08.11.2009

Comic Book Store Employees Can Ruin the Experience

Y’know, the attitude of a comic book store employee can really impact the future profitability of the shop.

I’m of the belief that going to the comic book store is a fairly unique experience.  It’s a pilgrimage us hardcore comic geeks make once a week or so.  Most of us have some sort of pull/hold/reserve list at our local comic shop, so not only do they have the new comics we’re looking for, they’re already stashed behind the counter specifically for us.  That’s a pretty cool specialized service you don’t find outside the comic book industry.

In addition to our weekly haul, many of us are looking for some sort of camaraderie with the employees behind the counter.  Many are looking for a friendly face, others a shared interest in certain titles, or some want to debate who’s stronger – Hulk or Superman.  The important thing to realize is that your comic book store isn’t selling anything different from the comic shop down the street.  The one thing that can make a comic shop stand out is the relationship they develop with their customers.  We’re talking about customer service here.  A comic book store known for poor customer service is doomed to failure.  This is where the employees play a vital role in the continued profitability of a shop.

I’ve been out of town a couple times within the past few weeks.  Whenever in a different city, I like to visit new comic shops. I like to look for rare items, or perhaps a different display will attract my attention to something I’ve previously skipped over, or maybe I’ll get caught up in an interesting conversation/debate.  Regardless the reason, I always look forward to checking out new and different shops.

Recently I visited a comic book store in Savannah, Georgia and another in Jacksonville, Florida.  Sadly in both cases the employees were more interested in chatting with their friends than making an effort to engage the customers. It was really disappointing.  Both stores had just one employee working, and each were so involved in their discussions they barely glanced up to look as I walked in.  Neither said “Hello” or “May I help you” until I’d already been in the store almost a full ten minutes.  If the store had been busy, I might have been more forgiving, but in each case there were almost no other customers there.  When I finally approached the counter to make a purchase, I received the warmth you might expect from an apathetic cashier at the grocery store.  Needless to say, my overall experience at those stores was underwhelming.  Therefore, when I’m in those cities next, I won’t bother stopping by again.  There it is… the lack of customer service from the employee just cost them potential future profits.

It seems to me that too many comic shops hire fanboys as their employees.  While that’s fine in concept, I’d say you need someone that is half-fanboy, half-salesperson.  In the interest of full disclosure, I managed a comic book store for four years, so I’m biased and a harsh critic.  With that said, here are some tips I’d recommend to any comic shop owner:

  • You need outgoing employees that are willing to greet the customer as they come in.  A simple, “Hello” will do.  Or think about the welcome you get when you walk into the burrito place, “Moe’s”.  Or wouldn’t it be great if the comic shop employee made you feel like Norm from Cheers?
  • Your employees need to understand that every person that walks through the door is a potential lifelong customer.  As we mentioned, comic shops have the unique feature of pull/hold/reserve lists and customers that return each week for them.  Therefore, anyone who comes in could potentially be your next regular customer.
  • You need someone that is going to chat with the customer.  They need to make an effort to connect with the shoppers.  A good salesperson can find some common ground to talk about, whether it is a title, a character, a writer/artist, comic-related movies, or simply the love for the medium.  The better the connection, the more likely that customer is to return.
  • If you’re really lucky, you’ll hire someone that goes the extra mile and learns the names of the regular customers.  Since customer service is really the only thing that separates you from the comic shop up the road, calling someone by their name can go a long way.

Okay, I’m done ranting.  I’m just passionate about comic book stores and I can’t stand poor customer service.  For the record, I still shop at the same comic book store I worked at 15 years ago.  Ned and Lindsey do a great job at the Cosmic Cat (a.k.a. Mail Me My Comics.com) making the customers feel welcome.

Next time you go into your local comic book store, see how you are being treated.  You might realize how much they value you, or that they simply don’t care.

