In Business 3x3, a business retailer or executive will share their experience with three things they’ve done right, three things they’ve done wrong, and what else they’ve learned along the way.

The retail path was a winding one for Tim Stoltzfus, but it led him to where he is today with three prosperous stores.  Stoltzfus started when he was… 17 years old.

"My mom came to me one day and said, 'Hey, do you want to open a baseball card store?,'" Stoltzfus says.  "I was into baseball cards, comics, the whole thing.  And I was 17 and didn’t know any better so I said, 'Sure.'"

That store lasted only a short while, and adult jobs in Internet tech support and working as a sales rep for a wholesaler only fired up old passions.

"I wanted to strike out on my own again," Stoltzfus says.  "I had the retail bug from doing it when I was younger."

Stoltzfus was frequenting Keith’s Comics in Dallas, and in 2003, he had a fateful lunch with owner Keith Colvin.

"I said 'Hey, can I pick your brain about opening a store?' And that’s how I got stated," Stoltzfus says.

Today, Stoltzfus operates three More Fun stores in Denton, Texas, each with a little different spin.  The experience and merchandise in his stores are markedly similar, but one specializes in comics, one games, and one toys.

It’s been a "more fun" journey, and Stoltzfus has learned much along the way...


"A man's got to know his limitations," Dirty Harry tells us.  Stoltzfus takes this lesson to heart.

"If you don’t know it inside and out, go find someone who does," he says.  "That goes for accounting, legal, all that stuff.  Many people think it’s an expense you can’t afford, but you should have a lawyer on retainer, you should have an accountant getting you all the deductions you can get.  It's actually an expense you can’t afford not to make."

Stoltzfus also believes in "comparative advantage."  Offloading the work he’s not an expert at allows him to concentrate on the areas where his is an expert.

"My skill is identifying product, talking to people, and selling it to people," he says.  "Anything I’m doing that’s not that is taking away from my own expertise."

Stoltzfus started with help from the aforementioned Keith Colvin, and has continued to grow his contacts.

"It is unreal how much networking in the business helps," he says.  "I have several small groups of friends in the business I talk to on a daily basis.  Going to things like the ComicsPRO meetings and GAMA to get new ideas, see new people, is incredibly valuable."

Stoltzfus even belongs to a Dallas-Fort Worth Facebook group of stores that shares information and has a monthly potluck at a rotating member’s store.  The group is surprisingly crucial to… security.

"The biggest thing it’s been good for is thieves," Stoltzfus says.  "A store had a bunch of vintage sealed Magic boxes stolen, to the tune of about $25k worth of stuff.  The theft was posted to the group, and the merchandise was eventually recovered when someone walked it into another shop looking to sell.  Within 48 hours, with stores cooperating and getting pictures and license plate numbers, they got a positive ID and the police issued a warrant for arrest. Full recovery."

Stoltzfus sees cooperation as more beneficial than competition in instances such as this.

"DFW is a big, sprawling place, and when we can all communicate like that to everyone’s betterment, that’s a really good thing."

Stoltzfus started off in comics, but has been happy to expand.

"The toy store came about because we started looking for superhero merchandise that wasn’t just in the Previews catalog," he says.  "And that led to us searching out general merchandise vendors, going to gift marts, that kind of thing."

Stoltzfus has done great with merch from Monogram, and recommends setting up direct accounts.

"Monogram is in the Previews catalog, but when you deal with Monogram direct, it’s a whole new ball of wax and you find out there’s a whole world of other companies out there that sell product connected to what we have, and you can grow your customer base," he says.

Stoltzfus has another hot product line tip as well.

"In the toy store, I now sell more in Squishables per month than I do on comics," he says.  "And that’s a product line that’s only two years old for us."


Youth is youth, but as we get older, finding a good balance is important, and Stoltzfus is still working on his.

"Because I got into this young, I didn’t even have a concept of work/life balance, and it took me a long time to start figuring that out," he says.  "Being mindful of that is important.  My focus is on my business as a professional concern, but it’s still like a small family.  You can start to mistake what’s going on in your store for your personal life, and that can lead to some really challenging mental consequence in the long run."

