Comics: Nostalgia & Comics & Me – Part 5 – When N&C met FPI
As part of our ongoing celebrations of 30 years of great service at Nostalgia & Comics, we’re taking a very personal look back at one ex-employee’s time at the store. Dave and David are celebrating 30 years at the shop, FPI blog’s Richard Bruton only did 19…
Continuing our series of posts from Richard looking back on his 19 year of service at Nostalgia & Comics Birmingham.
This year marks the 30th anniversary of manager Dave Hopkins and staff member David Dearn joining the shop. They’re celebrating over on the shop facebook page and we celebrated with our own 30 years of Daves post the other day. Everything culminates over August bank holiday weekend, with a party on Friday 23rd August at Le Truc Cafe and Bar and a day of celebrations on Saturday 24th August in the shop.
When I left N&C in 2006 to move to Yorkshire I wrote about my experiences on my personal blog and we’re reposting them here, 9 years later, as a little celebration of just how great Nostalgia & Comics is.
You can find all the posts in the Nostalgia & Comics & Me series here.
Nostalgia & Comics & Me: The big takeover….. suddenly we’re part of the FPI chain.
(originally posted February 6th 2007)
Shortly after getting the basement exactly the way I wanted it (more on the mammoth task that was the basement coming tomorrow) and taking more interest in the shopfloor the inevitable happened and the owner of Nostalgia & Comics sold the place.
It wasn’t exactly a surprise, seeing as he had the financial and business skills of a goldfish.
I think one of the easiest and kindest ways to describe him was that he was very much old school comic shop owner. His one genius move was the very first idea he had; to open a comic shop in the first place. In those early days, he’d run it well, catering for the market at the time. But as the 80s and 90s progressed he continued to run the place as if the market hadn’t changed in the slightest. His financial decisions were always spur of the moment things, he was always trying to do things on the cheap, always scared of spending money, never understood that it’s necessary to buy good stock if you plan to sell more stock.
So when the rumours of the sale came out it wasn’t a real shock. The best rumour I heard was that he sold the whole place for pennies because the new owners had taken on his considerable debts. In actual fact that wasn’t completely true and I imagine he made a good deal out of the sale eventually.
So from 1997 Nostalgia & Comics became:
Nostalgia & Comics (a Forbidden Planet International Associate store). We became part of the large FPI chain.
Forbidden Planet International is a completely distinct company from Forbidden Planet (although I don’t think the majority of comic customers actually realise that). This quite silly situation, having two competing comic shop chains sharing the same name came about through some incredibly complex business stuff that went on. To make it fairly simple; Forbidden Planet, Titan Distributors and Titan Books were all owned by the same people. Forbidden Planet expanded, other comic shops were either bought by FP or became partners with FP and took the name. And then Diamond distributors bought Titan distributors. The retail side of things went it’s separate way and split into two. This meant there were now two lots of Forbidden Planet stores. One set run from London by Forbidden Planet and the other lot run by Forbidden Planet Scotland (later to become Forbidden Planet International FPI). (EDIT, it’s a long and complicated tale why, but wikipedia has it about right)
Luckily for us they had a competition rule. The rules of the split said that there couldn’t be two competing Forbidden Planet stores in the same city and because we already had an FP Birmingham, we got to keep our name. And because of that we felt we also got to keep our reputation, our relative independence and our unique way of doing things in the FPI chain.
Because unlike a lot of stores, we were still a comic shop and very, very proud of it. Of course, the product mix in the store changed. We became much more of a pop culture store, stocking lots more merchandise (ie toys), but because we still considered ourselves separate to the FPI chain we kept going as a comic shop and put an awful lot of work into comics and graphic novels.
When the take over happened, the immediate impact on the store was obvious. We got a nice makeover and refit. But everyone was really unsettled. We all had this horrible image of FPI being this huge overbearing corporate thing concerned only with bottom line and more than willing to change Nostalgia & Comics into Toys R bloody Us if the money was in it. So we worked bloody hard to keep it as a comic shop. And we all think that we succeeded. Sure, the toys and merchandise take up half the store. But we’re a big store and the half with the comics and graphic novels is still bigger than most comic shops. We also happened to be at the start of the Graphic Novel explosion which meant more and more of our shelves had lovely big books on them. We worked and worked and sold and sold and all of us on the shopfloor had the embattled mentality of sticking it to the FPI-man. We were going to show them that we were right. We were going to show them that comics and graphic novels were what we did best.
Ironically, over the years we’ve actually found out that quite a few people were on our side. A number of people behind the scenes fought our corner and stuck up for us and all because they were of a similar mind to us.
