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Card store diversifies product line to keep up with changes in the market.

There are few companies - except for bankruptcy trustees - which flourished during this past recession.

But Brad Hayes, the owner of Comics North, has strategically positioned his business in a market which has seen phenomenal growth during the past two years.

Comic books and sports cards have become a retail sales leader during recent years. Once looked upon as merely something for children, sports card collecting has more recently become the poor man's alternative to trading stocks.

Cards which could have been purchased for only a few pennies when they were first issued now command triple-digit prices. For example, a Bobby Hull rookie card can fetch upwards of $1,500.

In addition, cards and comic books can have a great deal more sentimental value than stocks.

"It's nice to go to shows and see some of the cards from 25 years ago," explains Wayne Ginson, an account representative with Northern Life newspaper in Sudbury. "It brings back your childhood."

Ginson says he started collecting cards for his son and "just got caught up in it."

Now both father and son are regular customers at several local card shops, as well as card shows - which can bear an uncanny resemblance to a Bay Street trading pit.

Hayes points out that comic book publishers, especially small independent companies, are also targeting their products to a mature audience.

While declining to give specific figures, Hayes says sales at his downtown Sudbury establishment have grown between 20 and 30 per cent annually during the past few years - twice the growth the business realized during its early days.

Hayes first opened Comics North in 1983 in a second-floor office above the former Cortina Cafe restaurant.

A graduate of the forestry program at Sault College, Hayes had been a comic book collector since his early teens. He decided to open the business for a few hours each week while studying business administration at Cambrian College.

Hayes left Cambrian after his first year in order to devote all his energies to his fledgling business.

"When I started there was only one other comic store in Sudbury. Six months later the owner wanted to concentrate on the store he had in North Bay, so I bought him out," Hayes recalls.

Comics North enjoyed a monopoly in Sudbury for three years, and Hayes utilized the advantage by diversifying his product line and increasing his inventory.

Now the store's inventory includes more than 60,000 comic books, 250,000 cards and between 1,000 and 2,000 role-playing games and supplies. The value of the inventory and a few break-ins forced Hayes to invest in a sophisticated burglar-alarm system.

Hayes believes that it is his store's diversified product line which has helped him maintain his share of the market despite the establishment of seven competitors in the region. It will help his store survive in the future when the card craze finally wanes.

"I started to see the sales of the cards drop just before Christmas, but the market is straightening itself out. It grew so much so fast that it had to slow down eventually."

"It just makes me glad that I'm not just a card store."

Hayes believes that the customer loyalty he has developed during the past nine years will also help him maintain his market share.

He says aggressive television advertising has helped him attract regular customers from as far away as Timmins, Elliot Lake and Sault Ste. Marie.

"It took about a year before the television advertising made a noticeable difference in business," he recalls. "But most advertising takes time to get results."

Hayes has also used newspapers to advertise the fact that he sells used cassettes and compact discs - the store's two biggest sellers during the Christmas season.

Now he is contemplating adding laser discs to his product line as their use becomes more commonplace. But, in the meantime Hayes is kept busy keeping up with the new cards and series of cards hitting the market.

Like many other small business operators, Hayes is concerned about pending government legislation - particularly Sunday shopping.

"It (Sunday shopping) is detrimental to small businesses, especially one-person operations," he says. "They cannot compete, and they are the ones who are going to be hurt."

Hayes admits that he tried opening on Sundays, but with little or no time off the long hours began to take their toll on the quality of customer service he offered.
COPYRIGHT 1992 Laurentian Business Publishing, Inc.
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Copyright 1992, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:Sudbury Report; Comics North
Author:Krejlgaard, Chris
Publication:Northern Ontario Business
Article Type:Company Profile
Date:Feb 1, 1992
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