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 Myths, Legends & Heroes, located at 240 Montreal Road in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. We spoke with owner and store manager Rob Zedic.
ROBOT 6: Tell me about the layout of your store. How did you work that out?
Rob Zedic: Well, we have very few square feet to work with (approximately 800), so we have had to change the layout of the shop several times in the past 11 years, mainly based on our needs at the time. In the beginning we put the back issue bins in the center of the store and had shelving of trade paperbacks and toys flat faced around the back walls, with our new-comic racks at the front. Our back-issue selection has grown so dramatically over the years that we now have it in the center well as two rows at the back of the shop, and have worked our trade-paperback walls around that setup by spinning those after losing some room to the back issues.
What's the secret origin of your store? How did you decide on its name and its location?
We actually started in the industry doing conventions back in 1989. It was mostly a side business and a hobby for me, as I had a full-time retail-management job. When I got a buyout from that job in 2004, I decided to make the best of that opportunity and open up the shop full-time. The name of the shop came back in 1989 when I was trying to think of everything that comic book heroes represented. Obviously, heroes was the first word to come to mind, but after thinking of other words that associate with them I came up with legends and then myths. I started trying combinations of those words, and Myths, Legends & Heroes flowed the best out of all the combinations so that was what I chose. When we were looking for a location, we had shops in the downtown core of Ottawa and one in the east end, but nothing in the middle of those two areas. We found a nice small shop in the dead center of those two areas (that had good foot and road traffic), so we decided that was where to try our first location.
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 have been a comic collector since I was a young kid growing up in the mid-1970s and have always loved the hobby. When I came up to Ottawa for university in 1988, I noticed a small group of us were all going to the local shop every week and buying comics. We talked about it and decided between all of us we might be able to order enough books to get them direct from a distributor and get a better discount (which you could do without a brick-and-mortar retail location back then). It turned out we needed to order just a little more to qualify for their minimum orders, so we decided to put up fliers around where we lived advertising comic subscriptions with discounts larger than the stores in our area. I worked retail jobs throughout high school and university, so this wasn't a big change from my regular customer-service job serving people every week. Now I got to do it with comics!
Do you have a philosophy or strategy to retailing?
My biggest pet peeve when I was a consumer in Ottawa out there looking to buy back issues, was that every store's stock rarely changed. I had a want list I took around once a month when I did the tour of all the shops in town looking for comics. I became increasingly frustrated that nobody would ever have what I needed, or would have the same exact stock they had in the month previous. I vowed if I ever had a shop I would do my best to carry a full selection of current stock, and if I didn't have it I would make an effort to take want lists and find books for customers that had trouble finding them locally. That philosophy is still relevant today, as I go to conventions and other shops all over North America constantly on the look for comics. I have found books and shipped comics to people all over North America, Europe and as far away as Australia. It may take me a little time, but eventually I will find it!
What are your current bestsellers? What are your favorites that deserve to sell better at your store?
Top-sellers at the shop currently are Secret Wars, Batman, Amazing Spider-Man and Star Wars. I personally have been a fan of Batman and Justice League my whole life, but I can say I have read The Walking Dead since it debuted, and it's still one I read as soon as it comes into the shop. Over the years my reading habits have switched from particular characters or superheroes to more about who is writing it. If Brian K. Vaughan, Warren Ellis, Ed Brubaker, Greg Rucka, Garth Ennis or Scott Snyder write it, I will read it, regardless of the genre. I think Criminal is one title in particular that got overlooked in the market and is a fantastic read, I recommend it often. The Vertigo line from DC still gets overlooked as an imprint, which is a shame because there are a ton of great series there. It’s amazing that a lot of those books sold terribly in single issue format, but were saved by the sales of the trade paperbacks. For people looking to read books that aren’t superhero-based, they are my go to books.
What is your customer base like? How has it changed over time, if at all?
Most of my customers are in the 20-40 age demographic, and a few kids. I wish more younger readers were coming in, but more often than not they tend to be buying because their mom or dad do. You sometimes see young kids coming in after seeing a Marvel movie or DC show hit it big, but that only happens so often (examples of that being Avengers and Arrow/Flash). We offer a free subscription service, and customer discounts are based on the amount they spend. If you order more, your discount is more. I always felt that rewarding larger accounts was the way to go, and never understood stores having a flat discount for all of their subscribers. If a customer who bought one comic a month paid the same as one who bought 20, what's their incentive to try a new series? Offering a better price for them to add titles to their subscription list is a way to do that.