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8 Responses to “Comic Book Store Employees Can Ruin the Experience”

  1. Ed Says:

    I really hope you are not talking about Universe of Superheroes in Jacksonville. That was my old stomping ground when I lived there and I loved that place. I used to have a really good rapport with the Owner/Manager there and he was always very friendly. Even to this day, since moving from Jacksonville over 10 years ago, I can call up that manager looking for something rare, if I know I will be in Jacksonville to visit family, and he still remembers me.
    But, yes, I know what you mean. It doesn’t matter what type of store, comic book related or not, it is always extremely important to have good customer service. I know this from experience having been a retail store manager. One of the great benefits of having good customer service that a lot of these retail stores do not realize is that if your customers have a good visit they will come back again and again and could eventually lead to long time friendships between the sales clerk and the customer.
    There is always a benefit for good customer service. In fact, if I was you, I would mention those stores in this blog so that others who read this will know to stay away from those stores. Just saying.
    Sorry for the rant also. Now I’m done.

  2. Darius Whiteplume Says:

    I think the same goes for hobby stores. My local gaming shop is a little creepy. They talk a lot of politics, and a _few_ of them can be a bit dicky.

    Re comic book shops, there are two in Raleigh owned by the same people (I believe, same name). On City Search one gets great reviews, and one is panned. I did prefer the one with the better reviews.

  3. Luke Says:

    When you say “the comic shop down the street,” in Greenville, SC that is a literal truth. There are two comic shops in Greenville, on the same street about two blocks from each other. They’re even on the same side of the street! But they are, in my opinion, night and day opposite.

    The staff at the shop I patronize (let’s call it “Shop B”) have made it a point to get to know me in the 3+ years I have used them. When the owner got some free passes to see Iron Man before the film was released, he called me to offer them to me because he knows how much of an Iron Fan I am. The regular employees all know me on a first name basis and are always willing to chitchat about this or that. If it can be found, they will get special orders for you — and if it can’t be found and then becomes available, you will still get it. And when my brother came to visit at the end of June, they treated him with the same respect and courtesy — and he rewarded them with a sizeable purchase.

    The other shop (let’s call them “Shop R”) wins the “Best of Greenville” award for comic shop year after year, but we suspect it is because the owner knows someone on the voting committee. Their prices are high, they don’t offer any regular discounts (seemingly they are at the discretion of the employee), and it is very common to walk in and not have the person behind the register even be standing up, let along stop reading whatever they are flipping through and acknowledge you. I go there very rarely — mostly for DC Direct toys as they have a big stock of them. But my experiences in the store do absolutely nothing except drive me away — and drive money out of the owner’s pockets.

  4. Carol Teague Says:

    Do you remember one reason why you ended up at Ned’s Cosmic Cat when you were old enough to work? You received what would be about $200.00 in today’s money for your birthday and some other reason when you were a small child (maybe 7). I took you to two comic stores in Tallahassee, one ignored us completely, so you began to patronize the other whenever you had any money. A bad experience lasts over 30 years, so do good ones and they create loyal customers. Even a parent remembers it!
    Mom

  5. Paul Lebowski Says:

    I see some of your points Shag. But you definitely don’t want a chatty Cathy following you around the store as you are looking through bins. If the customer initiates the conversation then fine but I have been to some shops that go way overboard the other way and that to me is a bigger turn off.

  6. Wake of the Silver Surfer Says:

    I went to the comics store in Jacksonville on Blanding Blvd, and I was asked a few times to let them know if they could be of assistance. However, since I didn’t need assistance, they went back to their gaming miniatures and discussion. I am a hypocritical snob, because I am geeky and enjoy gaming, but I don’t like being around geeky gamers… unless they’re friends of mine. Well, ’cause there’s gaming and there’s GAMING.

    If I play some two games of Settlers in a night, fine. It might be another month before I get another game in. Meanwhile, I read my blogs, I watch DVD’s, I read books, and do my thing. What I reject is the hardcore gamer – both offline and online – who seems to spend all available free time immersed in a gaming world of ongoing campaigns without end (Does this sound a little like you? Don’t worry, at least you only do it once a week, and you don’t come across an obsessed gamer. Shag is cool! And, I really have little idea how much you game or what you game).

    Anyway, my turn off is going into a comic store and seeing the staff more involved with gaming than running the store. Even in the case of the above-named store where they were totally friendly and willing to help.

