COMICS have always been a prominent feature in Ahmad Zee Annuar’s life. From a young age, hanging around the local mamak bookstore to have a read or buy the comics would be a typical pastime after school.
“I started amassing stock (comics) from the age of 10 onwards because I enjoyed reading comics very much,” says Ahmad who is better known as Zee.
This went on until he started college and decided to take a break from his hobby.
“During those years from 1983 to 1993, comics had to take a back seat as there were other interests to pursue. However, my collection was still intact,’’ says Zee.
After dabbling in the advertising line after college, Zee, 37, decided to set up his own web-based company (idreamsilver.com) in early January this year to cater to both his personal needs and those of other like-minded comic enthusiasts.
“It was very frustrating to go to speciality shops and not find the items (comics and toys) that I wanted,” says Zee whose interest in toys started in 1995.
His display collection in his office ranges from plastic wrapped collectors-item comics and toys of various characters, and pen and key-chain holder to mugs depicting figures from Star Wars, Spiderman, Hulk and others.
“These are not for sale, but if there are serious buyers then I would consider selling,” says Zee, indicating some of the items from the showcase.
By running the business online, he says, there is enough volume to purchase the “hot” or popular materials and it is also cost effective when purchased in bulk.
“Plus it is also an outlet to provide more opportunity for collectors in Malaysia, especially those outside KL, to get their hands on hot collectible toys and comics.”
“We really have limited choice and purchasing power and by opening this website, hopefully it will ease the burden on comics and toys enthusiasts,'' adds Zee whose initial investment into the business was RM30,000.
With the web company being relatively new, Zee says that more features and easier payment modes need to be implemented before there is a success gauge.
“Overall, it is still too early to tell but the RM1 promotions on comics that we have from time to time have been a tremendous success for us,'' he says.
Being web-based, Zee says he has encountered a few obstacles while consolidating the business. “Good credit card facilities are needed, which can contribute to at least 70% of the business especially when dealing with overseas markets,” he says. Thus, he was very disappointed when his recent application for an e-commerce merchant account set-up at a local bank was rejected without any explanation.
Attributing the rejection to lack of support for this type of e-commerce business, he says: “It was very disappointing especially since Pay-Pal is very popular internationally for e-commerce but it is not available in Malaysia.”
At the domestic front, Zee says that there is still not enough public exposure to e-commerce as there is a lack of confidence in this sector of business.
“The embracing of IT and Internet is still low here in Malaysia and it will be a long time before a niche market such as this would attract the masses,” he says.
Despite the problems, there are benefits as well, he admits. One is that he doesn’t feel the heat of competition compared to others who are involved in storefront businesses.
“This is because my business is run online, unlike many others where customers can go in and touch and feel the items which they want to purchase. This makes the competition tougher as people can go to many stores before they decide which one item suits their taste.”
The company has established a regular client base. “We have returning customers, which is good feedback as my priority is to maintain the quality of service. Customers were happy because the items purchased arrived on time and in good condition.”
In terms of cost, he says: “Price range for comics can differ from RM10 to RM15 for average graded ones to RM20 to RM100 for valued ones. This would depend on how hot the item is at the time,’’ he says.
While Zee is quite happy to continue his web business on a small scale now, he concurs that if he sees potential to expand in future, he would go ahead with it. This plan has been given an added boost because the company is now the authorised retailer for Diamond Comics Inc, the exclusive distributor for comics worldwide.
“This would also include preparing for the international market once our credit card facilities are up. We also intend to sell more DVDs (especially comic-related ones) and on-line gaming similar to the Star Wars Galaxy games,’’ says Zee, who encourages collectors with questions regarding toys and comics to e-mail with their queries to firstname.lastname@example.org
Another true blue comic fan who turned his hobby into a business is Michael Loo. He set up Headmasters about eight years ago in SS2, Petaling Jaya, which deals solely in comics.
“I was never heavy into toys, and I set up the business simply because I liked it,” says Loo, whose interest in comics was sparked off during his boyhood days by his grandfather.
“He would buy them for me to read and at that time it only costs between RM2 and RM3 per copy,’’ recalls Loo, a financial consultant.
By the time he was in his 20s, he was financially independent and able to buy more titles, which included popular series like the X-Men, Hulk and Spiderman.
He finally decided to turn his hobby into a business in 1995, forking out RM50,000 in the process of setting up Headmasters. But it was an investment close to his heart, “a retirement plan for me that I wanted to do and not a profit-based venture.”
For his daily bread and butter, Loo, 38, continues his job as a financial consultant and his wife Yap Yoke Moi handles the administrative side of the business.
“One cannot put a value to comics as it depends on the heart of the person reading the material. My customers both male and female come from all walks of life. Each enjoys the comics individually according to the art or story,” he says, adding that the current “in” comics are the X-Men series.
Loo feels that having a shop is interesting because drop-in customers can bond instantly and share their views on comics from different angles. “Conversation can go on for hours!” he says. “Hard core readers would dissect character by character of a comic and form their own opinions on the artwork and story.”
“Comics are also interesting because readers can learn through them as it deals with social problems,’’ says Loo, adding that nowadays stories have evolved.
One of the drawbacks of the comic business, he says, is the high currency exchange rate, which has made customers spend less on their hobby.
But Loo is intent on pursuing comics not only as a business but also as a hobby. “I want to be a part of the comic book industry for a long, long time simply because I enjoy reading the comics and learning from them,” he says.
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