Newbury Comics is a small chain of retail outlets in the northeast. While most notable for its music sales and selection, it also sells, comics, toys, clothing, and various other items relating to pop culture. Over the past decade, their core business, music sales, has over gone a dramatic shift. Mike Dreese, co-founder, occasionally sends out updates in the Newbury Comics email newsletter with a general status of the company, current strategy, and general musings of being in the business over the years. I find the updates fascinating in both a business perspective and a personal perspective. As someone, who is familiar with many aspects of business and the need to adapt to your environment, I love to hear what goes on behind the scenes. I also feel a certain attachment to the chain, in that its small and local. I’m a native to the New England area and with that comes a certain pride in local businesses. I want to see them succeed and strive for excellence.

I have posted one of these updates before here.

You can read the update after the jump.

Newbury Comics Company Update – by Mike Dreese Co-Owner

Hi All,

Here we go with a general update for our customers, staff and vendors!

Company Results and Health
We are finally starting to see decent economic results, after a very scary end of year last year. Like many retailers, our sales collapsed in late September of 2008. Now, we are starting to see the impact of things like the closing of Circuit City, and Border’s Books de-emphasizing CD’s and DVD’s in some of their locations.

While our overall sales remain a challenge, our margins have improved somewhat as our sales of low margin “hit” CD’s and DVD’s continue to decline at a double digit pace, but we are able to increase sales of other pop culture items.

Facebook and New Media
Our Facebook “Fans” continue to grow at a very fast pace. We now have over 40,000 fans of our page. We know we need to put a lot of thought and energy into figuring out what is appealing in terms of our Facebook page content. I anticipate a few more months of experimentation before we find a rhythm of postings and notes which feel right. We certainly have as many “misses” as “hits” in that regard, so I thank all of you who have stuck with us!

In the immediate future, we will be testing the concept of an individual store page, to help support our customer’s taste for local music notes and cultural events, especially those which are of less interest to a broader geographic audience.

Our Twitter effort is still in its infancy, but we seem to be making progress there.

Store Leases and Expansion Possibilities
We have a number of stores which continue to be challenged by declining revenues. Fortunately, we have been able to negotiate more favorable lease terms with our various landlords in all cases which have come up so far. I hope we can continue to do so, as we know the impact on both staff and the community when we are forced to shutter due to poor economics.

In 2008, we opened two of our biggest stores in Norwood and at Faneuil Hall, right before the economy collapsed. We are now finally looking for additional opportunities, as our sales and profits have stabilized. For the first time, we are seriously looking as far away as New York City for the right locations.

A big question we have to answer is this: How many Newbury Comics stores, in what size, and in what locations, will our customers support? Should we have fewer, but larger free standing stores with huge assortments? Smaller mall based stores? Or just try to make our current economics work while we explore other concepts for pop culture retail? Where would YOU like to see a new store? All I know for sure is that, in the end, the future won’t look too much like the past.

Websites and Fashion
Our web operations continue to grow at a fast pace. This is critical, as we are able to apply a good portion of our expertise to a new growth arena, as brick-and-mortar opportunities are limited by both geographical logistics constraints, and by ever declining sales of our music and DVD sales.

In a few months, we will be launching a fashion website, which parallels our Hootenanny “street fashion” store in Harvard Square, and we are also looking at a re-work of as well.

New Products
We continue to experiment with things like expanded book offerings, used vinyl, shoes, and other various fashion elements in our stores. We know that many, many customers wish we could just remain as we were, but the pace at which our business dynamics are changing is indeed breathtaking. I am so very fortunate to work with such a dedicated, engaged staff, and such loyal, interesting, and thoughtful customers.

So a big thanks to all!

cheers, mike dreese
co-founder – newbury comics