I have written several articles on my suggestions for becoming a successful comic book retailer. In this column I’m going to fill you in on something a successful comic book retailer needs to do for the comic book community – joining the Comics Professional Retailer Organization, also known as ComicsPRO. My store, Neptune Comics, is a full member and recently I spoke with ComicsPRO presidentJoe Field, who owns Flying Colors Comics in Concord, CA. Joe shared a lot of information with me about ComicsPRO, and in this column I’ll share it with you. Once you’ve read it, I hope that you will share it with others.
First, you might be wondering what ComicsPRO is exactly. It is an organization for brick and mortar comic book retail stores. Joe goes as far as to say that it is “THE retailer trade and advocacy organization for direct market comic book store owners.” The goals of ComicsPRO are to help find ways to cut costs for retailers, to speak as one voice on business-related issues, and to serve as mentors for new comic book shop owners.
There are two membership levels in ComicsPRO. Full membership is $300 per year. A full member must: operate at least one brick and mortar store; have a valid tax id or EIN; and be actively selling comic books. Associate membership is $100 per year. To be an associate member you must meet the first two requirements above and/or be in the process of opening a comic book store. Full members are allowed to vote while associate members cannot. While the associate membership is a fantastic idea if you’re just starting out, the full membership is definitely something most existing comic book stores should consider. According to Joe Field, “Many retailers in our preferential credit card program report they are saving at least $300 in their first few months, with other saving thousands per year, so the initial membership fee of $300 pays for itself. ”
The credit card processing savings is not the only benefit one can take advantage of after becoming a member of ComicsPRO. They also offer savings on computer inventory programs including Comtrac and MOBY, discounts on legal forms through LegalZoom.com, occasional discounts on retailer help books. Through Assurant Health some ComicsPRO members are saving up to 60% on health insurance too, but this varies based on the type of insurance and the area of the state in which the retailer lives. Joe says, “We are always searching for more benefits, so stay tuned!”
Sound good so far? Well, that’s not all! Most comic book retail owners, including myself, own one store, maybe two. They feel like they are not being heard by Diamond Distribution or by the large publishers. Often each of us is like one person swimming in an ocean – we are adrift without anyone else noticing us and with little chance of hearing each other. ComicsPRO seeks to bring us together. Joe said that he thinks that, “it’s critical for anyone in any business to be actively involved in moving that business forward. That’s hard to do on a single store basis, but with the collective voices of many retailers, through ComicsPRO, we are going to give a strong effort to effecting positive change for direct market retailers.” The first annual ComicsPRO meeting is scheduled for April of 2007 in Las Vegas, and they already have some great items on the agenda. According to Joe Field, “The first order of business for the ComicsPRO meeting in Vegas will be to elect three new members to our board of directors. Our first day of business will be consumed with setting the agenda for ComicsPRO advocacy—how we as a group of retailers can positively effect some changes that will not only be good for our businesses, but also be positive for everyone with an interest in comics. With the second day of our Vegas meeting, we are hoping to meet face-to-face with suppliers and work towards positive solutions for increasing our mutual businesses.”
ComicsPRO has more than 80 retailer members, comprising more than 120 store-front locations in 30 states. And that number continues to grow, just like the organization itself. Joe said that, “there are small single store retailers in the group along with multi-store chain operators doing big volume, brand new retailers and long-time industry veterans—so we’re made up of all facets of the direct market retailing spectrum.” If you have had experiences with more than one comic book store manager and/or owner, you will know that often retailers in this business are very diverse, coming from many different backgrounds before they got into comic books. We vary in age, financial status, political and religious affiliations… you get the idea – we are a pretty diverse group. One might wonder how so many different people can work together to get ComicsPRO to work. It works because our overall goal is the same – to achieve health and growth in the comic book industry.
Speaking about the diversity of ComicsPRO and how it CAN and DOES work for the direct market, Joe says, “Diversity is our strength. There are a lot of very talented retailers that can help the move forward the profession of comic book retailing. There is commonality in the concerns we have and the goals we share. We all want to do better in business, keep the comics’ specialty market moving in the right direction and to advocate for the health and growth of the direct market. ComicsPRO is something that each and every retailer needs to be a part of. If you’re a fan reading this, do yourself a favor and ask your local comic shop owner to join. If you’re a retailer reading this and you haven’t joined yet, look at who’s involved with ComicsPRO. Between board member Brian Hibbs’ getting every retailer a fat settlement check after his long drawn-out legal skirmish with Marvel and my involvement founding Free Comic Book Day—the only time the entire industry has worked together for something positive, it’s obvious that the right people are in place to serve as good stewards for the organization. Add to that the other board members are all successful and bring a lot to the table. The other board members include Gary Dills from Phoenix Comics in Virginia and Ohio, Amanda Fisher from Muse Comics with two stores in Missoula, Montana, Michael Drivas from Big Brain in Minneapolis Minnesota and Chris Powel from Lone Star Comics with eight stores in the Dallas Texas metroplex.
“ComicsPRO isn’t about asking for money and then doing nothing with it. It’s about asking each retailer to get involved with charting the future success of the comics’ specialty market. All retailers in this business should want to have a voice in determining their future, so we hope you’ll join soon. (And if you join before the end of the year, you can get a bit of a tax write-off, too.)”
If you are reading this and currently own a comic book store, you definitely need to join us in ComicsPRO. If you are reading my columns because you plan on opening a store in the near future, or are already started on your way to opening a comic book store, you should join as an associate member so that you can have a mentor help you get started on the right track. If you are just a comic book buyer and fan reading this you need to ask your current store owner if he/she belongs to ComicsPRO yet, and if they don’t, encourage them to do so. ANYONE who wants to see the comic book industry continue to grow and head in a positive direction should pass on this information about ComicsPRO to others. Already the organization is larger than any other previous attempts at organizing the direct market, and there are already great benefits in place for members, as well as big plans for the future.
If you have more questions, concerns or comments, Joe Field said you can contact him or any of the other board members by emailing info@ComicsPRO.org. Of course there is a web site too, which has more of the details on ComicsPRO as well as a membership form: http://www.comicspro.org/