You know what’s cool? Walking into a comic book shop and seeing a woman behind the counter and then finding out that she not only works in the shop, she also owns the whole darn thing! That’s what will happen when you step into Hayley Spencer’s comic book shop, Komix, located in Melksham, England. I had the pleasure of interviewing Hayley about her comic shop experiences.
If you’ve ever thought about starting your own comic shop, you especially should keep reading. Hayley started Komix simply because she loved comics (and wasn’t happy at her currently job), and the fact that she opened shop despite having little previous experience, is inspiring! Plus, like me, she was a late bloomer when it comes to comics (she really became interested when she was 22), so her story—and success—is an especially interesting one.
How did you become interested in comics?
I was actually a latecomer to the comic book world – well, the comics part anyway! I grew up with parents who are fans of sci-fi, so from a young age I was exposed to the likes of Star Wars, Star Trek, X-Files, Twilight Zone, and that’s just the TV shows! My favourite movie at the age of three was Back to the Future and my mum quite often found me reciting lines in my bedroom!
When I was twelve, I was watching an interview on breakfast television before school. It was an interview with a British actor, starring in an all-new teen sci-fi show that was debuting that evening. That show was Buffy the Vampire Slayer. My life changed at 7pm that night. I was instantly hooked, and followed the show right to the very end, which took me from fighting my brother for the remote every Tuesday evening, to watching streaming episodes on my laptop in the college canteen between classes!
When the show ended and it was announced that the universe was to continue in comic book form, that was my entry point. I was 22 years old at this point. I frequently visited comic book stores in my area – my boyfriend at the time, as well as past boyfriends were heavily into comic books (I sure know how to pick ‘em!), and I have collected merchandise for many years so deciding to start collecting was never really a big deal for me. From there I started following a few other titles and it just snowballed from there!
Who shops at your store? How would you define your customers?
I have a really wide range of people that shop here! When starting up, I had to accept that my core demographic would be 15-49 males, but it was my intention right from the very start to make the store a place that will attract a large selection of the population, and possibly the type of people that have always been interested in getting into comics but the stereotypical image of a comic book store put them off! I’ve been open nearly eight months now and the majority of my customers are men in their 20s and 30s, but I do get a lot of female friends, wives, girlfriends and sisters accompanying them, and they happily return when they realise that a woman owns and runs the store! I think it makes them feel more accepted into an industry that they figured wasn’t for them, and I always make a point of having a chat with them as well as the people that brought them in!
What was most challenging about opening a comic shop?
The most challenging part was getting people in town to realise that there is a need for a store like this in our town. During my setup, before I opened I did a lot of local networking through friends, and colleagues and the most common response I got when I told them what I was doing was “Really? I don’t think people are into that stuff around here, I didn’t think you were actually!” When people don’t have an outlet to provide them with what they’re passionate about, they tend to keep it quiet for fear of being judged for being interested in something that isn’t readily available to them. My opening day proved to many people that this town not only needs a comic books store, but wants one too! The store was totally packed out, you could hardly move – I have about ten friends and family members helping me out just to keep everything in order and under control. We had British Marvel artist Andrew Wildman here for the opening and it went down a storm!
Did you have any relevant experience before opening your shop?
I had no experience of running my own business, but I did have experience in retail management, but it was old experience! I’d spent the last six years chained to a desk in a call centre, desperately wanting to be recognised for the work I was doing and work my way up the chain. It never happened, so I went back to my original dream – owning my own shop. I saw a gap in the market and I went for it. I studied business and journalism at college so searched my brain for any remaining knowledge, built a business plan, sought advice and here I am now!
What do you do to promote your shop?
I am constantly promoting my store in many different ways. I have a regular advert in the local newspaper, I also have a great working relationship with local journalists that work for papers and radio stations – usually because I went to school with them, and Facebook is great for reconnecting and calling in favours! The store has a Facebook page, a Twitter feed and its own website. We get plugging from other local website and organisations, and I involve myself in a number of community groups. I’m by no means a shy person, so I will happily chat to anyone about the store and the things I do in the town to get people to come and visit not just me, but all the other hardworking independent businesses we have here!
What is the UK comic scene like?
The UK comic scene exists that’s for sure! It’s a much bigger industry than people initially think, but it is also the friendliest, most supportive industry I’ve ever had the pleasure to be a part of. In the last year I have made many wonderful, inspirational and talented new people that without doing this I would never have met! In the UK there isn’t a comic book store in every town, you do usually have to travel quite a distance, depending on where you live, so by bringing the product to the people you’re onto a winner!
What do you hope for the future of Komix?
Our online store is launching within the next couple of months which I’m really excited about! The “big picture” dream is to expand into a larger store, be able to hire some staff and create new and fun jobs in the town, possibly get some office space to handle the online side of the business, maybe even open stores in other towns. But that’s a long way away, for now I‘m focusing on getting people to know I’m here and supporting what exists right now, because without the customer base building today, I can’t expand tomorrow!
What advice do you have for those aspiring to break into the comic industry (whether it’s working in a comic shop, becoming an editor, or creating comics)?
Get involved as soon as you can! Whatever it is you’re wanting to do, you need to start talking to people – get yourself known (without being stalkerish). If you want to work in a comic book store, you need to go and chat to your local store owner. They may not have vacancies right now, these are tough times after all, but independent store owners, when they do need staff, are likely to hire people they know and trust right from the very start, so make sure you support their store, shop there, tell your friends and so on. If they have events coming up, offer to help out for free, hand out flyers, anything! It’s all work experience too, even if you’re not being paid!
If you’re looking at getting into the industry as a writer, artist, editor, publisher, printer and so on, it’s best to talk to someone who is already doing that job, and get the information on what it’s really like, and how they got into it. Most of all, if you really want to do something, you’ll do it no matter how long it takes or how difficult it is. If you don’t try, then you don’t really want it. It’s as simple as that!
Visit Komix online at komixonline.com