How to Open Your Own Comics Retail Store Part I

During my past few columns I've spent a considerable amount of time talking about the ethics and operating philosophies that I employed in creating Mile High Comics. In contemplating where to go from those very broad philosophic generalities, I decided that it was time to spend a few columns discussing how to open your own comics retail store. This topic is the #2 question on my frequently asked questions list (right after the discovery of the Mile High/Edgar Church Collection...), so it seemed to me that discussing the pros and cons of being a comics entrepreneur would be of use to many of you.

To begin, if you're considering becoming a comics retailer, ask yourself these questions:

1) Do I have the ability to self-motivate myself?

2) Am I willing to forego all other activities in my life to be a comics dealer?

3) Can I make it my foremost goal to serve other comics fans?

4) Do I have the ability to ignore my own personal tastes?

5) Do I have the desire and intellectual curiosity to endlessly educate myself about new areas of collecting?

6) Do I have the mental toughness that will enable me to persevere, even when the odds seem hopelessly stacked against me?

7) Do I communicate well with others?

I hope that you're taking note that none of these questions has to do with business technical ability, or assets. It has been my experience that far too many prospective comics retailers assumed that if they had the working capital, and/or the technical ability to run a comics shop, that the job was right for them. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. As a general rule, comics retailing is a very non-rewarding career choice. While there are certainly some quite successful comics retailers (including myself), the harsh reality is that most comics retailers struggle to get by from week-to-week. That being the case, the first question you need to be asking yourself is why the heck you're not getting into a different business, where the potential financial rewards are much greater.

If your answer is that you want to sell comics for a living because you have have a passion for comics, I'm unimpressed. Alcoholics have a passion for liquor, but that's certainly not a good reason for them to be operating a liquor store. In fact, I've seen a large number of comics stores fail because the owners were so wrapped up in their love of comics, that they forgot that they were running a business. To my way of thinking, having a passion for comics and graphic art is essential to running a good comics shop, but if that is your primary motivation, that could easily spell trouble.

Another important consideration is whether the stresses and strains of the entrepreneurial life are for you. Can you handle working six or seven days a week, for years on end, with few or no days off? I have a dear friend who recently closed her antiques shop because she ran afoul of exactly this problem. While she loved her shop very much, she and her companion were avid river rafters. Most rivers in the West have a lottery system for rafting permits, and she never knew when she would get lucky. Since her shop wasn't generating enough revenue to support even a part-time staff member, she was forced to close her store whenever she won a permit. She would then be gone for a week, or more. This simply doesn't work in most businesses, and absolutely not in comics. Being open regular hours (which includes not showing up habitually late) is imperative to the long-term functioning of a comics shop.

Another critical question is whether you can live with the stress of having to cover a weekly Diamond bill (for your new comics), and all the other bills that crop up in running a store? Bear in mind that opening a comics shop is very much a case of slapping the tar baby. It's incredibly easy to get into the business, but once you're in, you're stuck. With very few exceptions, most store owners quickly find themselves in some measure of debt, and the day comes when they realize that they can't get out. There is no viable secondary market for comics stores, so if you open one, it's usually true that the only way out is to close it. If that occurs, you usually still have bills coming due, but with no revenue stream with which to cover those liabilities. That's one reason why so many comics retailers of the early 1990's ended up in personal bankruptcy. Unless you're independently wealthy, being a comics retailer requires the psychological strength to go forward every day, realizing that you're playing without a safety net. One major screw-up, and you're dead. Can you handle that type of stress? If you can't, then stick with your day job. Comics retailing will eat you up.

To be continued...

Please send your e-mails to chuck@milehighcomics.com, and your letters to:

Mile High Comics, Inc.
Attn: Chuck Rozanski
2151 W. 56th Ave.
Denver, CO 80221



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