Why “Geek Shops” Fail

My husband and I are huge nerds. I’m certain that I’ve mentioned this more than once. We may not be the worst kind of nerds, but most of the things we enjoy are the geeky kinds of things, and with that comes a certain amount of collecting. I’m big into shows like Doctor Who, movies like Star Wars, and anything ever done by Joss Whedon; he has an outrageous number of horror movies, many of them VHS tapes of some of the worst pieces of cinema ever filmed. I have McFarlane Dragons all over my bookshelves, he has an entire shelf of horror character figures to go with his movies. We both almost exclusively wear t-shirts plastered with nerdy sayings, superheroes, or video game characters. The list goes on, but I don’t think I really have to go much further to prove that yes, we are huge nerds, so I rest my case.

I rest my case...again.
Need I remind you that this was all amassed in a single day?

The point is that, because we’re nerds, and because we amass nerdy stuff, we regularly frequent what we refer to as “Geek Shops”. A nicer phrasing would be “comic shops”, but since not all of these stores necessarily focus on comics, we kinda figure that “Geek Shop” is a more accurate phrasing. These are the places you go to buy toys that you will insist are “collectibles”, and various forms of the kind of literature that makes your family roll their eyes and yell at you for wasting your money. These are the shops where the nerdiest of us go to get our guilty pleasures. These are the kinds of shops that my husband and I have watched fail time and time again.

The pop culture example would be Stewart’s comic shop on the Big Bang Theory. It’s a nice looking shop, and the Big Bang cast frequents it regularly, but we’re never under any kind of misunderstanding that Stewart is in any way successful. He regularly mentions such things as being unable to pay the bills, not having anything to eat for the day, etc. Even with people regularly in his shop, he’s failing miserably. The subplot is part of the humor of the show, but in real life my husband and I have seen this kind of thing time and again. Since we first started frequenting “geek shops” several years ago, we have seen no fewer than five of these shops disappear within a year because they couldn’t hold their own, and a few more downsize to significantly smaller shops because they overstepped their bounds and had a really rough time making a go of it. Alternatively, there are a few shops that have withstood the test of time, that have been around since long before hubby and I started shopping there, and will probably be there for years to come. So what’s the difference? Why is it that some shops are perfectly successful and others can barely stay open for a few months? I have a few thoughts. I’m going to share them.

The owners don’t consider their market/location.

When you open a specialty shop in a big city, chances are that someone will be into it, simply because there is a greater population and a greater variety of people and personalities. Alternatively, when you open a specialty shop in a less populated area, you have to consider that your clientele will not be as varied. Several times I have seen someone open a “geek shop” and immediately order a crap-ton of different comics, books, and collectibles from a great number of distributors. They want to have variety, so they order some video game stuff, some superhero stuff, some TV-related stuff, some movie-related stuff, and maybe even some tabletop board games, stuffed animals, collectible card games…you get the point. They order everything. And then they fail miserably because they can’t sell it.

In a big city this would be a more reasonable approach because chances are, at some point, someone is going to walk in who desperately wants a particular item that you happen to have in your vast inventory. In a small area, the chances of a customer arriving for each of the hundreds of things you’ve decided to stock is very unlikely. You might get lots of people coming in and buy comics, but you might find yourself sitting on thousands of dollars worth of tabletop games for years, unable to pay back all the money that you spent on them in the first place.

In the area where my husband and I grew up, big collectors are few and far between. People like us have slowly been appearing over time, but as a “by population” statistic, it’s a small percentage. Therefore, someone who opens a shop full to the brim with collectible figures in our area is likely to find themselves drowning in those figures for months, and maybe even years, until eventually they sell them all at a loss just to pay the last month’s rent on the store.

I’m not saying that a shop in a smaller area shouldn’t order lots of stuff, but you have to scope out your market first. Buy a few of a bunch of different things, see what sells, and then focus on that stuff. I’m sure that’s right up there in some of the top lessons they teach in marketing classes, and yet a large number of comic shop owners find themselves deep in the hole because they fail to have that little bit of common sense.

