The comic shop, as we know it, is a strong and mighty thing.
So was the record industry. And much like the record industry, digital downloading threatens to take a substantial bite out of the industry pie.
We've heard the arguments:
"Comics cost too much."
"They're doing too many crossovers. Who can afford to keep up with them all."
"Comics haven't been very good lately. Why should I pay for something I may not want?"
Sure, alot of the blame could and SHOULD lay at the feet of the comics publisher but you know what? I've never published a comic so I can only talk about what I know: selling comics in a comic book store.
With bookstores, online subscription services and digital downloading more prevalent, the comics shop as we know it, is on notice and doesn't seem to know or care.
I think the idea of the comics shop needs a lot of tweaking. Too many comic shop owners hold onto a model of “If we open the doors, people will come in.” Maybe they will but can you make them WANT to stay? Only in the comic book business model does the usually customer EXPECT to get “fair” to “middling” service on a weekly basis. Too many comics shops run like extensions of an owner's basement. Televisions blaring, product remaining unorganized, their friends hanging out. You walk in and usually you're asked if you can be helped, all said in a way that infers they'd rather be doing anything but. This is no way to run a business. The brick and mortar experience, in some stores, isn't anything you'd want to experience. In order to combat this, here's my advice to any comic shop wanting to do better:
You sell other's ideas, some of these ideas have been done to death. There's nothing you can do about that. All of the other comic shops have access to the same Previews order forms and the same product that you do. There will never be anything you can do about it.
You can't change the product so here's what you do:
You change the customer.
You have them expect SERVICE.
You bother to memorize their names. They walk in having CHOSEN to do business with you. This is what you call a “business relationship.” Box numbers are for soapbox racers, not customers.
Greet them as they walk in. You don't know what type of day this person is having. Your store should be their own little “Fortress of Solitude” each and every time they walk through the door. Don't kill that buzz, encourage it. Treat your shop as a their haven. This is how you keep a customer by building community and reputation one customer at a time. Encourage that.
Keep in mind that with your actions, the first time someone walks into a comics shop could be their last time. You don't want to be the cause of that.
Make yourself obsolete. When I say this, I don't mean it in the sense of, "Fire yourself." No, train your employees. Train them to be knowledgeable. Don't keep them ignorant. Enable them. Encourage them. A good employee will work as hard while you're gone as they would when you're there. The greatest compliment I ever got was from a customer who called to let me know he didn't know I was on vacation.
If I request something, don't give me an "I don't know." Any business that follows that up with a "...but let me find out for you," will likely keep me as a customer.
Order as if you were a new customer. This should be a no-brainer but keep comics & trades in stock. Don't think that because someone bought DC: The New Frontier Volume One your job's done. Ask yourself, while you're waiting for that person to come back and purchase Volume Two, did you lose a new customer by not re-ordering Vol. One?
Don't arrange your sections according to some sort of logic that only you can understand. Alphabetically by book title usually works for me.
Be quick to make it right. Screw-ups happen. Diamond may have screwed up your order but you know what? The customer really doesn't care. Instead of making excuses, make it right. Do whatever you need to do remind that customer why they chose your business in the first place.
Try to order a few titles outside of your comfort zone. Not everyone's in love with superheroes. Stock your store as if you were a customer on the hunt for something new and exciting. Treat your store as if it were a treasure chest. Try a new Oni Press title every once in a while. If it doesn't sell, lesson learned. There is no sweeter sound than a customer shocked that "They have this!?"
Have a favorite title? Try and keep it that way. Books get canceled due to low sales. Sell a book as if its life depended on it. When I worked at a certain place, I would scream from the rafters the glories of Blue Beetle, Local and Manhunter, we took our numbers from single digits to doing “mid-tier” X-Men title numbers. All on word of mouth. Use your words to sell your comics.
Always remember that your doors literally open to some of the greatest stories ever told. Under your roof, gods battle for control of the universe, redheaded teenagers in their 70's stay young and alive, aliens invade on a weekly basis, animals stand upright and do whatever it takes to make you laugh, Superman fights “The Never-Ending Battle,” crime wars are waged on top of rooftops and giant typewriters and stories about ordinary lives thrown into extraordinary circumstances unfold on the comics page.
These are the things an online subscription service can't offer the consumer, that sense of adrenaline you can feel on a new glorious Wednesday. This is the thing only you can offer them.
A "New Comics Day!"
If the idea of that doesn't excite you then, man... you're in the wrong business.