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 England's OK Comics, located at 19 Thornton's Arcade in Leeds, West Yorkshire. We spoke with owner and manager Jared Myland.
ROBOT 6: Tell me about the layout of your store. How did you work that out?
Jared Myland: OK Comics is a tiny bookshop specializing in comics and graphic novels. We’re located in the main retail area of Leeds city center, in an old Victorian shopping arcade. The shop’s split over two floors: On the downstairs ground floor we have new releases and items more recognizable to non-comic fans, and upstairs we stock more traditional superhero stuff, back issues and classic reprint books.
We aim to make the shop as accessible to new people as possible, so we present a clean, modern, well-lit environment, with fresh flowers on the counter.
What;s the secret origin of your store? How did you decide on its name and its location?
OK Comics exists by accident. I had no intention of opening a comic shop. About 13 years ago I started selling my own comic collection on eBay (I’ve been a fan since childhood), it was after meeting potential customers online that I decided to start ordering in new releases and selling them to my eBay customers. After a few months of doing this quite successfully I needed more space to store the stock, so I partnered up with a friend, we found retail premises and OK Comics was born.
We chose the name "OK" because it’s a positive, recognizable phrase in pretty much every language on Earth. It’s specifically not too over the top, like "Super Awesome Comics," because we want people to have a casual attitude to reading comics, just like they do about watching TV, reading magazines or surfing the net.
It’s not a big deal; it’s OK to read comics.
Our current location, in Thornton’s Arcade, is the perfect place to expose non-comic readers to graphic novels. It’s a busy spot and we’re surrounded by clothing boutiques, delis, salons, a skateboard store and dangerously next door to a craft beer shop.
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’ve been reading comics for as long as I could read. Before opening OK Comics I’d worked for other comic retailers and learned a lot about the workings of the comic industry. I love comics, and the people who read them.
I think I’ve developed a good way with people, what some people call customer service skills. My first job, as a 16-year-old kid, was working in a pretty violent British pub. That was a great place to learn about customer service.
Do you have a philosophy or strategy to retailing?
Put customers first. Put yourself in the shoes of customers. I constantly ask myself “What would I think of this if I was a hardcore comic fan?” or “What would I think of this if I were visiting a comic shop for the first time?”
What are your current bestsellers? What are your favorites that deserve to sell better?
Bestselling comics of the last year have been Batman, Amazing Spider-Man, Saga, Lazarus, just like in most comic shops. We have had great success selling Exit Generation, a self-published series that has enjoyed a lot of support locally.
Our bestselling graphic novels recently have been Supercrash by Darryl Cunningham (called The Age of Selfishness in the U.S.), The Sculptor by Scott McCloud, The Wrenchies by Farel Dalrymple, The Nao of Brown by Glyn Dillon, as well as anything featuring Deadpool or Batman.
I wish we sold more self published, home made, small press comics. We stock hundreds of them, but unfortunately it seems that most people get their home grown comics via internet web comics these days. We’ll continue to stock this stuff, it’s important to provide an outlet for this kind of thing.
What is your customer base like? How has it changed over time, if at all?
When OK Comics first opened we were selling to mainly traditional comic enthusiasts (mainly male, mainly 20 to 40 years old) but over time a much wider range of people seem to have found us. We get a broad mix of visitors, male and female, old and young, from every type of social background; everything from parents buying for young children learning to read, right through to older people reminiscing about comics from their youth; and lots of kids. We also supply schools and libraries, and offer advice to teachers.
Do you have a discount or loyalty program?
We run a free graphic novel program. Whenever a customer buys a graphic novel we stamp their OK Comics Card; when they have nine stamps on their card they get a free graphic novel. We give away free books every day!
How do you reach out to new customers? How do you advertise?
We advertise outside usual comic places. To me, it doesn’t make sense to spend money trying to reach people who are already buying our products, or already into comics. We promote ourselves to tourists visiting the area, and within the shopping community of the city. Leeds is very supportive of small, independent businesses.
All our staff are pretty active on social media, so we use Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to let people know what’s going on in the shop.
Our Twitter competition (we’ll give away our Top 10 graphic novels of 2015 to one lucky follower) has duel purpose, to get more people following the shop online, and to make people aware of our ever changing in-store Top 10.