Not even superheroes are immune to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Steve Geppi, chairman and CEO of Geppi Family Enterprises and founder of Diamond Comic Distributors, announced that products distributed by Diamond and slated for an on-sale date of April 1 or later will not be shipped to retailers until further notice. Founded in 1982, Diamond Comic Distributors has become the lynchpin of comic books and pop culture with its multi-channel platform of publishing, marketing and fulfillment services. If you ever wondered how new comic books, graphic novels and pop-culture related merchandise made its way into your favorite local comic book retailer – it probably came through the Diamond’s global distribution network.
“We are hearing from thousands of retailers that they can no longer service their customers as they have in the past, many of them forced to close by government action or resort to in-person or curbside delivery,” Geppi said in a statement posted on the company’s website. “Even those still open are seeing reduced foot traffic in most cases, a situation that seems likely to worsen with time.”
Geppi said Diamond’s publishing partners are also faced with obstacles in their supply chain, affecting everyone from printers and delivery carriers to the creators.
“Our freight networks are feeling the strain and are already experiencing delays, while our distribution centers in New York, California, and Pennsylvania were all closed late last week,” Geppi explained. “Our own home office in Maryland instituted a work-from-home policy, and experts say that we can expect further closures. Therefore, my only logical conclusion is to cease the distribution of new weekly product until there is greater clarity on the progress made toward stemming the spread of this disease.”
For now, Geppi said, Diamond has been able to develop procedures with its teams at the distribution center in Olive Branch, Mississippi to safely continue fulfillment of direct ship reorders for the retailers who are able to receive new product and need it to service their customers. Those orders aren’t likely to be filled on the same day they are placed, and the plan is subject to change if Diamond reassesses the situation and finds it can no longer safeguard teams fulfilling orders.
The pause in distribution also means that products from Alliance Game Distributors will be put on an indefinite hold. Alliance’s warehouses in Texas and Indiana both closed March 24 in the interest of employee safety and to comply with direction from local governments. Alliance specializes in the distribution of board games, card games, miniatures, role playing games and thousands of gaming tools and accessories.
Moving forward, Geppi is already making plans to help the industry recover once the pandemic has come to an end.
“With these changes in our distribution strategy, we will work with our publishing partners to develop programs that will address product already in the pipeline and what will happen when we resume distribution,” Geppi said.
Having gotten his start in the business as a retail shop owner, Geppi recognizes the extra pressure this situation puts on small, independent comic book store owners.
“We know that during this time you will face many challenges, and we will direct our energies toward addressing them, rather than fighting on increasingly numerous fronts to get product out,” Geppi said. “For those retailers who remain open in various forms, I encourage you let loose your own creativity.”
Patrick Potter, owner of Comic World on Seminole Boulevard in Largo, remains optimistic about the future of both his business and the comic book industry.
“I haven't had new comics in over a year and I know it is survivable,” Potter said in an interview with Tampa Bay Newspapers.
In 2018, Potter was struggling to catch up on his back debt to Diamond when he experienced a number of personal health and financial issues. Although he had hoped he would still have time to settle the account, Diamond’s credit department at Diamond “decided it was best that I call it a day,” Potter said. Since January 2019, Comic World has been a comic book store with no new comic books, specializing instead in vintage back issues, toys and collectibles.
“If we are only on a two- or four-week lockdown, stores should be able to sell back issues online, sell in-store inventory to existing customers even if they have to by mail or through a curb service, or close and reopen in a month,” Potter said. “I didn't think it was survivable when I did so last summer and then I had to again during my stroke.”
On Nov. 5, 2019, Potter had a stroke that put him in the hospital. Comic World didn’t reopen until Nov. 29 – Black Friday.
“I was in a panic,” Potter said. “But I survived. It's not easy. You have to find ways to get people to come back in when the crisis is over.”
Having lost most of November, Comic World ran a sale and had a fundraiser. Potter spread the word out there that he was a returning retailer who had suffered a stroke and was reopening his business.
“I was inundated with new business,” Potter said. “The community responded favorably, and over the course of the next two months, I began paying down bills and catching things up.”
Potter agrees with Geppi’s decision to announce a pause in distribution.
“With the spread of the virus, and the talk of it remaining on the surfaces of items, I actually wondered if Steve was going to do anything about shipping product because the comic books are handled by people in the warehouse,” Potter said. “They're put in cardboard boxes that are handled by UPS drivers and UPS warehouse workers from Olive Branch, Missouri, to wherever their destination is. Those boxes and those comic books could easily be carrying the coronavirus anywhere in the United States.”
Potter believes that the world will find a way to overcome the coronavirus and to continue doing business, even in a socially distant world.
“I'm not saying it's going to be easy, but right now it's the new normal and we have to learn to overcome this obstacle,” Potter said.
Potter has known Geppi since 1983. Comic World began in 1982 as Geppi's Comic World. The store opened in June of 1982 and Potter joined the staff in October 1982.
“I worked for Steve until he sold the store in 1990 to a local retailer who held it for only a few months, got a baseball card dealer involved, and after much rigmarole, I was approached in 1992 to either buy the store or they were going to close it down,” Potter explained. “I was young with three small children, married with responsibility, had a mortgage to pay, so I took the leap of faith and bought the store.”
Not long after Potter bought the store, the comic book industry imploded. The money he thought he would be making hand over fist never came through.
“Other stores had several lucrative years to build up a cushion but I never did,” Potter said. “I have basically always struggled.”
Those years of struggle may have prepared him for the economic slowdown that may accompany the pandemic.
In his announcement, Geppi remained hopeful, and encouraged retailers to look forward to the future when stores are able to reopen, bringing staff back onboard and welcome customers in the door. Geppi said that for retail store owners whose doors remain open will find customers desperately seeking a diversion from events of the world. He suggests offering special sales, promotions and selling online as ways to maintain a revenue stream.
Even though Potter is no longer receives new merchandise from Diamond Comic Distributors, he trusts Geppi.
“I know him well enough to know that he loves the comic book industry and specifically comic books as an art form,” Potter said. “Comic books are the greatest art form created here in America. Steve believes in preserving this art form and seeing it continue for generations to come. If he has anything to say about it, Steve's not going to let it die.”
Potter is continuing to sell vintage comics at this time.
“I will sell in comic book groups, I will sell on Facebook Marketplace and other local county groups,” he said. “I am not doing eBay and Amazon right now. I do not have a website.”