In our Funnybooks podcast, we focus on current events, and usually large events.  Most times, the conversations are constrained so that we can fit everything into an hour or so, but here at Funnybooks After Hours the discussion continues to topics not covered, greater questions of events in comic past or whatever else strikes our fancy.

Walking up the alley, you are unsure if this is the right place.  A non-descript door halfway down the alley catches your eye and after a brief scan of the area, you see the marker that indicates that this is in fact the place.  Etched into a brick above the building is a bat symbol with an ‘X’ through the middle and a lightning bolt below it.

Knocking on the door, you hear a grating sound as a man with a luchador mask and vampire fangs opens the door, “What’s the password?” he asks.  “Beak is lame” you reply, nodding as he steps aside.  Visibility is limited, but as you look around you realize that you found the place.  Stepping up to the microphone, the five recliners are set up on a small stage in the back, as the crew eagerly awaits the question that drove you all the way here, to this secret place.

This week’s question:

Describe your perfect comic book store.  What would it entail?  What products would you have?  How would it differ from what you normally see?

Paul looks at the person who posed this question, “Wanna hear something weird? I actually had a dream about this the other night.  Not so much the ultimate comic shop, but the ultimate geekery store in general.  I actually woke up and wrote everything I could remember down….

  • I kind of thought of it as a geek supercenter.  It has comics, video games, role playing…all of the stuff we like.
  • Video Game Rentals – $5 for 5 days.  I can’t tell you the last time I rented a video game.  It’s just too damn expensive.
  • Trade-ins on video games (for store credit only)
  • Of course there would be a large section for role playing games, with an area for gaming tournaments of every kind.
  • Video gaming in-store, including old school gaming, like the original NES and Genesis
  • PC Gaming would be a big component (do they still make Shareware?)
  • And the coup de grace, a graphic novel library.  Trade ins can be made (for store credit), and the price of a graphic novel “rental” could go towards the sale of a new copy the book if you decide you want to buy it.

“That’s more of the geek supercenter thing, though.  A perfect, strictly comic, shop for me would be more like a graphic novel bookstore, with plenty of space for new releases, always organized and tidy.  I like the idea of back issue bins, but I don’t think they need to be the entire store – I’d rather have a computer in the back of the store, where you could search to see if they have the comic you want.  If they do, you add it to a list, hand it to the comic shop guy, and he’s go to the back room (full of bins) and pull the copies for you.

“I’ve always dreamed of a comic shop that had a bar or coffee shop area.  I think it would be pretty awesome to be able to have a beer, or snack while you read the comics you just purchased, in a comic book-themed bar or coffee shop.

“First and foremost though, my ideal comic shop has to be clean, tidy, and organized.  I don’t want to feel like I’m in someone’s attic.”

Tim nods as he gives his answer, “I’m really not as ambitious as Paul, so my comic books store wouldn’t be as big an endeavor.  I would like one area of the store to be video gaming as well, where people can rent consoles to do Lan parties (I miss Halo 2 Lan parties).  I would want one or two rooms that could be rented out for tabletop rpgs, and have an open area where people could either play with cardboard crack or warhammer 40k.  Comics would be put up so that one area had this weeks releases and the back issues would be off to the side.

“See, nothing too innovative here right?  That’s true, up until you get to employees.  I understand sometimes that these are minimum wage jobs, but at least half the time in comic books stores I’ve gotten lousy service.  Now, that might be due to understaffing, as having a ccg tournament going on when you have only one employee can make things rough, but I think part of it can be attitude too.  I’d want to hire people who care about the product and have basic customer service skills.  That’s my big complaint, oh and hiring only late teen, early twenties girls who have no idea that they’re walking into an ogle feast for pre-pubescent boys.  If they know that going in, I’m ok with it, but when all the employees are in that general vicinity, and they wear revealing clothing…different story.

“Sorry, rant off.  Anyone else?”

