Clearing the Air

It was pointed out to me this morning that Wyatt Higginbotham of Wyatt’s Comics and Cards posted an attack on Big Easy Comics on his Facebook page.  We’ve endured countless jabs from him already and we’ve always taken the high road.  I can’t bring myself to do it this time.  We’re not small enough, we’re not local enough, we’re a big evil corporation, we’re picking on him, we’re greedy and so on.  We can’t go back and be a one store operation, so no, we’re not as small.  And why would we?  We’ve done that and it was a great personal and financial struggle to get where we are today.  I certainly wouldn’t want to live through it again.  We are proud to be a family owned business with 5 employees, if that’s not a small business then pretty much nothing is.  Tracey and I have both put in many thousands of hours of work to make Big Easy Comics what it is and it’s a slap in the face every time we hear that “the owner has another job” or “the owner is never onsite” or “this is just a hobby for them”.  Tracey puts in 50-60 hours a week and yes, I have another career but I still put in 20-30 hours each week.  We’re successful because we put every ounce of energy we have and every dollar we make back into Big Easy Comics to make it better for our customers.  How does that make us greedy?  We don’t overcharge our customers for anything, no new product in our store is ever priced above MSRP or cover price.  In fact, we have a rewards program for our customers that allows them to earn as much as 20% back on their purchases in store credit.  We also have booster box and case discounts for our card game products.  If it’s important that we don’t live in Hammond any more, we’re sorry.  We live in Mandeville now where we opened our first store.  I’m not sure what Mr. Higginbotham’s obsession with being an SLU graduate is, but I’m one as well.  After I got out of the Marine Corps, I joined the Louisiana Air National Guard and moved to Hammond where I got my Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science at Southeastern.  I also have an MBA from UNO if anyone really cares to know.

We opened our first storefront in Mandeville in November of 2010 and it was a great struggle for a long time.  School of Comics in Mandeville had already planned to close and we were fortunate enough to pick up most of their customer base but we were learning what it really meant to own a comic shop and just how different owning one is from owning most other types of businesses.  The core for us though from the start was to provide the highest possible customer experience to everyone that comes through our doors in a clean, friendly environment.  There were a couple of points in the first 2 years where we had to decide whether to close or keep pushing forward.  About 8 months after we opened, Wyatt Higginbotham opened “Wyatt’s Sportscards” a mile down the street from us, a chain store co-owned by Chuck’s Field of Dreams, based out of Albany.  We weren’t pleased to say the least, but we have no issue with friendly competition and we certainly wouldn’t describe Chuck’s as a “big evil corporation”, however I can’t help but feel that Mr. Higginbotham is being more than a little hypocritical now that we’re in opposite positions.  At that time we felt it would best serve us to expand the size of our store and put in dedicated game play space for our customers.  It was extremely risky but ultimately successful and led to the game room model we use today.  It wasn’t until later that we had any issue with them, when we were getting reports from customers that Mr. Higginbotham was lying to them about having made some fictional arrangement with us about our Magic the Gathering tournament schedules, essentially saying that he had discussed with us and that we had agreed to schedule events around each other.  Ultimately we were able to outlast their store, we feel because of our customer first mentality.  To this day, we have never met nor spoken to Mr. Higginbotham, except on those occasions when he calls our store pretending to be a potential customer asking what our prices are.  My advice to him is to provide his customers more value than Big Easy Comics does if he wants to be successful.  That’s what the foundation of our business is built on; taking care of our customers and adding more value to their experience than they’ll get anywhere else.  We don’t bad mouth our competition on Facebook, or tell people they’re terrible and that they shouldn’t shop there.  If people want to shop at Wyatt’s Comics, we certainly don’t have any issue with that.  That’s their choice and if they feel that they’re best taken care of there, that’s fantastic.  This isn’t about us, it’s about taking care of the customer.

Why did we choose to open a 2nd store in Hammond?  We have dozens of customers that drive from Hammond to Covington every week because quite frankly, they don’t want to shop at Wyatt’s.  We didn’t do that, he did.  If you want to know why, you should ask them.  I’ve never been in his store, nor would I ever in a public forum disparage a business I’ve never set foot in, but the stories I’ve heard definitely impacted the decision to open a store in Hammond.  So after about a year of hearing complaints from comic readers and gamers, we decided to take a hard look at whether opening another store was something that we could afford to do and whether or not Hammond could sustain one.  I think the results are obvious, we’ve been open for almost 2 weeks now in Hammond and we can’t put into words the overwhelming positive response we’ve gotten so far.

Mr. Higginbotham has also taken it upon himself to bring up our 3rd store in Slidell that we’re opening soon.  It’s honestly heartbreaking that we’re doing it.  Dave Strecker, owner of Magic Comics & Hobbies has been our friend for 8 years.  We share product when the other needs it, we’ve helped each other at conventions, and have a great cooperative relationship in general.  He called me this week to tell me he’s shutting down at the end of November and that he was referring his customers to us because he wanted to make sure they’re taken care of.  He’s one of the greatest people you’ll ever meet and his customers will tell you the same.  Slidell’s game store, Level Up, had just closed at the end of August as well.  We felt like this was such a blow to the community that we should step in if we could.  We decided that day that regardless of the risk, the community in Slidell would support us if we came and supported them.

If this sounds a bit angry, well, it’s because I am.  We run our small business honestly and with integrity.  Speaking as a former Marine, those aren’t just words, they’re a way of life.  We take care of our customers and have excellent relationships with other members of the comic and game store community.  Mr. Higginbotham’s reputation is of his own making, if he wants to be successful he should own that and start putting his customers first.

 

Thanks to all our friends and customers for their support!

-Steve