Thursday, February 15, 2007

Nostalgia & Comics & Me part 14
Expansion. No No No No No No No No No.

In a post a little while ago, I touched on the other Nostalgia & Comics stores that we had at one time around the country.

What an absolute complete and total bloody disaster that all turned out to be.

If memory serves me well, Nostalgia & Comics had, at one time or another, stores in Birmingham, Nottingham, Sheffield, Coventry, Stafford and Kings Lynn. (Hardly London, Paris, New York is it?)

Anyway, in much the same way that the owner at the time didn't have a clue when it came to publishing (post) he didn't exactly have the best idea about how to open new Nostalgia & Comics stores. In fact it may be fair to say, based purely on the result, he had NO idea how to open new Nostalgia & Comic stores.

Lets take a look:
Nostalgia and Comics has attempted expansion five times,
each time has met with disaster,
lessons learnt were quickly forgotten and mistakes repeated five times over:

Sheffield (taken over by Titan Distributors after failure to pay bills).
Nottingham (Incompetent manager, Taken over by Titan again).
Coventry (under-funded, no stock, badly organised, closed after 6 months of losses).
Stafford (partnership with local businessman, who went out of business owing Nostalgia and Comics several thousand pounds).
Kings Lynn (Same person as Stafford, same result).

The last two are my favourites. To get ripped off by some local businessman once could almost be considered an unfortunate accident or minor negligence. But to have it happen to you twice in quick succession indicates a colossal lack of business skill.

Anyway, the basic business model for opening a brand new Nostalgia & Comics appeared to be this:
Pick a small, dank, preferably dirty location somewhere as far away as possible from the main shopping area.
Ideally the only passing trade should be dossers and drunks looking for somewhere to kip for the night. (This also helps to give the shop doorway it's pungent inviting smell).
Don't bother with silly pointless things such as shopfitting, decorating or improvements in flooring / lighting / damp-proofing etc.
Stock it with whatever crap you can get cheap from any distributor. Don't bother with new stuff, that would be far too expensive.

My own personal experience comes from helping to set up the Coventry shop.
It was an amazingly incompetent shop set up. But there was absolutely no way I could have made it work, no matter what I had done. As you can see I was hampered all the way by the tightfisted, frankly insane ideas the boss was having at the time....

First, we had a stunningly bad location.
As far away as you could get from the city centre without actually being ON the ring road. And to be honest, if we had been on the ring road at least we may have gotten a little passing trade out of it before we caused an accident.
It was a tiny shop. No really, tiny. About 300 sq ft at best. That's about the size of your bathroom.
Into this, we were expected to install several hundred metres of really crappy wooden shelving and old metal racks that have been in the Birmingham shop basement for at least 5 years just waiting for a wonderful opportunity such as this.
Then the owner appears with the stock.
Box after box after box after box of the sort of crap that the basement at Birmingham was overflowing with at the time. 2000AD, Oink, Poot, old Viz, essentially anything the boss could get without actually having to pay much (any?) money.
We had no credit card facility to speak of. Even better, we had no bloody phone at all and had to pop into the shop next door to get in touch with the Birmingham shop.
As for new stock, forget it. All our stock came from the Birmingham store in the back of the owner's van, as the owner didn't think it worthwhile to fork out the extra money for a separate order with the distributor.

And surprise surprise, with no money to fit it out, no money to advertise it, no money on getting stock in - guess how much money we made from it?
Absolutely right.
No money.

But ridiculously, after seeing it fail in one awful location, a few months later I was back in Coventry to move the shop to another, equally bad location.
This time we were renting the upstairs to a surf clothing store. Slightly bigger, but all the problems of the first location and the added extra stupidity of having no real signage to actually tell passing trade that we were upstairs. We eventually arranged a small bit of window space and put up a couple of makeshift signs.
But guess what? That's right - No money again.
The whole thing was over within a year or so.

This was in the 80s/early 90s if I remember it correctly. At this time there were quite a few stores expanding and trying to become chains. Stateside, Fantastic Store, Forbidden Planet and others. As far as I remember every chain except FP / FPI went to the wall in spectacular fashion.
What does this tell us about Nostalgia & Comics in particular and most other comic shops of the time in general?
Probably not the best idea to think you're the next Richard Branson when in actual fact you're closer to Del Boy Trotter. Most of these comic shop businesses got lucky; the owners opened up at the right time in the right place completely by chance. They weren't businessmen, they had no idea how to approach running a comic shop in the 90s and paid a heavy price when they got stupid and greedy and decided that they were ideally placed to build a little empire.
As for me, I haven't been back to Coventry since. I don't think I'm missing much.

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