We’ve all been there: The seedy, low-rent comic shop that looks like the bastard love-child of a hoarder’s garage sale and a disaster site. Comics, toys, games, and t-shirts are haphazardly arranged in no discernible organizational style. Back issue boxes are virtually inaccessible, covered in random detritus. Aisles are so narrow and crammed with so much flotsam that the slightest mistake could lead to a Wall-E style garbage heap collapse. And, to top it all off, the guy behind the counter can’t be bothered to look up from his copy of The Lost Girls long enough to answer a simple “Do you guys have the latest issue of Captain America?”
Local comic book shops are an interesting breed of retail establishment. In an industry that thrives on repeat customers driven by intense fandom, a successful comic shop must toe the line between catering to the hardcore fan-base and serving new potential customers without scaring them away. It’s a tough tightrope to walk, and attention to the right details is an absolute necessity.
Over the course of these articles, I’ll discuss what I believe are the cardinal sins that local comic shops should avoid to keep customers – new and returning – happy for the long run. There are very few shops I’ve encountered that manage to avoid all of these problems, but the ones that have come the closest tend to be the most successful. There are five cardinal sins that I’ll cover in the coming articles: Organizational Folly, Ordering Blunders, Employing Trolls, The Blank Stare, and ClutterClutterClutter.
I’ll start things off simple, with a problem that I consider to be half a sin:
I understand that the vast majority of local comic shops are sole proprietorships; small businesses run by one person or a small group of people. As such, it might be common for a shop to be unexpectedly closed, or closed during a lunchtime hour. These situations are acceptable – sometimes stuff happens, and you gotta do what you gotta do.
How many times, however, have you seen something like this:
Really? Regardless of what you think your sales performance might be in the opening or closing hour of a day, your customers have to be able set reasonable expectations for your store’s availability. I shouldn’t have to look up my shop’s hours every single time I go there because I’m not sure what they could be that day. Set a reasonable, regular schedule.
And most importantly, stick to it. Just because your store is slow one night shouldn’t mean closing early. What happens to the guy who rushes down to the shop one night, only to get there five minutes before the posted closing time to find the shop shut down? I can’t count the number of times I’ve stopped by some of my local shops after work during the week, only to find that they’d bailed early. If I can’t expect consistency, I’ll find somewhere else to get my books.