They cater to a certain crowd, and alienate everyone else.

Several of the geek shops I’ve seen fail had one big thing in common: they were constantly hosting tabletop or collectible card game tournaments in the shop. This, I’ve come to believe, is an enormous no-no. Why? Space. One particular shop I’m thinking of constantly had their entire store filled wall to wall with tables to host these tournaments, and the result is that no one else who comes in can reach anything. Entire walls of product will be inaccessible unless you want to press your entire body up against the dudes playing Magic the Gathering, or else climb right over the damn table. I have witnessed, on dozens of occasions, customers walking into a store, seeing the army of gamers taking up every inch of floor space, and turning around to walk right back out. No one wants to deal with that, I’m sorry.

Maybe the store owner earns a little bit of money from the tournament itself…maybe a few of those gamers buy something on their way out. But how many customers does the shop lose because they just can’t be bothered having to fight through the crowd just to be able to see anything?

I’m not saying that these shops should never host tournaments, because I’m sure there is some revenue to be had from them, but you have to consider the other customers as well. One shop I know of has a room off to the side that is set aside specifically for these tournaments. The gamers are away from the product, the door can be shut if they’re making too much noise, and other customers can come and go as though it’s any other day. That shop is successful. The one that constantly has it’s entire floor space covered in gamer nerds is not.

They spend tons of money on stuff they may never sell.

This one goes along with knowing your market. There’s a vast world of geeky items and collectibles out there, and for every item there’s someone who desperately wants it and will spend ridiculous amounts of money on it…but that person is not likely to ever walk into your shop.

I die a little inside every time I walk into a geek shop that has a $2000 sword replica hanging on the wall, or a huge glass case full of resin statues that range anywhere from $100 to $5000, because chances are that all of those items will still be there the next time I visit…and the time after that…and the time after that. Those items almost never sell, because honestly, what do you think the chances are that someone who just happens to have $3000 of disposable income in their pocket and really desperately wants a life-sized stainless steel replica of Ned Stark’s sword is just going to happen to wander into your store? Sure all that stuff looks awesome, but if you’ve bought it just so that your customers can say, “Wow, that’s so cool!” and then walk away…well, it’s not a very good investment, is it?

A more successful shop – one that has already stood the test of time and proven that they’re going to be around for a while – can get away with a few of these items because they have the capital to be able to survive if that item never sells. But when a brand new shop opens up and has their walls covered in the kinds of items that only the richest and most dedicated of nerds would ever even consider buying…that’s just dumb. There, I said it. Sorry, but it’s true.

They try to cheat people.

This is not something that every shop owner does, of course, but I’ve noticed it in several shops, some of them being the ones who eventually crashed and burned.

Here’s the thing…geeky stuff has become much more mainstream over the years, and that means that some of the items that we previously could only get at geek shops are now available all over the place. Therefore, where geek shop owners used to pretty much be able to choose their own pricing for items, now they have to consider what that item is being sold for at the Walmart down the street…and a lot of the time they don’t.

I’ll give you an example. I love Funko Pop collectibles. They’re adorable and I love ’em. When the hubby and I first discovered them they were something that we only ever saw in geek shops, but in recent years the cute little figures have become a lot more popular and can be found in lots of stores and also bought online. Therefore, tell me, please…why would I spend $20 on one of these figures from a geek shop when the local Chapters has the exact same one for $12?

Hey, profit has to come from somewhere, I get that, and if a collectible is obscure or hard to find I can totally understand a geek shop charging extra for it because it’s not like you can just walk down the street to buy it from someone else. But if you actually can just walk down the street to buy it from a dozen other someones…well, maybe – just maybe – you should consider not charging 30-50% more than those other someones. There are plenty of people out there who would prefer to support their local specialty shop, but the overwhelming majority of people are going to choose to pay less because of course they are.


