Comic Store in Your Future: To Err is Human, to Forgive, Divine

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

I write these up and often wonder why things are the way they are. Or I point out things I believe are mistakes.

We are all human. I, myself, have made plenty of mistakes. In a past column, I wrote about what I’ve learned over the years that I’ve owned a comic store — how I gained experience. The first-year owner of Rodman Comics had to change, or else Rodman Comics would have been forced to close.

Looking back at what I did during the first year makes me cringe. I made a lot of mistakes — a lot of boneheaded mistakes. Expensive mistakes.

One of the mistakes I made was thinking it was best to have as much material as possible on hand for our in-store customers. That meant not selling on the internet. That alone stopped a revenue stream, which is quite foolish.

After listening to many Magic: the Gathering players let me know they can get their cards cheaper online, I did learn to sell product online. That Magic: the Gathering card going for over $40 or higher? Sell it while it is going for $40 or more dollars. I just went through our Magic single cards inventory. There are so many cards that were at one time going for over $20 dollars that are now worth just a few dollars or even less. Often times, the local Magic players do not spend more than a few dollars on any card. Online is a good way to get quick cash flow and make money.

Same thing with comics. A comic that is hot and going for a good amount of money? I need to get it online ASAP, especially when it is new, such as with a one per store limited comic. Yes, at times the value will increase, and if I had held off and waited, I could have made more money — but I would estimate that 90 percent of the time, that is not the case. Most of the time, a month later people have moved on to the next “hot” thing.

Another big mistake, as I have mentioned in past columns, is holding free gaming events. Free means to a lot of people just that: “free”. Spend nothing. Hang out. And that is what a lot of people will do if a business allows it. Currently there is no Dungeons & Dragons in-store gaming. Wizards of the Coast’s newest D&D release, Xanathar’s Guide to Everything, I accidentally doubled my original intended order.

Having free gaming for D&D, Magic, Heroclixs, Warhammer, Star Wars miniatures, or whatever product was a big mistake. We now host only drafts and gaming that make the store money, and though fewer players play, far more money is made.

Another first-year mistake I made is the fact that I most likely bought stolen product. It wasn’t on purpose — I was told about it later on, and then again, the person who told me might have been lying. It was all hearsay. I wish I could have found out for sure, and if need be, made it right. But, very long story short, I didn’t know who the comics had been stolen from, I foolishly paid with cash, and I never saw the person who sold them again. Shocking, right? I learned from that experience. Usually Magic cards are the most-stolen product line that we deal with. They’re just cards — small and oftentimes hold some value.

Magic players often surprise me with how they leave their whole binder of cards unwatched. One player once let his binder be passed around to every player during an event while he played. After the gaming event was over, he thought he lost some cards. I have even heard of Magic players leaving their backpacks of Magic cards in their car, only to have the car broken into. I now mostly only trade and buy from people I know. By that, I mean I know them well enough to know how to get ahold of them. Not only does that cut down on the risks of buying stolen items, but I also know the people will not be a headache.

Non-collectors will often come in and want exactly what their item is worth, meaning they think I’ll buy something for the same dollar amount that I’m going to try to sell it for. No, that’s not how retail works. Or they get upset that they didn’t get what they thought they should have. Years ago, a person came in with second print comics and what they thought were “valuable” comics from Marvel’s New Universe line. I explained they weren’t worth anything, and I would give them a few bucks for them and the comics would go into our dollar bin. The person sold them to me, then within minutes of leaving, they posted a negative review on Facebook saying I ripped them off. I replied with a picture of what he sold me and with how much I paid, and everyone else posted that he didn’t get ripped off by any means. The person then took down his negative review.

It usually is pretty easy to figure out if someone has stolen property. Much like Diamond’s Secret Shoppers, they often have no idea about the product they’re dealing with. If it’s a comic, I usually ask, “Did you like this issue?” Or when dealing with a Magic card that originally was only available through playing at a store, I’ll ask how well they did when they played for it. Again, just like a Diamond Secret Shopper — if I get a puzzled look back, that usually means something is up. Another sign that usually points to stolen product is the person wants to dump it right then and there for any amount of money, even after I say I’m not interested.

I learned from one of my customers, who just happens to be a lawyer, that often the reason people steal is to obtain money for drugs. It isn’t always the case, but drug addiction is a big reason people steal. I will admit, it stings to think things stolen from here might have been resold to buy drugs. Granted, common sense says most people don’t most likely steal non-food items to sell to put food on their table to feed their family, but it still makes me think it’s quite a waste.

To avoid headaches, my employees do not trade or buy from people coming in wanting to get rid of product. I, myself, rarely buy or trade with people I don’t know. I want to feel confident we are not dealing in stolen goods, and by just saying no, I also don’t have to deal with people who expect the same experience selling to Rodman Comics as they’ve seen on T.V. Plus, I don’t want law enforcement to start thinking of the store as a place of stolen goods.

Being overly nice and concerned about everyone was a big mistake when I first opened. I want people to get good customer service here; however, there are those that will see people being nice and concerned as a weakness to exploit. I was way too nice and let myself be taken advantage of when I first opened. To be truthful, I most likely not only came off too nice and caring when the store was new — I probably came off as desperate because I was worried about the store. I have now learned that everyone is different and to treat people in an appropriate way to how they treat me. There are those who will appreciate good customer service, and others that want to see how far they can take a store for — such as asking for discounts and getting upset when told no. I don’t care if this one website is dumping product for cheap. As I have often said, if I have an everything-for-a-penny sale, that doesn’t mean every store in America is going to match that. These types of people would be quite alright with me pricing the store out of existence.

There you have it. I admit, I am human. I have made mistakes, and I will in the future. My hope, of course, is I make far fewer than I have made in the past. And if I do, it isn’t a mistake that the store doesn’t recover from.

In a few more weeks, I will write about 2017 and what I thought about it as a comic store owner. Then, after that, what I hope 2018 will bring. Shocking, I know. The weather here finally got around to feeling seasonally cold. The holidays didn’t feel like they were really here yet. The year being almost over? Time did fly.

About Rich Johnston

Chief writer and founder of Bleeding Cool. Father of two. Comic book clairvoyant. Political cartoonist.

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