Why isn’t there a huge chain of Comic Stores?

Dungeon

It seems that there is one debate that never goes away with comics.  No it isn’t who is the best Superhero.  That is a debate for another day.  The debate I am talking about is the Comic Book Shop.

People are passionate about their comic book shop.  Some shops are clean and bright that are well stocked with friendly and helpful staff.  Other shops are dark and dingy holes in the wall, where the staff act like tyrannical overlords and customers are intimidated to enter their domain.  These descriptions aren’t 100% accurate.  I am just describing some of the stereotypes associated with comic book shops.  In actuality many comic shops differ from those extremes because each shop is run differently by their respective owners.

Recently on Comic Book Daily, Leigh and Anthony both had columns that dealt with comic book shops.  Both columns featured heavy debate from our readers and this got me thinking about comic shops.  The first question that popped in my head was “Why isn’t there a huge chain of comic book stores”?

I do realize there are several comic book shops owned by one owner (or a group of owners).  But I was thinking specifically about a huge multi-national chain of comic book shops that would be a huge corporation.  Kind of like the Disney Store, but for comics and geek chic merchandise.  Wait a minute… kind of like a Disney Store but with comics.  Well, Disney owns Marvel.  Disney also knows how to market and retail products.  Why doesn’t Disney open a huge chain of comic book shops that could be in every mall in North America?

Before you get out the pitch forks and torches to come after me, let me explain a little bit further.  I am not slagging the local comic book shop.  That isn’t my intention with this article.  My local comic book shop is one of my favourite places to go.  It is what a comic book shop should strive to be.  But it doesn’t matter what your business is called, or where your location is, there are some customers who will never, ever darken your door.  As much as we fight against it, there is still a stigma and stereotype attached to the comic shop.  Some people will not enter one, no matter what.

The other issue is a comic shop is scary.  Sure you may feel comfortable there, but some people are scared to enter.  It doesn’t matter if they are men, women or kids.  It can be intimidating.  A comic book shop is like a clubhouse.  A bunch of people hang out there with similar interests.  If you are new to the hobby, you don’t want to look foolish to the people who are already part of the “club”, no matter how inviting they are.

That is why a large chain of comic shops in every mall in North America would succeed.  Since customers are in the mall already, it is less intimidating to enter the store to just browse.  A comic shop at a separate location takes effort to get there.  Either you have to drive or take transit to get there.  This can be a hassle if you just want to go in and take a look around.  In a mall it is much easier, since you are there already.

Another benefit of having a chain of stores is the layout of the store would be standard for the chain.  The stores would also carry the same product in every store.  The employees at the store would also have a standard they would have to follow for behaviour and appearance (much like the Disney Store.  They look uniform and are always very polite and friendly).

The_Disney_Store
(photo courtesy Disney Wiki)

The Disney Store already retails a lot of Marvel merchandise.  You can buy Marvel action figures, clothing and books there.  It wouldn’t take much for them to add a comic rack to sell each months offerings.  But obviously they would only sell Marvel.  I doubt DC would let their comics be sold at “the house of mouse”.  So who could sell everything?

Diamond Distributing.

Most retailers buy their inventory from Diamond.  If Diamond wanted to, they could distribute the product themselves in their own chain of stores.  Selling direct to the customer would mean more profit, which would offset the cost of having the retail chain.  They could still sell to the local comic shop market too.  I think it would be the best way to distribute comics to every type of consumer profile.

I don’t see this happening anytime soon, but with the popularity of comics and geek culture right now, it could happen in the future.

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Ed Campbell
Ed Campbell is a collector of comics and action figures, primarily G.I. Joe. He is also a Cosplayer with Thor and Captain America as just a few of the characters in his arsenal. When not fulfilling his Comic Book Daily duties, he's "working for a living", volunteering his time for his local Fall Fair, and spending as much time with his family as possible. Use the links below to get in contact with him.
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9 Comments

  1. Fascinating commentary and much more interesting than my reply will be.

    Comic stores have been on the decline (I’m sure you know) for about twenty years. The reasons being speculation calculated to dupe the young collector, ebay and other internet outlets and the dwindling spiral of comic stores limiting sales to the public. Sales on comics are miserable. It could be that the gross on one major movie is greater than all the comic sales from Marvel and DC.

    Mile High used to have stores all over the place but I suppose there was more profit in selling on line. There used to be a bunch of Silver Snails too; now there is just one, and a smaller one, on a second floor.

  2. Diamond opening stores is a kin to Apple. Working both the retail and the wholesale side.
    The problem with this is the small guys have a tiny piece of the profit, while the big guys get the lion’s share.
    When you pair this with in house promotions, sales and other events the small guys just cant compete…and eventually pushes them out. One reason you dont see a lot of independent Apple dealers.
    Its corporate nature to feed the bottom line with no regard to who it hurts.

    Personally I like to see wholesale doing wholesale and retail doing retail, when you mix these two it crushes store owners and we need more entrepreneurs in this country not less.