How do you reach out to new customers? How do you advertise?
We mainly use social media and convention appearances all across Canada to advertise the shop. We have done print ads in the past, but I find that social media, conventions and free ad sites like Craigslist and Kijiji work the best to draw customers in who may not be aware of the shop.
Because we do so many conventions and we are a smaller shop we don’t update the website as often as I’d like. We do, however, let people know that even if it isn’t listed, feel free to e-mail us to see if we can turn the book up from another source for them. The main thing is trying to do what we can to help get the books into customers' hands. This will hopefully lead them back to us down the line when they are searching again and hopefully we have it. Facebook also helps to update store events and convention dates, and to let people know in advance what is on our schedule.
Do you have any events or programming, such as signings? How is it coordinating those?
Signings are difficult due to the small store size, so we tend to do them at our booths at conventions if we have done them. Free Comic Book Day is our major in-store event, without a doubt, as it brings in the most traffic, including a lot of people curious about the free comic selections for any given year. We also do several outdoor sidewalk sales in the summer when the weather permits and those tend to be very big hits with the customers as well.
It sounds like conventions are an important part of your store's success.
Absolutely! Conventions are a huge part of our business. We have done them all over Canada, and I do buying trips to conventions all over North America. They are especially helpful to give us that revenue boost, but it can also lead to return business via mail order and future conventions. In every city we set up, we have regular clients that seek us out if we have sold them books in the past. It opens up a lot of ways of introducing us to a new clientele. They can also be really helpful in filling want lists for customers as well, which is a huge plus.
What are your thoughts on digital comics? Have they had any effect on your store?
I can’t read anything on a tablet or computer, whether it be a book or a comic book. I need to physically hold a comic and be able to look at the artwork from a widescreen perspective to see the different angles, which is tough to do in a digital format. I appreciate that someone may read something in digital form and hopefully come in and seek out more from us in the paper format. I don’t feel it affects us in a big way though. The people who buy direct from us enjoy the physical format and I think will continue to read it that way, and we thank them for that.
What do you see as the biggest challenge in the comics industry today that particularly impacts your store?
Finding new customers is the biggest obstacle. I am still amazed at how many walk-in customers look at the books on our shelf and say “I didn’t know they had a comic for that!” I feel the publishers need to do a better job using TV and film advertising to promote comic shops. Why doesn’t Flash or Arrow have a TV commercial ad for the Comic Book Shop Locator? Why isn’t Marvel running an Avengers comic book ad before the Avengers films? There are a ton of opportunities being lost to get it in people’s minds that comic books of these properties are available in stores now.
What is the industry's biggest asset that is helping you be successful?
We are without a doubt in the glory years of comic book presence in the entertainment marketplace. I can’t recall the last time we had this many movies and TV shows based on comic properties in the mainstream since the 1970’s (when you had Batman ’66 in syndication, Superman in film and Wonder Woman and Incredible Hulk on TV). That pales in comparison to what is going on nowm though. To see Arrow, Flash, Daredevil, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Powers, Constantine, I Zombie, and Walking Dead on TV (with Supergirl and DC’s Legends of Tomorrow coming next year), that is truly an incredible presence. Then you have at least one major studio film release from Marvel and DC going forward for the next three to four years. If we can turn even a small percentage of these fans into regular comic readers it would go a long way to improve the health of the comic industry.
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?
One of the benefits of doing conventions is that we have sold comics to a bunch of celebrities. At one convention in Montreal we had Jason Momoa approach us looking for Goon comics from Dark Horse. He was in a hurry and had a photo-op schedule to make, so I told him I would put some stuff together for him and bring it by personally. When I got there he was so excited at some of the stuff that I brought him he spun me around and hugged me. The best part was they decided to shoot a photo of it as it happened, so I now have a permanent memory of that experience. What’s better is he has come back to see me several times, so I brag that we are now Jason Momoa’s comic shop of choice!
Anything coming up at Myths, Legends & Heroes that is a good excuse for someone to stop by?
We recently did a year-end inventory and used that to purge out some extra inventory into our $1 and $2 bins (as well as our sets section). We will also be doing a sidewalk sale (which will be advertised on our Facebook page) to have a greater visibility of all of these new deals available. We also just acquired some great vintage and modern comic collections that are now processed and in the back issue bins and ready to go! If you live in or near the Ottawa area, we are definitely the destination comic book shop for back issues.
If you’d like to see your store featured here on Robot 6, email us.