Dandelion Seeds: Halloween and the Holidays

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Recently, Diamond Comics announced that they were planning a second retailer event, to be scheduled during Halloween.  While the specifics are still being planned, it most likely will not be another Free Comic Book Day event.

However, Diamond has done a free comic book day event for Halloween.  For many years now, since at least 2008.  Didn’t notice?  That’s because Diamond did not publicize it.  But it exists.  Here’s proof.

I discovered these mini-comics a few years ago, when I found a Peanuts mini-comic in the freebie pile at the no-longer-in-existence Capes Comic Book Lounge in Omaha.

I added it to my collection, but didn’t think any more of it, since I live in The Bronx, and traditional trick-or-treating doesn’t happen in my neighborhood.

But last year, I saw that Diamond was offering eight different titles.  One of which, Scary Godmother, was loved by my two nieces.

Then I got to thinking… my three siblings… they live in Suburbia, and participate in trick-or-treating. My oldest brother, also kind of geeky, is married to a talented woman who runs a chain of dance studios.  One of her studios is housed in a Omaha City Parks building.  Each year, the City sponsors “trunk or treat” on a weekend near Halloween.  People pimp their cars, pickups, and vans with Halloween decorations (cars-play?), and kids dress up and go from car to car trick-or-treating.  There are activities inside the community center, and it’s a nice way to spend an afternoon.  It’s like “Halloween tailgaiting”, and it’s been spreading nationwide since at least 2006.

What if, thought I, my brother handed out mind candy (mini-comics) instead of mouth candy (sugar)?  Would he?  Of course he would!  (We have a tradition in our family of crazy ideas, of literacy, and they all know of my comics evangelism.)  If he didn’t hand them all out the weekend before, he’d give them away on Halloween, and report back on the popularity.  I’d then adjust the quantity the next year, and figure out a way to spread this idea elsewhere.  (Yes.  Be patient.  We’ll get there.)

This idea hit me in early September.  Since the comics would have to be ordered from Diamond, I would have to buy them via my local comics shop, Forbidden Planet.  Jeff Ayers, the amazing manager, informed me that the order was due back in August.

Oh.

But, Jeff was a New York retailer, and it’s now a tradition for trick-or-treaters to visit businesses to beg for goodies.  So he had ordered a massive quantity for the store, and being the awesome retailer that he is, sold me 300 copies of the eight various titles from the store stash and shipped them directly to my parents’ house, where the comics were divided amongst the siblings.

That division was not the original idea.  But everyone loved the comics (especially my nieces and nephews), and hey, the more the merrier.  It’s hard to put toothpaste back in the tube, and if they were eager to participate, what the heck.  I’d just have more data points to review!  (The kids were offered candy or comics, and the comics were gone by the end of the night.  No specifics, but I’ll order a greater quantity next year.)

But then I got to thinking…  the Camelot Community Center is located nine blocks from my old local comics shop, The Dragon’s Lair.  What if a comics shop subsidized the cost of the comics with a simple sticker placed on the back?

So, that stream of creativity trickled along as I waited for the 2012 minis to go on sale sometime next summer.

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Another stream had sprung from  Small Business Saturday, sponsored by American Express.  Comics shops are small businesses, and this event is held on the day right after Black Friday to encourage shoppers to “shop small”.  I’m not a retailer, so I don’t know if comics shops use small business tools and grants offered by government and non-profit organizations.

What if they did participate in Small Business Saturday?  What could they do to make it as successful and worthwhile as Free Comic Book Day?  Well, they’d probably have to plan ahead, probably back to October.  When I worked at Barnes & Noble, our Holiday season started the first weekend of November (right after Halloween).  Decorations went up, all the required displays were locked in, and we were ready to surf the retail tsunami all the way to Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.  (We then transitioned to a clearance sale which usually ran to the end of February.)

What does the store plan for that shopping weekend and the rest of the year?  A wish list.

As a comics-loving teenager, I would always ask for comics for Christmas.  I’d type up lists (with ISBNs, pre-Internet), give instructions, and let them know I’d treasure the books forever.  However, my parents told me they were afraid of getting me something I already had, so I either got other presents, or now it’s a check which funds my want list.  (I also buy a present for myself each Christmas, usually a gargantuan title like The Complete Calvin & Hobbes.)

What if comics shops kept wish lists from their customers?  When a relative or friend asks the customer what do they want for Christmas/Hanukkah/Beltane, that customer would direct them to the local comics shop.

“Hi.  My nephew Miguel Rodriguez shops here, and he said he has a wish list of stuff he wants?”

“Why, yes, just a moment.”  (The employee accesses a card file or online database.)  “Okay, how much did you want to spend?”

