VALDOSTA — Andre Oliver, owner Kool Comics, has wanted to own a business since he was 10 years old.
He joined the Air Force when he was 20 and planned to retire from the military then open a comic shop as a way to work in retirement.
Unfortunately, life changed Oliver’s plans and he left the Air Force after nine years of service.
It was after he left the service that he opened Kool Comics in 2002.
When he opened the store, Oliver set a goal to be profitable in three years, he said.
The reason he chose three years was because, at the time, the military would allow him three years to rejoin the military at the same rank he left.
“In my opinion, the business was profitable in one and a half to two years,” he said.
The military did reach out to Oliver and wanted him to go to officer training school and reenlist, but he decided not to, which has led to the longest standing comic, game and collectable store in Valdosta-Lowndes County.
For Oliver, owning a comic shop comes from his passion for comics and how people can relate to a character and help them escape from their everyday lives, he said.
His favorite hero is Nightwing, a DC Comics character, because of how he relates to him.
“(Nightwing) is down to earth, unlike his mentor, Batman,” Oliver said. “He displays all the positive traits of Batman without the flaws like hanging onto a family that was lost. I think as a person, I’m more like that Dick Grayson. Helping people and being in a leadership role without being too serious.”
Having a desire to open a business doesn’t exactly translate into opening a comic shop, but for Oliver, he has been selling comics since he was a child.
“Obviously (comics were) a hobby of mine for a very long time,” he said. “At some point, I started to see the investment side of it. As a teenager and a pre-teen, being able to buy a comic book for a dollar and then being able to sell it for $5 or $10. I was one of those kids trying to figure out how to leave my mark on the world, and Kool Comics is something I can leave to my family.”
Aside from military training, Oliver has an associate’s degree in logistics, an MBA with a concentration in project management and a bachelor’s in psychology.
Oliver said his degrees have helped him in opening a business. From understanding how to move and receive product, to being able to relate with customers and create an experience.
“I feel like having a degree in psychology helps me a lot,” he said. “It helps me relate to the human experience. No matter the walk of life, or income, I can pinpoint that on anything we have in common.”
Oliver said he uses his ability to help customers find their Nightwing, the character they relate to, by putting comics in people’s hands with characters that allow them to escape from the everyday adventure that is life.
For Oliver, the experience is vital to his shop because comics are a specialty item.
“Selling comics is niche,” he said. “I do whatever I can to tap into the niche. I know (the customers’) names and talk to them on a regular basis.”
Oliver had several bits of advice for new businesses.
He recommends business owners go back to school to get an education, if they don’t have one.
“I’ve always felt, ever since starting college in the late ‘90s, I recognized the connection between psychology and management,” he said. “I feel business owners should pursue some level of education if they don’t already have it, and study levels of organizational behavior to understand how businesses are structured. And how they are structured in relation to the people that actually work there.”
He also advised doing research before opening any business, even if it is a passion.
“Do your homework,” he said.”It’s great to live something, to have a favorite hobby, to have a passion, but if you are going to invest your money, or someone’s money, understand the logistics of getting the product and getting the product to the right place.
“Understand and know your customer base. I can’t express that enough. Every business to some extent is a niche market. So make sure before you commit your finances that there is a sustainable customer base.”
Kool Comics sells comics, collectables, toys and some gaming products.
Kool Comics, 1515 N. Ashley St., Suite M, is open 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday through Friday and 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday. For more information, call (229) 241-0404.
Jason Smith is a reporter at The Valdosta Daily Times. He can be contacted at 229-244-3400 ext.1257.