Expanding the customer base of a store is not necessarily an easy task, nor one that is accomplished overnight.  Many retailers have noticed (and encouraged) a steady increase of female customers at their stores over the past few years as pop culture offerings have diversified -- and many of these retailers have moved well beyond the basic, 'have a clean, well-lit store' approach.  In conjunction with its 'Grow with Shojo' promotion, ICv2 has interviewed a handful of leading retailers to get their thoughts on the best way to expand a store's customer base.  Our first stop on this tour of progressive comic shops takes us to Concord, California for a discussion with Joe Field of Flying Colors.


1. How can a retailer market to female customers?  First, there's a difference between marketing and advertising.  On the marketing end, it's a matter of the retailer taking the store to the potential customer, while advertising is a matter of trying to draw the customer to the store. 


With marketing, retailers need to be visible in the community.  I might suggest setting up a booth to give away sample comics at art and wine shows, community service fairs, and the like.  When my daughters were in elementary school, I coached CYO girls' basketball teams for five years, putting me in front of a lot of parents, which 'mainstreamed' by business in a sense.


In regards to advertising, Flying Colors has been on cable TV for the better part of the last five years.  Not preaching to the choir by advertising exclusively on MTV and ESPN -- but by also branching out and narrow-casting to women and families by advertising on the Fox Family Channel and the Lifetime Network.  One run on Lifetime (with pretty low daytime rates, by the way) netted trackable sales that made the buy a tremendous success.


2. If a retailer brings in shojo manga and anime, how do potential female customers find out that it is there?  Print, TV, posters, window displays?   First, a retailer must make a stock commitment to a decent range of shojo titles.  I'll admit to not 'getting' manga, but that hasn't stopped me from listening to the girls and women who shop here and love Sailor Moon, Ranma 1/2 , Magic Knight Rayearth, Oh My Goddess, etc.  We have Tokyopop's Smile promo poster in the window at the store entry. We have dedicated a fair amount of space in the store to our manga section, and we constantly stay on top of reorders for briskly moving trades in this section.  Potential customers will find any place that carries manga if they are dedicated, but they'll certainly find the stores more quickly and easily that  actually promote their existence.  I might suggest for a little guerilla promotion to get on line and participate in forums that pertain to the part of the store you most want to promote.  A quick web-search will yield a lot of possibilities in this regard.  Using a part of the window displays is helpful. Running promo videos of anime is also a good idea.  Walk the walk.  Get to know the category.  I'm hopelessly behind here, but I have staff who know what works and what doesn't. So we can also walk the walk.


3. What can a retailer do to his or her store to make it less intimidating for female customers?  Retailers can appeal to more female customers by doing all the things they should already be doing.  Here are the basics: Keep a clean, well-stocked, well-lighted store.  Be aware of the environment you create with your store, particularly in regards to what music you play and what display posters you put up that might be potentially offensive.  Try to have a store that allows comfortable browsing along with kind and quick attention to customer service.  Hire females, it sounds awkward to say that, but having women on staff is one way to make other women comfortable about shopping in your store.  Doesn't everyone know this stuff already?


4. Should titles that appeal to women be grouped together in a special section?  On occasion this might be a good idea, but overall I think not.  A spotlight display on women creators or on shojo manga works for concentrated periods, but I think that trying to single out women as a special class for a long period of time sends a confusing message.  Welcome everyone with equal enthusiasm and you'll be on the way to making your store accessible to the widest possible audience.


5. What titles sell best to women in your store?  In terms of manga: Ranma 1/2, Inu Yasha -- and all the other Takahashi stuff.  Other titles that fare well with women include Uncanny X-Men, Bone, all Gaiman-related works, Promethea, Love & Rockets.


6. Can a store carry adult videos or comics and still cater to female customers?  I don't know, since we don't carry any adults-only comics on the racks.  But I have seen stores do a good job of having adult sections that are cordoned off from the rest of the store.  I've also seen stores that do this in a more clunky fashion, creating 'stroke' sections for lonely men -- which can be really alienating to women.


7. Is a 'kids' comics section an important component of appealing to female customers?  Since nearly 100% of all children are born from women, a kids' comics section is a fine idea.  Parents, especially moms, want a safe place for their kids to be while they shop the rest of the store.  A kids' section is also the best way to start to build readers for the future.  Stores that neglect the kids market are neglecting their future.


8. What is the single most important aspect of a successful plan to attract female customers to a comic or anime shop?  Be committed to having the best store you can, in every respect.  Anything worth doing is worth doing right.  More often than not, these kinds of clich?s are truly valid.  The fact is that most of us in retailing got into it for the love of what we're doing, not for the golden parachutes that don't exist for small business entrepreneurs.  So do the best at what you ostensibly already love to do -- that is the single most important aspect of attracting and keeping all customers. 



For an overview of the 'Grow with Shojo' promotion, including info on how to get free p.o.p. materials, see 'Retailers--Grow with Shojo!'


For an analysis of the shojo phenomenon in Japan, see 'Shojo Manga and Anime -- Big Business in Japan.'


For info on the Grow with Shojo display contest, see 'Grow with Shojo Display Contest.'