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Fister Interviews: Tony Florence, Owner of Collectibles, ETC. Lexington, KY

Article by FisterRoboto of

Mr. Florence himself

If you’re a geek and live in Lexington, Kentucky, you have a lot to be excited about. The best comic shop in the state, Collectibles, ETC, is just a few miles from you. I first met Tony and his staff a few years back when I was shopping for a new comic store. After receiving some of the best customer service on the planet, it became very clear that this was going to be the permanent home of my pull folder. Not only do you get great service at this shop, but you also get employees with geek street cred. I’ve never received a bad book (or beer) recommendation at this store. I doubt you will either.

A couple of weeks back I had the pleasure of joining Tony, an alcoholic, smut peddler, cosplay dork a fellow craft beer enthusiast at The Beer Trappe for some great brews and great conversation. The following conversation is what we can remember aside from the oatmeal stouts and double imperial pale ales.

1. Every great comic hero (or villain) has a cool origin story. Tell me how Lexington’s supreme comic store came to be.

My origins are steeped in mystery…and late insurance payments.  In 1990 I was living at home with my parents and still covered under their car insurance.  When my dad poked his head into my room while I was at work to see if the late  payment was just lying around (yeah, I did that a lot) he noticed this huge mass of comics laying all around my bedroom.  When I got home he asked me, “Tony, why are you wasting money on stupid crap like this?”  In response I showed him my near mint copy of Uncanny X-men 94 that I had picked up for 25 bucks.  “Dad, I can sell this at any store in town for 50 or 60 bucks right now because it’s worth about a 100 dollars.”  He was amazed at this and after a lengthy discussion I convinced him that money could be made at selling comics.  We advertised in the Herald Leader newspaper and ended up buying a few collections and then we started doing shows all around the nation.  For the better part of a year we did one or two shows every weekend while still holding down full-time jobs and going to school.  This was some extremely tiring travel.  On one weekend we drove up to Columbus Ohio and did a one day Saturday show…then that night drove all the way to Atlanta to do a Sunday show.  Then back home and then spent the week cataloging purchases and setting up for the next weekend’s show.  This gave us valuable experience in comic retailing and also allowed us to make a fair amount of start-up cash and acquire some nice collections.  When Collectibles, Etc. came up for sale in the early 90’s we snapped it up.  For those of you who are curious, it was called Collectibles, Etc. because we sold just about everything:  comics, sports cards, pocket knives, nascar stuff, etc.  It took about 3 years for us to blow out all the junk and just end up carrying comics and comic related paraphernalia.  At that point we were so established that we just kept the name.

The new and improved store on Locust Hill Drive, Lexington, KY

2. A comic store and it’s employees have a lot to do with keeping old customers and drawing in new ones. How did Collectibles, Etc obtain this well-known and appreciated level of customer service?

It was just luck to be honest.  It took about 12 years to find my MANAGER SUPREME in one Jonathan Juett.  He’s incredibly well versed in all aspects of the comic industry and a very hard worker.  Once I had one good employee it was just a matter of time before I added on other folk…Charlie Lewis and Jake Miracle.  Fundamentally a store is only as good as the employees who man the counters.  My guys are knowledgeable, professional, and courteous.  We treat every person who walks through the door as though they are a real person and not just a dollar sign to be vultured away from competitors.  Our main focus is to find the best quality books to match the interests of each customer…something in which we excel.  Most stores are staffed with people who barely understand the industry or, even worse, who don’t even read comics.  It’s very easy (read “lazy”) of a store owner to just endlessly push the big two in Marvel and DC…it takes a talented staff like you’ll find at Collectibles to recommend books like Blacksad, Locke & Key, Morning Glories, etc.

It’s also very important to maintain a highly organized and clean working environment.  I  always hated wandering around dank, dirty, and cluttered stores hopelessly looking around for a particular item while the staff just sat around watching TV or were sequestered in some corner playing card games.

3. As a business owner and nerd, what trends are you noticing in the ever-evolving world of comics? Any that you simply don’t like? Is this craft beer/comic store trend going to surface in big ‘ol Lexington?

