Thursday, December 22, 2005

The Joys of Your Own Business

Well, this has been a crazy week.

UPS lost (but later found) 11 of our 35 + boxes that were supposed to be coming to our central sorting area. As a result, we weren't able to get the books on the shelves at our DC store until Wednesdy AM, and in Fredericksburg until Wednesday PM. Not a killer, but when you consider how much driving I had to do to get up to DC and back on Wednesday (and part of the way on Tuesday when there was still the CHANCE the books would arrive on that day) it was a real pain. For you see, on a normal Tuesday afternoon, the commute to DC is no big deal. The trick is to get there, get the books, and be on the road by no later than 2:30 or so. If I do that I miss the horrendous rush hour traffic that comes out of the Nation's Capital and I am back to F'burg by no later than 4:00pm or so to begin the sorting, logging in, and putting up of the week's new books.

Given that it is the holiday season, the traffic patterns right now are a bit screwy, so you could hit a traffic jam at any time and at any place on I-95. Which I did yesterday. Further complicating things was the fact that there was a 3 tractor-trailer pile up on I-95 south which closed the interstate for several hours. Luckily I didn't get caught in that mess too much, but it disrupted the flow engouh to make my trip to and from DC a 4 hour slog as opposed to a 2 hour quick round trip. Oh well....

That being said, things here in F'burg really are going well. New people continue to come in the door every day and we are up to 6 or so subscribers with 3-4 regulars that come in each week that have yet to become subscribers (but I think they will...). Add to that the foot traffic that is starting to find the place, and I am quite pleased with where we are right now. And I think things are only going to get better. Our sign will be up on the shopping center facade within 2 weeks, which will help to drive additional foot traffic to the store ("Big Monkey? What the hell is that?"). In addition, our Movie House ad will begin running on December 30.

A good time to be a Big Monkey.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Big Monkeys Forever

Lot's of stuff to report this week, so let's get to it!

Our website is FINALLY 99% completed and ready for the world to see. I'd say 100%, but there are always things that need to be tweaked on these things. That being said, if you haven't visited www.bigmonkeycomics.com, you REALLY need to. Our web designer has really outdone herself. The site is clean, professional, and interactive in a way that most store websites simply are not. Not only does it have the news feeds and links to the Absorbascon (written by chain co-owner Scipio Garling) and Seven Hells! (written by DC store manager Devon Sanders), but it also has several areas where visitors can get involved in free-ranging discussions about all things comic-related. One of the neatest aspects of the site is the "Femme Fatale" section written by, about, and for female fans of the medium. The current discussion center's on Gail Simone's famous "Women in Refrigerators" treatise, and it is provoking some interesting posts.

Our advertising is starting to really have some impact. I tell you, people always say that it pays to advertise, and I could not be a bigger believer in that statement. We are really starting to get a bunch of people in here who would NEVER have known about us if it weren't for our newspaper ad. Once they make the trip to get here, most folks are excited about the store being here and like what it has to offer.

Speaking of advertising, we are going to begin running 7.5 second pre-movie advertisement at the local movie theatre starting December 30. We got the first draft of the ad yesterday, and it is VERY cool. Once we get it finalized, I think I'll slap it up here as a link so you can see it for yourself. Movie advertising technology has REALLY come a long way. When I first went to ask about doing the ad, I figured we'd have a single slide that just popped up there and then faded away. Au contraire! This is a full multi-media experience with text warping in, our logo spinning around, and an announcer touting the importance to the world of Big Monkey Comics. Yup, it's hella cool.

We haven't picked up any new subscribers this week, but I have given out a lot of the subscription forms. And I figure that we will get at least a few of them back over the next week or two. That being said, I have had a bunch of good conversations with customers as they have come in the door, and I am getting a much better feel for the types of products that might sell here. Still ordering a bit blind in terms of the numbers, but that will come.

The only disgruntled customers I've had so far were those (2) that were upset that we didn't have back issues in the store. Even after I explained that we have 5,000 books online and they are easily viewable, these two separate customers were unmoved. Oh well, you can't please everybody, and economically and visually, it makes a ton of sense to keep the books online. The customer base is bigger, and they don't clutter up the place.

Kids who come in to the shop have been more likely to buy the gaming stuff than the comic books. Their parents on the other hand, are more likely to buy the comic books. Kind of what I expected, but my goal here is to get the younger kids to also begin buying the books. That will be a potentially harder row to hoe, but one that I'm gunning for (to radically mix my metaphors).

What has also been nice -- on a personal satisfaction front -- is the fact that most people when they come in seem just happy to see all of the stuff up on the walls, etc. Most of my customers have been casual readers or "I haven't read a comic book since..." types. Just seeing their faces light up when they see the place really is nice. The goal of the store has always been to provide comics and other products to the hard core types (obviously), but I REALLY want to be able to bring the joy and fun of the medium to those who are more on the fringes. Kids, people who have seen any of the number of recent movies, people who read comic books long ago but got out of the habit. These are the types of customers I really want because to them comic books continue to be about fun, escape, nostalgia...all of the things that comic books and comic book reading SHOULD be about.

Okay, my short soapbox moment is over.

Talk to you later!

Friday, November 25, 2005

Week Two...

Well, here we are. The initial rush of the first week of operation has passed, and we are SLOWLY beginning to settle into a routine. I don't think a routine will really be in place for some time, since each day I am thinking of new things that can be done, but the place is starting to feel more like home.

Had a solid Wednesday. Saw a few new faces and several return customers. That feels good -- repeat customers is the lifeblood of a store like this.

We are also beginning to see SOME impact of the advertising we are doing (currently just in the newspaper, but to expand soon). I don't think any of the folks who came by were there as a result of the advertising, but we did get a lot of phone calls asking about the hours, etc. The ads should be running 2-3 times a week until the end of the year and then we'll decide about whether or not to keep them going. I'm 99% sure we will keep them going in some fashion since we HAVE to advertise to get anyone in the door. The shopping center is not on the main drag, so very few people are going to see the store if they don't already know to look for it.

Had an interesting visitor today. I could tell from the minute he entered the store that he was unlikely to buy anything since he didn't make eye contact and was EXTREMELY reluctant to make conversation. He walked around the store for a few minutes and then slipped out the front, hopped in his car, and left. My guess? He is probably a regular at the other store in the area and he was dispatched by the store (or just curious) to check us out. Could be wrong, but I doubt highly he will be back.

Placed some orders today for some Star Wars-related stuff. Specifically, I decided to take some of our eBay earning and reinvest them in Star Wars Miniatures gaming supplies. I've had a couple people ask about it and other related Star Wars stuff, so I figured I'd put that on the walls and see how it sells. Need to find the right mix of toys and comics to get all of the different types of customers in the door, so I'm chocking this expenditure up as a necessary experimentation.

That's it for today. If you have any questions, let me know!

Saturday, November 19, 2005

A Quiet Day, But a Busy Week...

Well, we have officially had no customers today. My first shutout since we opened. I'm not too dispirited by that, though, since we have actually been busier over the previous few days than I would have thought. We have a couple of subscribers, and the store has been making money.

Most gratifying was when I turned a gentleman on the the first Y: The Last Man trade, which he bought. He came back the next day so enthusiastic about it that he bought the next four trades so he could catch up with the story. I actually think he may begin buying the book monthly. That was pretty cool.

Also sold some comics and some game paraphenalia to a few kids that stopped by. Overall, I feel really good about the first week. Especially since our advertising hasn't yet begun, and most of our traffic was from people who were in the strip mall for another reason and decided to stop by. Thought I would like to give a shout out to those of you who stopped by based upon this blog. Your patronage is MUCH appreciated.

Well, since today was so slow (read: no customers) I spent the time actually continuing to upload books on to our online store (the link for which is located on the upper right corner of this page). Back up over the 4,500 book mark. I should be able to hit 5,000 again by the end of next week...unless we get really busy in the store. This would be, as my partner Scip says, a High Quality Problem.

I also went through and did my preliminary Previews order for the month. Ended up ordering a lot more this time than I did the previous month under the assumption that by the time these books arive in January our clientelle will have begun to expand. Here's hoping!

Next week I'm going to upload a few pictures of the store so you can see how the place looks. I'm actually pretty happy with it. I have a big room in the back that needs some more stuff in it, but otherwise, it is coming together nicely.

Okay folks, have a great weekend!

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Fredericksburg Big Monkey Is Now Open!!

Yes ladies and gentlemen, after lo these many months...the Fredericksburg Big Monkey is now open for business! This rocks! This is totally cool! It is just REALLY darn neat! Wow!

And you know what...? I have actually made sales today! Yes, thus far (by 4:00pm) I have made about 1/50th of what our G'town store should make today (it is Wednesday, after all), but the simple fact that ANYONE has come in the door is great. Heck, I've even gotten my first subscriber. And even more than that, he is an indy afficionado, thus giving me reason to expand the types of books the store carries (and thus expose others to them). As you can imagine, I was hesitant to carry any indy books this early because I had no idea if anyone shopping at a suburban store would want to buy them. Now, I know that there is at least some market for them. Which is darn cool.

Oh, and guess what? My third sale of the day was the one that finally netted me my first actual dollar (as opposed to credit card receipt). That bad boy will be framed and on the wall by tomorrow.

So what have I done today?

