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Comic book stores sell comic books and related paraphernalia, such as action figures, models, posters, and more. These comic book shops differ from larger retail bookstores in that they offer a wider and more exclusive selection of comic books and feature rare collectibles. Comic book stores are usually defined by their community business style. Customers browse, engage, and lounge about at comic book stores always hoping to find that rare item that completes a collection.
Who is this business right for?
It goes without saying that you need to love comic books. You will need to be an enthusiastic living encyclopedia about the history of comic books, which ones are most treasured by collectors and why.
What happens during a typical day at a comic book store?
A comic book store owner will likely spend much of his working day involved with the following:
- Checking the inventory for the most recent sales and put the best items on display.
- Follow up with any online queries and orders.
- Hunting for treasures to buy on eBay for bargain prices that you can resell to customers.
- Answering questions and discussing comic books with customers
What is the target market?
Serious ollectors are the lifeblood of this business. The customers who want a rare comic book that is extremely hard to find are good and the ones that maintain more than one type of collection are excellent customers. Disposable income allows customers to pay big prices for the collectibles that they treasure. These are good customers for this business. You hunt for them and they pay good prices to you in order to complete their collection of the comic books they love.
Although the customer types mentioned above are the best for the business, one must not forget the less dedicated customer, or casual fan. These are customers who may only wish to purchase new comics, models, or just make sporadic purchases. Appealing to both hardcore and casual fans will make your shop more successful.
How does a comic book store make money?
A comic book store makes money by purchasing comic books and and reselling them for a profit. The key to this business is to be a successful trader. You must know the fair market prices for rare comic books and you must buy them for less than the going prices in order to resell them for a profit.
Additionally, a comic book store can also make money by selling online. Two alternatives to the traditional brick-and-mortar store business model include:
- Online sale of physical comics
- Online sale of digital comics
These business models may be more viable for those who do not have the capital to open a physical location and/or can be an additional business that increases revenue in combination with a physical location.
What is the growth potential for a comic book store?
This is a niche business, which is fairly small. There are not many ways to grow it beyond a level that sustains a small retail store and an Internet sales effort. However, it is possible, though unlikely, that a very successful store could make enough profit to open many locations, even eventually franchising.
What are some skills and experiences that will help you build a successful comic book store?
You need to be a treasure hunter. You must know the fair market prices for rare comic books and you must buy them for less that the going prices in order to resell them to make a profit.
You can develop familiarity with market pricing by researching on ebay and other online markets, and can often find great deals by attending liquidation events, such as estate sale or a garage sales, where items are often sold below market price.
It is not easy to find such treasures and you will look through lots of really bad stuff before finding something good to sell. If you are dedicated and continue to look, you will eventually find good things to sell. You will also get better over time in knowing what items your customers want and what they would be willing to pay for them.
What are the costs involved in opening a comic book store?
The two most significant costs involved in opening a comic book include costs of setting up your physical storefront and costs to purchase an initial comic book inventory.
Assuming you lease a store location, you will likely need to put down a deposit for the lease. In addition, you will need display racks that cost about $300 each. Make sure the retail space is very small and the rent is cheap, but also, if possible, find a store in a good area with decent foot traffic.
For example, a 100' x 15' space (150 square feet) in a high traffic area may cost around $450 per month. That is all you need to present your very best treasures to your customers. You can also use a computer to present a database of your whole collection so that customers can search to see if you have the books they are looking for. This same database can be used on your website if you plan to sell your books online as well.
If you do not already have an extensive collection of comic books to sell you will have to invest in inventory. Having a decent selection of inventory may require an investment of $10,000 to $25,000 to get started.
Read our comic book store purchasing guide to learn about the materials and equipment you'll need to start a comic book store, how much to budget, and where to make purchases.
What are the steps to start a comic book store?
Once you're ready to start your comic book store, follow these steps to ensure that your business is legally compliant and avoid wasting time and money as your business grows:
- Plan your business. A clear plan is essential for success as an entrepreneur. A few important topics to consider are your initial costs, your target market, and how long it will take you to break even.
- Form a legal entity. Establishing a legal business entity prevents you from being personally liable if your comic book store is sued.
- Register for taxes. You will need to register for a variety of state and federal taxes before you can open for business.
- Open a business bank account. A dedicated checking account for your comic book store keeps your finances organized and makes your business appear more professional to your customers.
- Set up business accounting. Recording your various expenses and sources of income is critical to understanding the financial performance of your business. Keeping accurate and detailed accounts also greatly simplifies your annual tax filing.
- Obtain necessary permits and licenses. Failure to acquire necessary permits and licenses can result in hefty fines, or even cause your business to be shut down.
- Get business insurance. Insurance is highly recommended for all business owners. If you hire employees, workers compensation insurance may be a legal requirement in your state.
- Define your brand. Your brand is what your company stands for, as well as how your business is perceived by the public. A strong brand will help your business stand out from competitors.
- Establish a web presence. A business website allows customers to learn more about your company and the products or services you offer. You can also use social media to attract new clients or customers.
Select your state below for an in-depth guide on completing each of these steps in your home state.
Where can I find a business mentor?
One of the greatest resources an entrepreneur can have is quality mentorship. As you start planning your business, connect with a free business resource near you to get the help you need.
Having a support network in place to turn to during tough times is a major factor of success for new business owners.
How to promote & market a comic book store
Larger retail bookstores have the ability to offer new comic books and related paraphernalia at a lower price. In order to stand out as a smaller comic book store, it is essential to offer things that cannot be found in the larger stores. This can be done in many ways, such as have special comic book signings by the creators, offering giveaways/raffles, and selling rare items, which customers can only find in your store.
