SBI! Review: Sourcing, Buying and Selling Vintage Comic Collections
Update #2

Ashley Cotter-Cairns - Super Hero

Updating my story has been on my to-do list for a really long time, but there have been other priorities in life, work and of course business. I apologize for keeping you all waiting!

The bottom line: business has never been better. I doubt any company or industry is truly pandemic-proof, but with an absence of travel, leisure opportunities, and in some cases even stores open to visit, our customers have spent their discretionary income on vintage collectibles.

When I last wrote, Sean and I had just signed for our first office space (after our very first employee fell down Sean's basement stairs on his first day at work, we figured it was time to move!).

Since then, we've actually OUTGROWN our first office, moved to a larger space, and opened our own comic book store in Freeport, Maine.

DotCom Comics and Collectibles opened on May 4th, 2019, aka Star Wars day (May the Fourth be with you).

Currently we have seven full-time staff, and have begun a tentative expansion into vintage video games.

Let's hit the major beats of the past few years.

Expansion Into Retail

This was never on our to-do list. Having a comic book store at all felt like a vanity project. Most kids who dream of being a comic book dealer one day (very narrow niche there!) probably visualize a dusty old comic book store as part of the fantasy.

The reality of retail is not pretty at the best of times. But, as mentioned above, we outgrew our first office space, and the larger unit included a storefront. We figured, why not?

DotCom Comics and Collectibles is a hybrid of vintage comic books and modern collectibles. It allows us an outlet for cheap items which are not worth lotting up on eBay (such as Dollar books). We supply the store with higher-end vintage comics as well.

Wall racks and drawers full of comic books
In his retail store, Ashley offers vintage comic books and modern collectibles

Our location is not ideal for the tourist crowd, as we're a little way from the main shopping area in Freeport (best-known for LL Bean). Most of our customers are loyal locals.

The store is now profitable. It's a fun addition to our business rather than a main driver of revenue. Our manager, Daniel Bailey, is literally the lifeblood of the store. Thanks Dan!

Expansion of the Core Business

We're as far from a cookie cutter corporation as there probably is, but hiring and very occasionally firing has been part of the growth process. The current team of seven includes the store manager, two customer service / shipping staff and our team of eBay processing staff.

Thanks to you all! Lynne, Jamie, Duke, Ethan, Sean Moran, Dan, and I count (and count on) Sean Goodrich because he is the captain steering the ship.

At first, it was Sean in his basement and me in my shed. Then both those spaces filled up. We moved to our first office. Before long, that space filled up too, until there was literally no room to move.

The new space is 1/3 the store, 1/3 the offices and 1/3 storage. It feels like we won't outgrow this location for a while, but if we do, then there is more space available in the building for us to take over.

We have also just launched a new website focusing on retro video games, a huge growth market for collectibles.

While it's still very much in its infancy, Sell Vintage Video Games is online at least...

Our Near-Miss With Fate

In September 2019, my business partner, Sean Goodrich, fell while mountaineering, tore his aorta, shattered his elbow and pelvis, and required medevac by helicopter to life-saving surgery.

I spent much of the following months driving back and forth to Maine to run things in his absence. It was quite challenging to balance work and life during this period, but friends have to come first.

Sean pulled through, and if you didn't know him before the accident then you probably would never guess that he had had a brush with death.

What this taught me was, don't put off the important work to take care of what you've invested your heart and soul into. Our key staff are now protected by life insurance, and we're improving corporate governance, so if something happens to one or both of us, then our heirs and the other partner have a clear forward path.

It also taught me to tell the people I care about how much I appreciate and love them. You never know when it will be the last time you speak to somebody.

Some Numbers

Sell My Comic Books new logo

Our stellar traffic growth has levelled off, though you wouldn't know it from the bottom line.

2020 was our best-ever year, and 2021 has started strongly too.

A few years ago, I started collecting customer testimonials. I suggest you do the same if you are running a business. Content 2 (one of Solo Build It!'s many tools) helped me to create a page where customers could leave feedback about their experience of selling to us.

I believe it is the #1 reason we convert leads into customers — it is social proof that we back up our promises with action.

I don't want to reveal too much about the financials of Sell My Comic Books. Not out of modesty, or fear or being judged for not being big enough. Just because I think that it's wise to be a little cautious about that kind of detail.

Suffice it to say that we turn over seven figures. The business has been profitable from the moment Sean and I teamed up in 2015. Sales have grown each year.

A black Porsche
The Ashmobile, Ashley's version of the Batmobile

There are the usual growing pains. Some of them include changes to the way eBay processes payments — a major derailment to our easy access to credit via the oh-so-simple and affordable PayPal Working Capital loans — which meant going to the bank to get a “proper” line of credit for when those big collections come along.

Last year, we broke our highest-purchase record twice, with two six-figure collection purchases within the same calendar year.

In 2016, I started the Hot 100 — a list of the 100 most-demanded comic books to invest in. This has since been the strongest driver of traffic and eBay referral commissions from the site. Updating it each January is a major labor, but typically this one section of the website earns me $20,000 per year in commission payments.

I'm looking for other similar projects that have the same potential... Though I confess that the thought of actually building another one of these does give me chills!

The New Normal and my Vision for the Future

Of course we could not get through an article without talking about Covid-19. At first, our staff were reluctant to handle packages as they arrived in the building. Our store had to close temporarily when Maine announced a shutdown of non-essential business.

Things have returned to a ‘new normal' since then. We still try to keep our staff rotating on different shifts to distance them from each other. Thankfully, the initial fear of the virus spreading on packaging seems to have been a red herring, as our business is basically all about packages in and packages out again.

The pandemic has taught me that I am truly a digital nomad. (A nomad who is not very nomadic, due to travel restrictions...) I have not been able to visit the office for a year. In spite of my absence (or perhaps because of it!), the business has run smoothly.

This has shown me a vision for the future. Taking my laptop on the road, to avoid the harsh Montreal winters. Sean and the team will still have my support... from wherever my backpack and I end up, and wherever there is a wifi connection.

I'll leave the ice and snow of Montreal to explore Marrakech, Mandalay, or Mexico City.

I'll end by saying thank you to Sean, his wife Tami and daughter Morgan, all our amazing staff, and everybody who has supported me in my turbulent, uncertain and meandering progress since Ken Evoy introduced me to SBI in 2005.

Should you or yours ever need help with a vintage comic book (or video game) collection, then please get in touch!

Ashley Cotter-Cairns