Comics are trending hard right now.  The customer base is growing more diverse with the evolution of comics as a mainstream form of entertainment and not some kind of niche “nerd only” market.  We’ve seen an increase in female customers along with a growth in our youth market.  While many stores are predicting the doom of the brick and mortar stores because of digital comic releases I am discovering that the digital market only serves to bring awareness to our industry along with many new customers.  I don’t really have anything negative to say about the industry.  It’s a great time to be a comic store owner if you know what you’re doing.  As far as the craft beer/comic shop concept that is booming big on the west and east coasts, I am actively looking into it.  I have a feeling  that a small beer snob pub/eatery might be opening up soon in a comic store near you.

4. By taking part in this interview, you’re bound to answer this question: What is your favorite horror movie?

I’ll be honest, I have a lot of “guilty pleasure” movies that include such crap as The Big Hit and Fifth Element.  My favorite horror movie of all time is that awful Mila Jovovoovoovovich Resident Evil movie.  Yeah, it’s crap…but when I’m looking for neat monster effects/zombie apocalypse/explosion fun…I go for this movie.  It could only be improved with ninjas.  (I do love John Carpenter’s The Thing and Alien…but I don’t want people to get the wrong idea that I might have good taste when it comes to horror movies.)

5. Your staff is amazing. What rigorous training methods have you utilized to achieve this level of awesome?

Well..believe it or not, they came right out of the box being awesome.  I do advocate reading a broad spectrum of books so that they can easily reference story lines and identify reader trends like some people who are just fans of certain writers like Brubaker or Kieron Gillen or Bendis.  They can freely take home trades to read just to improve their knowledge base and all of them heavily pound the internet sites for comic and pop culture related updates.

The “Free Comic Book Day” insanity

6. Tell us what you’re reading right now and what you wish more of us were reading.

Walking Dead, Morning Glories, Fables, Thief of Thieves, Manhattan Project, Saga, Fantastic Four etc.  I just wish more people would get out of  the rut of reading just the big two publishers.  It’s very easy  to endlessly buy Uncanny X-men or Superman or whatever just because you’ve been buying it for the last decade.  The second and third tier publishers are cranking out a large volume of great reads…many of which are creator owned.  My advice is for people to try something new.  Listen to the store “Preview’s Review” Podcast.  We outline all the great products that are coming out each month in an effort to get the customer to broaden their horizons.

7. The New 52 turned me back into a full-time DC reader. How did they pull this off so successfully? I’m a Marvel guy and have a lot of friends that started adding these new DC titles to their folders. What did they do right?

What they did right was couple great writers with great artists to put out a quality product.  By giving all of  their books a fresh feel and a great jumping on point they allowed current comic readers to enjoy a lot of new titles without the continuity baggage that is typically attached to most comics.  What I came to discover is that many people were just waiting for a good point to get back into reading comics but they were just overwhelmed by the sheer volume of titles out there and the tireless backlog of continuity issues.  Give a person a bunch of #1 issues and they’ll try anything.

More room means more geek stuff!

8. Lastly, this is a chance to mention, promote, or slut yourself around any way you see fit. Tell us what we can expect from Collectibles, Etc. in the future.

More events and more inventory.   A good friend of mine told me a while back that the most important goal in owning a business is to establish a sense of community.  When people come to my shop not only do I want them to feel welcomed I also want them to feel like they belong.  We do that through heavy community involvement via our local schools and libraries along with our fun events like 24 Hour Comic Day and Theme parties like our Doctor Who and Buffy events.  We have some great events coming up.  Silly stuff like a Pajama Party to serious stuff like getting a lot more artists and writers to make in-store appearances.

Also, expect us to start carrying a lot more “stuff”.  We’re continuing to expand our drink-ware with a multitude of mugs, pint glasses, and tumblers.  You guys will begin to see a drastic expansion in high-end action figures and statues also.  And, as always, we pride ourselves on having the largest volume of trade paperbacks in the area.  And hopefully we’ll have beer and food at some point too!  😀

About Fister Roboto (2239 Articles)
Just ring it up with the dong tea...

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