Wednesday, March 24, 2010

My Life With Comic Books: Part # 68

The current cast of characters:
Paul Howley: age 34
Mal Howley: my wife
Adam Dean Howley: 9 years old
Cassy Howley: 5 years old
Hank: The owner of the “Same Bat Channel Comic Shop” chain


I called my wife and told her that I was going to meet with my friend Hank about potentially buying one of his comic book stores. She urged me not to make an impulsive decision but I’m sure she knew I’d do it anyway. I do tend to make quick decisions, but it frequently works out okay when it is comic book related.

When I arrived at the “Same Bat Channel Comics” store in Fitchburg, Massachusetts, I was introduced to one of Hank’s employees, Richard Ortwein. Richard seemed to be a friendly guy. Hank’s “right-hand man,” Chris Ball, wasn’t with him on this night. I had seen Chris many times in Boston while we were all waiting to pick up our new comic books each week and I knew that he was a good guy too. Hank didn’t mention to any of his employees that he was entertaining offers to sell this store to me. He probably figured that the odds were slim that I’d actually buy it because I had told him about my recent purchase of a huge collection of old comic books. There was no sense getting his employees upset or worried about their jobs unless he was sure that I was going to really buy the store.

Hank showed me around the store, including his back room and storage area. This store was a very typical comic book shop. He had display racks along the outside walls to display the new weekly comic book releases and he had the back issue comic books in bins in the center of the store. As I examined his comic book inventory I noticed that it wasn’t very comprehensive. Hank had spread his inventory out over his five stores so it was pretty weak in this location. The inventory wasn’t going to be a major deciding factor in my decision to buy the store because I already had enough extra stock to fill numerous new stores. Hank wanted thirty thousand dollars for this store, without the inventory, and it seemed reasonable to me. I knew I could have made a lower offer but I considered Hank to be a friend and I knew he needed the money from this sale.

Hank didn’t want to discuss the sale around Richard so he suggested that we go to a nearby restaurant for a more private talk. Hank began to give me all of the details about this store. His rent was fairly reasonable and he didn’t have any lease that I’d be locked into. His customer base was fairly small but the store was profitable. The store employed two full-time employees (Richard and Chris) and one or two part-time people. I asked Hank if he thought that Chris and Richard would be interested in working for me if I bought the store and he thought they probably would at least be open to the possibility. Then Hank told me how much he was paying them. I was actually shocked at the high salary he was paying the two full-time guys. It was more than I had ever paid my employees. I questioned whether I could afford to pay the same salary to them if I bought this part of Hank’s business. Even if I could afford to do it I was quite sure that I didn’t want to pay that much!

While we were going over the details of Hank’s offer, Richard and Chris “just happened” to come into the restaurant. Hank didn’t want to be dishonest with his employees so he told them what we were discussing. Both of the guys were surprised that Hank’s situation had gotten to the point where he really needed to sell off this store. They thought that things were going great but, as it frequently is, the employees were unaware of the details and difficulty of keeping a business profitable. Chris had plans to become the overall manager of Hank’s chain of stores and was sure that he’d be making a huge salary soon. Now it must have seemed as if his dream was crumbling.

I explained that for me to agree to buy this store I’d need both Richard and Chris to agree to begin to work for me. Chris said he had no interest in leaving Hank’s business. Hank tried to convince Chris that his future looked brighter with me but there seemed to be no way to make this work. That was the “deal breaker” for me so I thanked Hank for his offer and called Mal to tell her that a deal wasn’t reached. She was thrilled that I wasn’t buying this store.

Next chapter: Chris shows up at my store the next morning.

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