Stoltzfus has to create guardrails on his own.

"Most friends and family work normal jobs, clock in and out, get paid overtime more than 40 hours and they don’t grasp the almost-always-on-the-clock nature of doing something like this," he says.  "So it’s up to you to create those guidelines for yourself and again, sometimes that involves professional help, talking to therapists about time management and setting expectations with people."

It's been a journey and Stoltzfus is still getting there.

"I think it was finally about year 14 when I was able to say to my staff, 'Guys, there’s gonna be days when I’m out.  And literally you don't contact me unless the store is on fire.  I don't care.  Literally on fire?  Okay.  Anything else?  Save it for the next day,'" he says.  "You have to draw those lines at some point to save your own sanity."

Another guardrail in the mind? Managing your own expectations.

"I had to learn to tamp this down," Stoltzfus admits.  "I’d walk into another store and look around and go, 'Damn, my store sucks in comparison.'  I think 'perfectionist' is too strong a word, but I’m always trying to make things better, and I’ll walk into another store, see something better, and start beating myself down. But the thing is, you can't do that.  You can only make your thing better, and the correct thing to do is think about what you like about that store, and how you can incorporate it."

Again, the network aspect helps, and Stoltzfus has no problem asking others for tips and advice.

"Just go ask the owner," he says.  "There is nothing a store owner is more proud of than their store, so if you ask them to talk about it, guess what happens?  They start talking to you, and you can learn a lot from that, and incorporate that."

The bottom line to what Stoltzfus has learned?

"Your store can be fantastic, just different."

We all have to watch the bottom line, and rent can be a huge chunk of that.  But is a bargain really a bargain?

"I made a mistake once where I went for cheap rent," Stoltzfus says.  "But the mistake was, the only way people were going to find that store was by seeking it out.  A store that has high-level foot traffic in a heavy shopping area might cost you three times as much in rent, but your sales are going to be 10 times as high if you stock it correctly."

Stoltzfus recognized his mistake, and was able to squirrel out of the location in about 18 months.

"Sure, our rent was cheap, but we weren’t moving any product," he says.  "So don’t think that cheap rent is always a great answer.  You get what you pay for."

"And you've got to be mindful of other people’s work/life balance, too.  When we talked for that other article about moving staff to four 10-hour days instead of five eight-hour days, that’s been a tremendous boon for so many of our folks as well."

"Maybe 10% of your customer base will ever see another store.  I think one mistake that so many stores make is assuming their customers go to every other comic store."

"I’m a runner.  I do lots of my thinking while I'm running.  Just yesterday I did a half marathon.  While I’m out there running, I do my thinking."

"I am not 100% the most positive guy in the world.  But I always try to focus on the positive."

"Don’t take any interaction too personally.  We’re on a town square in one of our stores, and every year they have a big tree lighting that turns the store into a madhouse for about four hours.  One year I’m working register, just trying to get customers worked through as quickly as possible and while I’m ringing up one customer, I’m aware that that there’s someone coming up on my left.  I say, 'Here, let me get you rung up next, you’ve just got one thing' unaware that there was another customer getting in line at the register.  That second guy got upset because I effectively ignored him in line.  He turned around and walked out.  I got upset initially because I failed that customer, right?  But at the same time, a few days later as I’m chewing on it, I realize my transaction count that night was over 400 customers.  If one out of 400 customers have a negative interaction… well, I'm still doing alright.  I can't take certain interactions too personally.  We all make mistakes."

"Lanyards are great.  I'm in a college town, three colleges near me, to say nothing of high schools, K-12.  Every August, I put a big order in for lanyards with superhero designs for people going back to school and need something to hang a school ID on."

"A lot of people say, 'Never have friends as business partners,' but Keith [Colvin] and I have gotten along fabulously for 20-plus years now.  He’s a partner in the More Fun stores.  I handle the day-to-day operations, because one of Keith’s strengths is reading other people, and he saw I could not work effectively being micro-managed, and he really had no desire to do that anyway.  He said, 'We'll combine inventories, but More Fun is your animal.  If you have a question, call me. But this is your thing.'"

Click Gallery below for store pics!