Comic Retailers – The Comic Book Shoppe (Nepean, ON)

The Comic Book Shoppe

Owner’s Name: Stevens Ethier

Manager’s Name: Michael Armstrong

Number of Employees: Eight at main store / Four in anime store (our anime products are in a secondary location situated 2 doors down from the main store — they share point of sale and employees — basically we expanded, but were unable to expand the existing space so there is separate frontage).

Years in Business: Twenty-One

Physical Address: 1400 Clyde Avenue, Nepean, Ontario, K2G 3J2

Telephone Number: 613-228-8386

Website: www.thecomicbookshoppe.com

Email: shoppe1@thecomicbookshoppe.com

How did you choose your store name?

At the time comics were going to be the dominant product line so having something direct and to the point (i.e. we sell comic books) while at the same time having a distinguishing touch (the old-school spelling of ‘shoppe’) seemed the best approach.

How many sq ft is your store?

The main store is about 2600 square feet and our anime-wing is about 1500 square feet.

Favorite Comic Book, published in the past few months:

Personally I’ve really enjoyed Irredeemable by Boom Studios and Mark Waid.

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

– Geoff Johns original Flash Run through Rogues War
– Watchmen
– Jack Kirby’s Fourth World Titles
– Superman: For The Man Who Has Everything
– Spider-man: Death of Gwen Stacy

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

The Comic Book Shoppe remains focused on expanding our appeal and accessibility to groups within the general public who are not traditionally comics or specialty store customers.

We continue to carry a wide array of product lines with a focus on fostering an environment that is both engaging and enjoyable for every customer. I believe that with the noticeable shift in popular culture towards what we lovingly refer to as “geek properties”, there is a broad section of the public that can and will find a lot of enjoyment in what is now available in the comic/specialty market, and the key for us will continue to be creating and fostering an inviting environment in which people can freely share their enthusiasms with one another.

On a personal note I want to try and continue to improve our efficiency on all levels — from customer service to cost efficiency.

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

I still find that introducing customers (of any age) to the wide range of products now available in our store can be extremely satisfying.

Whether it is young readers being introduced to the world of comics (and reading in general), parents being able to share their enjoyment of a returning license with their children, or a new collector buying their first collectible (with all the accompanied excitement and relish), I am always pleasantly surprised at how contagious good feelings can become when embraced by even a small group of people – I’d like to think that at our best we can provide a much needed respite from an all too serious world.

What has been one of the biggest challenges?

With such a large range of products available in all of the areas we specialize in, obviously finding the proper balance in terms of what to carry (and remain financially viable) is always a challenge.

Effective advertising (what formats to use – who to target – how much do we devote to dedicated advertising) can be frustratingly inconsistent, especially when larger mass market retailers decide to carry specialty product lines.

Finally, as a Canadian retailer, the fluctuating value of our dollar in comparison to the US dollar has occasionally made securing competitively priced products from US distributors a frustrating hassle.

Why are you a comics retailer?

Love for the material – even though the business has expanded into toys, collectibles, gaming products, anime, etc., I still believe that comics are our modern mythology translated into both a visual and literary form – a form that anyone can engage with to whatever degree they desire (whether temporary enjoyment or long term collecting). I mean, there are a lot of products a store could sell, but few are as enjoyable and fun as comic books.

Product Lines Carried:

We carry an extensive range of:

  • comics and graphic novels
  • comic related materials (including art books, drawing guides, basic art supplies)
  • toys and collectibles from dozens of licenses (film, tv, video games, comics, sports)
  • statues and high end collectibles
  • licensed comic-book and culture clothing
  • board games, card games, miniatures games (including Warhammer) and role-playing games
  • webkinz
  • posters
  • manga
  • gundam model kits
  • anime and anime related products
  • candy
  • and any other specialty items that relate to comics, anime or pop culture licenses.

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

Marvel and DC event comics continue to be the largest monthly sellers (Blackest Night, Final Crisis, Civil War, Secret Invasion). For non-event titles, Batman, Amazing Spider-man and Uncanny X-men are consistently strong sellers from month to month.

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

Probably between thirty and forty percent depending on the strength of the releases.

What are your Best selling graphic novel books?

Walking Dead has been very strong for a couple of years now. Fables, Y the Last Man, Sandman, Preacher and Buffy Season Eight trades are consistent top-sellers. Watchmen, V For Vendetta, Dark Knight Returns remain popular picks all year round.

What books do you find yourself recommending the most?

As non-superhero titles continue to grow in popularity (especially in trade format) I find that many adult readers are looking for material that either goes beyond what they’ve read (if they’ve been reading super-hero books exclusively) or which tackles more serious themes and therefore a lot of my recommendations tend to steer towards popular series like Walking Dead, Y The Last Man or Fables. In terms of super-hero books (again for adult readers) I usually recommend Top Ten (very solid for most female readers), Superman: Red Son, The End League, Irredeemable, Desolation Jones and Planetary, obviously depending on what they already know and/or like. We always try to get a fair gauge of what the customer likes/is interested in before we recommend anything.

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

Batman: The Brave and the Bold is a great introduction to super-hero comics with plenty of classic moments to appease even older readers. Naruto remains the manga of choice for younger readers (and is consistently our best selling manga overall).

What comic/manga would you recommend for an adult interested in returning to comics?

