How to Open Your Own Comics Retail Store Part V

This is the fifth in my series of columns on the topic of how to open a comics shop. I apologize to those of you who (wisely) have no interest in going into business for yourselves, and would rather I wrote about more general issues affecting the world of comics. I'll get back to writing those types of columns fairly soon, but my experience has been that the majority of comics fans dream of either becoming a comics creator, or owning a comics store. I know very little of the ins and outs of joining the creative community, but I do have 30 years of experience in owning comics shops, so these columns are my attempt to try and help those who would open their own store avoid some of the pitfalls that I've seen destroy the lives of some very nice, but naive, newcomers to the comics retailing biz.

After several weeks of covering the personal attributes you need to survive in the world of comics retailing, I'm now ready to get into the harsh financial realities. My first suggestion would be that you calculate your personal living expenses, and make sure that you either have enough set aside to live on for a minimum of one year, or that you keep some sort of external cash flow going, such as a part time job. Expecting your newly-opened store to generate enough cash flow to not only cover its initial growth costs, but also enough to pay you a salary in the first year, is unrealistic. When I opened the very first Mile High Comics location (1974) I was attending the University of Colorado on a full time basis. Because my stepfather had retired at that point, I received a small monthly check ($260) from the government for my schooling. I lived on my school money for the first two years that Mile High Comics was in business.

My next suggestion would be for you to build some sweat equity into your store long before you open the doors. What I mean by this is that you should start selling back issue comics and collectibles at flea markets, antique sales, and online for at least a year before you try and open your first store. Not only will this advance training serve you well in terms of knowledge and experience, but it will also give you an opportunity to gradually increase your inventory, without having to pump in a lot of initial cash. I sold at the Colorado Springs Indoor Antiques Market on weekends for four years before I opened my first store. I also attended several national comics conventions, and ran mail order ads in the old ROCKET'S BLAST COMIC COLLECTOR fanzine. These were all methods for building my working capital in advance of opening.

When I finally opened the first Mile High Comics location in Boulder, Colorado, I had managed to save only $800 in cash, but I had gradually accumulated the equivilent of 40 long boxes of high grade Silver Age. The cash was gone within the first 30 days, but the Silver Age was a store of value that generated revenue for me for the next couple of years. More important than the working capital that came from my pre-store experiences was the knowledge I gained by selling into all sorts of markets. I learned there was a huge difference between selling at a flea market in Colorado, a comics convention in Texas; and even more differences when selling to a national audience of collectors through the mail. I also learned a great deal about the history of comics publishing, as dealing with so many types of comics fans required me to become knowledgeable about all kinds of comics, ranging from Platinum Age, all the way to present. This knowledge came in very handy when I opened the first store.

Before I go on, I want to emphasize that having inventory and knowledge does not excuse you from needing working capital to open a store. While I managed to do it in 1974 with only $800, I was very young, and very stubborn. I simply wouldn't admit that it couldn't be done, so I plunged into business with far less working capital than I really needed. The fact that I made it is more a testimony to the willingness of others to help me than any particular positive attributes that I brought to the table. The one thing that period taught me more than any other, however, was how important it was to have supporters in the background. That's part of the reason why I stressed honesty, fairness, and communication in my past couple of columns. I would never have made it had not the people who helped me in 1974-1976 not believed in me. I was only 19 years old, and they had no evidence besides my ability to communicate my integrity that they should risk extending credit to Mile High Comics. Always remember that if you're planning to be in business for a long time, that your actions of today will reflect upon you for the rest of your life. People who are good to their word are rare these days, and if you can exemplify that type of person, I think you will find that many people go out of their way to help you. Working capital is, of course, a necessity, but so is the support of your customers, your peers, your community, and your suppliers. You will only achieve that support if you commit yourself, right from the beginning, to always follow the path of righteousness.

Next week, I'll provide you a few cost estimates of opening a single comics shop..

Please send your e-mails to chuck@milehighcomics.com, and your letters to:

Mile High Comics, Inc.
Attn: Chuck Rozanski
2151 W. 56th Ave.
Denver, CO 80221



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