Comic Retailers – Comic Readers (Regina, SK)

Store Questionnaire

ComicReaders (Regina)

Owner’s Name: Dana Tillusz (Greg Roch partner in Downtown Regina location)

Manager’s Name: Dana Tillusz & Shane Hnetka (south location); Greg Roch (Downtown location).

Number of Employees: Six employees between both stores.

Years in Business:

Sixteen years at our main location. First day of business was April 1, 1994. We started up our second shop in Regina on May 1st, 2005.

Physical Address and Phone Number: ComicReaders (Regina) is located at: 2104B Grant Rd., Regina, Saskatchewan S4S-5C8. Phone: 1-306-586-1414.

ComicReaders (Downtown) is currently located at: 2000-12th Avenue, Regina, Saskatchewan S4P 0M3. This location will be moving May 1, 2010 to 2125 11th Ave., Regina, Saskatchewan S4P 0M3. Phone: 1-306-779-0900.

Website: comicreadersregina.wordpress.com

E-mail: contact@comicreaders.com

How did you choose your store name?

The store was originally named Reader’s Book Shop. The “books” in the name was for our used-books section. When I purchased the business in 1994, the store’s focus was on used paperbacks. Comics were secondary. I had other plans. My passion was comics. Over the years I phased out the books and solidified our true identity. When we changed the business name to ComicReaders around the time we opened our second store, we honoured our origins while moving forward to focus on comics.

How many sq ft is your store?

Our main shop is 1700 square feet. Our downtown location is presently at 2500 square feet, but we will be up-sizing to 3600 square feet May 1, 2010.

Favorite Comic Book, published in the past few months:

At this very moment, The Plague Widow, currently running in Brian Wood’s Northlander series has been the comic book I most anticipate. This Viking epic storyline follows a small Nordic village trying to survive a very hard winter. Wood doesn’t make it easy on the residents, and somehow I can identify with his characters, or at least, feel the anxiety and fear that bleeds on every page.

Five all-time classic comics, graphic novels or story arcs?

This is your toughest question. There are too many all-time favourites to name, each covering a wide selection of genres. I’ve decided to do some division and name some great reads from mainstream titles, manga, and small press.

Mainstream: Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso’s conspiracy /crime series 100 Bullets is probably the best mainstream comic book to be published in the last 15 years. John Arcudi and Guy Davis’ BPRD run takes something as great as Mike Mignola’s Hellboy and elevates it to something special. Alan Moore and J.H. Williams’ Promethea is an elaborate metaphysical masterpiece. When I was a kid, the Spider-Man storyline “Kraven’s Last Hunt” was the best read of all time. And last but not least Fables is one title I read instantly after receiving a new shipment of comic books.

Manga: My top reads, which I will doubt will ever change: Lone Wolf & Cub, Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind, Battle Angel Alita, Vagabond and Akira.

Small Press: Chris Ware’s Acme Novelty Library, Charles Burns’ Black Hole, Jim Woodring’s Frank, anything by Norwegian cartoonist Jason (Hey, Wait…) and how about Joe Sacco’s Safe Area Gorazde to round up the list.

But you won’t find me missing out on any new works from my favourite Canadian cartoonists, which include Jeff Lemire, Chester Brown, Darwyn Cooke, David Collier and Seth.

What are you excited about for this coming year? What are your plans for the next 12 months?

We are moving our downtown store to a larger location this spring. The new spot will be a block away and gives us a much-needed increase in square footage (3600 sq. ft.!). So the first part of 2010 will be devoted to building our new store. We have some major plans and I’d like to expand a number of product lines. Our downtown shop is more focused on anime, toys & collectibles, board games & card games than it is on the comic end. I’d like to change that. But don’t get me wrong — our downtown shop is a fully functional comic shop. We opened it to take the pressure of our main location, but with limited square footage it was impossible to carry everything we had interests in, especially since as a new store it needed a more diverse inventory than the established, comic-specialized south store.

As for the South store, I don’t think we have any major plans for 2010. It is business as usual. I will probably add some new fixtures to maximize our space but that’s always an ongoing project.

What has been one of the most rewarding parts of running your business?

Not to sound cliché, but I wake up every morning loving what I do. Owning a small business has been difficult and stressful, but it has also been the most rewarding experience of my life. We’ve seen the good times of the comics industry and the very worst.

