People seemed surprised to see us in New York City last week for BookExpo. With our own new bookstore just a bit over 3 months old, we did feel a bit like new parents leaving an infant for the first time. The difference is that we’ve been with our staff every inch of the day since set-up, so it was time to engage with the industry and be a part of the exciting Vital Bookstore project on the convention floor.

So many booksellers asked us to tell them about our experience and discoveries. Mark and I both had a similar response: “We knew it was a lot of work. Boy is it a lot of work!”

More than 20 volunteers joined the Story & Song Bookstore Bistro staff to help us unpack and organize 12,000 books plus cards and toys.

Last July we found a property we thought had potential. August we made an offer, then spent the rest of the month preparing our SBA (Small Business Administration) loan application and list of supporting documents from our existing business and personal lives. Contractors filled our time in September and October. On October 11 we got the keys and with permits and such, our contractors started in November and finished the day the fixtures arrived in mid-January.

There’s a lot to do. It all takes time. And, the work has just begun.

February 10 we opened for business. Then, the tasks changed completely. The focus moves from setting up to managing daily operations.

We were both in constant motion for at least six weeks. At the store training staff, receiving the back orders and non-book items that took more time than we expected. We were exhausted at the end of long days. And, there were still so many things still on the list that needed to be done.

The funny thing is that all of these tasks need to be done whether you have a 1,200 square foot store or a 5,000 square foot store. If you have a smaller store it may take you relatively less time, but the “To Do” list looks the same. Stock register cash, bookkeeping, social media and publicity, scheduling events, buying books, answering requests from authors, replenishing greeting cards, running Z tapes and starting it all again the next day.

Read through this and we hope you get the sense that bookselling is a complicated business regardless of your footprint. Now that we’re ringing sales, hosting events, and keeping the store stocked, it’s been non-stop … and we have had years doing this for others and are familiar with retail management and the book industry.

If your dream is to open and run a successful bookstore, do yourself a favor and take your time to learn, prepare, get training, set things up properly, and be ready for an amazing launch. It’s stressful enough when you schedule each phase of your start-up and give yourself some wiggle room for things to go wrong (because many will).

So, our advice remains the same … learn about your new industry and career, avoid imposing more stress with high start-up expectations, and make sure you continue to breathe as you work through the long list of things to do to turn that dream of your bookstore into reality.

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.

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.

People often ask us to describe the kinds of people who are most successful bookstore owners. The answers may be surprising … the ability to master spreadsheets is not top of the list!

Susie Alexander, former B&N employee, opens Once Upon a Storybook in Orange County, CA. Her husband Norm and Curious George help during the recent Grand Opening.

Susie Alexander, former B&N employee, opens Once Upon a Storybook in Orange County, CA. Her husband Norm and Curious George help during the recent Grand Opening.

Love People – When you’re in the business of buying and selling books, it helps to know (and love) the people you’ll be serving. Great bookstore owners are involved in their communities, know a lot of people, and love listening to and learning from others. You can serve others when you understand their needs and desires.

Respect & Admire Authors & Illustrators – We are nuts about books. We devour them ourselves, always find a book to give as a gift, become wild evangelists for authors and books we’ve enjoyed, and look forward to conferences when we can hear from the authors and illustrators themselves. You can sell what you believe in.

Open to Ideas – Work and life begin to meld when you do what you love. You can be at the hair salon and get a really great idea to use in the bookstore. There’s an appreciation for great ideas and a knowledge that you can be inspired in the most unlikely places.

Eager to Learn the Business – Few people who open or buy a bookstore come from retail management backgrounds, but there are some business skills that are essential in this low-margin business where it’s easy to run out of capital and be unable to continue the dream. Successful owners don’t fly by the seat of their pants, but honor the business they’ve begun and learn to manage operations.

This combination separates those who “play bookstore” from those owners who rise to the top of their profession as successful stewards of their business.

I do love studies and when it comes to trends and young people, it’s fascinating to see how they like to shop, how they view themselves, and how that relates to the retail business. So when I saw the link to “Meet the Teens” from today’s National Retail Federation news, I had to go find out how things have changed since I was in my teens in the 1970s, hanging out with friends at the mall when I wasn’t working at my part-time job at one of the teen clothing stores.

Teens prefer shopping in-store

Teens still enjoy shopping in stores

Seems a lot has changed and some things have stayed the same…

Online shopping is part of the mix, but teens prefer to shop in-store where they can see the merchandise.

Facebook is “kind of dead” … so marketing is a moving target and social media venues are trendy.

