Astro is one of the largest comic retailers in Canada. In fact, we're among the top 10% of comic retailers worldwide. Comic retailers. Not toys, games, statues, posters, or T-shirts. Comics.
We take special orders for all kinds of stuff, basically anything listed in Diamond Previews, but our focus is on reading material. By not scattering our energies all over the pop culture landscape, we're able to offer our customers a healthy selection of on-floor merchandise, along with efficient and flexible discount subscription programs.
We carry an extensive and well-organised comic backstock. Maybe not as huge as some on-line retailers, but our instant-access 20,000 book inventory is complemented by networking with selected customers, allowing them to supplement our inventory with their own. We call this the "WASCU" program, and it means that we have an estimated 500,000 extra comics at our disposal.
As they say in the infomercials, But that's not all!
In addition to our own inventory and customer collections, we also have access to Diamond Distribution's "Star" system. It's not huge, only about 16,000 items as of this writing, but it comprises all of DC, Marvel, Dark Horse, and Image's inventory, along with a huge selection of alternate publishers' wares. To give you an idea of the extent and flexibility of this resource, every week we place orders for around 200 items from it, mostly as single items, ranging from recent DVDs and books to ten-year-old single comics.
A couple of comic-related features of this website merit mentioning: "Astronotes" and the weekly shipping list.
Astronotes is our monthly magalogue, published in hard copy since 1995, and coming on-line in 2004. It's basically "Previews Lite", giving descriptions of just about every new title in comics and TPBs each month, along with the odd item of unusual interest, line listings of ongoing series, and bits and pieces of news and commentary.
"Shipping this week", mounted every Friday, is a list of what we will be receiving the following Wednesday. There is a great difference between what publishers (and even Diamond) says will be shipping on any given week, and what shows up in reality. Our list is taken straight from our invoice. Unless there's a packing error, what's listed is what's actually coming in. Because we order virtually every mainstream title, readers whose stores are serviced by the Diamond Plattsburgh warehouse (ask your retailer) can pretty much treat our list as gospel: If we're getting a title, your local store should be getting it too. Handy thing to check, both from curiosity's sake, and just to see if you missed adding something to your retailer's "pull list". Note that I specified the Diamond Plattsburgh warehouse: There are three Diamond warehouses (Plattsburgh, Memphis, and Los Angeles), and they all have slight differences in the products they ship each week. If your shop is serviced out of Memphis or LA, our list is still pretty good, but may not be 100% accurate.
We've been at this game a long time, evolving constantly. It's an ever-changing industry (a lot of folks don't recognise that), in an ever-changing technological environment. We've seen many shops follow us in areas like using computers (1988) and having websites (vestigal-1993), but not many adopt our belief that there's no truth to that old saw that goes "service, quality, or price - you can only have two". We deliver all three, and have been doing so since 1984.
We offer several services in comics:
New comics: sales off the wall
Our "new comic" wall is divided into two sections - new arrivals that have come in this week, and still current for the month but that came in before Wednesday.
Comic Reserves at Astro
Call them reserves or subscriptions, or whatever you want, Astro, like most comic shops, does them. Quite a lot of them, actually. As of this writing we have over 600 people on our reserve lists, people from around the corner, to people in Taiwan. Here's how we work:
We do a "standing list" type of deal. If you want "Batman" every month, just say so. There's no need to keep adding the title for every issue. When you want to start, just say so. When you want to stop, just say so. There's no three-month lead-in, no three month committment. You can start and stop a regular title any time.
We need one ongoing title to start you up. That's it. You can add and subtract titles as you go, but we need one ongoing to keep the account active.
What's an ongoing title? "Batman". "X-Men". Those are ongoing. "Y: The Last Man TPBs whenever they're released" is not. If you're not sure, just ask. We want your money, we'll find any way we can to squeeze you in.
You want a discount, right? How does 25% sound? No hoops to jump through, no minimum number of titles.
25% is our standard discount.
Very rarely, someone wants a book that is "short discounted" from our supplier ( which is to say, we get a smaller discount ) and your discount will drop to 20%. A quick check of our database shows that we currently have customer orders for 56 short discount items. Considering that we have just over 14,000 orders overall, this really doesn't amount to a big deal. Just warning you about it, but figure that 25% is what you're going to get for the vast majority of comics, TPBs, and books.
Sounds good for books, but what about other stuff? Well, we don't carry statues and toys and such, but we do "special order" them for people. Discount's around 20% for this kind of stuff. Yes, "around". See, we have to get our orders in at the end of each month, and we find that some customers have a habit of leaving things to the last minute.
This is a real pain in the neck, so we tell people that if you give us your order after the 20th of a catalogue month, you're gonna get nicked for 3%. Your discount drops to 17%. On the other hand, if you get your order in the week that Previews comes out, we'll give you an extra 3%, so your discount becomes 23%! Funny how people find the time to do the order early when there's a few bucks involved.
Anyways, this applies only to statues, games, toys, posters, and stuff like that. For non-reading material, figure that the basic discount is 20%.
Oh yeah, you also get a 20% discount on re-orders. The book's shipped already, and we have to place a special order to get another one for you? No big deal, we do it all the time (actually about 125 times a week), but it does take extra time and effort, so we can't afford the usual 25%. Discount on re-orders is a standard 20%. Still better than a kick in the teeth.
Special orders? Re-orders? What's that about? Well, we can't carry everything that's in Previews (they offer about 4,000 different items each month), but we can get it. Being more than happy to find any opportunity to separate you from your money, if you want something, we'll order it, but the "cancel any time" deal doesn't apply. It's easy for us to eat one more copy of X-men, much harder if it's a DVD or TPB.
Back to discounts
OK, back to discounts: 25% off what?
US cover price, that's what. We take the discount off the top, add exchange and taxes, and that's what you pay. To give you an idea, Marvel currently has a $4.25 Canadian cover price on $2.99US books. When you add the GST and PST, that works out to $4.89 Canadian, tax included.
With us, we start at $2.99, and use the prevailing Diamond exchange rate (about the same as you'll get at a bank), rather than the fantasy number that publishers use. As a result, our customers end up paying about $2.89 for that same Marvel book. Yeah, really. Two bucks difference on one comic.
So how does it work? Tell us what you want, and give us some money. Couple of week's worth of money or a credit card auto-billing authorisation. When something comes in for you we invoice it, and take the payment out of your account. When you run out of money, we bug you for more.
I mentioned "around the corner to Taiwan", and I wasn't kidding. We're not some huge mail-order outfit, but we do have a bunch of customers throughout Canada and the world as reserves. Same deal as in-person guys, except that when we do our monthly mailing, we charge them postage. On the other hand, if they're not in Quebec, we don't charge them provincial sales tax, and if they're not in Canada there's no GST either. The tax saving alone usually covers the postage cost, but that really depends on where they are and how big a parcel they're getting.
I usually have a look at people's list before signing them up for mail order. I believe in local comic shops, and I don't want to cut into their turf unless there's overwhelming reason to do so. If you're going to save a buck a month by buying from me, I'll suggest you don't. If it's twenty bucks, or your shop just isn't giving you proper service, it's a different story. Case by case basis. I want what's best for both of us.
There's other stuff, but I think you get our basic philosophy. Give you a great deal to draw you in. Give you great service to keep you with us (we have customers who've been with us since we started, over 15 years ago). Don't sweat the small stuff. Life's too short to pinch pennies. We make it up on volume.
Strange sales pitch, eh? Well we're a pretty strange store. We're also a pretty good store. You don't get to be as big as we are without being good. If you're intrigued, stop in, or drop us an e-mail, and we'll be happy to answer any questions you might have.
And take your money.