Well, the first thing I did was go to the bank to get cash register...well, actually to get MORE cash for the register. Yesterday I specifically went to the bank to get money for the cash drawer, and guess what I forgot to get? $1 bills. Just the most important of the bills in the old cash drawer, that's all. *sigh* Yes, I am a professional.

So anyway, I resolved that issue by going to the bank again today and then set out to logging in the week's shipments (they came in late yesterday, so I didn't get to it last night). I now have a wide, if shallow, selection of collectible games to go along with the comics in the store. Magic, Pokemon, Yu Gi Oh, Heroclix, VS, are all represented on the walls now, thus filling out the place even more.

Then a few customers came in and out, each actually BUYING something, so God bless 'em!

Oh well, I guess I'm off to attack the online store. I've got several orders to process and I want to get the inventory back up again.

So if you are in the area of Fredericksburg, VA, and want to see the place, please feel free to swing by and say, "Hi!" You can find us at 10667 Spotsylvania Avenue.

Did I mention that I am in a pretty great state of mind right now? Well I am. It's a good day to be me.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Tick Tock Tick Tock....

Just a few more days until the grand opening! November 16, here I come!

Well, maybe that is a bit of a stretch. You see due to governmental consideration, we aren't doing a "GRAND OPENING" for about another 5 or 6 business days after the 16th. The 16th will be more of a "soft opening" of sorts. While we won't be trumpeting the arrival of the store, the door will quietly be unlocked and if someone wants to come in and give me their money, who and I to stop them?

By the end of the month, though, all of the external considerations should be taken care of and we will proudly begin unveiling our advertising in the local paper, the Free-Lance Star. We'll have about two ads a week (sometimes 3) until the end of the year. I got a good deal with the paper for the ads, but in order to get it, they all had to run by December 31. Before we hit our delay, I had the ads running about once a week, but WITH the delay, things got a bit more compressed. Oh well, it is the holiday shopping season, so it can't hurt to start off with a bang, I guess.

Looking around, the place does look a little bare. There is certainly product to sell, make no mistake, but it certainly doesn't have the "every inch of space is filled with cool stuff" vibe that our DC store has. It will come with time, I know, but for now I am trying to make do with posters and the like. Luckily, comic books and related products actually are pretty darn appealing on their own, so the place is quite colorful.

I've also made contact with a gentleman over at Dime Store Productions. They are an indy label who contacted me about potentially carrying their products. Seem like nice folks. I also told them that I like to have artists draw pictures of "superhero monkeys" that I can frame and hang in the store (with proper credit given to the artist). It is kind of neat to tell an artist "draw me a monkey superhero" and see where their mind and artistic skills go. At this point, we don't have many of these pictures up on the walls yet, but I am hoping to get tons of them over the years to come. Anyway, the kind folks over at Dime Store Productions (www.dimestoreproductions) said they would see what they could do to help me out. Once I get something, I will definitely post a scan of it here on the blog.

Speaking of blogs...and by extraction the Internet...and by further extraction www.bigmonkeycomics.com...our website is just about ready. I have seen the early drafts of this thing and it is going to be absolutely amazing. If you swing by www.bigmonkeycomics.com right now, you will see our teaser site, but bookmark the spot and visit often. We will have reviews, blogs, polls, industry news, the whole deal. A lot of time and effort has gone in to making this thing great, and it really shows.

Okay, that's it for now. I'll have another post after the weekend, but before the doors open on Wednesday. Thanks for sticking around!

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Time to Start Again...

Okay, a few people I know have told me that I really either need to post again on this blog or delete it. So, since deleting it seems a LITTLE sad, I have divided to post some things to get myself back into the habit. After all, a LOT has happened, and there is a LOT to tell.

I. Big Monkey is up and running

As of October 1, I and my other two investors officially purchased Beyond Comics 2 in Georgetown (Washington, DC) and renamed it Big Monkey Comics. In addition, our second store, Big Monkey Fredericksburg (VA) will be opening a week from Wednesday. Finally, the Big Monkey eBay store is chugging along. At one point we had over 5,000 books for sale, but now we are hovering around the 4,400 mark due to the fact that we have actually been selling things at a startlingly brisk clip.

II. Wow, that first paragraph encompasses a lot, huh?

Tell me about it.

The past 8 weeks have been a whirlwind. First we had all of the financial issues to deal with to put together the money we needed to actually buy the Georgetown store. We got that done, but there were certainly some tense spots during that portion of things. In the end, it should be noted that the money part actually worked out pretty easily. We had to change the specific nature of HOW we got the money, but we never had any doubt as to the fact that we would get the money.

During that time, I was creating our online store. And creating our online store. And creating our online store. Creating an eBay store (especially if you want it to be a big one) takes a LOT of time. In the end, though, this was a good investment of time because the sales have been quite healthy for not actually advertising the store's existence. In fact, the revenues generated by the eBay store got the ball rolling on our website as well as paid a lot of the startup costs associated with the Fredericksburg, VA store.

Which brings us to the Fredericksburg store. My store. The store that I will be working in 4 days a week to start. The store that is an hour drive from my house (ugh). If you have read any of the early blog entries, the goal here was to create a store in Richmond, VA -- heck, the address for this blog is richmondstore.blogspot.com -- but Richmond has more than enough stores. We may open one in Richmond down the road, but we would be buying an existing store, not trying to carve out market share on our own.

Anyway, back to Fredericksburg. I've spent most of my waking hours over the past month plus trying to get this store ready. And we are just about there. Where once there was an empty shell in a strip mall, now there is a yellow and black store with slatwall around the walls, product on the shelves, and a computer/POS system (just about) ready to go. I have to admit that it is pretty exhilarating.

There is much more to say, but I will have to say it later…and I will. Now that the uncertainty of “Will it happen” has been replaced by the certainty of “It IS happening” I have all of the motivation I need to keep telling my three readers all about what is going on.

Friday, September 02, 2005

We're Almost There...

We are just about there, I think….

All of the negotiations have been finalized. The final sale price has been agreed to. The inventory of the store is set. The process for transferring ownership of the store and management of the employees is in place. We have identified which leased services we want to take with us and which ones we want the seller to terminate. All in all, everything is in place.

Except for one thing.

We are still playing footsie with the bank. The money is going to be in our account in time for us to finalize the deal, but there were some problems with the bank’s processes. So what does all that mean? Well, either we have the money today from the bank we want to use, or we move on to another bank to get the money in a different way. In truth, this isn’t a major deal, it's just a pain. Worse comes to worst, then each member of our troika takes out loans backed up by our home equity (which between the three of us is several times more than we need to finalize this process). We had just hoped to avoid this so it was the corporation that was taking out the loan and not the individual partners.

Ah well, c’est la vie. There always has to be something, I guess. I mean if this was easy, then EVERYBODY would be opening up comic book stores!

There are several positive things to discuss, though…

We met with our graphic designer and we have all but finalized our logo. It will be completely finalized in the coming days as well as expanded somewhat so that different versions of it can be used in different places, such as the sign, letterhead, shirts, etc. I will post a "first look" at the design in my next blog entry.

Furthermore, we have agreed to a layout for the BigMonkeyComics.com website as well as hired our design guru to make it happen. This is going to be an absolutely DOPE website. In short, not only will it have the standard “floating brochure pieces” (location, hours, next week’s books, etc.), but it will also be the center of a larger comic book community. There will be blogs, spaces for customers and other to post reviews, links to our back issue store on eBay (a link to which should now be found on the side of this page), and much more.

Speaking of the eBay store, we have now broken the mythical 2,000-book limit on the store, and I am nearing the halfway point in the collection (mine) we are using as our seed stock. At this rate, I should hopefully have the first 4,000 books into the store by the end of the month (at the latest). This will be a good thing because I will be extremely busy during the month of October getting ready for – okay, I can’t talk about that now, but suffice it to say, that we at the Big Monkey corporate headquarters are very excited about our future plans.

Talk to you soon!

Sunday, August 21, 2005

The Big Monkey is Alive and Well...on eBay

Okay, it’s official as a blogger, I kind of suck.

I had every intention of trying to keep this thing on a weekly schedule, and then…well, it just kind of fell apart. Fortunately the reason that I have not been better about keeping up the site is because I have been REALLY busy trying to get this store up and running. SO you see, it isn’t COMPLETELY because I’m a lazy slob!

Here is the news as best as I can relate it…Activity on the DC store is still moving along VERY quickly. We are all quite confident that very soon, we can start making some official proclamations about what is going on. For the time being let me simply say that we are looking to make a big splash on a couple of different fronts, and all of us that are involved in Big Monkey, LLC have been working very hard to ensure that everything goes down the way we want it to. I am extremely excited about what is in store!

The biggest single reason I haven’t done any blogging lately, though, is that I have been working diligently to get our eBay store up and running. Getting books onto the site – even using their power lister – is quite time consuming. I must spend at lest 2 or 3 hours every day inputting comics. At this point, we’ve got over 1,400 books in the store. And I’m not yet even through the D’s of my own personal collection (which I am donating to the cause) so you can see the hill I am trying to climb here. In addition to the listing of books, I have also been very busy (surprisingly) SELLING books as well. As you will recall, about a month ago, I had an eBay rating of 7. Well, that listing is now up to 24 (with a 100% positive rating, I say with no small sense of pride). And in truth if all of our customers who bought books from us had taken the time to leave feedback, we’d probably be pushing a rating of 40 or so.

