Shop talk

There’s been a fair amount of discussion of comic shops lately – how they can really suck, why they matter, what a customer should reasonably expect from them, and so on. I think shops should stock what they reasonably believe they can sell, so I’m not going to delve into that subject, but I think there are some basic things any shop can do to make itself a more pleasant place to be.

1. Assume every customer is a germaphobe or is extremely sensitive to dust. Keep your store clean. (I should say that it’s been ages since I’ve been to one that wasn’t reasonably hygienic if not actually sparkling, though there have been a few that look like they hadn’t been swept since the structure’s glory days as a speakeasy during Prohibition. One actually solved the problem of filthy, smelly carpet by covering the carpet over with new, marginally less dingy flooring, which just made things unpleasantly squishy. It’s closed now.)

2. Assume every customer is claustrophobic. Minimize clutter. Make it as easy as your floor plan and available space allow for visitors to navigate your shop.

3. Come up with a coherent shelving system. The alphabet’s always good.

4. Cut down on distractions like loud music. Not everyone has the same tastes, and some won’t linger, browse and spend if the environment isn’t relatively serene. The same applies to DVDs.

5. Admit your ignorance. If a customer asks for a book you haven’t heard of, say so, and try to order it for them. While you’re at it, take the opportunity to find out about the book, its publisher, and the rest of their offerings.

6. Follow through. Come up with a prompt, reliable system to let customers who make special orders know that their item or items have arrived.

7. Don’t lie. Most of the problems you encounter genuinely won’t be your fault, so there’s no need to make something up with a customer asks where a given book is. They can go home and look it up online and find out that you’re full of it, so don’t create complications for yourself or needlessly foster bad impressions.

8. Keep in touch with your customers. It’s easy enough to develop an e-mail list that allows you to let them know what’s showing up at the shop on a given Wednesday and to highlight delayed books.

9. Set the tone. Just because your customer base might look homogenous doesn’t mean it is. Bias-spouting fanboys are a cowardly and superstitious lot, and it isn’t difficult to redirect certain conversational threads that might be making other customers seethe. Or you can let me do it, but I can promise that the results will be really uncomfortable.

10 Responses to Shop talk

  1. Brigid says:

    I’d like to expand on your first point a bit: I like to go to Borders and Barnes & Noble because they are pleasant and inviting: Big windows, spacious aisles, comfy chairs, smell of coffee in the background. The last comics store I visited was clean but cluttered. The books were displayed on wire-grid racks and the lighting was greenish flourescents. Basically, it looked like a liquor store but with comics instead of beer. Plus they had toys hanging on the racks so it was hard to take down a book without knocking something over.

    For me, going to a chain bookstore is a treat; going to a comics store is just an errand, and an infrequent one at that. If I could find a really nice comics store, one with the comfort of my local chain but better selection, I’d go there instead.

  2. Joe Williams says:

    Clutter and a general air of filth are the worst. Too many comic shops resemble Fred Sanford’s junkyard and are not inviting to women and families who are used to chain bookstores and malls. I’d also suggest keeping a few less T&A posters and trying to put up more displays featuring characters that appeal to people other than the hardcore spandex and capes crowd. Also, I love cats but many people, especially many hardcore comic book readers, are allergic to them and cannot shop in a place that has cats!

    And I know some people resent the implication that not all comic shop workers and owners are friendly and helpful, but I’ve been in enough shops to know it’s true. I even heard one guy chortle when asked if he had any Eric Stanton books and then reply “he’s the bondage guy, right?” He said he didn’t and left it at that- no offer to order anything, no going to his small, dusty and cobwebbed adult section and seeing if he had anything similar, etc.

  3. Hiring knowledgeable female employees is a big plus, too. One of the reasons I started shopping at Midtown Comics (besides its Barnes & Noble vibe) is that they have a number of female staff members who are really passionate about comics. It makes a world of difference, especially when seeking help or recommendations.

  4. davidpwelsh says:

    It’s almost always a good sign when a comic shop has women on staff. I’ve never encountered any of Midtown’s in the few times I’ve visited, but I might have been too distracted by the handsome shelving and in-stock Fanfare books.

  5. Red Stapler says:

    I’m happy to say that most of the big stores in NYC have a lot of women on staff, and even a lot of the smaller ones, too.

    (I myself put in some time in two easily-recognized stores.)

  6. Comic Reader says:

    Do comic shop owners read blogs like this? I hope they do. Everyone I go to in Michigan practically breaks all six points mentioned above. Check out the storefront to this comic shop:

    See the longboxes on the right? That pic is about two years old and they’re still there. The window on the left has goten worse – the store owner has no clue what those windows are for. If I owned that shop, I’d put my goods in the window, showing how fun and interesting comic books can be. Instead, passer-bys have no sense of what’s sold in there. For all they know, it’s a warehouse.

  7. Tapeleg says:

    Comic Reader – Make sure you go to Green Brain Comics in Dearborn, MI (outside of Detroit). Great comic shot that knows how to run a business, and treat customers well.

  8. Cligunsanna says:

    There’s some special secret Sale link on Amazon, EBay, etc. where you can find very good discounts:

    http://bargains-hunter.blogspot.com/2007/10/how-to-find-bargains-at-amazons-secret.html

    [url=http://bargains-hunter.blogspot.com/2007/10/how-to-find-bargains-at-amazons-secret.html]Bargains Hunter[/url]

    I’ve seen discounts there as low as 75% off sticker Price.

  9. […] David Welsh provides a list of basic things every shop should do to be a better […]

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