The next time you find yourself in your local comic book store, stop and look around at your settings. Does it look like you are at the Straw Market in the Bahamas, or perhaps a flea market? Is it anything like standing in the driveway of a home having a garage sale? If the establishment is owned by hard working, self respecting people who are doing their best to operate a quality retail store, then your answer should be an easy "No, of course not, Mr. Pusher! It's a specialty retail store!"
I am always fascinated by the mentality of some individuals who have the gall to think that just because they are shopping in a "Mom & Pop" store it is okay to press the owner to negotiate prices on the merchandise being offered for sale. I had just such an unpleasant experience (yet again) with a customer the other day.
This customer was new to my store. I introduced myself, proudly gave him the grand tour of our sales floor and, in response to his inquires, a brief history or our business. I enthusiastically explained to him about our pre-order service, our discount club, when we have our big sales and even about our Frequent Reader and Frequent Player stamp card programs. I answered the numerous questions he had about the details of those services. I helped him track down comics he was looking for from our selection of more than 80,000 back issues. I checked our distributor's website for several other specific issues he was looking for that we did not have in stock. In all, I spent well over an hour with this customer, doing my utmost to demonstrate that we give our customers as much attention and service as possible. We also talked about what he did for a living and what his collecting interests were. For all intents and purposes he seemed to be an intelligent, reasonable man.
He selected two graphic novels and three comic books for himself and his very well behaved preadolescent daughter who was shopping with him. I even special ordered another comic for him that we did not have in stock. Then, bringing his items to the checkout counter he said, "So, what can you do for me here?"
"I'm sorry?" I said, not wanting to believe what I was hearing, or for that matter even hear what I was hearing. Unfortunately, I knew full well what was coming.
"I want to establish a relationship with your store," he said, "and I want to know what kind of discount you can give me on this stuff. I'm spending quite a lot of money," he said, gesturing at the items on the counter, "and I want to know what kind of a break you can give me. So, what can you do for me here?" he repeated; now sounding a little impatient.
What I wanted to do for him was reintroduce him to the fresh air of the parking lot. Instead, I politely pointed out that his purchase would qualify him for two stamps on our Frequent Reader Card for each of the graphic novels, and one for each of the comic books, putting him very close to getting a new comic book for free. I also pointed out that he could get even better deals through the various programs I had told him about (in some detail) earlier, and that we also have the occasional sale, but that there were no other discounts to offer him at this time.
He became indignant.
"So you won't give me a discount on this stuff?" he snarled.
I again tried to explain how he could get a discount through one of our programs, telling him as politely as I could that those programs are designed to give all our customers equal opportunities for rewards and discounts, but that I could not negotiate prices on our merchandise. But before I could finish explaining, he cut me off in mid-sentence.
"You can, you just won't," he snapped in an angry tone with an equally angry expression on his face.
Now, what the evil side of my soul wanted to say at that point was, "Well, you can let your child starve to death, but I imagine you won't." But I didn't, of course. I smiled and again tried to explain our policies, programs, and services, and that negotiating prices was against our store policy. I wasn't able to finish.
"You don't have to explain," he interrupted as he put the merchandise back on the shelves. He paid for the comic books his daughter had selected and left the store in a huff.
Personally, I find that kind of behavior from a customer to be insulting. Perhaps you think differently. If you do, then I have a few questions for you: Does your employer negotiate your pay on a daily basis? At the end of your long hard day's work does the person who writes your paycheck come to you and say, "Okay, I know you are asking fifteen dollars an hour for your labors, but what can you do for me? How much less money can you take for what you did for me today?" I imagine if that happened you would feel indignant, perhaps even insulted.
Pressing the storeowner for a discount even after he has politely explained his store's policies to you is pretty much the same thing.
Do you think your local comic book store should be treated differently or with less respect than, say, your local Walmart, Kmart, Toys-R-Us, Target, gas station, fast food restaurant or other establishment? Would you ever think to go into any one of those businesses and insist that you be given a discount out of hand?
Do you believe your local comic book storeowner is making a fortune selling comics and can afford to negotiate the price of every item you buy, or that it is a sound business practice to do so?
