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

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

Perception “a way of regarding, understanding, or interpreting something; a mental impression”

How people who come into a comic store perceives the store matters a lot.  As a comic store owner, I need people to walk in and believe they should spend money.

People walk into a comic store and need to be impressed. That, of course, is what a store owner should want.

People have walked into comic stores and thought what a dump. That is not the perception a store owner most likely wants.

Comic books at a store may be treated and handled well. Meaning the staff tries to keep them in the condition they received them. I have been to a store in the past and seen an employee fold comics over just to emphasize that they can droop over the bookshelves if there are too many.  As a diehard comic collector that was like a sin to me. I have even been to a store and seen employees goofing off throwing comic books at one another. I really have no desire to buy something that was just thrown. Comic books do not go far when thrown.

Some stores treat their comic books like they belong in a garage sale. Back issue bins of comics not in any order. Looking like they were just throw in a box. Boxes of comics with no bags or boards. Some stores use comic boxes to display their back issues. After time, the cardboard comic boxes become worn from so many people looking through them. I know some of the ones under our back issue bins that hold comics that were never even meant to be looked through (our overflow comics so to speak) have seen better days.

Is one way the right way and one way the wrong way? Depends on the store’s customer base. Some people may love the old dark garage like stores. Some may like well light areas that are the opposite of a garage look.

As I have stated before. I went small on floor space to save on rent so I could spend more on back issue bins, the counter, and so forth. I spent thousands just replacing the carpet on such a small area I would have most likely fainted at the cost for a large storefront.

There is a lot of psychology involved in what people see in a store. When we first opened I had a very open floor space and far less product than I do now. I had the new comics and current comics along our comic wall and that is what does the most business. People would come in get their comic or comics and that would be that. New people often would be disappointed there wasn’t more to the store. After some time went by we had action figures, statues, and more. People seemed to feel it was more of a comic store with those items stocked. Most would still just buy from the comic wall but the addition of material they would never buy made them feel more comfortable here in store.

Some people may never care for an actual physical storefront. Online buying is enough for them.

How people perceive the store employees and manager and/or owner varies. I have had multiple people tell me I must be hurting for money. Which surprises me because I don’t spend my days crying about being poor. There are people who just assume that due to owning a comic store I must be hurting for money. If the store was losing money I would close it.  I have been told I don’t dress like I have money. That is true. I am not into high-end clothing. I like to think when I am here that I try to look professional. Meaning most times while here I wear a shirt with a collar that is, at least, ironed. I do wear a comic T shirt or a Rodman T shirt here at times. I do try to act “professional”. Meaning great each person who comes in and let them know if they need help that is what I am here for.

I try to get people into comics. Kids that come in I often tell their parents comics are a good way to get kids into reading. A comic book may be entertainment for a kid who may associate reading as work. Reading homework from school. Parents pressuring a kid to read more may all feel like something unpleasant and something they may not want to do. Reading comics could change that perception for a kid. I have heard many stories of comics helping out kids.

There are also people who got into art thanks to comics.

I try to convince people comics are cool. That they are worth buying. That gets very tricky. Some people like bigger more expensive books. Some like cheaper less expensive comics. So we try a wide variety at the store. We have a dollar bin that some people love. We have more high-end books also that some people enjoy.

Here at my store, I try to give people reasons for shopping here. Meaning what do we offer that others do not? The Wal Mart exclusive comics are a hit. I go to our local Wal Mart which has plenty when I stop in and almost the same amount that I leave it with weeks later when I return. I had customers this week asking how do I get these? Why am I the “only” store to carry them? I explain to them they are Wal Mart exclusives. I sell them for $6.50. Which isn’t much of a markup. So why do I sell them? People see it as something we carry while other stores do not, giving them a reason to come in.

Free bags and boards are given for each new comic bought through us. I do it because it helped get me hooked into buying from Dragonfire Comics when I was a collector. Something unique. Give people the perception they are getting something of value with their purchase.

I try to give great customers service here. I want people to think we are there for them.

Comic stores for the most part are extensions of Diamond due to the fact that comic stores can only buy comics directly through Diamond. It limits comic stores by only having one vendor for comics. If Diamond is out of a comic it is not like we can try Capital City to get a comic that we are out of. The comic markets growth is not helped by only having one distributor. I try to make my store a place where people want to go.

Often I talk about diehard Magic Gamers. They are not doing anything wrong. They often have conformed to their gaming group. Their perception is what they are doing is normal. The ones that have played Magic for the longest do what the people who played Magic before them have done. Meaning play at a store for the bare minimum amount it costs and take a store for all the prize support that they are able to.  It is what they perceive as what Magic players do. This line of thinking is not just limited to diehard Magic players. Other past player groups like Dungeon & Dragon and Star Wars X Wing miniature gamers do the same thing. Board game groups also often think they should be able to go to a business and treat it like hanging out at another person’s house for free. Stores have allowed them to do this so they do. Our original group of Heroclix players also hung out and played for hours for as little as possible. Other stores let them so it was “alright”. That original group of heroclix players would go out for pizza and beer afterwards after spending often times less than two dollars (buying a soda) here for playing for hours in the store. Our local board game group’s blog had about how some of them were upset that a local café they were meeting at and playing at would require them to buy a drink for hanging out there. Like it was alright to hang out at a business and take up space and not spend a dime. Their perception is it should be like playing at someone’s house or apartment even though they aren’t. People do not want people they hardly know meeting to play games where they live. So they go to a business to play. Businesses exist to make money so they can stay in existence. Gamers often do not see value in going to play for hours at a business. Instead of seeing value they see a social center. A place to freeload. Why, because other small businesses let them. Wal Mart and Target sure as heck aren’t going to have gaming areas for people to hang out for free. Over the years we cut back on gaming. No Dungeon & Dragons gaming group here? No problem, our sales are higher than they have ever been due to D&D currently being popular and being on the Stranger Things show. The Magic players that do not play at stores but with their friends at their homes spend far more than the ones that do. Casual players spend money. Our younger in store Magic players spend far more than the adults do. They haven’t conformed to the older players that are diehards’ perception of take a store for all they can. Meaning, get the prize, support and spend as little as possible.

Gaming stores years ago started letting people hang out for free and the perception was that was the way things are. It was a mistake. The store that I went to before Dragonfire Comics, Games Plus did that and even as a young person with Magic the Gathering  just starting to get very popular I noticed there was large crowds playing but hardly anyone if anyone actually did, bought anything.  It is like Free Comic Book Day. Sure there is a crowd for it but the perception is take everything one can and not spend a dime.

As a comic/gaming store I need the various publishers to give the perception that people should buy their product. Comics need to be thought as cool and entertaining. Magic the Gathering suddenly announced a new Masters set, the Ultimate Masters. This year’s last Master set and the sets before that are $10 a pack. Next month they are over $13 a pack. That is a heck of a price jump leaving many Magic players to feel the set is not worth it. I am totally stunned by the big increase.

Movies seem to over shadow comics at times. Marvel seems fine putting out movies with big budgets while letting their comics just languish with cover variants to make up sales. DC seems fine with being in second place. Image Comics is fine with being in third living off the Walking Dead popularity and not trying anything new. At least that is my perception.

I hope in 2019 to see some more excitement comic wise. Maybe the next part of what Geoff Johns has planned after Doomsday Clock with get people super excited? Let us see the return of the JSA with him writing it. That would make my day.

About Rich Johnston

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

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