Be a Better Customer

For nearly a year now I’ve been writing these articles, sharing with fellow Sequart readers what it is like being a comic book store owner. In some articles I rant, in others I give advice. I even took a survey from readers about what makes them loyal to a store and shared those answers in my last article. Being a comic book retailer is no easy job. It is fun and I do enjoy it, but it is not easy and I don’t think I will ever get rich doing it. Our success depends on a delicate balance between what we buy and what we sell, what we earn and what we spend. Customers are, of course, the lynchpin of the whole operation. Without good customers we would have to board up the windows. In this article I’m giving advice not to future comic book store owners, but to everyone else. I want to share with you how you can be a good customer. By reading this guide and following it, you can make your local comic book store owners happier and more profitable without it requiring you to buy every comic book on their shelves.

In my last article I discussed the customer loyalty survey answers I received from readers. One question from the survey was not discussed in that article. The question was: Have you ever brought a friend or family member into a comic book store with you? No one in my survey had brought anyone with them who would shop for comics or other comic book related items. Most brought a spouse or parent, or just went alone. One of the ways you can be a good customer is to introduce people to the comic book store. If you have a friend or family member who enjoys reading, or enjoys movies they might also enjoy comic books. It’s true! I have more than a few customers who were brought in by friends. They picked up a comic or two, just for something to do. Now they visit our store every week or two to get comics for themselves. A great way to introduce your friends to your favorite store is to bring them to Free Comic Book Day so they can check out a couple comics for free. You could share a couple of comics with your friend or family member from your own collection that you think he or she might enjoy. Many people, once exposed to comic books, find them entertaining and are willing to buy them once in a while. By simply bringing in a new person to your comic book store, you have helped out that store, and it has not cost you much of anything to do. If that person never comes back to the store, at least you tried and the store owner will still appreciate it.

If you can’t bring someone with you physically to your favorite comic book store, that doesn’t mean you can’t promote that store. Word of mouth is the best advertising any business can get. If you know someone who likes R. A. Salvatore, Clive Barker, Laurel K. Hamilton or Stephen King, let them know that your comic book store has comics based on their novels and how cool the store is. If your favorite comic book store has a newsletter, coupon or even just business cards, take a couple of extras to work and leave them in the break room or on the company bulletin board. You’d be amazed at how well something this simple can work. Heck, you could even take a couple newsletters to your barber shop. If you really want to go above and beyond, without spending an extra penny, and really make your comic book store think you’re the best customer EVER, ask them if they have any free comics they’d like to give you to take to your barber or dentist’s office or doctor’s office or bank lobby or coffee shop. They should put labels and/or coupons on or in these comics and hand them right over to you to give away. At my store we gave out Halloween ashcans to any customers or other local people who said they’d like to give them out to Trick Or Treaters; all people had to do was come in and ask for a stack. Because profits can be slim in the comic book business, and there are never enough hors in the day to get everything done, most store owners are happy to have help marketing the store from their customers.

If promoting the store is not something you can do, you can still do other things to help out your favorite comic book store. One thing that helps stores out, if they offer the service, is giving them a pull list. While it might seem like you’re just making more work for them, the truth is it can really help them figure out what to order. If they do not offer a pull list or if you don’t want to have a subscription service for some reason, then at least let your store owner know if there’s something new coming out that you’re interested in checking out. This can help them make the decision to order something they might not have thought anyone would be interested in, or gauge interest if something is coming out that has the potential of being very popular. If you do have a pull list, keep it up to date. Look over a copy of your current list once a month and make sure that you take off books you don’t want and add comics you do want. If something is on your list and it comes out but you decide you don’t want it, you need to let your store owner know right away that you don’t want it anymore. However, you should purchase that copy because when they did their order they based it on you buying that copy. Now, your store owner might let you off of the hook if you decide that you don’t want a certain title, especially if it’s a popular title or something they under ordered or were shorted on in their weekly shipment, but offering to take it will make them feel better about you and your pull list in the future.

