*Editor’s Note: Since this interview took place, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced most retailers to close their doors, making a tough industry even more difficult. When we emerge from this crisis, local retailers will face all of the same challenges… and then some. Now more than ever, we must support them by shopping local.
Acme is the Peoria area’s leading comic book store, serving the region since 1991. They carry comics, used action figures and toys, vintage vinyl records, DVDs, games, posters and CDs, graphic novels and other collectibles.
What is your biggest challenge as a retailer in 2020?
The biggest challenge is keeping one step ahead of the internet. Selling used CDs and DVDs… how do you fight streaming services? Of course, Amazon deep-discounting graphic novels and new toys doesn’t help either. Comic publishers that offer inexpensive digital access to their entire libraries, including new releases, are another challenge.
What strategies do you employ to mitigate any downsides from the internet?
We have combated this by going to more used product, which has a higher markup. It also helps locally for people to make a few dollars when they are caught short. I carry a lot of items under $10 that are tough for internet sellers to compete with, once shipping is added.
Have you seen a sustained impact from recent Shop Local campaigns?
Not much impact from Shop Local. From what I see, my customers aren’t as driven by special occasion events. Free Comic Book Day is my big event—it’s been going over 15 years nationally. I am happy to hear when non-regular customers tell me they chose Acme over Amazon or a chain, preferring to keep their money local. It gives me hope.
What other trends are you seeing in retail?
I see more mom-and-pop stores opening—no huge square footage or high dollar sales, but enough to make a decent profit with one employee and the freedom of being your own boss. More people see the squeeze small business is under and recognize it by supporting them, especially the under-30 crowd. PM