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.


At 8:36 AM, Blogger Ed Sizemore said...

Jack, The picture showing long boxes on the tables is an old one. The gaming tables stay empty during the week now. Richmond Comix doesn't carry a lot of back stock. Sorry, you didn't get to spend more time looking around.

At 8:45 AM, Blogger Johanna said...

Glad you liked the store! It's not as long a haul out there as it seems if you're convenient to 288.

Speaking of location, I think the Far West End/Short Pump is underserved as an area, but maybe that's just me.

At 3:07 PM, Blogger Scipio said...

This situation you describe (three or four stores in the suburbs) is similar to that in DC, I think. Yet DC itself supports two comic books stores around the corner from each other!

Richmond is a smaller town, but still, I think it would be doable, particularly as comic book are becoming increasingly mainstream.

At 5:11 PM, Blogger Ed Sizemore said...

I want to second Johanna about 288 really changing the accessiblity of the store. I work downtown and come straight from work to pick up my new comics. I usually make it to Richmond Comix in 30 minutes. I then go home using 288 and it is only 20 minutes.

By the way, thanks for mentioning how Frank makes kid's comics accessible. I know Frank and the crew work very hard to make the store child and female friendly.

At 3:05 PM, Blogger Guy LeCharles Gonzalez said...

Glad to hear Richmond Comix fits your vision for your own store. Means you're on the right track!

The two things that stood out the most for me when I visited a while back were the all ages comics racked at the front of the store, and the overall welcoming feel of the entire space, something my wife really appreciated. The owner, Frank, is a nice guy, too. Looking forward to picking up some of my weekly stash from him when I'm in town in a couple of weeks.

At 1:11 PM, Blogger Devon said...

Keep at it, Jack You're more than on the right track.

At 9:41 PM, Blogger JackM said...

Thanks guys (and gal!) for your comments. It was a weird week in that I definitely asked myself several times if this was really the right thing to do. But, strange as it sounds, the visit to Richmond Comix really helped to reinvigorate me.

I'm gong to be spending a solid amount of time over the next week or so trying to nail down the specific region I want to place the store (probably not the exact location) so that I have a good connection to potential customers while not stepping DIRECTLY into someone else's territory (if you will).

Once I have that done, I think I am going to go ahead and apply for my business license so that I can begin the official connection-making with Diamond, etc.

I'm also going to be painting several rooms of my house during the next ten days, so it will be a test to see exactly how much stamina I've got and if my time management skills have atrophied since I left my job!

Stay tuned and keep sending me the positive vibes.


At 9:46 PM, Blogger Brett said...

Good evening! really summed up the uphill battle that one in Richmond faces as the (future) owner of a comic shop.

Two years ago I was searching for a way to open up a comic shop, but one that focused SOLELY on a back-issue market.

I found that newer books were always a margin-destroying prospect. As you mention you would consider offering a percent-off deal for customers. Think of it like this:

Initial orders from diamond usually achieve a 48-52% break from diamond...let's just say 50% for the sake of ease. Now...if you offer a 10% really aren't losing that 10% as you say, but rather 20% of your profit!

When you take that into account, you will also understand why there is also a rather strong back-issue "behind-the-scenes" game that is also running in this scene.

Yes, I own a comic shop in Richmond. Can I sell new comics and keep my shirt on my back? Well...I graduated from a 4 year business school, and I would have to say, I doubt that I could. That is why I respect you for tossing caution into the wind and trying your hand at an amazingly challenging industry.

Case in point: I gave up a $70-75k/yr job to take in less than 10% of that last year as personal salary. At one point I had 6 full-timers and 2 part timers working at my comic shop here in Richmond last year, and it was still gruelingly tough...and that was on the 50-90% margins in the back issue market! Ugh!

Well...long story short...welcome to the fray. If you would ever like to drop by my comic shop (by appointment only), give me a call. I am the first guy listed under "comics" in the yellow pages. There are no little kids, no cash registers and no games, but I do have a great passion for comics, and in the last 2 years, I have learned quite a bit about how to get comic things amazingly cheap. I would be happy to pass these ideas on to you.



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