Thursday, January 7, 2010

My Life With Comic Books: Part # 26


One of the most important character traits for a good employee is honesty and loyalty. I’ve been blessed over the years with some of the best friends and employees possible. But in 1981 I wasn’t so fortunate.

When the baseball card collectable market was growing so rapidly, I decided I would organize a baseball card convention of my own. I rented a function room in a hotel in Framingham, Massachusetts, about fifteen miles outside of Boston. The function room would hold forty “dealers tables.” I had been to hundreds of comic book and collectible shows over the past seven or eight years so I thought I knew what was necessary to organize a good show. I decided to run the show and donate all of the proceeds to “The Jimmy Fund”. The Jimmy Fund was a charity that I had seen in action, when my young neighbor was struggling with Leukemia and it was also the official charity of the Boston Red Sox. I sent out dozens of press releases to the local newspapers and radio stations. I knew that the local media would probably pick up on the story because of the charity connection. All I needed now was to somehow sell the forty dealer spaces. I knew lots of people in the comic book business but I didn’t know very many baseball card dealers.

I had a friend who sold baseball cards at a local flea market each weekend so I offered him a fifty percent partnership in my newly established card show business in exchange for his knowledge of baseball cards. I figured that with his expertise, he’d be able to sell the dealer spaces. I’d put up all of the money for the hotel and advertising. I sent out a press release to a large sports publication for a free listing in the national card show calendar directory. Within two or three days after that listing came out we were completely sold out of every dealer space. I could have sold out the entire function room without giving up fifty percent of my new business venture to my friend.

About two weeks before the show a few local radio stations started running free commercials about the show. The day of the show one of the radio station was urging all their listeners to attend. When we were ready to open the doors to the public we had a huge line of people eager to pay the one-dollar admission to shop for sports cards. Our future shows were not going to benefit a charity so we made sure to collect every attendee’s name and address for our mailing list. We would now have an active and valuable list to use to notify them of the place and time of future shows.

This first show was extremely successful. We had about eight hundred people attend and most of them spent money. The dealers were so happy with their sales that most of them paid us that same day for tables at our future shows even though we had no firm date for the next show!

My new partner was pretty happy with our deal. I had misjudged my own ability. I easily could have done this without his help, but I stood by our initial agreement. We would equally share the profits of all of our future baseball card shows. We ran a highly profitable show each month for the next six months.

I saw that the Framingham area was loaded with serious collectors so I decided to consider opening a collectable comic book and card store there. I found a great location in downtown Framingham but the owner was asking too much for the monthly rent. I showed it to my partner. I explained that it had been vacant for a couple of months and that I was going to wait another two months and then I’d offer the owner considerably less with the hope that he’d be more eager to rent it. My partner agreed that that was a good plan. Two days later, my partner betrayed me. He rented the store that I had showed him! He reasoned, “This isn’t personal, it’s business.”

I was very angry at what I considered a personal betrayal. I knew that I could no longer trust him. I didn’t want to continue our baseball card show partnership so I GAVE the business to him. But I couldn’t forgive him for his actions. I rented a different store in Framingham and I was determined to offer him some serious competition. I hired a friend, Jimmy Talbot, to manage this new store. Jimmy was a friendly, talented retailer and with my strong inventory and reputation for reasonable prices, it only took about a year before my former partner closed his store. I’m not particularly proud of this, but after he closed his store, I no longer felt the need to continue operating the Framingham store. I originally wanted a store there but when I felt my partner had betrayed me, I was more concerned with revenge rather than with building a long running business.

I had developed a good customer base in Framingham that I didn’t want to disappoint by closing the store, so I decided to GIVE the store to my buddy Jim Talbot. I allowed him to use my inventory and store name and he would earn a portion of whatever he sold until he could build up his own inventory. This deal wasn’t very smart of me. Jim had a different retail philosophy. He began to raise prices and it began to affect my reputation even though Framingham was about twenty miles away from my store in Worcester. After a year I insisted that Jimmy change the name of his store so that we could both have separate identities and I could rebuild my image as a low priced collectible dealer. Jimmy changed the name of his store to “Bop City Comics” and did a great job of developing into an important retail store in his area. In 1986, for reasons I still don’t understand, Jimmy opened up a store in Worcester and competed directly with me for a few years. He also tried to explain to me that this was business, not personal.

This didn’t make sense to me because I believed that personal relationships were more important than business. Two friends had now betrayed me and I was becoming cynical. I was learning not to trust people. I’d have to be more careful in the future.

My cousin, Steve Higgins, had worked at my store on Sundays for about six months and he was a great addition to the store. Customers enjoyed him and sales were increasing. Steve enjoyed the business so much that he decided he’d like to open his own store. He explained his idea to his wife and she supported him completely. They agreed to use the money they had been saving to buy their first home as start-up capital for their store. Steve found a location about fifteen miles from Boston, in Waltham, Massachusetts and he asked me my opinion of it. I liked Waltham, but I didn’t like the store location because it was on a road that wasn’t heavily traveled. I knew a man who specialized in Japanese science fiction model kits who was renting a building on the busiest street in Waltham but he was actually only using the basement of the store as his warehouse. He had no interest in selling the model kits directly to consumers through a retail storefront. He was willing to rent the retail storefront to Steve at a reasonable monthly rate. Steve liked the location better than the one he had previously picked.

I loaned Steve a beginning inventory of back issue comic books and helped him contact suppliers for new comics and toys. Steve bought a large collection of old movie posters at a convention and with a lot of fast work he was open for business in October of 1983 as “The Outer Limits.” Steven’s skill at retailing made his store an instant success. It didn’t take too long before he had earned enough money to buy his first house. With Steven being actively involved in the same business, I now had access to him as both a friend and as someone to “talk business” with. We would call each other at least five times a day to discuss ideas or the latest funny incident at our stores. Life in the comic book business wouldn’t be as much fun without my Cousin Steve!

Next chapter: Diamond Comic Distributors buys out our distributor.


  1. I'm opening up in Worcester.

    Nothing personal, just business.

  2. Anonymous,
    You would just end up as another in the huge pile of bodies of those I've "killed."

  3. I love that someone is too sissy to sign their comments...

  4. (Yes, I'm aware of the irony of that comment.)

  5. This one takes me back to the early '90s. I'd been selling used comics at the Auburn Flea Market for about three years, and had recently begun selling new ones as well. Then my full-time Crappy Day Job cut me from full-time to part-time, so I took the plunge and opened a real store, planning to phase out the flea market once the store was successful.

    I had a very good inventory of back issue comics, but whenever customers would ask about certain issues I didn't have, I suggested they try That's Entertainment. I'd give them directions, TE's phone number... the works. (This was when I should have been more concerned with building my own business, I should add.) I wonder how many potential regulars I "lost" to TE.

    I guess what I'm saying, Paul, is that you owe it all to me. (Okay, okay, that's an obvious lie... But gee, for a moment there, it sure looked good in print!)

  6. David,
    I benefited from virtually everyone I met...some more than others of course! In those early years, I absorbed information and ideas from many other retailers and hobbyists. There were a few years when I spent one day each week visiting other comic book stores looking for new ideas to make my store better. I didn't remember that you eventually opened a retail store! Did I ever come to your store for a visit?

  7. No, but you were in the middle of moving to your new location at the time, and were kinda busy... I even called you with the news of my new venture, and you told me that you were speaking from your huge new store's "frozen food aisle."