Turning Challenges Into Opportunities

This week on National Public Radio, I listened to a story of a man who invented an app to help deal with the confluence of text and voice messages. His invention was born out of a problem of how to manage multiple methods of communication.

The problem he identified turned out to be the seed for a business opportunity. The same can be true for bookstores as they strive to remain relevant in an age of ever-increasing technology.

A friend recently observed that almost half the members of her book group have begun reading on devices. She noted that two have vision impairments. One other person explained as she’s getting older, she doesn’t want more “stuff” and finds it easier to read electronically. Book group members have always been a bookstore’s best customers because of their buying habits. But if a significant number are now buying e-books (even from their local indie bookstore), the lost sales and margins significantly impact the business.

So where do we make up the revenue and profit gap? How can that problem become an opportunity for the bookstore? Here are some of the trends we’re seeing…

Village Books in Bellingham, Washington adds kitchen utensils, linens, and cooking accessories to their selection and cross-merchandises these items with cookbooks and books on food. The selection becomes more interesting for customers while margins from non-book items help profitability.

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Selling items that “go with” a book are the easiest way to add merchandise that enhances the shopping experience and helps customers solve their gift-giving needs.

Customers want quality and uniqueness not found at chain stores. Are there market opportunities in your community for cards, toys, hobbies, kitchen goods, travel accessories, or home decor items? Look for products and services that your friends and neighbors are missing and consider making them part of the bookstore.

Giving a meaningful gift remains a challenge when it takes too much time. You’ll find a variety of gift cards in check-out aisles because they are a grab-and-go gift. But are they special to receive? In the book business, there’s a book for every interest on earth. For the nine-year-old reluctant reader who loves to play with Legos, there’s a book on amazing creations. For the gardener, there are how-to books as well as gorgeous coffee table books, something at every price range. Whatever the interest, a good indie bookseller will identify choices when customers pose the challenge of finding the perfect gift … and even wrap it so your lovely gift is ready to present. Solving the problem of what to buy someone can be a fun problem to solve!

Case in point: One Fish Two Fish, a home goods store in Savannah, Georgia, offers a beautiful gift wrap and gold seal with the name of the store. Tote bags, too. Anyone who receives a package from this establishment knows there’s something really special inside. By promoting the store as a destination for the ideal gift, you’ll become known as the “go to” place for solving the gift-giving dilemma.

When we take the time to focus on understanding the problems, challenges, and dilemmas our customers face, not only can we see more opportunities for a sale, but can also find fresh ideas and inspiration to better serve the next customer with the same  needs.