Confessions of a Comic Book Guy is a weekly column by retailer Steve Bennett of Mary Alice Wilson's Dark Star Books in Yellow Springs, Ohio. This week, Bennett talks about handling problem non-customers:
If I was really smart I'd probably steer clear of topics likely to make me seem like even a bigger crank than I actually am, but for the record, I love working in a comic book shop and dealing with customers. They can be demanding ('Oh, so when you said you wanted all The House of M crossovers put in your pull file you didn't mean absolutely all of them.'), but I'm never less than friendly and polite with them. So if someone wants to talk in excruciating detail about the movie Serenity and why it's not as good as the Firefly TV series it sprang from, hey, I'll listen. Good manners make for good business.
Of course its part of my job to represent Dark Star so I act as professionally as possible with everyone, whether on the phone or in person. There are days when we get more cold calls and visits from company reps wanting to sell us products or advertising space than actual customers, but I treat them with the same sort of respect I'd give our best customers.
But it's not always that easy; there's a special class of non-customers I find particularly aggravating who I've broken down into these basic categories. I'd never in a million years tell them any of this, but I will tell you:
I don't mean casual browsers; as long as you comport yourself in a courteous fashion you're more than welcome to sit in our comfy chairs, leaf through the magazines on the rack and avail yourself of the cat. Because, well, someone reading in a book store is always good advertising and you never know; someday they might actually buy something.
But then, there are a few folks with no sense of boundaries and self esteem so elevated they can't imagine anyone not feeling blessed to be in their presence. They're loud and obnoxious with no idea of how to behave in public or handle merchandise they have no intention of buying; mostly this means kids, but my favorite non-customer in this category was a grown man who asked to use our bathroom. While I was busy he, feeling the need for some reading material, slipped with a title off of our new comic rack and when he was done, let it casually drop to the bathroom floor - cover down.
What I'd Like To Tell Them: Come Back When You Learn How To Behave
Also two to three times a year in comes (invariably) a woman who wants an image of, say, Felix the Cat, because they have to make something (birthday, shirt, etc.) with that design. She's looked everywhere and is desperate and, more than likely, we'll have the very thing she's been looking for. Then I'll go and spoil the moment by having the gall to ask her to pay for the comic. It might cost as little as $2 and they'll still look at me like I keep Santa's head in my freezer because I want to charge her for something so patently worthless. You see, they don't want the article, they want the image - and images are free, right?
What I'd Like To Tell Them: There's This New Magical Thing Called The Internet - Why Not Look There?
I'm not talking about everyone who wants to sell us comics; people bringing in comics are of course the source of our store stock and frequently people bring us comics we can use. But more often than not we get the same stack of dog eared 80's Marvel and Image comics and thanks to over twenty years of stories in the media about how much old comic books are 'worth', these folks are usually convinced their comics are worth a lot of money. Then it's my job to inform them otherwise as gently as possible.
Under the best circumstances, looking at someone's comic collection can be a time consuming process, but it can also be heartbreaking when it's obvious the people wanting to sell really need the money and haven't brought you anything worth buying. These people aren't interested in hearing my standard spiel about used comic economics (Spawn #1 had a print run of over a million, well over 90% of the copies remain in mint condition and just about everyone who wants one already has one, hence your copy is effectively worthless).
The process can be just as frustrating for us as it is for them, and since no one wants to hear what they have is worthless (and of course I only mean the word in the financial sense; if you value a comic book it can never be worthless) I try to soften the blow. I tell them they should hold onto their comics because you never know what I'll increase in value in the future.
Most people take it pretty well, validating my belief that if most people aren't nice, they can at least act nice (which, frankly, is usually good enough for me). But there are a breed of non-customers who possess a special blend of desperation, ignorance and arrogance that... well, they deserve a column of their own.
More Next Time.