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 The Comic Book Shop, located at 1855 Marsh Road in Wilmington, Delaware. We spoke with co-owner Sarah Titus.
ROBOT 6: What's the secret origin of your store?
Sarah Titus: The shop was open for 20 years before we bought it, with two previous owners. One of them had the foresight to grab the domain name TheComicBookShop.com; we are eternally grateful for that!
We’ve been at our present location for three and a half years. Most of our new customers may not know that we moved here from a tiny, dingy, old space in a strip mall a quarter-mile down the road. Now we’re in a nice shopping center with lots of parking and other destination businesses! Wilmington, Delaware, is easy to get to from Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Maryland, and we’re two minutes from the I-95 corridor for anyone passing through along the East Coast.
Why did you decide to get into comics retailing?
Co-owner Patrick Titus was the assistant manager when the owner wanted to leave the business; he knew the customers, the industry, the ebb and flow of buying & selling. My background is retail and small-business management. With his extensive nerd knowledge and my customer service experience we’ve got both sides of the business covered!
I was worried at first that I didn’t have decades of nerd knowledge behind me, but I quickly realized that my lack of baggage is actually very helpful! I could easily read something objectively and be able to talk to other new readers about it; does the book make sense without the background? Is it an enjoyable story for a casual reader? I made that my niche – it’s something I can offer that other employees can’t.
Do you have a philosophy or strategy to retailing? Has it evolved from when you first started?
We want our shop to be a place where we’d want to shop and a place where we’re comfortable working. If a customer is making me uncomfortable they’re probably making other customers uncomfortable, too. We don’t tolerate jerks!
Unlike a lot of places, we price our product so people want to buy it; we’d rather sell the product and keep people happy than try to hold out for a few bucks more. We read a lot of books so we know what’s happening and what we can sell to people. Personal recommendations are so important!
Tell me about the layout of your store. How did you work it out?
We’ve got lots to see, so we wanted to keep like things together for clarity:
• Along the right wall is "Recent Issues," leading to "New This Week" and "New Last Week" shelves, leading to our graphic novel shelves. Between the "Recent Issues" and the center island are about 100 back-issue Silver Age bins.
• To the left of the entrance is our kids' area: spinner racks, lots of shelves, and a table and chairs.
• At the back of the shop is vintage Star Wars, G.I. Joe, Transformers, and other random cool collectibles; new DC and Marvel toys as well as other new toy lines are there, too.
• As you head back to the front of the shop there’s an open space with a table and chairs for folks to hang out for a little while, or to host guests, or for a featured event like our Graphic Novel Swap.
• An island formed by glass cases/counters forms our command center. Inside are our subscriber bins, register and computer. The cases hold vintage and key issues, loose action figures, and Magic: The Gathering cards.
What is your customer base like? How has it changed over time?
Like our shop, our customer mix is a little bit of everything: 20- to 30-somethings, white-collar professionals, young kids introducing their parents to comics, parents introducing their kids to comics, readers finding their way back, brand-new readers who’ve done research online or gotten recommendations from friends, and recently, many more teachers and educators.
How do you reach out to new customers? How do you advertise? Do you have a discount or loyalty program for new customers?
Over the years we’ve found that our best marketing efforts are our personal interactions and referrals from our regular customers. It’s hard to go anywhere and not find someone who likes comics or knows someone who likes comics – you just have to be willing to start a conversation!
Donations to school fund-raisers and flyers in local businesses help build the audience in our immediate area. Website, Facebook/Twitter/Instagram, and weekly newsletters get our news out to folks who are a little farther away.
Subscribers to ongoing series who pick up their orders within one month get Subscriber Perks: Free bag-and-board with books on their pull list; 25 percent off back issues in bins and 10 percent off key issues and variants every day; sale prices a day early when we have our weekend-long storewide sales; and other various thank-yous throughout the year.
How do you feel your online presence supports or supplements your store?
