This month we were fortunate to get to an item that’s been on our “Bucket List” for some time … visiting New Zealand. You might recall that the city of Christchurch had a nasty earthquake in 2011. Homes, churches, and businesses were severely damaged and tourism stopped.

Christchurch is on the rebound and the future now looks exciting as the city and the people have taken a mindful approach on how to rebuild.

In the meantime, the shops and restaurants are open!

Scorpio Books was among the retailers and restaurant owners to re-open after the earthquake - in a shipping container.

Scorpio Books was among the retailers and restaurant owners to re-open after the earthquake – in a shipping container.

We visited Re-START, a brilliantly conceived outdoor retail space consisting of temporary buildings made from shipping containers. When you walk into one of the shops you’d just think you were in a small space … the walls are painted, light fixtures are up, the HVAC works, and it’s business as usual.

Restaurants were serving people who were seated at bistro tables inside containers and on surrounding space.

The whole idea lends itself to authentic charm. Make lemonade out of those lemons!

Visiting Re-START is a reminder that especially after a catastrophe, we need places to gather, eat, and shop. Cafes and shops are symbols of normalcy; they are places people crave when their worlds have been turned upside down.

Small businesses have always been known for their resiliency, and the Kiwis proved that great new ideas can come from necessity.

I am fascinated with the Every Door Direct tool developed by the U.S. Postal Service. Designed for use by small businesses for planning door-to-door marketing, it turns out this is quite a valuable resource for prospective business owners.

very Door Direct Mail allows you to analyze your market by postal carrier route

Analyze your market by postal carrier route for detailed information on neighborhoods within a community

Here’s how it works … Go to the home page at https://EDDM.usps.com and enter a zip code you want to explore. Using the menu options below (Route & Residential), refine your search. Use your mouse to hover over different carrier routes and you’ll see demographic data appear on the screen describing who lives there.

This resource is perfect for:
Obtaining much more detailed demographics than by zip code or market analysis that takes a random 1, 3, and 5 mile radius around a particular address

Identifying neighborhoods and even streets that would be best for your new business

Collecting data for your business

Gathering marketing information to use later as you target your promotions

And, it’s free and available to you right now.

If you’re a visual person like me, it’s great to see the map, clip and save sections, and use the tables to choose the routes and tabulate population totals.

Market research has never been this fast, easy, or valuable.

How is it that independent bookstores have not disappeared even though plenty of people predicted they would fall by the wayside like the record stores?

Harvard Book Store asks, "Tell Us Why You Love Our Bookstore".

The staff at the Harvard Book Store asked, “Tell Us Why You Love Our Bookstore”.

A Harvard Business School professor joined us during our one-day workshop at this year’s Winter Institute, the annual conference sponsored by the American Booksellers Association, with the goal of finding out why independent booksellers are so resilient.

It seems each decade members of the media find one more seemingly compelling reason that sparks the demise of the bookstore. Yet booksellers are creative and collaborative. They care and share and hang together in tough times. When booksellers put all of the energy and creativity together, something amazing usually results.

This is why independent bookstores are thriving, even in a digital world.

The first ever National Independent Bookstore Day was held on Saturday with great fanfare from coast to coast. In this morning’s issue of Shelf-Awareness (a free daily newsletter about the book business), we learned about the parties, events, decorated cakes and wine and locally crafted beer, the readings and signings, and the fun that took place in indie bookstores.

The first-ever National Independent Bookstore Day was sponsored by the American Booksellers Association May 2, 2015.

The first-ever National Independent Bookstore Day was sponsored by the American Booksellers Association May 2, 2015 and the celebrations took place in communities across the country.

 

Celebrating community at independent bookstores… what a great reason for a party.

Booksellers are thinkers and dreamers, entrepreneurs and business leaders. When the majority sees difficulty, indie bookstores are busy finding a way to turn the challenge into an opportunity … and building community, having fun along the way.

There have been so many positive articles about indie bookstores this week … The Huffing Post on “Indie Bookstores Are Making A Comeback”, The Cultureist with the “10 Best Neighborhood Bookstores in New York City”, starting with Sunday’s New York Times feature Literary Lions United that only adds to Amazon’s PR nightmare.

Artisan crafted literary scarves carried by Prairie Path Books.

Artisan crafted literary scarves carried by Prairie Path Books.

I predict this will be a wildly successful year for Small Business Saturday, the important shopping day after Black Friday on Thanksgiving weekend. Thanks go American Express and their marketing brilliance, more and more people have paused to think about where they shop … and what that says about their values.

This interest in everything local is visible in a growing number of ways in western culture. We’re eating locally grown foods, shopping with companies that will strengthen our local economy, and discover items made by real human hands.

That’s why it’s the era of indie and Etsy. Today, I received the monthly email from a new indie bookstore outside Chicago, Prairie Path Books. Featured are lovely scarves and gloves with a literary theme from Storiarts. I’ve got my wallet out and I want to be first in line for The Secret Garden scarf, beautifully presenting words and graphics from this precious classic story.

Indie bookstores and indie artisans. What a perfect pairing. You can’t beat having an indie bookstore with unique items in a neighborhood bookstore, run by your neighbors, in your community. Small can be powerful, especially when we’re playing the same tune and dancing the same dance.

This is an era of opportunity for indie bookstores to reach beyond the four walls of the store to bring tremendous value to your region. Note that instead of ‘community’, we’re now saying ‘region’ … with all of the store closings in the last decade, people feel lucky if their city or village has a bookstore, even luckier if it’s a lively independent bookstore. Customers are driving great distances for a ‘real bookstore’, even when books are just a click away.

