Comic Store In Your Future – Nine Years Later

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

We celebrated nine years of Rodman Comics recently. We had a Rod Deals sale to celebrate and it went great. I cannot think of anything throughout the whole day that was a negative. People were happy and they were spending money. Makes me even more excited for our next Rod Deals on Black Friday. Odd fact, our Rod Deals before and after the ones we have on Black Friday do better. One of the reasons is because we do not open earlier as many stores do for Black Friday. I can be on my feet from 8 in the morning getting ready for the sale, open at 11, stay until 9 at night or later wrapping things up, but much more than that I think I would be too tired and cranky. I could have others open early that day, though I want people to enjoy Thanksgiving without having to open at the crack of dawn the next day or earlier. Who knows, maybe one day in the future I will pump a gallon of caffeine in me and give it a try. Not this year at least.

Something else happened on Rod Deals. An employee pointed something out to me that will make future Rod Deals more efficient. Shows that even after being in business for years there are still things to learn. Our sale prep over the years has really improved and keeps on improving.

I confess, when I read about a comic store closing on Bleedingcool at times I wonder will there be a day when Rodman Comics is the subject of the article? I have learned over the years there is going to be up and downs. Often many of the ups and downs are out of a store’s hands. The publishers will at times lose touch with what readership would like. The market is heavily pumped up on variants. Marvel currently seems to want a store’s money and no input from the stores that sell their product. Even after Axel Alonso was replaced by C.B. Cebulski, Marvel is staying the course and not changing. That scares me. Now Kevin Feige will have more to do with Marvel’s publishing I hope that is good. I never got the impression he gave a rat’s behind about the Marvel movies source material, the comics, so that does worry me. That said I am hoping to see Marvel’s publishing improve. Maybe he will ask why so many Spider-man books? Maybe Marvel will trim their output and focus more on comics that have high sales instead of pumping out everything and anything. A comic store owner can dream. DC without Geoff Johns seems directionless after he stepped down as DC Entertainment president and chief.

Our Diamond Comics order for December was quite the surprise due to how low our order is. I did a double-take because it also has us spending more on DC Comics than Marvel. Usually with Marvel putting out far more product that does not happen. Plus, what was that tease Marvel comic that could sell a million comics that Cebulski teased about month ago? Seems a little fishy now.

After nine years of being open, what have I learned? Change happens whether we want it or not. We have to change to keep with the times and changes. Marvel seems to over hype and overproduce. The X Men are popular again thanks to Hickman’s House and Powers of X. So of course, we are going to have a bunch of new mutant related books along with another new first issue of X Men. Marvel is all about why have one title when four or more can be done.

We had to change. I had to change. Our first year was a slaughter. My plan and vision for the store was not one that would allow the store to continue. A polite way of saying what I thought would work did not.

I ordered heavy on first issues when we first opened thinking long term. Meaning when a few years went by and new people wanted to try a book we had a good chance of having the first issue. Problem was that Marvel kept renumbering and having any previous issues from a re-launch, was now dead product as people focused on a current run. Once the New 52 hit it was a much-needed boost for comic sales here though no one cared for the pre-New 52 issues. This is still true with DC. DC Rebirth did great though it meant most of the previous New 52 was dead product.

Marvel keeps us guessing with their none stop first issues and over production. Doctor Doom I thought would sell well. For us I found out the hard way I was wrong. Non-returnable means we eat the unsold copies.

When we first opened, we had free gaming. Free gaming for boardgames, Heroclix, Magic the Gathering, Star Wars X Wing miniatures, Dicemasters, Dungeon & Dragons, and more. A colossal waste of our time and money. This may not be true elsewhere though it was for us. “Free” meant hang out for free. Many gamers never think of having a place to play as a place to spend money. Many gamers have tried to get discounts and more prizes from us. Seems it’s a mentality of take a store for as much as possible, who cares if it costs the store money. If the store goes out of business not their problem. Hosting gaming never resulted in higher sales of a product. Dungeons and Dragons is doing the best it has ever done for us. Why? Because it is popular. The Stranger Things show really helps its popularity. When we first opened the role-playing game Pathfinder was popular and Dungeons & Dragons was hurting. After D&D’s 5th edition came out and Stranger Things hit the airwaves the opposite is true. The people who played D&D here once in a blue moon might buy something. When they did it often was a soda. Not enough to move the sales needle. The players who had pull boxes for comics neglected them and abandoned them. It was getting so bad with one group I finally said it will cost three dollars to play here. Less than a dollar an hour to play. They never returned. Those are not customers that a store wants, those type of people are freeloaders. Are they doing anything really wrong? No, there are plenty of people out there willing to take people for everything they can. It may be morally wrong though it is not illegal. As a business we simply cannot allow that. If one is unable to play where they live for free and needs to play at a business then there is value to playing there.

Gaming events became pay to play. Fewer people showed per event on average, though much more money was made. Magic the Gathering even stopped having their yearly free magic event and the magic players failed to even notice.

So why did we have free gaming events? Because that is what other gaming stores were doing. A poor reason for doing something.

One of the more foolish and headstrong ideas I had, when we opened, was no online sales. I wanted everything possible to be available for walk-in traffic. Now if a one per store comic arrives, I often put it online to get as much as possible for it. For us, odds are if a new comic, such as when there was the one per store Spawn comic variant for over a hundred or the Marvel Disney one per store comic that went for over two hundred dollars are pretty much only able to get those prices online.

