There’s drywall dust chocking the air. The people around me are wearing masks and giving me side-eye. My eye wanders listlessly from the walls the exist in full to the walls that are nothing more than steal bones, to gnarled bits of flooring that have been torn from the ground. The place doesn’t look like much, but I really don’t care. In my mind, I can see what it will soon become, and the thought pulls at the corners of my mouth, forming a bewildered smile. In a few short weeks, it will be ready. In a few short weeks, it will be real. Soon.
I can’t wait.
The recap is probably needless at this point, but let’s do it anyway for those of you just joining us. At the end of last year, I tendered my resignation as the manager of a comic shop, and decided to start up my own. Since then, I’ve been tangled in a web of paperwork and bureaucracy as my partners and I pushed things forward little by little.
The amount of work it takes to start up a business is pretty staggering – or at least it has seemed that way to me. I knew it would be hard, but I had always assumed there would at least be a very linear sense to things, with one accomplishment leading you to the next, leading you to the next. That was quickly dispelled on day one when we decided to look at some properties. The logic behind this move was simple: you can’t plan a whole lot without knowing where you’re going, and what you might have to budget for. Unfortunately, a lot of the properties we were looking into wanted a sign that we were serious about opening a business before they’d talk turkey. Some even wanted a completed business plan before they’d budge even the slightest amount from their stance of “doing nothing”. Since this moment in time, I’ve learned that this isn’t really the norm – realtors actively want your business, and will usually work with you, according to your time and means. For whatever reason (I suspect something having to do with preconceptions about comic shops), this was not our initial experience. Regardless, I started to focus on getting the business plan together. I had already put together the broad strokes in my mind, but I needed to nail down the particulars. The most frustrating bit of that? A business plan requires you to know how much money you’re asking for, and where you will be located, and for that… well, we needed some realtors to give us the time of day.
As it turns out, that process is very much an accurate representation of starting a comic shop in general. From a pure business standpoint, banks want to make sure you have a business plan, a signed lease, and projections before they’ll even talk to you. One of the banks we spoke with then completely ignored the business plan and projections (and by that, I mean, didn’t even READ the documents, which was painfully clear by the follow-up) and ran numbers based off of personal finances – and not what the business currently owned. Another was shocked that we had a lease ready to enact despite asking for such in their funding instructions, and that they wanted an accurate lease quote in our projections.
Speaking of projections, do you know what else you need a confirmed location for? Proper insurance quotes. Insurance companies can’t give you a quote without knowing where you’ll be specifically, so they can determine your costs by measuring crime rates and building upkeep. You also can’t get a completely accurate quote for security or telephone and internet, and parking, and more. What I’ve learned from this is, this kind of preparation – the kind where you meticulously dig for accuracy – is not appreciated by banks. You can show up with a grab bag of inaccurate guesswork, and it will do you just as well as spending the time and effort to put the things they’ve been asking for together. All they really want is to be able to give a quick cursory glance at the numbers, and see that you don’t expect to make $100,000 in your first month(s) of business (which I was told is fairly common for some people’s projections) and that’s about it.
Now, most (if not all) of this is moot if you’re starting a business with a decent amount of money to your name. If you have money, banks, landlords and insurance people will gladly give you the thumbs up to make more money. After all, they know you’re good for it. Experience doesn’t seem to matter as much, so long as you have the bank to back up some inexperience. It’s a dumb Catch-22 where track record, experience and product meets indifference, and if I’m being truly honest? I didn’t realize how angry I was about all of this until I started writing this and the words started flowing out. I mean… from a business standpoint, I understand. It’s hard to bank on someone who doesn’t appear to have money, and you can’t readily toss money at someone who has little more than their word. I get that. But dammit, it still hurts when you put in the work, and spend years – years – amassing a collection, only to be told that you should have done nothing but dig a hole in your back yard and fill it with money, rather than build stock and gain experience.
Pity party aside, if you push hard enough, things will still work out. They have for me. Or at least they have so far. I always feel as though the plug is going to be pulled at any moment, that everyone is going to point at me and tell me what a fraud I am. But I felt that way when I didn’t co-own a business, so that’s not anything different. I’m sending in my first Diamond order today, which should be interesting. Before, I had the backing of a store and a customer base that had been around for almost 20 years. Now, I’m guessing wildly at numbers, going purely from my gut and sense of industry, and if I screw up big? Well… it could wreck things. There isn’t a large room for error, and its equal parts stressful and exciting.
As for the store’s physical location, things are going well. The renovations are proceeding quite rapidly, and we should be able to start moving things into the space in the beginning of April. Our landlord and our neighbours have been wonderful and supportive, and despite the fact that we’ve yet to open, I know of a small handful of customers who have stopped by the store to check things out and say “hello”. As the last bits of preparation give way to actual, tangible physical accomplishments, some of the stress and frustration is washing away. Soon, I’ll be back behind the counter, along with my wife and our third business partner, a new generation of store owners in a city that hasn’t had new blood in decades. The hope is to take all the old building blocks and make something new and vibrant, something vital and needed. Walking through the bones of what’s to come, I can’t help but feel a tingle of excitement. It’s happening. It’s going to happen. It’s starting right now… and with any luck, it won’t end anytime soon.
[Brandon Schatz has spent the past eight years working behind the comic book counter, and he will soon be opening Variant Edition in Edmonton, Alberta. In his spare time, he writes about the comics and culture. You can find him on twitter @soupytoasterson and at his website, Submetropolitan. The opinions expressed are those of Schatz and do not necessarily reflect those of The Beat.]