Welcome to Store Tour, ROBOT 6’s weekly exploration of comics shops, and the people who run them. Each Sunday we feature a different store, and also get to know the person behind the register.
This week’s store is Distant Planet Comics & Collectibles, located at 601 Business Loop 70 West, Suite 263 in Columbia, Missouri. We spoke with managing member Brandy Cross.
ROBOT 6: What's the secret origin of your store?
Brandy Cross: My husband and I had discussed owning our own business for a while, but I wasn’t sure what I wanted it to be. I just knew that I didn’t like sitting at a desk all day working for someone else and that my business degrees could be put to better use. We were dissatisfied with the availability of collectibles in our city and knew that we weren’t the only ones. We also knew that there was a desire and need for a different kind of comic shop, one that was more of an “every person” type of shop. We partnered with a friend and former employee of mine from my retail management days.
Deciding on a name took a long time, I filled a notebook with possibilities. Distant Planet came to me one night while I was watching a Queen concert. I had already ruled out Mercury comics (after Freddie Mercury) because of other shops and comics with that name. Distant Planet just popped into my head, and when I asked the guys about it they loved it too.
Location was pure luck. I knew we wanted a visible location, but didn’t want to be in downtown Columbia due to cost of rent and lack of parking. I knew that the owners and property manager at Parkade Center had been working really hard to revitalize the area, and it has great visibility from one of Columbia’s busiest streets close to I-70. They hadn’t advertised the space we’re in at all yet, I just happened to inquire at the perfect time.
Why did you decide to get into comics retailing?
There was a need for a different kind of comic shop in our town, one that recognized the fact that comics were becoming more mainstream and could cater to the fact that not everyone that walks in the door will be a serious collector. My background consists of a decade in retail management, mostly DVDs, collectibles and games. I also have a BS in business administration and an MBA, so I have a lot of the technical skills that many small-business owners have to outsource. Alfonzo Lawhorn, one of the three owners, worked for me in several different roles when I managed a DVD and collectibles store and has been collecting comics all his life. Our third owner, Gabe Halicks (also my husband), has a lot of retail experience and is a natural sales person.
Do you have a philosophy or strategy to retailing? Has it evolved from when you first started?
Our philosophy from the beginning has been that comics (and all things geeky) are for everyone. It doesn’t matter to us what you come in looking for, we’ll help you find it (even if we are not familiar with it ourselves). We wanted to create a judgment-free shopping experience so anyone can come in and feel welcome, collector or casual buyer. We also wanted to be a go-to shop for gifts, making it easy for people to buy for the geek or geeks in their life. Creating an environment for the entire family to shop was a priority for us, so we made an all-ages section for kids to browse safely. We have stuck to this philosophy since we opened earlier this year, and I don’t see it changing. One other important strategy is that we are business owners first, comic and collectibles fans second. We try not to let our personal likes and dislikes cloud our judgment when buying product.