What has been one of the biggest challenges?

When I first started my comics retailer career it was quite a struggle. At the wee age of 20 I entered the business when the market was crashing at the end of the speculation age. It was a positive reboot for comics but it took a good five years before our store started turning a profit. Every cent that hit our cash register was poured back into the store and every long weekend was booked for some kind of renovation. Also, in those long years, one of the biggest challenges for us was changing customer perceptions. We had to beat the speculator mentality out of people, and convince them to buy what they enjoyed reading. At that time, the only way the comics industry could move forward was by looking long-term: by building readership, not by indulging bad, short-term investment delusions. To this day I cringe when someone brings two copies of the same issue up to my till.

Why are you a comics retailer?

Comics has always been one of the most important constants in my life. I was reading them before I could understand the written word. I’ve never been able to explain my attraction to sequential words and pictures. I came from a family of non-readers and couldn’t even pinpoint where my obsession with comics began. But what I do know that since I found out comic shops existed, I was determined to be a comics retailer. In my mind it was the only career path for me, and I was lucky enough to fulfill that goal.

Product Lines Carried: (e.g.: comics, manga, T-shirts, CCG, Warhammer).

At our Grant Road location we carry a full line of comic books and graphic novels, with a full range of small press publishers and manga. Our focus is on the new weekly issues more than old back issue, as explained. We also carry many high-end collectible statues. To a limited degree we carry CCGs, board games, role-playing games, apparel and magazines. Of course, if we don’t carry it, we have no problem bringing in anything outside our normal range for our happy and hungry customers.

Our downtown location was opened up to focus on the non-essential comic book material that comic book / gaming stores are known for selling. This store carries comics, graphic novels, manga, Nintendo plushes, anime, Warhammer, board games, CCGs, T-shirts, toys, role-playing games and every other pop-culture novelty you can think of. Novelty candy and energy drinks are a big seller, surprisingly.

Best selling floppy/monthly books (and best selling manga if you sell manga)

The two largest publishers lead our sales every month with their latest and greatest tie-in event. So, at the moment Siege and “Blackest Night” titles reign supreme along with Batman and Robin, Wolverine, Green Lantern and the like. But over the years we’ve built up a solid readership of important titles that never crack our top 10. When Sweet Tooth, Unwritten, Criminal, Fables and The Walking Dead come out we have a lot of happy readers.

Viz’s Shonen Jump titles sell the best for us. So Bleach, Naruto, One Piece, Hikaru No Go sell solid every release. Fullmetal Alchemist, Fruits Basket and Gunsmith Cats are also very popular.

What percentage of your business is comics compared to the peripherals of a ‘culture store’?

Our Grant Road store is our flagship location even though it doesn’t show in the square footage. At this time over 70 per cent of our sales is comic book /graphic novel related. Toys and other gaming projects make up the rest.

Our downtown shop was opened so we could focus on being a better comic shop at our Grant Road location. Their sales statistics are completely opposite to ours.

What are your best-selling graphic novel books?

In the last year our records report that The Walking Dead (all volumes) was the biggest seller. Titles also showing impressive sales were Fables, Empowered, DC’s Final Crisis HC, DMZ, 100 Bullets, Invincible, Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Ex Machina, BPRD, Batman: Battle For the Cowl HC, Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Mouse Guard and Death Note.

What books do you find yourself recommending the most?

We are usually recommending the books we’ve recently enjoyed reading or titles I figure need more support. Lately I’ve been pushing Matt Kindt’s two graphic novels Super Spy and 3 Story: The Secret History of the Giant Man. Our recommendations are really dependent on who’ll listen— 12 years ago I was trying to get everyone I knew to read Hellboy, but no one would listen to me until they made a movie about it.

What great comic/manga should everyone under 14 be reading?

Now that Scholastic has put Jeff Smith’s Bone series on the map and every school has copies in their library, I’ve been able to convince people to read titles like Usagi Yojimbo, Hikaru No Go and Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind.

What comic/manga would you recommend for an adult interested in returning to comics (superhero / non-superhero)?

