Bookselling is a unique profession in so many ways, but one that truly stands out is just how many people dream of having their own bookstore. We’re talking people spending years visualizing their bookstore, identifying books they’ll sell, and dreaming of the store filled with people who come to enjoy a heart-felt conversation.

This contribution to our inner lives and the inner lives of our neighbors and friends is one of the main reasons people get into the business. It’s also a big reason people choose to become booksellers after retiring from other careers.

Happy 20th anniversary to the river’s end bookstore in Oswego, New York!

One of our friends and colleagues in the book business is celebrating 20 years of being in business. The river’s end bookstore (yes, all lower case) in Oswego, New York was created by Bill Reilly who came to us when he had just retired from the New York world of magazine advertising. He was ready to relocate in upstate New York and begin a new chapter in his life.

Bookselling became his new career.

Since that moment, Bill has helped transform Oswego’s central business district in his corner space that makes a big impression when you drive into town. Bill added momentum and energy, enthusiasm and ideas to the business district. He has worked in collaboration with the university, local schools, and charitable organizations to help build community around books and ideas.

Twenty years ago, the space needed a real transformation since it was an historic building that had been used as a clothing store for years. I remember the shag carpeting, fitting rooms that needed to be demolished, and a drop-ceiling that was a throw-back to the ’70s when heating oil prices soared.

Bill wanted to have a beautiful bookstore that the locals would appreciate. He wanted to lift up the downtown district. He wanted to make a difference.

He certainly has accomplished this.

Bill’s wife Mindy joined the business after she retired from the university after working extra hours in the bookstore since it opened. Together, they have hosted authors, helped schools, worked with the university, and worked hard to live the dream.

Today, Bill and Mindy celebrate twenty years of bookselling and we are thrilled that their son Emile will carry on the tradition.

Bookselling, although demanding and challenging, can offer such rich rewards. For many, it starts with a dream and then can lead to making a difference. What a way to spend the next chapter in life.

Congratulations, Bill and Mindy and the booksellers at the river’s end bookstore! You have lived your dream in a beautiful way.

 

 

 

Once your dream becomes reality, you have made a stark right turn. Your vision is now central to your “To Do Today” list. You go from thinking about things in a general way to making them actually happen.

We’ve now entered our third month of being in business. Looking back to the planning and set-up stages, it’s now even more clear what new store owners need to get right from the very beginning. Our work with clients that have been open a few years reveals the kind of difficulties that can surface later on when it’s harder to change what’s already firmly in place.

These are the biggies, in no particular order.

Choose a computer management system that works in the book industry.
The most pain we see is when someone has bought a generic POS system because the screen is sleek or the system is most affordable. Now that I am the one ordering and returning books at this stage of our start-up, I see just how time consuming it is even though we import title data from book industry sources.

Be kind and gracious to all authors and have a system in place so you can make inventory and marketing decisions.

Know how you will accommodate self-published authors.
Self-published authors will make a beeline to you. How will you handle people who approach you every day and want to tell you about their book … or their sister-in-law’s series of children’s books? Know if you’ll take books on consignment (and learn how to do that) and how self-published authors who live in your community (and don’t) fit into your plan for inventory, programs and events. You won’t find much time to get things done if you are constantly taking time out to have ad hoc conversations with self-published authors, so have materials ready. Here’s our web page that allows them to tell us about their work and their ideas for helping us sell (not just stock) their book(s).

 

 

 

Be present on the sales floor.
Your competitive advantage is that you are a neighbor running an independent business that has invested in the community. Be visible to customers who want to thank you for opening. Be visible to staff who are watching how you greet and interact with customers. Show staff what to do when they’re not busy with customers. Answer the phone. Write shelf-talkers. Restock the supplies at the cash wrap. Clean the restroom. You are setting the pace and the tone.

Present a full and rich selection.
As it’s been said many times before, you don’t have a second chance to make a first impression. You’ll learn a lot about how to shape your selection once you’re open and see what people are requesting and buying. Yet from the beginning, your selection can spark tremendous word-of-mouth marketing, your most genuine and valuable way to get new customers. Spark that momentum with the best books and gifts and toys and cards you can showcase from day one.

Some things are hard to change once routines have been set, behaviors have been established, and opinions have been formed. Prepare for a successful launch and you’ll spend less time reacting and more time enjoying the amazing bookstore you’ve been dreaming about for so long.

Last week, thirty people representing twenty new independent bookstores gathered for Bookstore Boot Camp. Most were in the planning stages. Some were exploring whether bookselling would be the right next step in their careers. All of us were deep into the business of bookselling.

Author Jeff Kinney inspires the newest indie bookstore owners during Bookstore Boot Camp.

