Spain needs small- and medium-sized businesses that invest in research and development and are capable of competing abroad. This is one of the recipes prescribed by politicians and economists for getting the country out of the crisis and starting to generate employment.
Akira Cómics, in the Barrio del Pilar area of Madrid, might well serve as a good example and model for the country's business schools to follow. On July 13 the store was, jointly with Canada's The Dragon, presented with this year's Eisner Award - the Oscars of the comic world - as the best comic shop on the planet at Comic-Con in San Diego.
To be recognized in the US as the top store in a typically American industry adds even more value to a prize "that is very difficult to attain," says Jesús Marugán, one of Akira Cómics' founders. The Madrid store is only the second European establishment to win the prize after a Dutch shop won it over 10 years ago.
"To take part you have to put together a broad dossier and video of the candidate store, both in English," explains Marugán, who says "expanding the image of comics in your community" is one of the factors the jury takes most into account.
Sales are down because many of our customers are twentysomethings"
The secret of the success of this family business, which opened in 1993 in small and modest premises and now occupies a two-story, 320-square-meter space, is the capacity of Jesús and his brother Iván for innovation. "We've taken part in the Feria del Libro [Madrid's annual book fair], we organize author signings, manga drawing classes, we take part in Free Comic Book Day, we have a storyteller for children under four, the kids of our lifelong customers..."
Where do they get all their ideas? "We don't limit ourselves to the world of comics when it comes to finding something we like, but the main source of inspiration is in the US," reveals Jesús. The shop also reserves a part of its income each year for NGOs such as Plan España and Amnesty International, which also impressed the Eisner Award judges.
The Marugán brothers have been on the internet since 1995. Thanks to this long experience and their success in transferring their philosophy to the online environment, Akiracomics.com is now one of the top three Spanish stores on the internet. It offers a catalogue that is constantly updated - every 10 minutes - and fast service that deals with orders on the same day and delivers them within 48 hours. "The design of the website, the content and online sales and after-sales service bear the same esthetic seal as the offline shop. Our aim is to offer a fusion between fast and professional service and a website with an avant-garde design."
It all adds up to a young business, innovative in both the traditional market and on the net, and capable of obtaining international recognition. And all of it has been possible from the Barrio del Pilar, where the recession has hit hard. "Sales are down because many of our customers are twentysomethings, those most affected by unemployment," says Jesús.
But in Akira they have made a virtue of necessity and, for instance, chosen to reduce fixtures and fittings costs: now they design and produce them themselves and, by doing so, as well as saving money, have forged their own image.