For us online sales is a great revenue stream. That said not every store uses online sales. They feel their walk-in traffic is more than enough.

Once I was going to write up a column about how much work owning a store was. Then I realized it is as much work as one wants to put into it. I have been to stores where the owner or person in charge is playing games. Not helping a potential customer or trying to sell something, just too busy playing a game. We had another store in the area who actually made us look better. We would have people come in surprised we acknowledged them and were helpful because at another store they had no idea who owned it or worked there because everyone just played games and acted like they were not even there. One person said they spoke up and asked for help and a person threw their cards down and said to the group he was playing with I will be right back like it was a bother to help. That line of thinking totally boggles my mind. When I person comes in here obviously, we should be trying to be helpful and sell material. Selling products keeps the bills paid, not playing games.

To be honest I most likely spend too much time working. It is habit. People often think once an owner is out of his store, he or she is not doing any work for the store. Sunday after closing, I left and worked on getting our next sales ready for Black Friday. It is over a month away though there is work to get done. Putting in preparation does help. I am alright with working a lot as long as it pays. That said things happen. All the prep and work in the world will not help sales if there is a blizzard going on during Black Friday. Two Rod Deals ago there was a hail storm, that put a damper on sales. A lot of work and a lot of luck helps a business.

My advice for people who open up a store is to experiment. Every location will have a different customer base. With so many comics available the challenge will be matching people that are interested in comics with the ones they will continue to be interested in. Some things we have tried have not worked as we had hoped. I learned to swallow my pride and keep on trying. The things that we tried and learned were good for the store we learned by trying. Not everyone will love a store. The more people that come through the doors the more likely more and more people will dislike it for reasons that are beyond your control. You might simply have been talking to a customer who the person decided they did not like. You will have those that support what you do. Just like when I write these. Some people will like them and some will not. It is just the way it is. I try to not read the comments and just move on to writing the next column. At times people will email or tell me what is said or I will read the comments. One post claimed they had trouble reading these and they were a teacher. One of my customers joked then they must not have been a good teacher and we laughed. Some of those that played for free here in the past and were upset that we stopped having free gaming went elsewhere and complained. We received more customers that spent more than they ever spent here, thanks to them. It was like putting a Rodman Comics poster where they went to play. Years ago, former Nascar racer Rusty Wallace once told a small group during breakfast that once people stop talking about you then you know you are done. Meaning if people are still talking about you, you know you are relative. If people are talking about Rodman Comics then it has meaning. If no one is talking about the store then no one cares enough about it to shop there.

Every upcoming sale we have I try to go for a new sales record. Some say I aim too high. I am trying to make sure to push and do the best we can to get the best results. Once it gets routine, I feel people will get bored of the sales we have along with myself.

I do think of the future. When I first opened, I had the dream we will expand into a bigger store. Now years later I do not know how much of a benefit that would be. Selling on the Internet means none of the buyers care how big a store is, they just want what they bought. I have been talking with our customers about next year’s Free Comic Book Day. The feedback I have been getting has surprised me. My regulars I have talked to are just here for the sale and all the “new” people just get the freebies and never come back or come back for the next Free Comic Book Day. So, we are looking at trying something different. Why do we still have Free Comic Book Day? Because that is what the other comic stores are doing. Again, a poor reason for doing something.

Then there is the fact that God willing Rodman Comics will be celebrating ten years in business next year. I have to figure out something hopefully unique and fun for the store’s anniversary. Along the way, I need to map out what we will be doing before then. Nine years, it has been a wild ride. Over the years, it has been crazy at times. We have had a federal investigator here (we were not in any kind of trouble). I remember when he announced who he was the two customers that were here, their heads quickly looked over wondering what was going on. Just days ago, we had a person come in asking for our help trying to make her the cover girl for Maximia. She is in the military and set it up so the Wounded Warriors would get donations. After checking it out we agreed. We put the link up on our Facebook page.

Here is a piece of advice for everyone who stops in a comic store and asks them to display a flyer. The letters on the flyer should be easily readable. Meaning I have so many flyers that we display that no one looks at because they are so small. The text is at times is so very small, the same size as newspaper lettering is not going to be looked at. Make the flyer “loud”. Meaning have it catch a person’s eye. Small graphics means a small chance of being noticed. When we do flyers for our sales the word Sale is big followed with graphics that are to call attention to it. And we do not just have one flyer about our sale in our window. One is also at the checkout counter and another placed in the store to try to get people to notice. Facebook and online are also great ways to get the word out though the best way to get people excited about our upcoming sales is to actually talk to people about it. Any questions are resolved right then and people get more excited about the sale then if they simply read about it online.

I keep toying with a second store. I have a bunch of ideas. From crazy ideas for trying to see if Ankeny, Iowa would be interested in a comic museum. Riverside, Iowa has the future birthplace of Captain Kirk, so anything is possible. Maybe we could host a comic convention. Many other ideas run through my head. I still feel that great comics are still being made and with effort we can get more and more people into comics.

Let us discover what the future holds by trying to prepare and guide the outcome. The past helps shape the future. What we have learned we can use. Every day is an adventure.

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About Rich Johnston

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

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