Politics & Prose launches The Writer's Cottage building deeper relationships with customers and extending their reach throughout the region

Politics & Prose launches The Writer’s Cottage building deeper relationships with customers and extending their reach throughout the region

To move books out of the realm of commodities, indie booksellers like Washington D.C.’s Politics & Prose has developed a series of workshops and now a writer’s retreat. Spend a week on your own relaxing and writing, stay a week with a writing coach to guide you, join a week-long program with other writers. Engaging local writing teachers, partnering with a locally-owned lodging business, reaching out to fill a regional need … how very indie.

The bookstore can be the creative force being pulling all of the partners together, all parties promote like crazy to build attendance, each share in the proceeds, each benefit from having developed a one-of-a-kind experience that brings them tremendous word-of-mouth-marketing and customer loyalty.

Key is the focus on learning and growing … especially now with Baby Boomers retiring (many times, early) and wanting to engage their brains in meaningful things, there are all kinds of opportunities a bookstore can create in a “series” that appeal to travelers, lovers of classical literature, history buffs, military retirees, knitters and crafters, those writing family histories for their children and grandchildren, and on and on.

Building a successful business starts with love and an understanding of what others want or need. Booksellers are often the ones to be the creative force in bringing everyone together to create those unforgettable experiences that earn respect, appreciation, and loyalty, just like what Politics & Prose is doing with The Writer’s Cottage.

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.

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.

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.

Each day offers an opportunity to learn something new, especially when you open a page of a book. Last night, I read an insight about architecture that sparked thought about the future of bookstores.

What do you find in a bookstore? Comfort, ideas, stories to connect us with others.

What do you find in a bookstore? Comfort, ideas, stories to connect us with others.

Stephen Mouzon has often been quoted about the mindfulness of architecture and urban design in Traditional Neighborhood Developments (TNDs). Since Mark and I moved to a TND on Amelia Island twelve years ago and now I serve as president of the neighborhood association board, I’ve loved learning about what makes us feel safe and secure and at home. “Contentment” has been a big word for me as I age, and what I value even more as the years go by is beauty, the comforts of home, and holding a book in my hands while the words enrich the moments.

Mouzon, who after years of studying neighborhoods and homes people love, has developed the leading guide to traditional home design, Traditional Construction Patterns: Design & Detail Rules of Thumb. While the last fifty years of home construction has led to McMansions, sprawl, and “hyper” buildings that have been over-designed, Mouzon helps us see how fascination with the machine became the “expression of our age.” Our obsession with technology still seems to cloud our basic human needs … and still does.

So, as BookExpo America kicks off this week in New York, I am reminded with the first time e-readers hit the trade show and how the IT professionals claimed to know the future of the book was to be purely electronic. For the last decade, many of us questioned the prediction and now, it turns out that the bookstore of the future feels a lot like the comforts of bookstores through time. While things in the back room may operate a little differently, life in the store is still thought-filled, personal, and human scale.

While we’ve all gotten used to finding (and buying) things on the web and reading online, there’s a lingering human need for people, places, and material objects in our lives that are on a tangible, knowable, and comfortable human level.

At the top of our “to do” list while in New York City for BookExpo this year was a visit to La Casa Azul Bookstore in East Harlem. We first met the owner, Aurora Anaya-Cerda, in September of 2007 when she attended our intensive workshop retreat, Owning a Bookstore: The Business Essentials.  Even before the economy tumbled, resources for Aurora were scarce. But she never lost her enthusiasm and hope for her very own community-oriented bookstore.

Aurora Anaya Cerda, owner of La Casa Azul Bookstore

Aurora Anaya Cerda, owner of La Casa Azul Bookstore

Aurora was one of the first start-ups to pursue crowd funding. The effort not only brought forth a plethora of positive press, more than 500 people surfaced to help fund a bookstore for “El Barrio”. She doggedly pursued every opportunity for start-up grants, and was finally able to put the pieces in place to open her shop. Today, La Casa Azul Bookstore is one of several other woman-owned businesses on East 103rd Street. But opening a community bookstore wasn’t all that Aurora had in mind – she also launched the East Harlem Children’s Book Festival, leading the effort to celebrate literature and the arts in her community.

Tiny musicians rehearse for the store's first anniversary celebration

Tiny musicians rehearse for the store’s first anniversary celebration

On the day of her first anniversary celebration, Saturday, June 1, we arrived to hear the sound of music – not from a boom-box, but from stringed instruments. Following our ears to the special events area in the store’s basement, we found dozens of young children, dressed in black and white, playing their pint-sized violins. Music teachers from a nearby music academy had each child’s full attention as they rehearsed for their first public performance. Then we went out to the open-air courtyard behind the bookstore to listen to Aurora’s warm welcome and congratulatory words from Congressman Charlie Rangle, and watch the children parade onto the stage to play “What a Wonderful World,” much to the delight of everyone gathered for the occasion.

Aurora has implemented a number of other programs and activities as well. There’s the Beans and Rice book group, De Colores Summer Reading program for kids, art exhibits and performances in her basement event area and outdoor courtyard, a bilingual children’s story-time – in all, more than twenty special events each month at La Casa Azul. And her small shop has become a “must” for Latino authors like Junot Diaz and Sandra Cisneros.

La Casa Azul signAurora’s dream has become a reality, yet is still a work in progress. Not only does the whole East Harlem community celebrate with her, the White House recently recognized La Casa Azul as a “Champion of Change.” Congratulations, Aurora! This is the indie spirit at its finest.