How to Start a Comic Book Store
Have you loved comic books ever since you were a kid? While comics may have played an important role in your hobbies, comics could also play a central role in your business and entrepreneurial life. Starting a comic book store can be an exciting opportunity, and with some careful planning, your store could be a profitable, long-term business.
Comic book stores primarily exist to sell comics, but they serve other purposes, too. While comic book enthusiasts go to stores to buy new products, they also go for the browsing experience. Many comic book stores hold special events like cosplays, parties, and gaming competitions, encouraging customers to spend extended periods of time at the store in more of a social setting.
While comic book stores may sell only comics, many stores branch out into related products like posters, collectibles, toys, and games. This extended inventory can help draw current and returning customers into the store, and it may also encourage new customers to visit the store.
Before you open a store, take some time to do thorough market research. Visit other local comic book shops and see what they have for inventory, as well as what they’re missing. Try to connect with other comic book store owners who aren’t in your local market and ask them for advice on starting a store of your own.
While data on comic book stores in the United States is limited, information about the overall industry can be inferred from IBIS World’s data on the comic book publishing industry. IBIS World reports that from 2015 to 2020, the industry’s growth correlated with increased consumer spending during that time. As of 2020, the comic book industry was an $839 million market with 173 publishers in business. IBIS World predicts that the industry will continue to grow from 2020 to 2025, but the COVID-19 pandemic and the reduction in spending will constrict the industry. It’s expected that growth will be slow and inconsistent.
Certain publishers largely dominate comic store sales, reports Statista. In 2019, Marvel Comics made up 40.3% of all comic store sales, with DC Entertainment accounting for 29.3% of sales. Image Comics held 8.04% of the sales, while IDW Publishing, Dark Horse Comics, VBOOM! Studios and Dynamite Entertainment all had less than 5% of sales.
The comic book store industry is currently undergoing significant changes because of new trends. According to Business Insider, new types of comics are growing in popularity. Children’s comics and graphic novels were more popular than superhero comics in 2019, but those materials are most widely sold through traditional book stores rather than comic shops. In 2018, book store graphic novel sales reached $500 million, but graphic novel sales were only at $200 million through comic book stores. Both graphic novels and children’s comics potentially pose an opportunity for comic book stores to widen their offerings and attract new audiences.
Increased use of digital comics services is also changing how readers both buy and consume the material. Amazon’s digital comics service, Comixology, is one example of this. Readers are turning to binge-reading to save money and instantly access the wide variety of available materials. It’s possible that digital comics could help to spur interest in print comics, as readers have already begun to seek out print comics after being exposed to the line through a digital medium.
Publisher’s Weekly highlights the influence that movies and TV shows are having on the industry, too. The wildly popular Marvel Cinematic Universe and DC TV shows have proven the popularity of superheroes and brought more fans to the genre. Fans may seek out comics to access the backstory of their favorite characters, so it’s possible that these media could help to drive sales.
Publisher’s Weekly also highlights the importance of having comics that are accessible to all ages. Classic graphic novels continue to be popular, and manga continues to sell well.
Comic book stores typically market to comic book collectors, enthusiasts, and readers, though that specific market can vary. Some stores may specialize in vintage and rare comics, attracting an audience that values prized items but that may not read the comics they buy. A more traditional comic store could have a mix of collectible pieces as well as modern comics, marketing toward collectors who are purchasing comics mainly to read them.
What skills are needed to run a comic book store?
Starting a comic shop doesn’t require a business degree, but certain skills and advantages can be beneficial in the comic industry.
A love of comics. When you own a comic book store, you really need to love comics. Knowledge of the industry, the most popular comics, and what drives readers to buy comics are essential to building a successful store.
Attention to detail. From ensuring that comics arrive in great condition to monitoring pricing and inventory, owning a store requires plenty of attention to detail.
Awareness of comic industry trends. The comic book industry is constantly changing, and a store owner who is aware of the newest trends can help the store adapt to meet customers’ interests. Attending comic book conventions may also give an early indication of emerging trends.
Great customer service skills. A store owner with great customer service skills can build meaningful connections with customers and ensure that each trip into a store is a positive experience. This is essential when running a smaller store and can encourage customers to become repeat buyers.
