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!


At 7:14 AM, Blogger Ed Sizemore said...

Jack, I'm glad your making the rounds. Patrick at Velocity is a great guy. Ask him about his days as a philosophy major at VCU. I agree Dave's is a very cramped store and not the most inviting place I've been to. I do have a soft spot for Nostalgia Plus, it's a little cluttered and confused, but you can find some great stuff if you look around. It reminds me of a used book store, and I mean that as a compliment.

At 7:38 PM, Blogger Scipio said...

Does that help at all, Jack/

At 10:07 PM, Blogger Johanna said...

Dave's is just terrible. The one time I visited, they followed us around like they expected us to steal something. (Which would be easy to do, since there was crap piled everywhere.) I suspect them seeing a female in there is unusual, but that's not my fault.

At 5:15 AM, Blogger Ed Sizemore said...

Scipio, I didn't know about Dave's other website. Thanks for the info.

At 7:19 PM, Anonymous McTodd said...

I've been to Nostalgia Plus many times, and while the store is fine, the service is not. The help is always sitting very confrontationally behind the counter, watching some terrible TV show. I have never felt welcome, even when I was going on a weekly basis.

And I can only repeat what everyone has said about Dave's. Small, awkward, and they always think you're going to steal something. Plus the horrible location made this a never return shop for me.

I wish I knew about the VCU store when I was in the area, it would have been much better than the other alternatives mentioned.

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