Introduction

So you wanna open a comic shop part one: an introduction and outline.

It should come as no surprise to anyone that we (Scott & Anthony) talk a lot of comic book stores. We talk to store owners about comic book stores, we talk to comic book fans about comic book stores, and we coordinate the Harry Kremer Award for Outstanding Retailer for the Joe Shuster Awards.

Over the years we have both worked for comic book stores in both a retail and consultancy capacity and we have amassed quite a bit of knowledge about the retail side of the industry.

One of the things that we hear a lot from regular comic book fans is “boy, I would love to have my own store”. Then we ask why they don’t have their own store the answer is “I don’t even know where to start”. So after more and more of these interactions over the years we wanted to have a column that talked about the kinds of things that you’ll want to think about if you are considering diving into the wacky and wonderful world of comic book retail.

There are fewer than 3000 stores in North America (way down from almost 10,000 in the early 90s) but the industry is booming and comic books are more mainstream than ever. We need more people who have a passion for the industry to enter into retail and run great stores.  So we hope that these columns will be informative and helpful for you.

For the rest of 2015 we will be talking each month about a different topic of interest in relation to opening up your own comic book shop. We think that we will cover a good range with the following topics, but if there is something else you are itching to find out about then let us know.

  1. Introduction (this post)
  2. Testing The Waters: One Day Shows
  3. Inventory And Distributors
  4. Store: Layout and Location
  5. Customer Service and HR
  6. Events: Signings, Gaming, FCBD
  7. Conventions
  8. How To Gauge Success
  9. What Will This Cost
  10. Conclusion
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Anthony Falcone
Anthony Falcone is a freelance writer living in Toronto and he is the Ayatollah of Rocknrolla. You should definitely follow him on Twitter.
Articles: 216

16 Comments

  1. Great topic, I’ve always wanted to open up a comic book shop in the province of Quebec to offer something different. I think we really need to look towards the future of stores from a different perspective. How about a lounge in a certain section of the store (Similar to Indigo) that people can read, have something to eat and drink while at the shop (panini and coffee anyone?) , free workshops with signings and regular panels to bring in new clients, and please have good social skills if you are planning on opening up a shop, it’s the single most important factor ! Too bad a few places I visit lack in many of these areas. It’s as though they are stuck in the 1990’s and haven’t moved on from there. And what about the digital and direct sale comics making their way into our homes that are cutting out the comic shop from the picture. Changes are coming, and boy oh boy some of these shops are going to be caught off guard in about 5-10 years from now. Comic shops have to be more than a comic and magic shop if they’d like to do more than survive…they have to be the hub of pop culture and strive to be that engine for change and creativity !

  2. It sounds fascinating, I’ll look forward to this feature.

    One thing I would suggest to do is talk to the guys who have been around for awhile, while you still have the chance. I’m referring to shop owners like Tim at World’s Collide (formerly Unicorn Comics Oshawa) who seems to want to sell his store and retire. Interviews with people like him, one of the members of the old (and briefly active) O.R.C.B.R. A. association of comic retailers could be very informative.
    Sadly some of the members of this association have passed on, like the wonderful gent Harry Kremer.

  3. Why bother? As someone who has worked in the retail field since 1977 I can tell you this, opening a store of ANY TYPE these days is a losing proposition. If you want to make a living selling comics these days then your best bet is to do it online via e-bay, Heritage Auctions and/or by going to local and regional shows/conventions. Truthfully you’d probably have to do all of the above, and then your income won’t be all that great either.

    Why am I so negative? Current trends in the retail field have left me with this conclusion, the comic book business is DEAD/DYING, and the retail field isn’t far behind.

    Consider this: Major retailers are closing their doors every day because they can’t make enough money to stay afloat. Radio Shack is the latest, but Best Buy just announced they are closing all their Future Shop stores in Canada (some will reopen as Best Buy stores), Target is closing all their stores in Canada, Sears/K-Mart is continuing to close stores in the U.S., and these are just the ones off the top of my head. Locally I continue to read stories in the Buffalo News about small retailers who are shutting their doors because they can’t make ends meet. Translation: It’s a terrible time to be in the retail business.

