Welcome to Store Tour, ROBOT 6’s weekly exploration of comics shops, and the people who run them; think of it as the retailer version of Shelf Porn. Each Sunday we feature a different store, and also get to know the person behind the register.
This week’s store is Rogues Gallery Comics & Games, located at 1601 IH-35, in Round Rock, Texas. We spoke with owner Randy Lander.
ROBOT 6: Tell me about the layout of your store. How did you work that out?
Randy Lander: We actually did a big store reorganization in March of last year. We first moved the store to its current location in 2003, and while we've made tweaks, the store layout has been mostly the same since we set it up. Me and my manager, Dave Farabee, designed the layout along with the original owner, David Wheeler. Then in 2013, we were trying to maximize our space a bit more and I got together with Dave Farabee, Nick Budd (the other manager) and we mapped it out on graph paper, D&D old-school style. We wanted the cash wrap to be the first thing people saw when they came in, so that they could immediately be greeted by the staff at work. We have feature sections for some of the graphic novels we emphasize, notably Image Comics and Vertigo, and we have a big all-ages section up at the front of the store.
What is the secret origin of your store and its eye patch-wearing mascot? How did the store come to be? How did you decide on its name and location?
I actually bought the store in 2007 from the original owner, so the location was decided for me. But when I bought it, we needed a new name, a new logo and a new mascot. I went through several names, and I can't even remember all of them, but we settled on Rogues Gallery Comics & Games because of a fondness for The Flash, and also because the Rogue is a D&D class, so we were doubling up on comics and games, our two primary focuses. Our mascot, named Maximilian Larch for reasons I can't fully remember either, was meant to be a general rogue. We commissioned our friend and then-customer Scott Kolins (he's since moved, but we're still friends) to develop the character based on some really loose guidelines from us, and the result was this awesome red-suited, yellow tie-wearing scoundrel with a battle-damaged briefcase handcuffed to his wrist and his fedora flying off behind him as he dodges trouble. Since then, we've had a few other artists reinterpret Max, whether a riff on his current look or a different version, like Paul Maybury's post-apocalyptic Max or the most recent, Ultraman-style Max by Godzilla: Rulers of Earth artist Matt Frank.
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 like to say I fell backwards into this job. I reviewed comics for about a decade, sometimes as a hobby, sometimes as a job, and eventually I wound up part-time reviewing and part-time working at my local comic shop, Dragon's Lair. When Dragon's Lair expanded to Round Rock in 2001, I was one of the managers, and in 2007, I bought the store from the owner. As for my background, I've been a comic book fan and gamer since I was about 12 years old, and I've spent a fair amount of time in retail, whether it was working at Mervyn's during my high school and early college days (and a comic shop in my last two years of school) or a long time working at Dragon's Lair before buying Rogues Gallery. My degree is actually in journalism, which comes in handy occasionally in terms of doing public relations, but I think a combination of a personality that enjoys interacting with people and the daily organization required for running a store and decades of knowledge about our product combines pretty well.
Do you have a philosophy or strategy to retailing?
My basic philosophy is really similar to what my philosophy of reviewing comics was. I like stories, and I like sharing things I love with other people. So while the money is important to me (it's how I support my wife and kids), the part of my job I love is connecting people with comics and games that they love. I also think that we're about community building. I've got a lot of good friends who started out as employees or customers. We have a graphic novel club, regular gaming in-store and off-site, and events pretty much every month. I've got very good friends who got married who met through the store. Our job is to connect like-minded geeky folks and put great comic books in front of them ... if I can do that, I can go to bed happy every night.
What are your current bestsellers? What are your favorites that deserve to sell better at your store?
We sell a ton of Image graphic novels, especially Saga, Sex Criminals and Rat Queens. I used to have a lot more favorites that just didn't sell, but for the most part, we've gotten to a place where a lot of what I love sells. I don't know if the market has changed or I have, probably a bit of both, but I don't have the heartbreak often of a book I love that I can't convince anyone to try out.
What is your customer base like? How has it changed over time, if at all? Do you have a discount or loyalty program?
My customer base is a mix of families with kids and older professionals or college students. The biggest change we've seen is an influx of women, which is a really welcome change that I think is in no small part driven by Ms. Marvel, Captain Marvel, the new Thor and Saga, Sex Criminals and other books that appeal to men and women equally. We do not have a standing discount, but we do sales pretty regularly, and we have specials like our book of the month that's discounted.
How do you reach out to new customers? How do you advertise?
Our advertising is largely social media and word of mouth, which has worked very well for us.
With print advertising all but dead, and TV and radio advertising expensive and not really targeted enough, social media is crucial for advertising these days. It used to be you had a yellow page ad, you ran newspaper advertisements, but these days people find you online, and that means spending a lot of time engaging online. The podcast is relatively new, but it's a great way for us to put a little of the personality of the store out there.
How do you like the comiXology digital portal and online pull list?
It's a great tool, and certainly something they didn't have to do. Early on, like a lot of retailers, I was afraid of digital sales destroying our market, but digital has absolutely been additive. There are some folks who are digital-only, some folks who are print-only, but a lot of folks mix and match, and it just makes sense to partner up. The online pull list is a really handy way to offer up image previews and synopses without spending hours of work putting it together.
Do you have any events or programming, such as signings?
We do a lot of events. We have a regular monthly graphic novel club and gaming night, we have Heroclix, Magic The Gathering and Dungeons & Dragons nights every week. We have participated in Free RPG Day and Free Comic Book Day every year since they were created. We also do signings and events pretty regularly. Every year for the last five, we've done an event in June we call All-Ages Awesomeness where we bring in somewhere from five to 10 creators to sign and sketch for a largely family audience. We promote it heavily during Free Comic Book Day, and it's our second-biggest comic event of the year after FCBD.
Does your store attend conventions? Does it benefit from them?
We are a small staff store, six people including me (and we were five before last year), so we don't really have the capability for conventions. The exception is that we have been sponsors of STAPLE!, Austin's independent media show, for the last 10 years or so, and we always cover the expenses for one of the featured guests and basically take care of them for the weekend, including working at their table.
What do you see as the biggest challenge in the comics industry today that particularly impacts your store?
I worry a little about increasing single issue prices, because every time the price of comics goes up, the barrier to entry gets higher for someone to come in for the first time, and I'm always wary that physical vs digital media could become a problem, but in general? I'm less worried now than I was when I bought the store in 2008.
Conversely, what is the industry's biggest asset that is helping you be successful?
Honestly? It's a pretty great time to be a retailer. We're seeing an increase in diversity, which means a widening audience, we've got all kinds of free promotional support from comic book movies and TVs being so popular in the mainstream and the material is about as strong as it's been in my 30 years of reading comics.
Anything coming up at Rogues Gallery that is a good excuse for someone to stop by?
Always! In particular, my store manager Nick creates custom action figure displays about every three months and has been adding custom-built action figures to them. He doesn't keep his blog super-updated, but you can get a sampling of them at Rogue Displays and if you come into the store, you can see them in all their detailed glory. Also, as I mentioned earlier, we've got our fifth All-Ages Awesomeness event coming up on June 27.
If you’d like to see your store featured here on Robot 6, email us.