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 Tate's Comics + Toys +Videos + More, located at 4566 N. University Drive in Lauderhill, Florida. We spoke with owner Tate Ottati.
ROBOT 6: What's the secret origin of your store?
Tate Ottati: Many, many years ago I went to sell my awesome shortbox of comics to a local store. They only offered me $50 for my box of precious comics. They could tell that I was insulted by their offer, so they suggested there was a con coming up and I should get a table there to sell them myself. I did set up as a vendor at the con, but instead of selling the comics I bought more ... and more ... and more.
Before too long I just had too many comics cluttering up my parents' house. Right around that same time I bought Marvel stock. The stock ended up splitting four times; I sold it and used that money to help fund opening up my first store. I started selling comics at shows at 15 and opened my first store at 17.
Choosing a name for my store was tough, so I just picked my own name.
Do you have a philosophy or strategy to retailing?
I spent too much money in the first few years on product that didn't end up selling. Now we try to stock cool stuff and if something is not working, get rid of it during one of our twice yearly huge tent sales. Since I had no background in retail or management, I have just been figuring it out along the way all these years -- with the help of my family and staff, of course!
Tell me about the layout of your store. How did you work it out?
The layout kind of just evolved over the years with each expansion we made. We started out very small at 1,000 square feet; currently our main location in Lauderhill is over 10,000 square feet, so there are constantly changes happening to improve and update! It never ends!
My goal is for the different sections to be interesting and have an organic maze-like flow, but still have some sense of logic to them. People are always overwhelmed when they first walk in the door: Where to look at first?! We love that they can get lost for hours checking out all the different areas. I block out all the windows facing the street, so when someone walks into the store for the first time they get thrown off by the vast size of the store: “It's bigger on the inside!"
All of the comics and graphic novels are in the far back of the store. You have to hike to get there! On the way you will pass through many aisles of related merchandise and toys. It's hard not to stop and see what you can find! We recently added informational signs at the end of the aisles to hopefully help people find what they are looking for or discover new things!
What are your current bestsellers?
I can’t pinpoint a current bestseller. We really have such a diverse mix of merchandise and people come to us for all different things! I feel new comics should sell better than they do, with people going in record numbers to see comic book-related movies. It certainly would help if the publishers/studios could do some sort of advertising to tell people that comics still exist.
What is your customer base like? How has it changed over time?
South Florida is truly a melting pot of people from all over the world and our customer base is very wide ranging, from children to adults. It is really crazy that we have kids coming in now, whose parents came in when they were kids! It boggles the mind! We also get a decent amount of out-of-towners, especially considering that our shop is located quite off the beaten path -- we have become a must-visit destination for anyone visiting the area! Up at the front of the store, we have a huge map and our out-of-town visitors can put a pin in their homeland. We have had visitors come from all over the world, as far away as New Zealand, India, South Korea, Thailand, Iran, Spain and Iceland!
How do you reach out to new customers? And once you reach them, how do you get them to stay?
We have a great email list and a strong word-of-mouth presence. We hold tons of really unique and fun annual events that appeal to all different kinds of people, so that really helps with getting our name out there and bringing in new customers. We have a very large following in Facebook, but we do minimal social media advertising since it is really expensive the way Facebook has it set up currently. Our Instagram account has turned into a great way to show people our newest product, along with some fun photos. Recently, we have started playing around with Periscope too. Each social media platform is its own unique animal, and it all changes all the time -- you have to really know it to take advantage of it while you can! We keep our website current and hopefully easy to navigate also. But, truly word of mouth is your best advertising, so make sure your store is worth talking about!
How else do you use the internet to support your store?
We do not have a proper “online shop," even though we do get many requests for one. It is simply not possible to replicate the Tate's experience with an online shop. We are all about it being immersive and overwhelming, along with great in-person customer service. We do have a little online mini-mart shop setup where we sell store gift certificates and our exclusive comic variants. We also have recently started listing a lot more stuff on eBay, which has really helped us to get rid of some back stock and sell some of the more unique things that need to find a home!
Do you have events or any kind of programming, such as signings? How is it coordinating those?
We hold many events throughout the year. Two storewide sales, one on our anniversary and one around Halloween. We also have Not at Comic Con, Japanese Snack Tasting, Substitute Santa and lots more. We have an upstairs art gallery space, Bear and Bird, that hosts a new exhibition just about every six weeks.
Does your store attend conventions?
We choose not to set up at comic conventions for a number of reasons and instead focus our energy on our unique in-store events. There are rare occasions that we will setup to just give away free comics to promote the store, but we prefer to do this at community events and libraries. South Florida has a large number of conventions going on all the time, and at least down here it seems like they are the “new mall” where kids will go to hang out with their friends and show off their costumes.
What do you see as the biggest challenge in the comics industry today that particularly affects your store?
The biggest challenge all independent comic retailers face is that the industry does not support itself. We need the help of the publishers to advertise to the outside world that comic books exist and are relevant! Advertising within the comic books themselves really doesn’t help us to get new customers or readers.
Even Free Comic Book Day, which is supposed to be a national day to bring in new readers, really doesn’t function as it is intended. We as retailers are left on our own to promote it and foot the bill. It feels like everyone up the chain either profits or breaks even, and the “little guy," the retailer, ends up spending too much to make it all happen. Ideally people outside of the comic collecting world would be coming in to check it out, but it is very hard to reach them on a mom and pop budget!
And what is the industry's biggest asset that is helping you be successful?
Superhero stories are more mainstream than ever before. But, there are still way too many people who don’t even realize where these stories originated. It seems like there is very little respect for the medium, even among the companies who own the publishers. I feel our biggest asset is always going to be the hard work of the little guys who create the stories and art that make all these words possible. A rising tide raises all ships, without the original comic stories and the people who read/sell them, there would be no big blockbuster film - so throw us all a bone and tack on a frame about this movie being “based on a comic book” and to “support your local retailer." A little would go a long way and keep us all afloat.
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?
Lots of interesting stuff happens at the store weekly. This past December we had Donkey Kong as one of our Substitute Santas. We were all surprised when “the King of Kong” himself, Billy Mitchell, showed up to take a photo with him! One romantic story we heard was about a couple who met waiting in line at one of our big tent sales. They were recently married and are now expecting their first child together! We have had a number of our customers take engagement photos in our store and have even hosted a wedding here! We allow well behaved pets in our store and have been host to all kinds of exotic animals such as a sloth, falcon, gator and lots of puppies!
Anything coming up at Tate's that is a good excuse for someone to stop by?
You never need an excuse to come by! Our store is so big and full of stuff, that it is worth the drive from anyplace anytime! But if you need an extra special excuse, today we have our annual Park and Swap where we have customers come out and set up in our parking lot and offer their own stuff for sale directly to other customers. Kind of like a yard sale, but with only cool stuff you actually WANT! In early April we will have our 23rd Anniversary Sale, there is a huge tent in our parking lot overflowing with really discounted merchandise, plus other fun activities and giveaways. You can always see our upcoming and past events here.
If you’d like to see your store featured here on Robot 6, email us.