Of all the things I’ve shared with you so far on opening and running your own comic book store, this might be one of the most important. Advertising and marketing are the main tools for getting people off of the street and into your store. If you don’t start before you open, you’ll find your store to be a very quiet place the first few weeks. If you don’t continue once your store is open, you will start to see a lot of regulars but few new people. No matter how long a store has been in business, how many regular customers they have, how many locations they have or how confident they feel in their current situation, business should constantly be promoting their store with advertising and marketing if they want the health of their store to continue into the future.
Let me first explain the difference between advertising and marketing. Advertising is simply that – placing an ad. It could be in a newspaper, on the radio, on a billboard, an internet banner ad, etc. Advertising is a non-personal method of presenting something to the public. Marketing is much broader, and should include advertising. Marketing is the overall system by which you have the general public become more familiar with your store and advertising is just one portion of that system, and often the most expensive portion. I recently read an article on marketingprofs.com written by Kimberly McCall that really sums up the difference, “Marketing is every way you touch a prospect or customer.”
Because marketing is such a broad topic in and of itself, I will discuss it first, and then get into advertising as one part of that. Some people refer to marketing as “branding.” Which, simply put, is getting people to recognize your store as something familiar. When you are deciding on a name and logo for your store, keep in mind that you want something easy and distinct that you can build a brand with. You want people in your area to see your store name and logo and know that you sell comic books and whatever else you decide you want to ad into that mix. Your store name might include the word “comics” or “games” or “books” but it doesn’t have to. Look at Campbell’s, Nike and Kodak… they don’t have to have soup, shoes or cameras in the name for people to recognize the brand and know the product they represent. This takes time, but it should be one of your marketing goals. When we chose the name for my store, Neptune Comics, we wanted to have a one-word name plus comics, to keep it simple. We wanted something that would be fairly easy for people to remember, something mythological or astrological, and something that would be fairly easy to brand. After brainstorming, searching the web for names that were already taken, and voting, we decided on Neptune. Then we contacted a graphic designer and had her come up with some logos. Eventually we decided on the one below. That’s us – we put it in every ad, on every hand-out item, on our store itself, on our shirts we wear every day while we’re working at the store, on our web site… we want people to see this logo and know who we are and what we sell. Often a store shopper’s phone will ring while they’re in my store, and they’ll say, “I’m over at Neptune right now…” and I love it, because they’re not saying, “I’m at the comic book store,” or “I’m shopping, call me back,” they are saying they’re at a special place, a place called Neptune. Having a recognizable logo is something that many comic book stores don’t have, so set yourself apart by having one.
In order for Neptune to have a positive connotation for people, it has to be a place people enjoy going to. Marketing isn’t just about running ads and having stuff with your logo on it. Marketing includes so many different things that I can’t possibly go into all of them here. Having a subscription service for customers, which gives them a reason to come in every week and a sense of belonging to your store, is one very specific way a comic book store can market itself. Being different from your competition in one way or another is also a good marketing idea –- carry something they don’t, offer a service they don’t—do something that sets your store apart from others. In-store events are also nice marketing activities. I don’t mean sales, although you might want to do those once in a while. I’m talking about things like in-store signings, parties, Free Comic Book Day, contests and the like. Fun things that give people a reason to check out your store. The way you greet people when they come into your store is also marketing. Every person who walks into Neptune Comics is greeted with at minimum, a “hello,” and often a “how are you today,” from at least one of the people working in the store. We try to learn the names of any repeat customers, and then greet them by name when they come in. This gives everyone a feeling of being comfortable and familiar, something we want our costumers to feel as they shop with us.
Marketing can also include different types of incentives to get people to come in and/or come back to your store. I don’t mean discounts!! Margins in comic book sales are very slim these days, and a well-furnished store in a good location that is well stocked often has a pretty tight budget, so discounting can easily put good stores out of business. Frequent shopper points or punch cards work much better. For example, we have a gamer card where for every $5 spent on games the card holder receives one punch in the card. After 10 punches ($50 spent on full price merchandise) they can redeem the card for 20% off a game purchase. Then the customer has to once again spend at least $50 in order to earn another 20% off. It helps to make customers come back, because they want to earn that discount. Many stores use what are called “bounce back” coupons that they give to people who have made a purchase, or spend at least a pre-specified amount, that gives the shopper something free or a discount on a purchase the next time the person comes in. I know of stores that mail out coupons for something free or a special single-purchase discount when it’s a customer’s birthday. You can hold drawings in your store for prizes, you can have contests for prizes, you can have artists or writers come in for signings. Any of these methods are good ways to show people that you have a fun environment as well as giving them a reason to stop in and see what’s going on, not to mention the good feeling they have about your store when they win a prize from you.
There are thousands of great ideas out there! If you are looking for ideas and/or guidance, there are many great books to help you out. I am just finishing up “Guerrilla Marketing for the New Millennium” by Jay Conrad Levinson. It’s chocked full of great ideas, exercises, rules and more, and it’s a short, easy read. Levinson has a bunch of great marketing books out there all worthy of a read. “Public Relations for Dummies” is another easy read with lots of tips and exercises. You could go to your local public library and find tons of marketing books and scour through them for ideas too, if you have the time. Plus, there are many comic book retailers who have done some great marketing and would be willing to share ideas with you, if you ask.
Now, let me focus on a specific tool used in marketing, advertising. As I said earlier, advertising is placing an ad, and usually one of your more expensive marketing tools. From our experiences, as well as discussions I have had with other comic book and game store owners around the country, not every type of ad works for these types of businesses. One thing to remember is that comics and games are fun and very visual, so it helps to have an ad that lets you show that off. Another thing to keep in mind is that most of your customers will be within a 10-mile radius of your store, and once you get past 20 miles most people won’t bother coming out to shop with you, at least not more than once. This means that you’ll get more bang for your buck if you can focus your ads to people who live within 20 miles of it.
Radio ads are neither visual nor focused, so while they can pull in curious people when the ad first runs, you might not get good long-term results. Most retailers will tell you that newspaper ads are a waste too. For some reason, newspaper readers are not comic book readers. However, if you can get an inexpensive ad in a local school newspaper you would probably get better results for the price. Coupons rarely work because the majority of comic book readers are men and most men are not coupon clippers. Billboards only work if they are in a high-traffic area and close to your store, but they are also very expensive. TV ads are, according to just about any comic book and game store owner who has tried them, one of the best methods of advertising. Of course, it can be one of the most expensive too. But, thanks to cable TV, you can easily pick channels and even specific shows that cater to your market as well as choose how big of an area you want your ad to run in. We do a lot of cable advertising and we can get pretty good results for $500 a month. Once you start your business you will probably have all kinds of people contacting you to sell you ads in a variety of things. Some will work for you, but many won’t, but each area of the country is different, so you might try something that didn’t work for me, and have great success with it. Just always try to look at the market your ad reaches and be sure that the demographics are similar to those that you are trying to attract. You probably won’t want to place an ad in the 50+ magazine, but buying a panel on the local high school’s new wall for the football field might work great.
This should just about wrap up my little “how to” segment for you aspiring comic book and game store owners. Hopefully I’ve given you some help and ideas. If you ever have any questions, please feel free to contact me. I am always glad to help someone start a good comic book store and give them ideas for making it successful. My email is: firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also check out my blog: www.sequentiallyspeaking.blogspot.com if you want to get a good laugh at some of the more unusual experiences I have while working here at Neptune Comics.