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 Keith's Comics, located at 5400 East Mockingbird Lane #120 in Dallas, Texas. We spoke with co-owner Keith Colvin.
ROBOT 6: What's the secret origin of your store?
Keith Colvin: I was sick when I was 10 or so, and my Mom brought home some comics. Over the next 15 year I bought and read a lot of comics. They had their own room in my house!
Why did you decide to get into comics retailing? What in your background do you think made you particularly suited for the retail side of comics?
I spent a few years in food service/restaurant management, which I highly recommend for anyone that wants to start their own business. When I left to open my store I was in charge of training crew and managers for eight local McDonald's. Food service/restaurant management teaches many of the skills you will need to run your business: customer interaction skills, long hours, weird hours, working on holidays, how to handle cash, checks and balances in your paperwork, ordering controls, how to read and evaluate paperwork (like a profit and loss statement), and a ton more.
I then discovered I was not suitable for corporate America when I sat in the exact same meeting for the third time in six months ... and since I had all these comics, there you go. Named it Keith's because, frankly, I never thought about being larger than a single location. So when you came to my store you knew who to ask for.
Do you have a philosophy or strategy to retailing?
I have a few things I think have helped us along the way. Among some of my beliefs: Everyone that enters gets treated like a guest in my home; surround yourself with like-minded people; and try to never be the boss that you hated.
The thing that has changed the most about comic retailing for me is how we flow through merchandise. In the beginning a lot of us would buy inventory in the hopes it would go up in the future. Now we use POS [point-of-sale] software to manage the inventory “just in time." Buying stacks of comics for the future can run you out of business very quick.
Comic retailing used to be about comics and back issues ... and maybe a few posters. Graphic novels barely existed in 1989. It was a big, big deal when DC decided to reprint the Doomsday story line into a quick GN. No one was sure anyone would pay $4.99 for a comic book that just came out! Now a significant part of our resources are devoted to stocking and re-stocking graphic novels and trade paperbacks.
Tell me about the layout of your store. How did you work it out?
Education, trial and error and honest evaluation. Going to retailer conferences, comic and non-comic centric, there are sometimes panels about store layout and the psychology of the consumer. I incorporate these nuggets where I can.
Also, it just became apparent to me the store had to be friendly and usable by folks that are not comic collectors. The windows and interior of your store has to give someone walking by a reason to enter. I never put posters in our windows; I feel it decreases one our biggest selling points, the products inside!
People often open the door to check us out because of something they have seen IN the store. We have a small new-release section of new comics up front and a full-blown new-release section further into the store. We embrace the notion that a lot of people like comics but don't have a ton of time to search the shelves for everything they might want so we have a small footprint with the highlights up front to capture the “grab-and-go” folks.
The entire first 25 percent of the store is pop culture-related fun stuff and kids comics. People into comics know to go deeper into the store. We carry comics, back issues, old and new toys, games, CCG, apparel and lots and lots of stuff.
What are your current bestsellers? What are your favorites that deserve to sell better at your store?
Saga, the current Batman storyline that starts from "Gates of Gotham" to present, Deadpool anything, Star Wars, Marvel event graphic novels starting with Avengers Disassembled, The Walking Dead.
Really, if my staff believes in something, they hand-sell the heck out of it. We sell lots of Rat Queens, Squirrel Girl, Saga, Star Wars and Secret Wars because the crew got behind those. We want you to come back, so we are not going to recommend a book we don't believe you would like. Not much lamenting here.
What is your customer base like? How has it changed over time?
We have worked hard to make everyone feel like we have something for them. In the beginning we catered to comic collectors, but there are only so many of those folks. So we shifted focus to excite people who like the characters, TV shows and movies. These customers don't really know or care about 50 years of continuity but get really excited when they learn Civil War was a comic first.
We have lots of customers from every demographic, and I notice especially on the weekends now lots of 20-something couples shopping together.
How do you reach out to new customers? How do you advertise?
We spend some time on Facebook, and our email list. We make sure FCBD is fun and well-organized. We do community building by hosting Ladies Nights, movie nights, Doctor Who-watching parties, and our first ConCurrent event in conjunction with Lakewood Brewing Co., where we had a custom pint glass made and unveiled it at their tap room, brought in a live band and a small cosplay contest.
How do you feel your online presence supports or supplements your store?
I ask my managers to use their personality in their posts. Post what they find interesting. I post a lot about TV shows and old comics. People seem to dig posts that hit on pop culture things they like too. I think it shows we are engaged in their hobby also. Not just a retailer selling widgets because that's what came on the truck.
Plus, we have Valkyries.
Do you have events or programming, such as signings? How is it coordinating those?
Leia Calderon with assist by Brianne Leeson on Ladies Night. It is a modified book club where they pick a book and then arrange for the creator to Skype in for 20 minutes or so and talk to the group.
We have signings as creators can be booked. Creators wanting to come to Dallas should contact me! We want to visit with you!
What are your thoughts on digital comics? Have they had any effect on your store?
Digital comics has ended up being a wash after much fear. We lost some customers and business in the beginning, but some of those folks have returned either because they ended up not liking how digital worked/read or they missed the community. Some customers have been created from folks reading on line then wanting the hard copies.
It's like I say, giving your new girlfriend a digital code for Sandman is not nearly as cool as the graphic novel in her hands.
What do you see as the biggest challenge in the comics industry today that particularly impacts your store?
Content from the Big Two publishers. We can pretend it doesn't matter, because there is so much other cool stuff from other publishers, but it does. From our perspective, we have not seen the Big Two hitting on all cylinders at the same time for a long time. Therefore, we must diversify and ...
Manage the inventory. This industry is about at the halfway point of having the retailers with working POS systems. With the crazy amount of SKUs [stock keeping units], you have to get computerized or spend a lot of time making marks on paper. All publishers and pop culture intellectual property owners have opened the floodgates. There are dozens of glass, mug and tumbler makers, dozens of T-shirt makers, etc., all with really cool stuff. Which leads us to ...
Capitalization. My opinion is that many retailers have grown their business organically (pay as you go, if you will) and use capitalization as a way to get out of debt. My belief is this is starting to change and as operations grow and mature they understand how to use their resources better. I see it starting and I believe you will see some pretty large and healthy companies develop in the next few years.
And what is the industry's biggest asset that is helping you be successful?
TV shows, movies and general pop culture being embraced by the population as a whole. People love these characters and storytelling. People pile in when there is a reason too. People love GOOD comics. It's what is so frustrating sometimes in regards to content. Without calling anyone by name, you will see a major book sell 20 copies per store. then an interesting story will push it up to 100 or more. Then it will drop right back down.
And ... publishers keeping their items in print. You can't sell what you don't have.
Anything coming up at Keith's Comics that is a good excuse for someone to stop by?
Every Wednesday is a good day at Keith's to come by and talk to Michael about the new releases. Sunday 1-5 is back-issue time, when I buy old comics and we work new back issues. Ladies Night. Black Friday we will unveil the first of our annual specialty items.
If you’d like to see your store featured here on Robot 6, email us.