What You Do When Your Comic Store Is 23 Years Old

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Rod Lamberti of Rodman Comics, writes weekly for Bleeding Cool. Find previous columns here.

When we store owners order comics, a lot of people wonder why we are not spot on with the orders for new comics.

Many reasons.

With the flood of titles every month no one is going to get 100 percent spot on with orders. Too many people along with too many books to order from. The “too many people” are the customers and customers are needed for business. So you don’t want to cut back on that number.

So what do I mean by the comment? Not every customers’ taste is going to be the same, to put it mildly. The more customers the more you don’t know about them. Meaning knowing that the guy who comes in once a month who is painfully shy and doesn’t want to talk is going to want to get the new Man-Thing title is going to be pretty tough to know. And I know someone is going to go well you should have asked him. So ask every customer every month what future titles they are going to want? Get out the Previews book and go page per page through it with each customer? Sure I know every customer would love to do that. Not.

People drop titles suddenly. It may be in their pull box and then they decide they no longer want to buy the title. Another reason I am slowly letting pull boxes die off in store. It would be better to have that title on the self for a month giving it a chance to sell than sitting in pull box never to be sold.

And by too many books I mean I don’t have the ability to control a publisher’s output. Less is more at times feels like a foreign concept.Though some publishers have done it.

Pull lists help. But in this day and age, they are less useful than they ever have been. Why? Because of the re launches. Just because someone is getting this month’s Rocket Racoon doesn’t mean when it ends at issue 5 they are going to get the next first issue of the series. After they read issue 5 they may just see it as a good end point for paying Rocket. It wasn’t that long ago that the character had a first issue. And they may change their mind right before the new first issue comes out. Like the day before it comes out. Too late to change the original order. And it is non-returnable so the store is now stuck with it.

We order months in advance. In that time people may change their mind. Drop a title. Add a title. And so on. But that’s what FOC is for. It gives us time to adjust our orders. Something you can thank comic retailer Brian Hibbs for. His lawsuit against Marvel resulted in FOC.  There is no doubt it does help. Just the other day I had a person order a title that comes out next week, though.  Next week’s shipment is already packaged and on its way. It will not be here in time to make it by Wednesday.

But that Frank Cho butt shot cover was so cool how could you have not upped your orders on that to meet demand?

Because more times than I would like when we order off the Diamond website the image they give us is an image saying “Image coming soon!” That’s about as helpful as you can imagine.

That old saying “don’t judge a book by its cover.” With comics that often times doesn’t hold true. A cover often times catches a person’s eye and makes the sale all by itself.

But hey, “image comic soon”! That’s helpful in what way? I will even come back and check the comic out right before the cut off to order it and it will often time still say “image coming soon”. I should just order blind and order heavy. If I order to much no big deal. They’re non-returnable is all.

This is how ordering variants from Marvel feels like. Order 125 percent of what you did of Star Wars #23  and order all you want of this variant. That’s just a made-up example. Marvel has all kinds of crazy different percents and ways of ordering variants. Some are 90 percent of a title for the variants others are  1 per every ten regular copies. Some are even one variant for ever thousand or even higher.

So Star Wars usually has an action figure variant cover. Pretty cool right? Often times I have no idea which character is getting the action figure cover treatment. Am I suppose to go to the artist’s website and see if I can find it or something? I just get the image is coming soon in place of the actual picture of the comic cover even though often the actual image never comes up. Why does the character picked to be on the action figure variant matter? Because more people are going to want a Darth Vader variant than a Lobot variant.  The best? The Boba Fett action figure variant cover. I had people coming in wanting to get it. Just one problem I never had a chance to order it. It was an exclusive that could only be bought off the internet. That Lobot variant cover more than made up for it though. Not.

Often times when the action figure variant arrives in the store that is when I find out what the cover looks like. Some times its the same story for other variants. It’s not just limited to Marvel. Ordering blindly is not an ideal situation.

