Selling comics to offset a crisis

Vasily Shevchenko (l) and Ivan Chernyavsky.

Vasily Shevchenko (l) and Ivan Chernyavsky.

Vladimir Astapkovich/RIA Novosti
Two enterprising Muscovites, Vasily Shevchenko and Ivan Chernyavsky, borrowed $1,000 in 2011 and, despite some critical comment, chose to open a comic book store. They now own two stores, which generate around $7,200 of profit every month.

‘Chuk and Geek’ is the oldest comic book store in Moscow and the most hospitable one says Artyom Gabrelyanov, co-owner and chief editor of Bubble, the largest Russian publisher of original comics. (Eds: the name is a play on Chuk and Gek, a short story from the Soviet era, by Arkady Gaidar, about two boys)

“Chuk and Geek is more than just a store,” says Gabrelyanov. “For many comic book fans it has become a ‘home away from home.’” 

How it all began 

Vasily Shevchenko and Ivan Chernyavsky loved reading comic books, but never thought they would sell them. They got bored with their jobs at a record company and, during a joint trip to India six years ago, in 2010, the idea of opening a bookstore gradually took shape.

It took them two months to make all the preparations. Shevchenko managed to get a considerable discount on a batch of comics from his former employer. He bought them for 30,000 rubles ($443) which he borrowed from friends. They were fortunate to find an appropriate spot for their store in a former gift shop in central Moscow. The owners of the building offered the budding entrepreneurs two stands and three weeks of free rent.

The comics shop Chuk and Geek in Moscow. Source: Vladimir Astapkovich/RIA Novosti

By December 2010, their sales amounted to 60,000 rubles, allowing the entrepreneurs to begin to pay off their debts. By spring 2011, the shop had taken on an additional 20 square metre room, to which was added a 50-square metre warehouse.

The interest in and enthusiasm for comic books across the city inspired Shevchenko and Chernyavsky to open a second store. They invested about 1.2 million rubles ($17,700) for repairs, furniture and lease payments.

By the third month, the new store broke even. Their second ‘Chuk and Geek’ store features not just comics, but also science fiction, fantasy and children's books and related merchandise.

The economy has changed what they sell

Revenues from both stores now total around 3.5 million rubles ($51,700) per month, of which 2.2 million rubles ($32,500) are spent every month to procure new goods. The two owners buy comics for the stores every week and, at least once a month, place a large delivery order. Unlike in the book market, where the payment is made on the basis of an actual sale, comic books publishers demand a prepayment of 100 percent.

"We usually try to keep several thousand dollars in reserve in case we need to buy something suddenly," Shevchenko says.

Approximately 35 percent of the ‘Chuk and Geek’ stock by 2014 were foreign language comic books. But due to the ruble’s fluctuations since then, the prices of foreign comic books have more than doubled. Nearly all of what is found on their shelves today comprises domestic comic books, including translated publications.

At the end of 2015, the co-owners of ‘Chuk and Geek’ became partners and investors in a new comic book publishing concern, ‘Jellyfish Jam’, founded by their former employee, Beata Kotashevskaya. The main advantage of the new publishing house is its partnership with Marvel Comics.

"We managed to grab some good licenses," said Shevchenko.  In 2015, ‘Jellyfish Jam’ released several comic books, including "Ant-Man" and "Guardians of the Galaxy" with a total circulation of 50,000 copies. Of these, 30,000 have already been sold. Shevchenko estimated their investment in the project at 1.5 million rubles ($22,150).

Young people aged between 14 and 25 form the core audience of ‘Chuk and Geek.’

"There are slightly more boys than girls,'' Shevchenko says. “Some of them are super strange characters, but cool. Once, two big, bearded men in kangaroo costumes came to our store."

‘Chuk and Geek’ has many regular visitors that Shevchenko knows by sight and name. Good personal relationships with customers and within the team, he feels, helps business much more than any advertising or incentive programmes.

First published in Russian in RBK Daily.

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