Social media helps most for not-so-regular customers – the ones who are actively searching for what’s happening and where to go when. As far as digital comics goes, we LOVE having a comiXology portal through our website. (We don’t make very much money on it, but it’s something!)
We encourage people to try digital when something they want isn’t available for reorder or if they’re trying to keep to a budget.
We’ve lost TWO customers to digital in the past five years; we’ve gained many more readers who checked out a series online then came to the shop to learn more and get personal recommendations. Being able – and willing – to offer another resource for getting comics helps people understand that we’re here to foster the hobby as a whole, not just to make the sales.
Do you have events or any kind of programming, such as signings? How is it coordinating those?
Over the past two years we’ve established regular events as demanded by our customers. These groups meet monthly:
• Kids’ Club on second Thursdays, ages 7-plus (all kids get 25 percent off graphic novels all day): The group gets time to roam the shelves and check out new books; we play a game; we learn something; we have snack.• Teen Time on second Sundays , age 13-plus (all teens get 25 percent off graphic novels all day): The teens choose a book to read, which we then sell for 25 percent off all month. We usually do a table reading of one or two new comics; Archie is a favorite!• Ladies’ Night on third Thursdays, age 16-plus; genderqueer, trans and cis ladies welcome: We vote on a Book Club Book, which is 25 percent off for everyone all month. We discuss new comics/TV/movie news, feminist issues, and often have activities.• Book Club on fourth Thursdays, ages 14-plus: We vote on a Book Club Book, which is 25 percent off for everyone all month. It’s a diverse group, so we have a lot of really good discussions and suggestions for other books to read.
In addition to our regular clubs, we also host occasional “Comics Ruckus” meet-ups; an open-house hangout for people to stop in and just talk comics with each other. Sometimes we devolve from discussing to yelling ... hence the “Ruckus.”
Board Game Night is about once a quarter. Fun, free and family-friendly!
We try to host at least one creator signing a month. We’ve had a bunch of indie creators all at once; special launch events like when G.I. Joe started a new ongoing series (we had the new writer, Fred Van Lente, and the creator of G.I. Joe, Larry Hama, signing together); Greg Pak came down for our Planet Hulk Book Club/Launch of Turok: Dinosaur Hunter; and the legendary Jim Steranko came with his buddy Bob Camp (co-creator of Ren & Stimpy) for our fifth anniversary!
Juggling all the schedules is tough but worth it. We’re always doing something and that can make it tough to give time to each event, but the more we do the more people ask us to do more!
Does your store attend conventions? Does it benefit from them?
We hit the convention circuit hard for the first few years; there were some months when we were on the road two or three times a month. It was good exposure, good for turning product, good for buying product, and good for meeting creators.
Ultimately there got to be too many to choose from with a decline in quality of shows; that’s when we decided to pull back and focus on our shop – on giving back to our customers who come in every week instead of trying to reach new customers from three states away.
Since we’ve spent less time on the road and more time in the shop we’ve really been able to build our place into something we’re really proud of. We’ll still do small, local shows at libraries and schools, but beyond that it has to be a really special event to draw us away from the shop.
The only big show we do now is the Baltimore Comic-Con. It’s extremely well organized and is about COMICS and comic CREATORS. Plus, it’s local for us!
What is the industry's biggest asset that is helping you be successful?
Indie publishers are constantly coming up with ideas to actually HELP us! Additional backmatter for no extra cost! Image’s consignment program – fully returnable extra copies! Rewards for promoting their books! Good communication and feedback!
Anything coming up at The Comic Book Shop that is a good excuse for someone to stop by?
We’ve always got something! Creators from Black Mask Studios are signing on the day after Thanksgiving for “Black Mask Black Friday." We’re participating in the inaugural Local Comic Shop Day on the day after Black Friday – specials, signings, free stuff – the works! We’re also very excited to host Amy Chu in January to kick off her new Poison Ivy series!
If you’d like to see your store featured here on Robot 6, email us.