    There are other factors as well. The comic book business is DEAD. Back in the high flying 1980’s and 1990’s you could make a decent living selling comics, but times have changed dramatically since then. The distribution wars of the early 2000’s killed the goose that laid the golden egg. Now comics can’t be bought anywhere EXCEPT at a comic book store or a chain book store (if any are still left in you town after the demise of Borders, Walden Books, and B. Dalton chains amongst others). Comics used to be everywhere, now you can’t find them anywhere. What this means is that the industry itself is having trouble staying afloat because titles that used to sell 300,000 copies a month these days barely sell over 20,000 copies. That’s not good people!

    The continuing rise and popularity of Digital Comics means that soon, very soon nobody is going to want or even need to go to their local comic book store to buy comics. This trend isn’t limited to comics either. I continue to read stories in the Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg Business Week about “Cord Cutters” and a whole generation of individuals who have grown accustomed to not watching TV on well, a TV. Guess what? Those same individuals have also probably not read a real comic either, or they’ve gotten their latest comic fix for FREE via the internet – and that’s another issue that’s contributing to the demise of comics, as well as other entertainment media.

    We have an ENTIRE GENERATION of people who believe that they shouldn’t pay for anything or should pay next to nothing for their daily everyday needs and items. I see this everyday at my retail job. People don’t want to pay more than a few dollars for anything! That $59.99 comforter by Nautica (which is discounted from it’s $99.00 list price) is too expensive! I want it for $15.00! What do you mean you can’t mark it down?? You guys are crooks! You charge too much! Ect, ect, ect, … Imagine what they think they should pay for a comic book? $4.99 Cover Price?? I’ll give you 50¢ because that’s all it’s worth! If you think I’m making this up – I’m not.

    The internet has killed and/or is continuing to kill small retailers even more than big mega retailers such as Walmart, which is also struggling to survive I might add. If the biggest retailer in the world is having trouble, what chance do you have?

    The bottom line is this – opening a store of any type these days is just plain crazy. Your best bet is to sell comics online, and travel to regional shows/conventions. IF you make enough money doing that, then maybe you might be able to afford to open a retail store, with all the overhead that that entails. Oh, and you will need to continue your online business and conventions, because like it or not they will be subsidizing your physical store, because chances are your physical store won’t make enough money to support itself. Does that mean there aren’t exceptions to the rule? NO. There are exceptions, but
    THEY ARE VERY RARE.

    You want to open a comic book store? GOOD LUCK! The odds of you succeeding are slim to none. Sorry, I hate to rain on your parade, but someone needs to give you a reality check!

  4. I wouldn’t want to open a retail store either, of any kind, let alone a comic shop.it’s an incredibly hard business.
    the Canadian economy is already hitting the skids. the oil collapse is going to have a huge effect on canada, and free money can only get you so far. real estate is skidding in all markets except Toronto and Vancouver. that’s coming soon too.

  5. Whoa! This must be the “glass half empty” thread. I don’t think any one here would disagree that opening a comic shop… or any shop isn’t a challenge. But the reasons you suggest are much more ingrained into our psyche than people realize. The fact that governments are indebted to banks, that consumerism is a linear model that cannot be sustained and the fact that people have superficial values all points to… incredible hubris:

    https://youtu.be/WfGMYdalClU

    However, I don’t think this is where Mr. Falcone was head with his write up. Comics are fun! So it goes to reason that many collectors fantasize about opening their own store. Logic or reason have nothing to do with why people behave as they do.

  6. Walmart is having it’s share of problems and while it hasn’t hit the financial wall yet like Sears/K-Mart, it can’t continue on it’s current path too much longer or IT WILL end up like Sears/K-Mart.

    Walmart has major issues with overstock goods – merchandise stuck in it’s stockrooms that’s never hit the floor and much of it is now outdated and needs to be marked down, which means the company is going to take a huge hit on it’s profitability in the short term.

