As an aspiring comic shop owner, it’s always fun for me to check out shops wherever I go. I’ve been to shops in Japan, Australia, New Zealand, England and many states, as I’ll go out of my way to see what shops are like in places that aren’t Alaska. Everyone does it differently, and you can learn a lot about better ways to do things by seeing what other people are doing.
Dublin, Ireland has had one of the best examples of a comic shop in their city for a while now. Big Bang Comics, a beloved establishment by readers and creators both, has been voted the best shop in Ireland for three years running. It’s easy to see why when talking to their staff – including owner John Hendrick – and in how they handle business online. And now, they’ve gotten even better. Last week, they moved into a much bigger location that is up there in terms of the best looking shops I’ve ever seen. Bright, clean and with beautiful displays, they’ve created a shop that is inviting for readers of all varieties.
With the shop opening its doors last week, I reached out to Hendrick to talk about why they moved, how they made the look of the shop tie into their love of comics, the gallery and signing space they included, how this new look makes The Big Bang more appealing, and much more. For those interested in the retail side of things and who are interested in getting a look at this beauty, take a look below, and thanks to John for the chat.
Also, if you’re interested in how well comics actually sell to customers, following them on Twitter is highly recommended. They share weekly data that provides valuable insight into how comics perform in their shop, and it’s interesting for readers and creators alike.
After finding great success at your old location, what made you and your team realize you needed to find a new location and a new space?
Literally we needed space, we were over trading and probably have been for the last 2 years and it was only getting worse. Seriously, we had thousands of people for Free Comic Book Day last year and we could only let about 10 people into the store at a time. There was a 2 and a half hour wait to get in in the rain. On top of that we do so many in store events and signings that queues around the block weren’t uncommon. Some were easier to manage than others but we were always looking to get people in and out. Whenever any of these events were on trading effectively stopped in store. So we started exploring the idea what of moving to a much bigger premises and if we were going to do that we wrote down a list of what we wanted from it.
What did you learn from your previous location that you new that you wanted to put into this new spot, and how do you feel about you execution of the ideas? Also, did you look to any other shops for inspiration?
JH: We’ve learned over the years that if you’re just cool with people, treat your store like a business, focus on customer service, don’t run it like a “Comic Shop” but a store that sells Comics – there’s a huge difference between the two – the same as the last store we could start to implement the ideas we had. We know our strengths; our strengths are creating a safe, welcoming environment. One that’s professionally run and non-cliquey, we sell a phenomenal amount of Graphic Novels so we knew we needed to expand that section. Likewise we needed a bigger, more open area for Comic Books where people wouldn’t be on top of each other. Now with merchandise too it’s more clearly laid out and easier to see.
But the two biggest things we needed were a bigger area for customer interaction so we’ve now got a far larger counter area where 2 or 3 people can work very easily and a dedicated signing and gallery area.
We love working with creators and we love doing these kinds of events where people hang out and meet their fans and readers, we always try to have at least one signing or book launch a month and we needed a dedicated area for those events that wouldn’t impede trade in the store like before. I’m also a big fan of original art and cool prints so we combined those areas together.
I think it’s worked out pretty well and it’s a nice feature.
As for other store’s I don’t think any one store was ever on our mind as a direct inspiration, but there’s loads out there that I love what they do, OK Comics in Leeds, Gosh in London, The Isotope in San Francisco and many more have had an impact on me over the years.
I think our store is a store that all the people that run those stores would like just as much as their own and it was really inspiring to get all the positive feedback and tweets from these store owners around the world telling me what a good job we’d done.
In a way that I’ve never seen before, your new spot feels like a celebration of all things comics. I mean, you have a door with Wally Wood’s 22 panels that always work on it. That’s awesome. Yet, it doesn’t feel kitschy. Quite the opposite exactly. How carefully did you have to balance that, and besides the Wally Wood door, do you have any other fun shout outs to comic lore?
