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 Tazmanian Comics, located at 3618 East Hastings St. in Vancouver, British Columbia. We spoke with manager Jen Costello.
ROBOT 6: Tell me about the layout of your store. How did you work that out?
Jen Costello: The first thing you see when you walk into Taz Comics is our front-counter setup. It's very important to us that customers be able to find an employee for help at any time, so we have multiple counter tops where customers can sit down their purchases, or ask a staff member any questions they may have. We also understand that not all of our customers will be comic veterans and that a store of our size can be overwhelming at first, so we've placed things like T-shirts, Pop Vinyls, our all-ages section, and movie and television show-related comics at the front of the store for easy access. As you head to the back of the store, you'll find our new-comic shelves, action figures and statues. Finally, at the back of the store we have labelled and organized back-issue bins, and higher-end collectible comics and art, as well as tables and chairs for casual gameplay.
What is the secret origin of your store? How did you decide on its name and its location?
Taz Comics actually started out with the owner, Keith, working at a video-rental store. As a comic collector, he found himself in possession of multiples of certain comics, and asked his boss if he could put them on display to try to sell them. That ended up working pretty well, and when the owner of the video store moved on to different work, Keith took over the lease and started selling comics! The name was originally Tazmanian Comic Connection, and was chosen simply as something different than most comic book stores at the time. After several location changes we've found a home on the border of Vancouver and Burnaby, and chose this location because it's the opposite of what people expect when they hear "comic store," with high ceilings, lots of natural light, and wheelchair accessibility throughout the store.
Why did you decide to get into comics retailing?
For all of our staff, I think comics retail came naturally. I feel that Keith has a natural talent for business and numbers, and doesn't mind working behind the scenes, and as a manager, I am lucky enough to have enthusiastic staff who can work along side me to make every day run smoothly. We're all very passionate about comics, each specializing in different genres and ages of comics. That knowledge and passion translates into wanting to share our love for the medium with others.
Do you have a philosophy or strategy to retailing?
Our philosophy from the start has been to focus on family, and to create a safe, comfortable atmosphere for everyone who walks through the door. Taz Comics has been in business for almost 30 years now, and we really feel that our customers are like family. Keith can remember everyone's name and story. Sometimes a customer who hasn't been in in years because they moved or were away at school will walk in, and Keith can pick up right where they left off. Being a larger store, we get a lot of families taking their kids to the comic shop for a day trip, and the parents will often talk about their first time in the store as a kid. We extend the same treatment to people who just came in for the first time, to make sure they can be themselves at Taz, and they don't have to be afraid to ask questions. I think that kind of personalized customer service is what keeps people coming back after 25 years.
What are your current bestsellers? What are your favorites that deserve to sell better at your store?
Our current bestsellers are Rat Queens, Lumberjanes and Saga, as well as your classics like Batman and Amazing Spider-Man. As for favorites, I'm a huge fan of true crime and crime noir stories, or anything set between the 1940s and 1960s. I was happily surprised to see Lady Killer selling very well, and even though The Fade Out is doing great, I'd love to see more people reading similar titles, like Hit 1957, or the upcoming The Spirit!
What is your customer base like? How has it changed over time, if at all?
Right now our customer base is a huge variety of people. We have a constantly stocked all-ages section, so we get brand-new, young comic readers every day, and we also have elderly customers looking for the Classics Illustrated and Gold Key comics they used to love. Over time, and especially in the last few years, we've seen an increase in female customers as well. Having all these new titles, with strong female characters has led to more and more girls and women signing up for a pull box and coming in every week to excitedly buy their comics.
Speaking of a pull box, do you have a discount or loyalty program?
Our subscription service includes a discount on single-issue comics, as well as free comic bags.
I love using Facebook and Twitter for the store, because I can use them to post photos of new merchandise or top comic picks, but they can also be used to communicate with customers who find it more convenient than email or phone. We've just started using our Instagram account, and it's been great so far to connect with customers on a more personal level, and see what comics they're enjoying. One of my favorite parts about all of these is that we can gain a younger audience and customer base by engaging local comic readers, which is very important to me because I don't want to see print comics becoming a thing of the past. It's just fun to use new technology to keep people interested in an older print medium!
How do you like the Previews digital portal to display new releases?
I love it! I've used the digital portal as a new releases page on our website, as well as created a tab on our Facebook page so customers can easily access our new releases both at home, and on mobile, on whichever platform they prefer. Prior to the digital portal, we were printing the list each week, and copying a list of all the items Diamond was releasing into a Facebook note. That left us with a lot of people asking why we didn't have an item in stock when it was on the list, so the tailored release list based on what we actually ordered has been convenient and eliminated a lot of confusion in regards to our new releases.
Do you have any events or programming, such as signings? How is it coordinating those?
We do signings and events throughout the year, and are lucky to have a lot of local talent like Kurtis Wiebe, Johnnie Christmas and Ed Brisson, whom we've become friends with and are happy to stop by. We also host weekly Friday Night Magic on a casual basis, just a bunch of friends and strangers getting together to play Magic: The Gathering. We're hoping to start up more events in the near future, like craft nights, movie nights and book clubs, because who doesn't love to get together, make friends and geek out?
What do you see as the biggest challenge in the comics industry today that particularly affects your store?
I think the biggest challenge has been, and probably always will be, change. For a lot of people, comics are familiar and safe, and when a comic changes their creative team, or has a different character become their favorite superhero, it can be enough to have people cancel their subscription for that book. Of course, those same changes can lead to tons of new people starting to read that title. Large events like Convergence or Secret Wars, or a reboot like the New 52 can create the same kinds of changes in orders, so we have to constantly reevaluate, and adjust what comics we're ordering.
Conversely, what is the industry's biggest asset that is helping you be successful?
Nerd culture all the way! It's cool to be a geek now, to wear your Superman T-shirt with pride and read your trade paperbacks in public. With new movies and television shows being created from comic books all the time, there's a constant influx of new fans who are excited to get reading the source material. I would also credit a lot of comic creators taking to Twitter and Tumblr and interacting with their fans on such a personal basis, because it adds this level of connection that readers have with their book. I've found that a lot of young people who rush out to buy a new comic on Wednesday are talking about how they saw it on their favorite artist's Twitter and they had to have it. That definitely makes it an easy sell, so thanks comic creators!
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?
Every year, Free Comic Book Day becomes my new favorite work moment. There are always so many little kids, dressed up in costumes, and reading their new comics while their parents browse the store. The smiles on the faces of children make every day worth the hard work, and I'm just so glad we can encourage a lifetime of reading through the comic medium.
Anything coming up at Taz Comics that is a good excuse for someone to stop by?
The summer is always an insanely busy time for us with all the kids off school, so our next event will most likely be Halloween Comic Fest in October. It's going to be a full day of dressing up, costume contests, free comics and lots and lots of candy!
If you’d like to see your store featured here on Robot 6, email us.