Have been wondering about this for a little while - What puts you guys off buying the most in a store.
Mostly wanted to ask more about store level rather than high up changes to titles and artists etc.
What have you guys on a personal level found that stops you guys returning to a store? Whatever it may be like bad stock, poorly laid out store etc.
Anything really that you guys found out that could help store owners think differently about their own store and maybe change it for the better.
All constructive comments please guys.
Have been wondering about this for a little while - What puts you guys off buying the most in a store.
For me a successful shop will have:
A good layout with stock arranged logically so as to make it easy for people to find what they’re after, so this’ll be: New releases, not-so-new releases, trades.
A good atmosphere which is partly generated by a neat, well-laid out shop but more importantly good staff. This can be hard to crack, about the only rule going I can think of is if you get good people, try to hold onto them.
I don’t buy much from it now, but Orbital Comics in London is a great example of a comic shop that always feels good to walk into, due to the factors above being in play.
I have been going to the same LCS for almost 30 years and do not plan to stop but there are a few small cosmetic things I wish the owner would address:
Update the fixtures. Yes, the comic book bins are still in good shape, they look something made in a home workshop. Some of the display cases and bookshelves I know for a fact where scavenged from stores that went under and they look it. It puts you in mind of a flea market.
Update the interior: The flooring and wall paint color look so dated. Again, flea market.
Organize/tidy up product display: My LCS carries so much different product and much of it is on display. Your jaw will drop the first time you enter the store due to shock and awe. That is not inherently a bad thing. In theory, you will wak out of the store purchasing something. But it can get overwhelming and claustrophobic at times. While there is an overall organization to the store, some products feel haphazardly displayed. Once again, flea market feel.
The sad part is that I know the owner won’t do anything. He is the biggest LCS in the city and carries things no else in the city does. I’m sure he thinks that makes him immune to market forces. He tries his best to downplay the Internet but that’s foolish at best. I am sure you can find almost everything in his store online somewhere at a lower price. He has products on display that while looking “cool”, haven’t moved in many years. His stuff is priced a bit on the high side but by the look of the store, you would expect everything to be dirt cheap. He obviously is making enough to be successful but the whole thing feels like a house of cards waiting to collapse.
I am assume we’re talking strictly about comics stores.
That’s a bit tough as usually you don’t have a choice and I like different shops for different reasons. Layout and stock doesn’t bother me so much because I know people can just order stuff.
What might keep me from going back to a store is the staff. I’ve been in stores that give off the impression that they don’t want customers there and it’s turned me off. I’ve also been in stores where the staff is a bit too over-enthusiastic. One thing I hate is when staff see me holding a book that I’m clearly going to buy and tell me how awesome it is. Basically, I like to feel welcome and I like to be given space. I think that’s about it.
In terms of laying out a store I recommend this book, if you haven’t already read it:
Yes, I have edited the title a bit to make that clearer. I suggested Craig take this question from the retailer forum and into the main comics one so the actual customers could give their input.
What I mentioned there is the most frequent failing I’ve seen, and it echoes yours, is the staff. One branch of a big chain I used to go to was very much the ‘clubhouse’ of the employees, hanging around with friends, playing games, listening to loud music and giving very little attention to the customers. They had the city centre location and it was the best looking shop around but that put me off badly from shopping there (and I ended up using mail order!).
Unfriendly unprofessional staff. But, then, it’s been decades since I encounted bad staff.
Availability. Inventory control is always the crux of retail, so I understand how difficult it is to pick which and how many #1’s (for example) of new titles to stock. “Catching the eye” is critical in a comics shop - if covers did not do that there would be a much smaller market. There is a delicate balance between cornucopia and clutter.
I don’t care. I usually just go in, get the one or two floppies a month I do get, and get out.
I buy trades online.
This is kind of the elephant in the room, I think. If my LCS was able to match the prices I can find online, I’m pretty sure I’d pop in there a lot more regularly. But as a buyer of mainly collected editions, I’m unlikely to expend the time and money to visit a bricks-and-mortar store if it’s also going to cost me half as much again to buy what I want.
