Tuesday, March 2, 2010

My Life With Comic Books: Part # 57


I really enjoy most of my customers. I consider many of them to be more like friends than customers but sometimes I’m amazed at the depth of these friendships. I have a customer named Bob Jean (not his real name) who used to come to my store all the way from Rhode Island every two weeks. Bob collected lots of Marvel and DC comic books and he also enjoyed Disney comics. He also loved old television shows from the 1960’s so we’d always have lots of things to talk about when he came to my store. We had a lot of common interests. Bob would always bring his wife with him when he came shopping and she would patiently stand around while we would talk and laugh about comics and TV shows. Sometimes she’d wait for over an hour! I’m sure she was bored but she never seemed to complain about our visits.

Bob called me one day in 1988 and asked if I’d be interested in buying his old model kit collection. Usually I don’t ask why people are selling their collectibles. It’s really none of my business and it wouldn’t affect my offer anyway. But this time, because of my friendship with Bob, I asked. He told me that his wife was sick and he could use the extra money that he could get by selling off some of his collection. We arranged a time for him to bring in the model kits so that I could make him an offer. As it turned out, Bob had a really nice collection of un-built, still in the box, character and monster model kits made by Aurora Plastics in the 1960’s. Bob told me that he wanted $4400.00 for this collection. I didn’t have much experience selling such hard-to-find model kits so I needed to rely on the listed values from a toy price guide. It became clear that Bob was hoping to get almost full price guide value for these kits. Even though I knew I had no specific customers “waiting” to buy these expensive model kits and I knew they’d probably take a long time for me to resell, I agreed to buy them for Bob’s full asking price. I’d just have to price these kits higher than the current price guide values in order to justify this large purchase.

Marketing these old model kits wasn’t going to be easy. Although I did maintain a large mailing list of customer’s names and addresses, I had no indication if any of these customers had interest in old model kits. There were really no computers or email in those days, so a full post office mailing would be expensive and it may not have been effective. I’d need to think about this. I thought about placing an ad in the local newspaper but their advertising rates were outrageous. There were toy shows in Massachusetts that attracted hundreds of toy collectors but there were no shows coming up soon. I wanted to get these into the hands of collectors because I had invested a lot of money in these models and I wanted to begin to get some money back right away so I priced these model kits and displayed them by just putting them on top of my comic book shelves. The display looked great because these Aurora kits had beautiful paintings on the box lids. Included in this collection were Frankenstein, Dracula, The Mummy, The Wolf Man, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, The Phantom of the Opera, The Creature of the Black Lagoon, Godzilla, King Kong, The Munsters, The Addams Family, The Forgotten Prisoner, Zorro, The Land of the Giants, The Lost in Space Cyclops Monster, The Lost in Space Robot, Batman, Superman, Superboy, The Penguin, and many more. Now I had to figure out a way to let the collectors know I had these.

The next day a customer came in and commented how nice these kits looked and although he didn’t buy any of them, he mentioned that he had a friend who collected old Aurora model kits. Collectors are an interesting group of people. They’re usually thrilled to share their enthusiasm and information with other collectors. It makes it seem as if there is a real underground “grapevine” through which information quickly travels. Word got out that I had these kits and collectors that I’d never met before came into the store. Without any advertising on my part I sold almost half of these expensive model kits within the first week! With most of my investment back, I now wasn’t worried about selling the rest of the kits quickly.

A few months later I got a late-night phone call from Bob. He was calling from a hospital in Rhode Island where his wife had just died. He needed a friend to talk to and I was available. Even though I hate funerals, I knew that Bob needed me to be there so I went down there to be of any help that I could.

One of the things about being in a big retail business is that you get to know thousands more people than the average person knows. On one hand it’s a nice, positive thing. But on the other hand, there’s also more opportunity for sadness when some of these customers and friends suffer illness and tragedy. Sometimes it’s hard for me to deal with.

Next chapter: I lose David M. Lynch.

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