The key figures behind Haven Distributors, David Hitch and Lance Stahlberg, agreed to answer questions from ICv2 about the acquisition of Cold Cut Distribution and their plans for the future.
Who financed the purchase of Cold Cut? Can you explain your motivation?
DH: I'm just a guy who loves comics. I saw this as an opportunity to invest in a new venture and I took it. I haven't wanted any of the credit or the spotlight because this is Lance's show. A year from now I'll be out of the picture. I'm just here to get Haven started on the right foot.
Are you up and running in
LS: Yes we are. We've made some purchase orders from our leading publishers to fill in the stock and we've even filled some orders already.
Are you/have you been receiving new products as they are released?
LS: Our initial orders included both back issues and new books released in the last six months. We've been actively tracking down new releases on the books that we know our customers want first, then we'll widen the scope of our orders a little more. Keeping up on new releases for two hundred some odd suppliers is a full time task in itself.
Are you planning to continue concentrating on reorders, or will you also begin taking advance orders?
LS: For now we are staying with the Cold Cut re-order model. We need to establish ourselves with both publishers and retailers, let them know that we're here to stay. Then one of the key items in our long term business plan is to expand to advance orders.
Will you be handling the same lines, or will there be additions or deletions?
LS: There are no plans to delete anyone from our inventory. We are certainly carrying the same product lines that Cold Cut customers have come to expect. As we gain the trust of those customers, we will also be expanding our publisher list. We've already asked for feedback from the retailer community about what titles they'd like to see from us. Our job is to fulfill the store's needs, so if we hear about demand for a new publisher, we'll definitely get them in stock.
Why did you acquire Cold Cut?
LS: It's been my quest to get into the comic book business for years. I started self-publishing to get my writing noticed, but along the way I always seemed to find myself in more managerial roles.
So while my passion remained on the creative side, I took a strong interest in the business side of the industry. I wanted to help my fellow indie creators as much as I wanted to get my own work out there.
Along comes the news that the leading distributor of independent comics is up for sale. A little research revealed that it may well end up disappearing. From the moment I heard about this, I thought that if it was at all within my power, I could not let that happen.
The company still had potential, and the timing was perfect. The sale came at a time when we were in a position to take it on. And it came at the right time in the industry for the company to have a solid chance for growth with the right resources and care.
In my mind it was never a question of "Can it be done?", but "How can it be done?". But before diving into this, I had to take a step back and get a good look at what I was getting myself into. I had to be sure that I wasn't just a fanboy getting carried away with his dreams.
DH: Before we'd even heard about Cold Cut being up for sale, we had tossed around the idea of starting up a comics distribution business. I'd been wanting to expand into something new, even if just as a silent partner.
Distribution is just moving product from A to B, whether it's dry cleaning supplies like I've been moving for 24 years, or comic books. It's a business I know. So when I looked at the numbers, right away I saw that it could work. I knew it would be an uphill battle, definitely, but I have no doubt about the company's chances.
How many SKUs are you offering?
LS: Cold Cut shipped us about 2,400 separate titles plus merchandise. We've already bumped that over 4,000 with our initial purchases. At the point when I would consider us back up to speed, we'll be hovering around 7500-8000. Given our already growing list of suppliers, we actually have more like 20,000 items to choose from that we could fill within a week given the right demand.
Do you expect to be able to grow the Cold Cut business? If so, how?
LS: In time, most definitely. At this stage, like I said, we need to establish ourselves in the comics community and prove that we're for real. We need to have a solid foundation with our core customers first. Over time, we expand what we can. We reach out to more suppliers. We carry more titles and genres. We develop an accessible catalog. We open a drop-shipping service. We expand to more types of retail outlets. In short, we follow the needs of the market.