Sunday, January 20, 2008

I have no white paper to offer

Man, the big long post I was working on was about FAN OUTRAGE, but I'm afraid that this topic has been supplanted by RETAILER OUTRAGE (best place to follow the link trail is here). I've never fully expounded on the Hyacinth Theory of good retailing here, mostly because it doesn't exist.

Honestly, I've never been completely satisfied with any comics shop. There's always something that annoys me on some level. I really like the owner of my current shop; I consider him a friend and we socialize outside the confines of the store. He stocks most of the art comics I want, including a lot of stuff that's just not up his alley. And he always tries to keep this material in stock, insofar as Diamond allows it. But he just won't buy into the manga revolution. He'll happily order manga for me, but I can't go into the store expecting to see the latest volume of Dragon Head or whatever.

I've kind of just learned to live with this. I make most of my impulse manga buys at the chain bookstores and most of my bulk buys through Amazon. As problems with stores go, this is a pretty minor one; there are plenty of places to buy manga these days. Problems I consider more severe than a poor manga selection include but are not limited to:

-an RPG section with a large and loud following; this is a thousand times worse if a section of the store is set aside for RPG people to play their games AT TOP VOLUME
-employees who sneer at the purchases you make; this is a thousand times worse if said employee has something along the lines of Ultimate Iron Man as their Pick of the Week
-employees who try to sell things to you which are only tangentially related to the things you actually wish to purchase (example: a year or so ago, my brother was buying a stack of romance comics and the cashier tried to sell him that recent issue of Daredevil with the Romita Sr. cover)
-employees who ignore customers directly seeking their attention
-multiple employees behind the counter talking about the Transformers movie when there are customers on the floor who look like they might need some help
-employees/customers having loud conversations which make me question my interest in comics (please note: I'm not talking about conversations about minute points of continuity or the appropriate degree of nipple erectness in a Big Barda statue; I'm talking about conversations which explicitly and vehemently reject the very notion that comics exist as anything other than delivery mechanisms for plot developments concerning various spectra of lantern corps or memorable Wolverine beheadings)
-employees who subject me to their terrible taste in music; Weezer seems like a popular choice among these folks
-failure to order the most basic art/literary titles, like something along the lines of the big Castle Waiting HC
-propensity to order just enough titles to fill subscribers' lists, leaving the shelves a barren wasteland
-stock which has been bleached by sunlight, dogeared by gravity/wind, etc.
-open hostility from employees
-positioning the store's fixtures in a manner that prohibits ease of browsing (my store of choice borders on having this problem)

A store with any of those problems would have to be really, really good in other ways to get my patronage. Generally speaking, if a store has a good selection of comics I want to buy, I will put up with all kinds of unprofessional/annoying shit. Here is a partial list of things people complain about in other stores which I dislike but will gladly tolerate if the store carries something I want to buy:

-new comics piled up on a table rather than put out on the shelf
-dim lighting
-creepy cashier(s) (so long as they keep to themselves)
-disorganized stock
-failure to carry classic comic strip collections
-failure to carry comics by smaller independent publishers (I'm talking smaller than Top Shelf/D&Q/Fantagraphics)
-failure to carry minicomics
-complete lack of back issue stock
-lack of air conditioning
-stupid toys, sculptures, and assorted superhero ephemera
-loud manga fans
-questionable odors, provided they aren't overwhelming
-a pro-Kevin Smith atmosphere
-no comics for kids or general kid-unfriendliness (two caveats: (1) if the store has a high traffic in youngsters, I think its management must either chase the kids off or make the store as kid-friendly as possible, assuming this doesn't interfere with the store's profitability; (2) if the store is avowedly kid-friendly, then it shouldn't play Kevin Smith movies on the television and the employees should watch what they're saying)
-sub-moronic staff who have never heard of, say, Walt Kelly or Robert Crumb
-a clear favoritism towards superhero comics
-displays, events, or the like suggesting that screechy middlebrow comics are the highest level to which comics can aspire
-television(s) constantly playing old Star Trek episodes (or the like)

Here are problems I have not yet encountered in any store, but which don't seem completely unrealistic and which I would probably find very annoying were I to encounter them:

-refusal to special order titles through Diamond
-pressure to make a special hold list
-uptightness about flipping through comics
-a Goth-intense staff
-televison(s) constantly playing porn
-creator(s) hanging out, pestering you to buy their comics (note: I'm not talking about a formal signing here)

But like I said, I'm willing to put up with all kinds of stupid shit so long as the store has material I want to buy. I might not come in every week, and I might consider other options if the store is annoying in multiple ways. But if I can go in with full confidence that that new Dash Shaw GN will be there, then I'll put up with all manner of annoyances.

Related: In all likelihood I'll be moving beyond the reach of my current store in the next six or seven months, and I'm a little nervous about what lies out there. It's been a long time since I've had to switch stores. Frankly, I've never shopped at a store which I held in any degree of contempt. Maybe I've just been lucky. Maybe there's a lot of Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and direct ordering from the publisher in my future, but I sure hope not. I'll make sure to ask you folks about the quality of stores in my new location when and if the time comes.

