, once a person asks and gets a discount, they expect one every time.

The “This sucks!” customer. Having people come in and say negative things about a product is never good for business. The whole Marvel vs. DC debate? If kept civil, then that is fine. Saying (insert publisher or product here) sucks and going full hate on it in front of people in store? Bad idea. If letting the person know it is a bad idea fails, I always try to let them know there are other stores they can go to. See, the good thing about competition is people can go elsewhere. Want to play games for free? Go elsewhere. I strongly encourage that. Want to be rude? Don’t come here. Odds are, if I don’t want to deal with someone, our other customers don’t want to have to deal with that person, either. Years ago, I was in a comic store and a customer was complaining about a certain title, and the owner was ripping on the comic, too. It was obvious that the owner hated the writer for whatever reason. It was a comic I was going to pick up, but left thinking, “Geesh, why even carry it then?”

The people that bring in their outside food or drink. We have a sign right next to the walk-in door prohibiting it. And after I say something about it, sometimes the reply is, “Other stores let me, even though they have signs saying not to.” So? We are not affiliated with other stores. I don’t get why people think bringing their own food to save a few dimes by not buying from the store is acceptable. One person even told me once, “It was cheaper at the grocery store.” I explained that I sell the soda not to make money, but to make sure that instead of allowing cans in store that can spill easier, bottles with tops are used. I don’t go into a fast food restaurant and bring my favorite drink in from another place just because I want to save money or they don’t carry it. This is no different.

Then we get people who feel entitled. “I should be able to bring in food or drink!” One person and their kids recently came in with a pop and a slice of pizza. I explained that we just remodeled, so we weren’t allowing outside food or drink (not that it was allowed before). The person started cussing. Even the kids he came in with were embarrassed and asking him to stop. Then, he went out to the parking lot, being loud and cussing up a storm. I thought we might have to call the police. First off, pizza and comics are not a good combo. Secondly, it’s like going over to a person’s house. You follow their rules if you want to be there. If a person is unwilling to not bring outside food or drink, then I don’t want them as a customer.

The “Order this or put this on hold for me and then I will not pick it up” customer. When I first opened, I had people coming in saying other stores wouldn’t do special orders or put items on hold for them. I didn’t understand why at the time. Now I do. A lot of the time, people will call or stop in and have something put on hold and never come back in to get it. We stopped doing special orders for anyone because too often, the order would come in and the person wouldn’t answer their phone or make any effort to get what they had requested — even people that would pre-pay. That became an even bigger headache, since we had to make a judgement call on how long we’d keep it before giving up. Even with more costly items like statues, people would pre-pay, and after multiple calls over the months, the person would act like it was a bother for them to come in and pick it up. It blew my mind. Spend over $100 and then act like they didn’t want it.

The “I don’t want to shop here and would rather be elsewhere, but you’re closer” customer. For some reason, it seems at times they want to get a reaction from me or the staff by repeating they would rather shop elsewhere multiple times. Yes, it is always a thrill listening to someone not only complain, but bring up another store nonstop while in ours.

The customers that let you know your back issue selection sucks because you don’t have the one comic they want. Sigh. We have thousands of back issues, thank you very much.

The “Why did you sell out of this?” customer. Why? Because it is non-returnable. It’s a fine line of having enough on hand to meet demand and actually knowing what the demand will be. The large amount of titles makes it tough. Central Iowa is well serviced with comic and gaming stores (though we did recently lose two). We get a lot of what I call floaters. One week some people may shop here, then the next time they may get their comics elsewhere. Some people work closer to another store while living closer to ours. There is no exact formula for ordering. And again, since comics are for the most part non-returnable, selling out is better than having too many. It’s like gambling. We might not win big, but we can control how much we are willing to lose. If I only want to bet $60 on a title, then that is all I can lose on it.

The “I am going to leave a negative review because my sense of entitlement wasn’t fed!” Sigh. Telling people no on things like discounts upsets them at times. It’s like, if I am told we should have everything for a penny sale and don’t do it, then there’s the threat of a bad review.

