Friday, January 07, 2005

No Previews-o-Rama This Month

Around this time each month I would normally post my lengthy two-part Previews-o-Rama, wherein I would hilite things of interest in the current Previews. Alas there will be no Previews-o-Rama this month because I do not have a copy of Previews.

You see, my Local Comic Shop (LCS) came under new management a few months ago--they're now part of a chain of some sort--and one of the many changes they've instituted in that they're no longer giving away Previews to customers.

This is just the latest in a number of unfortuante changes that the new management has made to the LCS. Others include:

Much less shelf space devoted to graphic novels. Formerly there were 8 ranges of manga, which has now been lowered to 3. Those 3 ranges of manga have taken the place of 3 ranges of the independent GNs, which are now down to 4 (from 7). Shelf space devoted to DC, Marvel, Image & Dark Horse GNs has also decreased.

Less shelf space devoted to independent comics, down from 4 racks to 3.

New comics each week are now racked all together (instead of interspersed with the rest of the comics) and shelved way in the back of the store, in a place with very little room to stand--basically causes a big traffic jam on Wednesday.

Elimination of the subscriber discount (as of February), from 20% to 0%.

No more female employees. The store has always had at least a couple of female employees; there is always a turnover rate at a store like this, but those that have left have been replaced with white males. This may be just a coincidence, and I have nothing against white males (being one myself), but it does make one wonder.

There has also been a general decrease in the level of customer service over the past few months. I might be able to live with some of the changes (after all, with the Internet, I don't need a free copy of Previews) but taken all together it's just too much. It seems that the new management is intent on de-emphasizing comics at the store--it's also a gaming store; they used to be big on manga and anime too, although that aspect of the business has curiously decreased down to almost nil at this point*. And instead of a diverse store that handled 'mainstream', manga and indy comics with equal emphasis, it's moving towards being one of those 'front-of-the-catalog' stores.

Fortunately for me, I saw the writing on the wall last month and decided to switch all of my comic buying over to DCBS, starting with comics scheduled to ship in February. It won't be the same as going to the shop every Wednesday for the new comics, but with weekly shipping from DCBS I'll get my comics on the following Monday or Tuesday anyway. Plus, the discount will be much greater. The downside is that I have to pre-order a couple of months in advance (and pay in advance as well).

(BTW, the only reason I know that the subscriber discount is going away is because I overheard another customer ask one of the employees about a rumor he had heard that the discount was going away, and I subsequently asked about it myself and it was confirmed--so far there has been no notification or announcement of any kind.)

I've been a loyal, weekly customer at LCS for over ten years, spending over $200 per month, but no longer. I was willing to support a local business that was dedicated to being a quality comic store, but now that they're part of a chain and seem to no longer want to be a good store they've lost me as a customer.

It's really all kind of sad.

(Oh, if you're looking for a good Previews round up, I'd suggest Tegan's Flipping Through Previews over at Bloggity-Blog-Blog-Blog.)

* There is an entire store in town devoted to manga & anime though, as well as a B&N and 2 Borders with huge manga sections


Anonymous said...

I agree with you completly. I was also a subscriber at that shop and the new management seems very uncustomer friendly to me. Not telling a customer who had been with the store since the paint was still wet they were going to take away our discounts, I dropped about $150-$250 a month depending on the season, and pull service is just wrong. I have not been in since about 3 weeks after the change in ownership since I smelled rat from almost the word go.

I had no idea Jen was gone but it wouldn't surprise me if they clean out everyone who was part of the old system so they can not have to hear complaints about customers leaving.

Steve Pheley said...

Yeah, that was the shop I frequented when I lived in Ann Arbor as well, and I've often held it up as an example of a store that does things (mostly) right. It's a shame.

dwinn said...

I can't really trust the other stores in this area to have the titles I want on Wednesday, so I figure I'll still go there, but read more than I buy.

Anonymous said...

Don't give up on the brick-and-mortar store altogether. At least talk to someone calmly who will care. Better yet, write them a firm but polite letter that they can pass on to their chain bosses. Although ditching them may be better for you in the short run, comics are already barely available in public for new young readers to stumble onto. If the chain loses business like yours and goes under, it hurts the industry in the long run.