The employee and shopper then figure out what’s available in that particular price range.  The customer leaves with a minimum of shopping stress, the nephew gets what he wanted, and the store makes a sale to someone who normally doesn’t visit the store, but probably will again, because the customer service was so good.  Some items might be special ordered, with the store delivering the items when they arrive.  (Of course, warehouse fulfillment might be questionable, so the store might have to guarantee a gift card if the item does not arrive when promised.)  Issue a gift receipt, so the recipient can exchange the item for something else in the store if they already own a copy.  (A store can also use this system for a bridal registry, baby showers, birthdays, graduations…)

So this idea simmered on the back-burner of my imagination, as it was slowly reducted.

In November, I made a grand tour of the Omaha comics shops on Black Friday.  Most were promoting “Blackest Friday” sales, hoping to grab some of the Billions of dollars spent that day.

So, all of these streams are converging into one Big Idea:

Starting in October, use Halloween to kickoff the retail Holiday shopping season in your store.

The timeline:

Summer:

  • Retailers advertise to customer that Diamond is selling mini-comics for people to hand out during Halloween.
  • Retailers offer to subsidize the cost of the comics if the customer will allow the store to place a small store advertisement on the back of each issue.  (The ad: “Bring this comic back to [comics shop name] during November, and get 10% off your purchase.”)
  • Retailer begins to plan Halloween-themed events at the store during the month of October.
  • Set up your “wish list” program with customers. Instruct them in the rules and regulations, and offer suggestions.  (Making a list of expensive items might not be a good idea.)
  • Set up a gift card or gift certificate program if you have not yet done so.

September:

  • October events are publicized.
  • Final planning is completed.
  • Media contacts are informed.

October:

  • Comics bundles are organized, labeled, and distributed to customers.
  • Holiday (November, December, January) promotions are publicized, along with the usual monthly store events.
  • The store hosts the October events, such as:
  1. Costumed card play. Gamers are encouraged to dress up in costume for game tournaments.  Costumed gamers get a special limited edition card to add to their deck.
  2. Costume competition. Hold it in the store parking lot the weekend before.  Make it a fundraiser, like a walk-a-thon.  Participants raise funds, media gets a great story to run on a slow weekend news day, and the store gets lots of goodwill and free publicity.  Everyone in a costume gets a free comic.
  3. Trunk-or-Treat in the store parking lot (possibly in conjunction with the costume competition).  Encourage customers to participate.  Award prizes for best cars-play.
  4. Costuming workshops. “Need help with your Halloween costume?  Local costumers will help you make your costume the coolest ever!”  Network with your cosplaying customers, paying them with a store gift card.  Perhaps the local high school/university drama department and students could help?  Or  perhaps some co-op advertising with a local amateur theater, which might be staging a Halloween play!
  5. A store float in the local Halloween parade. No parade?  Organize one!  Or enter a corporate team in a Halloween 5K race/walk!  (Check if there is a dress code.  No?  Heh, heh…)  Hand out mini-comics with the store label/coupon on them to spectators.  Of course, see if the 501st would like to march with you.  No one will give you guff with storm troopers nearby!

November:

  • Customers redeem the mini-comics coupons. (Stamp the label to show it’s been redeemed.)  The store keeps track of the discount, to analyze how successful the promotion is.
  • Every customer is informed of the “Blackest Friday” and “Small Business Saturday” sales. Brand it with a clever name for the entire weekend.
  • Hold a special staff meeting where everyone is briefed on what is planned for the rest of the year.  Reiterate what is expected.  Announce a staff party the weekend after New Years Day.
  • The store is decorated. Dust off the Christmas Tree and electric Menorah.
  • Offer a “travel sale” the week before Thanksgiving. Something to read on the plane, or on the drive to Grandma’s house, or to keep the kids distracted.

Thanksgiving Day:

  • Enjoy the day off. The planning done in October and November should mean little stress and worry.

Black Friday (and Saturday and Sunday):

  • Get to the store early on Friday. Have the staff arrive early.  Serve them breakfast.  Go over the sales plan.  Perhaps serve donuts to any customers waiting in line for early-bird specials.
  • Deputize a friend to serve as emergency back-up (AKA “sidekick”). This person will have a valid driver’s license, a functioning automobile, and a cellphone.  They will run errands and help with emergencies.  They will also deliver the lunch and dinner the employees will enjoy.  (If the store makes that weekend fun, the employees will be more willing to work future events.)
  • If the store has dedicated and knowledgeable staff, then the store owner/manager should serve as greeter, store walker, and problem solver, letting everyone else do their jobs.
  • Possible promotions
  1. Host a three-day sale that weekend. (This connects with Black Friday and Small Business Saturday.  And “Thank God It’s Sunday”.)
  2. Keep the store open continuously for a 60-hour sale-a-thon where the store is open continuously from 8 AM Friday to 8 PM Sunday, with card games and movies overnight.  (Of course, this depends on your neighborhood.)
  3. Offer hourly sales specials. (“This hour…all Spider-Man merchandise is on sale!  If Spidey’s on the cover, you save 10%!”) Videos, toys, graphic novels, any comic written in the 1970s (or any customer born in the 1970s), kids comics, customers shopping with a kid, if your name contains the letters “D” or “C”… be creative!  That will generate viral word-of-mouth, and generate some fun for customers and employees.  Take suggestions from staff.
  4. Offer sunrise specials, to encourage customers to arrive early.  (You may wish to implement this the second year.  Use the quiet hours of the inaugural sale to navigate the learning curve.)
  5. Plan something specific to draw the interest of local media. Preferably on Friday, or early Saturday, to make the news and draw customers on Sunday.  Perhaps it’s a raffle for Amazing Fantasy #15.  Or a food drive.  Or a blood drive (“give the gift of life”).  Or a “Toys For Tots” drop-off (with real-life “superheroes” from the Marine Corps!).  Or a hospital visit from cosplayers handing out comics to kids at the local hospital or shelter.

