Wednesday, June 16, 2010
My Life With Comic Books: Part # 112
The current cast of characters:
Paul Howley: age 41
Mal Howley: my wife
Adam Howley: my son, age 17
Cassy Howley: my daughter, age 12
Chris: my overall company manager
MY LIFE WITH COMIC BOOKS: THE HISTORY OF A COMIC SHOP-Part 112
After our success with having Ty Law of the New England Patriots as a guest at one of our stores, Chris (the overall company manager) quickly made agreements with several other Patriots to appear. We were able to get these football players for a very reasonable price because the Patriots were not a winning team at that point. A month later, they won the AFC East Conference and if we tried to get them for an appearance we would have had to pay four or five times as much!
On January 6th, 1997, we were honored to have Ted Johnson and Adam Vinatieri as our guests. It had been our store “policy” that we didn’t want to charge our customers for the celebrity autographs but even though the fee we had agreed to pay these players wasn’t outrageously high, we needed to recoup some of our event costs by charging a nominal fee this time. We all decided to charge $3.00 for a single autograph or $5.00 for both athletes’ autographs. We hoped that almost everyone would want them both so that neither of the athletes would feel unpopular. Thankfully, that’s what happened. Fans seemed delighted to buy one of each guy’s signatures! We learned that our customers were not unwilling to pay a fee for the autograph as long as it was reasonable. This new knowledge would allow us to take bigger financial risks and get “bigger” celebrities. Over the next few months we hosted many more New England Patriots players including Vincent Brisby, Chris Canty, Jimmy Hitchcock, Dave Wohlabaugh, and others at our Fitchburg and Worcester stores.
In February of 1997, I was invited to attend another “Father-Daughter” breakfast at the church where my daughter, Cassy, attended a “girl scout-type” of program called “Pioneer Girls.” Cassy and I went to these for several years and it was an event that I looked forward to each year. The young girls helped prepare the food (with lots of help from a hard-working group of Moms) and they also provided the entertainment. Sometimes it was small “skits” and other times it was music and song.
One of the highlights each year was the “color contest.” Each father-daughter team was judged to determine who was wearing the most clothing of a chosen color and the winning couple would win a prize. Cassy really wanted to win each year, so I’d do the best I could (within reason) to help. One year, the chosen color was purple and I didn’t own anything that was colored purple. I decided that this called for drastic measures so I went to the business that was renting part of my commercial building in Worcester. “The Halloween Outlet” offered thousands of costumes and accessories for sale and they also had a decent costume rental section so I borrowed a full-size costume of “Barney the (very purple!) Dinosaur” from the hit PBS television show. Although we easily won the color contest, I hadn’t anticipated the excitement of the very young girls as I walked in as their favorite TV character, Barney. Some of these kids were only five or six years old and even though I was far too hot inside this heavy costume, I did my best to entertain them. I didn’t want to let them know that Barney wasn’t real.
In March of 1997, my wife, Mal, decided to go into business with her friend, Dianne Lowe. Both of them enjoyed making their own hand-made greeting cards with rubber stamps and they thought it could be fun and profitable to set up at local craft fairs and shows to sell the products needed to make these cards. They contacted manufacturers and product distributors, set up accounts with several of them, and began to order product wholesale.
Their first show was at a high school in Clinton, Massachusetts and Cassy and I went with Mal, Dianne and her husband, Ken, to help them carry the boxes of product they hoped to sell. Mal and Dianne worked for almost two hours to set up their large display booth so that it would look attractive and inviting to potential customers but when the doors opened to let the customers in, there were no customers. The show had not been effectively advertised and Cassy and I were worried that they wouldn’t sell anything. Eventually a dozen or so customers came in and Mal and Dianne demonstrated how easy it is to make cards using rubber stamps. By the end of the day, even though there weren’t lots of customers, Mal and Dianne were both satisfied with the sales they had and they were encouraged enough to try other craft shows. It didn’t take too long before they picked those shows that were better advertised and attended and were on the way to having a profitable business together.
Next chapter: Adam buys his first car.
Pictures: Paul dressed as "Barney The Dinosaur" and Mal and Diane begin to set up at local craft fairs to sell rubber stamps and cardmaking supplies.