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 Excellent Adventures, located at 110 Milton Ave. in Ballston Spa, New York, southwest of Saratoga Springs. We spoke with owner John Belskis.
ROBOT 6: What's the secret origin of your store?
John Belskis: We began business as a convention vendor, and our original store was basically opened as a place to keep and inventory the comics in between conventions. It was a commercial storefront, so we started opening during the week, and carrying new comics. Business grew very fast, and before we knew it the store became our main focus. In 1987 we needed a name for the store, and we decided on Excellent Adventures in Comics and Cards. About a year later the movie Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure came out, and that actually helped in our name recognition. We have since dropped the “Cards” and now it’s just Excellent Adventures Comics.
Why did you decide to get into comics retailing?
I always read and collected comics as a kid, so retailing was a natural progression of that. My first jobs were in retail, so turning my hobby into a business made sense. Knowing the products you’re selling is a huge advantage when opening any business. I was fortunate to have early success, and was able to grow my business quickly without having access to a lot of working capital.
Do you have a philosophy or strategy to retailing? Has it evolved from when you first started?
We focus on the back-issue market more now than in the early days of the store. When we first opened, we became reliant on weekly new comics pretty quickly and were forced to rely on the new comics distribution. It became obvious that the retailer was the end user in the new comics game, and there was not enough control over the money we were making. In 1997 we opened a new location in Upstate New York. I decided the back-issue business had a much higher profit margin, so we have refocused on that part of our business, and for the last 15 years have been fortunate to have had a lot of success.
Tell me about the layout of your stores.
Our store is a standard rectangular space located in a building in the village of Ballston Spa, which is just south of Saratoga Springs. It’s taken a trial-and-error period of about 30 years of owning retail stores to finally have a floor plan that is permanent. We have custom-made wooden racks to display new comics, some red shark-cage sections for displaying toys and statues, and a pegboard wall for action figures. Our specialty is back-issue comics, and we display these in three different sections around the perimeter of the store. We offer a diverse dollar-comic section, and recent back issues section, and a separate section for Silver- and Golden-age comics. This allows customers easy access to all back-issue areas.
What are your current bestsellers? What are your favorites that deserve to sell better at your store?
Silver Age Marvel is always our top seller in the store, and at the shows. Amazing Spider-Man and Batman lead the pack by titles. DC Silver Age is much slower these days, but there has been a new resurgence in oddball miscellaneous Silver Age comics.
What is your customer base like? How has it changed over time, if at all?
We basically have many repeat longtime customers. New faces that get hooked on the back-issue market seem to stick around longer than new comic customers, in my opinion. The customer base is generational, though, and that can have a dramatic effect on what back issues will no longer be solid sellers. It can make buying collections difficult, as slower titles that are hard to sell are usually always part of larger collections.
How do you reach out to new customers? How do you advertise?
After almost 20 years in the same location, traditional forms of advertising are not very effective. The Internet and social media sites work well for us. We also have an extensive mailing list we use for sales and to advertise our show the Albany Comic Con.
How do you feel your online presence supports or supplements your store?
We run the local comic convention the Albany Comic Con. The online presence of the show has helped us get new customers in the store. We don’t do much on eBay these days. Facebook and Twitter seem to have the best reach to our local customer base.
Do you have events or any kind of programming, such as signings? How is it coordinating those?
We usually have a few promotional days throughout the year; Free Comic Book Day is our biggest. We usually have three of four working professionals as guests. We also do an anniversary sale each year, and try to have a special guest at that event as well. Coordinating store events are fun for us, as it is much less intensive than running our convention.
Does your store attend other conventions, besides the Albany Comic Con?
We also attend some other local conventions, along with running our Albany Comic Con. I think most shops will benefit from being involved with the local shows. Conventions can help grow new business to an area, helping the local shops thrive by gaining new customers that might become regular comic fans. Advertising your store at a local con is the best way to new customers who might not know about your store, to stop by and check it out.
What do you see as the biggest challenge in the comics industry today that particularly impacts your store?
There are too many new comic titles, and not much continuity in today’s storylines. A lower discount structure for smaller stores has worsened, and has helped to eliminate growth for new comics in these small shops.
What is the industry's biggest asset that is helping you be successful?
The newer movie and TV properties help drive demand for related back issue titles.
With all of the people that come through your store, I imagine you must have some great stories. What is the funniest or most memorable moment you've seen in your store?
We helped celebrate Joltin’ Joe Sinnott’s 60th year in comics at our Free Comic Book Day a few years ago. That was a very cool day for our store.
Anything coming up at Excellent Adventures that is a good excuse for someone to stop by?
2016 will be our 30th anniversary of selling comics as a full-time business. We will be doing a few fun things throughout the year to celebrate, as well as running our convention. We are looking forward to another great year in business.
If you’d like to see your store featured here on Robot 6, email us.