2021... First year with Walt's (1 of 2)
Man, what a year. Our first fill business year (it officially started July 2020). Also the year of Brexit, distributor changes, many delays, Omikron and a serious supply-chain chaos. In the midst of it all a new comic related business, which tries to do things differently.
Walt's Comic Shop went through an incredible development, that's for sure. Needless to say that I am very thankful for every customer who jumped on board in 2021. Making you guys happy is really at the center of everything, and while we can't always deliver on it 100% (because sometimes it's out of our control and also because we are just pathetic human beings who make mistakes), we at least try our best.
Most of you have probably watched the interview I did on Near Mint Condition in October, so you already know a little bit about my background. But I want to take the opportunity to take a closer look a the recent past, this crazy last year. Don't know if it's of interest to anyone else than myself. I'm not even sure yet if I'll release it to the public. In any case, I would like to set up this little chronicle for myself. I'm getting old and forgetful, you know?
January is Brexit month. A large shipment from Diamond is stuck in customs. Nobody knows what's going on and I am getting nervous, because it includes the very first pre-orders for big books, which were offered back when I got the Diamond account in August of 2020. At the end of the month finally the stock comes through. And I am doubly relieved, because revenue didn't tank as I was expecting it to do. Almost the same level as December which was the Christmas month and the first one which showed a real uptick since I started the business in July!
I start to dream: If I can double this revenue by the end of the year this whole thing can evolve from a supplementary income and become the main one. But for that I desperately need more room.
A 50% growth in revenue from January from February means more cash flow means more new stock I can buy. But where to store it?! We live in a 100qm flat in Kreuzberg, not small, but also not big enough for storage and fulfillment. My wife is happy for my success but our little daughter needs the room I now use for fulfillment. We agree that I have to find something fast. At the latest in May.
I notice that the revenue is stagnant on ebay, but has really grown exponentially in my own store, which I operate on shopify. I invest many hours in trying all sorts of plug-ins and also dabble a bit in google and facebook ads. Markerstuff (good friend who designed the Waltman-Logo) keeps bothering me about Insta. Haven't posted anything in months. "Insta is for when you have too much time on your hands"; I try to stay focused on balancing two jobs.
(Of course now I'm kind of obsessed with Insta haha)
End of March sales are already 50% higher than I had hoped for at the end of the year. And there is one fat reason for it: The power of pre-orders! In a moth second to none an incredible line-up of books is being announced: FF Vol 4, ASM Vol 5 + a reprint of the highly sought after ASM Vol 3... AND a reprint of the htf X-Men Inferno Prologue. I become aware of the potential, but how can I set up a proper pre-order program without good discounts? Most comic shops in Germany and the EU offer new stock for 0,90-1,10€/$. I can match that, but especially with expensive books like Omnis people prefer to order from Amazon or from overseas if they can save some money. I am struggling with a very measly discount from my main distributor in the UK. So my idea is to talk with the book distributors from the US and get the stock from them. Hachette is distributing Marvel and Penguin Random House does DC. Both have a standard discount of ca 50%, and even with increased shipping costs: I would need to order six figures worth of merchandise from my main distributor EVERY MONTH to get this discount. That or switching to Diamond US. I prefer to try the new route, even when it means missing out on the DM variant covers. It takes 1 week to set up an account with PRH and close to 6 for Hachette. I order from Hachette first, because I sell at least double the amount in Marvel books compared to DC.
In other news, I get a confirmation for a 40sqm unit in a commercial warehouse. A room with high ceilings, perfect for shelves! 40sqm is already at this time not great, but still better than the 16sqm at home.
I am extremely excited. Things are picking up speed and I try to keep up the pace.
First order from Hachette is in. And it doesn't look pretty. It's at least ⅓ damages, closer to 50% if I'd be picky. No protection at all, just books thrown into a carton. After a few fruitless exchanges it becomes clear that Hachette doesn't really care about a comic shop from Europe who complains about the condition of the books. They do offer credit, but what am I supposed to do with it? Will def. not order from them again. It's a money loss; not gigantic, but still.
In other news, the previous tenant of the unit I was about to move in decides to stay in till July. Also, sales are way down, close to February levels. Was everything just a fluke? I am always considering that everything could still go totally wrong.
Walt's Comic Shop is now my main business. Luckily I earn enough with my other job as a screenwriter, that I don't have to take out money from the comic business. I am well aware that my stock selection is lacking and try to buy as much older books as I can — and as long as they are still in print. I put in a large back-order for DC stock with PRH, and everything arrives in flawless condition. That makes Marvel's decision to switch from Diamond US to them even more exciting. I start to exchange a lot of mails with my PRH rep. They seem determined to make things right and I see a lot of potential for Walt's Comic Shop. It is of course not without risk: I sell for a pre-determined price. If shipping costs (which are already high) continue to rise, or the euro drops considerably against the dollar, the modest margin on the pre-orders will hardly be able to compensate. Basically, the pre-order business only works according to the motto: Everything will go exactly as planned. I still decide to go for it. The first wave in the Big Book Pre-Order Program goes live on the site.
Since the quantities of the expected stock is advancing into completely new dimensions the unit in the commercial warehouse is now definitely too small and I start to look for new options. But I have to decide: Do I move to the outskirts? That would cement my decision for a pure mail order. But I would have to put up with a longer commute. The only advantage would be more space for the same money. The business is growing so fast, that I almost feel obliged to vote for more space. So I drive from one end of town to the other and have viewing after viewing, coming to neighborhoods in Berlin where I've never been before. With good reason, as it turns out. My anticipation begins to dwindle. More space cannot be the only criterion. And I realize that an anonymous mail order company, designed for automation and profit maximization, operating out of some warehouse in the middle of nowhere, is not my goal. A new criteria in my search from now on is that the rental property has the potential to also be a retail store...
(END OF PART 1)