Hello! It's been a while since the last Waffle - partly because I've been crazy busy, but mostly because I didn't have anything to say I thought would be interesting. Now, as a result of a social media post, I really do. So, here I am.
Here's how things panned out.
Last Friday, (9th August 2019) Diamond UK - pretty much the monopoly supplier for most American comics, and the default supplier for pretty much all comics shops announced that, as a result of the current weakness of Stirling, it was going to have to raise its prices.
This was, frankly, not unexpected - and it's not Diamond's fault. The plain fact is that American comics are priced in dollars. As the value of the pound falls against the dollar the quantity of comics Diamond can buy with their pounds falls. Sooner or later, they have to pass that cost along to the retailers. We're not going to get into the reasons for the fall in the pound here - I'll talk politics in the shop all day long if you want to, but this is not the forum for it. To be honest, the reasons for the price rise are largely irrelevant here - only the fact of them matters.
I'll be honest. I didn't have a great weekend. I spent most of it trying to work out what I was going to do. Prices have risen by about 7%. (That's a rough figure. My maths is, sadly, nowhere near good enough for me to be confident about it. A comic with a cover price of $3.99 now costs me fourteen pence more than it used to - if you fancy working it out, let me know...)
Now, 14p isn't all that much, in the grand scheme of things. But we sell a lot od comics, and those extra 14 pences add up terrifyingly quickly. So I could have put my prices up - and many thanks to all the people who responded to that social media post to say they'd be happy to pay more. I have to be honest, if my current strategy doesn't work, or the pound falls further, I might have to take you up on that... But somehow that didn't feel right.
It's the logical thing to do. And it's certainly the easy thing to do. But it didn't feel like the right thing to do. We're a small shop, and our prices have always been a little higher than those charged by larger stores. There are economies of scale that we'll never have, and that has an impact on the prices we have to charge.
But I can't just think like a businessman when I make decisions like that - before I owned a comic shop I was a regular fan, with a budget. Obsessive as I was (and back in my student days I regularly skipped meals so I could afford comics - I'm kinda at the extreme end of price tolerance) even I have a limit. I'm not sure where it is, but I think we're already close to it.
So. There I was, with some harsh financial realities on one side, and my internal fan on the other saying "Readers just can't afford to pay much more than they are already paying - they'll have to cut back, you'll sell less, and people will read fewer comics."
In the end, my thinking was this:
I could pass the cost increase on. But that would make people less likely to buy comics - and I want people to buy comics. Not because I want to make money (although I do...) but because the whole philosphy behind my buying the shop in the first place was to bring comics to a wider audience. Besides, the grim financial reality is the shop wasn't making enough profit with the level of sales we had before the price rise to be sustainable long term. Putting prices up would, if anything, hasten our demise - and I'll be damned if Desties is going down on my watch!
So, I decided to be open and honest about the situation, stand firm, and get on with finding more customers. To that end, on Monday I posted this on social media:
And since that screen grab is hard to read, this is what it said:
You may be aware that Diamond UK - our only source for most US comics - has been forced by the current exchange rate crisis to raise their prices.
We have thought long and hard about how we should deal with this increase in our costs and have decided NOT to pass the price rise on to our customers. There will be no price increase at Destination Venus for the forseeable future.
We do, however need the help of you, our customers, if we're going to pull this off. You can help by telling your friends about us. We need to sell more stuff to maintain the same income, and more customers is the best way to do that. You can also help by ordering in advance. That helps us to make sure we don't buy stock we can't sell. And you can help by collecting your pull list regularly. Don't forget we offer a free delivery service in Harrogate if you're busy and can't get in to the shop.
Thank you for shopping with us, and for supporting local."
I didn't think much of it, to be honest - considering it just a statement of intent, and a gentle plea that people help by spreading the word because if I'm going to pull this move off I need to increase sales, and given that the whole point is that I don't reckon my current customers have enough money to spend much more with me than they already do getting more customers is the only way to do that.
I've got to say, if I knew what was going to happen next I would have used a much better photograph on the post!
I'm still a little bit overwhelmed by the support. That post went up late Monday afternoon. By Tuesday morning it had been seen by of 12,000 people. As I type this on Wednesday morning it's been seen by more than 18,500 - and that's just Facebook. It's also been shared on Twitter and Instagram. It's been shared by customers, other local businessess, friends of customers, and at this point (given that if we had 18,500 customers we wouldn't have a problem) people we've never met but just want to help a little store stay afloat.
Does this count as going viral? Who cares - it's incredibly humbling that so many people care.
And - just so you know, it's already working. Yesterday there were a few customers who have never shopped with us before but came in because they'd seen the post. So, again, a huge THANK YOU to everyone who liked, shared and commented. It is hugely appreciated.
As I said in the post, there are a couple of other things you can do to help. I'm trying to make it as easy as I can for people to order in advance. From now on, all first issues from major publishers will be posted in albums on the Facebook page, as well as being listed on the website. (The first batch is on the page now, and covers issue #1s scheduled to ship in October.) If something catches your eye and you let us know in advance it does a couple of things.
Firstly it gives us some sense of how much interest there is in a comic. If ten people ask for it ahead of time, I know it's going to be popular and can set my order quantities accordingly. That helps me becasue it means I'll waste less money buying in comics that don't sell. It helps you because it means you won't miss out on a comic you want becasue we sell out before you come it for it.
Setting up a pull list for titles you buy regularly helps in exactly the same way.
I do want to be clear though. Nobody - and certainly nobody reading this - owes us a living. Destination Venus has no inalienable right to exist. we understand very well that times are tough for everyone. So when you choose to spend your hard earned cash with us we want you to know that we appreciate it.
We hope we pay you back not just with the comics you buy, but also with our levels of service, our knowledge and our all 'round excellence.
When we don't do that we need you to tell us. When there's a service you would like but we don't offer, tell us. When there's something you want but we don't have, tell us. That's the other way you can help, because that's how you make us better.
And we intend to keep improving. So many people have given their support. We will strive to earn it.
But that's not all