The eBay experience is actually something that has surprised me. First off, I never thought I would be selling very much this fast. I say this because I didn’t understand how eBay worked when I got the Big Monkey store up and running a month ago. I chose to sell all of our books in a store with a fixed price – rather than as an auction – and I didn’t think that our products would even show up when someone ran a search. Wrong! You just show up farther down the list, with the auctioneers getting the first spots. However, if you price your books fairly, customers will find you.

Another surprise has been what kinds of books I have been selling. The research I did prior to starting the eBay store led me to believe that the Marvel stuff would be the biggest sellers, and it would behoove me to create not only a Marvel section in the store, but also a Spider-Man and an X-Men section. Well, to date, I have sold VERY little Marvel stuff, but the DC books (and in particular Bat-family titles) have been flying off the virtual shelves. Being a DC guy myself, that makes me feel good because I know that there are others out there who like the No Man’s Land stories as much as I do. There has also been a pretty steady appetite for horror books (Clive Barker stuff) and Sci-Fi (Predator and Aliens in particular). This is fascinating to say the least.

Okay, I think that’s it for now. Bye for now!

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Another Two Weeks....

Damn.

This whole "official business" thing has really put a cramp in my ability to update my blog, you know that? Since we are solidly into the sensitive negotiations phase of purchasing process, it makes it hard to discuss in detail what is going on.

Suffice it to say that we are now moving forward very quickly, I think. We are in the process of preparing -- and will be providing the seller with -- our official Letter of Intent to buy the store. Given the terms we have laid out, both in terms of our offer and the milestones we would like to hit in terms of the calendar, I think our group will be hanging out the Big Monkey sign in September. The deal will likely be done before then, but by the time all of the i's are dotted and t's crossed, it will be September before we are all official-like.

These negotiations have been fascinating, to say the least. Most of them have been done in a very friendly, informal way. Everybody wants this to happen -- buyers, sellers, everyone. It just makes sense on so many levels. And because of that, we have been able to avoid all of the bouts of reluctance and anger that can sometimes occur during these things. Interestingly, however, now that we are beginning to bring the lawyers into the mix (which has to be done in order to, well make it legal) my level of anxiety is actually starting to climb upwards. It is just giving the whole thing a slightly different feel. Not a bad feel, mind you, but one that is decidedly more business-like than it had been. And when you move in that direction, you begin to wonder -- ever so slightly -- if the camaraderie that has been established among all of the parties along the way might be adversely impacted. I don't think it will, and I am still very confident that this is going to wrap up the way we want, but it is still a thought tickling in the back of my mind.

Beyond that, we are beginning to take some of the steps now that will ease the transition. We are talking to a graphic designer about the need to design the logo. I am going to get a host for our website, so we can begin putting up at least the bare bones site until we have our whiz-bang site up and running. I am continuing to input comics into our online store (which takes, FOREVER, may I add, but at least I am finally up to all of the Batman books, so I feel as if some progress is being made...).

And now for something completely different…

I had a wonderful lunch the other day with Johanna, of Comics Worth Reading, and her husband KC. Good people who know a lot about the industry – and aren’t afraid to tell you their opinions! It is always nice to meet with people who either work/worked in the biz (as they both do) and still have a love for the medium. Also, they were kind enough to invite me to further pick their brains and take advantage of their decades (combined) of experience once the doors to Big Monkey have swung wide. FOOLS!!! Little do they know how they will rue the day!!

BWA-HA-HA!!!!!!

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Two Weeks?! What Has Happened?

Well, it looks like it has been roughly TWO WEEKS since I last made a post. Sad, just sad. Well, part of the reason for that is that I can't really discuss the specifics of what is going on with our store acquisition efforts.

What I can say is that all parties have discussed specifics relating to what the sellers want by way of compensation and what we actually want to spend. The negotiations are now beginning in earnest, and only time will tell with regards to how successful we will be in coming to a number that everyone is comfortable with. I am still a bit more than cautiously optimistic at this point regarding how this is all going to end up, though.

We are making other steps, however. I am in the process of creating an ebay store through which the store will be selling its back issue inventory (in addition to other avenues) This is INCREDIBLY time consuming at this point. Especially as an ebay novice (I have a rating of 7 -- SEVEN?!) which means that I am making a lot of mistakes. It took me an hour to input my first comic book since I was trying to set up the tmeplate for the store, etc. At this point, I've still only been able to cut down the process to about 3-4 minutes per book...which when you are talking about the 4,500+ books I am looking to get input, you can see why I am (and will continue) to look at this project with some trepidation.

At this point, I am using my personal comic book collection as the seed stock for the store (with some things being taken out that I am particularly partial to). Assuming that the deal goes through to buy the existing store, then we will also have that back stock to input as well. And I have a feeling that since I started this project it will be mine until the bitter end. *sigh*

In case you want to buy anything, feel free to swing by the old store and pick something up. I've only inputted through Advanced Dungeons & Dragons number 11, so bear with me!

And give me your thoughts on the pricing and the information I have provided for each entry. Heck anything at all. I NEED all the help I can get!!

Unfortunately, I think that is all I've got to say at this point. I am very hopeful that somethig will break through on the store purchasing front in the near future, so when I actually know something, I will let YOU know.

Thanks!

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Things Keep on Chugging

Well, the meeting with the store's seller went very well. I can't say a whole lot at this time for a variety of reasons -- including the fact that I got to sign my first non-disclosure agreement.

I feel so grown up!

But seriously, nothing happened during Sunday's meeting that would lead one to believe that we can't buy the store. There are still a few bridges to cross, but I'm feeling really good about it.

Hopefully we will all be able to reconvene some time in the next week or so (darn holiday is likely going to slow things down a bit, I guess) and discuss more specifics.

Wish I could say more, but at this point, I just can't. I hope you understand. Once things work out one way or the other, though, I promise to relay the whole story.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Thou Shalt Not Rest on Sunday

Our group of three is meeting with the owner of the DC store on Sunday afternoon to determine whether or not we can agree on a price that we are all comfortable with.

Wish us luck.

I'll let you know how it goes!

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

That Was Yesterday…

Well, let me tell you all about yesterday.

8:30am – I roll out of bed at my friend’s house in Annandale, VA. I am supposed to visit some friends at my old place of employment, the law firm of Van Ness Feldman, before my lunch meeting with the other investors involved in potentially buying out the DC store.

9:30am – I get on the road. It should take me about 25 minutes to get to the office and I had promised folks that I would be there by 10:00am. I know that I am cutting it a little close, but my friend was playing Halo 2, so I HAD to sit down for a few minutes to play.

9:45am – I am reminded of one of the key reasons why I left Northern Virginia. The traffic. YEARRGH!! Shouldn’t all you people be at work already? I’m unemployed, what’s your excuse!!

10:15am – I pull into the parking garage, take the elevator up to the 5th floor and begin visiting with some of my old buds. The place looks good – it hasn’t changed much in a month. But I have. How so? Well, I referred to one of the partners I saw in the hallway as “Dude,” and didn’t for a second worry about how that might reflect upon me during my next review.

11:35am – I finish my visiting and decide since it is a lovely and relatively cool day, I’ll walk the 2 miles to Dogs by Day rather than take a cab. I realize I might be 5 minutes or so late, so I call Scip and let him know. Being the easygoing guy he is, he says no sweat.

11:45am – I start to realize that I may have made a big mistake. It may not be all that hot, but it is MUCH more humid than I had planned on. Unfortunately, my walk has taken me a bit off the beaten path, so catching a cab isn’t really an option at this point.

12:10pm – I arrive at Dogs By Day (one of the two businesses potential investor #2, Linda, currently owns) a little winded and much damper than when I started. No sweat, indeed.

12:30pm – Linda, Scip, and I sit down for a two and a half hour discussion that runs the gamut of relevant issues. While Scip and Linda have known each other for many years, I take the opportunity to learn about her and introduced myself in kind. She comes across as a very impressive woman – the kind of woman I would like to work for if I was looking for a job and certainly the kind of woman that I feel comfortable going into business with. Her philosophy of what makes a store special is directly in line with mine, and her focus on treating her employees as people is refreshing.

In the end, we agreed that the three of us are definitely going to be making a run at buying the DC store. The major issue confronting us is finding a cost that all of us can agree on. Scip will be contacting the store’s current owner within the day to see when we can sit down with him and begin those discussions. If he wants too much for the store, we are more than willing to walk away from the whole thing. But if we can find a price that we all feel is fair, watch out.

Should everything go well, I’ll be free to discuss in more detail the plans for the store. For now, though I can leave you with one encouraging piece of news. Everyone at the table liked the name Big Monkey Comics, so fear not true believers, in one form or another, the Big Monkey WILL see the light of day.

6:15pm -- Batman Begins begins to unspool before my hungry eyes.

8:30pm – Oh. My. God. Mine eyes have seen the glory of Nolan and Bale. Without a doubt, the best of the Batman movies. The script is solid and the acting is very good. Bale is a really good Batman, and Cilian Murphy’s Scarecrown is just GREAT. The fanboy in me LOVED seeing the aerial tracking shot that swept over Gotham – it WAS Gotham…from the comics…I could see the map in my head and pick out individual landmarks in the shot. Shiver.

