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Comics & Games Retailer

Merchandising Manga 202: Stocking the Shelves

By Oliver Chin

Maximize Merchandise and Sales

Last month, I covered how anime and manga publishers license items and why selling unlicensed products is problematic. Building on those fundamental issues, I will explain why your store should optimize its merchandising of anime and manga.

Nationwide, retailers must combat declining sales and market share over the past year(s). Meanwhile they've observed the continued growth of merchandising for both American and Japanese comics. Currently all would welcome another viable method to develop revenue or protect their existing investment in anime and manga.

Merchandising manga is a leading option: raise revenue by improving your store's offerings of anime accessories.

Merchandising encompasses tactics such as point-of-purchase displays, printing and signage, and management of category, floor and shelf space. It also assumes that you perfect the procurement process, and standardize receiving procedures.

But for now, simply focus on the basic strategy. Begin with the three main stages.
Start with a test in a specific category.
Qualify your opportunity by analyzing customer, competitor, market, and category performance.
If pilot program shows sales and profit gains, then roll it out to more categories.
Let's cover step 1 in more detail, and introduce you to basic concepts that are in your financial interest to become familiar with.

1A) Improve Product Mix and Profitability

Remember the goal is to sell more products to more customers.

Beyond manga, graphic novels and videos (including DVD) are the next logical line extensions. These two sectors are admittedly diverse and deep themselves, but by now should be considered dependable and rather ubiquitous offerings. But wait! The world of merchandise stretches far beyond this relatively standard fare. You may sample a rainbow of flavors:

Print: Wall Scrolls, Posters
Games: Trading Cards, Role Playing Games, Stickers
3 Dimensional: Models, Action Figures, Plush Toys
Apparel: T-shirts, Watches, Hats
Electronic: Video Games, Gadgets

You may ask, "Why bother with the hassle if a single store will move very little volume?"

Most of these items are commonly priced $20 or more. These are popular products which instantly give retailers more bang for their buck. A retailer's profit margin off a $30 watch may be equal 10 comics. Well many stores don't sell more than 10 comics per title. If just one of those 10 readers buys a watch (a lowball estimate, since anime and manga fans have rapacious appetites), then your investment has already paid off.

Of course, new models of watches (and merchandise in general) don't come out monthly like comics, so you have to be ready to capitalize on these periodic and seasonal opportunities. This supplemental income comes in handy and is a true upsell.

But before you invest a small fortune in a spectrum of items, select one which has the most promise. Target one that offers characters that match those you already sell. For example, if you sell Dragon Ball comics and videos, then stocking T-shirts is an option. First choose products of high quality, profitability, and expansion potential (more SKUs you can select if your customers respond well).

1B) Help Manga Market Itself

Passers-by take a second look at anime and manga because of the images: they are cool, alternative, and intriguing. Earning that double take speaks to the intrinsic appeal of the product. However, many potential fans never become regular readers because the product is never adequately displayed.

When expanding into merchandise, retailers need to showcase the product properly. To do any less is to shoot your test program in the foot. Anything that is tucked into a far corner will probably not sell very well.

To properly test the potential of merchandise, you need to give the product a chance to speak for itself. Give merchandise a shot at center stage. If it pays off, then anime and manga deserves all the prominence you can afford them.

Let products breathe in their best light, with the appropriate fixtures and signs, close to their anime and manga brethren. Be creative and borrow successful techniques from other retailers. Here are some suggestions:

Print: conveniently placed in poster racks.
Games: easily accessed in binder pages to demonstrate collectibility and variety.
3 Dimensional: figures dynamically posed in eye-catching window displays.
Apparel: featured on a mannequin dressed in an ensemble outfit.
Electronic: Nintendo or PlayStation titles spotlighted under front counter glass.

1C) Catch the Cross-Over Customer

Merchandise gives you the offensive capability to draw in new customers from other retail markets: book, clothing, gift, specialty (role-playing game), music, toy, video, video games. Conversely it gives you a defense to retain your customers and prevent losing their business to these same stores.

With the mounting competition from these sectors and the Internet, there is more pressure to sell products faster. This translates into serving customers now. If you don't or can't, your customers, through lack of time, money, or patience, will go elsewhere to buy.

Nevertheless, keep your eye on the ball: your future depends on building clientele by attracting new buyers. Fortunately, merchandise enables you to do this, since anime and manga merchandise (unlike graphic novels and videos) is not readily available in most mainstream outlets...yet.

Today, the hottest phenomenon is Pokemon. You've already witnessed the power of merchandising: young children, Generation Y, who (and their parents) buy merchandise on a regular basis and expect comic retailers to provide the same quality of service and selection they see elsewhere.

In 1999, as the Pokemon craze surely swells, providing you've get sufficient stock, your store can attract the same buyer that frequents Borders Books, JC Penney, Hot Topic, Game Gallery, Virgin, Toys 'R Us, Suncoast and Electronics Boutique. This is heady company. But don't let the names fool you. If you don't do your job, they will do it for you.

Once again, you have a limited but distinct window of opportunity. Don't miss your chance to entice fresh fans to enter your store and become customers for life.


Comics Buyer's Guide is the USA's longest running magazine about comic books. Every month it features new comic reviews, nostalgic retroviews, interviews and a price guide. Oliver Chin reviews anime, manga, movies, videos, graphic novels, comics, and books.

Comics & Games Retailer provides news to comic and games retailers about practical how-to tips on selling comics and keeping up with industry and market trends. Monthly issues include Oliver Chin's column "Going Global" and other articles that give a national overview of the market.