Whenever we come across a fantastic comic book shop, we try showcase them a little bit by asking the shop a few questions about what they do and give you some insight into the world of our beloved retailers. For this edition of the column, we talked to Hayley Spencer of KomiX in Melksham. She was kind enough to provide us with a bunch of photos of her amazing shop and answer our questions, which you can check out below.
You have hands down one of the coolest spaces I’ve seen. How did you come to be in your location and why did you choose to turn it into a comic book shop?
Well, this wasn’t actually our first space! We opened in May 2011 in a standard High Street retail unit, just round the corner from where we are now. Unfortunately though, like many bricks and mortar retailers in a 21st Century economy, we quickly became crippled by our overheads, despite being busy and popular.
The Roundhouse was currently occupied by another business who I happened to be friends with. They were looking at relocating for personal reasons, and I was lucky enough to snap up the building as soon as it became vacant – it slashed our overheads by 75%, which meant we could stay in business – even though we reduced our floor space considerably, we’ve gone from strength to strength as a result of the move, and this May will be our 5th birthday!
What are some of the challenges of having such a small shop?
We are limited as to how much we can stock, which means we can sell out of items quickly, or customers have to wait for us to order in extras – luckily most don’t mind at all, and completely understand. We also have the challenge of being full of customers, but there only being four or five people in here!
We make it work though – it allows for a more personal service as every single person who walks through the door can chat to us if they wish – we’re never too busy! Well, apart from Free Comic Book Day – that’s one hell of a day, and we’re incredibly grateful to our Town Council who own the Prince of Wales Gardens that our shop opens on to – they allow us to set up extra tables outside, and tak eover the gardens for the day, which means more people get to have fun – we put on a barbecue and a cake sale, have some guests, and friends volunteer to help staff the Free Comic tables and help our customers choose the right stuff for them!
Does the price of comics and the sheer volume right now factor into what you get and don’t get?
Absolutely. Most of the comics we buy in go straight into pull lists – we only stock maybe two or three deep of the better selling titles, or the stuff that myself and my staff think would be titles our regulars would like, and therefore new customers too. We make it very clear that whatever people want, we can get in, and we make a big deal of being able to ordertitles in, even if we don’t have them stocked for general sale. But there’s just so much out at the moment, and while that’s great because it means there is bound to be something of interest for everyone, it creates a problem for us becasue we simply cannot stock everything – there just isn’t the room!
What are Must Stock titles for you?
Being in a small town, a lot of our customers had never picked up a comic book before we opened. With that in mind, the majority of titles we stock on the shelf for general sale, are books that contain characters people recognise from TV shows and movies, or are the most famous characters. It seems to work for us, because it’s a good starting point, and a lot of people who continue to read with us, start to migrate to other books and try out new things. The DC New 52 launched just a few months after we opened, and it actually did wonders for growing our customer base, but DC is not out best selling publisher any more by a long shot!
From what I understand, your shop building itself has a pretty rich history. Can you tell us a little bit about it?
I love this building. Melksham is my home town, and when I was about 8 years old, our school took us on a walk through town, and we had to sketch pictures of the older buildings. This was one of them, and I’ve always loved it since. It’s over 300 years old, and was originally built as a wool drying mill. Our town was originally built on the wool and dairy trades, and when those trades declined, the building were repurposed for other things. The Roundhouse became a residence for a while after that, housing a family of five. I’m still not sure how that’s possible – we’re perfectly circular, with a diameter of just 12 feet!
During World War 1 and 2 it was used as a secure armoury storage. In the 70s, 80s and early 90s our local Tourist Information Centre operated from here while doubling up as the Melksham Museum. They moved over to a more modern unit directly opposite after that and the building became available to rent from our local council after that. It’s had a few different businesses in here before me, more noteably and ironworks and photography studio!
6. Do you do anything to bring in new clients to your shop or do you thrive off of geeky regulars?
We do all sorts! When I took on this building it wa spointed out to me that the building doesn’t “lend itself well to retail” – we don’t have a shop window really (see photos!), and the door to get in isn’t on the street itself, it’s in the gardens. So we have to put a little more effort into our marketing, but we are compensated by lower rent!
