As many of your know, Scott and I have the privilege of sitting on the selection committee for the Harry Kremer Award for Outstanding Comic Book Retailers. Part of the Joe Shuster Awards, the Kremer is given each year to a brick and mortar retail comic book shop in Canada that exemplifies the absolute best in comic book retail. We thought that touching upon our work with the Shuster Awards would be a good way to discuss success, and how you know that you’ve found it.
Success, of course, can mean many things to many people. In the simplest terms one might be tempted to quantify success purely in terms of monetary gain. And while a lack of profit will cause you to close up shop, we are constantly hesitant in referring to the success of the local comic book store as a simple matter of whoever makes the most money wins. There are many stores which would not be considered “good” stores (even by their own customers), but they are very profitable. So what does make a store successful if not money and profit?
The Shuster Awards examines stores across Canada and judges on the following criteria:
- Stocking a diverse inventory
- Overall appeal of the physical store and online presence
- Customer Service
- Community Activity
A strong showing in these categories, and making enough money to cover your bills, order new stock, and pay your employees is a pretty good indicator of success.
Stocking a diverse inventory
It is a unique and at times bizarre facet of this medium that 90% of all comic books are a single genre. This would be the equivalent of going on iTunes to buy music and almost every title is rock and roll. It is awesome, but what about jazz, hip hop, folk, classical, and country? You want to offer your customers a wide variety of what the medium has to offer, and you don’t want to miss out on selling to some customers because you have a very narrow focus.
We do understand that this can be difficult at first. The majority of your customers will only want Marvel and DC titles. Many more will grab Image, Dark Horse or IDW offerings, but once you get past the largest companies you need to make a concerted effort to stock and promote small press titles. This can be a bit of a chicken and an egg problem. You might not stock a wide range of products because it doesn’t sell, but if you don’t stock a wide range of products you can’t promote and sell them either.
Overall appeal of the physical store and online presence
This should really go without saying but your store should be clean and organized. People need to feel welcome and be able to find things easily. I know that there are many great “comic caves” that are disgustingly dirty but do great business. You don’t want to be one of those stores. Those store are missing out on customers who don’t want to shop in a dirty store, or don’t want to sift through mislabeled bins to find comics, or don’t want to inhale a decade of dust while passing the shelves. Similarly, you want your website to be clean and up to date. It doesn’t need to be fancy, but should have accurate information about location, phone number, and store hours. You should take some good quality pictures and also provide the customer with information on store events (more about that below).
Again, this should go without saying, but a store needs to have good customer service. Scott and I talked about this more fully here, and everything still applies. Comic Book Guy is funny on the Simpsons, but in real life you’d never set foot in his shop again.
One of the great aspects of this industry is the real sense of community that it does create. Fans, artists, writers, and collectors all travel the world to come together at conventions, but what are you doing locally to promote comics and move the industry forward? What are you doing to give back to your community? Game nights, signings, conventions, and midnight sales are great ways to promote the industry, but what about comics for A’s, supporting libraries, fundraising for a worthy cause, or having a co-op placement with the local high school? Success shouldn’t be measured only by counting your pennies in the back room.
In some ways (once you are able to pay your bills), success and how you define it will be a personal matter. You may decide that having several locations will mean you’ve reached success, or you might think that having enough cash to buy that Amazing Fantasy 15 is success, but we would strongly encourage you also think about how your name would look on the front of a kids’ hockey jersey.