When adults who are returning from a hiatus from comic book reading and new readers who walk into our stores, I attempt to dig for as much information as possible. I try to find out what movies and books they enjoy most or what they read in past years. Often I find that the returning customer’s tastes have changed since they gave up reading Wolverine and X-Men in high school. It isn’t too hard to find the information I need before I tour them around the shop and direct them to the stories I believe they’ll enjoy the most. Fables and Walking Dead are two books I recommend the most to re-entry consumers.

How important is the web to your business?

The Internet is important to us in a number of ways. First, our website gives us a presence online where general information can be found about our stores and customers can actually find where we’re located. We write recommendation lists, reviews and comics features for our website. Our website does generate sales to a lesser degree, but essentially we try to push our website visitors into our stores.

Does your store have an area of expertise? What makes your store unique?

All our staff read a diverse selection of comic books. I wish I could read everything, but it’s impossible, even with the weekly/daily quotas I try to stick to. I rely on my staff for recommendations, comics news and important plot points in titles all the time. So I guess our expertise is comics. Other local shops can’t keep up with our passion and overall knowledge of comics. I think this makes us very unique. Our expertise gives us an edge whether we’re chatting with our regulars or helping out a civilian who has wandered in from off the street. Simply put: We read comics. We love comics. And our passion is comics.

Describe the comic book scene within your community? (e.g.: amateur comics, anime/manga clubs, comic clubs, and convention events)

Regina has a very small comic book scene. We do have local creators who publish their own work, but often our talent moves to larger city centres to establish themselves. In the past, Regina has hosted comic book conventions and last year our university put on a comics conference — in fact there’s a prof who teaches a course in comics. We usually travel to Calgary, Winnipeg, or San Diego to participate in comic-nerd elbow rubbing, but we gather in small ways in our little city. Schools bring their reading clubs into our shops to chat and debate comics. And I have had a regular column in our weekly University on comics, which helped bring many people out of the woodwork.

Do you participate in Free Comic Book Day?

Since its debut, Free Comic Book Day has been an integral part of our business. It’s a grand annual event that helps us promote ourselves and comics. FCBD really helps to introduce kids to comics, and I’m happy to be apart of it. Everyone loves a comic, free comics just makes it better. And when possible we have local creators in to sign their own books.

What aspect of your store are you most proud of?

I often have to stand back and remind myself that I own two great comic shops, and that they are the realization of the dreams and goals I had in my youth. I’m proud that we have successfully battled through the hard times and enjoyed the good times to their fullest.

Do you have special event nights/days at the store? What have been some or your best/most fun promotions/events?

FCBD and our annual Boxing Week sale are our two biggest planned events of the year. Free Comic Book Day is always fun because everyone is at their happiest. Our best event was having Chester Brown in store for the world wide release of his graphic novel, Louis Riel. We try to get some of our regulars and our website contributors together a couple times a year to philosophise comics (or do a comic jam), sometimes these events are planned, sometimes not.

Have the last few years of Hollywood film releases changed your customer base?

Yes, and no. For the most part, the Hollywood blockbusters do little for our business. Every superhero flick they put out will drive a few interested readers into our stores who generally feel nostalgic for the comics they read when they were kids, but DC and Marvel’s track record for making the comics accessible at this point in time is poor. We have been able to translate movies into sales and rejuvenated long-term customers but nothing dramatic.

But we’ve had better success with the lesser-know properties over the years. With Hellboy, Watchmen and even Surrogates and White Out we’ve been able to capture significant interest. The movie Kick-Ass is already generating a large amount of curiosity.

Graphic novels have been a growth product for large bookstore chains. Does this affect your customer base or business?

Competing with Big Box stores has its pros and cons. Our local Chapters, which is a two-minute drive from our main store, has helped us and hurt us. It’s helped us by introducing causal readers to our business. Since the bigger chains selections only cover the newest or hottest material, their limited selection and knowledge drives the most curious reader to our shops. When that casual reader looks for the guidance and selection, they search us out. No chain can compete with our expertise.

With the increasing popularity of GNs/TPBs do you find yourself stocking these more or less than you expected? There are a lot of upfront cost in a large TPB inventory. Are you focusing on a publisher or specific series? Do you intend to carry a wider range of publisher in the future or would these books be special orders only?

Graphic novels are very important to our business and identity. We try to carry a full line of everything, from the smallest publisher to the largest. Graphic Novels are the most convenient means of catching up on any title or creator’s work. You want Brian K Vaughn’s Y: The Last Man series? We got it. You want Daniel Clowe’s Like a Velvet Glove Cast in Iron? No problem!

