It's not every entrepreneur that discovers their business early on, but for Andre Oliver, running a successful business started when he was five.
“Comics have always been a means towards relaxation,” said Oliver. “It was a hobby, something to look forward to at the end of the week. It was escapism.”
After being Introduced to comics through issues of Fantastic Four, Daredevil and The Amazing Spider-Man, Oliver fell in love with the art.
“At first, they were more of a vehicle for teaching me about drawing. Then when I was nine or 10, I really started reading them. Growing up with a single mom and not really having a male role model, characters like Batman and Superman helped me get my moral compass in the right direction.”
From Batman, Oliver learned determination; from Green Lantern, willpower, from Superman, sacrifice.
You'd be hard-pressed to find three better attributes for a future entrepreneur
“As I grew older, I felt like comics had such a positive influence over my life, I started to think about how I could one day sell comics...so that they could have that positive influence on other. I've always had entrepreneurial qualities. At an early age I got good at getting people what they wanted.”
It's a skill he put to use during his time in the Air Force.
After high school, Oliver spent a couple of quarters at a local community college, but wasn't satisfied.
“I just wanted more. More than fast food, more than the one or two jobs that were decent.”
More is what he found in the Air Force. Oliver found himself stationed all over the world: Germany, Italy, Singapore, Saudi Arabia, Dubai.
From 1993-2002, he worked in Logistics and Supply. Many of his assignments had him procuring items for specific aircraft: C-130s and A-10s.
“My military career was very exciting. I feel like I accomplished a lot...but I wasn't really enamored with the idea of retiring...I still wanted more.”
He opened up kook Comics in 2002, taking the name from an old comic strip he used to write when he was a kid.
“I wanted to offer a place where people could be comfortable, where there wouldn't be any type of stereotypical profiling that typically goes along with this kind of medium.”
He gave himself three years to to figure the business out. It's not an exact science and there's no formula for it. Running a comic store successfully requires a sharp business acumen, keeping a close eye on stock and sales, adjusting orders from week to week until he finds a comfort zone for each individual title. Two-and-a-half years in, he found a balance, a comfort zone.
“It's a tricky balancing game...I have to admit, it's very risky. But that's part of the definition of being an entrepreneur, someone who's willing to take a risk in order to accomplish their goals and achieve success in business.”
Having been in the business for 11 years, Oliver has seen a lot of changes in the comic industry.
“I've watched them become more mature. The audience has changed. Publishers are targeting the 18-35 crowd that's very popular.”
And while digital comics have slowly become part of the market, Oliver doesn't see that as a bad thing.
“It's enhanced the medium. It gets people interested and in some cases brings them into the store.”
Along the way, Oliver has worked to continue his education, earning a Bachelor's in Psychology and, as of Nov. 25th, an MBA with a concentration on Project Management from Ashford University.
“Part of the reason I'm getting my graduate degree is to justify my experience as an entrepreneur. I've seen where guys who own businesses, whether it's clothing, comics or plumbing, were lucky to land a job. These guys were once entrepreneurs...but they don't necessarily qualify to be in management. The degree complements my experience.”
Post-graduation, Oliver is dedicated to keeping kook Comics going, but he's also looking for other opportunities.
“I've been building the store to the point where it can survive without me. In spite of all the experience I've gained over the last 20 years, there are still some things I'd like to learn, some experiences I'd like to have. I'd like to teach others to not only develop their businesses, but to actually stay in business.”