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    • CommentTimeMar 17th 2011
    Lots of good advice here; I'm second some of it. My Dad ran a small grocery store, some of this stuff I learned from him. Some came from chatting retail biz with shop-owners, and some from what I've liked and not liked about various shops over the last 35 years.

    Inventory and sales tracking are absolutely critical. You don't know if you have 'shrinkage' (as we so politely call it over here) unless you know for certain what you bought, what you sold, and what's on inventory. They're the three legs of a tripod. Lose any one and you lose the store. Had a friend lose his bookstore by doing simple cash flow accounting. Cash said he bought 10,000 books and sold 6,000, giving him a nice paid-for inventory. But the shelves were pretty empty. Turned out that a couple of needy friends he'd hired were light-fingering books and cash, and his wife took from the till to pay their living costs. If he'd had real data, he'd known before the hole got too deep.

    For a serial medium with a moderately long order cycle, it's also important to know as fast as possible what sells. If it takes you three months to notice that BugBoy sells out instantly while ToadSuckers only sells three of ten, you've missed three months of the order/sell cycle. You're stuck with back issues of ToadSuckers and some of your customers have gone to another store to buy BugBoy. Once they're happy elsewhere, they're gone. Knowledge *to the day level* matters - if BugBoy sells out in hours, you'd better start ordering big. If it takes two weeks, you only want to up the order a little. If it took a month, you might not want to up the order at all.

    Can you do all of that in your head? Yes, and I've seen stores that do it. But they're one-man shops, and they'll be one-man shops until they day they close. That guy's in the store every open hour, year in and year out. As the owner of a retail startup, you should expect that for at least a couple of years. But it can lead you to bad habits w/r/t that inventory and sales tracking. When someone else starts working for you, you lose some of the knowledge of what sells and how quick. Make sure systems to track are in place even when it's just you. If they're not, you'll never have it ready when you start depending on someone else. Paper works, paper is fine. Just do it.

    Having frequent sales trains your customers to wait for sales. Make 'em rare, make 'em good, and make 'em for good reason: to clear out dead inventory and give your cash flow a one-time push.

    Don't give discounts to everybody who walks thru the door. Tie them to your pull boxes. Guy pulls 10 titles a month, give him a few percent. Guy pulls 20, give him more.

    Hand-sell your product and know your customers. Stores got me buying Cerebus, Zot, The Badger, etcs by saying "You get X and Y every month, you'll probably like Z." My guy did that, and even gave me a free issue of things he recommended. After the third or fourth time his recommendations were right, I started listening and buying a lot more. Neither of us ever regretted it.

    What people said about hiring women? Seconded. Women will listen to a knowledgable woman's opinion. If a shop is safe and friendly for a woman to work, it's safe and friendly for women to shop. And frankly, in low-wage jobs women are typically more reliable and more honest. Not that you're going to hire someone for a while. But if you can sweet-talk your sweetie into watching the shop while you fetch takeaway for the two of you, awesome. It just makes for a friendly place.

    But don't be too friendly with your customers. If you put in tables and chairs, tie them strongly to stuff purchased in the shop. Not that I have any good ideas on how, but the tables, like everything else in the store, are there to generate revenue. If they don't, out they go.

    Stomp every shoplifter. Not literally, you can wind up in jail. But report every one to the cops, and ban every one from the store. Do it on first offense, no exceptions. No sob stories, and only back off on the cops if the guy immediately buys what he tried to lift. Even if he does, you still ban him. Word gets around fast on who's a soft touch.

    Listen to your customers, but not *too* much. If Coville's 65% number is right, you need to have something that'll appeal to Joe Walk-in as well as Randy Regular. Try to serve both, neither to the exclusion of the other.

    Displays matter. Do 'em right. A store I liked had a simple and effective display method. There was a 20" shelf set that ran right down the center of the floor - first thing you saw when you walked in. New releases were always on the top shelf front, easy to find. After that, they moved onto the lower shelves, face out in alphabetical order by title. When the lower shelves got crowded, the oldest stuff moved to the dense bins in the back or were returned. If you only hit the store once a month, you could still find everything easily. And having stuff be face out for a month or two started setting hooks in my head. Eventually I bought Love and Rockets because every time I went in the store, those interesting women were there staring at me. After a year, I decided there must be some substance to it if it kept coming out and bought one. The next month I bought a shitload of back issues. Never would have happened if it wasn't on display with the now-forgotten L-book superhero stuff.

