Thanks to the distribution issues and lack of returnability to retailers, customers these days can only get comic books in two places:
A Barnes & Noble,
Or a Comic Book Store.
What’s wrong buying comics a comic book store? The big problem with comic shops is that they’re designed by comic fans to sell comic books to comic fans. And while comic fans are comfortable shopping there, the casual customer doesn’t find a comic shop an inviting place to buy anything in.
Most comic shops aren’t appealing environments to casual customers. In many cases the lighting is dim and merchandise is all over the place. Oftentimes items are presented on the sales floor in such a haphazard and disorganized way that customers are literally stepping around merchandise or stepping over it. While many comic fans don’t mind seeing merchandise based on their favorite characters displayed around the store like items in their bedrooms, most casual customers are uncomfortable around all the clutter that is a mainstay of most comic shops.
Worse, the sales staff isn’t skilled in sales or customer service. Many who own and work in comic shops may be well versed in characters and their respective universes, but not well versed in social skills and interpersonal skills that allow them to form a relationship with customers. New customers want to deal with staff who are friendly and approachable, and can make them feel welcome in an unfamiliar store. Most comic shop owners are well versed in selling comics, but not selling themselves and their businesses.
In between the cluttered sales floors filled with vintage merchandise, older comics and the surly and rude staff in comic shops most casual customers tend to avoid shopping for comics at the comic shop. While they may be excited and want to learn more about characters after watching superhero movies, they literally get turned off once they find out the only place they can get comic books is a comic shop. It often makes many new potential customers uncomfortable to find out that they only place they can get a comic is a comic shop, and those who venture into these shops often find themselves in an environment that’s not casual customer friendly, and even hostile to younger customers like children.
Most casual customers want to walk into an environment with brightly lit sales floors, open space, and easy to find merchandise. They want to interact with friendly staff with solid customer service skills. The kind of employee who looks to foster relationships with new customers in the same way they would with comic fans in the shop and on social media and their base of eBay customers online.
With most comic shop owners being comic fans, they tend not to focus on the things that are important to building and expanding a business to reach new customers. When it comes to selling comics, most comic shops tend to focus on the core base of regulars who have pull lists with them, not making serious efforts towards bringing new readers into the business. For most comic shop owners, their idea of a serious effort at reaching new readers is Free Comic Book Day.
However, every day should have the same focus for a comic shop owner as Free Comic Book Day, reaching new readers. Every other retail business makes efforts to reach new readers 365 days of the year, not just one day in it. And comic shops should be no different. There numerous opportunities to reach customers, but most comic shop owners and comic publishers make no efforts to target those new readers in crucial seasonal periods like Halloween, Christmas and the Summer reading season.
It’s during these periods that a comic shop could reach large bases of new customers and expand their business. However, most comic shops are so busy catering to comic fans and selling yearlong events from comic publishers to regulars that they don’t see the opportunities to reach new readers during the periods when customers are looking for products to buy.
During big market periods for the trade publishing industry like the Holidays (October-February) and the Summer reading Season/Summer movie season (April-July) trade publishers are reaching large audiences of new readers with new products. However, most comic publishers oftentimes don’t have any entry point products available during these periods to target new customers. Many comic book events are launched in August/September the two SLOWEST months in the publishing schedule.
Worse, most comic shops don’t implement any sales and promotional campaigns to reach new readers during the big sales periods when they have disposable income. And because most comic shops don’t have any sort of business plan to reach customers during the sales periods where most retailers make up to 25% of their profits for the year, many comic shop owners struggle to pay their bills.
If Comic shop owners hope to expand their business and reach new readers, they have to start running their business like a business for customers, not comic fans. They have to start thinking of ways to reduce the clutter and make the shop more open and inviting to the man, woman and child on the street. They have to learn how to sell not just the products, but their business. And they have to start thinking of how the casual customer sees their business, not the comic fan. Because once the casual customer, especially kids start seeing the comic shop in a positive light, a comic shop will build a word of-mouth with casual customers and a comic shop owner will be able to finally expand their business to new readers in their area.