Creativity. The comic book industry is competitive, and a business owner needs to be creative in getting customers into the store. Unique events and marketing techniques can help drive sales, and a business owner who can get creative in their marketing can help the store stand out.
Checklist for Starting a Comic Book Store
Starting a comic book store can be an incredibly rewarding experience, but it’s important to make sure you’re prepared for the challenges ahead. Use this checklist to help get your business off on the right foot.
Step 1: Write a Business Plan
After coming up with the idea, the next step in starting your business should be to write a comic book store business plan. Not only will a bank require you to have a business plan, but multiple studies have shown that a business plan helps increase the odds of starting a successful business.
Related: How to write a business plan
Step 2: Form a Business Entity
A business entity (also referred to as a business structure) refers to how a business is legally organized to operate. There are four primary business structures to choose from, which include the sole proprietorship, partnership, corporation, and Limited Liability Company (LLC). Each type of entity has its own pros and cons, such as liability exposure, costs, and administrative requirements.
When deciding on which business entity is best for a comic book store, it normally comes down to the sole proprietorship and Limited Liability Company.
A partnership opens the owners up to unnecessary personal liability because if a partner does something to get the business sued, or runs off with cash from the business, the other partners are personally liable to repay.
The corporation can be a good choice to minimize liability risk because it separates the business assets from the owner’s assets. If the corporation is sued or certain business debts can’t be paid back, the owners aren’t personally responsible to repay them. The downside to the corporation is that it is more complicated than all the other entities and requires more administration than the LLC. If you plan on raising a lot of investment though, the corporation is usually the better choice.
That leaves the sole proprietorship and LLC.
The sole proprietorship is the least expensive and easiest entity to start which is appealing. The downside is the owner is personally liable should anything happen to the business, which is an important consideration. The LLC offers the ability to operate as a sole proprietorship with the liability protection of a corporation. Depending on the state, the cost to form an LLC runs from $40 – $500, which is pretty inexpensive for protecting the owners from business-related lawsuits and certain debts.
Related: Guide to forming your LLC
Forming an LLC sounds complicated and expensive, but using an entity formation service guides you through the process so you know it was done right.
Some popular LLC formation services include:
IncFile - $0 plus state fees & free registered agent for 1 year!
IncAuthority - $0 plus state fees & free registered agent the first year!
ZenBusiness - $49 plus state fees & free registered agent for 1 year!
Step 3: Name the Business
Finding the perfect name for a business can be challenging. Not only does the name have to resonate with your customers, but it also has to be available to use.
Step 4: Select your Location
A comic book retailer can choose to be a traditional brick-and-mortar location or an online business model. A brick and mortar store will have higher overhead due to the building. Building costs vary depending on the store’s location, size, and amenities, like off-street parking. A store located in a high-traffic retail area will carry a higher rental cost, but it can also bring in walk-in traffic and help build community awareness of the business.
Unless you plan to have extensive gaming, a comic shop can get by with minimal retail space to keep overhead low.
Related: Choosing a business location
Step 5: Apply for Business Licenses and Permits
There are no specific comic book store licenses; however, there may be some general local, state, and federal business registrations needed, such as a sales tax permit, Employer Identification Number, Occupancy Permit.
Step 6: Open Accounts with Distributors
The largest comic book distributor is Diamond Comic Distributors, who have exclusive rights with the major franchises like Marvel, DC Comics, Dark Horse, and Image. They have a team that assists new stores with their business startup, which can help shorten the learning curve. There are also a number of independent distributors that will round out a store’s titles depending on the niche they are going after.
Step 7: Find Financing
Coming up with a good business idea and having the skills to run it are one thing, but getting the funding to start a comic book store is another as most of the costs go towards inventory and remodeling. To get a loan, the borrower(s) will need to have good credit and personally invest 15-25% money towards the total start-up costs.
Step 8: Open a Business Bank Account
Keeping your small business and personal finances in separate bank accounts is important to track the income and expenses of your business and identify trends.
Many banks offer free business checking accounts, so be sure to find a cost-effective option for your business.
Step 9: Get your Marketing Plan in Place
Great marketing can help a comic book store stand out in a competitive industry and encourage customers to come into the store. Marketing techniques can include social media marketing, online advertising, print advertising, and more. A business owner might also establish a customer loyalty discount and/or a referral rewards policy to help drive sales and build up the customer base. Holding special events can also help to bring both returning and new customers into the store.
