Riot Redux

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Johanna’s post on the closing of the comics shop Riot has led to quite a discussion in the comments based on what is considered insider skepticism over some of owner Jason Richards tactics. Along the way the difficulty of launching a comics shop are discussed.

The only people willing to do it have to be extremely stubborn to think they can succeed in the face of these factors and also have an excessive love either for the medium or one of the genres. That makes it difficult to take well-meaning advice, especially when stores and locations can be so different that what works for one person might not work for anyone else.

Of course, the private retailer forum erupted in a chorus of “told you so”. This wasn’t surprising, either, given Jason’s earlier departure from the group. The thread now has lots of good advice, but as happened before, the people who need it won’t see it. If you really want to help newcomers, “you’re not REALLY one of us, you’re just a hobbyist because you don’t use our methods of evaluating your success or have an employee” isn’t the way to phrase advice that will be listened to. Which is a shame, because the points were good, but they were presented in argumentative and hostile language that guaranteed they’d be ignored. (Some really seem upset that Jason criticized Civil War, too, as though saying Marvel’s plans weren’t ideal was a sin.)


Although we recognize how hard it is to run a comics shop, is it THAT much more difficult than launching any other small business? Most new businesses fail. Sure, comics shops don’t have a track record of recent successful launches to provide role models. That may be part of the problem. It seems that is changing, however.

  1. > Although we recognize how hard it is to run a comics shop, is it THAT much
    > more difficult than launching any other small business? Most new businesses
    > fail. Sure, comics shops don’t have a track record of recent successful launches
    > to provide role models. That may be part of the problem. It seems that is
    > changing, however.

    Apropos of perhaps nothing, I recall reading somewhere that that old conventional wisdom statistic of such-and-such percentage of new businesses fail in the first such-and-such years is overstated.

    I wish I could find the source, but if I recall correctly, the gist is something like many new businesses that close do so despite being profitable, or squarely on the road to being profitable–their owners lose interest, or move on without a succession plan, or whatever else; it may not be fair to count those as “failures” in the typical sense.

    I guess the point is that, truthfully, many new businesses *close* in the first however-many-years, but that’s not necessarily the same thing as saying that they have *failed*.

  2. A bookstore (used and new) owner I knew once told me that a small bookstore generally makes no profit in the first two years. If it doesn’t make a profit in year three, however, it tends to close. If that’s true (and this conversation took place in 1995 or thereabouts), then yeah, things are tough all over.

  3. According to the Small Business Administration (likely the source of Tommy’s remembrance above), approximately 66% of small businesses actually succeed (become profitable), NOT fail. Also according to the SBA, most of the businesses that close up in the first 5 years do so for reasons other than profitability, such as drastic illness, better opportunities, being sick of working a 60-80 hour week and just wanting some health insurance and vacation time, etc.

    Of course, I suspect the percentage of failure in the comics/games retail sector is slightly higher than the average, since a majority of new retailers (as far as I’ve been able to tell; Actual mileage may vary…) are not business people, nor have significant amount of retail management experience, and have no business plan to speak of. During the 4 years (yes, years!) I spent preparing and researching before opening my own store, I adopted as my mantra, “Those who fail to plan, plan to fail.” I can add my own addendum to that, as well, “Those who have a plan, and ignore it, might as well not have made one.” I’ve done a little of that myself…

    Another reason for the possibility that comics/games shops may be less likely to succeed is one that was just brought up to me this weekend in a conversation I had with Eric Hitchcock, a field rep for Diamond. Many comics retailers, due to the nature of the product, tend to focus all of their efforts on the current week, instead of more long-term. I’m not saying “ignore this week’s stuff,” What I’m saying is that this week’s stuff needs to be PART of a larger plan.

    That’s enough for now. There’s no need for my response to be longer than Heidi’s original post…

  4. I’d agree that not all stores that fail in the first five years are due to poor business, but statistics also can be skewed. The big decider on the Riot case is if he defaults or not. If he does, it will be logged by the feds and the SBA as a failed business.

    I really hope all of this IS being noted at the industry insider sites; There is a lot to be learned from this and if someone like diamond or marvel or dc helps new retailers with store design and business plans, stuff like this will be less likely in the future.

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