    My 2c.

  3. If comic stores were a chain and they all had customer friendly layouts and staff maybe there wouldn’t be a need for collectors to go to ebay and other online sources. You can buy books and toys online, yet people go to Chapters or ToysRus all the time. People like to go shopping where they feel comfortable. Going into a new comic book store can be intimidating, you never know what you are going to get. But, if you see the same store name as in your home town you may be more likely to go into it.

    Were the multiple Silver Snails and Mile Highs run the same? Did they have the same layout and general staff attitudes and knowledge? I only ask to see if this may be why they didn’t succeed? or, possibly the money wasn’t put into geographical marketing research like big name store do. Which for a small store can be a big blow to the wallet, so it makes sense if they didn’t do that.

  4. I don’t know why the Silver Snail stores didn’t succeed. I know there was one in downtown Toronto, another in mid-Toronto (Eglinton and Yonge), one in Ottawa and I believe there was one in Hamilton as well. I had visited only the ones in Toronto. They did not look the same. The Queen Street store seemed to be its flagship store. The midtown one was probably aimed at people in that neighbourhood.

    I know that Andromeda got into significant financial trouble and the distributing unit came to an end. Its flagship store on Queen had a For Sale sign on the side of the building. I am not aware of the details of the business at that time. However, the financial problems may have had something to do with the other stores coming to an end (or maybe it was something else entirely).

    My assumption, however, is that it involved profit margins. The owner likely felt that he could run one store at a greater profit than running several stores.

    I don’t know what happened with Mile High. I entered one of their stores when visiting Baltimore. It was at the waterfront, and I just stumbled across it, buying nothing. I later found out that there were many locations. I believe they no longer exist, or if they exist it is not in the same way as before.

    They have a strong online presence. The prices are obscene but they have a lot of comics. If you are trying to complete a run or maybe buy your kid a Christmas present, Mile High can be the way to go. Again, I simply assume that on the net they don’t have to pay as much rent, find as many trustworthy employees, send comics from store to store and deal with the problems of decentralization.

  5. I have been to the Silver Snail in Hamilton and the Silver Snail on Queen St. and both have different layouts. The only thing the same was the store logo. There was one thing I liked about the association between the Silver Snail stores. It seemed that if there was a comic creator signing in a Toronto Silver Snail, he would sometimes come up to the Hamilton store to sign.

    Midtown Comics has a large footprint in New York City. I’ve only been to the Times Square location so I cannot comment on what the other stores look like. Based on the pictures from their website (http://www.midtowncomics.com/info.asp?tour=times-square), there is seems to be an uniform look to all their stores.

  6. As an aside, maybe I am the weird guy here but I go to Chapters/Indigo to browse and then look online to see if I can find a better price (which I normally do). However, buying the monthly floppies are a different. It is better to buy them from your local comic shop so you better feel comfortable shopping there.

  7. I hope that this “Chain” or “Big Box” Comics ‘R’ Us doesn’t happen. Every Disney store I have been in, have way too many (un)’helpful’ cast members, that seem too hyped up and excited. I think all the staff drink a 6 pack of RedBull and throw in a couple of cappuccino’s before starting work. I can imagine asking a 19 year old staff member about a Golden Age issue of Whiz Comics and getting back that blank stare. Also I think with a chain store, that would take away our bargaining power that we usually have with our LCBS. It would probably be full retail and taxes, instead of “Will you take $20 for this $25 dollar book?”. Sad day for comic fans if this happens….

  8. Anthony, you have an interesting argument on the flexibility of the LCBS. Having the ability to offer a price for your purchase is always a benefit. There are many retailers who are not willing to negotiate.

    My idea of the Big Box Comic Shop would be more like fast food comics. You could buy the latest issues, or t shirts, or action figures. I couldn’t see them having back issues, or any “aged” comics. Graded comics would be the extent of what they would carry for older comics. The Big Box store would be perfect for the new collector, or the casual collector. The LCBS would be set up for the hardcore collector, which that store can be intimidating to new-comers to the hobby.

    I do agree with you about Disney cast-members. They can come off a little strong at times. There are certain times I am in there with my kids and the Disney attitude makes me dizzy. I can understand why they have to treat customers that way, but they could tone it down a bit.

  9. IMO, it is definitely the proliferation of web based selling + the decline of interest in comics that has spelt doom for the bricks and mortar retailer. I’ve owned several bricks and mortar retail businesses and it is brutally cut throat. If a comic shop doesn’t have to have a physical location, from a business stand point, then why have one. You get rid of all that expensive overhead. Insurance, staff, rent, fixtures, utilities… So you see the big migration to web based selling.

    The only way I see retail working well for comic shops is a communal environment, similar to what antique dealers do. You get good selection, good variety… But it only works for old books and not currents.

    I personally would love to open a small, easy to fill comic shop, but the prospect of ridiculous amounts of work plus high potential for failure just scares me too much.

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