The “makes no sense” customer. I was told once by a second party that a person didn’t like something I wrote on my website. The person reportedly said they are never coming to my store again or bringing their kids. I respect that. I was just puzzled, since the person and their kids hadn’t been in my store in over two years, yet they still read our website newsletter. Weird.

The customer that thinks “I want to support local business so I am buying one comic here, even though I buy almost all the comics I want off the internet”. Um, thanks — that $3.99 will really enable me to make the rent this month. Sometimes this type of person follows it up with wanting a donation or funding for their event or something, which makes it even more awkward. They spent $3.99 here, so I should spend $50 or more on them or on their product, event, or whatever? Not so much.

People have had pull boxes and canceled them for the oddest reason. One person just canceled theirs because he said we have so many people buying multiple copies of the same issue. What? Why would that matter to a person with a pull box? We put limits on super-hot issues like variants for the Flash/Batman crossover. Again, as long as everything is on hold in their pull box, what difference does it make?

The “you are a small business owner and must be hurting for money, so you owe me for shopping here” type person. No. I think a lot of people have no idea what goes on with owning a store. I once had some Magic gamers tell me a box of Magic boosters cost store owners around $10. I was stunned. No. If that was the case, I would just be opening boxes of Magic all day long and listing the cards online to sell. People often ask weird questions like: how much do we sell in a year? Forty grand? I never tell, but I do point out that if it was that low, we never would have stayed in business. People seem stunned when I say sales are a lot higher.

The “Why you don’t have my comics on hold anymore, even though I haven’t been in for three months?” customer. Followed up by “That’s terrible; your business will never see me again!” and other threats. People seem to forget that ordering something or putting something on hold doesn’t make it theirs. It is the store’s, until it’s paid for. Until someone else pays for, it stays the store’s property. If over a month has gone by and I can sell a comic or comics out of a pull box that may be dead, then yes, I will go for the sure sale.

I hope I haven’t come across as too grumpy — that really wasn’t my intention. It is meant to be a funny column — or hopefully at least somewhat funny column — that shows a bit of what the person behind the counter goes through and a look at what everyone who deals with the general public already knows. There are some good people to deal with, and some less than good people to deal with. If you are ever in my store and hear me say to someone, “There are other stores that you might be interested in,” that might be me hoping to pass the buck on to another comic or gaming store. Some people are toxic. A toxic customer could turn other customers off to buying in the store. Or a gamer that is so rude could turn other people off to gaming here. That is the best thing about competition. They can have people I don’t want to deal with! Plus, they may be happier elsewhere. A win-win for everyone.

When someone says they want to hang out and play for free, I am more than happy to send them elsewhere. What do they think, that I want to clean the toilet after they stay here for hours for free? Does hanging out for hours for free mean the place is just lucky to have someone in it? A store is a business not a person’s basement to hang out in. Often times, I think it would be funny if businesses could leave reviews on customers and see how they react. “Not a peach to deal with. Wanted 35 cents off a $1.35 heroclix (did happen once). Cusses too much. Smells. Wore an ‘I am Jude Terror’ T-shirt.”

Make no mistake: customers are the lifeblood of retail. I am always wanting new customers. Not only for growth, but to replace lost customers — because no matter how good a store’s customer service is, they’ll lose customers through no fault of their own. People move for a new job, spouse, etc. Money problems happen. And sadly, some pass away.

Good customers keep me in the business. I have some great customers. Some very helpful, very loyal, and very respectful customers. Good customers make owning a store worth it. It is human nature to want to deal with good people. Other store owners, I am sure, have some great stories about people they have dealt with. People that have been dealing with the public for years most likely have some great stories. Different people make the world go around. Sometimes some make the world a little more wobbly to deal with.

Feel free to discuss.

(Last Updated August 25, 2017 11:29 am )

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