    This brings me to point two. I haven’t collected a comics title in a whole decade. I have on rare occasion bought a few comics since then. I’m the guy that looks through the new comics for an hour and then leaves without buying anything. Yes, I suck, don’t I? Well, I can claim in my defense the 600% increase in the price of comics from when I first started collecting in 1985. And, what I read in the stores now just makes me shake my head. As someone who last collected the X-Men in the 90’s, should I be more concerned about new X-teams of completely unknown teammates, or the stories of the original X-Men that make me think A) What in the world were they thinking, and B) Do they even have a plan for where this is going, and C) Are they even familiar with the characters they’re writing??? Not to mention the constant crossovers. (I could always avoid the X-Mess by just going with Firestorm!) And assuming a title was good, do I really want to get sucked into collecting again? No, but I am willing to pick up storylines like All Star Superman. Oh, and The Long Halloween – I did get that as it came out. That was ages ago, though, but at least it was after I had already stopped collecting, I think.

    So, knowing that I am entering a comics store to look at comics that I am unlikely to buy creates a little bit of guilt – it’s like, ‘Can I help you’, and ‘No thank you, you can help me best by not noticing that I’m here not buying anything’. So, I don’t like the guilt, BUT, guilt can make you buy later! I go to Secret Headquarters ’cause it’s nearest to where I work. Obviously I’m not buying comics, and the owner is always like ‘Can I help you find anything? What are you looking for? Might I suggest this if you’re interested in that’. Well, there IS a title I’m picking up in the near future, and despite the wicked cool girl behind the counter at the Cat, I’ll likely pick my comic up from Secret Headquarters, since I feel I owe him for all the times I left empty-handed.

    Say, he’s a good guy with a good number of games in his store, and yet there’s no gamer vibe there.

    The comics store on Tennessee, where I don’t recall seeing actual gaming, seems more of a gamer place (and recall, that’s a turn-off).

    That games store in the Tallahassee Mall – obviously that’s a gamer place. But, it’d be cooler to me without the gaming tables. NOW, that said, who wants to pay $20-60 for a board game you haven’t played? However, I don’t see Mayfair games spread out, only D&D type games and collectible card games.

    I’ll also rant that one reason for the negative gamer vibe is the collectible card games where the advantage goes to the person who has spent the most money on collecting an optimized deck. Lame!

    I can’t finish without mentioning the Bookshelf (yeah, and what about Cosmic Cat???). Not too crazy on the Bookshelf because of their tricky buying policy for used books… hey, we’ll give you store credit for your books, BUT, you can’t use it on comics, and you can’t use it on anything that’s hot at the moment… so, you can’t use your store credit on James Bond, Doctor Who, and His Dark Materials books, among others. The owner did cut me a break though, allowing me to use my ages-old store credit on some items that are normally not allowed.

    I like the Cosmic Cat, and though I might have to give a neutral rating just because I’m not an actual customer there or anywhere else (neutral because I generally don’t buy anything to form an opinion about service), I’ll say that I have made some purchases there within the last year and did receive customer service that exceeded my expectations.

    It’s always a plus if a comics store has the back issues you’re looking for, but this is unlikely when just stocking a store with back issues from the 80’s could take up a whole room… lots of overhead, not much sales, I can see why it’s hard for people to sell their comics collections to stores – used comics belong in a warehouse, not in a retail store.

  7. Siskoid Says:

    How I once quit a comic book shop, pull list and all, after years of patronage. We’re talking 40$ a week habit plus more than my share of trades/graphic novels.

    Employee cashes in my pulls, flips through a James Kochalka book, says “My little brother can draw better!”

    Cancel my account, thanks.

  8. Erika Says:

    This is a good topic. I definitely reward good customer service with repeat business, and I’ve been pretty lucky with Tallahassee’s comics shops. I don’t need anyone to be all up in my face, but I like some acknowledgment of my existence and for my stuff to be there on time. It’s always great when someone can answer my questions about whether Title X is worth my money, or how I can jump into a certain series. Let’s face it; with the Web, no one needs to go into a store to get their comics fix. It’s about the experience and the camaraderie.

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