I Think I Can Manage is a weekly column by retailer Steven Bates, who runs Bookery Fantasy, a million dollar retail operation in Fairborn, Ohio. This week, Bates returns to the topic of the bond between retailer and customer:
I've written before about the bond between comics and games retailers and their clientele, how relationships can form from casual conversations held across the counter, experiences not unlike those of a bartender or diner waitress. Sometimes these customers grow into something more than just business acquaintances -- they become our friends. We see them daily, or weekly, and share so much common ground in interests that they can be even closer than our own families at times.
I've been very fortunate in my tenure at Bookery Fantasy to know many good people, to have many good friends. In my 18 years as Manager, I've met every imaginable kind of person, and feel that my life is richer for having known them all. I've seen rebellious teenagers grow up to be decorated war heroes, Christian rockers, and parents to beautiful children of their own. I've been invited to weddings, graduations, delivery rooms, funerals, and divorce proceedings. There've been tears, laughter, shouting, and silence. And, of course, intelligent, stimulating conversations that start out with phrases like 'That Wolverine -- I wouldn't want to meet him in a dark alley!'
It hasn't been all good, of course. I've taken my customers -- my friends -- aside to talk about their poor hygiene, their bad attitudes, their out-of-control spending habits. I've caught pals shoplifting. I've been stalked. And, on more than one occasion, I've lost friends over something that was ultimately inconsequential, but seemed monumental at the time.
It would be impossible for me to single out one customer as my favorite and unfair to all the rest to ignore them. But some of them do stand out from the crowd, like Rich, who keeps a copy of every single column I write, and is my harshest critic; Bob, who calls me every Tuesday at 11:30 just to see how I'm doing; Jeff, a frequent collaborator on comic book stories and a fellow Joe Kubert fan; Justin, my artist pal (who drew the portrait that accompanies each of these columns); Jeremy, a fellow Star Wars nut, and his daughter Tymber; Steve, who keeps me on my toes and keeps my computer running; Jerry, one of the original Bookery Boyz; Rik, the movie maniac; Rob, who remembers my birthday (and my birthday suit, oddly enough); Randy, another Kubert-loving artist; Ben, my NASCAR buddy; and the several hundred others I forgot to mention (I hope I never have to give an awards banquet speech). If I neglected anyone, it isn't because I don't love you -- I'm just on a deadline here!
Getting to know the customers this intimately has been one of the purest pleasures of comics and games retailing. Maybe shoe salesmen and car dealers make the same connections with their clientele, but I doubt it. We're lucky to work in an industry with so many fascinating and friendly people. Next time you're feeling pinched by a big shipment or stressed because business is slow, take a little more time to talk with that regular customer at the counter or strike up a conversation with that stranger visiting for the first time. They'll cheer you up.
After all, that's what friends are for.