Wayne starts in, “Ok, so I do have a retail background before getting into IT and have some strong opinions on this that will likely make this VERY long.  First off it is a store and when you walk in it needs to look like it.  Posters blocking the doors and an explosion of decorations that look like it was puked out of a closet just doesn’t cut it for a business.  I want organized displays including standing display cases and rows of merchandise.  Merchandise is a key thing here.  Comic geeks like their “stuff” and if you slap a logo on it we are going to eat it up.  A keychain rack, jewelry, and a magnet rack are essential and should be near the cash register.  They are essential low cost impulse buys.  Comic supplies like bags and boards should be organized on the shelves and not hidden behind the counter.  Go with less T-shirts, but have a large size variety in each design.

“Like Paul I want a one stop geek shop.  I want video games including rentals(I do still rent games), RPG bookssupplies, and Board games in the same shop.  I want an open gaming section with a scheduled board game meetup where the story provides samples of a variety of games.  A few arcade video games wouldn’t be a bad idea either, but they should not be by the gaming area.  TVs with comic related programing is a pretty common and does help to keep the staff entertained while in the store.  Either TV or themed music is important though to give the store a “hopping” feel to it.

“On to furniture.  There is a shop in Kansas City that has custom made storage units for their back issues.  They are wooden drawers that pull out and are the exact size needed to hold standard comics.  They work very well for organizing and make it simple to find back issues.  I want something like this that goes along one wall about waist high.  The new comics will be above this fixture on the wall organized by publisher and then alphabetically.  The fixture for new comics would have a slot behind it for the last few weeks worth of books so if you picked up a new title and wanted the recent story you can get it right there.  Trades would be on bookshelves.  I would like to have a way to display their covers, but it seems to work best just packing them in.

“From a technology standpoint I want a strong web-presence.  I want an option to opt in to e-mails providing a list of what books from my pool are anticipated to arrive and then once the comics are pulled which ones actually are waiting for me.  I want this to include an estimated total cost as well.  I would like to be able to view and adjust my pull list online without having to talk to anyone and if I want a special trade or game I want to be able to order that online through them as well.  If a big news item drops I would like to be able to go to the website and send a message to the store that I would like a book added.  Finally an option to prepay online ahead of time would be helpful.

“I would not want a coffee bar as Paul suggested because there is simply too much stuff to be damaged in these kind of stores, but some level of snacks need to be available for gaming.  A reading lounge is definitely a good idea as I know I have read books in my car in the parking lot quite often.  The difficult part is finding a way to provide this without having it become a place for people to just read and then not buy the books.  This could lead to additional sales though as the books excite people about characters or mention previous stories.

“From a marketing standpoint the most important thing is to make the store fun and bring people in.  Regular guests are good, but creating a community and building recurring events is better.  Create a forum and a podcast to support the store.  The podcast would talk about titles and events at the store.  It has to be fun though and can’t be a dry advertisement.  Cultivate this emerging community can generate the conversations within the store that are a much needed aspect of bring people back.

“Finally since I’ve been going on forever the staff needs to be addressed.  The owner needs to be a business man first and a fan second.  They need to make the hard choices for the business and not use it as a way to get decorations for home.  Every new employee needs to go through a training program that includes customer service and merchandising training.  The hard sale is not acceptable, but never trying to upsale also doesn’t help the business.  The employees need some sort of incentive to tie the success of the store back to themselves or atleast rewards for good sales.  There are many options here, but the key is that when the store does well they should be rewarded.  Cleaning, dusting, and straightening the shelves needs to be a requirement at open, close, and shift turnover.  This might not be often enough, but does at least set the expectation.  A clean organized look with proper lighting will go along way towards making a new customer feel comfortable walking into a shop.  A  scantly clad statue on a shelf near the door will not.”

All eyes from the group turn towards the shady characters sitting in the area commonly referred to as ‘The Peanut Gallery’. “Anyone have a different opinion?  Any other questions tonight?”