Robot 6

Long-struggling Comic Book Ink to close: ‘I have let you down’

John Munn

In an emotional letter to customers, the owner of Comic Book Ink announced he’s closing the long-struggling Lakewood, Washington, store, a seven-time nominee for the Will Eisner Spirit of Retailing Award.

“I am going to try my best to keep the doors open until July 9th …  the opening weekend of The Amazing Spider-Man,” John Munn wrote. “We open the store 10 years ago when the first Spider-Man movie was going to open. It has symmetry that we should leave when the rebirth happens.”

Munn made headlines a year ago when he issued a plea to customers to pick up any special orders or pull-list titles, purchase gift certificates, make a short-term loan or buy shares in the store to keep Comic Book Ink from being shuttered as early as August 2011, a move the he now says drew criticism from within the industry. He contends that a fellow retailer told him, “You don’t deserve to be nominated for an Eisner. You should shut your doors right now.”

However, Munn managed to keep the doors open a while longer, in part because his bank allowed him to occasionally overdraw his account on Tuesdays to pay for shipments from Diamond Comic Distributors. But two weeks ago that suddenly changed.

“This was never an issue, because they knew that the following day was New Comic Book Day and we would always be able to cover any overdraft,” he wrote. “But, on that Tuesday, my banker looked at me as if she had shot me on accident. ‘I can’t do it,’ she said, ‘They won’t let me.’ I told her, ‘That’s it. I’m done. I don’t know what else to do. It’s over.'”

Munn pledged to “operate as if there is no tomorrow,” fulfilling all orders and subscriptions until he’s forced to lock the doors and giving his employees time to find new jobs and his customers time to move their pull lists to other stores.

“I wanted to be there for you … be there for your kids (or someday children) …  for your grandchildren. But now I am not,” he wrote to his customers. “Mainly, I don’t know how to say goodbye to you. To tell you enough that I am sorry. I tried my best … and you worked so hard to make sure that I had the opportunity to do so. […] I can only say … I am sorry … but I believe … I have let you down.”

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20 Comments

See, this is why comic book retailers need to be stricter about how pull-lists work. I see it time and again….retailers letting customers keep 4 months or more of books in their hold-box…as if they’ll ever see these people again.

Pathetic.

I’d love to know who the dick retailer is who cared more about an award than this guy staying in business.

This is sad news, all the best to John and his employees for the future.

This story is sad, but fascinating. Something about the hint of all the detailed mechanics involved in trying to keep a failing store running as long as possible, combined with the real pathos in this guy’s comments, I could probably read a book about this.

Which, of course, wouldn’t help anyone involved. I hope Munn lands on his feet somewhere, somehow.

“I’d love to know who the dick retailer is who cared more about an award than this guy staying in business.”

Our country is full of nasty Social Darwinist, Ayn-Rand-reading Ron Paul fans. Some of them run comic shops.

@Ziggy – definitely. This poor guy did what anyone would do and basically asked his customers to help him out. How does that reflect badly on the level of service or dedication he offers? He’s basically saying ‘help me help you’. Whoever that fellow retailer is needs to hang their head in shame.

I am betting the fellow retailer who gave him grief over his actions was never an Eisner Nominee, nor will they ever be…..

Judging by that picture, that looks like it is/was a nice shop. It’s always sad when someone is put into a tough position like this, but it’s even worse when it’s someone that takes care to give the best service possible.

The writing had to be on the wall as soon as he started regularly overdrafting his bank account Tuesday to pay for Wednesday’s comics. It’s hard to get out of that spiral once you’re in it (Lord knows I know, having lived that way for a while in college), but it can’t be more than an extremely temporary solution.

Matt:
“See, this is why comic book retailers need to be stricter about how pull-lists work. I see it time and again….retailers letting customers keep 4 months or more of books in their hold-box…as if they’ll ever see these people again.”

One exception: I worked at a store that had a pretty big military client base. Guys would get shipped out for 6-8 months at a time and the shop would keep pulling books for them, then ring up one giant purchase when the guy made it back. Now, granted, they wouldn’t do that for just anybody, but it was the rare case where people who proved they were “good for it” made that kind of business plan actually workable.

My current shop is much more no-nonsense: they require a credit card on record, and if you haven’t picked your stuff up in X amount of time (4 weeks, I think?), they freeze your pull and change your card for what they’re stuck holding. That may be a bit draconian, but yeah, letting people stack up several months worth of comics is a terrible way to do business.

