With the increasing popularity of comics, comic book related film and the crawling spread of ‘geek culture’, there’s a rise of people opening comic shops (or ‘stores’ as said by Americans) thinking they’ll make their millions, but end up going tits up. As someone with decades of experiences in retail, distribution, publishing and shopping in these places here’s a wee guide of half a dozen or so do’s and don’ts for people thinking of venturing into retail…
1/ NAMING YOUR DREAM SHOP
This is more important than you think. If you come up with a crap name then nobody is going to remember it. If you also come up with a name that screams ‘sad fanboy’ then you’re going to have a limited clientèle from the off. So no Android’s Dungeon.
2/ WHAT SORT OF SHOP ARE YOU?
Think that just selling comics is all you’ll do? Fine, but what sort of comics? You just going to sell superhero books? Fine, but that person coming in asking for the latest issue of Love and Rockets that can’t find it and is faced with unhelpful staff has just taken a steady 40 or 50 quid a month with them,
That’s a very specific example I used because it’s exactly what happened to me in a shop in Bristol. I walked in, asked about Love and Rockets, got a couple of blank looks. Asked in they have any of the recent books, got more blank looks and at that point left it, walked round to Waterstones who did have some of the recent collections and spent 50 quid there.
So the lesson is that you may think it’s a ‘silly little book’ but know your stuff. You may be turning away custom if all you’re doing is sell superhero comics. Page 45 in Nottingham and Gosh! in London have been in business for decades because they sell a diverse selection of comics alongside superhero comics so learn from them.
3/ WHO DO YOU EMPLOY?
If you open a shop and employ your mate who’s experience is reading a load of X Men comics, watching daytime telly and wanking, then that might not be the most reliable person to look after your business.
And remember, it’s a business you’re running, not a care home for your mates who can’t be arsed finding a job. Can you trust them? Do you think they know their stuff? Can they sell because I’m tired of walking into comic shops across the UK where the staff can’t actually sell what they’ve got on the shelves.
Here’s an example. 20 odd years ago I worked in a comic shop in Bristol. Some lad came in asking for a Hulk comic which we didn’t have, but I spent five minutes pointing a few alternatives out and he spent more money than he was intending to. He drinks down my local today and still remembers me selling him those Hulk comics, and in fact still has them and reads them.
Make the effort. Don’t just sneer at people walking around the shop or constantly stare at them when they’re browsing, something I especially despise. People have walked in your shop, give them a bit of respect.
4 /DON’T TREAT WOMEN AS AN ALIEN RACE
I first took a girlfriend to a comic convention around 1992. On the Saturday she wore a not especially low cut top, but the amount of lads who would be unable to make eye contact with her as she worked our tables was ridiculous. After initially laughing it off she decided to give things a break, and this is only one story in dozens where I’ve seen women walk into shops and be treated like an alien life form.
Here’s a thing. Women buy comics too. They have money. Some even like superhero comics. So when one walks in don’t sit behind the country drooling. Make shopping a comfortable experience and don’t be a creepy wanker.
5/ KEEP THE SHOP CLEAN
You’d think people would get this, but again I’ve walked into shops where there’s a lair of dust over the back issues, or in one case in a shop in Nottingham, a thin lair of grease which I have no idea how it got there but it meant I never, ever went back to it.
It’s not much to ask to even vacuum the carpet once a day if you have one, or run a mop over the floor. People notice these things and like walking into places that aren’t as filthy as a bad fried chicken place.
6/ MAKE IT FUN
Comics as a medium are primarily about entertainment. You’ve opened a shop because you love comics so don’t sit there making your own life, and those coming in, totally miserable. Don’t sit there blaring out Heavy Metal and being miserable, throw in some enthusiasm for the medium and you’ll see people come in, stay and spend money if you do.
I hope I’ve given a few wee tips, but in today’s market where superheroes and comics are very much the mainstream, if you’ve got the right location and the right stock, you should make a good go of your shop. After all ”geek culture” is mainstream and all you have to do is get those lovely punters through your door…..