THE END IS WHERE YOU START FROM
At the end of last year, I tendered my resignation at the comic shop I was managing. During my last year of employment, I had grown to feel out of place in the company, and was eager to try something different. I thought I’d take some time off to write more. I didn’t. Instead, I realized that I didn’t want to stop working behind the counter – I just wanted to do it on my own terms.
At the beginning of this year, I announced that I’d be starting a comic shop. This, is the story of January.
Leaving the old store was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. As it turns out, the decision to leave was the easiest part of leaving. The hard part came in the form of things like not being able to process shipment or see all of my regulars. As weird as it sounds, I loved the work, all the way from figuring out how to order from a variant to matching customers to books that they were going to love. Right now, it still feels as though there’s a little part of my identity that’s missing, even as I fill that space with what’s to come. That said, I think I’m coping rather well. The wife has had to pull me out of a few funks and otherwise, the work of setting up a new shop is keeping me occupied. Quite honestly, everything would be fine if it wasn’t for the intensive detangling process it takes to set up a business.
THE GORDIAN KNOT
Have you tried to set up a business before, faceless mass of readers? A few of you almost definitely have, and you’ve got a knowing grin slowly crawling across your face right now. Know that I hate you with admiration, in the way that a commenter would lovingly shake the hand of a comic creator were they to ever meet in person.
Anyway, laying down groundwork for a business is like trying to punch the face of an ouroboros or wrestle a gordian knot. Tasks require other tasks in order to be completed, everything pulling on itself at you gently try to work at the problem with great swinging fists. You need a business plan to do almost anything, but to get information for your business plan, you need a location. To get a location, you need to prove you have a viable concern before people will even talk to you beyond offering vague numbers. To do that, you need to work on your business plan, but your business plan can’t be completed until you get SPECIFIC numbers from a landlord. Also, the insurance folks won’t give you a good quote unless you give them a location. Specific to comics retail, Diamond won’t give you information regarding your retailer discounts until you have a business license, which you also need a location for, but again, you can’t really give the loan people and the landlord the business plan without those specific numbers.
This goes on and on and gets more complicated the further you dig inwards. Suffice to say, it takes a while to untangle. As it stands, we’re still waiting on a location to be locked down to my satisfaction, after which all things will move at a blistering hyper speed. Everything is ready and being held in place, I’m just waiting for the foundation to be ready before I set the weight of everything on top of it.
IN THE MEANTIME
There’s a lot to do when you’re in the “hurry up and wait” portion. First and foremost, it’s important to do your homework. Not only do you need to keep track of all the spinning plates, you need to keep track of where the industry is going, and grab numbers for that. You need to dig your hands into the area you think you’re going to open in and pull out everything you have. What’s the make of the population? How’s the economy? How might one area benefit you over another? Does that balance with the budget you have to pay the lease when you get those numbers? Do those locations have viable parking options? If not, do you need to talk to the community league about potential problems before an audit is done, and your business is deemed unsuitable for the space? What specific licenses and permits might you need in your specific region? There’s a hell of a lot to research and ask about while the larger cogs are slowly grinding and catching.
Aside from that kind of research, you should also consider what you should have in place for when you announce your store. First and foremost, you need a name. The earlier you have one, the better, because then everything you make will have that name on it. After that, get a website locked down. In this day and age, there is no excuse for a business not to have a website, even if it’s just a simple landing page with your location and hours on it. Build a website or have one built while things are happening. Make a list of all the things you want that site to do, and make sure it will do those things. Once that’s started, start grabbing social media accounts. Contemplate the ones that you might actually use on a regular basis (or those that you’ll begrudgingly use due to their ability to reach the audience you need) and start locking those down. In all instances, attempt to make sure you can match your business’ username across all platforms so that your customers don’t have to blindly feel around to find you on anything – they can just type a phrase, and find you everywhere.
Another thing you can do? Start up an inventory. Use whatever you have, and start cataloguing in some format. If you have a pretty sizeable comic collection, I’d suggest starting with pulling everything you have the stomach to part with. Try and put as many things that you own into the store’s inventory. If you’re having a tough time, try to contemplate the future. Do you think you’ll be successful? Successful enough to buy back many of your dearly departed items in a few years time? Then get rid of it. The more you can add to your store inventory, the better you look to loaners, and the less you’ll have to spend at start up. If you still can’t bring yourself to part with too much, you might have to ask yourself if you really think the business will be successful if you’re willing to hold back a lot of choice product that could be sold to keep you afloat.
Beyond that, there’s hundreds of other things to consider. Even though I’ve spent the better part of a month attempting to research and pin down everything, I can almost guarantee there are things that I’ll discover I’ve forgotten, and I will have to deal with the consequences that as they come. That said, if I’ve done any of this right, in a few months, I should be opening my doors to an audience built from years of hard work, and a few months of carefully metered anticipation.
Here’s hoping things work out.
[Brandon Schatz has spent the last 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.]