With the start of Kansas City’s 2015 Comic Con this weekend, there’s one Johnson County business that will be heavily in the mix.
Elite Comics, 11842 Quivira Road in Overland Park, is one of the main sponsors of the annual gathering of comic book enthusiasts.
“We’ll have 20 booths,” said Elite owner William Binderup. “We set up a small continent. … I have been storing up stuff for months for the show. We throw big parties after the convention.”
Binderup is no stranger to the comic book business; he’s owned Elite Comics for 21 years.
Q: What is Elite Comics?
Binderup said Elite is more than a comic book store.
“We sell comics and graphic novels and all the stuff related to them,” Binderup said.
In addition, Elite carries all things related to the comic book and fantasy genre including art books, cards, covers, toys, statues and action figures, some running as high as $400.
Binderup runs the store himself, open seven days a week, with help from “a few volunteers,” he said.
Q: What sets Elite Comics apart from other retail stores that carry comic books?
Elite is “like a local corner bar or barbershop for comic people,” Binderup said. “Very rarely does anyone come in and buy stuff and leave. People come in for the camaraderie and hang out.”
Elite regularly holds parties and special events.
“We have a party every Wednesday when the new books come out,” Binderup said. “I have guys I have seen every Wednesday for 20 years.”
Q: When did you get interested in comics?
“I had them when I was kid,” Binderup said. “We bought all of our comics at Shalinsky’s Drugs in downtown Overland Park, and we walked there and picked them up.”
As a kid, Binderup enjoyed the comics featuring the Hulk and Conan.
“The fantasy of being gargantuanly strong was appealing to me. As an adult, I didn’t look at them, but when I came back I saw what they are now. They are way, way better.”
Q: How did you get into the comic business?
Binderup was working in the arcade business when he met someone in the comic book industry.
“He wanted to get out of the business and I wanted out of the arcade business, so I bought it,” Binderup said. “He was the only person I know who didn’t want to be self-employed.”
Q: How do you do inventory and ordering?
Binderup orders comics from what he said is the only distributor in North America. Elite carries at least 700 different comic books in the store. Then there are all the other items the store carries.
“When inventory comes in I will get it all counted and entered into the computer,” he said.
It’s a challenge to figure out exactly what to order, Binderup said.
“I think this is why I don’t go to casinos because I get all the gambling ordering,” he said with a laugh.
After items are put into the computer, Binderup faces another challenge.
“The entirety of my life is trying to find a place for things in the store — all day and every day,” he said. “Monday at close I miraculously find a place for everything and on Tuesday, the new books come in and we start again.”
Elite has many customers who choose his “full service” option for ordering comic books.
“They don’t have to worry about anything being sold out because I pull it back for them and they get a 10 percent discount.”
Binderup estimates 80 percent of his business comes from repeat customers. He likes introducing comics to new customers, as well.
“With new people you can hook them up with all kinds of new stuff,” he said.
Q: What marketing do you do?
Binderup focuses on social media to promote Elite Comics.
“We are big on Facebook and Twitter and lots of conventions,” he said.
Binderup has done a little television advertising. He also offers free comic book days and ladies’ night activities three times a year.
“We try to do an event every other month … and they are all great sales days,” he said. “We set up a tent in the parking lot. We have food trucks, and it’s fun.”
Binderup relies heavily on word of mouth to bring in new business.
“I have 500 to 600 advocates out there,” he said. “I have a group of women who come in every Wednesday and get their new books.”
Wednesday is by far the busiest day of the week for Elite Comics.
“I buy pizza every Wednesday night for whoever is there,” Binderup said. “A lot of people plan their week around Wednesday for new book day.”
Q: How has the comic book business changed since you bought Elite Comics?
“Twenty years ago, reading and collecting comic books was a straight white men hobby,” Binderup said. “Now 30 percent of our customers are women and it’s gotten so mainstream. … It is the age of people who grew up with pop culture and who are old enough to have money now.”
Q: What’s the future for Elite Comics?
Binderup would like to expand beyond his store’s current 1,600-square-foot space.
“I would like to double that,” he said. “My landlord is awesome and I would never move. This is my third location in this mall. The rent is the rent, and there isn’t any shenanigans. Our neighbors are really nice.”
Binderup tried a second location a few years ago with a store in Lee’s Summit.
“It didn’t work out for me,” he said. “I am not good at making people do stuff.”
For now, Binderup is content with things they way they are at Elite Comics.
“The best part is I get to bring my dogs to work,” said Binderup of his Wheaton terrier, Rudy, and Cary blue terrier, Sophie. The two canines are the second generation of shop dogs for Binderup.
“They have been here every day of their life. If we don’t leave the house by a certain time they get agitated. … They get more gifts at Christmas than I do.”
IN A NUTSHELL
COMPANY: Elite Comics
ADDRESS: 11842 Quivira Road, Overland Park