I think that credit card bit makes sense. I was thinking someone should try a half-money down and/or prepay thing.

Ian, thats what my local shop does. 20% down on all comic preorders. They got burned too many times.

This is terrible news. I fear we’ll only be hearing more of it.

Comic retail is a tough business. I do not believe pull boxes were the downfall for Munn by any means. People either want to buy the products you carry or they do not. It is up the the comic companies to get people fired up for their product. With the economy slowly getting better it could be sometime before the average person feels better about spending more money on a hobby. Though I am confused by the being in business ten years and paying right before new comic day. Overdraft fees every week would be very costly over a long period of time. Getting back on diamonds good credit would really help. Then a comic store has a week of “float” time roughly. Mailing in a check after new comic day basically. Not trying to throw stones by any means. I work full time then go directly to my comic store afterwards and put in at least 26 hours there a week and have partimers for during the day. Most new businesses fail in their first year. And again the economy is recovering currently. Right now I wish there were less comic product. I feel the market is bloated and flooded. When new people come in interested in Walking Dead it is easy to say there are the trades or the monthly comic. When new people come in interested in Avengers they are lost with the overwhelming amount Avengers titles. It isn’t like I can hide all but the main title from them on the shelves. Munn made it for ten years when most businesses can not make it past one year. That is very impressive. Nothing to be sorry for.

No real surprise about the a-hole retailer that said that.

In my area, they are all a-holes.

Some don’t invite the other to the local comic convention, some won’t do pull lists cause they don’t want to bother, some won’t sell zombie books (because they are sick of them), some will give women and foreign customers a hard time, some smoke cigaretts, some drink beer and some even smoke dope in their stores.

@ Rod – IIRC, I think in this case pull and special order items NOT being picked up was a big part of the problem. I think I remember reading somewhere that there was a ridiculous amount of stock not being picked up.

As for the ‘business’ end of it, I think some retailers are too nice. My LCS does not require any kind of downpayment for special order items. They have been burned and continue to not require a downpayment, credit card, etc. I think some sort of down payment/credit card for special order items and policy on pull lists would be a perfectly acceptable practice. I think there is a line between being nice and having to be a business person.

Why is it the comic companies responsibility to get people fired up for their products? The comic companies, yes could do better but DC has been running tv ads and they both are constantly in the media for ‘event’ books. Most super hero based movies now have ads in the DVD/Blu Rays. Can they do more? Sure, but it is not like they are not doing anything.

For an example, in my town, there is only one LCS and while they are super nice, they do NOTHING to promote themselves or products. Free Comic Book Day, too expensive/not enough return apparently (though they have never tried to organize anything around it). Avengers movie comes out, nothing. Why not stack the shelves with new reader friendly trades? Surely this is where the expertise of the LCS can come in -Wade through the mass of material and present the best offerings of said product. Why not do some kind of promotional thing with the local movie theatre? There are lots of ways to be creative and build buzz. I think the comic companies should do more but bottom line, I also think the average LCS needs to do more too.

Of course, I say all this having never run or worked in a comic shop before. :)

The problem with pull lists is if there are other LCSs that do not have any rules for pull lists there will be customers lost to the other or others due to not wanting to give out their credit card info or put up with rules. For instance I do not have a minimum amount for pull customers to have a list. Some other stores do so people that just want a few comics pulled a month or worry if they make the limit are more than happy to go through my store. It is a give and take. Pull lists are not something I believe in but something that some people now expect. When I was younger walking in a comic store and picking up what I wanted was normal. If I didn’t want something I left it on the shelf. Now with major retailers doing layaways and so forth comic stores are expected to have pull boxes.

And you are right. Being a business person means at times coming off as mean or a jerk. I learned I had to do that at times after my first year. Take care of the people that are good customers. Banning people actually increased my business. Which at first surprised me. Having people in a store that go on and on about hating superhero comics or what ever they feel everyone who comes in has to know their negative opinion is a negative for the business. If someone doesn’t like the book fine don’t buy it. Don’t try to get everyone to feel the same way. I dislike Spawn but I sure as heck don’t think everyone should feel the same way I do. And people who want a discount on everything they want to buy I learned to just let them go. You give a discount for one person everyone else in the store wants one too. Which is nice and everything but comic store owners do not get a discount on rent, insurance, ect. I had one person always whining about prices. He wanted thirty cents off a $1.30 item. I was like for goodness sakes no. He has not been back for months. Thank the gods for small favors.