People sometimes buy a comic if their favorite character is on a cover. I have one person who buys every comic that has Deadpool on the cover.  If Harley Quinn is on a cover life is great. She is the most popular character currently in store. Though here is where it gets tough. Injustice the comic. If Harley is on the cover I need to order higher on it. If she isn’t I need to order lower. Same thing with Bombshells. Harley Quinn has a following. If I can just see the cover I would know. And sometimes they do have the cover ready. It’s the times they don’t that causes headaches.

DC often times has no restrictions with ordering their variants. Meaning most times it’s an open order. Not always but most of the time. Which sounds great right? Though there are times I have no idea if for the new issue if a lot of people are going to pick up both the regular and variant covers or just one cover. Frank Cho your Harley Quinn covers are killing me. But killing me in a good way. Some Wednesdays I will sell out of Harley Quinn that day even though the previous issue I ordered the same amount and still have copies on hand.

Again if I am able to see the image of the cover while ordering it I can make a better-educated guess on how well it will sell.

And here is the kicker. I really did order it but didn’t get my order. Power Rangers #2, The previous Justice League America variant with the Iowa cover, Batman #13, Scooby Doo Team-Up #25 with Harley Quinn, and many more at times I will be badly shorted or not receive at all even though it’s on the invoice. Which I won’t lie it’s painfull explaining to every customer who wants to buy a copy on Wednesday I didn’t under order it I simply didn’t get my order or was badly shorted. Since we have so many comic stores in central Iowa we will have people go and pick it up at other stores. That doesn’t make them a bad person or anything. They want to buy the comic and I am unable to supply it to them while another store can. In this day and age of instant gratification it’s the way it is.

Then the flip side can happen a different store may get shorted a title and mine gets the spike in sales. Such as with the Suicide Squad title not to long ago. Just my luck people came in after the Justice League vs Suicide Squad limited series crossover the main Suicide Squad comic blew out the doors on a Wednesday. I was at least told that another store didn’t get their order of Suicide Squad. Often times I wouldn’t even know. Not many people walk in saying I am only here because my favorite store sold out. So then I have no idea what the “real” number of copies I need to order for future issues of Suicide Squad was. Did the new buyers cancel our some of the regular sales that could have been made? Did Suicide Squad get an increase in readership thanks to the JL vs SS limited series? Not every customer that comes in wants to talk to put it mildly. The bigger the customer base the more wide and different it’s going to be. I enjoy talking to my customers. I work and talk at the same time. Again in this day and age there are people that have no interest in face to face communication. They just want their comics and to be on their way. Which is perfectly fine. Everyone is differnet.

Diamond is the sole provider for comic stores to get comics from. Mistakes happen. I understand that. Wish I could say my store was mistake free. We are all human after all. Though it would be helpful if Diamond did have actual competition. People say competition keeps businesses honest at times. I often say that if I was the only comic store in central Iowa that would be great for me but not for the people that buy comics.  That pesty fact that we are all human. The way I do business isn’t going to be for everyone. There could be a business flaw in my business that I do not see. Plus more businesses carrying comics the better for the comic industry as a whole. Diamond knows they are the only provider of comics. They don’t worry about someone else taking their business. So what if they short every comic store in the country badly. We the comic stores are still going to pay for those comics and they are still going to get payment. Diamond can screw up badly and often. What is a comic retailers choices? To get a different comic vendor? Not a choice. No, the choices are quit selling comics or just close.

Didn’t I just say we are all human? Sometimes I make a mistake. Somehow I overlooked ordering that special new title that I really wanted to. Maybe after talking on the phone. saying I would take that order right after I hung up customers in the store started asking me questions. Maybe I foolishly thought I already had it ordered. A typo during ordering could even happen. If I was a total goof ball and wouldn’t sell what someone wanted guess wanted? At least that person can go somewhere else.

Make no mistake comic stores wish to be spot on with ordering. Order too few and sell out might leave some customers with out comics. Order too much and comic stores have products they bought that they can not return.

There you have it.  Hopefully some more insight behind what goes on to ordering comics.