On Business: Kickin' It Old School

By | Monday, September 29, 2014 2 comments

I stumbled across a comic shop this weekend that I hadn't heard of before. There are plenty of good shops in the Chicago area, and with really fantastic shops like Challengers and entirely esoteric ones like Quimby's, it's little wonder that some smaller shops like this one fly under the radar.

It was physically a fairly small shop, but what I immediately noticed upon walking in was that A) it wasn't cluttered and B) it was JUST comics. No toys, t-shirts, statutes, or the other ephemera that usually gets associated with comic shops any more. The side walls were lined with new issues (looked like three months' worth) and down the middle were two back-to-back rows of short boxes. Everything was organized alphabetically so it was easy to scan through and find titles you're looking for.

Their stock primarily focused on Marvel and DC, with the "usual suspects" from Image, Dark Horse, IDW, etc. They had decent collections of Masterworks, Archives, and Essentials but not much stock for hardcover and TPBs beyond that. Some of the highlighted issues singled out and placed higher on the wall were (sadly sun-bleached) late Golden Age and early Silver Age classics.

There were three guys behind the counter chatting. One seemed to be the owner, another was an employee, and I think the third was just a friend. While I was there, three parents came in to make purchases, each with a child in tow. And all of the kids were the ones directing the purchases; the adults were just there for transportation and forking over some cash.

If it weren't for the dates on the new issues, the whole experience felt like I stepped into a time machine and wound up in a great comic shop circa 1980. It seemed like they were doing good business, so I can't fault them for catering to their local/typical audience, but I found it really surprising that they didn't seem to have made any improvements in 30 years.

Their stock, as I noted, was very focused on the floppy market both with new and back issues. That's been on a downhill slide since eBay launched two decades ago. Their back issue pricing reflected an older market where reprints of just about everything weren't available. They only accept cash or checks, and their "cash register" was just a lock box with a calculator sitting on top of it. I asked about a TPB that I think is either just out or out soon, and the owner was cordial but freely admitted he doesn't follow schedules of non-floppies very closely. It would have been a great shop when I was 12 but it was almost uncomfortably anachronistic in 2014.

I'm left to wonder about their business model. It appears to be working -- they're still in business after all -- but I wonder how sustainable it can remain, and if it's uniquely positioned in that particular neighborhood that it couldn't replicate that anywhere else.

I can't knock them if things are working but it's worth showcasing because it points to a danger in simply using one other shop to study "best practices." Just because something works for one store doesn't mean it will work everywhere else. Only by examining a number of different stores, each with their own processes, and understanding why they're doing what they're doing can you gain any real insights that might be applicable to another store.

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Matt K said...

"Comic Shop Time Machine. Like, Hot Tub Time Machine but a comic store!" Hollywood should be all over this, right now. :-)

FWIW, I wonder much the same about so many of the storefront businesses here in Lakewood. Many of them come and go, but the ones that last are rarely what I would predict. (Talk about a time machine, we have three indy computer stores here. What is their market??)

Britt Reid said...

"...it's little wonder that some smaller shops like this one fly under the radar."

Especially when you don't tell us the name and where it's located (after plugging both Challengers and Quimbys)?