Monday, December 28, 2009

My Life With Comic Books: Part 18


Since I was only supposed to work with my partner, Jay, at five or six of the major comic book shows, my wife and I had lots of time to spend with our newborn son, Adam.
Jay was very busy traveling on his successful shopping mall buying trips. He would send all of the collectables up to my house so that I could “process” them and get them ready to sell.

The comic books were easy to sell because we had a great customer base at the major comic book conventions in the United States. Our new inventory of baseball cards was a little more work. The baseball card conventions were usually small, one-day shows that were less than a couple of hours away so I began to set up at some of these. I knew nothing about baseball cards when we first started selling them, so I studied as many price guides and dealers’ catalogs as I could find. Our sales of vintage baseball cards were great.

My wife, Mal, would usually stay at home with Adam while I was working at these local shows, but sometimes she’d surprise me by coming to the show to have lunch with me. When I had to be out of town at the big comic conventions it was very difficult to be away from Mal and Adam. Even though Adam was getting stronger, it was hard for Mal to be alone while I was away. I missed them too!

Jay drove up from Ohio to pick me up to go to the big Albany, New York comic book convention organized by the comic book store, “Fantaco.” Although it was only about a three-hour ride from my house to the convention, I began to realize that I wasn’t enjoying the traveling anymore. I decided that I needed to get out of the convention business. But first, I needed to focus my energy on this big show.

When we arrived at the Albany Convention Center, we were surprised at how organized this comic book show was. There were staff members hired to help all of the dealers unload their inventories. There was adequate security staff. The staff was also very friendly. As usual, we had the best location for our ten-booth display of old comic books. When the doors opened to the public, hundreds of collectors poured into the huge display room. Our booth was crowded with eager buyers for the first few hours and sales were great.

It was at this convention that I learned two important lessons about the comic book business. A very young boy, perhaps 12 years old, came up to my display and pointed to a copy of “Fantastic Four” #1 from 1961, and asked “How much is that comic book”. I didn’t take his inquiry very seriously, and I replied “ Oh, that’s a lot of money”. The young boy then said, “ Well, how much?” I said, “It’s $695.00.” He replied “Oh. Do you have a cheaper copy?” I showed him a copy that was priced at $295.00. To my surprise, he said, “I’ll take this one. Do you have issues #2 through #150?” Within ten minutes this pre-teen spent over $1200.00 and paid in cash! After he had completed this transaction I learned that he had just sold his horse and his parents allowed him to spend the proceeds on his new hobby of collecting comic books. I learned at that moment to take all customers seriously, regardless of my first impression of them.

I also learned a valuable lesson about the media at this convention. The organizer did a great job of promoting this show through the local media. There were television news programs there to do stories about this show. When they came to our booth to interview us, we were in a goofy mood and decided to have some “fun” with them. The interviewer began asking the typical questions: “Why do people collect comic books? What is the most expensive comic book you have?” We reached into a box of comic books and pulled out an “Iron Man” comic book and we made up a story about how this issue featured the first appearance of “Iron Man” wearing a yellow belt. We explained that it was very rare and it was worth over $1700.00. We figured that the news reporter would investigate to determine how accurate our information was and they’d find out that we were kidding them. Later that night we watched, along with thousands of citizens in Albany, as they ran this television interview with our completely made up nonsense! I’m sure many collectors got a laugh out of that story. This taught me not to believe much of what I read in the newspaper or see on television.

We had a very successful convention but I knew I didn’t want to continue to travel away from my wife and son. Jay and I discussed my options on the drive home from Albany. I decided that it was time to look into opening a comic book store. While Jay enjoyed the fast pace of the convention business, I was more interested in establishing relationships with “steady” customers. It was more fun for me to nurture long-term, repeat business with other collectors. I believed that the big comic book conventions would eventually be negatively affected by the opening of comic book stores all around the country. In the early days, collectors would save up money to spend at the big shows, but now stores were springing up and offering the collectors a place to spend their hobby money every day. I wanted to be a part of the more stable business of owning a comic book store. Jay and I decided that he would continue to set up at the shopping malls to buy new inventory and he would also sell at the big conventions without me. My job would be to open and run a comic book store. I remembered my experience at a “grouchy” comic shop in Worcester so I started looking for a retail store location there. I figured that I could offer better customer service than that!

Next chapter: We get robbed!

1 comment:

  1. Heh. Your Worcester store's still doing great business, and the "grouchy" guy's store's been gone for years.

    There's a moral there, somewhere...