It's week five of our Sponsor Appreciation features. There's also a contest tied in with
all this, with tons of great prizes. You can find the contest
here, but take the time to check out the features as well! The
previous weeks interviews:
Alter Ego Comics -
Aisle Sniper - 04/14/04
Killer Toys - 04/21/04
Southern Island - 05/02/04
interview is with Thomas from Corner Store Comics. Here's what he had to say
about life, the universe, and everything:
MWC - How long have you been in the action figure/collectibles business?
- We went “official” in 2001, so we’re in our third year now. If you count the Star Wars figures I’ve been collecting, trading, and selling since age seven, it’s going on 27 years… LOL!
MWC - Do you have a brick and mortar store as well, or only an on-line store? How does having only one or both effect your business?
- Our web store is our primary base, but we also have local clientele that we deliver comics and toys to on a weekly basis. We’ve been considering a storefront for some time now, but we’re intentionally tackling that process very slowly. The logistics of the two business models are night and day. One false move and one can very easily end up sacrificing both. We are realistically looking at opening our brick and mortar in FY05 or FY06.
MWC - How did you get started?
- I had collected comics and figures off and on for years. One day my wife made the mistake of suggesting that I start collecting again… and so it began. I essentially started the business so I could get my comics at cost, then the “comics junkies” started coming out of the woodwork. Within months, I was selling enough books to friends and coworkers to cover my monthly “habit.” After attending Comic-Con in 2002, and seeing the fervor over the figures that were being offered, I came back and started testing the action figure waters. It took off and has grown steadily since then, and now we sell more toys than comics.
MWC - How does having a store effect your own collecting?
- I still collect, but I find myself being very selective now. The benefit of having the store, for me, is that I get to see everything, touch everything, own everything, at least for the short-term. It’s like having a constantly rotating collection, and it ultimately avoids the chaos of uber-clutter. Now and then I come across a “keeper” and add it to my personal collection that I display in my office.
- What are your feelings on the current action figure and collectible market, and the forces at work in retail?
- The current market is all over the place. I hear a lot of fuss over Wal-Mart, but they don’t particularly worry me. They do what they do, and with a few exceptions, I generally steer clear of most of their product lines. They can keep their Power Rangers, Harry Potter, and even Transformers. If they ultimately end up driving all the other bigger chains out of business, the specialty stores could become even more prosperous with the proper planning. Those Wal-Mart buildings can only get so big, and the toys aisles are already packed to the ceiling. They have neither the space nor the expertise to become the only game in town. We’re seeing more and more fan-driven properties getting the green light, regardless that there won’t be mass-market support. If companies like NECA can keep producing quality figures in the $10-$12 price range, and make a profit doing it…
I worry about companies like Palisades, and that surprises some people. They continue to snag great properties like Ren & Stimpy, Army of Darkness, Invader Zim, et al. and they’re turning out great products. The downside is that their prices keep increasing and the retailer margins are relatively small by comparison. It’s a no-win situation in the long run. Either they fail due to the creeping prices, or they’re successful at charging more for each successive line. Either way, the consumer loses.
- What do you feel sets you apart from other on-line retailers?
- Our goal is always to exceed customer expectations. It all comes down to service, and service can mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people. If your sole claim to fame as a retailer is that your prices are lower than everyone else’s, you may as well take down the sign and call it a day now. Good prices will only take you so far. Customers want to be treated as individuals rather than order numbers. People want to know when release dates change, when line alterations occur, when orders ship. The bigger an operation gets, the easier it is to let the little things that customers appreciate slip away. We are growing everyday, but part of that growth includes planning appropriately to maintain the level of service that we want to receive when we shop, online or otherwise.
What trend did you completely misjudge? What really surprised you?
- I totally underestimated the power of the Minimate. When the block figure revolution began, there really weren’t a slew of really strong properties to blast it out of the gate. It has been steadily gaining momentum though, and now we’re selling more Minimates than we ever thought possible.
Certainly the surprising trend for me was to see a number of manufacturers taking their products directly to the consumer. McFarlane has already started selling their regular products online, at prices that the specialty market retailers, their own customers, often can’t compete with. We are already scaling back some of their lines. I’d much rather work with manufacturers, like SOTA or NECA, that treat us like a partner rather than a competitor.
MWC - What's coming up in 2004 that you think will be exceptionally cool?
- Street Fighter will be our single biggest line to date when it hits in July. Fan hysteria has already started to take over, and the production shots look fantastic so far. DC Direct is pumping out one amazing line after another, and it looks to continue through the end of the year. Hush, Dark Knight Returns, Teen Titans… they all look great. I also remain impressed with the way the Living Dead Dolls guys are able to maintain momentum with a line that many retailers were predicting the demise of (no pun intended) long ago. I’m jazzed about the new Dollies line we saw at Toy Fair this year.
As a retailer, what's your biggest challenge?
Thomas - What day is it? There never seems to be enough time, does there? Beyond that, we are growing at a rate that definitely keeps us on our toes with regards to proper inventory control, workspace, and shipping.
MWC - Anything else you'd like to comment on?
- We’ve enjoyed your site for some time now, so we’re really excited to have been included in this process. Thanks for having us, and keep up the great work!
you right back Thomas, for your continued support of MROTW. Next week I'll
have another sponsor interview - until then, make sure you enter the contest!