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 Heroes' Beacon, located at 25 Charlotte St. in Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada. We spoke with co-owner Steve Henderson.
ROBOT 6: What's the secret origin of your store?
Steve Henderson: We started out as a used-book store, which had a small section dedicated to the geek side. Unfortunately, that business model was becoming much less successful. I had worked for the owners for 17 years and had a good relationship with them so when it came up that they might want to close the doors, I asked if they would be willing to sell the inventory we were interested in. Thankfully, with the help of a successful crowdfunding campaign we were open to it and about a year later we opened as Heroes’ Beacon.
Our name was a collaborative effort, for sure. Chris [Duffield, the other co-owner] wanted a lighthouse in our logo because we live in a port city, and I wanted "hero" in the name in some fashion. One of our regulars designed our logo after getting a stick-figure mockup from me.
We decided to stay in our current location because we both have great relationships with the community and there is a lot of growth happening in our uptown core. It made sense for us to stay put.
What in your background do you think made you particularly suited for the retail side of comics?
Having worked for the old bookstore for a number of years, we became versed in the comics retailing on a smaller scale. With that store leaving it made sense to use our combined experience to team up in the opening of a dedicated comics store.
Do you have a philosophy or strategy to retailing? Has it evolved from when you first started?
We believe in building the community. Making sure everyone is treated with respect and is having fun. If they feel like they matter and have a good time they will keep coming back. We have always tried to hold to these principles.
Tell me about the layout of your store. How did you work it out?
We keep our main comics section, including new titles, trades and back issues near the front so that our customers are greeted with some of the fun stuff right away. The walls on either side of the store house our games to make it easy to find something to play. We also have a good-sized dedicated gaming space to run events and allow our customers a chance for free play.
What are your current bestsellers?
Star Wars is currently our top seller, with some other core titles like Batman and Amazing Spider-Man always showing strong numbers. Outside of the Big Two companies, The Walking Dead and Jem and the Holograms are showing really strong sales. Starfire has been better than expected, and more people should check that out.
What is your customer base like? How has it changed over time?
Our customers seem to come from all walks of life. Our regular comic subscribers range from students to university professors and lawyers, with everyone in between. We tend to see more casual fans in recent years with the rise of comic book movies.
How do you reach out to new customers? How do you advertise?
We rely on social media and word of mouth. We’ve found most traditional advertising avenues (like the newspaper or radio) to be too expensive for a new store, and they don’t really reach the demographic we deal with. We do advertise at festivals and donate to charity auctions.
We offer a loyalty program. We hear Canadians love their points programs. We have Heroes’ Points, which offers a points-per-purchase option. We also offer a premium account, which includes double the points, having your pull bagged and boarded for you as well as an additional discount coupon four times a year.
I noticed you have a code of conduct for your store. What inspired this, and have you seen this influence the community of your store?
From day one we wanted to build a community where everyone was not only treated with respect, but had a space to feel safe and welcome. Our code of conduct policy (which is also posted in store on our events board) was just part of that. There was never an incident that led to us creating it, we simply wanted to stay ahead of any problems that could arise. I believe having that reminder in store and on our site has had a very positive influence on our community. We get crowds having fun, playing games, and being competitive, but not mean or rude regardless of the outcome of their games.
How do you feel your online presence, particularly on Facebook, supports or supplements your store?
Most of our online presence is used for promoting in-store events, but we also have used it to run some charity auctions.
Do you have events or programming, such as signings? How is it coordinating those?
We have had a couple signings by local talent including Hal Hilden (writer of Bluewater Comics' Political Power: Stephen Colbert) and Christian Leblanc, who did the 3D rendering on the Madman In Your Face 3D Special. He did a presentation to educate our customers on the process he used.
Does your store attend conventions, other than the ones you put on?
So far, we have been able to attend East Coast Comic Expo twice now. Being a newer store, this has helped us to get our face known to some people outside of our own city.
What do you see as the biggest challenge in the comics industry today that particularly impacts your store?
Our biggest challenge lately has not been specific to the comics industry, but simply the current exchange rate between the Canadian and U.S. dollars. Specific to the comics industry, the biggest challenge is probably trying to make sure to order just the right amount of every title.
And what is the industry's biggest asset that is helping you be successful?
When we first opened we made the decision to order Diamond's Comic Suite software. It is a significant improvement over any other system on the market for placing orders and tracking subscribers.
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 have a lot of great stories but one that jumps out happened at last Free Comic Book Day. We were giving out bags of fresh popcorn. One of our volunteers started writing "Cursed Popcorn" on the bags. Then suddenly we had a surge of people looking for the cursed popcorn. Guess our customers like to live on the edge ...
Anything coming up at Heroes' Beacon that is a good excuse for someone to stop by?
Any day that ends in Y is a great day to stop by! Our regular schedule is up on our website and then we have drop-in gaming space available most of the time!
If you’d like to see your store featured here on Robot 6, email us.