If you move, have a personal situation arise, or have something else come up that will prevent you from shopping at that store where you have your subscription list, let the store owner know. Many shops are nice or busy or both, and will continue to pull and hold your comics for weeks, even months, before they notice that you’ve not been in for a while. Some of these shops will continue to pull and hold the comics while they wait to hear back from you. I have heard stories of store owners doing pull holds for people for six months or longer before they finally gave up on someone. While this is a foolish business decision, they continue to do it because they might consider the person a good customer and don’t want to disappoint this person should he or she come in eventually and ask for his or her comics. As a customer, even if you call after hours to leave a message or send an e-mail, just do something to let your comic book store owner know to stop pulling your comics and put them back.

Don’t let your eyes get bigger than your stomach – or your wallet as the case may be. If your money situation is tight and you have a pull list, you should cut back and let your store owner know, rather than only taking a few books and asking them to continue to hold the others for months, eventually admitting that you can’t afford them anyway. Don’t grab extra comics or graphic novels or toys off the shelves and ask them to hold them for you if you can’t come in within a week or two at the longest and buy them all. While that store owner is trying to be nice and help you out, he or she might be loosing money by not having that item available for someone who comes in after you with money in-hand wanting that item. If a week or two goes by and you still do not have the funds to make that purchase, please let the store know that you will not be able to make the purchase and that they can put it back on the shelves. If you still want it and get the money later, they may still have it or be able to get it for you.

Then there are pre-orders. Like the previous paragraph, be honest and do not order something you cannot afford, even if it is coming out six months from now. Do not assume that you will be able to save up the money before the item arrives because nine times out of ten, you will not have the money when the item comes. Do not assume a family member will buy it for you as a gift, or will get you gift certificates from the store that you can use when the item comes in. If you have the money, do not order it and then spend the money before it comes in. Offer to pre-pay for the item if you have the money, or at least make a down-payment on it. If your store owner doesn’t have a method for keeping track of that, then buy a gift certificate with the money and use it when the item comes in. Just make sure that you will have the money when the item comes in. There are some pretty neat items in the Previews catalog that might tempt you, and often they come with big price tags. If there is any chance that you will not have the money to purchase the item, do not ask your local comic book store owner to order it for you. There is always a chance the store will order it anyway, just to have it available in the store. If you have the money and the store has the item out on the shelves, by all means, buy it. But under no circumstances should you order something because you were hypnotized into wanting it so much that you could not stop yourself despite the fact that you cannot afford it. Also, never order something because someone on the Internet said it was the best thing ever. Typically, when people order this way, they decide that they don’t really like it or that it won’t fit in their house. While the store owner might not tell you to your face, he or she will think less of you for sticking the store with your unpurchased item. Even if the store is able to sell the item to someone else right after you turn it down, the next time you pre-order something don’t be surprised if it never shows up. You see, we retailers generally cannot return these things and not everyone wants to buy the item you just stiffed the store with.

There you have it: a retailer’s guide to being a better comic book customer. Now go put these tasks into practice and help make those people who feed your comic book addiction smile.

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One year after our first wedding anniversary, to the day, my husband and I picked up the keys to a 1000 square foot store front in a strip mall in suburban Waukesha, WI. Two weeks later that spot would become Neptune Comics, our very own comic book store. I grew up in Slinger, WI, the child of entrepreneurial parents who owned their own dog breading and boarding kennel. The first in my family to graduate from college, I earned a BA from St. Norbert College. Prior to becoming a comic book retailer I was a stock broker, and then gave up that stress to own my own house cleaning business. Comic books were a small blip on my radar before I considered opening a store -- I did not have a collection stashed somewhere. But jumping into comic book retailing has been a great crash course in the ups and downs of the comic book industry. Being a woman and a comic fan, rather than a collector, I have no doubt that my opinions won’t always be that of the majority.

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