December:

  • Offer weekly specials.
  • Offer daily specials, to encourage shopping on less busy days.
  • Offer lunch specials, just like restaurants!  (Shop from 11-3, save 10%)
  • Offer happy hour specials (4-7 PM) to encourage shoppers to stop in after work.
  • Light the menorah in your store window(it doesn’t have to be ceremonial, or kosher, or fancy) during Hanukkah.  Celebrate the Jewish contribution to American comics.  Do the same for Kwanzaa.  Maybe even hold a Festivus party!

Green Weekend (the fourth Sunday of Advent, the last weekend before Christmas):

  • Remember Black Friday? This will be just as hectic, with last minute shoppers (if you’ve done the proper marketing and planning).  If the weekend contains the 23rd or 24th of December, expect even larger crowds.
  • Figure out what hasn’t been selling, and mark it down NOW. Not a crazy markdown (you’ll save that for next year in a week), but something which encourages shoppers to purchase.
  • Select merchandise for your year-end clearance sale, which begins December 26th.  Plan where and how you will merchandise it.

Christmas Eve:

  • Do you want to stay open late (that is, usual store hours) on Christmas Eve?  That’s your decision.  Perhaps sales justify it.  Perhaps you have staff who don’t celebrate the holiday, or are willing to trade working that day for the day off of New Years.  You might want to buy your employees dinner that evening.
  • Perhaps take the staff out for drinks and eats after the store closes, to celebrate a good year.  Or watch “A Christmas Story” in the game room and have food delivered.

The Last Week of the Year:

  • Is there product shipping that week? Did publishers pre-ship merchandise for sale that week?  Can you build a promotion around that?
  • 12/25 You’ll probably be closed, unless you live in a city which encourages people to wander about (like New York).  Perhaps open in the evening for a special event, like a game championship.  Most people will have finished celebrating Christmas by then, and will be looking for a reason to escape from relatives.
  • Starting 12/26, begin your clearance sale.  Customer will have gift certificates to spend, plus cash from relatives.  Encourage them!  Perhaps offer a discount on any merchandise pre-ordered!  (This will help you discover new product lines which you may have doubted in the past.)
  • Hold your staff party.

January

  • The weekend after New Years, contemplate and meditate on the past year.  What worked well?  What didn’t?  Can you laugh about it now, or should you wait until after the court date?
  • Slowly increase your clearance sales discounts weekly, on Monday.  (You want to encourage frugal customers to visit the store on a slow day.)  You may want to do final markdowns each day of the last weekend, with a special “dollar deadline” the last day.
  • Start planning your February promotions, especially any events geared towards Valentines Day.

Oh, and about this time, you’re probably also planning your Free Comic Book Day promotions!  For every season…

Comments

  1. Al™ says:

    Some really well thought out promotional ideas here. I have mixed feelings about FCBD.
    I get the concept alright, but why should they be FREE? It goes against everything I hear from the entire sales channel: comics are worth money and creators should be paid.

    The year long promotion of comics is a much more sound practise that enables us to celebrate comics and preserve the perception of their value.

  2. Chris Duffy says:

    I think most of the creators are paid.

  3. Our comic shop gave out the free mini comic books this year- I saw Smurfs, Casper, Fraggle Rock, and Strawberry Shortcake. Some of those were combined into two sided flip over editions. The owner wisely pasted a sticker with his business information on the cover, and gave his regular customers a small stack each. I gave comics to the reading-aged kids that came to my door on Halloween. I think it was a great idea! Free “teaser” comics are a great way to get people interested.

  4. Kat Kan says:

    I ordered all the Halloween mini-comics last year; my LCS donated them to me. I had a special library day at my school just before Halloween to allow every student to come into the library to pick out a free comic for a Halloween treat; the comics were stamped with the store’s name, and I inserted a note that the comics were donated by the LCS. The students (and teachers) have learned to expect fun comics from me.

  5. We have given out the free books every year since 2004. It has grown a great deal. See new faces and people that actually want to read Comics. I am glad to see a peanuts book.

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  1. […] here is an old column to re-read: Halloween and the Holidays.  Also: The Return of Halloween […]

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