We’ve been wearing roller skates for months as first there was so much to do to launch the bookstore, now we’ve focused on shifting to organizing daily operations. Every day is over-flowing with things to do.

Mark and I have been thinking a lot about Tom Warner these last several weeks. Tom and his wife Vickie Crafton were one of our earliest trainees in the 1990s. After full careers in the textile industry, they purchased Litchfield Books. Tom said he wasn’t going to spend his retirement playing golf; he wanted something that would keep him invested in life. Each time we would see them at industry gatherings, Tom would ask us, “Why didn’t you tell me I’d have to work so hard?” Then, he’d add, “And I’ve never enjoyed my work as much as I do now.”

Tom died a few years ago and yet his stories live on. When we’ve come home exhausted from the day, we too acknowledge that there’s nothing else we’d rather be doing at this stage in our lives.

Here’s the counter-balancing moments to all of the administrative work:

  • children who draw us pictures or write notes on the blackboard in the play area
  • everyone who makes an effort to tell us and our crew just how much they love the store and how glad they are we have opened
  • when customers make the bookstore a stop for visiting friends and family
  • customers on the other side of the county who purchase from our website because they want to support a local business
  • our amazing crew who are over-qualified and beautifully devoted to making Story & Song a friendly and welcoming place
  • customers who tell us they found out about the store from a friend, hairdresser, or neighbor
  • 130+ people who show up to listen to and sing along with the local ukulele band
  • a sell-out concert two weeks before Harpeth Rising arrived to do our grand opening finale
  • a staged reading of “Looking For Normal” which prompted everyone to ask big-picture questions about society and our own biases
  • children who love telling us about what they like to read
The Kooks, our local ukulele band, drew a standing-room-only crowd. People want connection and community.

The Kooks, our local ukulele band, drew a standing-room-only crowd. People want connection and community.

We are tracking above our sales projections, yet we’re still working relentlessly to fill the events calendar with reasons people should come into the store. Buying the opening inventory was one huge project and now we are working hard to transition into buying new releases for the coming months. Every day the interruptions keep us from getting things done, but saying “hello” to a customer who has come in with a neighbor is too important to miss.

In the next blogs we’ll be writing more about what we’ll call the “transition period” … the time when you’re switching between opening the store to operating the store. It’s another unique chapter on this path of developing a sustainable bookstore business.

Yet in the meantime, it’s important to take off the roller skates, stop, and breathe in the sweet moments that enrich each day in the bookstore.

I think we’re at a tipping point in developing alternatives for affordable retail space …

Mark and I recently visited Nashville, our former home town, and loved traveling East Nashville, a community blossoming with home renovations and new cafes and retail stores.

While Nashville is known as a creative community … home of the Southern Festival of Books, Ann Patchett’s Parnassus Books, plus all of those creative songwriters and composers who come from all over the world to contribute to the world of entertainment.

IMG_0131What we stumbled across was The Idea Hatchery, a cluster of small spaces near a major intersection. The flyer we picked up began with the headline:

“Start a Small Business in East Nashville”

Then continued, “The Idea Hatchery is”

* A community of small independent businesses hosted in 8 individual buildings.

  • An arrangement of buildings that have footprints of 168 sf, 256 sf, and 320 sf.
  • An opportunity to experiment and to share ideas with other small business owners.

The Idea Hatchery offers:

  • 1 year leases with no limits on renewal.
  • Reasonable rents with pro-rated utilities…”

Check out the gallery of photos and just imagine all of the cool things people discover when they visit.

New models are surfacing. They focus on collaboration, synergy, and creative energy. It’s an exciting era for indie businesses.

The dream of owning a bookstore can be so strong and most people we encounter have spent years following different career paths and one day acknowledge that the bookstore dream just won’t go away.

In our years of working with people in career transitions into bookselling, we see a variety of wonderful skills and talents people have acquired. Stephanie was an attorney. Jeff was a journalist. Melissa was a CFO. James taught college literature. Rachel was a library director. Susan was an oncology nurse.

So how do you decide to make the career leap of your dreams?

Nina George's lovable main character, the owner of a book barge, refers to his bookshop as a "literary apothecary."

Nina George’s lovable main character, the owner of a book barge, refers to his bookshop as a “literary apothecary.”

I read from #Nina George’s new book, #The Little Paris Bookshop, during our most recent workshop because the gist of what makes a successful bookstore was perfectly articulated.

Jean Perdu owns a floating bookstore, a barge that travels the waterways of France. We travel along with him, encountering the various customers and learn their stories, needs, dreams, and woes. After a grandmother, mother, and girl leave the barge with their purchase and went on their way, “Perdu reflected that it was a common misconception that booksellers looked after books. They look after people.”

Smart people can learn retail management. You can’t really learn to be kind and generous.

Take inventory of your skills and look inward to identify the telling aspects of your character. If you love multi-tasking and enjoy a varied day with a mixture of conversations with people and completion of tasks, bookselling can be the right career move for you.

Bring your love for people and your interest in matching their needs and wants. But don’t minimize the importance of learning the business skills. Both are necessary.

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.

Today I’ve been watching all of the regional bookseller associations report their weekly bestseller lists. Go Set a Watchman remains at #1 for Fiction, even the skeptics from my book group agreed to add a lunch discussion so we could get in a conversation while the book has been grabbing attention everywhere.

