Gap between market share & “mind share” flags business opportunity

Consider the fact that in today’s retail environment there’s a business whose product has only about 10% of the market share, though 27.3% of heavy users of that product wish they had such a business in their community they could patronize. This tremendous gap between market share and mind share was identified earlier this year in a study by Verso Advertising. It may come as a surprise that we’re talking about opportunities for independent bookstores. Yes, the locally-owned, community-centered shop that sells the world of ideas.

Even though the national media has proclaimed the demise of independent bookstores ever since the 1970s when small chain stores proliferated in malls across the United States, there are a number of resilient, business-minded bookstore proprietors who serve their communities, generating millions of dollars in sales and enjoying a loyal customer base. Many are considered institutions that enrich life in their communities. From sponsoring children’s storytime to book groups, hosting local writers to break-out authors, independent booksellers have continued to be recognized for their quirky individuality, passion for books and reading, and making soulful connections for their customers and communities.

Visit this year’s Publishers Weekly Bookseller of the Year, City Lights Books in San Francisco, or any number of remarkable indie bookstores like McLean & Eakin Booksellers in Petoskey, Michigan, Wild Rumpus in Minneapolis, or Octavia Books in New Orleans. You’ll see vibrant businesses that are profitable and coveted in their communities. Ask the owners and staff about their work and you’ll likely hear they couldn’t imagine doing anything else. How many other business environments can satisfy both head and heart?

Reading has always been a popular leisure time activity for baby boomers, but thanks to J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter adventures and Stephenie Meyer’s vampire sagas, new generations have discovered that reading can be a great escape. Today, books can be purchased through numerous online and chain retail outlets, yet Verso Advertising’s study has quantified preferences on where people WANT to buy books – at their local independent bookstore. Customers realize that personal recommendations, special events, and patronizing a locally-owned bookstore matters, especially among those who buy more than 10 books a year.

Where are the entrepreneurs to recognize and fill this gap? In January, hundreds of communities lost their Waldenbooks, adding even more markets where readers will only find mega-bestsellers pushed online or at the national chain superstores. Yet the media is mesmerized by the sparkle of every new gadget and can’t seem to entertain the thought that there’s a demand for reading in a variety of formats – including the tried and true book in print, which remains the format of choice by far.

Entrepreneurial opportunities await those who long for a business that can provide passion and profits. Indie bookselling certainly combines the two.

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