And Mr. Zsazz is there!

And really, isn’t a real gift to the fanboys just to make Ra’s al Ghul the main villain? I mean outside of the regular Batman readers, who’s ever heard of him? And they made him cool. And his motivation in the movie was certainly a bit tighter than in the comics. Nice scripting there.

So yeah, Tuesday, June 21 was a good day for me.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

A Crazy Couple of Days

I don't want to go into too much detail about what's been going on over the past few days for fear of jinxing everything, but I just wanted to let you know that things have have continued to move forward on the "buying my old comic book store" front. No deals -- or anything of the sort -- have been consumated, but the simple fact that the possiblity is even still alive at this point is really exciting.

Had dinner with Brett Carreras (Brett, hope I spelled your name right) of Brett's Comic Pile the other night. Great guy with a very distinct business model that seems to be working very well for him. He deals exclusively in the back issue market, a market that can be very lucrative if you are agressive and smart. He also turned me on to the Comics & Games Retailer magazine which contains a WEALTH of monthly information on the comic and hobby gaming market. I'll be getting my subscription VERY soon.

Short and sweet today, folks. Talk to you soon!

Monday, June 13, 2005

Richmond Comix, Buying Existing Stores, and Other Musings...

How are you doing?

I spent much of the past week further getting my house fixed up (more painting, minor home repair stuff, buying curtains and furniture). Exciting, no? I'm just hoping to get all of this completed before A) I start having to actually work for a living again, and B) the money I made from the sale of my house is gone (which will happen rather quickly once the store is up and running).

I had a 30 minute or so conversation with Frank Miller, the owner and operator of Richmond Comix. Good, decent fellow. He was EXTREMELY reluctant to talk to me when I entered the store and introduced myself, but I guess I can understand that. After all, he didn't know me from Adam, and I'm walking in saying, "Hey there, I'm looking to open up a business that may compete with yours, wanna be friends?"

However, once I demonstrated that I wasn't going away no matter how long he ignored me, and after I actually bought some comics, he was willing to open up a bit. In short, he was certainly the most curmudgeonly on the store owners I have spoken with. And I am not trying to be disparaging when I say that. He described himself as such, and I got the feeling he was being that way because A) he really did not have a warm and fuzzy feeling for the comics industry, and B) he wanted to be sure that SOMEBODY took the time to tell this 30-something just how hard this business can be.

I explained to him that I wanted to either open up my own store or purchase an existing store that the owner was ready to part with. He then mentioned that he is likely to only stay in the busines for another few years. Surprisingly, he didn't seem at all inclined to discuss whether he might want to sell his store to this guy he just met. Can you imagine? Well, if you are reading this Frank, and you really are interested in selling you store at some point, I'd love to discuss it with you.

I don't think Frank is going to read my blog, however, so I'll just have to keep my ear to the ground on that one....

I also had an interesting conversation with Scipio of The Absorbacon fame. He told me that his current boss might be interested in making a play to (get this) buy the comic store I used to get my stash from back in DC, and wanted to know if I'd be intersted in going in on this as well. How could I not be intrigued? How could I not apprecaite the irony -- I had to move to Richmond to have a chance to buy the store at which I used to shop back in DC. In truth, I don't know if this is REALLY going to go anywhere, but it is certainly intriguing. I don't think that they store's owner even is considering selling, but if the price is right, you never know. God, that would be funny.

On a real fan boy note, I just wanted to state that all of you should most definitely be picking up the DC books that are related to the upcoming Infinite Crisis. All of them are good reads. Except for the Return of Donna Troy, that is. I've tried REALLY hard to be a Phil Jimenez fan, but there is something about his writing that just never works for me. I think it's too dry and calculated for my tastes. Even though he writes stories that are often broad and fantastical in scope, in delivery, he manages to wring all of the wonder and excitement out of the stories. Technically sound, but emotionally cold, I guess you could say.

On the other end of the emotional spectrum, I saw the latest Star Wars film and REALLY enjoyed it. Definitely the best of the Star Wars movies since Empire. That being said, you know what I was MOST excited about coming out of the theatre? The trailer for The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Oh. My. God. I knew they were making the film, but I had assumed that it would just look like a high budget BBC production or something (kind of like Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy). This will be NOTHING like that -- I had goosebumps during that trailer. It looks like the movie is going to be big and epic on a scale of Lord of the Rings. If you haven't seen it, check it out at Narnia.com. And be prepared to remember WHY you loved these books as a kid.

I guess that's it for now. I'm having dinner with Brett of Brett's Comic Pile later this week. He has graciously agreed to talk to me about the business and the back issue business in particular. I'm really looking forward to it. He seems like a very nice fellow.

Talk to you later.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

A Quiet Week on the Store Front

Not much happened on the store front this week. this was mostly a week where I did a lot of work around the house. The kitchen is now lime green and the dining room tangelo -- what can I say, we like color.

Had another interesting conversation with Patrick at Velocity Comics on Thursday while I was picking up my stash. Based upon many of your recommendations, I am going to get back to Richmond Comix this week to talk with Frank, that store's owner. From all reports he sounds like a good guy and I'm sorry I missed a chance to talk with him when I swung by the store a week ago. I'm also going to contact Brett over at Brett's Comic Pile because A) he invited me to make contact, and B) based upon his post on the old blog, he sounds INCREDIBLY knowledgeable about not just the back issue side of teh industry, but the industry as a whole. That is insight I could definitely use.

I've also had a couple of really good suggestions about store location that I am going to be checking out this week.

So in short, it was a bit of a holding pattern this week with regard to getting the store up and running. You can't go 100 miles an hour every week, I guess. In addition, things have a tendency to come up (especially with 2 kids) that can derail even the best laid plans.

When I know more, you'll know more!

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Store Visits and Other Stuff...

Well, here we are again. Miss me? I missed you.

I visited another of the region's comic book stores today. I finally got to Richmond Comix, and it was certainly worth the effort. I have to admit, I wasn't sure what to expect, but in the end I was pretty impressed. Richmond Comix is a really good comic book store.

I had visited their website, which is actually a FINE site. It lists information about the store, but more than that, there is a level of interactivity that is rare. Not only was there a forums/blog section of the site, but subscribers could actually update their pull lists directly from the site. Now THAT is customer service. In addition, the pictures of the store are the right kinds of pictures -- picture of the interior, not of the outside of the place which does nothing to help convey what it is all about. If I have one criticism about the pictures they have on the site it is that they don't have any people in them. It is ALL about the inventory. A bit of personality in the pictures would go a long way toward conveying what the store is all about.

Anyway, back to the visit. From downtown Richmond to Richmond Comix, it is about a 30 minute drive. Midlothian, VA is WAY out to the west of the city. After the first 10 minutes of driving, it was apparent to me that while I was looking forward to learning what I could from my visit, I would not have to consider Richmond Comix to be a competitor once I open my store somewhere in Richmond proper. It is just too far out to be drawing from the same customer base.

Which is a good thing because the Big Monkey that I have envisioned in my head is actually very similar to the Richmond Comix experience.

When you walk in, the all ages books are immediately and prominently displayed on your right. This is a critical and important decision on the part of the proprietor. I have long believed (as does Devon over at Seven Hells that if the comic book industry is going to survive, you HAVE to keep refreshing your customer base. Kids must be given the product they need to get hooked, and stores must be laid out in such a way as to convince parents that they can bring their kids in the first place. The placement of the Marvel Age, scooby Doo, Classics Illustrated, etc. books at the front so that they are the first thing a customer sees is a good way to help this process along.

Graphic novels and the like take up the middle section of the right wall with the new issues in the back on the right wall. Recent issues take up the majority of the left wall while Manga were in a display at the front. Down the middles of the store, when I was there, there were Pokemon and Hero Clix tournaments going on. Sweet. During the week, I gather, the long boxes with the back issues are placed upon the tables that are used for the tournaments on the weekends.

To top it all off, there were cases near the cash register that had singles of Hero Clix, Pokemon, and the like for sale, and tucked off to the left of the register were the role playing and hobby gaming supplies.

Unfortunately, I did not get a chance to talk to the proprietor because Wyatt, my son, had actually fallen asleep on the drive over and I was carrying his barely conscious body around the store for the majority of the time I was there. Also, because of this, I was only able to stay in the store for about 10 minutes, but it had a nice feel to it.

On another note, I swung by Velocity Comics this past week and had a delightful conversation with Patrick, the co-owner of the place. He is a real down-to-Earth guy that I very much enjoyed talkig with. I encourage those of you in the are that have not visited him and Velocity Comics to do so.

Psychologically, this has been an up and down kind of week for me. I must admit that I have had some doubts this week about getting Big Monkey up and running. I never doubted my desire to do this, nor my ABILITY to do this, but I was constantly dealing with the question of, "does Richmond actually NEED another comic book store?" After all, there are three (at least) in the city as well as four or more in the suburbs. That's a lot. But on the flip side, the suburban stores are REALLY in the burbs -- they don't pull from the same client base (theoretically).

But in the end, this is something that I am committed to doing. And I think the next phase in this process will be in locating a prime location. The area around VCU and the West End have got stores. Other parts of the city...not so much. Location will be critical to the success of the store.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

I'm BACK...Sort Of

Sorry for not writing anything for the past eight days. The reason for my absence is that this past Thursday my computer hard drive FRIED. I mean it just died. I lost everything.