My fellow lovers of the graphic novel, comic book stores are businesses just like any other business in your community, even if they are just "Mom & Pop" shops. The people who own them want, and indeed need, your business. But, just like you, they have bills to pay. They labor for their money, just like you do. Good shop owners will work hard to help you in your quest to find what you are looking for, try their best to give you as much information as possible about the item before you buy it, make special orders for you, and even take the time to talk with you about your favorite comic, game, toy, movie, your personal life or the weather if you like. They want you to have a pleasant experience in their store, and they hope you will come back and shop with them again. But expecting them to negotiate prices with every customer that comes in is unreasonable and, quite frankly, insulting to them.
"But," insists Mr. Iwanadeal, "I'm not saying you have to negotiate discounts with every customer, just me."
Well, Mr. Iwanadeal, if you can't see how very selfish that attitude is, perhaps you can understand that good businesses have policies that treat all customers equally. At The Comics Club, whether you are buying a single comic book or making a $1,000 purchase, you will be treated with the same respect and the same store policies as every other customer. We pride ourselves on that.
To make it a little easier to understand for the Mr. Iwanadeals out there who insist on treating comic book stores as if they were nothing more than ongoing garage sales, let us gaze into our crystal ball and peek into a shop that does not have policies of equal treatment of all customers; a store that will negotiate prices at the counter with any customer who walks through the door. Ah yes, the haze is lifting. I can see the sad situation unfolding before us . . .
"Hey, Mr. Owner! Can you do better on this graphic novel for me?" says Mr. Iwanadeal.
"Well, I guess I can knock off ten percent for you," says the inept comic shop owner.
"Is that all? Last week you knocked off fifteen percent from XYZ Adventures," complains Mr. Iwanadeal.
In the meantime, Joe Whiner is in line behind Mr. Iwanadeal, and is now visibly upset.
"Hey, Mr. Owner, what's the deal? I bought XYZ Adventures here last week and you didn't give me a discount. I've been coming here for years. Why does this guy get a discount and not me?", he says with great indignation.
Just about then, laughter can be heard from the man standing in line behind Mr. Whiner.
"What's so funny?", demands Mr. Iwanadeal to Mr. Laughter, who then reveals to the others that he got twenty percent off his copy of XYZ Adventures last week.
The now distressed Mr. Owner watches in dismay as Mr. Iwanadeal and Mr. Whiner demand that he give them discounts or they will take their business elsewhere. Left with little choice, our maladroit storeowner acquiesces to their demands and gives them the discount. Then, even though they got their discounts, Mr. Iwanadeal and Mr. Whiner are still unhappy about what just transpired as they walk out the door.
"Wow, what's their problem?" says Mr. Laughter, laying down the latest volume of Big Deal Funnies on the counter as two other customers behind him wait their turns to make their purchases.
"That will be seventeen forty-seven," says Mr. Owner.
"What?" says Mr. Laughter. "Can't you do better than that? Come on, man, give me a discount," presses Mr. Laughter as the other customers watch on, waiting to see if they, too, will be able to negotiate a discount with the blundering storeowner.
To my fellow comic book pushers, some cautionary advice: The practice of negotiating prices for every item in the store with every customer that walks in is no way to do business. It is counterproductive in your efforts toward healthy profits, and a practice that does not serve you or your customer base well. It's not fair to other customers who don't try to turn every trip to the checkout counter into an episode of "Let's Make A Deal".Clearly mark the price your merchandise and stick to that price. Don't give into the pressure of a customer who wants you to make a deal because they think you are too afraid to lose the sale if you don't. If you give in to them you will have to give them a discount each and every time they come in to your store to buy something. As I illustrated earlier, other observant customers will also expect to get that same deal, or try to negotiate an even cheaper price. And when one customer learns that you gave others a discount but not him, he will be upset with you. It's bad business. Period.
To the many fine customers out there who want to "establish a relationship" with their local comic book store, let me suggest that you can do so by showing the owners simple respect. Believe me, if you do, it can pay off is spades. Storeowners usually have ways to reward customers for their patronage. Just don't expect them to give up their hard earned profit in the process. In the long run, that will not serve them or you well. Give your store a break and don't insist on a discount outside the store's normal policies and programs. If you want them to be there for you and your collecting needs for years to come, give them your business, and your respect.
Smart entertainment retailers operate their specialty hobby stores not like garage sales and flea markets, but as serious businesses. Wise customers should, and will, respect that.
"Confessions" will return on January 24th with:
The Comics Club on Facebook -- We'd like it if you'd LIKE us!