A Lonely Place of Shopping.

§ April 11th, 2022 § Filed under retailing § 8 Comments

Let’s hop into the ol’ Wayback Machine, because I’m covering some comments y’all left on this site back in the distant past of late February 2022!

Mostly I wanted to address this exchange in the comments to this post. It starts with Chris V. noting the relative dearth of customers in his local comic shop and its possible relation to high price points on new books:

“There’s no telling how long people will be willing to pay that amount of money either…and, in fact, a ton of people have already said ‘enough is enough,’ which is why the local comic book store tends to be empty when I visit. They obviously do have customers or they wouldn’t be in business, but the amount of customers seems to be decreasing by the year.”

…with Allan Hoffman responding thusly:

“Keep in mind that our impression of the customer base of a shop is based solely on what we see when we are there, which on average would probably 10-20 minutes on one day. Mike has often noted how his store can be dead at one moment followed by a crowd of people buying stuff.”

A few months back my girlfriend’s extended family was having a gathering at the restaurant next door. It was a Sunday afternoon, and Sundays can be pretty hit or miss for me (most Sundays are okay, some are great, and some like yesterday were…eh). This particular Sunday, I had a lot of business in the early part of the day, and in the later afternoon, things had slowed down quite a bit, allowing me to do some stocking-type stuff.

Apparently dinner next door had ended, and into my shop wanders one of the nieces. Seeing me alone in the store, she loudly exclaims “Don’t you ever have any customers?” “Yes, of course I do, you horrible child, it’s just slow at the moment,” was my reply, and she gave me the “yeah, right, old man” look as only a young teenager could give you.

And then another niece, this one a tad younger, walked in, looked around and asked “Where are all your customers?” “I’VE GOT CUSTOMERS, JUST NOT RIGHT NOW” I cried out, but to no avail as I was still pummeled with scornful disbelief.

She was followed by a nephew, brother to the first niece and the youngest of the three, who also noted “You don’t have any customers!” It was at this point I struck them all from the will.

So yes, as Allan says, it’s hard to judge a store’s business flow just from a short visit. I don’t know how many times I’ve had a full store for an hour or three, which then suddenly empties out, only to have the next person who comes in say to me “So, slow day, huh?” The ebb and flow of customer traffic can have an element of randomness to it, but I recall, at the previous place of employment, we had a cash register that could print out transaction totals per hour since the last time the machine was zeroed out. Basically it told us at what time of the day we were the busiest (barring unusual events like someone buying a $1000 comic at 2 in the afternoon or something). As I recall, it was usually around noon, which was an hour or two after we opened. Telling you what the second busiest time of day was, or the slowest time, would just be me guessing, as it’s been a while, but you get the idea.

The register I have at my store now doesn’t have that function (mostly just adding and multiplying, sometimes correctly), but my general sense is that late morning/early afternoon, followed by late afternoon/early evening, are my busy times, with slow times popping up in the early afternoon. Wednesdays are of course the busiest, being the New Comics Day of choice (despite DC trying to move some of that action to Tuesday). Later in the week is usually busier than early in the week. And of course this is all just generalization…nothing here is set in stone. I usually think of Mondays as slower days, but sometimes I have spectacular business that day. You never know.

New Comics Day is no exception to this. I’ve had great and busy New Comics Days with people waiting at the door when I open, all champing at the bit to get the new goodies. And I’ve had New Comics Days where…well, it’s not exactly a ghost town, but there were certainly longer lulls than usual between bursts of customers. Again, it Just Happens. It happened during the 1990s boom, and it happened during the later ’90s crash, and it happens now. So long as you’re taking in enough money to make the whole “selling comic books for a living” thing worthwhile, everything should be fine, even if maybe at some points during the day you can hear your own heartbeat because the store is so quiet.

Chris V says something else I’d like to comment upon:

“I’m concerned about the state of the comic industry as it currently exists, but more from a lack of collectors rather than from speculation.”

I don’t know about other shops, but I can tell you this about my experience. I know I bring up speculation a lot on this site and on the Twitterers, only because that sort of purchasing behavior can throw a monkey wrench into my planned orders. But that’s a minority of transactions. Most people coming into the shop for comics are readers, are collectors, and not just looking to flip this week’s first appearance to other speculators on eBay.