There’s a saying in the book business that all publicity is good publicity.

The latest controversy is over Harper Lee's Go Set a Watchman. May it keep on selling and prompting valuable dialogue.

The latest controversy is over Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman. May it keep on selling and prompting valuable dialogue.

Even though Harper Lee’s book has been widely criticized and some people have complained they’ve been duped that the book is new, the country is curious. To Kill a Mockingbird is an American classic and sadly, the story of equality and racism is still unfolding.

In bookstores across the U.S., the conversation is happening … about racism, great novels, sequels and prequels, what makes a classic, humanity, hope, and why we need literature.

Controversy is fine. It signals that we’re thinking critically about a lot of things. Authors and books offer us these opportunities to keep searching, learning, evolving. Books bring us out of our lonely corners and connect us with what is meaningful.

But first, we have to buy the book and be part of the conversation.

May books continue to make us uncomfortable about our unfinished work, and prompt us to change and grow for the better.

Some bookstores are well worth the drive. We were having lunch with friends who were telling us about their summer travel plans when I discovered we have a habit … we can’t help but associate a city with one (or more) indie bookstores. Going to Chicago? Oh, you’ve got to visit The Book Stall at Chestnut Court and don’t forget RoscoeBooks and the new Read It & Eat. One of my book group members texted me from Jeff Kinney’s new bookstore, An Unlikely Story, and attached a photo of her husband and granddaughter.

Just what is it about these stores people rave about? The entries on Yelp are love letters. Locals are proud they have a great indie bookstore in their community. The stores are listed in travel guides.

Here’s my list of three things. There are no numbers since all of these things are important and the truly great stores are way above average on every one.

* Passion for wonderful books with strong impulses to tell others about a really great read. From product to people, this can’t help but shine through.
* A full and thought-filled selection. Show me something I’ve never seen. Surprise me. Help me find something for someone I love. Make me smile.
* Offer a warm and friendly atmosphere. From people to place, the bookstore feels good: welcoming, comfortable, peaceful, engaging.

When we’re asked to do a business valuation for an existing bookstore or potential buyer, we look at Yelp, review their social media sites, and look through the store’s website. We see the passion, sense of place, and warmth in everything they do. A bookstore destination grows out of love.

No wonder people will drive out of their way just to visit. We need these places in our lives.

go_set_a_watchman_051815

Books and bookstores can help set the foundation of positive change.

As the South Carolina legislature voted to remove the Confederate flag from the statehouse grounds in response to conversations that were revisited after the tragic shootings at the AME Church in Charleston, the book world eager awaits  the release of Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman.

Bookstores and libraries across the United States are sponsoring read-a-thons of Harper Lee’s Pulitzer-Prize winning classic, To Kill a Mockingbird, a beloved story of honor and injustice in the deep South … and the heroism of one man in the face of blind and violent hatred.

Let our reflection and conversation about hate, racism, and progress continue.

When people who have worked for decades in other industries think about opening a bookstore, it can be difficult to explain just how important a bookstore can be by stocking and recommending books, choosing books for displays and writing shelf-talkers to help readers understand the value of a book, and sponsoring events to stimulate dialogue and encourage people to think and interact in ways that go beyond their daily lives. Bookstores, like Left Bank Books after the riots in Ferguson, can offer a safe place to question, learn, and heal.

It’s been said that our positions have become polarized in part because we don’t connect with people very different from us. Suburban sprawl brings together people of the same economic standing. Children grow up going to schools that are homogenous and socialize with children who look and begin to value the same things.

Books get us outside our own limited worlds, regardless of where we live, work, worship and play. Bookstores help us connect in real-time, face-to-face. What a foundation where we grow as individuals and affect positive change in society.

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.

When terrible things happen, people seek answers and search for what can bring them comfort. In our country’s recent history, we’ve felt the shock of 9/11, the horror of Hurricane Katrina, and now, the discomfort and discontent of many social problems that have surfaced in Ferguson, Missouri. After now a series of killings of black people by police officers, our President and the people of  have acknowledged we have work to do. This work involves our collective attention.

When a crisis strikes, we search for understanding. Some look for comfort. While some people head to a church or a park, people also head to their neighborhood bookstore. While not many bookstore owners imagine the bookstore as a sanctuary when they decide to get into the business, when a crisis hits, it becomes clear that a bookstore is also a special kind of healing place.

It may be the peaceful quiet of browsing books, a symbol of knowledge and wisdom, that is the draw. Someone can leave the store with an escape novel, but the trip into the store helped in some way.

Others want interaction and dialogue. Left Bank Books, a St. Louis indie bookstore, not only stayed open after the Ferguson jury announced its verdict, but has scheduled a series of book discussions for a new group entitled #FergusonReads. Their website reads:

“The events in Ferguson have been upsetting for nearly everyone in our community. This reading group is an attempt to add some civility and context to the mix by exploring race, not only in St. Louis, but America as a whole.”

Bookstores can help the healing and spark conversation that improves our world

Bookstores can help the healing and spark conversation that improves our world

I’ve sent this link to my neighborhood book group. February is Black History Month and we’ve yet to select our books for 2015. I hope members of my book group will share the link with others too, exponentially expanding its reach.

One of the greatest competitive advantages of an indie bookstore is being part of the community. Helping the country face and work through its issues …. to help it reach its potential … is how we make a difference in our communities and beyond.

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.