    Why alphabetical mattered? A couple folks have said that superheroes keep the lights on. They do, but making them too prominent crowds out the stuff people keep buying after superheroes pall. When Strangers in Paradise sits right next to Superman, it's much likelier to get noticed than if it's in an indies section. Your Marvel Zombies and DCnoughts know what they want and can still find it. Create a Marvel ghetto and a DC 'hood and an Indy reservation, you're never going to get the bleedover you want from the Big Two to the rest of the market. Segregate your back bins; people who prowl those are already narrowly focused. But keep your front mixed, lively, and regularly adjusted to your sales.

    Eh, I've gone on far too long here. Listen to what's been said here, but if any of it doesn't work for you, toss it and go your own way. Except for the inventory/sales tracking stuff. That's the core to any retail success. If you don't have data, you can't do your accounting. If you don't do your accounting, you're fucked six ways from Sunday. The rest of it . . . do what makes sense for the shop you want to have.
  1.  (9654.22)
    Ensure your store layout has plenty of space, air and light. That may be difficult depending on the location you've got, but make sure two people (and that's comic book readers, not gym-monkeys ;) can easily get past each other in the aisles. Paint everything - walls, ceiling, shelves, stands, racks, boxes, etc - white, it'll make whatever light is available stretch much further, and don't paper over the walls with posters, space them out so there's plenty of white exposed to bounce the light around.

    Maintain your web presence. If you don't think you can maintain and regularly update a blog or twitter feed, then don't start one. If you do start one and can't keep it up, delete it entirely. Nothing hurts a website (and by extension it's associated business) more than a link for "Latest News!" that hasn't been updated in 6 months.
    • CommentAuthorDarkest
    • CommentTimeMar 18th 2011 edited
    How's your disabled access?

    I think it's ok, other than perhaps widening the doorway a bit.

    A lot of great ideas here. And I've been meaning to address it but I've been busy.

    I've had a lot of help from Business Link. The Govt's help and support service, although if you want their help and you really do you better get moving they are closing down in november. Also I'm going to Her Magesty's Revenue and Customs free courses some time soon. They are highly recommended.
    • CommentAuthorFlabyo
    • CommentTimeMar 18th 2011
    The whole pscyhology of where it's best to rack stuff in a store is something that I find fascinating. I remember the first time some of these 'secrets' were revealed to me, and how from then on I've always been able to spot which stores use the tricks and which ones don't. Just finding out why the fresh fruit and veg is the first thing you see when you go into any supermarket was a bit of an eye-opener for me...
  2.  (9654.25)
    I don't use comic book shops a lot (mainly because we don't have a local one), but I think it's cool if a shop can support young local artists in some way. Host a comic art club, have a small section for their self published stuff. They'll pay you back by buying your stock and spreading the word hopefully! If you've got a bit of spare budget, you can bring pros and semi-pros in to host workshops as a way of gathering an art-loving crowd all in one place.
    Obviously being an artist I'd like the idea though, so I'm not sure how much real practicality/potential it has!
    • CommentTimeMar 18th 2011 edited
    Definitely hold Events if it's practical.