My business health has also been fine, with 2021 being my best year yet, financially. Sales are up, overall, I’m seeing new faces in the shop every day (even if, on a slow day, that one new face is all I see!), and I’m very happy. Given that there are many other comic shops in surrounding towns, I am grateful for the clientele I’m still acquiring.

Which reminds me, someone had asked (and I can’t find who did so at the moment) if my previous place of employment shutting down meant a lot of their customers coming my way. And the answer to that is “not really, maybe too soon to tell” which isn’t a surprise, as my shop is about a half-hour drive from the old one, and there are a few shops in the immediate vicinity of the defunct store, and the store’s pull list was transferred to one of those shops. Frankly, I’m too far out of the way to get much of that customer base, especially given today’s gas prices, not to mention any customers who were going to leave that old shop and start shopping with me already did years ago when I opened up. Not to say I saw no new customers from that unfortunate closing, but not nearly as many as you think.

Okay, even more questions in the queue (yes, even your Miracleman one, Thom!) so I’ll get to those shortly! Thanks for reading, pals.

8 Responses to “A Lonely Place of Shopping.”

  • King of the Moon says:

    I used to pop in on my LCS during weekday times I knew would be slow because it was the best time to get good conversation and recommendations from the person behind the counter who was also a “well known comics blogger”

  • There’s a comic shop out here, and I won’t mention the name, but after another store closed a few years back, his marquee sign out in front suddenly read WELCOME OLD X X CUSTOMERS. WE’RE STILL OPEN! I always thought of that as a d!ck move, the owner of the closed never had dealings with the marquee guy, and told me how the guy had the sign up before his store had even closed.

    When the store I worked at closed in 1994, after selling our last copies of DEATHMATE and TUROK#1 (ha!), we had by then arranged with another store nearby to handle the change with our subscribers, plus the other guy wasn’t outright “announcing” we were closing. Chicago’s a rough town, I tell ya, Mike.

    I worked Sundays, 12-5, on my own. We had several eclectic customers who showed up not every Sunday, but when they did, it was worth it. One guy would drop $100 on mostly rock n’ roll comics and magazines, a woman would buy stuff related to Dr. Who and The Thunderbirds, mostly pbs.
    But we also had several video games, the Ninja Turtles and Mortal Kombat, and so often I would making more from MK than for most of the day on the books.

    The Polish deli was next door, and when I ran out of quarters, I’d go there to get some rolls from them. The girl working the counter was Jenny McCarthy, who was in Playboy not long after. (I’d giver her Donald Duck and Uncle Scrooge comics for her nephew on the side.)

    But the video games kept us open likely another six months to a year. And the only three comic shops close to me closed since the pandemic started.

  • JohnJ says:

    Your mention of Swamp Thing makes me ask if you’re aware of Rifftrax and the Kickstarter for this August’s Rifftrax Live! showing of Return of Swamp Thing. They’ve got a cool t-shirt designed for fans with art of Swampy carrying Heather Locklear. You don’t mention that movie nearly as often as you plug The Spirit (Frank Miller’s unauthorized Daredevil movie, I’ve always thought) so I just thought I would mention it.

  • Daniel says:

    If you hadn’t gone into comics retail as a career, do you think you’d still be a comics fan/reader today?

  • CalvinPitt says:

    When I was in college, I always visited the comic store on Wednesdays to pick up new comics, but I’d usually come back on Fridays just to shoot the breeze with the owner, and it was normally a lot quieter (hence, why he had time to talk about baseball.)

    The store closest to me now (which apparently had been open for a year before I knew it existed 2 miles from my apartment), I usually visit after 3 on either Wednesdays or Thursdays, and I rarely see any other customers. The one time I went in on Saturday, though, it was fairly busy.

  • Roel Torres says:

    What are the logistics for transferring a pull list? Is there a payment for each customer name?

  • Bill the Splut says:

    I remember a review of Hi Infidelity, the multi-Cusacked movie, in Rolling Stone. The reviewer sniffed “I worked in record stores, and some of it is so wrong. Why in every scene the place is empty, then suddenly it’s busy?”

    Yeah, I worked in record stores for 6 years pal, and that scene threw me for almost a second. I thought “Oh, the earlier scenes were on weekday afternoons. Now it’s Saturday.” No one shops on Tuesday mornings except mall walkers.

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