Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Ideal Store.

The Ideal Store -- doesn't exist.

Retailer, Brian Hibbs, has a 'review' of four comic shops that were part of a bus tour at the Comic Pro conclave. His main point was how different each of the four store were from each other.

Over on The Beat, there are two long threads about the imminent(!) demise of comic shops to digital, where you can just feel the 'love' toward us. (Many comic readers seem convinced that most comic shops suck; but at least, that's a slight improvement from years ago when they were convinced that ALL comic shops suck.)

As I've commented before, I'm amazed by the variety of bookstores that Linda and I run into on our bookstore roadtrips.

I've decided the ideal store -- which would meet everyone's approval -- simply isn't possible.

Even if you could pick the perfect spot, buy exactly the fixtures you want, and fill it with exactly the inventory you desire, it would still be -- too much or too little -- of something or another.

But very few of us can start with a blank slate.

So why are stores so different? I've come up with several reasons.

1.) Location. Where you're located is going to dictate what product will sell, and how you display it, and even your pricing. Linda's store is located in a semi-industrial area between the old main drag and the railroad tracks. A large space, visible to drive by traffic. Filled with books and nothing but books. She depends on volume.

My store, on the other hand, is in an old downtown district, not very visible from the road but with lots of walk-by traffic. My space is expensive and limited, and I've been slowly but surely developing 'mainstream' product to attract the customer off the street. Diversified, fully retail priced.

A thousand reasons why the physical location may make one product possible, and another impossible.

2.) The physical layout of your store. Again, the size and shape of your space is going to dictate what you can carry, and how much you can carry. There are comic shops, for instance, that are more like my wife's store; larger space, cheaper rent, where they can displays boxes and boxes of back issues. Whereas my store space is limited and expensive, and I've been forced by those circumstances to store my back-issues in the basement and load up the shelves with graphic novel collections.

There will be complaints, too, that my store is too crowded. Yet, what do I do when I know from experience that the more product my store has, the better the sales? I'm perfectly capable of creating a less crowded store that might be more visually appealing to some customers, but my sales would be less and I can't afford that. I try my best to keep everything tidy -- and not push the boundaries into claustrophobia, but I simply can't create the wide corridors that my wife's store has.

There are many more examples of how space dictates the type of store you have.

3.) Your history. I could find a bigger, maybe even a more ideal location, but I've got 27 years of credit built up where I'm at. I don't believe that the grass is always greener -- like I said, whatever you gain by a move, you might lose somewhere else. I'm nearing the end of my career and don't need the stress or gamble of a move. If it ain't broke...

You also have the inventory you have -- what's left, what fads came and went leaving behind their refuse, what you've managed to create a client base for, and so on. It may not be the ideal mix, but it's the mix you got.

An ideal store would probably have to be recreated every time circumstances change, and that isn't economically feasible, obviously.

4.) The owners tastes and abilities. My store is a mix of pop culture product. I love books, new and old; but I also like unique toys, and I enjoy playing boardgames, and I love art books and comic books, I even kind of have a nostalgic glow toward sports cards (which has given me no end of grief).

I know there will be comic customers that will reject my store because I'm not pure. I don't have enough back issues, for instance. I've diluted my store with non-comic stuff -- even toys can be a turn off to some purists.

Since every store owner is different, every store will be different.

5.) Finally, (I think I could probably come up with reasons all day long as to why stores are different but I'll end with this...) the ideal store can't exist, because customers expectations are different, as different as the number of customers.

I know visiting bookstores that I'm attracted to the crowded with inventory, books piled high in the corridors, little nooks and crannies, type used bookstore. My wife likes the exact opposite kind of store -- wide and spacious, but with less inventory.

I personally don't care for mixing used and new books together (the Powell's example), but other people love it.

There are probably thousands of examples of differences in customer tastes -- and you simply can't please everyone.

A ideal store would immediately start straying from the ideal, the minute you opened. You'd buy exactly the right quantity of items, for instance, but sell out of some and be unable to replace them. You'd have the customer drop the last remaining copy of something else. You'd develop a greeting patter that would instantly turn off some people, while being exactly what you need to get most people to stay.

And so on.

I wonder sometimes if comic customers are just less understanding than other types of customers. O.K. I know that in the past, there have been lots of sucky comic shops -- but I know from experience that much of that had to do with the limited finances this hobby affords.
You can't carry more than you can sell, you know.

My feeling is that comic shops are improving, Darwinian-wise. But they'll never be perfect.


Anonymous said...

I'm perfect.

Brett White
Heroes Haven

Duncan McGeary said...

I noticed that.