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THE NAKED TRUTH ABOUT COMIC SHOPS…

Comic shops as a business are just not very…business-like. You will hear owners complain about customer loyalty, but then not really do anything to inspire such.

For example: The shop I frequent is part of chain that covers ‘The Valley of the Sun’. Yet it’s headquarters/main super-store are located in Mesa, a suburb of Phoenix. (And with only a fraction of Phoenix’s population.) This is the store that gets adequate stock on new releases and peripheral merchandise. The other stores are treated like red-headed step children.

I have a subscription box at the location I frequent in Phoenix. Comics and related products being what they are, they don’t always ship on time, or in some instances, at all. So, I always shop for more than what is in my box on a weekly basis. Here’s where the problems begin. Often there are books that are so hyped that it seems overkill to add it to a pull list. These usually take the shape of a particular creative team that will be working an ongoing book for a limited amount of time.

Mark Millar’s ‘Kick Ass’ was a limited series that has gotten a lot of press. (Including its own ‘viral’ video on YouTube) This guy has been selling very well for some time now at any comics company, so you’d think this would be a no-brainer right?
Wrong. Sold out the day it came out. I usually get there before 5pm and the majority of shoppers for the day, but it made no difference. But wait, you say, wasn’t this a more mature-leaning book? Have you taken a look at the demographics for who actually buys comics anymore? It’s not kids. I don’t ever see a kid in a comics shop unless he’s buying some card game.

I suppose someone could have come in during the early afternoon and bought up a bunch of copies, but that usually doesn’t fly there. What is more likely is that they mis-ordered in another round of budget tightening and the ‘main’ store in Mesa needed more, so they were transferred out.

I was going to have dinner that night with a friend and we had just gotten off the phone as I pulled into the parking lot of the shop. He, in turn, was doing the same at a different part of town. As I knew where he was, (and the store he frequented used to be a chain, but is now down to a single super-store in the center of Phoenix) I rang him up and asked for a copy from there.

When I went to cash out I mentioned it to the manager. He informed me that yes, they were out and gave me a look along with a pregnant pause that indicated,”What do you want me to do about it?”

I didn’t pursue it, but as a marketing professional all I could think of was that this is why you have no customer loyalty. He didn’t offer an explanation (Diamond shorted us.) or an apology. No effort was made to try and retain a sale from the inquiry. (Yes, we are out, but we expect more in later, or can I call one of the other stores to see if I can get you a copy sent over? Can I save a copy for you or would you like to add it to your subscription list?) Instead it was implied that because I didn’t already have it on my list that I was S.O.L. If the implication was truly that I shouldn’t expect anything for certain unless I put it on my pull list then he really did himself a disservice. If that’s the case then why spend the money for a brick & mortar location? You’ve just said you’re nothing more that a subscription service. I shouldn’t have to shop for anything then. (You get the idea.)

The thing is that I’ve worked for comic distributors in the distant past and I have a good idea of retailer thinking. Unfortunately it hasn’t changed since I moved on. Even though their audience has aged and hasn’t necessarily been replaced by a new generation, retailers still buy like their customers are in high school. Spend only in the summer and Xmas time. Publishers certainly don’t follow that pattern any more. So, pulling things back the rest of the time just results in lost sales. (Even if they reorder from a distributor the discount goes down after initial orders, so they still lose money.)

I can empathize with their plight as we suffer through this economic ‘slowdown’. (Thanks ‘W’.) However, this wasn’t the case of a book that didn’t have a prescedent and they didn’t know how to order. This along with an attitude that everything is the customer’s fault is what is erroding the customer base away. (Along with Amazon and other online shops that order better and don’t have to pay for brick & mortar locations.)

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One Response to “THE NAKED TRUTH ABOUT COMIC SHOPS…”

  1. I can empathize with your situation very much; I’ve learned not to overestimate the “no brainer” situation most of the time. I understand the logistical problems for shop owners, but adding things to pull lists that will only be temporary additions is always more trouble than it is worth, if not futile. I keep waiting for the perfect online system for managing pull lists to pop up, but have not seen one yet. The whole process of getting a comic from the publisher to the customer is so flawed (printing to order, for one); theoretically, to guarantee getting a book, you have to go through Diamond’s catalog every month (after BUYING it), order each book you want, hope it gets enough orders to be printed, hope Diamond ships it to you, and then hope the retailer pulls it aside for you. As a retailer, I can see how easy it can be to quickly become numb concerning the customer, especially when you keep getting screwed by your distributor, and hey since they don’t care, and since they publishers don’t seem to care …. besides, fanboys are going to keep coming in and buying Ultimate-X-Crisis-Invasion no matter how you treat them. Most of the time. Fortunately, I have a really great shop nearby, where the owners really care about making you happy – in fact, they left the shop they worked at because they hated the way the customers were dismissed. Within a year, their new store had taken off and the competition is now out of business. Sadly, though, this is a rarity in comics.


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