A Bad Experience in a Comic Store Led Evans to Open His First Store
Posted by Jim McLauchlin on September 16, 2019 @ 7:39 pm CT
A bad experience can lead to something good, or in this case, something six times good.
Richard Evans was a longtime fan who had worked in comic stores in high school, and set up at comic shows to help pay for college. Circa 1988, he had an experience with (we’ve all seen them) a real-life analogue to the Simpson’s "Comic Book Guy."
"There was a grouchy old comic shop owner in Houston, I went into his shop, and had a really bad experience," Evans remembers today. "Comics are fun and there's no reason that anybody should ever go into a comic book store and have a bad experience. It just shouldn't happen. That was the catalyst."
By 1990, Evans had opened his first Bedrock City Comic Company store in Houston. Today, the chain boasts six stores.
"I’m the owner and president, I do all the HR stuff, I do all the leases, and I deal with all the vintage books," Evans says. "That's my job description. But it really comes from, ‘I've just always been involved in comics to some degree.’"
Evans is deeply involved, and on his 29-year journey, he’s learned a lot, some good and some bad…
LEARN TO LET GO
"I am pretty good at letting go of control of things," Evans says. "That's been, I guess, a little bit of an asset."
But the key is finding the right people to let go to. Evans found that in Michael Steenbergen.
"I rely on Mike a ton to do a lot of the nuts and bolts retail part of comic stuff," Evans says. "I'm comfortable with math and dealing with contracts and all of that stuff, so I can do that part of the retail that controls all the money. Then, the thing that I enjoy and love is vintage comics."
And letting go allows Evans’ love to flow.
"The vintage stuff gets me fired up," he says. "Seeing old comic books really gets my juices flowing. I've got it set up where that's what I get to play with, and it helps keep me a little sane."
DON’T RELY ON JUST ONE BUSINESS PARTNER
Diamond Comics Distributors is the 800-pound gorilla, of course, but Evans finds plenty of other animals for his kingdom.
"If there's any advice that I give to anybody that's running any kind of business, it’s, ‘Never rely on just one business partner.’ No business relationship is ever completely altruistic. If you’re too dependent on one business partner, you might find out that that business partner isn't there to help you."
Evans points to 2017, and a natural disaster that struck Houston.
"What we found out from Hurricane Harvey was that comic shops spend a lot of money, time, and dedication to Diamond, and Diamond has none of our best interests at heart," Evans says. But he finds a silver lining on that cloud.
"It really freed us up to go find other vendors and spend our money elsewhere," he says. "That's been a huge help. We've been able to increase our margins and find new products that sell and not be beholden to one business partner, one vendor. That's definitely a bit of advice I'd give to everybody.”
Yup. A guy with six stores will likely tell you that expansion is the way to go. But to Evans’ mind, expansion is more than just additional storefronts.
"I always want to expand and do something new and do something different, keep it fresh,” he says. "Whether it's a new store or a new product, it's just finding the next thing that gets people excited. That's our goal, always."
Evans keeps his ear to the ground to find the "what’s next."
"You have to go out and find the things that add to your environment," he says. "A lot of what you project is based on the community that comes in and is buying from you. You're trying to answer to your customer base and every customer base is different, so the most universal advice I can give is ‘listen to your own customers.’"
DON’T BE AFRAID TO GAMBLE
Everyone likes a thrill, and Evans will even take some in his business. Well, a little.
"Sometimes I wish that I was a little bit more of a gambler with my business," he muses. "There were some opportunities that I've had to go out on a limb to grow my business that, in hindsight, would have been the right thing to do, but I'm a little bit conservative in the way I approach things sometimes."
Evans wishes he would have opened more stores earlier, and even made some more aggressive product and buying choices.
"Sometimes there’s a collection that's come along that I wish I had spent the money on, or I wish I would have taken a position in a product that seemed iffy, but in hindsight, we should have jumped on. I wish we had taken a bigger position in Magic cards early on, for example."
In the here-and-now, Evans is trying to gamble a bit these days.
"In the last 10 years or so, the way retail is with comics, we've really had to open up the way we order things and be a little bit more aggressive and on the edge with ordering some things," he says. "If you're not out there ordering things that don't have track records, you can't get ahead of the curve."
DON’T DO YOUR OWN FINANCIALS
They call it "comparative advantage." Pay someone else to exercise THEIR expertise, so you can concentrate on yours. Evans finds this rings especially true in the financial world.
"If somebody is opening a store, they need to get a good accountant, just have a good accountant," he says. "Everything that I've ever given to my accountant is something that I've tried that eventually became overwhelming to me."
And the bigger you get, the tougher it gets.
"As you start adding locations and employees and whatnot, there’s a ton of employment taxes and sales tax issues, and if you do any kind of mail order, there's sales taxes with every single state," he says. "Get an accountant before it becomes overwhelming. You can pay somebody to do that, and if they're good, they'll do a good job of taking a lot of stuff off your plate."
BE CAREFUL HOW YOU WEB
Yeah, it’s 2019 and you need a website (and the same was true 20 years ago). But Evans learned expense is easy on the web side, and revenue… is trickier.
"We are still trying to figure out a remedy for investing a sizable amount of money in our website and not really experiencing a return on that investment to the degree that we had hoped," he says.
Evans calls BedrockCity.com "highly functional, visually appealing, with a ton of bells and whistles," but also says that it doesn't drive business on its own.
"We weren't really prepared for the additional expenses required to attract business to it," he says. "Essentially we bought a Ferrari, but didn't foresee having to pay to pave all the roads that we would need to drive it at its optimum level."
AND WHAT ELSE?
"We've had two instances where we had to deal with hurricane damages. With Hurricane Ike, that was in 2008, we lost the roof on our main store and it was closed for three months. But I met my wife because of that storm. So I try and find silver linings."
"With Hurricane Harvey in 2017, we had a lot of cash flow problems because of just the huge hit that the Houston economy took in general. But we really realized who our friends were in this business."
"See? I try and find silver linings in all of them.”
"There isn't a cookie‑cutter comic book store. All comic stores are the same, but every comic store is different. The environment of every store is different. The product mix of every store is different. The focus. Everybody does something different."
"It's not like we're all running CVS pharmacies or Walgreens or something, where they're all exactly the same. You walk into one in Washington and one in New York and they look exactly the same. It's not like that. When you're just running through one distributor, you only have their stuff to look at. You've got to go out and find all this other cool stuff that's out there."
"It might be hard to say that not being as much of a gambler is a negative. During the market fall in the early '90s, being conservative saved us. It’s tough to figure, even in retrospect."
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