If you want the best example of that, go to the Forbidden Planet International weblog. It turns out that some folks at FPI love comics as much as we do. But for those early years, feeling like we were fighting the good fight probably made the shop into a better place.
But because we were an FPI store, we had to carry merchandise as well as our beloved comics and graphic novels and this meant one big thing for me……..
Every bloody week 100s of bloody boxes (and very bloody big boxes they were too) were appearing in the basement and poor little old me had to do something with them and their excessive plastic packaging. We reached the tipping point rapidly and the basement stopped being somewhere to store the comics and became somewhere to store toys instead. Of course by this time the Back Issue market was almost dead and instead of a basement filled with valuable back stock we had 1000s of boxes of completely dead stock.
We worked very hard after that to shift as much back issue stock as possible, cheap box sales, great value packs and more. And eventually we turned around and realised that the basement didn’t actually have more than 50 or so boxes of comics anymore.
But if that was the case why was it still full of shit?
Toys. Toys and more bloody toys. That was the answer.
They seemed to suddenly appear and take over. Of course it didn’t help that we had the Star Wars thing kicking off again. Every week that nice Mr Lucas milked his characters (and the fans) dry. New characters, old characters, characters on screen behind a crowd and visible for 1 second in the Cantina scene. It didn’t matter to old George. He had a ranch and a state of the art special effects department to fund.
One good side effect of the toy invasion and the FPI takeover was that eventually, many months after the takeover, all of the previous owner’s stuff went from the basement. Joyous moment that was. Of course, within a week it’s place had been taken up with yet another 100 boxes of crap McFarlane toys or something equally shit.
So the basement got more and more toys, meanwhile I was getting more and more stressed over the place. Which wasn’t a good thing – remember this was my little Saturday job, a place to relax, sell comics and have fun with my friends while selling comics. Instead it started to be all about getting the basement sorted. But I worked hard and worked well to get the damn place back to a good state again. Sometime around this time I actually stood back again and realised I’d finished the place again.
And then, one day, one of the directors threw a little off the cuff remark to the manager, nice Mr Dave. Without realising the danger of what he was about to say he mentioned it to me. Then the fun started……….
Nostalgia & Comics & Me: Supplemental… meta time.
(originally posted February 7th 2007)
Again, a little context here. I wasn’t going to put this bit in, but it acts as a response from Kenny at FPI to the thing you’ve just read about N&C becoming an FPI store. It was also he first contact I had with Kenny, which soon led to me actually writing for the FPI Blog.
Very sad meta commenting things going on here. Kenny at the FPI blog put up a link to my recent Nostalgia & Me posts. (EDIT – it was here) I commented on them and then I talk about doing so here. Bizarre. And a little sad. Anyway, Kenny said:
Rich Bruton, ex employee in our Nostalgia and Comics store, has posted his latest two entries on working there for 19 years on his Fictions blog. The latest post concerns the takeover of the business by FPI in the late 90s and the misgivings the staff had at the time about that. I’d say from Rich’s post there are still things they would do differently but that over time they have seen that less changed than they might have expected.
I remember when we first bought it from the previous owner and the problem it had then was that it had run up a lot of debt which was endangering it’s supply, which in turn was close to making the shop a less attractive location for buyers. The shop now runs well and much of that has really come from those who were already there doing a fine job, allied to us bringing sounder finances to it. It’s an interesting read and I’m sure posts to come will deal with some other decisions we’ve made along the way that didn’t quite work out. It’s always interesting to see someone else’s view of these things, especially someone whose wages you are no longer paying.
To which I added this as comment: (How incestuous is this, commenting on a post about my own weblog. sad, sad, sad, sad)
Cheers for posting it up guys.Like I say in the post I think all at Nostalgia & Comics would ideally like to have a shop just doing comics and graphic novels. That is, after all our first love (and I suspect it’s Kenny’s and Joe’s as well) but we also acknowledge that in a shop our size financial necessity means we stock the merchandise as well.
But I certainly don’t want anyone to think I’ve an axe to grind against FPI, my former employers. If I wasn’t 131 miles away, I’d still be working there now. It was a pleasure to work at Nostalgia & Comics and being taken over by FPI meant that Nostalgia & Comics could continue providing on of the best comic shop experiences in the country.
FPI has been a surprise. They aren’t the huge corporate beast many think. And certainly at the core, as represented by Kenny and Joe on this blog, they dearly love the comics. Which is what we do best after all.
Yep, still reckon that goes even now, FPI may be a big company, and we may deal in things other than comics, but at its core, with people like Kenny, Joe, and Dave Hopkins and David Dearn at Nostalgia & Comics it’s STILL about comics.