Of course, easy for me to say. I have seven comic shops within a reasonable biking distance to choose from.

Anonymous said...

Hey David this is Phil

I must agree the store is in bad shape.I am going the way of a Online shopper. Their is no good store in the area anymore. It is to bad they had to ruin a good thing but I knew a long time ago the store was doomed. I enjoy your blog and have lurked for a while.

Dave said...

Oh, hey Phil. I always wonder who is lurking around here!

Which online retailer are you using?

don said...

I want to take a minute to try to give you the other side of the story if you don't mind. My name is Don Wallace, and I'm the General Manager for the Fantasy Shop Inc.. We're the company that's now running Underground in Ann Arbor and 21st Century in E. Lansing.

I understand that you're disappointed in the changes we've made. From a customers standpoint it makes perfect sense. However, I want to point out that this was not a hostile takeover of a thriving business by some big corporation. It's been tough in recent years for most comic retailers and more go out of business all the time. That was going to be the case with Underworld. It was going to go under if it went on the way it was. We've stepping in and are going to try to make a go of it there, but it has to involve some changes, otherwise we'll just drive ourselves out of business.

As far as the most basic issue of free previews and the quantity of trades/GN/manga goes, it all comes down to money. As much as a shop can be a great place to find stuff and be around others who enjoy your hobby, it still has to make enough profit to keep the doors open. Unfortunately, that wasn't happening. We only make money on what sells and goes out the door. Every other item that you see on the shelf that fills out that large manga section and others, but doesn't sell, is cash we've spent and gotten no return on. That's the reason that we can't reorder the other stuff or pay our bills. It's a real balancing act to try to have enough on hand for the customers without having so much on hand that you put youself out of business. It's not an easy call and it never is popular with the customers. They will always want to see everything thats available if they can. It used to be much more straighforward in the past when there weren't so many titles. Now every month we have to make hundreds of judgement calls on what not to get. I don't know if you've really though about it, but Previews usually has thousands of line items in it. Now there's also competition from new places. It used to be that the LCS was probably the only place to get manga or anime. Now you can find it at Sams and Borders. Try competing against someone that size.

Loosing the discount is for the same monetary reason. If I discount,I have to sell almost twice as many comics to try to make the same profit. If I could afford to dicount I would, but I can't. Most of our customers are willing to pay the regular price because they still want to have a brick and mortar comic shop to go to.

As far as female employees go, we've had plenty and still do. No one's ever been let go because of gender. If you notice that there are fewer employees, it's only because the store's labor costs were also too high.

While I'm sorry that you've decided to go over to ordering your comics for a discount, please understand that we're only doing what we feel we have to just to stay in business.

For your info; My brother Dave started the company as a single shop back in 1981 in St. Charles Missouri. He's always been into comics and games and started it for the same reason most people do- he loves the industry. Since then we've managed to grow to seven shops around the St. Louis metro area.

Dave said...

Don: Thanks for posting your side of the story. From everything I've heard, observed and read, it seems that you are more interested in running gaming stores with a comic business on the side. That's fine, if that's where your retailing heart is, but it's definitely a step down from the full-service comic store that Underworld used to be. I'm sure that you looked at the books when you acquired the store and said, Hey, this comics business is losing money! There were two ways to go, either cut back on the comics, or put effort into making the comic side work. Given that you're more interested in running a gaming store, you made the obvious (though unfortunate) choice.

If I could make a recommendation to you: You need to improve communication with your customers. The only reason I knew that the store had a different owner was that I saw a different store name on my credit card slip. I had to hear about the changes being made second-hand. You have the email addresses of nearly everyone with subscriber accounts--how hard would it have been when you first became owner to send out a message to all the subscribers, introducing yourself and telling us about the changes? Certainly no harder than taking the time to post a lengthy comment on this blog post! By not communicating well with the store's previously loyal customer base, you serve only to alienate them. If you cannot offer low prices, you *have* to have great customer service.

Anyway, I hear tell that the gamers in Ann Arbor are quite happy with the changes being made at the store. I'm an occasional gamer myself, so I'll probably stop in from time to time; it just won't be a regular Wednesday comic stop for me anymore.