This is all just my opinion, of course. I don’t claim to truly know anything about marketing, or business models, or any of that nonsense. All I know is what I see with my own eyes, and when I’ve seen the things I mentioned above, the result has almost always been a “Closed” sign on the door of an empty building.

Join me, my fellow nerds. Do you frequent “geek shops”? Do you notice these trends yourself, or have you noticed other things that tend to contribute to a shop’s downfall? Share!

Fiction Fragment Fridays: Erased (Chapter 4 – Part 1)

This is the last bit of Erased that I have that is fit to be shared (the rest are random scenes I wrote as they popped into my head, so they won’t make any logical sense to anyone who doesn’t already know where the story is going) so I figured I may as well share it before moving on to something else.

Remember, this is a very rough draft, and if you want to read the other pieces of Erased that have been posted, choose the ‘Erased’ option from the Category drop-down banner on the left sidebar. Enjoy!

After the ‘Augmentation’ room, the rest of the facility seemed oddly mild by comparison. As a group they retraced their tracks and checked every ‘bunk’ room to ensure that there wasn’t anyone else still laying in stasis. When they reached the room that had been demolished, Toreshi hauled her note board from Bodhi’s pack and showed them the scraps of paper she’d found. Ashes examined the ripped scrap of name and scrunched up her nose. “I think I saw this on one of the lockers…” she said, and then nodded to herself, “Yes…the full name is Chaotic.”

Knowing the name, Toreshi was again somewhat glad they hadn’t come across this particular person.

They stopped only for a short while in the cafeteria, grabbing whatever they could find that could be eaten while they walked, and continued on through another hallway, at the end of which was a door with another security keypad. This one, as well, had been smashed, the door hanging open. Siora went through first, cautiously but confidently, and they found themselves in what looked like a large reception area. This was the first room yet that wasn’t white. Alternately, it was entirely black, from floor to ceiling. A large, empty security desk stood to one side, behind which were rows and rows of monitors, many more than in the testing room; they showed every inch of the facility that they’d already traveled through. There was only one other door in this room, a small, plain black door, exactly opposite the security desk.

Kattenya took a deep breath as Siora strode forward and hastily pulled the door open.

Even from behind, Toreshi could see the shock that rippled through Siora’s body. They all saw it and quickly moved forward to see what had surprised him so.

In silence, and with their jaws unhinged once more, the group of five stepped out into the desolate landscape.

Toreshi’s first notion was that it was so flat. The red dirt ground stretched impossibly flat in every direction. There were no hills, no water, not so much as a single rock to blemish the view. The sun was beginning to set, giving the sky a somewhat creepy pink glow, and a few stars were starting to peak out. There were no other buildings, no vehicles, no plants or animals, no people. It was a completely desolate wasteland.

“Oh my god…” Kattenya groaned, “Look at that.” She pointed a wavering finger upward.

They all followed the path of Kattenya’s finger and found themselves gasping in horror and alarm.

There were three moons rising in the sky.

It took a long time before anyone spoke. Surprisingly, it was Siora.

“I’m gonna go see if there’s anything behind the building,” he said, his voice deceptively calm. He immediately turned and began walking without waiting for a response, but Bodhi quickly moved after him with a clipped, “I’ll come.”

The women had a harder time tearing their eyes from the sky while the men walked away.

“What does it mean?” Katt eventually asked, her voice barely a whisper.

Ashes answered after a long moment. “Well I don’t know about the rest of you,” she said, “But here’s the thing…my memories are gone, that’s for sure, but the logical things, the common sense stuff, that’s all still in there.” She turned to look at the other women to see if they were getting what she was saying, and continued when it seemed like they were. “Like for instance, I know that I’m a human woman from a planet called Earth. And as far as my brain is letting me recall, I know that the Earth only has one damn moon. So logically…”

“We’re on a different planet,” Tore finished for her. She found the thought frightening, but also exciting and curious. “But I don’t recall anything about mankind having accomplished interplanetary travel.”