All of my thought and plans for the store -- gone.

E-mail addresses of friends and family -- gone.

Sentimental stuff -- gone.

I'm not exactly sure what happened, but suffice it to say that it has been a rough week or so. We are going to try and hire a company to help us retrieve the data, but...well, we'll see.

Anyway, let this be a lesson to you, ALWAYS back up your data. I never did that. I had never had a hard drive crash, so I figured I was imune. Silly human.

Anyway, I'll get back into the groove of things on Thursday (I'd post tomorrow, but it is the season finale of LOST, so I'll be a little busy trying to figure out the island's secrets).

Thank you all for your patience. Talk to you soon.

peace.

Monday, May 16, 2005

I See Comic Stores!

Okay, so here I am, a few days after my last post, and I am proud to report that I have started visiting the other comic stores in the area.

I was able to visit three different Richmond-area comic stores over the past few days. Each store offered a VERY different take on the comic book store experience, and it was a very enlightening experience.

The first store I visited was definitely the best of the three. Velocity Comics on Grace Street down by VCU is a solid comic book store. Unfortunately, I don’t have a picture of the place to show you (like I do for the other two stores) but please don’t hold that against me or my "review" of the store! First and foremost, the staff of the store was extremely friendly and willing to engage in conversation. In addition, they didn’t seem to mind that my 2-year-old, Zane, wanted to jog around the store a bit. This kind of engagement with the customer goes a LONG way in my book.

New releases are posted along the wall immediately to your left as you came in, while the older issues were in a separate, farther back section of the store. As far as the layout and decor of the store went, it was a bit bare bones, but not in a bad sort of way. As the store’s proprietor told me, their prime audience is VCU students and faculty. Hence they didn’t feel the need to carry product or lay out the store in a way that was geared toward a younger or less hardcore audience. The upside of this philosophy was the nice focus on independent books.

The store also offers a 10% discount on EVERYTHING in the store to subscribers...which is a pretty sweet deal. From a business perspective, I’d love to talk with Patrick Godfrey, the store’s proprietor, about how this impacts the bottom line (other than the obvious loss of 10% of your profits). I’ve been leaning toward the idea of offering 10% store credit as opposed to the discount (especially since as a startup every nickel is sacred). If you are in direct competition with another store, then it may be necessary to offer a discount to pull customers away from the other store, but my belief is that if you can create a store that is a true destination shop and the center of a customer community, then you attract the kind of clientele that doesn’t care about 5% or 10% off. They will keep coming back because they are loyal to the store and the people who run it and they have an emotional stake in seeing the place survive.

On the whole, this is a great little store that I’m happy is right around the corner from my house and that will definitely be getting a new subscriber starting this week.

The second store I visited was Dave’s Comics, a store that has been around for quite a while. Interestingly, Dave’s was almost the exact opposite of Velocity Comics. This store carried comics, but the back issues were in long boxes stacked three and four high and the new issues were tucked into the back corner. The only way you could get to them was to walk through the somewhat labyrinthine racks of toys that just dominates the shop. And they are toys that mostly have to do with comics, but there is a lot of stuff that has absolutely NOTHING to do with comic books. My son, Wyatt, was particularly drawn to a display of glass eggs in the front and a miniature air hockey game about midway back in the store.

Furthermore, there was little inviting about the store for the comic book consumer. Because the comics were tucked in the back, those that were interested in them were forced to kind of scurry to the back to acquire their books. And the walkways were so thin that there was no way to stand around and talk with other customers or the proprietor without being in someone’s way. In other words, the store didn’t put a very high priority on creating a customer community – something that Velocity does just by being a more open store with places for people to talk and debate the finer points of Marvel vs DC vs indy (and having employees that seem to WANT to talk about these things helps as well).

My final stop for the week was Nostalgia Plus.


This store was somewhere in between Velocity and Dave’s in terms of appeal. It most certainly is a comic book store, and one that carries a bunch of back issues that can easily be browsed through. Without going into great detail (because I HAVE droned on quite a bit today) there was absolutely nothing wrong with the store --- it had a lot of comics and the toys and other ancillary stuff they carried was almost ALL comic related. But that being said, there wasn’t anything about it that spoke to me. Not being negative, it just wasn’t my cup of tea.

Okay, I’m outta here. I’ll be checking out some other stores this week, and I’ll let you know how it goes. Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

So What Exactly Should Big Monkey Sell?

Okay, here are my initial thoughts on what the store is gong to have. Please feel free to tell me where you think I should make edits and the like.

Store Name: Big Monkey Comics

Focus of the Store: The store will focus most heavily on selling comics books and those games and related products that support the theme of comic books. These products will include (in no particular order):
  • Significant portion of the top 150 comics
  • Indy comics as they pique my interest or are demanded by my clientele
  • Manga (I have to admit I know very little about the genre, but – as I understand it – it can be purchased and sit on a shelf for a while before going stale, so it seems like a safe bet to make at least a small investment in this area)
  • Back Issues (I’ve got about 4,500 of my own that will form the core back issue stock. I doubt I will buy back issues from customers unless they are rare finds and the like.)
  • Graphic Novels and Trade Paperbacks
  • Magazines
    ∙ Wizard
    ∙ Star Wars Insider
    ∙ Previews
    ∙ Etc.
  • Games
    ∙ Hero Clix
    ∙ Star Wars Minis
    ∙ D&D Miniatures
    ∙ Pirates
    ∙ VS Cards
    ∙ Teen Titans Go! Cards
    ∙ City of Heroes Cards
    ∙ Magic The Gathering Cards
    ∙ Yu-Gi-Oh Cards
    ∙ D&D
    ∙ Hero System Accessories
    ∙ Dice & Dice Bags
  • Statues, maquettes, busts, replica swords and phasers, and other decorations
  • T-shirts
  • Action Figures
  • Posters
  • Comic book storage
    ∙ Bags
    ∙ Boards
    ∙ Boxes
  • Vending machines (If I do a gaming section then I think it would make some sense to put food and drink in the store)
  • A gallery space that would allow for the sale of full-sized and framed comic book art, whether it is page layouts and the like or stand alone, original art. (THIS is something that I envision as helping to broaden the appeal of the store and the products being sold. Have you noticed that when you frame something, you force a viewer to immediately invest a bit more attention in the item? It may invariably still be dismissed by the observer, but for a brief second, you have them and you are forcing them to review the work rather than simply pass it by. I’ll talk more about this in later installments.)
  • Gaming tables (The square footage and layout of the space will dictate exactly how many and in what configuration – permanent or folding tables, a prominent placement or more tucked in the back.)
  • A Donkey Kong video games (You HAD to see that coming.)

And now for something completely different.... I will be visiting the first of the existing Richmond stores tomorrow. My first stop will be Velocity Comics on Grace Street down by VCU. I’ll provide you with my thoughts on Friday, but don’t expect any flames (unless there is something REALLY wrong with the store and the way they treat their customers). I am committed to keeping everything I write for this blog, if not positive, at least civilized.

I can’t wait to check it out!

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Time to Put Up Or Shut Up

Wow, what a week it has been.

In short, my life has now officially changed and there is no going back to the way it once was. As of May 6, I am no longer employed. For the first time since my senior year in high school, I don’t have a job – even in college I worked for 4 years in the mail room.

In addition, I am now officially, and from this point forward, a Richmonder. My wife threw a wonderful surprise party for me on Friday. More than a dozen adults, and easily as many kids between 2 and 8. These are my new neighbors. These are people that I have met but hardly know. And yet, they all came to my new home to welcome me to the city and wish me well on my future endeavors, whatever they may be. It was shocking and extremely fulfilling. It was also not something that I could EVER have envisioned happening in my former home of Arlington, Virginia. Yes, my dear friends and other would have come to such a party, and I would have loved it. But this was different. These were, for all intents and purposes, strangers – parents of the kids my friends play with. In Arlington, the pace of life is just too fast, the schedules just too packed, the idea of going out of your way to welcome a new neighbor to the block too foreign.

In just a few short hours, I realized that I have found that place I have long looked for. An open and inviting kind of town. A place that has a slower pace of life and yet still has an appreciation for the diverse and quirky. I’ve found a place that invites you to compare what was to what can be. I’ve found a place I WANT to call home. A place that I want to know inside and out. A place that I want to be part of.

But you know what, it’s a damn good thing that I do feel that way because if I didn’t...well, I’d be in a heap of trouble. Quit my job, move my family, chase a dream in a place that turns out to be lousy? Oh, I’d be paying a very steep price for THAT miscalculation.

And that is something that I don’t need to deal with just now as I am beginning to realize how truly difficult this quest of mine is going to be.

Monday, May 02, 2005

P.O.S.

Well, I think I am closing in quickly on my point-of-sale (POS) system. While there are several pieces of retail software on the market right now, they aren’t very customizable, and they can be pretty expensive. Considering I am sure that I am going to end up wanting to modify how I track my customers’ (and particularly subscribers) purchasing patterns, I wasn’t too sold on the fact that the search parameters for historical data was (for the most part) pretty limited.

Enter a dear friend of mine who is a database guru and who actually ENJOYS the process of creating these things. Well, after a few discussions, he has began the process of putting the system together. He has also been helping me put together the hardware (scanner gun, cash drawer, etc.) that I will need, and doing so at a price that, I think, is going to end up being considerably cheaper than buying a system off the shelf.

