Running a comic or game store is full of good times and not-so-good times. The shoplifters, the haters, and what seems at times like never-ending challenges. As I have said before, it will change you.d
Gary Ray owns the Black Diamond game store in California — a much bigger store than mine. Many comic stores sell games, since making it on comics alone is pretty tough. He has been writing about his experiences for years. I didn’t discover his writing until years after I opened my store and still years after I had started writing about the store on our website. If I had discovered his blog, it may have been really useful instead of me learning things the hard way. He wrote a great piece about owning a store. If you are thinking about opening a gaming store or getting into the retail business, it could be really useful. Here is one of his posts, titled Faith in Humanity:
“Before owning a store, there was such a thing as having “faith in humanity.” Most people were generally good and kind and well meaning. Owning a store showed how easy it it was for supposedly good people to become so-called “bad people,” to steal and lie when the opportunity presented itself. The line is perilously thin between honest and dishonest. It’s not some colossal battle of wills between an angel and devil on each shoulder. It’s just opportunity.
If you haven’t owned a store, there’s no way I’ll convince you this is true. There’s no way I’ll budge your faith. I accept that. If you do own a store, you know what I’m talking about. The familiar knife in the back. The smiling regular who spends a fortune in your store who you still discover steals on the side. The employee you took into your home who robbed you blind. The guy, now this story is totally true, who you catch walking out of your store with two hundred dollar army boxes under each arm, who blames you because his in-store D&D group is now down a player because you banned him.
When owning a store, there is no longer faith in humanity. Faith is belief and you now have demonstrable proof. The vast majority of people will make the wrong choice if given the opportunity. It’s about 90%, 10% who will always steal and 80% when given the opportunity. How you engage with this fact determines how you’ll view people going forward and whether you’ll be happy or not. You will give up your Faith for a philosophy of trust, but verify. It’s easy to become bitter when coming to grips with daily betrayal. If you want to own a store, know this loss of faith, this change in philosophy, will be a psychological price far higher than your initial investment.”
You can read more from Gary at blackdiamondgames.blogspot.com.
Little known fact: before renewing my lease, I did briefly entertain the idea of not renewing. I had an employee who was stealing from the store, which wasn’t the first time — nor will it be the last, sadly. It is a part of retail. But it’s an ebb and flow. I kept thinking Marvel sales were as low as they could go — I also thought Marvel would do like DC did after DC You. Turn things around. Unemployment is low right now, which is great. However, it makes finding employees difficult — especially good ones.
Shoplifting is always a pain. I currently have one to-scale Red Lantern left out of the set of Lanterns. Someone took the red lantern ring that is used to light it up, making the Lantern basically worthless. I keep looking on eBay for someone who’s selling just the red ring. I had an employee whose Green Lantern was broken while cleaning and now all he just has is the ring from it — I’m hoping to find someone in the same situation with the red ring.
The thing that floors me about the people that have stolen from here is the Lance Armstrong defense. Deny, deny, and deny — even when there is overwhelming proof. Take no responsibility. Then you have the former shoplifters making up reasons why they don’t shop here anymore. None of them admit it was because they were stealing.
After seven years, I was proud of what I had done with the store — though a small part of me thought I had done enough with the comic and gaming business. Here in central Iowa, there are plenty of stores that carry comics and games. It felt like I was the Lone Ranger without a Tonto at times. But then I caught a break. I got a Tonto — a person whom I can trust and who cares about the store. I even told the person that if they’d agree to work here, I would keep the store open.
Running the store is a challenge. A small, most likely odd part of me does miss the challenge of making the store profitable from the first year of being open. Then I remind myself of the headaches from the first year.
I’ve written before about why I write these. Last week, multiple people told me someone accused a poster in the comments section of being me because they didn’t share the person’s viewpoint. I have in the past posted comments on Bleeding Cool, but with my own name attached. As with my business, I know that not everyone is going to be happy, no matter what happens. And no, the negative person trying to drum up comments is not me. By golly, I would never do that.
There is one person that matters the most when I write these: Rich Johnson. If he didn’t see any value in these columns, then he would understandably end them.
I don’t have a comments section on my store’s website because I know it would get a handful of negative people posting a lot.
For Twitter, the business does have an account, but I don’t have a private account. I once joked with Dan DiDio about Twitter in Kansas City that once an argument starts online, neither side ever says, “You know what? You’re right and I’m wrong.”
The store was my dream. There will always be challenges. Why would I ever get out of the business by closing? What would I gain? Well, time. That’s what I lack the most. Another issue is that once you have accomplished a dream, where do you go from there? Open up another store? I would like to. But once again, there’s the time factor, and odds are that the new location would lose money for a while.
I do still wish to open up a second store in the future. But for now, I am perfectly OK with waiting. I keep waiting for Marvel to start selling material that people will want to read. Currently, it feels like I’m reacting too much instead of getting ahead of everything and leading. One of my sayings is, “I sell fantasy, but I have to deal with reality.” Not everything will be fields of gold and Care Bears all the time any more than everything will be gloom and doom all the time. I have to either fight the at-times never-ending battles and appreciate the good times when they happen, or walk away and hope it was worth it. The lease was renewed for years to come, so I will need to keep fighting the good fight for now.
I may have changed over the years (I had to, or the store would not still be around), but the goals are the same. Be profitable, get kids into reading, make comics more popular, provide a fun place for gaming, and more. I will keep writing these and hope they find people that see value in them — that value being either entertainment, eduction, or both.
Stay tuned for next week’s column — I write about the Girls Scouts of America visiting Rodman Comics to talk about comics. I discuss what I hope they learned and what I learned from them.
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