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 Hunter, located at 467 Main St., Suite 300 in Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada. We spoke with manager Remi Vienneau LeClair.
ROBOT 6: What's the secret origin of your store? How did you settle on its location?
Remi Vienneau LeClair: We're the second location of a store that started over 25 years ago in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island. I was brought in as the manager within a few months of opening, as the original manager wasn't working out. I've run with it ever since, and tried to make the store into the kind of comic shop I'd want to walk into. A focus on comics!
As far as location, our original one was simply what was available. Our second had some planning, as we were looking to move closer to a business that we were friends with and that we felt would have good synergy. Our new one is in the same building and mostly a matter of circumstance. The building was sold and our old location was merged with another to make a bigger space for a tech company. We were moved from the front to the side, into a bigger space offering more parking and a more open layout. Overall, a win, but an adjustment!
Why did you decide to get into comics retailing?
I'd been collecting and reading comics for as long as I can remember. Hailing from a small town, no one really carried anything past the early '90s when the crash happened, so I was stuck buying comics at drug stores or when we would visit bigger cities during summer vacation.
I was managing a restaurant when the shop first opened and just started hanging out and coming in and volunteering my time to help out with comic files and receiving. I was young but enthusiastic, and already had management experience, so the owner took a chance on me when he wanted a change, and I've been here for over 10 years.
Do you have a philosophy or strategy to retailing?
Mostly to run the kind of store I would want to shop at. Friendly, knowledgeable but not pushy service, and having a lot of well-organized stock. The core of this hasn't changed, but we've adjusted a bit with the secondary products we offer. T-shirts don't sell like they used to, but toys/action figures and statues have seen a resurgence since we started out. We also carry one of the biggest collection of board games that I've seen, which is the part of our business that has grown faster in the last few years.
Tell me about the layout of your store. How did you work it out?
We've got a new location, which was planned out at least partly with the owners of the building. Knowing this and the dimensions needed, we were able to plan it a bit better than either of our previous locations.
Our cash register is at the door as you come in, both for greeting purposes, and security purposes. We pride ourselves as being a comic store first and foremost, so as soon as you walk in, you get a full view of the shop: Our 300 boxes of back issues are the first thing you see, and then behind them are our book shelves, split in three rows. Gaming, with a section of art books and specialty books, a second that has manga, a kids section and miscellaneous publishers. The third has, on one side, new comics, and on the other, the bigger publishers: Marvel, DC/Vertigo, Image and IDW.
We wanted our customers to get a full view of everything in the store as soon as they walked in. With a lot of stock, we're still working at making sure everything is clear and easily accessible, but this is always a work in progress!
What are your current bestsellers? What are your favorites that deserve to sell better at your store?
I figure the standards that sell everywhere. The Walking Dead, Batman, Harley Quinn, Deadpool, Amazing Spider-Man all sell well as both single issues and graphic novels. East of West is my current favorite that I tend to recommend to everyone within earshot. Spider-Man is our bestseller as back issues, followed by Batman. Flash and Green Arrow have seen a big jump because of the shows, and the same for Suicide Squad, both because of Harley Quinn's involvement and the upcoming movie.
I'm really happy some of the publishers, especially Marvel, seem to do a good job diversifying a bit more, with female-led books, but their sales are still not where I would like them to be. We stock them well enough, but none have done as well as Ms. Marvel. Worrisome in case they decide to not bother anymore ... especially that the quality is there!
What is your customer base like? How has it changed over time?
A lot of our original customer base was people who knew about our other shop, or who had felt burnt by the other local shops. As we grew, and especially once we moved, we saw what we feel is growing the customer pool more than taking from other shops. We really see people from all walks of life, both male and female. Single-issue comic buyers tend to be a bit more male, but the portion of female graphic novel buyers has grown quite a bit. Our board game sales are split evenly between male and female, with this category seeing the most diversity by far.
How do you reach out to new customers? And once you reach them, how do you get them to stay?
We do a bit of local advertising, just finishing a year in the local newspaper. We're switching to digital billboards around town in January. Still, our main mode of advertising is through social media: Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. We have a website that is mostly used as a blog, which we're looking to expand on in the near future.
We offer discounts for customers with accounts, any special orders, and any back orders on in-stock products. We also have a digital rewards program that offers varying rewards and discounts.
How do you feel your online presence supports or supplements your store?
It helps, but like anything else, we could do it better. None of the staff are especially "social media savvy" as it were. We're currently in talks with someone to work on that side of things on a part-time basis. It may become more important in the near future!
Do you have events or any kind of programming, such as signings? How is it coordinating those?
We host a monthly book club that has also turned into a podcast! We keep the number of people attending limited to a dozen or so to not flood the group (which has happened in the past), but the turnout is steady and turnaround is regular enough that we can take in new people occasionally.
We host releases for any local creators coming out with new books whenever we can. The local talent pool is steadily growing, so more and more people are asking us for help with this kind of thing.
Does your store attend conventions?
We have a local comic convention, the East Coast Comic Expo, with which some of our staff are involved in organizing. As a retailer, we help with advertising and promoting the event, with fundraising, and of course, as a vendor! Anything to help grow the local comic community!
Other than that, we haven't attended many. Within our sphere of "easy accessibility" as far as traveling goes, most of the other conventions are more anime/manga, gaming, or sci-fi/pop culture-oriented, so we don't always attend all of them. This often ends up being a staffing issue as much as a traveling issue.
What do you see as the biggest challenge in the comics industry today that particularly impacts your store?
Easily the biggest challenge right now is rising prices, both from the Big Two, who make up a big percentage of our sales, and the weakening Canadian dollar. At a time when more and more people are interested in comics and the comic industry, it's a big deterrent for some people to walk in and have to pay nearly double what they would have paid just five years ago.
And what is the industry's biggest asset that is helping you be successful?
The movies and TV shows are certainly helping a ton with getting comics to the front and center of people's attention. It's a quick jump to hit up a comic store and try a new title or pick up a graphic novel!
Anything coming up at The Comic Hunter that is a good excuse for someone to stop by?
A lot of gaming every night of the week if anyone is interested in that, from RPG nights to board game nights. Our book club is always interested in serious members who want to attend and join in on the podcast. We have a release for a local comic book, Nyobi, set for March (no specific date yet). Wednesday is new comic day, that's always fun, right?!
If you’d like to see your store featured here on Robot 6, email us.