We have a very strong social media presence, and our customers have grown into our own little community, which is brilliant for word of mouth. In 2012 we launched our town’s first comic convention, Melksham Comic-Con and that has gone from strength to strength every year, and it’s also great for promoting the shop. We’re lucky to have a local free newspaper that is very editorial and have journalists that are passionate and supportive of our community, so we get good coverage there too!
I visit local schools and talk about what it’s like to run a small business in our town, Free Comic Book Day is fantastic for us, we have an annual Ladies Night, my brother and a couple of customers run a free casual tabletop gaming group at our local pub under the flag of the shop, we hold a Christmas Party for customers, and this year we’re having a private cinema screening for our 5th birthday so our customers can celebrate with us!
When I had a baby last year, we held a “Guess the Weight of the Baby” competition – so we really do a whole variety to get regulars and newbies interested in being a part of KomiX and talking about us all over town and further afield!
In your opinion, what are some of the ways that publishers can better themselves for retailers and consumers purchasing their comics from retailers?
Being able to send us marketing material at the time of needing to order from Previews would be handy, as opposed to the week before release! That’s probably one of the biggest bugbears for me – we rely so much on advance ordering to keep our customers happy and guarantee them what they want because we cannot physically stock loads of a title in the hop ethat people might want them – we don’t even have a stock room, literally what we have on our shelves is all we’ve got!
It seems silly, but everyone loves a freebie – promo material like badges and prints advertising upcoming books is always great, and actually, instead of hiking the price of a #1 up, I know my guys and girls would be more likely to pick up a strong #1 if it were cheaper – hook them in, and then put subsequent issues at full price once you’ve got them!
You’re a member of Kate Leth’s Valkyries. How has that community changed working in a comic book shop for you?
The Valkyries has been absolutely incredible for me. Since joining I’ve had so much support, been given new inspiration, and I’ve found that my stores sales have increased upwards of 50% month on month compared to previous years. It can’t just be me and my team – something has changed that, and I think having that support group, knowing that we’re not so alone, we have the same struggles, the same joys, and sharing ideas that work well for us with others who are going through a tough time is just what a lot of us need! It sounds soppy, but I joined just as I was diagnosed with post-natal depression and had not long returned to work after having my daughter. I was so worried about balancing being a mum and a business owner, and letting one of them down – The Valkyries has given me back my strength and determination to have a legacy to pass down to my daughter, so she will be a Valkyrie one day too!
Are there any ways that you feel your shop personally contributes to helping welcome new comic book fans?
As I mentioned earlier, the DC New 52 brought in a lot of new and lapsed readers for us, as it wasn’t long after we opened that it happened. We are one of only two comic stores in our county, so we bring an awful lot of customers in from out of town, which is brilliant for our local economy too.
I actually didn’t start reading comic books myself until I was 22. I opened the store when I was 25, so things snowballed pretty quickly! I’m still learning myself, so I like to think I’m not so jaded about older books, because I’ve been discovering them in recent years rather than having read them over and over when I was younger.
We’re incredibly welcoming of new customers looking to start their journey in the comic world. We encourage people to try out different things, we get to know our customers and what they like and dislike. It’s not just about cash in the bank for us – we want people to leave with somethign that is going to make them smile, make them think, help them through a hard time, or encourage them to do something they wouldn’t normally. Comic books, science fiction shows and classic movies did all that for me and made me who I am today, and if I can help just one other person feel that their life has been bettered because of pop culture, then I’ve succeeded with my business.
Lastly, you’re able to book one current comic book dream team to your shop for a signing. Who would you pick?
Oh man, there’s just so many. Running our own convention, I’ve been so lucky to book guests before that I admire and even sit on panels with them, or have drinks after the show! Si Spurrier is a lot of fun on panels, Kieron Gillen has seen me fall over drunk, and watching Ben Oliver work is mesmerising. I adore Emma Vieceli, her work is beautiful, and her passion for the industry is infectious.
Our Ladies Nights have had indie creators Dani Abram and Jennie Gyllblad showcasing their work and signing and selling their stuff, while dancing to Cyndi Lauper and eating cake – we like to make our signings a lot of fun! For me, it’s not about who we have, but actually, our store has a lot of character and wewant to make comics fun and welcoming, not something to hide in your basement and talk about in hushed voices. So if there are comic book teams out there who fit in with our ideals, then they are always welcome to come for a signing, or join us at our convention!
More photos of the shop: