Welcome to Store Tour, ROBOT 6’s weekly exploration of comics shops, and the people who run them; think of it as the retailer version of Shelf Porn. Each Sunday we feature a different store, and also get to know the person behind the register.
This week’s store is Comic Depot, located at 514 Broadway in Saratoga Springs, New York. We spoke with owner Darren Carrara.
ROBOT 6: Tell me about the layout of your store. How did you work that out?
Darren Carrara: We moved locations about a year and a half ago. When we found our current location in downtown Saratoga Springs, it was a little smaller than the last, so space was at a premium. We wanted to have the same basic layout: new comic rack, back issues, $1 comics, action figures, graphic novels, board games and room for Magic: The Gathering singles. It was important for us to be able to display just as much merch in this smaller spot. We also wanted the store to look more professional, no more hodgepodge of unmatched fixtures, no more banquet tables with long boxes. We picked a red and black color theme (matching our logo), and bought some specialty fixtures from SkylineDesigns.com. The new fixtures included comic racks with pullout drawers for back issues, shelves for trade paperbacks with pockets for comics below. Added in some bookshelves for gaming products, and slat-grid as much as possible hung from the walls and in between fixtures for maximum display area, and some new display cases. With the new fixtures we were able to get even more merchandise in a smaller footprint. We were able to keep our back issue inventory of around 20,000 comics, we were able to expand our board game selection and selection of trade paperbacks and even more space for action figures and other miscellaneous merch.
What is the secret origin of your store? How did the store come to be?
It was all about being in the right place at the right time. I read comics as a kid: Hulk, Conan, Star Wars, etc. As I grew up, comics kind of slipped away until I was in college. Some friends and I were reminiscing about reading comics and talking about Batman: The Animated Series. We decided to make a trip to a local hobby shop that sold comics. That one trip instantly turned into a weekly habit. A month or maybe two into collecting I was at my LCS picking up my haul, I happen to remember that Ultimate Spider-Man #2 was out that week and in my hands, the owner of the shop was on the phone with his Diamond rep in his office. He was having a really heated “discussion” that ended with repeated phone-slam hang-ups. When he emerged from his office he told me he was done selling comics, but asked if I would be interested in buying his stock. The price was right and I now owned a little over 100 long boxes of comic books!
I lugged around two tons of comics for a few years from Potsdam, New York, to Boston, Massachusetts, and then to Saratoga Springs, New York. I had intended on opening up an online store, but ended up with a physical location a few miles outside of town in a very rural setting. Cheap rent was the main reason for our first location in Greenfield, New York. Vanilla box, banquet tables with long boxes on them. I was very green, but I could see the possibilities.
What in your background do you think made you particularly suited for the retail side of comics?
I went to college for accounting, which is a great background for owning your own business.
Do you have a philosophy or strategy to retailing? Has it evolved over time?
I have always had the same idea. I wanted my store to be a fun and friendly environment. I wanted my employees to be helpful and inviting to customers. And I wanted to have a great selection of merchandise at reasonable prices.
What are your current bestsellers? What are your favorites that deserve to sell better at your store?
Our bestsellers are probably the same as everyone else’s: Secret Wars, Convergence, Batman and The Walking Dead. Right now the staff and I are really digging a lot of Image titles: Black Science, Saga, The Manhattan Projects and East of West, to name a few.
What is your customer base like? How has it changed over time, if at all? Do you have a discount or loyalty program?
Our biggest demographic is still men, mid-20s to mid-30s. But over the past few years we have had a huge increase in female comic readers and gamers. Really, we get people of all ages and genders, from toddlers to 70-year-old kids.
We offer subscription discounts up to 20 percent based on the number of monthly ongoing titles on a pull list. The percentage off is good on anything store-wide.
How do you reach out to new customers? How do you advertise?
We have tried everything for advertising; local papers, ads in the phone book, and even ads before movies at the local theater. None of that really seemed to do much good. I have been focusing on events at the store, exhibiting at local comic cons, and other local special events. Spending some of our marketing budget for events gives back to our customers that support us and makes our events even better. It helps to create some buzz and get good word of mouth advertising which is the absolute best!
Our webpage lays mostly dormant; it’s all set up to sell products online, but there isn’t enough time in the day to get it up and running. The store is always so busy. The website is mostly a place to check what events are coming, gaming schedule, and the list of what comics come out for the current week. We rely on Facebook for events and to keep customers informed about incoming products and collections that the store takes in.