Thursday, January 3, 2013

My History With Comics Part 3: Diamond in the Rough

By now I had seemingly just gotten the job I was born to do. Working for a Comic Book Distribution Center as a Customer Service Rep. Surrounded by comics, talking comics with other fans, helping spread the word about comics. Well here I am in 2013 not even a part of the Diamond Family anymore. How Come? What could go wrong? Heh, read and find out...


It was 2002. March actually. My time at Rainforest Cafe was coming to close mainly due to the fact that my hours were getting cut since we were not making alot of money in the retail village. I had been in my apartment with my girlfriend (now wife) for about 7 months and it was getting hard to pay the rent due to my cut hours. I needed a more full time and dare I say grown up job. I had remembered that Diamond was in the area locally. I was living in Cockeysville at the time and about 5-10 minutes from my apartment was a giant Glass building facing 83, this was in Timonium and it was the home of Diamond. I had gone to their website and discovered a window for jobs. I clicked on it and read the description of the jobs they had available. Customer Service Rep seemed right up my alley since I had been spending most of my working life in retail environments, how different could it be? In fact it could be better since I was not seeing the customer face to face, we were talking over the phone. I sent a resume, especially high-lighting my work experience at Alternate Worlds and the Diamond Warehouse, because hey I had been a part of the family before. I got hired and gave my two weeks notice. My last day was exactly 3 years to the date that I was hired at Rainforest.

During my interview they let me know that the job I was applying for was on the West Coast team. That meant my hours had to reflect the best time for the customers out west since they were three hours different from us. So my shift was 11am-8pm.(8am-5pm West Coast time). This wasn't too bad since I did not have any kids at the time and Dawn was in the middle of getting her Masters so she would be doing lots of homework during the regular prime time hours we would be together. The pay was much better and I finally had regular hours, Monday-Friday with weekends off. (I still worked at the Radio station, but I gave that up about a year later). My customer base was going to be stores in LA, Sacramento, other smaller cities in California, some in Seattle, and the whole state of Alaska, which to me was just cool. I would be on the phone with people in Alaska!! Some perks were we got free comics that were comped to us from the Independent Publishers, we got a Marvel First Look pack which were Marvel books coming the next week, we had some DC comps, not a lot. We also had free swag giveaways of statues, magazines, action figures, books, cards, gaming pieces. It was heaven for a geek like me. We also could set up an account and order whatever we wanted from our catalog at a reduced employee pricing, so that was great as well. There was also the potential to go work Comic Conventions across the country which was great as well. And we got to chat with fellow comic geeks. It was bliss.

This is what I actually did as a Customer Service Rep. My customer base consisted of Comic book stores in the locations I gave above. My job was to take their calls and assist with missing items, damaged items, ordering items for them, suggesting items to them, helping locate boxes that were mis-shipped, changing orders before the Final Order Cutoff date, make sure they got their monthly orders in, stuff like that. Some of the people I talked to were very cool and very much like me. We would chat and joke about all kinds of things while on the phone. I also had customers who were straight to the point, did not want to chit chat just wanted to get their problems solved or stuff ordered. That was fine to. I had jerk accounts who complained about everything we did and about the job I would do for them. I had accounts that would absolutly freak out on me if I could not help or was not fast enough to help. I would also get new accounts all the time and had to help walk them through their first few months of business until they were set with what they were doing. I also took queue calls which basically were, if my accounts were not calling me and I did not need to call them, I was not allowed to just sit on my butt and do nothing, we had a queue of callers who either could not reach their rep, did not want to talk to their rep, or just wanted to get in and out quickly. So I took calls from other stores across the countries, sometimes even getting my accounts who either did not want to talk to me or could not get in touch with me. That was always fun and awkward. My day did not really get started until about 1pm or so since that was about the time the stores out west were just settling in.

As I started to make a name for myself, I started getting noticed by some of the higher ups. They liked my work ethic, my way with the customers, and my knowledge of the product. So after being there for about 6 months they wanted me to help train new customer service reps. Usually ones who were coming into my team. But occassionally I trained some other reps in other teams. And that made me feel good that I was noticed for that. I also helped Lou, a guy who had been their for a while hand out the comps and also assist in our product meetings we had every Tuesday. Basically we would have a two meetings where our the teams came up and looked at the product we were selling or was shipping that week so we could do a better job of trying to upsell our accounts on them, and also if the accounts did not remember a specific name but had a vague description we could help them find the right product. Eventually Lou left and I took over the product meetings and comps by myself. Which was great because it gave me a chance to get away from my cubicle and wander upstairs.

Customer Service was located in the basement of this big glass building. We had no windows and the floor was all cubicles and offices with flourescent lights. Diamond also controlled the 3rd and part of the 4th floor of this building as well. The 3rd floor was the meat of the operation, Steve Geppi the owner of Diamond had his office there. The Brand managers had there cubes and offices there. Most of the salesmen had their cubes and offices their. We also had the accountants, production crews were in there. The 4th floor was the Diamond Select Toys department, as well as some of the other Brand managers. It was also the floor that housed Steve Geppi's museum and collection. He has since moved that to a museum in DownTown Baltimore called the Gem museum. So to get the comps as well as the items for the product meeting I had to go upstairs and interact with the brand managers. I got to know most of them, some really well. So for awhile that was all I did at my job and it was fun. It was stressful, especially on Wednesday's which is when new comics come out and we have our biggest problems and our longest queues. Some customers would just unload on me for everything even though most of it was not my fault and it made for bad times. The stress seemed to start being more than the fun times. This store in most cases was the owners livelhood so I don't fault them for being overly crazy when bad things happened. But to blame me for all the problems was a problem I had to deal with, sometimes multiple times. So the stress was building.

But it wasn't all stressful. I was doing my thing. Chatting about things I truly loved and working with people who felt the same way. The freebies alone were great and I got a chance to geek out a number of times. Harlan Ellison a famous science-fiction writer had an account with us and I was his brand manager. So I chatted with him at least once a week. Kevin Smith the filmmaker owns 2 comic stores and he occassionally would get into the queue. I had the chance once to take an order direct from him for his store. I got to talk to Geoff Johns one of my favorite writers who frequented one of my better accounts. The owner whose name I forget put him on the phone with me one day that was cool. One day Mark Hamill, Luke Skywalker himself came to our offices and we had a meeting with him. At one time the head honcho of Marvel whose name I cannnot remember (not Stan Lee) came and we had a meeting with him.  I got to go to the Long Beach California Comic-Con on the company dime and work for 4 days. I got to go to the Boston Comic Con on the company dime as well for 4 days. I started a tradition of giving birthday cards to the people in Customer service. We also has Christmas potluck meals with our team. Cliff one of my teammates who became the team leader and I use to order Chinese all the time for lunch. For me it was more of a snack, but still it was fun.  So those were fun times. But the stress started to build and get to me and before I knew it, it was overwhelming me and I needed a way out. That was when the job posting for Brand Manager came down and I decided to go for it.

Fostering my connections to members of the Brand Manager staff I was able to get an interview and was told that I was at the top of there list for the most part. So I was offered the position and I took it in an instant. But 9 months later I was in the same situation I had just escaped from. More to come...

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