Author Jeff Kinney inspires the newest indie bookstore owners during Bookstore Boot Camp.

We took the Bookstore Boot Camp on the road this time, traveling to Massachusetts to take a field trip to An Unlikely Story, the bookstore opened in 2015 by Jeff Kinney, author of the fabulously popular Wimpy Kid series. Also, the retailer that won the Specialty Store Silver Design Award from the Association for Retail Environments.

We expected this would be a special Boot Camp, but you never can actually predict the magic of the moment.

After touring An Unlikely Story by Deb Sundin, the store’s General Manager, we were invited up to Jeff Kinney’s studio where he welcomed us to “Wimpy World”. All of us delighted in seeing the life-size graphics from the Wimpy Kid series and the colorful and creative space where Jeff writes, draws, and navigates the worlds of book publishing, film-making, playwriting, licensed products, and now, bookselling.

We had entered a place where children are honored and the biggest success is defined as the time when a child learns to read for the fun of it. Given the millions of Wimpy Kid books that have sold in dozens of languages around the world, Jeff has enriched many lives.

As we were winding down our visit and Jeff congratulated everyone and wished them well, he offered these heart-felt words: “there’s nothing more sacred than putting a book into a kid’s hands.”

Heads nodded, “Yes”.

Later in the week when we were wrapping up the workshop and discussing our next steps, our youngest colleague … a twenty-something who said she came because she wasn’t clear what to do with her career … said she’d found clarity: Bookselling.

Success can be defined in so many ways. In bookselling, success is often measured by finding your tribe and performing sacred acts.

Last week during our full week workshop, we discussed book industry trends and talked about the future of reading and interest in bookstores. In this high tech world, it seems we still thirst for something real: real conversation, real friends, real book recommendations, real books.

Silicon Valley's Face In A Book has doubled its size.

Silicon Valley’s Face In A Book has doubled its size.

One of the past Paz grads came to mind, Tina Ferguson, owner of Face In A Book in Eldorado Hills, California. Tina’s husband is a Facebook employee and as parents immersed in the technology industry, Tina acknowledged that her friends were limiting screen time and encouraging their children to have their face in a real book. Today, Tina has just expanded her store. Business is strong and she’s having a wonderful time owning a bookstore.

By the cover of the Lands’ End catalog that arrived last week, it’s not those of us in the book industry craving quality time to think and interact. The headline of the Lands’ End catalog reads, “Rule #1: unplug. There is no rule #2. QUALITY. TIME.” The image chosen for the catalog is a family gathered around a picnic table in the yard.

Today’s world is demanding. We are pulled in many directions and our gadgets demand our attention throughout the day. How nice to unplug and have an authentic experience.

Reading a book. Talking with others about books. Browsing bookstores. Those are truly authentic connections.

Listen to National Public Radio and you never quite know how your life might be affected. This week Diane Rehm interviewed Mattieu Ricard, author of Altruism: the Power of Compassion to Change Yourself and the World and what lingered for me was the value meditation has in changing anything.

Mattieu Ricard, author of Altruism, says change begins with our thoughts and leads to new mindfulness and way of being

Mattieu Ricard, author of Altruism, says change begins with us

During the conversation, Mr. Ricard noted the link between meditation and our neurological wiring. A commitment to thinking differently, and using meditation as our dedication to the effort, can bring amazing results.

In our work with bookstore turn-arounds, it’s become clear that the obstacles to turning financial losses to business sustainability are deeply rooted negative beliefs, mostly about money, profits, greed and business. Lump them all together in a negative light, and we limit our capacity to create a healthy business.

Here are some positive beliefs that can help guide daily activities in creating a sustainable business:

* My awareness will help guide a positive outcome.
* I seek to learn how to prioritize my work so that I give the bookstore the best and most important things it needs.
* My ongoing learning will help me broaden my awareness and strengthen my ability to lead the business.
* If I want a different outcome, I am willing to rethink my routines.
* Our profits indicate that we are making magical connections with our customers; that they choose to buy from us confirms when we are paying attention and making wise choices.
* I am part of the business community that values people. Our presence provides healthy places to work and honors reading and lifelong learning.
* Our profits are what allows us to continue to contribute to a healthy local economy.

We often refer to the “Art and Science of Bookselling” because both are necessary for sustainability. For some, the art comes easy and the science, not so much. Expanding our insights and learning skills begins with mindfulness and openness.

Each year, Publishers Weekly sponsors two book industry awards, the Bookstore of the Year and the Sales Rep of the Year. We have had the honor of facilitating these awards for over twenty years. Each year when I review the submissions from each of the honorees, I cry. When the jury members select the winners, the tears of joy return. No other career have I felt the gravity of the work involved and the passion of colleagues.