Once your comic shop is up and running, your customers can be a valuable source of information and insight. Don’t be afraid to talk to your customers about what they’re looking for, what they would like to see your store carry, and what products they have trouble finding locally. By listening to your customers, you can continue to improve your store to deliver the shopping experience that they want.
One important task while working on the marketing is developing an online presence. A website developer may be out of the budget, but Wix makes it easy for non-technical people to get a website running quickly and affordably.
Step 10: Get Business Insurance
There are several types of insurance to consider when starting a comic book store. A few of these include:
– General liability insurance protects the business if a customer is ever injured while on the property, such as during a slip or fall in the store. This type of policy typically covers expenses like medical bills and legal fees.
– Commercial property insurance helps to protect a business against financial losses if its inventory or equipment is ever damaged in an event like a fire.
– Worker’s compensation insurance helps to protect the business if an employee is ever injured on the job. It helps to cover expenses like medical bills and legal fees.
The cost to insure a comic book store will vary with the store’s location, the value of the inventory and building, and the number of employees on staff. To get the most accurate idea of what to budget for insurance, request policy quotes from multiple providers. When evaluating the quotes, consider how factors like premiums, exclusions, coverage limits, and deductibles compare.
Step 11: Hire Employees
Depending on a comic book store’s hours, a shop owner may handle most or all of the initial staffing. As the store grows in popularity and size, it may be necessary to hire employees. Data on average comic book employee salaries isn’t available, but Glassdoor reports that bookstore clerks earn an average of $27,817 per year.
If a store hires employees, its budget will need to include salaries and other expenses like worker’s comp, unemployment insurance, paid time off, and vacation time.
Related: Hiring your first employee
Step 12: Set up an Accounting System
Setting up an accounting system for your comic book shop is critical to your business’s long-term success.
Staying on top of taxes not only keeps the business out of trouble with the government, but the numbers can be used to track and monitor trends and cash flow in the business and maximize profits.
The thought of accounting can be intimidating for a lot of new entrepreneurs. There are a number of ways of handling bookkeeping, from DIY to hiring a bookkeeper. These include:
- Pen and paper - Low expense, but difficult to track.
- Spreadsheet - Low expense, but easy to make errors.
- Accounting software - Medium expense, but owner typically inputs expenses. Some great accounting software programs include Freshbooks or Wave Accounting.
- Hire a bookkeeper - Higher expense, though very affordable at $100-$200 per month in most cases. A dedicated bookkeeper will probably save money because, in addition to handling all of the bookkeeping (so you can focus on the business), they also provide personalized tax advice and ensure the business is in compliance.
Find bookkeepers in your local area or use a service like 800Accountant.
How much does it cost to start a comic book store?
The cost to start a comic book store will vary depending on the business model, its specialty, and even its location. It’s possible to start a smaller store for $25,000 or more, while larger stores can cost as much as $75,000 and up. Purchasing inventory for a store that specializes in rare and collectible comics will cost significantly more.
Some common startup costs for a comic book store include:
– Bookshelves and display units
– Cash register, Point of Sale (POS), computer, and other office equipment
– Working capital to fund the first 3 – 6 months of payroll, rent or lease, utilities, internet, etc.
How much can a comic book store owner make?
Comic book store income depends on many factors, including the store’s specialty, size, location, and the number of years in business. Whether or not the store allows online sales will also affect its profits.
Retailers purchase new comic books and accessories for 40%-50% of the retail price. To maximize your store’s income, consider adding complimentary merchandise that will appeal to your audience, like action figures, trading cards, games, and collectibles.
Are there grants to start a comic book store?
It’s extremely rare to find a grant to start a comic book store. If you search for business grants, you will come across a lot of scams and misinformation. Occasionally an organization will offer grants to start a business, however, be skeptical and don’t provide any sensitive personal information or pay money to get more information.
Legitimate federal grants can be found at Grants.gov, and you can check on your state’s economic development office to see if they have any grants available.
What is the NAICS code for a comic book store?
The NAICS code for a comic book store is 451212.
The NAICS code (North American Industry Classification System) is a federal system to classify different types of businesses for the collection and reporting of statistical data.
Related: What is a NAICS code?