This is a problem that’s far bigger than just the comics industry, I know, but it’s certainly a big factor in why people choose to buy where they do.
Yes I think comics have actually done much better than the overall book market because of the periodical nature. You can get a trade much cheaper from an online vendor but you have to wait to read the story, at least 6 months in most cases. If you want to buy the latest Stephen King or whatever the retailer doesn’t have that advantage.
Saying that I have seen that our ‘dealer’ Ben who finds the best prices has often seen Forbidden Planet undercut the likes of Amazon. They have size on their side as the biggest comics chain but maybe there are opportunities for others to team up and compete in the same way.
Yeah, there’s been similar done with independent bookshops, think it’s called the Hive or something, I haven’t used it but it’s an interesting concept.
I think that’s the key, really. I own a store (not comics) and manage a retail staff, and that is the biggest thing. You want people who are comfortable talking to anyone, rich or poor, young or old, man or woman, black or white, the exact same way.
Comics stores have to be very wary of the “clubhouse” thing. I think gaming should be done in a back room. Friends should be discouraged from staying more than 10 minutes. There was one person who used to post here who would talk about staying in his LCS for an hour, reading everything he wasn’t planning to buy, and felt it was OK because he was a big spender. That should be avoided too. Cleanliness is part of this.
Music is so important. A lot of comics shops do feel the need to play punk or metal as it gives them an “edge” (maybe that’s what the guy behind the counter is often into). I will send memos to my employees a couple times a year to play what they want as long as it doesn’t involve squalls of feedback or yelling, or isn’t sad-guy coffee-shop acoustic music. I strongly believe melodic, catchy music makes a lasting impression…look at the Guardians of the Galaxy film.
As for pricing, there isn’t much to be done about that. Frequent buyer discounts of some kind are nice, but not everyone has that financial luxury. One thing I will say in that regard is that Image and Vertigo price a lot of first trades at $9.99 and I never see those grouped together with a clear sign that advertises the price and tells customers they’re good jumping-on points. That strikes me as a missed opportunity.
Personally I like quite a bit of metal or techno music, I know you do too but retail places that do incredible levels of customer research never play that stuff and definitely never play it loudly. The fan shop doesn’t know more than them, they are making a mistake.
That’s not to say you need some Kenny G muzak CD as you say, that can equally turn people off, but it needs to be pleasant for as many people as possible. Napalm Death turned up to 11 is retail suicide as much as the guy behind the counter might like it.
I’ve been shopping in Forbidden Planet and A1 Comics since around 1993.
Sadly, A1 is pretty poor now- it has basically become a toy shop with a comics section, and Forbidden Planet seems to be heading that way more and more too.
My local Forbidden Planet has always been way too small- it’s always rammed so it’s hard to have a good look around. I used to go to the one in Nottigham occasionally which was laid out much better.
So, lack of focus on comics puts me off a bit, though I do like looking at the toys etc, and bad layout/ being crammed puts me off too.
Yes, true - although of course digital is starting to change that dynamic too.
I’m not sure I agree with some of the points raised here.
Staff: The most second important element in a store, definitely. However, I think there’s something to be said for the club mentality, not to the point of the counter guy ignoring customers be definitely creating an environment where customers feel they’re in their own little hobby. The LCS is typically the only place where fans can talk about books, movies or characters, so that sort of thing should be encouraged. And quite often people get annoyed if they’re approached while browsing. Sometimes you just want to look. You need friendly approachable informed staff who can help customers navigate the comics environment - it’s difficult to find people like that but if you get one it definitely sets you apart.
Inventory: I feel this is the most important aspect. A comics store should be a thing of wonder, an Aladdins cave to all things geek. It should have stuff fans have never seen before, items that they know are really rare. It should have some amazing legendary silver age comic that people can look at. It’s a showroom, really just a way to market the history of all the brands. The latest monthlies aren’t enough, nor is cheap looking tat. And slow moving stock that’s been there for years is a disaster. Get rid of your 1990’s action figures that no-one ever bought. Freshen things up every so often. Give people cabinets to stare into. I think too many people treat comics like a book shop, when it should really be more of a toy store.
