Comic Store in Your Future: Not Convinced Comic Sales Are Going to Improve Anytime Soon

Posted by January 21, 2018 Comment

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

Over the years, I have always had goals and plans for the store. What helped me a lot when I first opened is crunching the numbers and knowing what I needed to average per day to stay afloat. Yes, when a brand-new retail store opens, it is very tough. Most businesses fold within two years. If things were the same as they were during the first year of being open, I would be closed. Now the store is established — known.

When I first opened, I had people flat-out tell me they didn’t want to shop at my store because they were afraid I would go out of business and upset their current store. One customer’s son even let it slip that his dad told him not to get too attached to the store since I might not be around long. Seven years later, we are still here.

I also learned a lot, such as to sell on the internet. It is a useful way to make more money. I fought that at first, thinking I needed to make sure everything was available to walk-in traffic. I started carrying Magic the Gathering. It was very popular. I learned to sell Magic cards when they were going for a pretty good amount online and get the highest while I could, because most Magic cards would drop in price after peaking. And usually, the drop isn’t just by a few dollars. Magic cards are up and down and change prices so much, I finally quit pricing the cards and we just look them up online to see what they are going for.

I also learned that Magic was so popular, there isn’t much loyalty or thankfulness to any store for having Magic gaming events. Magic players in our area for the most part (not all) play for the cheapest amount they can at a store. They want to take a store for as much as they can through prize support. Even if they spent just $5 and were playing for over three hours and received a prize for playing, most of them want more. Basically, if we were giving away everything in the store, they still wouldn’t be happy. Go out of business? Oh well, there are other places to play at.

Things change. Some things that were hot and moneymakers cool off, such as Pokémon. When people were trying to catch them with their mobile devices, that made Pokémon hot as can be for a while. Now, it has really dropped in popularity.

Magic flooded the market with material in November, really hurting sales. People felt like it was too much in such a short amount of time.

Having a plan is good along with goals. I learned, though, plans have to flexible. The biggest goal in business is to be as profitable as possible. To get to that goal, plans change a lot.

At the start of 2018, I thought January would be a slow month, and I had side projects lined up like getting the back room cleaned and reorganized. I even trimmed the hours on Tuesdays, since we’re only open that day to receive the shipment of comics for New Comic Wednesday.

What really helped last year is lowering payroll cost by thousands. Not single-digit thousands, but double-digit thousands. Had that not happened, the store could have been in trouble.

So far, what I have seen has not convinced me that comic sales are going to improve anytime soon. I hope that they do — I hope I’m wrong. I would much rather be selling tons of comics and be swept off my feet with sales. So my plan was: since January is the slowest month for most retail businesses, I’d best get ready for it by ordering on the very safe side. Past Januarys have been historically slow, other than when Marvel’s Star Wars #1 came out in a previous January. Iowa usually has a few bad days of winter that forces us and everyone else to close, making it an even tougher month. I placed my orders. Felt good. Ready for 2018. I thought I would even slow down for once after working a lot over the last few months.

January hit, and much to my surprise and everyone else’s, a nearby comic store suddenly closed. People were telling me they went to this other store a week before, and then the following week it was already empty. People with pull boxes were worried they wouldn’t get their comics. Now, at my store, popular titles such as Batman and Darth Vader sold out on their day of release instead of lasting a month on the shelf as originally planned. People thought we must be raking in the money now; but sadly, no — I ordered only what I thought would be enough for our regulars, along with one extra copy for possible new business. The oddest thing was popular titles saw a heck of an increase in demand, but lower-selling titles saw no increase or a very slight increase.

I tried letting everyone know that I’d get everyone the comics they want one way or another, just please be patient. Of course, not everyone will be. Right now, I’m trying to figure out who will stay with us and who has already decided to go elsewhere. We, of course, want the business, but I’m unable to see the future or read minds.

Then, of course, for the third New Comic Wednesday of the month, comics fail to arrive on Tuesday for us to get them ready for Wednesday. I post on social media to try to give people a heads-up. UPS, when I type in the tracking numbers, says they were delayed due to weather, and the shipment is due by end of day Wednesday. Diamond also sent an email. Every weekday we get multiple emails from Diamond that aren’t urgent, so I’m willing to bet many stores disregarded the message and didn’t even know about the delay.

On Wednesday, I double-checked the tracking numbers and saw that our shipment was still in Missouri — not even in Iowa yet — with no date given to when the shipment will arrive now. I jump back on social media and let people know, realizing it’s going to be a long day of people walking in and us having to tell them the shipment hasn’t made it yet. Not everyone is on social media all the time. I also know that for a Wednesday without any new comics, it’s going to be a really bad day sales-wise. And if there are any shortages or damages to the shipment, the odds of me getting replacements have just gone down. Other stores in the country will receive their shipments before ours and be able to get their shortages and damages taken care of first, leaving fewer replacement copies for the rest of us. Diamond has shorted me whole titles at times, so yes, I was worried. I think all the variant covers confuse Diamond when packaging up our shipments.

The economy is currently doing really well. Low unemployment. People with jobs is a good thing. If people really want a job, odds are they are able to get one. The only drawback for small business owners currently? Finding good help. Right now, I’m trying to figure out whether I should just cut back on hours or try to get new employees. Why am I hesitant to get new employees? We have been open for over seven years, and I have had every issue in the book. Ones that have stolen from the store. Ones that didn’t want to work, and so on. In short, people that really hurt the business far more than they helped it. Of course, over our seven years, we have had great employees that really helped the store and were a joy to work with. However, retail jobs have a high turnover rate. Right now I am leaning towards cutting hours during our slow months while leaving Wednesdays untouched and increasing our hours before summer.

Is it the end of the world? No. We just have to roll with it and try to keep as many people as happy as possible. The goal stays the same. Be profitable as much as possible. The plan keeps changing to make that a reality.

(Last Updated January 21, 2018 11:06 am )

Related Posts