JH: YEAH! See, comic books are what we do. It’s who we are and I want stuff all around the store that says we are a Comic Book Store first and foremost. We might sell statues or action figures and I love those things but that door is a reminder to everyone that we will never be a toy shop that sells Comic Books on the side. We walk through that door everyday so we won’t forget that either. It doesn’t matter if you have the word Comics in your name anymore, there’s so many “Comic Cons” out there that have nothing to do with Comic Books and so many other types of stores that are trying to tap the market. You’ve got Video Game stores setting up Graphic Novel departments now, Record stores selling toys, stationary shops selling anything with the Batman logo on it.
On top of that we get a lot of people in store that want to make Comics and I literally have a feature to point at now and tell them to take a photo of it. I love Wally Wood! That was such a last minute thing but it really works.
We really just wanted a simple way to say WE ARE AND ALWAYS WILL BE A COMIC STORE no matter what else is in here. Comics are our priority and we won’t forget that.
There’s more coming, a few features here and there that are nods to colourists etc. but it’s all just a gradual thing.
There’s always the idea that comic shops need to fight against, and that’s that they are dark and cluttered places. But the new Big Bang is bright, sleek and clean, and its displays are very nicely spaced. Going in, what made that the design that your team wanted to go with and the ideal layout for customers?
JH: Yeah, see that stereotype isn’t exactly undeserved, now is it, and I’ve never ever wanted to fit into that definition either. So in my view a store can’t be bright or clean enough, really. You want people not to want to wash their as hands as soon as they leave or not enjoy their experience in your store.
Space wise I think we’ve just gone and done the exact opposite to the last store, in there everything was so on top of each other, we were on top of each other and the customers that when we were planning it all out we wanted to make something kind of cool and unique, where we could have 50 people in the store, it not feel cramped and customers could feel relaxed still. That happened on Wednesday, 54 people were in the store and it wasn’t cramped.
One thing I absolutely love is your signing area and gallery. While I know that space is a precious commodity for most comic shops, it’s a beautiful thing to see. What made that an area you knew you wanted to include, and what are your plans for the space going forward?
JH: That was something we were dead set on doing from the start for a few different reasons. And while space is a commodity in any Comic Store I’m so pleased we put it to this use, already it’s paying off for us way more than shelving it or using it for retail ever could have. It was really important to me that area looked nice. Like as nice as an art gallery level nice, so I planned it out like that and put in a lot of great pieces from over the years. 90% of those are gifts that creators have given me and I wanted other people to see some of the cool art I’ve been so lucky to receive. And now they can all of the time, there’s still more to go up but again, but like everything else it’ll be a gradual thing.
We do so much with creators from both here and abroad that to have an area we could use just made sense and if needs be we could put it together at a moment’s notice. I really wanted the store to have an area where if someone like Becky Cloonan or Cameron Stewart called me up and said ‘hey, I’m in town, let’s do something cool at the store tomorrow’ we could.
Or if we had a launch lined up for Jordie Bellaire’s and Declan Shalvey’s next book they could sit down and talk to people there or even use it as an exhibition space. This space even made us change our sound system as now we can use wireless mics in store and it’ll come through the speakers so we can run Q and A’s or even do a panel.
That whole space has literally changed our entire store and I really think for the better.
For your business, what do you hope this means? Is it your hopes that this will be a way to make your shop more appealing to new and casual readers, or were you just looking for a nicer and bigger space that better fit the shop you were becoming?
JH: I hope I don’t come off as trying not to put any effort into answering this question but you’ve kind of nailed it right there. I think it’s all of those things you mentioned and more. We could see the way the business was going, and if we hadn’t have ever moved we were still doing well and would continue to work hard to do well, but now I can literally do anything. And those are four words I could never say before, I CAN DO ANYTHING!
And I will, we will, I’ve a great team that work here and all of us are good at different things so we’ve a host of cool new events planned, new product lines incoming and yes, on top of that we’ve already had a string of new customers in that never knew we were here before as well as our awesome customers and friends who’ve supported us the last four years too. We’re selling truckloads of Volume 1’s to people and we’re giving them the same service as before but opening them up to all these new and exciting titles they never knew existed.
Casual readers are just customers who’ve never been in a Comic store before, and you’ve got to remember that everyday it’s somebody’s first visit, remember that it’s better to sell someone a good book instead of trying to make a quick buck because they’ll trust your recommendations more and most of all Don’t Be A Dick!