If you’re part of the retail ecosystem in the comic and pop culture industry, chances are you’ve either heard of or worked with Diamond Comic Distributors. They are, after all, the leading wholesale distributor in that industry and exclusively distribute many of today’s most loved pop culture brands – Marvel Comics, DC Entertainment, Image Comics, and Dark Horse Comics, to name a few.
As the exclusive distributor for that channel, Diamond has developed over their 35 years in business exceptionally close relationships with retail partners in the small and midsized business (SMB) space. In addition to providing products, Diamond helps the stores with behind-the-scenes activities – everything from hosting annual conferences, to developing custom software and streamlining operations, to supporting data files.
So when it comes to identifying retail management and point-of-sale (POS) software that completely meets the needs of this industry, Diamond Comics knows it best. It’s why for the past 10 years they have experienced high consumer demand for, and much success with, Microsoft Dynamics Retail Management System (RMS), and Diamond’s integrated add-on module, ComicSuite.
We met with Diamond’s VP of Retail Services, Chris Powell who manages the company’s retailer-facing teams and serves as the liaison between the development team and the various internal departments. With more than 25 years of experience in the industry and a former General Manager / CRO of Lone Star Comics (an 8-store chain of pop culture stores and the world’s largest mail order comic bookseller), Powell has worked closely with vendors from Microsoft to UPS to develop solutions that cater to his retail customers.
With Dynamics RMS now having reached end-of-life, Powell faced the challenge of transitioning his existing customers to a new point-of-sale software product that preserved a lot of the features/functions most loved in RMS while also acclimating them to a next-gen retail solution – without data migration headaches or high costs of hardware replacement.
We asked Powell about his process for selecting the Retail Management Hero (RMH) solution, the features that retailers wanted most, and his success formula for building such a large and loyal customer base.
What were some of main reasons you chose RMH?
POWELL: Selling into a very specific vertical, we do not have a large technical staff for support. RMS and RMH are proven, reliable platforms that have additional avenues for support, so we and our customers feel good knowing that answers are never too far away when an issue arises.
What makes RMH ideal for your customers?
POWELL: RMH provides the ideal combination of price, support, features, and extensibility that we and our customers need.
You’ve had some recent successes regarding RMH sales. How many RMS customers have already converted to RMH, and how many new customers (not using RMS) have adopted RMH?
POWELL: We are pacing our transition to RMH to avoid taxing our support staff. We actually have a waiting list at the moment, with new users migrating every week. We’ve encouraged customers to upgrade around their maintenance fee due date, as that helps us spread the work out over a manageable period. This also lets us support the new users signing on with installation and training calls.
So far, about 10% of our customers (60) have made the transition, and we have 1-3 customers adding RMH for the first time some weeks. While managing the migration, our team is also continuing their work with our developers to add new features and roll out updated versions of the ComicSuite add-on while also helping customers stay up-to-date with the RMH updates that are being actively developed.
Why do you think they’re converting?
POWELL: We like to keep everyone on nearly the same version of the base platform, so we have touted the ongoing development by the Retail Management Hero team that will not be happening for RMS. The easy transition from RMS to RMH makes this an easy pitch, as customers understand the importance of maintaining up-to-date software for smooth operations and continued security.
What type of retailers are gravitating to RMH?
POWELL: One of my roles is to interact with new and future retailers who are going into business for the first time. Fortunately, they understand the role of POS systems and how much stronger they can make their businesses. On the other hand, we’re also experiencing success with existing retailers who may have been using POS systems that were not tailor-made for pop culture and comic retail, so they’re intrigued by the additional insight into their business that RMH paired with ComicSuite provides. Our add-on manages special order integration with our ERP, customer “subscriptions”, mailing lists, and many other features. Plus, the integrated loyalty program is a big hit with them and their customers.
What are the key features or functionality that you think your customers are most attracted to?
POWELL: The tracking of inventory and sales data, along with the ability to identify which customers are buying what products are key features for SMB stores who need to see an almost immediate return on their investment. The loyalty program was a big seller for us as an add-on, so its integration has many more users excited as they look for ways they can use it to build their businesses. Our ComicSuite add-on provides very deep integration with our own ERP systems, so customers can submit and track orders while on the sales floor tending to customers. We also promote the idea that inventory tracking can help identify shrinkage before it can cripple a small business. This is an issue for smaller retailers, so it makes a very compelling argument.
What have been contributing factors for your success in terms of growing your customer base?
POWELL: When a retailer buys one of the three full systems we offer, which include HP hardware and Microsoft Windows, Retail Management Hero POS, and our ComicSuite add-on, we finance it at 0% interest for up to 18 months. We simply add a small amount to each of their weekly invoices, so it is fairly invisible to them.
Tell us more about your subsidy program for retailers.
POWELL: Since 2012, we have worked with our largest vendor partners to offer a “subsidy” program for retailers adopting the ComicSuite add-on and RMS / RMH software when paired with HP hardware. When they order the system, they are given free product that they can sell in their stores or use for promotions, offsetting the cost of the system. This has been enormously successful, and is popular with both our customers and vendors who recognize that modernizing stores and processes results in better customers in the long term.
Your company has been consistently growing year over year. What does your customer base look like today? Are you worldwide?
POWELL: We serve over 3,200 comic book and pop-culture stores in the United States, and also have a UK division servicing the continent. We have customers serviced out of the U.S. in Singapore, Australia, Brazil, Japan, and many other parts of the world. We’ve only recently started offering RMH internationally, but expect to see more growth as we gain experience and more of our international customers become familiar with the product.
To find out more about Diamond’s POS offering, visit http://www.comicsuite.com/.