We’ve been developing and expanding our collection for years and our high inventory level is just the cost of business. You have to be ready for customers—and besides, having shelves that are full of all kinds of different books tells our customers that we have a great store that can get them whatever they need. Who wants to go to a store that only has a few things to look at?

Bottom line: as the comics industry expands, so do we. Sometimes there is too much new stuff coming out. We could be lame and not bring it in, but it’s better to build more fixtures and fine-tune the way we showcase our products.

Are you located near any schools? Is there a college nearby? What percentage of your business is students? Did their presence or lack of presence influence your decision to open at your current location?

We are within walking distance to two high schools and one elementary school. Our south shop is also very close to the University of Regina and our provincial trade college, SIAST. At lunch time the neighbourhood kids drop in to peruse the store, but the university crowd does play a big part in shaping our business. I’m not sure if I could break it down into a percentage but we definitely know when mid-terms and finals are on.

We do work really hard with our local school boards (public and Catholic). We almost always attend regional literacy and teacher conferences to showcase our stores and make ourselves available as a resource to teachers and librarians.

I’ve said we’re in business because we love comics and I mean it. We don’t just want to make a living — we want ComicReaders to educate the public about how great comics are. Why not start with teachers? We’ve done presentations on comics within the schools and worked individually with many librarians to develop a collection that suits their student needs.

I also work with other provincial library systems, small town schools and libraries, and have been responsible for developing six major library collections. I am available to the smallest school or the largest in any way — local or long distance.

Do you consider your store woman- and kid- friendly? What percentage of your business is female/child? Do you have plans to grow these groups? Do you have a kid’s comics section? Do you stock comics that are considered kids friendly/age appropriate reading?

We are very woman and kid friendly. We strive to make everyone welcome, and are proud to have a very high female customer base. Both groups are important to us and we do try to cater to all tastes, gender age or otherwise. ComicReaders carries a large graphic novel and comic selection appropriate for younger readers.

Do you consider your store a collector store, where you can find high grade books, or long runs of older back issues? Do you find that back issues are a focus for your customers?

Our focus has always been on readership and our selection of older back issues is very limited and decreases annually. We have even considered removing our comic back issues completely from our inventory to make room for more graphic novels and manga. High-grade comics are neat in their own special way, but don’t figure in with our big picture and the goals we are trying to accomplish.

What form of advertising do you use? (City newspaper, small/free papers, TV, radio, flyers, word of mouth?)

Like most small businesses, word of mouth is the most important and effective form of advertising. But it is something we do not depend on completely. We do awareness and reminder campaigns at different parts of the year; from advertising in our alternative city newspaper to radio, to billboards and getting on the local news as much as possible. We set up at local trade shows, teacher conventions, and have set up booths at the University, movie theatre, etc. We try to get known any way possible. Oh, and our website proves that a presence online is necessary.

Pull lists: good or bad? Do you have free pull list? Minimum number of titles? Do you offer a discount on everything for a pull list customer? Do you have them pay a yearly membership fee to get a discount?

I couldn’t imagine my business without a pull list. It’s a plus, plus part of any successful comic shop. Not only does it help you order product months in advance, but it is really essential to a positive customer shopping experience. A pull list gives us an inside track with every customer. We learn their name, more about them and on the back side we can track their buying patterns to help with recommendations and service. A pull list makes a person more than a random, anonymous customer, and begins a customer/retailer relationship found rarely at any retail environment. Our only requirements to open a pull list is a name and phone number. We don’t fuss on any minimum order; if it’s 100 monthly titles or a pull list for one graphic novel that ships every six months we are cool with it. We do not charge any fee for a pull list and we have moved away from the discount model.

Do you use a computerized point of sale and inventory system? Do you track sales of items to adjust orders up or down? Do you have a system to ensure a restocking of a sold book?

We made the jump to MOBY created by Bitter Ends Systems early-mid 2009. Their POS system is built with comic book retailing in mind, and has improved every aspect of our business. With some minor editing it automatically reorders sold merchandise, and its reports have made ComicReaders a more sufficient business. MOBY saves us time and has become indispensable. We track sales and adjust our orders twice a week when possible and reorder inventory on a daily basis.

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