Prices: I understand that things will always be cheaper online, but stores can’t compete on that level and if that’s your barrier to buying then your business isn’t worth it. All hobby stores need to make a little premium for them to exist, and need a community to support them. Much like a restaurant, you might be able to eat cheaper elsewhere but you go to a certain place because you enjoy the environment and experience. Comic stores have to work for that premium, but without it there would be no local distribution. Competing with online is a foolish quest stores should avoid chasing.
Diversity: I don’t think comic stores can exist on comics alone, in the same way that comics can’t exist on superheroes alone. DC and Marvel are both tanking and if you rely on monthly sales they can easily put you in trouble. Stores need to expand somewhat - I like expanding into board games and other specialized hobbies as it crosses the demographics and makes the store more financially viable. I do notice a little resentment in the comics buyer if they see a store that offers more toys and games stuff than actual comics, but I think this type of shopper is offset by the increased audience you can serve. Again it’s like the online shopper - trying to keep that kind of customer happy is pretty impossible.
So what turns me off a store? Bad inventory first & quiet and disinterested staff second. Everything else I think is small potatoes.
I used to have a pull list at Gosh back in the 1990s so maybe they did this, but one thing the stores in Manhattan do is give $20 off after you spend $100 with them. I think that’s a smart way to get round the price issue – it kind of makes everything 20% off, but requires loyalty and a fair amount of buying.
The scene round here has changed a lot recently – Jim Hanley’s Universe closed and while I wish the guys who opened the smaller JHU well, it’s not the same. I also used to like Cosmic Comics on 23rd street, but that’s also gone. The main game in town now is Midtown Comics, and I like them, but I must say I hate their trades displayed. It’s just row after row of bookshelves basically, with nothing but spines. I used love browsing trades sections that were displayed like floppies – covers out! Dammit.
Jim Hanley’s closed? WTF?
Yeah man. Like two years ago. JHU was from the rubble of it, I think, some ex-employees opened a place on 32nd bet Park and Madison. Not the same, though.
I heard Jim retired.
What i would like from a shop:
- Polite & helpful staff who treat long term bread & butter customers with a bit of respect
- New issues laid out clearly in a separate section each week, in alphabetical order. The previous issues also laid out alphabetically.
- The ability to set up a standing order and when you do there’s no comics missing when one of the guys in the shop has clearly sold it to one of their mates.
- An advance order scheme, thru Previews that offers good discounts.
- Regular sales where regular customers can pick up a genuine bargain
Things that made me stop buying from A1 in Glasgow -
I shopped in AKA from the age of about 10 until I was 25. When I was a kid and thru my teens the staff were all cool guys, who would try help younger readers out and just generally made you feel like the my wanted you in the shop.
This all changed when I got older and the new staff seemed to get moodier and narkier as time went on.
The last straw was when I had fallen away from superhero books and asked if the current run of Batman books was any good, to which the response was “You guys come in here and think all we do is stand about reading comic books, but it doesn’t work like that, we are actually really busy. I’ve not read it man. I’ve not had time to read it”. On top of issues regularly missing from my standing order and just general dour attitudes I took my business elsewhere.
So, in exchange for my loyalty, all I wanted was a decent level of service and to not be looked up and down and spoken to like i was some kind of arsehole.
Just basic customer service.
Red Hot Comics in Glasgow used to be run by a guy called Ivor Davies who was the heartbeat of the place. The advance order service was brilliant. You could get stuff mailed out to you. The level of service was superb, to the extent that after I moved from Glasgow I’d actually still drive to the warehouse on a weekly basis, rather than get stuff sent. It was a 2 hour round trip and my petrol cost more than what I’d pay to get the stuff mailed out to me, but it was a place I really liked to visit.
Sadly, Ivor is no longer there and I no longer shop there - but he got all the basics right and then the rest.
When you are providing regular custom you shouldn’t be taken for granted. Treat your customers right and if they have any level of integrity and providing they have the disposable income level they will always come to you first.
I’d agree, as long as everyone gets to be part of the club. The problems I’ve seen are where the staff are more interested in entertaining themselves than the customers.