“Maybe that’s one of the memories they took,” Katt suggested. When the other two women gave her funny looks she rolled her eyes. “Oh come on,” she said, “Look at us. We all ‘wake up’ strapped down and hooked up to all kinds of chemicals? It’s pretty obvious that whoever put us there wiped our memories somehow.” The look on her face was one of sad resignation.

“Not necessarily,” Tore insisted stubbornly, “The memory loss could just be a side effect from one of the chemicals, or the sleep.”

“Or post traumatic stress…” Ashes muttered.

Tore thought about the pictures on her surgical file and couldn’t disagree with the theory.

“Shh…it’s not a video game, it’s research!”

A reminder: This post courtesy of Julie Jarnagin’s 101 Blog Post Ideas for Writers.

16. How you researched your last book

This prompt made me laugh a little. It was one of those, “Ha ha…seriously?” kind of laughs.

Research? Ha ha…seriously?

I’m not the researching type. I’m not really the “preparation of any kind” type, at least not when it comes to writing. I tend to just…go. I don’t do layouts or outlines, I don’t create character sheets or brainstorm scenes ahead of time. I just tend to…write. I get ideas, and I produce them in prose form. That’s about all there is to my process.

In my defense, most of what I write is original to my brain. I don’t really need to research much because I’m making it all up as I go along anyway.

I will admit, however, that every now I get ideas as a result of inadvertent research. For instance, the zombie book I’ve been working on, tentatively titled “Nowhere to Hide”, came into being because over the past few years I’ve been rather immersed in zombie media. I’ve watched a ton of zombie movies with my husband, read several zombie books and ‘survival guides’, and played a number of zombie-killin’ video games. Eventually all this lead to my deciding to write my own zombie story, and by extension all the watching/reading/playing I’d been doing became akin to research. I took things I liked and scraped things I didn’t.

Is that close enough? Am I any less a “real” writer because I don’t do “real” research? 😛


A reminder: This post courtesy of Julie Jarnagin’s 101 Blog Post Ideas for Writers.

7. Photos of your writing space

A bit of a cop-out, but for all intents and purposes, this is my writing space…Scrivener writing software on my laptop. I don’t have a room or even a desk where I do my writing, I just take my laptop wherever I need it to be. Scrivener is my program of choice because it allows me to separate chapters and scenes while still having everything technically be one file. There’s also a lot of organizational tools for research, notes, media, or whatever else you need to work on your project. This picture is a screen shot of my Final Fantasy fanfic project, in the corkboard screen, which shows little notes on each chapter. I strongly recommend this software to any writer. It’s paid software, but the price isn’t too shabby for good, professional software, at about $40.

All work and no play…something something.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in the past few months, it’s that you have to be willing to put in hard work and dedication if you want to accomplish something. I’m not the most hard-working or dedicated person in the world (ha!), but a few months ago I made a promise to myself that I was going to finish that damn zombie story if it killed me, and low and behold, I did it! With that same level of hard work and dedication I hope to, soon enough, edit the hell out of that story and get it published. Diligence!

But there’s one other thing I know for sure, and it’s this: sometimes you have to goof off too. Remember that thing about all work and no play? We all know how that turned out in The Shining, don’t we?

We all have to let loose every now and then, whether it be partying with friends, taking a trip, splurging on a treat for yourself, or whatever strikes your fancy. For me, I want to continue working on my zombie novel, but I also feel that I need (and deserve) to goof off a bit. That’s why I’m taking a couple of weeks to play around with my Final Fantasy fanfic. If there’s one thing that feels like goofing around to a writer, it’s writing your own version of a world that already exists.

Once I catch up to the point I left it off at (there were a few editing issues in the first couple of chapters), I’ll start posting it to FanFiction.net again and link it here. But for now, a question: what do you do to ‘goof off’ when you need a break from ‘hard work and dedication’?