Free Comic book day was good for the store the second time around. I still do not think giving out free comics will get new people in a habit of actually buying comics but the large amount of people that came in this year did buy a lot. Last year not so much. Lots of people picked up free comics of course.

After years DC and Marvel are finally advertising. In the local movie theater I have a display that relates to whatever comic related movie is next. DC’s 52 at least showed Marvel that maybe paying for advertising isn’t that bad of an idea.

Alright my post is now long winded and taking away from the article so I best end it.

I agree with the retailer that told him to just close already. If you have to beg and plead with people to stay in business and you are overdrawn at your bank to buy comics for the next day, you are a crappy businessman. You don’t deserve an award. You deserve a minimal amount of pity for failing so hard. There are a lot of factors that go into making a place successful. The amount of people you hire, your location, knowing your audience, making sure there is an audience at your location, and the incredibly important ability to predict what’s going to sell. It’s not rocket science. If you follow the books and the comic news, you are going to be well prepared. It’s a career you have where you have to do the home work. It’s not easy.

I’m surprised he stayed in business for as long as he did. But honestly, if you’re not making money anymore, why are you still in business? Just going to follow that dream until you’re so far in a hole, a bullet is your only way out?

Wow, such bitterness towards a person who tried to provide a store for people to enjoy their hobbies at. I never knew being human was to never make a mistake. Instead of a rally cry to help out by the comic community its good ridance? ThIs there no accountant in the area to sit down and help suggest areas to save in? No comic pros willing to show up for a day to save a comic outlet? Heck, I would help pay for that. Again ten years is a lot better than what an average business in anything does. I would be all for getting something together to help out. Get an accountant that can show where to save money, where tough decisions have to be made, make sure they are made, whatever needs to be done. Where is the compassion?

That pic is from the 2nd location. He had to move to a another location which was bigger but cheaper in rent. Its too bad that he has to close, his staff and himself are really passionate about the comic industry, clean store and friendly staff, which is great because nobody wants to shop at any store with a bunch of “I think I know it all” jerks for a staff, I have only good things to say about him and his staff. And it was nice to see that the owner didn’t walk around in his bare feet, unlike a certain nameless comic book store owner in Federal Way, Wa. This isn”t the 1st comic book store that I shop at that is closing. In the previous years I have seen 2 other shops close down. I hope its not me and that “I’m bad for business”.

They always tried to introduce new titles to new and regular customers for example, when someone is asking about a certain title they will always also recommend another titlie of the same genre that the customer may like. He has always supported and promoted local artist, which I have not ever seen a business do before.

I know for a fact that he was strick on regulars on picking up their comics, you had 1 month or it goes right back on the shelf. Sometimes I did feel that he may gone a little overboard with discounts, 10% to student, military, and regular subscibers, which I am until July 9th. I was and still willing to pay full price for my comics, personally I feel the military customers should be the only ones to get the discounts and that includes any other type of store.

I am really sad that he has to close down his shop and that he feels he had let me down as an customer, in which I do not feel he has in anyway what so ever. And to me it shows that the economy just hasn’t improved enough and that people just not reading comics as much as they use to, but that is only my opinion. People also need to remember about Walden books and Borders, at the time 2 major retail book stores, both are now gone! 10 years I think is pretty good for a small store, I just wish it could have been forever.

I hope that he remembers that he isn’t the first or last to lose a business, even though it may feel like it. I do hope that he lands back on his very soon, as so his staff. I myself have gone through losing a job that I loved, only to be replaced by a computer. Hopfully the economy will much much better soon, which is a bunch of wishful thinking on a longshot, and maybe sometime in the future Comic Book Ink. can make a come back.

And to that jerk retailer, it seems like your only in the business for a stupid reward. You better hope that you don’t go through same thing that Mr. MUNN is going through. Everybody knows that when you hope for good or bad things onto people, even if does sound like a bunch of hooey, it will come around onto you. Comic book retailers should working together not against, not financially of course. I hate to say this but, you guys are the middle man, with the internet I’m sure if I wanted to I could always order whatever comics I want directly from Previews catalog or off their web site or the web site of the comic book company.

@ Matt

Your condescending attitude is what strikes me as truly pathetic, Matt..

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