BONUS: 10 THINGS I LOOK FOR IN A GROCERY STORE

1. A decent brand of tofu
2. Decent produce (bell peppers being a good indicator of the overall quality)
3. Sales which aren't tied to the store's price club or whatever
4. Absence of yuppie-types who are oblivious to your need to get to the area where they're aimlessly chatting with fellow yuppies, thus jeopardizing your ability to finish your shopping in the small window of time you have allotted for it
5. Absence of old people whose slow movements inhibit your progress, thus jeopardizing your ability to finish your shopping in the small window of time you have allotted for it (this isn't entirely fair, since it's not like anyone chooses to get old; however, one can choose to be an oblivious yuppie)
6. Absence of divorced/single middle-aged men who will scornfully rush past you at top speed in order to get to the Chunky Soup or whatever it is that divorced/single middle-aged men who can't cook for themselves eat
7. Adequate supply of cashiers
8. Adequate supply of carts
9. Bakeries with at least one unique item which I like to eat
10. Prices that don't make me feel like a sucker for continuing to shop at the store

As you may have guessed, I have never come close to finding a grocery store which comes close to satisfying all these desires.

10 comments:

David Wynne said...

"-a Goth-intense staff"

...why is this a problem? Just seems a bit random, with no elaboration.

Lorin said...

My main problem with any store is a lack of back issues, or worse, a large back issue selection that is completely unorganized. There is a store not far from my girlfriend's house that has a massive back issue selection. Sadly, it's all completely disorganized and scattered. Part of me knows that what I'm seeking is around, I just don't want to put the effort into digging around. The store that I have frequented and kept a pull box at since 1991 has a solid back issue selection, a courteous and knowledgeable staff, and the best part, 25 percent off everything in my pull box, which is a lot. They don't carry much in the area of indie's, but if you want it, they will order it. Nothing I've bought has ever been scoffed at and I've never been pressured to buy anything. Actually, the only time I recall being scoffed at was at a comic book convention when I was in seventh grade. A retailer chided me because I was buying a bunch of What The? comics. Granted, they're terrible comics, I realize now, but who makes fun of a seventh grader? Don't they like money?

Dick Hyacinth said...

That's the only part that seems a bit random?

I guess I'm thinking about going to the big Mile High Comics store a couple of years ago. (Quick aside: there are a bunch of Mile High stores in the Denver area. I've been to two of them--the main one and a much smaller one in Littleton. The one in Littleton was one of the worst stores I've ever been in--that's the one I'm thinking of with the "open hostility" item.) Anyway, the store is huge, and about 1/4 to 1/3 of it is cordoned off for RPG stuff. The employees there were goth kids, and seemed to be spending all their time snickering at customers and talking shit about people who (presumably) weren't there. Thankfully I didn't have to deal with them.

I know it's unfair and incredibly stupid to draw conclusions from one incident, so I should point out that I generally dislike a lot of the goth subculture. I mean, I think full immersion into any subculture is a hindrance to personal growth or whatever you want to call it, and I say that as someone who eagerly self-identified as a punk for a couple of years. But I don't like the mix of vapid cynicism, bad music, and bad poetry I associate with goths. To be fair, young punk kids often make pretty bad employees as well--it's just that I kind of empathize with them a bit.

Chris Mautner said...

Most comic stores don't invest heavily in manga these days, at least according to my own anecdotal experience. They just can't compete with the Internet and big chain book stores. Even the stores in my area that used to stock up on manga have started to slash their sections drastically. Which is great for bargain shopping, but rather sad in the long term.

David said...

Regarding grocery stores, I would forever pledge my loyalty to a store that provides enough space for two carts moving in opposing directions to comfortably navigate their way down any given aisle. Throw in space for an un-carted human to navigate this aisle at the same time, and I will almost certainly never shop anywhere else.

If this store exists, please tell me.

Alicia said...

"-employees who ignore customers directly seeking their attention
-multiple employees behind the counter talking about the Transformers movie when there are customers on the floor who look like they might need some help"

Hey, look, two of the reasons why I happily canceled my pull list when I needed to restructure my entertainment spending!

What's awesome is that in the incident where this happened, the two employees and their nerdier-than-thou girlfriends were making fun of another employee who, although a friend of mine, did have a tendency to not notice customers while painting Warhammer figurines. I timed it and managed to wait fifteen minutes by the register with my books before they noticed that while bitching about a guy who tended not to help customers, they were not helping a customer.

Todd C. Murry said...

My current retailer is the best I've had, and is pretty sweet but, yeah, there's no perfect. My only complaint with him is that our frames of reference are slightly different for upcoming releases, so I'll mention something that I think of as highly touted, and he won't know what I'm talking about (sometimes I help this along by not knowing basic information, like the title, publisher, and creator's name, and trying to describe the thing - like "the one with the ninjas that looks like it was drawn by a second grader, but everyone loves"), and when this occurs, his getting it for me becomes hit and miss (worst offender - I've asked for "Late Freeze" about 20 times). Sometimes he undororders stuff that, from my frame of reference, is an obvious huge seller, and I miss it (partially because the order cards aren't construceted optimally, and help cause misses).

Other than this, he's the perfect retailer. Much better than, for instance: My New Orleans retailer who made me uncomfortable to be in his presence, had a mildewy store,and constantly shoved extra books in my buy pile I couldn't afford (I was a kid, damn it); my Baton Rouge retailer who didn't stock anything alternative until Wizard said it was hot; my New York City retailer, who had a good store but had no discounting and a staff that would never have recognized me if I had come in 10,000 times; and the other Vegas store I go to sometimes where I have regularly heard the proprieter be rude on the phone, indulge in geek wankfests that make ME unconfortable (that's saying something), change rules on back issue prices constantly without notice, and doesn't discount (market discount norm for subs is 15-20%).

What I really hate at the grocery is the slow asses you mention that clot up at the free food areas, making areas of the store impassable. Sometimes, I have to wait for a toster oven to finish before I can get out of a corner.

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