The history of the Wow Group of businesses and Partnerships goes back many years. It started as a Law Firm and as it progressed, we developed new companies including a Legal Training business, A Medical Reporting business, A Financial Advice Service and, I kid you not, we even had an Enquiry Agents business at one point. They have all come and gone, some were sold off, some closed, some worked, and others did not. Partners have joined and Partners have left but our core Members are still here and still enjoying the ride.
When we started Wow Comix our original idea (and indeed the working name for the business) was back catalogue comics. We intended to trade in back issues, however, as time went on we realised there was simply not a big enough market for just back issues and we therefore expanded the range. First to new comics, then graphic novels and annuals. As we moved to physical shops from our online trading and attendances at conventions, we had to expand the range again to take in new and vintage toys and collectables, trading cards, mugs, T-shirts, posters and all the other things you can find in a Wow shop.
We have never been frightened of trying new things or of changing, or even abandoning, things that have not worked. That remains the case to this day. As a wise Mouse once said, if somebody moves your cheese, you must go out and find new cheese *.
Of the things we sell some are a lot more profitable than others. Lots of things that are popular, like posters for example, are not particularly profitable. As with new comics, the cost of buying them in, set against the retail price, means that the profit margin (that is the amount we get at the end) is actually very small on each one sold. On the other hand, there are some things we sell which have a much higher profit and therefore make the business work. Without a profit at the end of the day there is no point in being in business and in fact it makes continued trading very hard, which is why you see so many high street businesses closing.
The Wow Group has evolved into a variety of businesses including retail and events (like Stockport Comic Con and Bury Comic Fest). Each year we review our business plan, and we keep a close eye on what is working and what is not. Because of the structure of the overall group, we can be much more flexible in what we do, and we can adapt to changing circumstances much easier than some of our competitors. Because our partners come from very different business backgrounds such as the music industry and the legal profession, we are also able to bring fresh ideas to the enterprise. We can and do identify trends early and we adapt our business model to fit.
We moved our comic retail business into physical shops when it was worth doing and they evolved and expanded as necessary. We moved to Affleck’s Palace in Manchester. We tried it and it did not work for us, so we quickly abandoned the idea. We moved to Stretford Mall but again, this simply did not work for us and so we closed it. In Bury we enjoyed several years of good trading on The Rock but as the lease came to an end, we moved down into Bury Market Hall. In Stockport we started in the Market Hall, moved to our own shop on Little Underbank and then expanded down to Merseyway Shopping Centre where we are still. We have had shops located in Altrincham and several places in Sale. We have also developed several online retail businesses.
The lease in Bury is coming to an end in January. Bury Council were only willing to give us a short lease when we first moved there and have now offered us a new lease for six years. In Stockport our lease has also now run its course and following discussions with the representatives of Stockport Council we have been offered another new lease but in the current economic crisis is it worth staying given the costs involved?
We have had to consider the viability of maintaining bricks and mortar shops in the current situation the nation finds itself in. Do we want to be tied to expensive premises? What we have found in recent times, particularly since the Covid pandemic, is that footfall has declined and more importantly so have customers. The public seem to have fallen out of love with the high street for the time being. By contrast our online businesses, Wow Comix World and Oddz n Sodz have gone from strength to strength. We have also enjoyed a lot of success with our events business, Wow Events.
At a time when sales in the physical stores have been on the decline the overheads have gone up. It costs us a lot just to open the doors and trade. Rent, rates, utilities, business levies, stock, staff, all of these have increased over the last two or three years and clearly show no sign of going down again. It costs us literally thousands of pounds every month just to open the doors. That means we must take a minimum amount every month just to pay our way before we make anything.
As it happens our turnover in each store is actually rather good but as a wise man once said “turn over is vanity and profit is sanity” ** It does not matter how much we take in if it’s not enough to cover the overhead costs. Even if it does cover the overhead (which ours does), its hardly worth it if we can sell more profitably online.
So, as we have come to a bit of a crossroads my colleagues and I have spent a few weeks reviewing our current position and looking at the future. We have had to divorce ourselves from the emotional and just look at things from a business perspective. What works and what does not. We have decided to move forward and expand our online offerings significantly and to do the same with Wow Events. However, we only have limited resources and to expand some areas of our overall business it means having to close others. As the leases on the Bury and Stockport shops are up this is a convenient point for us to close them. In the circumstances Saturday 31st December will be the last trading days for those shops. They will both close for the last time at 3pm that day.
We are sad that the shops are closing but by the same token we are very positive about the future for Wow. We have our online and Events businesses growing and lots of other projects on the way. We have loved having the various shops, but time moves on and we must move with it. Our new expanded set up from January 2023 will consist of various different companies and partnerships as part of the Wow Group. Look out for Wow Comix, Wow Events, Wow Books, Wow Records and Oddz n Sodz. You can already find Wow Comix online at www.wowcomix.com. You will also shortly be able to find it on eBay and other retail platforms. You can find our Oddz n Sodz shop on eBay where we sell an eclectic mix of things which you often cannot find anywhere else. Keep following our social media for details of these exciting projects for 2023.
It may be a bit bumpy, but it will be an exciting ride. Hang in there!
* Who moved my Cheese? By Dr Spencer Johnson
** A much quoted saying but whoever said it first is lost in the mists of time. A longer version is often used, which is “Turnover is vanity, Profit is sanity, but cash is king”.