This year’s Bookstore of the Year Award goes to Books & Books based in Coral Gables, Florida, founders of the internationally recognized Miami Book Fair, champions of reading in eleven locations, including cafes, a newsstand, the Miami airport, Grand Cayman island, and an affiliate on Long Island. Their events schedule includes an event every night, sometimes two, and sometimes in Spanish.

Mitchell Kaplan, owner and working manager of the entire business, said this in his note to the book industry, customers, and partners upon learning Books & Books won this year’s Award:

“… we’re gushing with pride, but also feeling very humbled, since we hold so many Indie bookstores dear in our hearts and feel that they, too, are comrades-in-arms in this fight to keep literary culture alive.”

Is it hard work? Absolutely. Is it worth it? Mitchell Kaplan may never have envisioned how opening a single bookstore would change his life, he will acknowledge that the bookstore’s work has enriched the lives of many. And, it has been worth it.

This year’s Rep of the Year is Jennifer Sheridan with HarperCollins Books for Young Readers. A champion of great books and great writing for children, Jennifer liberally shares her views and opinions about the appropriateness of a book for a bookstore’s market. She distributes her own e-newsletter and is the liaison between the field and the New York offices.

In her essay for the jury, she wrote:

“I believe that if not for well-written children’s books at every level, there would be no audience for well-written adult books.”

She has worked in and served independent bookstores for her entire career. It’s no wonder many of her customers rose up to nominate her for this year’s Award.

In the book industry, you’re in good company with hardworking souls who dedicate not just their careers, but their lives. It’s truly inspiring.

The indie film “Clerks”, which was released in 1994 and featured two convenience store clerks who annoyed customers and played hockey on the store roof, did little to add to the interest in working retail. Yet in the real world, people who work retail are real people … hard-working, sensitive, interesting, and often engaged.

Just take a quick 2:16 minute break to look at what shoppers at an Edeka grocery store in Germany experienced when the cashiers recently offered an extraordinary musical surprise.

As human beings, we’re all capable of sharing joy.

It’s a wonderful topic! And, you’ll see magazines pose the question to authors and celebrities, but it’s also a perfect question for bookstores to ask their customers … and to use on shelf-talkers around the store.

Once you get on in age you realize: there simply is not enough time in life to read (or re-read) everything you want to read. You stop trying to get through the book you are not enjoying. You don’t read a book just because a friend told you “it’s good”.

We want to find people who appreciate the same kinds of books we love. So now we know that the Amazon reviews are rigged and laden with paid placement. There are so many more books and many more reviews per book, but who do you trust?

Shelf-talkers are often written only by staff, but there are a number of local experts who could be helping shape your section ... and engage customers

Shelf-talkers are often written only by staff, but there are a number of local experts who could be helping shape your section … and engage customers

This is the #1 opportunity for any independent bookseller. The challenge is, how do you keep up with all of the books being published? The major publishers crank out hundreds of thousands each year and now with independent publishing so easy everyone who wants to write a book is or has, finding something good to read is more and more difficult.

So why not take the online reviews strategies into the bookstore? Some stores have featured reviews by select customers, but not nearly enough stores do this and with not nearly enough customers to create buzz and interaction among customers.

Imagine seeing book displays and shelf-talkers with quotes from your:

  • school principal on the best books on helping children succeed in reading and in life
  • master gardener on choosing the right plant for your region
  • physician on the best books for weight loss and controlling diabetes
  • respected pastors with books that helped them deal with loss, disappointment, divorce
  • wedding planner for the best tips on personalizing that special occasion
  • chef or restaurant owner on what cookbooks they use at home
  • book group member who also is a fan of fun mysteries
  • teacher who loves history

All communities have people who are specialists on some topic. Why don’t we engage these folks? They’ll not only refer people to the bookstore, but they’ll feel honored you asked. People will mention those reviews on shelf-talkers and the store name will be spoken throughout the community.

People find reviews helpful. Let’s use them, give them credibility, and tap local experts and local readers. Imagine having personal recommendations throughout the store in each and every section … now that is a rich and meaningful stop at the bookstore and no  one would ever leave without several ideas of what to read next.

 

We just arrived home from an on-site visit in a community that once had a Barnes & Noble bookstore. When the lease was up for renewal, B&N decided to exit the market, leaving millions of dollars of annual sales to customers up for grabs. In this case, our client, Thorne Donnelley of Liberty Bookstore, is in the midst of expanding his bookstore and revving up marketing to capture this gap in the local book market. Yet, what about all of those other communities now without a bookstore?

Libery Bookstore

Thorne Donnelley seizes the opportunity to capture the West Palm Beach, Florida market now that B&N is gone.

