Welcome to Store Tour, ROBOT 6’s new weekly exploration of comics shops, and the people who run them. Think of it as the retailer version of Shelf Porn. Each Sunday we’ll feature a different store, and also get to know the person behind the register.
This week's store is The Comic Room, located at 659 McCowan Road in Toronto, Ontario, at the intersection of McCowan and Lawrence Avenue East. We spoke with manager Sean Clement.
Robot 6: Tell me about the layout of your store. How is that worked out?
The Comic Room: The Comic Room is actually part of two stores. Our upstairs is a traditionally used bookstore called The Paperback Exchange. You walk through the bookstore to reach the stairs that bring you down into the secret world of comics (that isn’t so secret, because there are signs).
The basement is where the entirety of The Comic Room is. When you descend the stairs you’re surrounded by posters of all the upcoming series and projects by various comic companies (which are constantly updated because there’s no greater sin than old, faded posters in a comic store). Once at the bottom there’s our monthly sales rack, which features 25 percent off comics, toys and merchandise surrounding a certain theme (last month was Spider-Man and this month is Avengers-related).
The new comics have their own section that is changed on a weekly basis. Anything from the previous month is on the opposite side of the new comics so that the customers can easily find them. The rest of the store is back issues down the middle with a great selection of hardcovers, trades, statues, toys and merchandise in their own sections. Surprisingly, our back-issue selection is quite large, considering a lot of stores seem to be phasing out that aspect of the business.
We really try to make the store flow and highly organized, the opposite of the nightmare scenario of a stereotypical comic shop.
What’s your store’s secret origin? How did it come to be? How did you decide on its name?
The name actually comes from the original owner, whose son opened The Comic Room in 1981; his son was named Ron, and “Ron’s Comic Room” must have seemed like a great name back then. After the business was sold to the current owner Troy (who had worked at the store since he was barely a teenager) the name was slowly shortened to “The Comic Room,” mostly because the employees were getting tired of being asked, “Are you Ron?” and being told, “Thanks for all your help, Ron!” even though our names are definitely not Ron (no offense to all of the amazing folks named “Ron” in the world). The name really suits the store since we’re underground and it really does have a cozy room feeling to it -- aclubhouse vibe.
How did you get involved with the store and become its manager? Why did you decide to get into comics retailing specifically? What in your background do you think made you particularly suited for it?
I am asked this a lot by customers. They say, “How did you manage to get a job here?” and it is really simple: I was a customer for a couple of years and loved coming to the store. The owner was always extremely kind to me, and being a young 20something, I didn’t want to work at soul-crushing part-time jobs anymore while making my way through college. I went into the store one day and said, “Can I have a job?” and the Troy said, “Sure, just bring your resume.” I did and was hired immediately (because my resume featured such desirable traits as “parking lot attendant” and “flier distributor,” which are skills valued by any comic shop). There’s a lot of jealousy from customers who realize now all they had to do to work in a shop was ask for a job. The murderous glare in their eyes tells me we might be hiring again soon.
What made me suited to the job more than anything was a pleasant disposition and willingness to help the people that come into the store, to make it a fun and friendly experience. I had some experience as a Sales Clerk so I knew how to work a register, that helped a lot too, but personality and a genuine love of the comics being sold really went a long way. Customers can tell when you’re passionate about comics and want to have that shared community experience, that feeling that they’re in a place they can discuss the books they love when they come into a store. Pre-Internet, that was a big deal and probably still is (because it is hard to troll someone to their face; not impossible, but hard).
Not being a sexist pig to women who come into the store is good, too. I can’t stress that enough.
Do you have a philosophy or strategy to retailing? Has that evolved from when you first started? If so, what caused that change?
The main strategy within our store is customer service. That is what keeps people coming through our doors. We are always about pleasing the customers and making sure that even when we do not have a product that they’re after we go above and beyond to get it into their hands. Sometimes customers miss an issue and they know that we will do everything we can to find it, which includes going to conventions and tracking down those books so they do not have to. When issues sell out we’ve been known to trade with other stores to fill that order, too. Troy interrupted a trip to New York once to get books that were accidentally missed a week before. The sense that we genuinely care about our customers and make them feel special is incredibly important to us. They’re honestly like family. When you see people coming in week after week for months, years, and even decades they become like family to you.
It hasn’t changed much over the years either, except everyone involved (customers and employees) has more wrinkles, more kids and better hair (or less hair).