Wednesday, October 20, 2010

My Life With Comic Books: Part # 161

The current cast of characters:
Paul Howley: age 45
Mal Howley: age 46
Adam Howley: my son, age 21
Cassy Howley: my daughter, age 16


After several phone calls to the local newspapers in Laconia, New Hampshire, they finally sent reporters out to interview me about my interest in buying collectibles while I had my display of rare toys set up in the Belknap Mall. Both reporters asked the “right” questions and it encouraged me that it could be quite good for me if they really published articles about me in their newspapers. I had some success buying items already because of the many advertisements I had purchased but no advertisement is as effective as an article with photographs. Days passed and no articles appeared. Now my rental time in the mall was almost done.

Then, with only one day left, I checked both local newspapers when I arrived home from the mall that night. To my surprise, there were huge articles, with photographs, in both of the newspapers! The Laconia Citizen wrote:

“The Art of Buying and Selling Collectibles”

“Stanley and Dodie Pike of Belmont walked away with $141 in their pocket from Paul Howley’s kiosk-like display at The Belknap Mall for the sale of old photographs and magazines they found 15 years ago in someone’s trash.

“Howley, 45, of Gilford, has been a collector, mostly of comic books and toys, since he was a teen-ager. During the years, he has turned his fascination into a profitable career, and now, with his wife Mal, co-owns two collectibles stores named That’s Entertainment in Massachusetts, the largest in the country.

“‘I started off in the low end of the high-tech field, and when I decided to make this career change 21 years ago, my boss at the time thought I was nuts. Now, he’s probably working the same job, and I’m volunteering my time in my daughter’s school, serving on the school board, and doing what I love,’ he said.

“‘I explain to my kids (Adam, 21, and Cassy 16) I never have a bad day because I love what I do,’ Howley said laughing, ‘and I get paid for it.’

“Howley retired from the day-to-day operation of That’s Entertainment six years ago, having moved to Gilford two years ago. He explained that he has 12 full-time trustworthy employees who proficiently run the stores, allowing him time to dabble in the retail market as he chooses. Howley has been offering free appraisals at The Belknap Mall kiosk since Monday and will continue the service until Sunday. It is the first time he has offered this type of service locally, and he explained the items he has on display were shipped from his stores in Massachusetts where they will be returned upon the kiosk’s close.

“Those who bring items such as old books and magazines, model kits, G.I.Joe and Barbie dolls, old CDs and videos may have free appraisals on their treasures and opt to sell them to Howley.

“‘I have $250,000 to spend on these types of items this week, and I’d like to spend it all,’ Howley said. His business has been successful, Howley said, because of his honesty with people and making savvy financial decisions. ‘I choose to make a little money on items people buy rather than gouge them,’ Howley explained. ‘I would rather have them come back to see me several times instead of just once.’

“To prove this point, Howley told of one person who has been a customer for all of the 21 years he has been in business. ‘And now I’m starting to sell items to their kids, it’s kind of a scary thought,’ he laughed.

“As far as the financial decisions, Howley spoke of the purchase of the 20,000 square-foot building in Worcester that houses one of his stores. ‘It was during the 1980s, the building was on the market for $750,000. You can’t pay three quarters of a million dollars and sell funny books; it just doesn’t work that way. But my timing was perfect—about a month later, the real estate crash came into play, and I made the purchase for $200,000.’

“Howley believes his business has also thrived because he provides a service to people. ‘When I tell them their G.I.Joe doll, for instance, this one I bought while I’ve been here,’ he said, picking up the boxed doll, ‘is worth $225, I’m being honest. I offered them $150 because I know it’s an item I can sell tomorrow,’ he said. ‘To get the $225, they could post it on Ebay and sell it for that amount. The difference is, all that takes time. With me, they walk away with $150 ten minutes later and they don’t have to bother. It’s a done deal.’

“Howley said he really cannot say why people become collectors. “You’re either a collector or you’re not.’ But with him it started in 1959 with comic books and accelerated with toy items from the popular TV series, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. ‘I co-wrote a book called, The Toys From UNCLE. It was self-published and originally sold for $9.95,’ he said. Recently Howley has seen that same book posted for sale on the Internet for $35. ‘It’s become somewhat of a collectible itself,’ he said.

“Howley is especially proud of winning the prestigious ‘Will Eisner Spirit of Comics Award’ in 1997 which named That’s Entertainment the best comic book and collectible store in the world.

“‘It’s like winning an Academy Award, it carries that much significance in this business,’ he explained.

“Aside from the passion he has for the collectibles, Howley also enjoys the people-element of his operation. ‘I have a common interest with most everyone I deal with,’ he said. During the days he’s been at the Belknap Mall, Howley said he has had one gentleman visit the kiosk three times, not to do business, but to talk. ‘It’s been wonderful—I now have a new friend.’

“Howley’s plans for the future are to simply continue doing what he’s doing.

“‘It’s my passion, I love it. It just couldn’t be any better than it is. It’s been fun to spend the week here at the Belknap Mall. I’m sure when the week is over, I’ll have a lot of dusty old stuff. It’s great!’”

Next chapter: The other newspaper’s article.

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