Opening this type of business requires careful consideration of the demographics of the target market. It is important to open in a location with a highly visible storefront, in an area with a younger population that has disposable income. To get customers to stop at the store, it is important to locate it in an area that has significant foot traffic passing by the store.
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How to keep customers coming back
You need to nurture the interests of your customers in finding the rare items that they are looking for. This is the enthusiasm of the treasure hunt, which you will want to encourage. Ask customers to fill out a profile of things they like and list the rare items that they cannot find, so you can hunt for these treasured items that they want to have in their collection.
More casual fans are harder to attract, but essential for the success of the store. Look for ways to entice these customers, like displaying comics related to new blockbuster movies or video games. Staying up-to-date with pop culture can help you capitalize on the market.
How and when to build a team
This business works best without large labor expenses, so it is suitable for an owner/operator that runs the store by his or herself and does not need any additional staff for the retail store operations. If the business also markets its products on the Internet, perhaps there might be a need for data entry and eCommerce management. In that case, the extra staff would either be freelance workers or workers paid minimum wage to make postings on eBay about items for sale and do all the online marketing and order fulfillment activities.
If the business grows to a point where more workers are needed, or if the business owner would prefer not to be involved in the daily operation of the store, additional employees would be beneficial. Choosing employees with a love for comic books who can help customers pick out what best suits them is crucial.
Read our comic book store hiring guide to learn about the different roles a comic book store typically fills, how much to budget for employee salaries, and how to build your team exactly how you want it.
State & Local Business Licensing Requirements
Certain state permits and licenses may be needed to open a comic book store. Learn more about licensing requirements in your state by visiting SBA’s reference to state licenses and permits.
Most businesses are required to collect sales tax on the goods or services they provide. To learn more about how sales tax will affect your business, read our article, Sales Tax for Small Businesses.
Comic book stores may also wish to look into applying for a resale certificate, as a resale certificate allows retailers to purchase goods intended for resale without paying sales tax.
In addition, certain local licensing or regulatory requirements may apply. For more information:
- Check with your town, city or county clerk’s office
- Get assistance from one of the local associations listed in US Small Business Associations directory of local business resources.
Maintain Personal Asset Protection
Don’t think that just forming an LLC, or any other type of business, will save your personal assets in case of a lawsuit or other matter by itself.
When your personal and business accounts are mixed, your personal assets (your home, car, and other valuables) are at risk in the event your LLC is sued. In business law, this is referred to as piercing your corporate veil.
Two of the simplest steps that will protect your business, and yourself, are to:
Open a business bank account
- This separates your personal assets from your company's assets, which is necessary for personal asset protection.
- It also makes accounting and tax filing easier.
Get a business credit card
- This helps you separate personal and business expenses by putting your business' expenses all in one place.
- It also builds your company's credit history, which can be useful to raise money and investment later on.
Like many other types of retail businesses, comic books stores often play music over a sound system for their patrons. In order to play music in a business setting, permission must be acquired from the composer or license holder. Typically, it is possible to obtain a “blanket” license allowing a businesses to play music owned by a large catalog of artists and recording studios. Such licenses can be obtained from Performance Rights Organizations, such as ASCAP or BMI.
Certificate of Occupancy
- It is generally the landlord’s responsibility to obtain a CO.
- Before leasing, confirm that your landlord has or can obtain a valid CO that is applicable to a comic book store.
- After a major renovation, a new CO often needs to be issued. If your place of business will be renovated before opening, it is recommended to include language in your lease agreement stating that lease payments will not commence until a valid CO is issued.
If you plan to purchase or build a location:
- You will be responsible for obtaining a valid CO from a local government authority.
- Review all building codes and zoning requirements for your business’ location to ensure your store will be in compliance and able to obtain a CO.
How much can you charge customers?
The rule of thumb in retail pricing is to use a 30% to 40% markup on cost. If you acquire a collectible comic book for $10 then you would want to sell it for $13 or $14. Remember that the market plays the biggest role in determining prices. The rarest comics are the most expensive, while newly produced comics may also carry a moderately high price due to their topical nature. Figures and models are priced similarly.
In addition, there is often a bargaining structure in play at comic shops and as such, customers may expect to be able to bargain for prices. Whether or you not you choose to have set prices is your decision.
What are the ongoing expenses for a comic book store?
The ongoing costs are labor (if you have employees), rent, and the cost of the electricity for the lights plus an internet connection and shipping (for physical comics) if you sell online as well. Other expenses include the purchase of new comics, figures, and other related items.
How much profit can a comic book store make?
To say that you will get rich in this business would be an overstatement. The idea is to make enough to pay the rent and keep the store open until you find a treasure at a bargain price that you can sell for a substantial profit.
How can you make your business more profitable?
Besides selling physical items in store, you can also buy and sell online and place your most valuable pieces in online auctions with a minimum bid in place to maximize your profits. Bringing your best stuff to comic book conventions and renting a booth to sell items there is another way to make extra money. An alternative business model might involve selling physical comic books online that you publish yourself. You may want to sell digital comics for devices such as Kindle, Android, and on the Internet through systems like ComiXology.
As a sideline business, you may want to offer video games and gaming equipment as well. Because comic book stores that are popular become a place where collectors like to hang out, there is an opportunity for increased profits through things like paid-entry for in-store gaming tournaments or paid raffle entries to win rare comics.