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.