Strangely enough, do you know what one of the bigger stumbling blocks I’ve run into has been? Getting the scanner gun to read the entire bar code on a comic book. Apparently comic books have an extra couple of digits in their bar code to represent the issue name and number. This is confusing our poor gun right now. Donn (my friend and IT department) has been exchanging e-mails with the company and they seem confident that they can work this out, but still. It SEEMS pretty straightforward, doesn’t it? Oh well, at this point I’m not terribly worried. If this particular brand of scanner gun doesn’t work out, we can always get another. Just the fact that these kind of concrete steps are being taken has given my spirits a lift.

Another thing that is helping my mood is the fact that my current employer (for whom I will be working for just another few days) gave me a bonus today that was both unexpected and extremely appreciated. With this money, I can suddenly make those initial investments that I had been a bit reluctant to make at this time — even though I knew they would have to be made at some point — hence the sudden movement on the POS system. I think I may just have to name the store’s computer system in honor of my former employers.

Friday, April 29, 2005

So WHY Exactly Did I Post That Story?

Well, other than the fact that I am in the process of cleaning out my office and my files at work and I came across this story, there really is a method to my madness.

One of the main things I am going to do with the store's website is turn it into a destination site that enhances the feeling of community associated with the store. As a friend of mine pointed out there really is no way to differentiate your product in any way from the comic book store across town. Comic books are comic books. Games are games. The only real way to make your store stand out is to sell an experience that people want to be a part of.

And that is where the website comes in. Of course I will be posting the new releases and links to cool comic book related stuff, but anyone can do that. What I am going to do is have my customers write fan fiction like my Wayne Manor story, reviews, commentaries, etc. for the site. While it will be the store's site, I want it to feel like it is owned by the community of people who visit the store.

Ownership of place will invariably lead to loyalty to the store. Of course, that will only remain the case if I create a store that is inviting and fun. Luckily I've got some ideas about that.

Finally, I've decided on what I want the store logo to be...well after a fashion. I want to get an artist to draw a distinctive big monkey for me. Seems pretty straighforward, no? But the idea is that we could then have the monkey dropped into different iconic comic book scenes -- the monkey in the foreground with a "Monkey Signal" shining on the clouds behind him, the monkey swinging on a web (maybe with a thought baloon saying something like "what, haven't you ever heard of a spider monkey?"), etc. While there would only be a single picture of the monkey on the store sign, I could roll out each of these different pictures for flyers, advertising, and the like.

The idea now is to find someone willing to draw the monkey, and if I like their stuff, hire them to draw me 15 to 20 different tableaus.

A Dark Knight at Wayne Manor (Finale)

Joe Nelson — Checkmate Medic, first class — jogged into the mansion’s front door. His gun was drawn and he moved with as much stealth as he could muster. The last thing he wanted was to get caught flatfooted by one of the opposing powers. That would just suck. He entered the main great room of the house and scanned for enemies. He didn’t see anything in the room, but through the large sliding glass door that lead from the room onto a back patio, he saw what looked to be a powers convention. All of them were there, Nightwing, Doc Samson, Hawkman, and it looked like a couple of them had been seriously hurt and were being attended to by some paramedics. Hooray for our team, he thought. With his gun pointed toward the glass doors, he knelt down behind a couch to see what, if anything he might be able to do to help his cause. But being a medic first and a fighter second meant that he had absolutely no intention of taking on that assemblage of power all by himself. Moments later, though, the odds were tipped a bit back in his favor when he saw Dove carry Batman into the room.

Batman took up a position near the medic and growled, "When I make my move, cover me." The medic nodded, fear of the man in black leaving him unable to talk.

The men turned back toward the tableau outside the glass doors and watched as one of the medics helped Nightwing to his feet. A muffled "thank you" could be heard through the door. Suddenly, Nightwing’s head snapped in the direction of the Checkmate Medic and he pointed first into the mansion and then toward Iceman and Doc Samson. "Checkmate agent in the mansion, get in there!" Once again, Iceman did as he was told (but only after mumbling something along the lines of, "what am I, a taxi?") and slid himself and Doc Samson through the glass doors — which he shattered with a few ice darts as they approached — and flew Samson into the room.

"Wait, go that way!" Doc Samson called out as they entered the Mansion. He had seen Dove out of the corner of his eye and he decided that she was a more dangerous opponent than the man in black and gold. Iceman dropped Doc Samson near Dove. As he was about to approach her, who should he now happen to see, but Batman. Suddenly, Dove had moved one notch down the list of targets as well.

"This is for that little gamma bomb trick!" yelled Samson as he pivoted and took a swing at Batman.

In your dreams, thought Batman as he easily parried the blow. "Get me to those medics," Batman said to dove, and the young woman in the bay blue costume picked up her leader, swung him in a wide arc around the enraged Doc Samson and flew out through the broken glass doors. Within seconds, Batman had knocked out one of medics with a vicious blow to the back of the neck and had eliminated the usefulness of another by kicking her medical supplies out of her reach.

"Follow him," said Doc Samson to Iceman who, once again, glided away pulling Doc Samson with him. "Running away from me, little man," asked Doc Samson when he was in arms reach of Batman. "I expected better." Samson took a mighty swing at the Dark Knight who easily ducked the blow.

Idiot, thought Batman as he pulled another tube from his utility belt. This time, though, rather than toss it, he hit another button and a beam of green light shot out from the end of the tube and struck Doc Samson square in the chest. Samson staggered backward just as Batman let fly with a roundhouse kick. Luckily for Doc Samson, his stagger backward was just enough to throw Batman’s aim off and he missed.

Sensing that this could be the best chance they have had to end this insanity, Nightwing rolled away from the medic that had been tending to him to get a clear line of fire. Once that was achieved, he let fly with another nighterang that thunked solidly into Batman’s arm.

Meanwhile, Harley Quinn, not wanting to be left out of the fun, had run through the mansion and was stepping out onto the patio. Smiling, she pulled out an enormous megaphone from a heretofore unseen backpack and pointed it at Doc Samson. She pulled the trigger and the speaker extended outward on a long retractable arm. The megaphone halted three inches from Doc Samson’s left ear. With a barely suppressed giggle, she screamed into the mouthpiece, "Ehhh, What’s up Doc!"

Startled and annoyed, Doc Samson turned toward the girl in the harlequin makeup who was now rolling on the ground laughing at her own wit.

This loss of focus gave Dove (remember Dove?) an opening to attack the big, green haired man. Her aim was true and she hit the man who was still suffering from the effects of Batman’s gamma ray blast a tremendous martial arts-like blow that knocked the wind out of him.
In the confusion of the moment, Hawkman took the opportunity to attack Batman. Luckily for him, the Dark Knight’s attention was focused on Nightwing. He raised his mace and sent down a thundering blow onto the back of Batman’s head. Sparks flew when the blow connected and Batman crumpled to the ground, unconscious.

Harley immediately stopped laughing and jumped to her feet. "Well," she says, "that was fun. Uhh...ta ta!" And with that she ran back into the mansion and disappeared.

Confronted by superior numbers, and many people she knew, Dove surrendered peacefully and explained that she was only working with Batman because he asked her to. She had no idea until tonight just how out of whack he had gotten.

For their part, the two Checkmate Medics and Man-Bat also slipped away as the heroes went to tie up Bane and tend to Batman.

Batman regained consciousness within a few minutes after the end of the battle. During that time, Nightwing and Doc Samson had been trying to figure out why Hawkman’s blow to the back of Batman’s head had created sparks. The answer was that a small electronic device had been attached to the back of his cowl. Upon reviving, Nightwing handed the remains of the device to Batman.

"So, Batman, can you tell me what’s going on?" asked Nightwing.

Batman studied the device for a few moments, before the answer came to him.

"Somehow the Mad Hatter must have gotten this mind control device onto me the other night when I was stopping a robbery over in The Hill.

"I think I’m going to have to pay a visit on dear old Jervis."

But that is another story for another day.....

Thursday, April 28, 2005

A Dark Knight at Wayne Manor (Part 3)

Outside the garage, Batman heard the sounds of battle and knew that for all of his strength, Bane would have a hard time standing up against all four foes that were now moving against him. It was time to even the odds.

"Dove, carry me over to that bench near the garage entrance." Without a word, the young fighter did as she was told.

With his night vision goggles in place, the Gotham Avenger could clearly see the action in the garage. Bane was in trouble, doubled over at the feet of the garishly costumed Doc Samson. Well, if you are going to wear a costume that makes you a target, the least I can do is shoot at that target. Batman reached into his utility belt and pulled out a small, sealed metal tube. He punched a button on its top and tossed it toward Doc Samson. It landed at his feet and sent out a burst of green light. The results were dramatic. Samson seemed to wilt and grow slightly smaller. Thinner. No, I didn’t think you would much care for a dose of concentrated gamma radiation, he thought with some self-satisfaction.

Seizing the opportunity, Batman pulled a batarang and hurled it toward Samson, hitting him square on the temple and staggering the big man. Red blood flowed from the wound and mixed liberally with his cartoonishly green hair.