Wolverine: Old Man Logan has had significant appeal for lapsed Marvel readers over the past year. For non-superhero books I’ve found very few adult readers who haven’t been drawn into Walking Dead or Y the Last Man. I would probably recommend a book like Hellboy or Invincible for an adult looking to get back into Super-hero material after a lengthy absence.

How important is the web to your business?

Increasingly important — with the vast majority of our customers and potential customers already using the web extensively, a strong web presence is essential. We have our own website that allows for online purchasing which continues to grow in popularity, but just having an online identity inevitably brings customers to our doors and as time goes on I believe that having established a web presence will be a huge asset to the store.

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

I’m not sure I’d claim a particular area of expertise for the store per se, but in terms of what we actively carry and the specialized items we make available I believe that we have the most well-rounded location in our area — and our six large statue showcases also tend to attract a lot of attention that many other stores cannot match.

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

Ottawa has what I would call a small but solid comic community — there are small local comic conventions every month, as well as a couple of small to mid sized anime conventions over the course of the year. There are numerous small anime clubs that organize regular events in the area and there continues to be quite a few local writers and artists who are either actively working on independent comics or engaged with major publishers. Over the past year we’ve had at least three of our customers bring in self-published “amateur” comics — and we always try to help them promote by making copies available in our store.

Do you participate in Free Comic Book Day?

Of course. We’ve had tons of positive feedback from customers (many of them new customers thanks to Free Comic Book Day) about what we do for FCBD. I think it’s been a really solid initiative to try and bring in new readers.

What aspect of your store are you most proud?

I’m really proud of the atmosphere of our store — I have been actively working on making the store organized and professional without abandoning the casual atmosphere — we want customers wondering what they’re going to find around the next corner — we want kids (and adults) gaping and making loud exclamations when they see that certain toy or statue and I’m personally really happy with how the store currently “feels”.

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

We have weekly gaming events on Sunday and hold frequent game demos/special events on Saturdays. We don’t really have sufficient space to do extensive events on a regular basis so we tend to focus on doing conventions and events at other dedicated facilities, but we will do fun small promotions on Halloween or during the Holiday season. I’ve been talking with one of our local libraries to do some gaming demonstrations for their kids clubs which should go ahead in the late spring/early summer of this year.

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

Comic-book based movies have certainly brought in numerous new customers (and in some cases inspired some customers to come back) to our store which is great, but I wouldn’t say that our customer base has actually changed in any fundamental way.

Graphic Novels have been a growth product for large bookstore chains, does this affect your customer base or business?

We’ve definitely heard customers discussing their purchases from larger chains and I could recount dozens of instances where we have lost graphic novel sales from regular comic customers who went/ordered their books from a large bookstore or online bookstore. I hope that we’ll continue to be a more appealing choice for most customers as we are able to provide knowledge and expertise on the product that cannot be found at a large chain bookstore — but the reality is that we will always lose some sales, if only because of the inevitability of convenience.

With the increasing popularity of GN’s/TPB’s 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?

We have carried an extensive trade library for many years now, but obviously we’re now encountering series that have stronger sales in trade format than they do as monthly issues, so we have been necessarily focusing more on TPB/GN’s overall. I find that the key to our trade sales is finding the proper balance in what you carry at all times — obviously we’d love to carry multiples of everything, but most customers seem to understand that the smaller or more obscure titles may require special ordering (usually after the initial stock we bring in sells through — we try and bring in any many titles as possible upon release while only core books are consistently reordered).

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

Our location is on a major retail street surrounded by residential neighbourhoods so we do get a fair amount of students from the local area, especially during the summer months. We are also situated at about a 5 minute drive from the major local college which brings in a fair number of college students as well. I’m not sure how accurate a guess I could make about percentage of our business, but 20-25% might be reasonable.

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 kids comics section? Do you stock comics that are considered kids friendly/age appropriate reading?

Our store is family friendly and we get a large number of female customers, whether younger comic readers, gamers or mothers buying things for their kids. I would estimate that at least 25% of our overall sales are ultimately to children or female customers. We do have a dedicated kids comics section right in the middle of the store and we always have a fair overstock of age appropriate comics for younger readers. I have tried to maintain an environment that works for all customer ages/types — so we try to carry adult material for adults and kid friendly items for kids without sacrificing one for the other.

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?

I would consider us a collector store with a fairly dedicated group of high-end book collectors and back-issue hunters. In recent years I have noticed that there is more active interest in higher end statue/prop/toy collectibles as compared to the higher-end comics, but we’ll never stop carrying older “wall comics”. In general I find that back issue sales benefit more than many other product types from active promotion.

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

Word of mouth is obviously very important and still probably brings in more customers than anything else, but we have done radio ads and small papers/ flyers advertising (with promotional coupons) with mixed results.

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?

Good for us at least — it gives us guaranteed sales and helps us better predict our order numbers. Yes we have a pull list that applies to both comics and GN/TPB’s — there is a one-time twenty dollar deposit to protect us from delinquency (which is refundable at any point — we force no time commitments), but there are no minimum title requirements and we offer 10% off all titles on a customer’s pull list.

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 do have a computerized point of sale and inventory system and it has been specifically designed to help us accurately track sales/stock numbers, but I still rely upon my own judgment for all restocking.

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