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The Break-Up

“Listen, I’ve been thinking a lot about this and I really think it’s best if I move on.”

“It’s really been great. I’ve loved every minute of the time we’ve spent together, but I just need a change.”

“It’s nothing personal. I just want to see what else is out there.”

Yes, it’s the dreaded break-up. But, this is no husband taking leave of his wife after many years of marriage. This is no girlfriend trying to let her heartbroken beau down easy. This is a relationship far more personal. A relationship rarely discussed out in the public arena.

This is the dreaded split between a valued subscriber and their faithful comic book retailer.

Folks, it’s about time we opened the curtains, came out of the closet and hashed this one out.

Whether pulling weekly books and keeping personal files, offering discounts on orders through “Previews” or just keeping track of individual customers and tailoring their product to suit their needs, most comic book stores offer some sort of subscriber program for their regular customers.

We’ve always had subscriber programs in some shape or form. Always had some sort of incentive or personal service that requires micro-attention to each individual shopper. It’s part of the foundation we’ve built as a customer service based store that always acts not on the motto “the customer is always right,” but “the customer is most important.”

Any store with these kinds of programs and policies is undoubtedly going to build strong, personal and, yes, intimate relationships with their regulars. As with any relationship, it starts out giddy and exciting. Over time, it grows deeper and richer as you get to know the intricate details of one another’s ideals and personal histories. Then, it either settles into a comfortable rhythm of mutual respect and admiration, or it heads in another direction entirely, with one discovering they moved in with the wrong person and has to figure some way to get the hell out.

Let me clear the air right out of the gate and represent for my fellow retailers.

We know you’re not monogamous. We know you “shop around.” We know you spend time with other “comic book guys.”

It’s ok if you leave us. It’s ok if you choose to shop somewhere else. It’s ok if you need to close your account.

After many years of standing behind counters and reading customer expressions, I can see a potential break-up as soon as it walks through my door. Maybe it has something to do with the inability to meet my gaze. Maybe it’s the sweat beads on their forehead even though the weather is altogether pleasant. Maybe it’s the mumbled salutation instead of the usual enthusiasm that comes from walking into the haven of a comic book shop. I always know when something’s up. It’s all just a matter of how it’s going to play out. What line they’re going to give me. What tactic they’re going to take.

I’ve had my heart crushed, my love go unrequited, my devotion betrayed and my confidence shattered by any number of women in my life. But, I’ve never seen more nervous tension and fear in the face of my “partner” than when they come in to close their subscription account. I gaze into their eyes and see sleepless nights, tossing and turning, trying to figure out how they’re going to break it off. How they can look into the eyes of their greatest friend and confidant and tell them they’re leaving.

Now, I’ve heard stories of crazy retailers who’ve refused to let someone off the hook. Who’ve gone out of their way to show their disdain and hurt at being jilted. I’ve even heard of a retailer who staunchly refused to close the customer’s account and called their home incessantly, tearfully asking “what did I do?”

But, short of the extremely rare instance of a nutty shop owner stalking you for closing your account, it’s important that you know this. Your friendly neighborhood comic book gal loves and respects you whether you have an account with them or not. In fact (boy, I hate to say this in an open forum), it’s a hell of a lot easier on us when you just come in to shop, we show you what’s on the shelves and you decide what to buy. Spending infinite hours setting aside everything you ask for on a weekly basis and desperately hoping you buy it all when you get the time to stop in causes all sorts of nervous anxiety.

Please don’t get me wrong. I seriously love my customers. I consider them family. But, like my family, if one of them wants to move out of the house to explore the world or decides they need a change, they get my blessings and good wishes. They know our home will always be there and their room just as they left it should they ever want to come back.

If I discover my wife is running around, spending time with other men and seeing what they can offer her that I can’t, the earth is most assuredly going to shake. But, if I discover that my faithful subscriber has been spending time rifling their fingers through someone else’s back issue bins, all I’m going to do is be glad for them that they completed that run of “X-Men” they’d been trying to finish for the last decade.

Seven days a week at the comic book store are made up of funny little “mini-betrayals.” Funny because the customer thinks they’ve betrayed me.

Me: “Hey, I found that issue of “Captain America” you needed.”

Customer: “Oh. Umm. That’s cool. I got it already.”

Our eyes meet. There’s a brief moment of unspoken heartache between us. They realize what they’ve just revealed. I stand frozen, unsure how to respond.

They desperately jump in:

“Well, yeah, um, I just happened to be on the other side of town and they were open late and I thought I’d just stop in and they happened to have a copy (at cover price!) and I figured you shouldn’t have to go through the trouble to find it for me and I just bought it and left. You know I don’t ever shop there, right? You know this is the only store for me, right? Right??”

Frankly, the only thing that matters to me is that you’re happy and that you got what you wanted for your collection. I’m not your husband or your boyfriend. I’m not your girlfriend or your wife. I’m your comic book retailer. There needn’t be any secrets or standing on ceremony or any need to impress. I accept you for who you are and make no judgments on your actions.

If your employment situation has changed and money’s tight, don’t keep your subscription open because you’re afraid to disappoint me. Hell, don’t keep it open because you might disappoint yourself either! Just cut back and ride it out.

If you’re moving out of town, please don’t make me last in the communication loop. Give me a little time to plan so I don’t get stuck with a month’s worth of your comics. I actually had a long time subscriber not show up for six weeks and when I finally tracked him down, he told me he was living across the country in Chicago and that he’d forgotten to let me know. Weekly comic book junkies don’t “forget” they need their fix. They just get nervous when changing dealers.

If you’re closing your account because you’re unhappy with my store, my service, my product line or my employees, please give me a chance to hear your concerns and see if I can address them. You being pro-active with your concerns makes my store better and tailors it more to your needs.

Look, we all have life changes. We all navigate through difficult emotional, financial and medical turmoil on occasion. We all have to adapt and adjust accordingly. Whatever you’re going through, your comic book retailer has either been through it, is going through it right now or will experience it any day now. Remember that we’re human, we don’t take it personally and we’re retailers because we want to “serve” your needs, not complicate them.

Cut back on your titles. Close your subscription account. Shop another store if you really feel it’s a better fit for you. Just don’t be afraid to communicate with me about it and don’t be afraid to be honest.

And, whatever you do, just don’t break up with me on my voice mail…


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Welcoming the Future, Treasuring the Past.