Nightwing had seen the "gamma grenade" flying through the air just before it had detonated and had managed to shield his eyes before it had detonated, allowing him to preserve much of his night vision. Geez, Bruce must be farther gone that I thought. That kind of radiation could be lethal to everyone in the room who isn’t wearing a lead-lined cape. In other words, everyone but him. We’ve got to end this thing fast before someone really gets hurt.

By now, Bane was once again standing tall, and while he was no longer wielding the motorcycle as a weapon, in the long run, that didn’t make him any less dangerous. In addition, Samson looked more than a little woozy from the joint gamma flash and batarang attack. Bane needed to be put down and Doc Samson needed medical treatment. And both needed to happen right now.
Like his mentor, Nightwing let fly with two attacks of his own. The first nighterang severed the last of the tubes feeding Bane his venom, while the other struck the big man right across the bridge of his nose. Bane staggered but refused to go down.

"Doc! Finish him," Nightwing called out.

Fighting through a haze that made the world seem indistinct and dreamlike, Doc Samson heard Nightwing’s commands and forced himself to focus. It wasn’t easy, but he was able to gather enough of his wits to throw a weak (for him) punch in the general direction of Bane. Somewhat to his surprise, he felt his punch connect and he saw the big man in the dark blue costume go down. Bane had been defeated. But that final blow had taken a lot out of Doc Samson as well. The world spun before his eyes and he staggered and fell to one knee — an easy target for the still camouflaged Batman.

"Iceman, get Samson back to the medics," Nightwing ordered.

Bobby Drake didn’t need to be told twice. Immediately he grabbed Doc Samson around the waste, created an ice sheet beneath their feet, and whisked Samson away. Nightwing and Hawkman scanned the darkness looking for Batman. For while they could not see him, they knew he was out there and they had to find him.

Suddenly, a bright light flashed on in the driveway just beyond the mouth of the garage. Both Nightwing and Hawkman looked in the direction of the new threat, only to be confronted by the sight of Harley Quinn dancing vigorously, with what appeared to be industrial strength road flares sprouting from her shoes.

"Hellooooo you big studs! Do you like my little dance? Mr. J always said I was light on my feet!"

So distracted was Nightwing by the display that he did not see Batman launch a batarang toward him. Unaware of the attack, and thus unable to roll with it, the batarang caught Nightwing full force in the throat, staggering the erstwhile young leader.

That’s what you get for caring more about your friends than about yourself, Batman thought. If you had sacrificed Samson you would have remained uninjured. You’ll never learn.

Seeing Nightwing stumble, Hawkman moved quickly to pick him up and the two of them flew back to the rear of the mansion, where the paramedics had established a rudimentary MASH unit. As he arrived, he saw one of the medics starting to tend to Doc Samson.

"No wait," called Destiny to one of the you paramedics. Don’t use that needle on him, it is going to break.

"What are you talking about?" asked Juanda, the youngest of the medics.

"Trust me," replied Destiny. "Use that one, third from the right."

"Listen to her!" shouted Hawkman. "She can see the future. She knows what she is talking about!"

"Okay," said Juanda, unsure what else to do. She reached in to her medical bag, pulled out the needle that was third from the right and affixed it to a vial of stimulant and plunged the needle into Doc Samson’s arm. To everyone’s amazement, Doc’s eyes immediately opened and he hopped to his feet.

"I feel MUCH better," he proclaimed.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

A Dark Knight at Wayne Manor (Part 2)

Batman’s smile was cold as ice. It was nice to be home. It was going to be even nicer once he had eliminated that brat Nightwing, though. Dick had long gotten in his way. He never took his responsibilities as seriously as he should. He was too willing to let his friends sway him. Weaknesses. All weakness. Who needs friends so long as you had minions? Friends were a liability in combat. Minions were an asset — they could be deployed and if they didn’t come back, you just got more.

Nightwing was somewhere on the mansion’s grounds and he was going to find him. He was going to find him and...

The smile faded from the Dark Knight’s face.

What exactly am I going to do to Dick? And why am I so mad at him?

Batman looked around him and noted the presence of Bane, Harley, and Man-Bat as well as Dove and the Checkmate agents. They were all looking at him, obviously waiting for orders.

Why am I working with Bane and the others? This doesn’t make any sen—

A shock ran through his skull and all of his reservations about what he was doing vanished. Certainty of cause returned — and with it, his evil smile.

“Here is what we are going to do,” Batman said briskly. “Langstrom, you and Bane will move into the mansion proper and see if there are any surprises waiting for us. The rest of us will work along the west side of the mansion toward the garage. Bane, if there is no reason for you to stay in the mansion, I want you to also head toward the garage. I don’t want to divide our forces any more than I have to. You medics hang back in support and help out where necessary.

“Oh, and remember this. You have a free hand to eliminate whoever you find. But Nightwing is mine!

“Dove fly me over to the garage.”

Dove did as she was told, depositing her leader near some elaborate topiary where he promptly vanished into the shadows.

“Let’s go you winged freak,” Bane snarled at Man-bat.

“Skree!” responded Man-Bat as he took to the air, grabbed Bane by the shoulders and flew toward the Mansion’s front door. He slowed only once to allow Bane to kick the heavy oaken doors off their hinges and then the two darted inside. Man-bat flew rapidly through the dark corridors, quickly reaching the main great room. He put Bane down. Nothing moved. There were no sounds of any kind. The house appeared empty.

“Well, that’s that,” growled Bane. “I’m not hanging around in here while all the fun is taking place outside. I’m...hey, look at this!”

A motorcycle stood near one wall, spare parts and tools littering the ground around it.

“Must be nice to be so rich you can work on your motorcycle in the TV room and not have to worry about the mess. Someone else will clean up after you, so what do you care?”

“Skree!”

“Well, since I’m heading for the garage anyway...” Bane punched a button on the back of his mask and Venom pumped into his blood. “Ah...what a rush.” His muscles bulged and he felt his inhuman strength return. He picked up the motorcycle in one hand and ran down a wide hallway to the west. Without stopping, he swung the motorcycle against the door at the end, shattering it, ran across the thin grassy path next to the mansion, and entered the garage.

“This is where a motorcycle belongs,” Bane said, holding the vehicle like a weapon.

# # #

“I can see them moving up toward the garage,” Hawkman called down to the team, “Bane ran in there and I saw Dove fly Batman forward, but I’ve lost sight of him now.”

“I’m not surprised,” responded Nightwing. “Get down here. I want you to get me into that garage. Iceman, you bring Doc. We know where they are. No sense in hiding from them.”

Hawkman dove down and grabbed Nightwing under the shoulders. In seconds, he was flying into the darkened garage through the rear doorway. Iceman and Doc Samson were only seconds behind, borne forward by one Iceman’s ice sheets. Hawkman dropped Nightwing and the team’s young leader appraised the situation. Bane stood just to one side of the doorway, a motorcycle in hand. He didn’t see Batman anywhere, but he knew that meant next to nothing. Oh well, if Bruce won’t come out and play, at least we can have fun with one of his lackeys.

“Bane, you look so tough standing there, a veritable pillar of testosterone and strength! Let’s see how you feel after a little bit of this!”

Nightwing pulled, unfolded, and threw one of his trademark nighterangs all in one fluid motion. The razor sharp weapon whizzed past Bane’s head and thunked solidly into the wall behind him. Bane counted his lucky stars. The kid seldom missed with those things and he knew he had just dodged a bullet. But just a second later, Bane’s elation changed to shock as he realized that, in fact, his luck may have just run out. The motorcycle, which until then had felt as light as paper began to grow heavy. Nightwing had severed some of the tubes that transmitted the venom into his blood. He was growing weaker...fast.

Doc Samson seized upon the opportunity that Nightwing had provided him. Using his knowledge of biology from years as a medical researcher, he targeted a particularly vulnerable spot on Bane’s torso and unleashed a mighty roundhouse right. The blow doubled over the killer from the Carribean, causing him to drop the motorcycle to the ground with a crash.

# # #

Monday, April 25, 2005

A Dark Knight at Wayne Manor

Okay, this is a little creative qriting assignment I gave myself after a night of playing Hero Clix with some friends. If you have ever played Clix, there are several things you will notice. 1) This is a mixed Marvel/DC game. 2) This game took place a couple of years ago, so what happens here is governed by the original rules (in other words, "taxi-ing" is still an important part of the game). 3) Some powers are hard to translate into prose (Outwit, I'm looking at you!), but I think I did a decent job.

Finally, this was a rather long battle, so I will be breaking it up over 4 or 5 posts. Hope you like it!

========

Nightwing chuckled ruefully as Bobby Drake formed an ice sculpture in the shape of the Bat-signal. "Unless we’re able to bring Batman back to his senses, that may be the closest anyone comes to seeing that signal again."

"I know," Bobby responded. "It’s really sad to see such a great hero and leader like Batman acting like this."

"I’m still convinced that there is something wrong. He has to be under someone’s control or there has to be some other explanation. I’ve known Batman a long time and this is totally out of character for him." Nightwing frowned. "I can only hope that once we’ve captured him we can find out what’s going on." He tossed a rock out into the pool behind Wayne Manor.

There was a rustle of feathers and Nightwing looked up.

"They’re here," said a gruff voice.

"Thanks, Hawkman. Who’s with him?"

"Best as I could tell, Dove, Harley Quinn, two Checkmate agents, Man-Bat...and Bane."

"Wow." Nightwing sighed. "Well, at least he hasn’t started teaming up with the Joker."

"Hmph," replied Hawkman, non-plussed.

"Okay folks, let’s do it." Nightwing turned to his makeshift team. With a dramatic flourish, Bobby transformed into Iceman. Doc Samson smiled slightly and cracked his knuckles. Destiny remained inscrutable behind her golden mask. The three paramedics that had agreed to work with the team looked at each other nervously. They were not used to working around powers and the prospect of getting caught in the crossfire of a major showdown such as this had them on edge.

"Ladies, I know that you are nervous, but your agreeing to be here is much appreciated. We will do everything we can to keep you out of harm’s way by moving the battle as far from you as possible. But you will need to remain on guard and be ready to help out at a moment’s notice. Every second is going to count. Okay?"

They each nodded.

"Great." Nightwing smiled his best pretty-boy smile and touched each of them on their shoulder. "You’ll do great.

"Destiny, I want you, Sheila, Amy, and Juanda to take up a position along the back wall of the mansion. It’ll provide you with cover and allow you to move quickly to help out where needed."

# # #

Time Sure Flies....

Welcome back! Sorry for not posting on Friday – I really do feel lousy about that since I have only been doing this blog for about two weeks, and I already missed my first installment. If you were paying me for this, I could understand you issuing me a warning for my personnel file. As it is, I hope you will forgive me and accept my humble apologies.

Now that I have dispensed with that little bit of bootlicking, let me get on to the meat of today’s installment.

For those of you that don’t know, while I live in Richmond, I am still working at my old job in Washington, DC. This means that I go home on the weekends to spend time with my family and do house projects. I then drive back to DC on Sunday night, crash at a friend’s place during the week, and then repeat the process.

As you can imagine, ths whole thing is a bit of a drag. On the upside, however, my last day at my grownup job is coming on May 6, I will be reunited with my family full time, and I will be able to hit the ground running on my quest. On the down side, the last day of my grownup job is coming on May 6 and my steady employment (and the paycheck and the health insurance that comes with it) stops for the first time since 1992. A bit scary that.

I mention all of this to let you know that things will probably really start to heat up after the first week in May. Until then, I will continue to post my thoughts and plans, but it will only be after May 6 that the concrete steps are really going to start taking place.

The Distinguished Competition

I have been researching exactly who will be my competition in the Richmond market, and it appears that there are (basically) nine stores in the greater Richmond area. I have yet to visit any of these stores, so I am looking forward to seeing what they are like. Heck, even if my store ends up never opening, I at least need to find a place to get my weekly fix, so I HAVE to check these places out. I’ll begin visiting these stores this coming weekend, and I’ll let you know what I’ve seen.

On the whole, though, this does make one question whether the Richmond market is already saturated with comic book stores. I guess it is possible, but having come from the DC area, I have seen that if properly marketed and differentiated, then a lot of stores can coexist without cannibalizing each other’s clientele. In fact, the store I buy all of my comics — Beyond Comics 2 on Wisconsin Avenue in Georgetown — is literally right around the corner from another store. I don’t want to have a repeat of that situation when I get Big Monkey up and running, but it does make me feel that it is possible for several stores to coexist with one another.

In Closing

Okay, I think that today’s installment was a little dry. But to make it up to you, I am going to post the first part of a three part Hero Clix adventure on the site tomorrow, so hopefully that will bring you back. Trust me, this little experiment in creative writing is well worth reading!

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

What’s In a Name?

Well, it has finally happened. I have settled on a name. And I want to thank my good friends Dustin Brown and Scipio Garling (of Absorbascon fame) for all of their help in making this possible.

Going into this adventure, I had thought I would name my place "Otherworlds" – hence the name of the ol’ blog. But the more I thought about it, the less I liked the sound of it, especially as the focus of the store moved from games to comics. Otherworlds made more sense when I was selling a gaming experience, a chance to visit myriad new worlds and visit, explore, and/or conquer them. But it seemed too...obtuse, too erudite, for a comic store that also will be selling games.

So I began pondering a new name. And Dustin and Scip moved me away from my initial idea of naming the store after the region of Richmond in which I wanted to place it, The Fan. I was gravitating towards Fanboy comics, or Fantom Comix, or some such thing. They pointed out some faults with those names. Then Scip noted the branding potential of placing a crazy adjective alongside an unexpected noun — say Fat Moose, or Sexy Pigeon — and the doors opened.

So, what is the name of the store?

(Dramatic music swells!)

Big Monkey Comics.

I’m just tickled by the chance to answer a ringing phone and say, "Thanks for calling the Big Monkey. Can I help you?"

And the logo possibilities are limitless....

Monday, April 18, 2005

Comics Per Square Foot and Other Stuff

Okay, since my last post a few people — okay, a couple...alright, one — have asked me how I came up with my "number of comic books needed to pay my rent" computation. Allow me to explain, but before I do, let me state flat out that this is a back of the envelope type of computation that really bears only a passing resemblance to reality.

First, I assumed that each comic book I sold would cost $3.00. Most books range from $2.00 to $3.00, but I figured if I factored in trade paperback sales, I would not be totally out of my gourd to suggest that the average cover price of each book is around $3.00.

Next, I assumed that I would get a 50% discount on each book when I bought it from Diamond (the main (only) comic book distributor). This percentage is probably a bit high for the amount of volume I will be moving at the beginning, but it was a good round number to work with.

Therefor, if I sold each comic for $3.00, I would have to use $1.50 of each sale to cover the cost of the product, and I could then use the other $1.50 to pay expenses. Hence, I took the rent of each example and divided it by $1.50 to give me the number of books I would need to sell to pay for my lease.

Of course, there are many other expenses associated with this enterprise — utilities, taxes, insurance, etc. However, there are also additional revenue streams — games, toys, T-shirts, etc. — that would also be thrown in to the computational mix. With the proper level of promotion and luck, one would hope that I could make ends meet.

New Stuff...

I’ve been kicking around on eBay lately trying to get a feel for the costs associated with a point of sale system. As you’d expect, the prices vary wildly depending on what exactly I want to buy (and from whom).

The actual software to run the system looks like it might be relatively inexpensive, about $25 or so. This was actually a lot less expensive than I had thought it would be and the programs would give me more functionality than I could likely ever use. Which is a good thing.

Prices start going up, though, when you try to figure out what exactly you want in terms of the cash register/bar code scanner/credit card machine. I’m inclined to buy everything in a single bundle rather than try to mesh the pieces together on my own. I know this is actually going to cost me more, but if I know going in that on the day I open the store all of the sales hardware and software are actually going to talk to one another, then I look at the extra cost as a piece of mind tax. Of course, if we are talking about a difference in price of over $1,000, then I have to ask myself exactly how much my piece of mind is worth....

On the flip side, I have a computer guru friend who is showing some interest in helping me put all of the pieces together, so that may influence my decisions as well.

I’m pretty sure that regardless of which way I go I will be looking at a PC attached to all of the peripherals as opposed to a more traditional cash register. Since I’m a small store, I just think this will make more sense because I’m not looking for multiple registers feeding information into a central hub. Most likely I’ll have a single computer handling all of the transactions (and transmitting the information to...somewhere else...to keep me from losing all of my data in case someone breaks in and steals the thing).

Furthermore, this would maintain a unified look with the second computer I would have on the sales counter. This computer would have Internet access and be on at all times so that I can show customers important and cool websites that might help to drive up their excitement for a new and existing product. Upcoming movie trailers, websites and forums for particular books and games, comic book news sites are just some of the kinds of information I’d like to be able to show to customers.

Anything you can do to demonstrate to a niche market consumer that they are not the only person enjoying their particular hobby will heighten their own excitement and may very well translate to increased sales.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Square Footage

Okay, not many concrete steps taken this week, but even a baby step forward is still a step forward.

Began pricing out some store fronts. The going rate for the type of locations I’m looking for seem to be in the $10.00 to $15.00 a square foot range. On the whole, that ain’t bad. Especially when you compare it to the square foot cost in Washington, DC where I just left. There it is easy to find $20.00 to $25.00 a square foot costs in the city and in the close in suburbs. And let’s not even talk about the high rent locales where the costs can get just down right scary.

So let’s do the math, shall we?

For a store front Christine — my beautiful and supportive wife — found about 6 blocks from my home and about 6 blocks from the campus of Virginia Commonwealth University, the rent is $12.50 per square foot. The store is 2400 square feet. This is a bit larger a space than I am looking for. My guess is that I would probably need about 1,500 square feet to give the store the openness I want while still remaining economically viable at the beginning. But let’s work with this store for purposes of our initial analysis.

$12.50 X 2,400 = $30,000 in rent per year/12 months = $2,500 per month in rent.

In order to pay my rent, I would need to sell at least 1,667 comic books a month. That’s a lot of comics.

Okay, let’s look at this a different way. Let’s say I find a store front that is 1,500 square feet and still charges $12.50 per square foot.

$12.50 X 1,500 = $18,750 per year/12 months = $1,562.50 per month in rent.

1,042 comic books.

(*Deep breath*) That’s a little better.

Did I mention that opening a comic book store was not a widely accepted path toward financial independence? And did I mention that there are a lot of things in life more important than money?

On another note, I’ve decided that I will be updating this site every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday unless events dictate that I update it more frequently. So check back on Monday to see what’s going on!