    The owner of my comic shop (Glenn Ford, who was the editor of Phantom Comics in Australia at the time) used to book out the local cinema for sneak previews of sci-fi and comics related movies and sell tickets to his regulars. Glenn had such good customer relations that when he moved the store halfway down the block, dozens of regulars showed up on a Saturday night and lugged all his stock down to the new address.
    • CommentAuthorDC
    • CommentTimeMar 18th 2011 edited
    I have a bit of experience helping doing inventory in a friend’s comics store (in the meantime changed its core from comics to merchandising).
    Competition is good. In my friend’s city there are 2 comic shops that are very different. One it’s expensive but has nearly everything you can think of and a gallery space where they frequently show works from local and international artists. The other sets itself apart through their low prices, making comics related events and being more manga-oriented. Instead of trying to be all over the place with low prices, merchandising, huge stocks, gallery or whatever, just focus on finding your own “thing”.
    Don’t get in an open war with the competition. If the store down the street has some kind of comics event going on, don’t come up with something on a short notice just to “steal” customers from the other store. It looks desperate and customers that would like to go to both stores will have to choose which one to go. That is a sale one of the stores won’t see when both could have it . Let it pass and make your own event. You’ve seen how the neighbor’s event was and now you can make something even more kickass.
    Like some people said, do sales rarely but good. It’s not only about moving the unsellable things, there has to be something for all kinds of costumers. If I come to the store for a bargain you advertised and all I see is scattered vols. of several titles or old Virgin or Crossgen TPBs, what’s in there for me and especially what’s in there for a new customer?
    You’ll get stuck with certain backissues and books no matter how many sales and events you come up with. I’ve seen the same things over and over again while doing inventories and I finally baptized them as the untouchables, many from cool authors and/or titles. Try to give these untouchables a new spin by selling a whole arc with a bargain price, offer them to kids or random customers on FCBD or whenever you feel like it.
    If you do pull orders for costumers, pay very attention to their frequency. If you order copies for subscribers + some for the store, keep checking if the subscribers are coming every month to take them because if not, you’ll end up with more issues than you can sell. From what I’ve seen in my friend’s store, some costumers would simply disappear, not answering to e-mails and he would be stuck with 2+ months worth of orders that he wasn’t aware weren’t going to be picked up until it was too late.
    Good luck!
    • CommentAuthorDarkest
    • CommentTimeMar 19th 2011
    I remember when I went to visit some friends of my family in Homewood, Il. The comic shop sold a sealed brown paper bag with a random selection of comics in it. I bought 2 packs for the flight home.
    • CommentTimeMar 19th 2011
    @Darkest: Oooo, the comic store equivalent of's Bag of Crap. What a brilliant idea.
    • CommentAuthordossa1uk
    • CommentTimeMar 20th 2011
    Just jumping on late, but a couple of pointers from a guy who had his own (failed) record shop some years ago, and some of the things I learnt since that would've helped it stay open, plus one or two from shopping in good comic stores.

    - The big one. If you can persuade a supplier to give you credit (I imagine they will ask for a bond down first), then understand what "30 days nett monthly" means. I didn't, which meant, when a bill turned up, I would pay it. Simply put, 30 days nett monthly means you have 30 days from date of invoice to pay the bill. Most suppliers invoice at the start of the month for all the previous month's orders. So, if you are really smart, you do all your orders on the 1st of the month, to get invoiced early next month, and then pay 30 days after that - 60 days from point of order. Cash flow is the killer.

    - Don't stock a shop entirely with what you like - staff recommendations are important, and you are allowed to be honest if you don't like something (best to be tactful - sometimes saying things like "well, this is very popular" is a good way of dodging that bullet. For instance, in my old shop, that was the answer I would give when asked things like "well, what is the best Celine Dion record?").

    - Stick the superhero stuff in the secondary shelving. These will pay the bills, and people expect to come and buy them. However, putting the less well-known, niche books front and centre will inspire interest and questions ("Hey, what's this all about?") and drag in a different crowd, who might usually be stuck shopping on the internet.

    - Go into bad comic shops and work out what they do that makes you not want to shop there. For me, Android Dungeon-type shops, or awful, dark, dingy Forbidden Planet stores with no customer service are just bad retailers, plain and simple. Work out why you don't see women shopping there. That's 50 percent of your market, who want good stuff as much as anyone, not being fulfilled.

    - As per above comments, enjoy your punters. No hard-selling, and honesty rules - people will still buy books you tell them you can't recommend, but will trust you when you tell them something is great.

    - Oh, and no black on the walls!

    Lastly, have fun. Been retailing for 15 years, and there is still a good reason why the majority of people go to (good) stores. It can be a fantastic experience to find a great shop, with friendly staff - in fact, I happily pay slightly more to buy over the counter from a great shop, than save a few coins and order online.

    Good luck!
  3.  (9654.31)
    Weirdly I was in Gosh Comics today and it seems they've moved all their Superhero comics to the back of the shop so that tourists can see more interesting stuff. As said already the superhero fans will find the superhero comics or ask about them.

    If you get a chance you could ask Gosh about this, they're on twitter at @GoshComics .
    • CommentTimeMar 24th 2011
    i think all the does and don'ts are in this thread.
    I've been thinking about starting a shop also but i always saw the Comic shop as part of a Coffee bar.
    Buy your comic and drink some black water with it.

    This is just the habbit from old days when i went to the shop and then searched for the nearest pub/tavern so i could start to read all my new goodies.

    Nowadays i order online and just drink my coffee at home , kinda sad
  4.  (9654.33)
    Look at the hashtags #comicmarket and #comicmarkets on twitter.

    I've seen GN rental programs among all sorts of other things in there.
  5.  (9654.34)

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