LAYTON — Near a Godzilla figurine, Marvel posters and a box of discounted comic books lies an open college chemistry textbook. A black-draped table has many chairs around it, waiting for the next casual Magic card tournament.
Rachael Williams greets each customer, most of them regulars, with a smile at her Layton business. It’s all a picture shaped by the economy of late.
“I needed a backup plan,” says Williams, 29. “This is a paper-run business, and paper is going away. People are going to download their comics to iPads. I have no illusion about that.”
Soon after leaving her native Texas, Williams became co-owner of HeeBeeGeeBeez in 2006. Along with owner Jonathan Pust, she took the store from keeping track of inventory and sales records in paper notebooks to computerized databases and point-of-sale equipment.
Along with her partner, she expanded the business to include four locations: two in Ogden, one in Layton and, the most recent, in Logan.
What started out as what she calls “a vintage toy history museum” is now a business that offers comics, graphic novels and posters.
The Ogden warehouse, 3171 Harrison Blvd., houses the largest shoppable comic collection in the world, Williams says. Here, her customers can purchase and interact with 2 million comic books.
She says “Magic the Gathering” is one of the biggest draws to her stores. Williams not only loves to play the card game, but she is also a certified judge.
Williams says her typical customer is a man, 25 to 40 years old, who wanted comics and toys as a child and now has the disposable income to afford them.
Parents looking to motivate their children to read, as well as wives looking for the perfect gift, are regulars as well, she says.
Since 2006, sales have increased each year. Not bad for a rotten economy.
So what does Williams plan to do with the economic success?
Go back to school to study chemistry.
After high school graduation, Williams began studying microbiology in Texas, where she attended a junior college, University of Houston and Texas A&M, all the while reading comic books when she could.
One year from college graduation, she decided she didn’t like microbiology anymore and relocated.
Somewhere along the line, after walking away from formal education for five years and becoming a business owner, Williams decided she liked chemistry.
With her extra disposable income, she could afford to try her hand at college once more.
She started studying chemistry at Weber State University last summer and plans to graduate in the spring soon after her first child is born. That is, if she can get through the “daunting” task of physical chemistry.
But Williams has a secret weapon: A good customer, who is also brilliant at physical chemistry, has agreed to be her tutor.
“Weber has a great chemistry program. It is true what they say about the personal attention and preparation for the real world,” Williams says. “Weber puts out a high-quality chemistry degree.”
Work in a crime lab sounds intriguing, maybe down the line sometime, but for now, and even after graduation, Williams plans to continue to own and manage her business.
Williams grew up watching a great business example: Her parents have run their own business, building and maintaining natural gas-processing plants for 20 years.
“I grew up knowing that, if you put in the work, it will pay off, even when it is 14-hour days,” says Williams, who has seven employees. “You get what you earn.”
“Don’t grow too fast too soon. Pace everything,” she says. “Diversify. Hedge all of your bets.”
Her bet, a college chemistry book, is lying open on a Magic card playing table.