Thursday, April 1, 2010

My Life With Comic Books: Part # 74

Cast of Characters:
Paul: age 35
Mal: my wife
Chris: my second store’s manager


In 1990, Diamond Comics Distributors organized a huge gathering of comic book retailers, suppliers, and publishers, in Las Vegas for a comic book retailing seminar. I decided that it would be an important business and educational experience for some of my new employees so I booked the trip for Chris, my Fitchburg store manager, my friend Kevin Simpson, and Mal and me. My cousin Steven and his wife Donna also booked the trip. I had also convinced Dave Edwards, a friend of mine who had recently gotten into the comic book retailing business, to attend this seminar.

I had attended a few of these seminars before and although I learned something new at each one, I had decided that I would have my employees attend the teaching parts of the seminar and I’d give much of my attention to the blackjack and roulette tables. My cousin Steven also enjoyed the occasional “game of chance” so we spent many hours together at the tables gambling. By the end of our trip we both had won substantial amounts of money at the tables. Our wives enjoyed sightseeing and shopping. By the end of their trip, they had both spent hundreds of dollars on jewelry. It was a “successful” trip for everyone.

Chris came back from this seminar eager to work at promoting our stores and expanding our business. Chris worked with Diamond Comic Distributors and DC Comics to arrange an in-store appearance of Neil Gaiman, a relatively new comic book writer. Gaiman had created a new character called “Sandman” and DC Comics had been publishing the comic book adventures for less than one year. DC Comics believed that this comic book series would be successful if they could get comic readers to try it so they were very willing to spend some money and expend some effort to get the comic books into reader’s hands. DC Comics gave retailers one free copy of “Sandman” issue #8 for each copy that they bought. We were urged to be sure that these “free” copies got to the potential new readers so they’d get “hooked” on this exciting, well-written series.

All of the “events” that we planned for our Worcester location had been successful in the past but we had no experience running these kinds of events at the new Fitchburg store location. Worcester, Massachusetts was a huge city and Fitchburg was a small city with a high unemployment rate. We had no idea if the customer base and the mainstream population would turn out for an event of this sort. It was our intention to show our “new” Fitchburg customers that we didn’t just care about our larger store. Chris wanted this to be big! He also arranged to have Kevin Eastman, the co-creator of The Teen-Age Mutant Ninja Turtles, and Steve Bissette (a popular artist and writer of comic books) attend the event as guests. They all visited with the fans and did free drawings for the collectors. These professional comic book guys were also happy to come because it gave them an opportunity to visit with Neil Gaiman.

As it turned out, the event didn’t draw a large crowd but the hundred or so people who came seemed to really enjoy themselves. Just as importantly, the local newspaper wrote a half-page article with photographs about the appearances that promoted our store to the local population. Some of these people eventually came into the store or the first time because of this article and they’ve become regular customers. Every new customer is as important to us as our existing customers. We’re satisfied if we can get a few new customers from each event we plan. Chris was enthusiastic about planning future events and I knew that if we worked together, the events would be even more successful.

Next chapter: “Warning, Warning, Will Robinson!” Bill Mumy from the TV show of Lost In Space comes to the Worcester store!

A photo of Cassy, Adam, Mal and I, from an article by my old pal, Mike Warshaw, published in a magazine in 1988.

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