Author Mary Oliver is quoted, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” We read this quote at the close of the full-week workshop retreat.

30418757.thmAll decisions of importance really come down to this, don’t they? We have this one life. What will make us happy, feeling fulfilled, believing at the end that we’ve contributed in some way and enjoyed our time on earth.

Everyone who joins us for retail management training has this in come … the love of reading, appreciation for ideas, and a desire for meaningful work. Ninety-nine percent do not have a bookselling background. Most people who join the book business don’t have retail background either and some have limited business experience. It begins with the passion and can develop from there.

Entrepreneurship requires that we honor the deep longing, learn from those who are successful, develop our own vision, and deliver it all with passion and connection.

How can you not be overjoyed to hear that a bookstore you’ve loved is available … and you could become the next owner?! For many, owning a bookstore is a dream come true. You’ve spent your life so far doing many things, and now you have the opportunity to begin a new chapter doing something you love.

bookstore-For-Sale-300x198People want to sell their bookstore for a variety of reasons, mostly to enter retirement, but some burn out, others decide they don’t like owning a small business and feel overwhelmed with the demands of having to wear so many hats, and some simply have changes in their personal lives that makes it too difficult to carry on the business.

Here are a few things on my mind over the last few months that I want to share with you so you begin to look at your purchase of a bookstore business from a variety of perspectives.

Understand exactly what you are buying. It’s typical that a retail business will identify one price for the business and value the inventory separately. This is understandable since inventory changes each day … books arrive from vendors, books sell to customers. Inventory is constantly in a state of flux. When considering the price of the business itself, you should receive a detailed list of everything you will receive, from domain names of websites to furniture and fixtures, from wrapping paper to the store’s sound system. I was shocked when a buyer told me the previous owner came in to redeem a small bookcase she wanted to keep. The situation was awkward for the new owner.

bookstoreImageKnow you can negotiate the value of the inventory. Not everyone who has had a bookstore computer management system has used it effectively. Unless a store is vigilant about doing physical inventories (at least annually), the on-hand quantities may not be accurate, inflating the stated value of the inventory. Also, know that inventory that has not sold within a year can be returned to most vendors if the stock was purchased on a returnable basis. But, the stock needs to be returned by the company that purchased it. Make sure old stock that hasn’t sold is returned before you value the inventory and sign papers. If some of the inventory is beyond the twelve-month limit, ask the current owner to donate the stock or offer a very low amount for this merchandise. If it hasn’t sold in almost a year, you probably are going to have a tough time selling it as well. Either don’t buy it or significantly reduce its value. If a current owner cannot tell you what’s been on the shelves beyond 12 months, you have bargaining power to offer much less than the recorded cost for the entire inventory since its integrity is in question.

Beware of expecting that you’ll learn everything you need to know from the current owner. You’ll find the current owner essential in introducing you to key contacts within the community and book industry and what’s where in and around the store. Not all bookstore owners have been applying the best practices, updating their computerized management systems (there still are systems out there based on DOS!), claiming publisher co-op (worth thousands of dollars for your marketing efforts), or working to grow their business. This may be especially true for owners who are retiring where practices can be still inefficient and cumbersome based on old technologies. Be careful not to adopt bad habits and outdated routines; a former owner will only know what they know.

Know when it’s time to take the lead. There’s a friendly period where the previous owner is letting go as you are leaning in. It can be an awkward time. How long should that period last? A few weeks working side-by-side usually does it; longer can be problematic. Keep in mind that when previous owners stay on too long, staff members become confused. Who should they ask? Will they offend the previous owner if they ask you a question? Commit to a few weeks together and then proceed ‘as needed’ is our best advice.

When you buy a bookstore, you’re buying a very personal business. Navigate the due diligence process to make sure it’s clear what you are buying, and step in to take a leadership role when you’ve learned the store’s daily routine.

Yesterday was the last day of our five-day workshop retreat dedicated to Owning a Bookstore. This morning, I woke up thinking about all of the smart, creative, inquisitive people who have had the idea of owning a bookstore that “just won’t let go.” From those who intend to buy an existing bookstore to those already thinking about a location, from those who needed to fill in the blanks for writing a business plan to those trying to decide if owning a bookstore was right for them at this time in their lives, everyone contributed a creative spark to the idea of developing a bookstore concept for today’s world.

Learn how to open a bookstore

Spring graduates of Owning a Bookstore: The Business Essentials

Book people are quite amazing, but many have never worked in retail store let alone own a retail business. Together, we immerse ourselves in the details of bookstore retail management, weave in the realities of the marketplace, examine human needs and behavior, identify the opportunities for a bookstore, develop strategies around our own communities and leave with insights on how to manage and grow this new business.

What was true for someone new to retail management and new to the book industry turned out to even be true for someone who had spent seven years working in a bookstore. In an email this morning, one tenured bookseller who came to consider opening her own store wrote, “I can’t get over all the information we received and think it’s the only way to go if you are considering opening a bookstore.”

If you’ve had a desire to own a bookstore that “just won’t let go,” know you are in good company. Because of the investment and skills required, be careful. Do your due diligence. Study and learn about best practices instead of acquiring outdated routines and habits. Take your time and plan to succeed in what could be a wonderful new chapter in your own life.

Whether we’re reading a classic novel or a new children’s picture book, it’s touching to see the little guy win. We root for the underdog with a valiant cause, valuing a noble struggle against all odds.

Yet the whole concept of “winning” is interesting in itself, since its definition is so personal. In business, you’d think that it boils down to sales and profits, market share and ROI. But for a small business like an indie bookstore, the definition can vary greatly. We pose the question in our workshops and love to hear the thought-filled responses.

Some want more freedom in their work day or flexibility to pick up kids from school, even having the kids help out in the business. Others want a canvas that allows them to be more creative. Some are tired of bumping their heads on a glass ceiling and know they have the skills to be on their own. Others want to follow a dream they’ve held for years. One said he just wants to grow old in the bookstore. All generally want to enrich their communities by providing a sense of place. Their idea of winning is to have a bookstore where people gather, share ideas, and learn from the exchange.

Just after the economic meltdown two years ago, two women who were in the midst of opening a bookstore in Brooklyn faced uphill battles for bank financing. They persisted with an alternative plan: raise funds from future customers. It worked and now Jessica Stockton Bagnulo and Rebecca Fitting own the bustling indie bookstore Greenlight Books. You can listen to Jessica tell the story in this short video.

The media are finally beginning to notice that all is not doom and gloom, that there are some quite amazing stories about indie booksellers doing quite well. E-books may have been sexy for a while, but what is there to talk about after you’ve discussed the backlit screen quality and dictionary links … and that they’re contributing to the demise of indie booksellers? Meanwhile, many of those same bookstores keep sponsoring children’s storytime, hosting favorite authors, and staging events to bring customers into their stores. They vet the plethora of books being released each season, zero in on some remarkable new voices and love nothing more than talking about books with customers.

What drives the continued effort – and struggle against the odds – is love and passion and a belief in providing something of value for others. In the words of Rabindranath Tagore, “I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted and behold, service was joy.”

Who’s to say we can’t follow our dream, find ways to make things happen, and experience our own definition of success? All my life, my mother would say to me, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.” Today, even though she no longer walks this earth, those wise words ring true.