Parents and part-time jobs are sources of income. Teens have money to spend.

Teens are less into doing what their friends do, but more into finding their own style (and voice).

When Young Adult Fiction has had such a boost in the last decade with debut authors and new authors writing hit after hit, it’s a wonderful moment to make sure teens and young adults find a home at the bookstore, come in to touch the books and soak in the good “space”, and find books that help them develop character and enjoy their leisure time.

Teens want to go out and shop. Let’s invite them in… and provide them the opportunity to connect for real with the world of ideas.

Common Core … what could be detrimental about reading class and contemporary literature? Efforts are well under way to undermine the effort to improve education, teach the ability to learn and apply critical thinking skills, and have exposure to worlds beyond your own.

Common Core picketers

Extremists are derailing the conversation about how Common Core and literature can be used to improve education

The Southern Poverty Law Center, known for their dedication to fighting hate and bigotry and to seeking justice for the most vulnerable members of our society, addressed the challenges to Common Core in the summer issue of SPLC Report in a feature “Extremist Propaganda Distorts Education Debate.”

While booksellers and libraries are used to some parents challenging some books in schools and the effort in some states to dictate how particular topics like evolution are treated in textbooks, this latest challenge … on a national scale … is based on misinformation from major media sources.

Ignorance is still widespread, major media fail to uphold higher standards of journalism, and as a result, we see the growing inability to come together. Close the world by limiting exposure to different ideas and cultures and as a result, misinformation and fear imposed by others hold tremendous power.

Bookstores and libraries, by their very presence, stand for education, reason, and connection. The work is ongoing. The American Booksellers Foundation for Freedom of Expression is our equivalent of the SPLC, also busier than ever.

 

Each morning, I start my day, like many in the book business, reading Shelf-Awareness. It’s one of the sources we rely on for the latest developments in and about the book business, which authors will be in the media spotlight, and some glimpses of really good new books. The newsletter begins with a quote of the day, sometimes profound, often inspiring, always stirring in some way.

Phinney Books, opened by former Amazon employee Tom Nissley.

Phinney Books, opened by former Amazon employee Tom Nissley.

In today’s “Shelf”, I was especially touched by these words of Tom Nissley, former Amazon.com employee and now owner of the independent bookstore Phinney Books:

“I was a big indie bookstore customer even when I worked at Amazon. There is something irreplaceable about walking into a bookstore and browsing through well-chosen shelves and talking to a bookseller…. Amazon’s algorithms are pretty impressive and useful, but they still can’t do everything a smart and imaginative bookseller can do, especially one that knows you and the books you like to read.”

Tom Nissley, owner of Phinney Books, quoted in a Seattle Times article. Nissley spent a decade working for Amazon, took some time off to be a Jeopardy! champ and recently purchased the former Santoro’s Books in the Phinney Ridge/Greenwood neighborhood of Seattle.
In this digital world, people are searching for a real home base. For many, walking into a bookstore is that very necessary sanctuary. We’re all learning that Google searches and Amazon.com reviews deliver “monetized” results. Pay to play.
How refreshing to see that in a capitalist society, one business sector still is devoted to offering authentic reviews and chooses only the products that are comfortable to recommend.

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.

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.

This week Books & Books made the news again, this time included in the article “38 Essential Miami Shopping Experiences”. One of the few U.S. indie booksellers with more than one location, Books & Books is a thriving business, driven by Mitchell Kaplan, a passionate entrepreneur. What makes a shopping district interesting and special? Indie retailers like Books & Books.

Historic downtown Fernandina Beach, 100% indie

Historic downtown Fernandina Beach, 100% indie

Aren’t we all really tired of strip malls with chain stores and the soulless expanse of the box boxes that fill our countryside? Seems so. When you think about what destinations are chosen for vacations and weekend get-aways, it isn’t the Holiday Inn at the Interstate next to the cluster of national chains. It’s the town with character, charm, personality of bistros, Bed & Breakfast inns, boutiques, galleries and shops with unique items.

This week I ran some errands in our little historic downtown in Fernandina Beach, Florida. The sidewalks were filled with people, especially in this week before Easter. It was lunchtime, so people were dining at courtyard restaurants and browsing through the indie shops. People were sitting on benches and others eating ice cream cones.

We love a special sense of place. It helps us feel human, connected, and a part of something greater than ourselves. You can’t get that at a national chain and you can’t get it online, but you can get it at an independent bookstore and cafes and shops that are locally owned.

We owe our gratitude to the business owners, like Books & Books who create these wonderful places that feed us in important ways.