[Tate Ottati]
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.

Tate Ottati cut out the middleman. Instead of relying on a stock of Marvel Comics to open a store, he relied on Marvel stock.

Ottati started buying Marvel stock back in high school, at $16 a share.  The stock split four times while he held it, and he eventually cashed out at $60 a share... just four months before Marvel stock cratered in 1993.

"I had a ton of comic books and my dad said, 'You should open a store,'" Ottati says today.  And that’s what happened.  Ottati used that money to open Tate’s Comics in March, 1993, at age 17.  He kept his job bagging groceries at a local supermarket just in case.

Now, 25 years later, "just in case" is no longer a concern.  Tate’s Comics has a major main store (with an art gallery/boutique attached) and satellite game store in Lauderhill, Florida, and a second location 45 minutes away in Boynton Beach.  Along the way, Ottati has learned much...


Take a look at the pictures: The main Tate’s Comics store is massive at 10,000 square feet, including the Bear and Bird Boutique and Gallery upstairs.  Tate’s has a separate 4000 square foot gaming store in the same mall which it established 12 years ago, and the Boynton Beach store opened five years ago.  It’s all part of Ottati’s plan.

"If stuff works and goes well, you can do more," he says.  "You can expand, make your store a cool destination, do things for the community."

Getting bigger and doing more has been part of Ottati’s plan right from the jump.  And when that works well, things can ride smoothly.  The Boynton Beach store is largely autonomous.

"I don’t go there that often.  It’s its own beast," Ottati laughs. "I let the people who work there run it. I drop by and give an opinion once in a while."

The expansion of Tate’s Comics has been all about  "the experience."

"Comic books are a big part of our store, but toys and weird eclectic stuff is another big part," Ottati says.  "You have to make it cool and interesting to get someone to come in and spend time here and meander around.  We don’t want people to just run in, grab their new comic books, and run out.  We try to make the store an experience, a destination place to go."

Ottati takes a very different approach to the curb appeal of his stores.

"I blacked out all the windows in the front, so you can’t really see into the store," he says.  "I want you to experience the store when you walk in to the store and go, 'Holy shit, this place is huge!  This is exciting!'  People walk in here for the first time, and are blown away.  And that first impression sticks with them."

Once you create the experience, you get to savor it.  The enjoyment customers and staff both get out of Tate’s is part of the vibe. 

"I’ve met so many awesome people here, and the store has really impacted their lives," Ottati says.  "We’ve had two weddings here, in the store.  We’ve had people propose marriage here and get engaged, and they take photos right here, on the spot in the store."

And the experience is hitting its second generation.

"Now, since it’s our 25th year, kids who came here when they were younger are now bringing their kids in, which is a little strange... but cool," Ottati says.


Ottati admits that as a 17-year-old, he might not have been the sharpest knife in the drawer when it came to reigning in expenses.

"Today, I try to keep a budget, and try to keep it pretty tight," he says.  "For a long time, I just pissed away money because I didn’t know how to do... well, much of anything.  I didn’t know how to manage people, manage money.  We went through a lot of money.  Learning how to order was a key.  Being very, very, very careful there is important."

You know how it is: Salaries, product cost, and HVAC are typically a store’s three biggest expense line items.  Ottati now keeps a closer eye on product cost.

"It took me a while to follow up on how books were actually selling," he says.  "I think that’s the toughest thing.  Comic books are so strange sometimes.  You’ll sell out one month, you’ll have seven copies left one month, then you’ll sell out for the next six months in a row."

Ottati admits that in his early days, he was was over-ordering left and right.

"Back then, you didn’t really have a point of sale program.  It wasn’t until one day I dropped by another store that I learned about cycle sheets.  And I was like, 'Ooooh. Okay.'  And I started doing cycle sheets.  But before that, I was over-ordering and over-ordering and didn’t really see what was selling."

Product cost has new wrinkles today, and tough choices are baked in.

"Ordering this last year has been the most difficult I’ve ever done," Ottati says.  "Every Marvel book has some incentive.  Every DC book has a second cover.  All the other companies are doing the same thing.  And I feel like they’re focusing on the wrong thing.  They’re not focusing on getting new people into reading comic books.  They’re just squeezing the people who are already buying comic books."

Ottati’s solution became to ignore the noise.

"For a while, I got to, 'F--- you, I’m not ordering any variant books at all,;" he says.  "But that hurt me as well, because customers would come in and ask, 'What?  You don't have the B cover?'"

Ottati admits it’s still difficult.  "I have to figure out a way to do this.  Do I order half and half?  2:1 on this over that?," he asks.  "Me not ordering a cover doesn’t help me, doesn’t help the publisher, doesn’t help the artist, doesn’t help anyone.  As an industry, we have to figure this out.  I fear we’re just watering down what comes out every week."

"I was lucky enough to go to that Marvel meeting last year, and the vibe was so positive and so great.  Joe Field said it best.  He said, 'I walked in here feeling all gray, but now I see the sunrise, and a new dawn.'  And... we did!  I came back to the store feeling just awesome, and told everyone 'Marvel is gonna do some great stuff, and... I don’t know.  It just went way."

"The presentation was amazing.  It was positive, uplifting!  They must have had 20 editorial personnel come in and explain everything.  It was great.  And... I don’t know where that went."

"I think [Marvel’s VP Sales] David Gabriel is great, I get along with him really, really well.  He’s got a tough job, and he’s built up a very thick skin.  But he’s always open to constructive criticism."

"I know what needs to be done, because we do it in here.  When we do events, we get 4000 people.  We advertise, we promote the store.  The publishers aren’t doing that right now.  People just aren’t finding out about comic books.  And the movies aren’t helping."

"I hope that the industry rights itself and becomes better.  It starts with new readers, and product they can get excited about."

Click Gallery below for great pics of Tate’s Comics!