While there are people opening bookstores, there aren’t enough who have looked at the gaps and said “I will open bookstore in my community.” Many markets are now underserved, which often means the online Goliath get the business by default.

If you are thinking that then person to open a book store is you, here are some important considerations you may not be hearing from the media or even your own network of family, friends, and colleagues:

1. Print reading remains strong – According to research published in Publishers Weekly, ebook sales may level off at just thirty percent of the market, way less than the original predictions by IT professionals (who were self-serving in their forecasts). Seventy percent of book sales happens in print.

2. Younger people choose print too – When you think of kids growing up with printed picture books and those who fell in love with reading by devouring the Harry Potter adventures, there’s no surprise that many teens want to read in print. They’re using electronics for social interaction, but there is a perceived benefit to holding a book.

3. We need the balance between high-tech and high-touch – Many people go to a bookstore because it’s it feels like a sanctuary. People who work from home vocalize their need to be around other people. Most of us need a balance of time alone and time with others, for conversation and connection. Bookstores are third places and now that many communities are without bookstores, people recognize what’s missing.

Bookstores will not disappear if people keep asking the beautiful question, “Who will open a book store in our town?” If you’ve had dreams of opening a bookstore, but thought it was no longer a wise choice for your resources or time, keep learning and investigating the opportunities. A bookstore will meet the needs of readers to discover great books and give reasons to gather and talk about ideas. Bookstores fill that human need.

Rich colors, beautiful wood, a curated selection all make The Well-Read Moose a real gift to Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, thanks to Melissa DeMotte.

Rich colors, beautiful wood, a curated selection all make The Well-Read Moose a real gift to Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, thanks to Melissa DeMotte.

Imagine celebrating a lifelong dream of opening a bookstore. This week, I’d like to share stories of two smart, remarkable women who took the fork in the career road to pursue something that “just would not let go” … owning a book store.

Melissa DeMotte has spent many years as a corporate CFO and after some health challenges, decided it was time to make some things happen in her life. In beautiful, scenic Coeur d’Alene, Idaho she has been developing the bookstore cafe concept in the Riverstone development, a new favorite place for locals and tourists.

The Well-Read Moose, the dream of a former corporate CFO, offers books for Father's Day during the soft opening.

The Well-Read Moose, the dream of a former corporate CFO, offers books for Father’s Day during the soft opening.

Last week, we helped Melissa put the finishing touches on her new bookstore, The Well-Read Moose. About 2700 feet total with approximately 1650 devoted to the bookstore, customers popped in while we were setting up, asking when the store would be open. They mentioned reading about Melissa and the new indie bookstore about to open in the local paper. When we flew in, we met an English teacher at the local college who said she’d cut out the article and tucked it inside the next book group book so she could make sure everyone in the group knew the community would have its own indie bookstore.

What I loved best about some of the non-book items Melissa has chosen … literary candles by PaddyWax in Atlanta (I purchased the Emily Dickinson tin for my friend who plays Emily in the one-woman show “Belle of Amherst); an amazing card selection, including designs from That’s All (with a company tagline: “Say it like it is … Curing cancer while laughing-out-loud); toys of favorite storybook characters (the Little Nut Brown hare is so soft and adorable); beautiful pens and those gorgeous journals by Paperblanks.

Melissa learned retail management skills before launching this new chapter in her career.

Melissa learned retail management skills before launching this new chapter in her career.

The coffee was brewing in the cafe and regional wines will be arriving for the mid-June grand opening. We are thrilled for Melissa and the Coeur d’Alene community. See the Paz & Associates Facebook page for more photos.

Prairie Path Books is proof of what my mother used to tell me: “Where there is a will, there is a way.” Sandy Koropp first contacted us a few years ago with an idea of buying an existing bookstore. A former attorney, Sandy does her research and is good at testing the waters before taking on risk.

While assessing the potential for the existing store, Sandy began hosting author events in partnership with local organizations to discover she loved authors and books and really loved connecting readers with great stories. The events took place in cool venues and word spread that attending one of Sandy’s events was a guarantee of a great, mind-stretching experience.

Great at collaboration and win-win outcomes, Sandy spoke with the owner of Toms-Price, an iconic furniture store in Wheaton and before long, they came up with a plan for the bookstore to occupy space within the store. There’s no shortage of comfy seating in this bookstore and of all of the bookstore designs, this will always have a fresh supply of beautiful tables and armoires for feature displays.

The local press celebrates with this story and these bookstore photos of Prairie Path Books.

These two amazing women have seized opportunities in today’s marketplace as the big box stores have proven to be unsustainable. In their place, we have creative, unique, human scale bookstores that are a beautiful reflection of what is possible when you follow your dream. As a result, these communities are given bookstores that are gathering places where we learn, grow, and fully live.