    Long term, Walmart has staffing issues, and a perception that working and shopping at it’s stores is a major pain in the butt. It also has a big problem with it’s selection of goods in many categories, the result of a previous CEO who cut back on the number of items sold in their stores.

    Additionally Walmart’s CEO listed just this week 8 things that his company needed to improve upon, and some of the items on his list include two of the things I mentioned above. He also mentioned that customers think the layout of their stores is hard to shop and that they have a perception their stores are always dirty.

    Again, these are little things that at first seem minor, but remember for a company the size of Walmart these “minor” things can translate into much larger “Massive Issues” in a very short span of time, simply because large organizations take longer to respond to such issues.

    Remember, I mentioned in my original post that I work in the retail field, and I keep very close tabs on what’s going on because it could and has in the past affected my own employment and/or potential employment in the future. I’m always looking to improve my financial position like everyone else is these days, and in order for me to do so I need to know which companies are doing good and which are not.

    Maybe Walmart isn’t in “dire straights” right now like Sears/K-Mart is, but they are not as far off from being so as you might think. The data breach at Target two years ago has pretty much put them not far behind Sears/K-Mart.

    I’m not making any of this stuff up, I get the majority of my information from reliable sources such as the Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg Business Week, and I get additional “gossip” from people I know who work for other retailers. While I don’t always believe everything these people tell me, a lot of the time their input along with material I read leads me to draw a more concrete picture of what’s really happening at other retailers.

    And yes, Walmart is “struggling to survive”, as is every other retailer these days since the emergence of the internet as a way to buy goods and services. Some are doing better than others, but ultimately how upper management reacts to each company’s problems will determine wether or not they will still be around 10 years from now.

    10 years from now I predict that Target, Sears, K-Mart, Toys R Us, Lord & Taylor, and Best Buy will be long gone. Walmart might still be around, but it could be in a vastly different form – perhaps even a much smaller company than it currently is today.

  7. Ok cool so Walmart is dead.

    Less competition for successful comic retailers like myself because man is this business ever hot!

  8. transition with digital currency–rare coin market hotter then ever. ditto probably comic books.

  9. After reading David Harszlak’s current and future gloom report of the entire retail world, you may want to sell your comics and find the book of Eli.
    Actually, he has some valid points but it’s certainly skewed with pessimism. Retailers are suffering but many are not.

    My wife and I have separate retail businesses that are doing great, We’ve been self employed for many years and have learned how to make a business succeed. We’ve certainly had our share of ups and downs but most of the downs were by our own doing. Meaning, we were under funded, didn’t know the product or service, or the worse one was thinking if you open it, they will come.
    If you ever watch the business show called “The Profit” he has 3 simple things that determine if a business will work or not. People, product, and process. It’s very true, but there are 3 more factors to success that include being properly funded, location, and having some luck.

    With all this being said, (at 50) I am going to open a comic book store. It’s been in the works for several years now and I’m finally scouting locations. Being realistic, I know what David Harszlak said to be true regarding supplementing store sales with internet sales and perhaps conventions.
    My plan is to make it such a unique and inviting store that looks like a franchise, and people will want to come and see it. When I tell (non comic people) about the business plan, as well as look and feel, they get excited.
    To me, it’s obvious why many comic shops fail. They suck! No inventory, terrible hours, overrun by gamers, no customer service, poor aesthetics, etc. I usually don’t want to go in any when I’m in a different city because they are all so similar, and lack personality.

    Although it may sound as if I’m tooting my horn, I’m not, I’m speaking from real life experiences of mine and other business people I know.

    I’ve been dealing in comics for decades and do know the market very well. It’s not even close to being dead and most likely won’t be in my life time. It’s demise has been predicted in every decade starting in the 40’s. I believe this is a great time to open a retail comic store as long as you are realistic about goals, based on the 6 factors listed above.
    Comic stores DO NOT have a failure rate that is any higher than any other small business. Most small businesses fail at the hand of bad management/ownership.

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