How He Doubled His Store After His Neighbors Got Arrested, More
Posted by Jim McLauchlin on February 16, 2022 @ 3:40 am CT
Warren Jaycox’ story is simple. "I grew up loving bookstores," he says. "Loved ’em to death."
Jaycox, who grew up in Utah and describes himself as a "recovering Mormon," landed at Deseret Book, a Latter Day Saints church-owned chain of bookstores. He worked there for a few years while in college.
Jaycox eventually moved to Denver and went to work at a B. Dalton bookstore, and later managed a Barnes & Noble in Northern California for 12 years. While at B&N, Jaycox got back into reading comics, and attended San Diego Comic-Con every year. After the 2003 con, he decided to swing by his sister in Los Angeles and visit her for a few days. He also scoped out L.A.-local comic stores.
Jaycox hit the website for L.A.’s storied Golden Apple, and in the upper left corner of the page was a blurb asking, "Want to manage your own comic book store?" Jaycox took the bait, and sent an email to Golden Apple owner Bill Liebowitz.
Liebowitz called Jaycox immediately, and as Warren was feeling burnout at B&N, he decided to take the plunge and started managing Golden Apple’s satellite store in Northridge, California.
Five years later, Jaycox was feeling the burn again. He lamented to his girlfriend "I just don’t want to be an employee any longer."
"And I had a nice nest egg, so she said, ‘Well, try it. Do it yourself.’ She encouraged me," Jaycox says.
And so in 2008, Jaycox launched Galaxy of Comics in Lake Balboa, California. He’s recently doubled his store size—under unusual circumstance, read on!—and had learned a lot in his journey…
Customers are more than just customers; they’re people. Jaycox is big into building community, and does canned goods drives for local food banks and more. Sometimes the "more" is very one-on-one.
"You do the stuff that’s not necessary," he says. "I have a little can on the cash wrap for a customer who’s just going through some stuff, and has been for the last year or three. His job got all but eliminated during COVID, and now he’s driving for, I think, Lyft. And all he’s got going for him is these two dogs of his. And now his eldest dog has cancer, and that’s a mess. He has a GoFundMe, but we put out a little can for him, and that helps. We didn’t even ask, ‘Hey, can we help?,’ we just did it. And people have responded. It helps him. It’s what you do. It’s a community."
When opportunity knocks, answer. Galaxy of Comics is in a strip mall, and their next-door-neighbor was a massage parlor. It was a totally legitimate enterprise until it changed owners, and then…
"I was on the phone with a customer and… I just froze. I looked out my window, and there were five or six dudes being lined up against my window and their hands were behind their backs, and… yeah, handcuffed, cops arresting them!"
Looks like the change in ownership made the business next door a lot less legitimate.
"My landlord called me later, screaming," Jaycox remembers. "He said, ‘I’m telling them they have 24 to get their stuff out of my place. You’re gonna take the key. Hold on to it, keep an eye on the place until we can put up a sign that it’s for lease.’"
Jaycox called his landlord back within that 24 hours.
"I said, ‘I don’t want to give up the key. I’ve been looking at this wall for 12 years, thinking how nice it would be to knock down the wall. I want to have this really big store.’"
The expansion has been amazing and transformative for Galaxy.
"For 12 years, I’d been thinking, ‘Man, if I could just take this wall down, I would have a bad-ass comic store! Know what I mean?,” Jaycox says. "Well, that’s how it happened. And it’s been great. I used to feel like I was all on top of myself for space, trying to eke out an inch here or there. Now it’s bigger, better, displays are better, you can breathe, and customers love it."
TAKE ADVANTAGE OF WHAT’S THERE
In the expansion, Jaycox was wise enough to see what other resources were available to him as well.
"Diamond has an expansion program where if you’re starting a second store or you’re substantially expanding your floorplan, they’ll give you a really deep discount," Jaycox relays. "It varies by publisher, but I got in right under the wire for Marvel stuff, right as they announced they were going to Penguin Random House. I called my rep and said, ‘Can I still get in? If I do this right now?’ She said, ‘Yeah, right now.’"
Jaycox says he got about $10,000 worth of Marvel stock for about $2500.
"It was really good discount," he says.
DON’T BE AFRAID
Jaycox had decades of experience before he opened Galaxy of Comics. But that was for other people’s operations. He was gun-shy about pulling his own trigger.
"The first few years… I would have taken a lot more risks than I did," he says today. "I look back at the last 4-5 years and think ‘we have a good shop.’ Before that, not so much. I was positive we were going to close down; I took no risks. I feel like if I would have taken more risks, we’d be in a better spot."
Jaycox now goes big, and promotes big around tentpole events.
"I look back at the first 3-4 Free Comic Book Days we did, and I’d have a table maybe six feet long with free comics. That was it!,” he says. "I just didn’t do much for it. Now our celebrations are huge. We block off the parking lot, we have food trucks, the whole nine yards."
LEARN TO HIRE RIGHT
Again, Jaycox had plenty of experience hiring and firing people at Barnes & Noble. Alas, that experience did not immediately translate to Galaxy of Comics. Jaycox had to fire his first employee within the first year. Then things got worse.
"We had a customer who was very knowledgeable," Jaycox says. "He was a likeable guy, so I hired him. I needed somebody to help with store in its early days; I was trying to do it all myself but couldn’t. So I hired him, and this is a serious mistake I never did at Barnes & Noble and I would never do now, but I didn’t even interview him. It was just ‘Come on in, we’ll find a way to start you.’"
The second hire had some very sticky fingers.
"This guy took me for a lot of merchandise," Jaycox says. "I don’t think he ever stole cash, but I mean tons of merchandise. I had a friend who had gone over to his place and said, ‘Wow, that dude has like a ton of omnibus editions, and do you have this one?’ I’d say ‘Yeah, I’ve got one right over here’ and walk to the shelf and… bam. No I don’t! He had taken it. He was a serious mistake."
DON’T DO ANYONE ANY FAVORS…
Jaycox likes to mingle, and again, sees value in community. But not everyone feels the same way.
"I have a comic retailer buddy who I dragged one year to a Diamond retailer summit," he says. "The summit was in Vegas, we’re in L.A., it was, ‘C’mon, we’ll drive this. Don’t even have to get a flight.’"
Jaycox admits many of these meetings are a recitation of info you already know. But there’s still value.
"It’s connections,” he says. "You meet new people, establish connections, a network. But after the summit finished, on the way back, my travel partner and I got into an argument. He was complaining the summit was just filled with info he already knew. Said it was a waste of time, and why did we even go?"
Jaycox tried to talk him down, to no avail.
"I asked if he made any new business contacts, any new friends, and he said no, and he was pretty angry about it," Jaycox recalls. "He just didn’t see the value in it. Made for an unpleasant ride back."
AND WHAT ELSE?
"Bill [Liebowitz] wanted me to come by the store after I sent him that email, and I wanted to look professional. I went out, got a nice white shirt and a tie. The first thing he said when he saw me was, ‘You’re not gonna wear that to work every day, are you?’"
"But yeah, he hired me on the spot. His only thing was… he needed someone quick. 15 days. He said, ‘I’ll pay you, give you medical, everything you need. But the job starts in 15 days.’ So yeah, I had one day to decide and give a two-week notice. But that’s how it started."
"We’re only six months in from the expansion, but it feels like great momentum. It feels like for the past 4-5 years, we’ve been a really good store."
"I think I’ve always been good at customer service myself. But I’m not good at training people in it."
"I’ve quadrupled my manga in the last year or two. Used to be maybe half a rack. Now two giant shelves on the wall."
Click Gallery below for store photos!
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