advice needed

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advice needed

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1midnight
Jan 1, 2007, 12:41am

I'm thinking of opening a bookstore (what book lover doesn't?) and I need some advice. I was hoping to get advice on two categorys...
1. What do you consider essential to your favorite bookstore?
2. Does anyone with bookselling/bookstore owning experience have specific advice on making the store successful?

2midnight
Jan 1, 2007, 8:28pm

I wish I could find a source for data on the average revenue of an independent bookstore. It's hard to know how much space you can afford to lease....

3lilithcat
Jan 1, 2007, 9:38pm

"Average" revenue won't help you. You need to know what costs and revenue are like in your area.

Have you talked to local booksellers? Joined a local booksellers organization? Looked for a job in an independent bookstore (I really recommend this as a way of getting to know the business)?

4midnight
Jan 1, 2007, 9:58pm

I have asked staff at various stores, even out of town and whenever I mention revenue I get blank stares. I'd settle for a revenue figure, anywhere, at this point.

Unfortunately we have all of two independent booksellers in my area. Total combined staff, 3 persons. Not much room for employment. I do think things will improve though. There are several developments planned to bring residents back downtown. A 30+ and a 20+ floor condo buildings. They have to buy their books someplace right?

Currently rent downtown is around $16psf which equates to a lot of books and coffee. From my research so far I understand that booksellers usually get a 40% cut on books and perhaps a 100% markup on coffee(not counting labour).

5bookishbunny
Jan 2, 2007, 1:00pm

Your cut on the new books, if it's the same as it was ten years ago, will depend on how many you buy from the publisher (that's why B&N and the like can give you such a huge discount on bestsellers, and why bestsellers are bestsellers before they even hit the shelves). At the store I worked at, we bought very few copies of new books, so our profit was very small. We only got them in the first place to get people into the store to buy our used books.

6prophetandmistress
Jan 2, 2007, 1:31pm

I work for an indie bookstore that's a little over two years old and doing well. I think there are two major reasons for our success. The first is that the owners and buyers already had a lot of bookselling experience, so that in the first crucial year, they didn't have to do a lot of trial and error in terms of what to keep on their shelves. I think you should definitely try to find a partner or two with bookselling experience. It's not necessary for success but it will certainly help.

The second (and perhaps most important) reason for our success is our location. The store opened in an area that wanted an independent bookstore. We have customers who do their research on Amazon and then come to us to actually purchase the books, even when it amounts to a higher cost because they appreciate the intangibles that independent locally owned businesses bring to their community.

That sense of community is a huge factor in our sustainability, so I'd spend a fair amount of time researching locations beyond their psf rents. Good luck.

7conceptbooks
Jan 4, 2007, 7:45pm

I'm in the process of opening a shop myself, so I'm glad to give you what information I have. I've been in the used/rare book business for over twenty years, and have also put in some time at some very good new shops, but that was back in the day before the big technological changes in the trade. Our shop will be mixed new/used/rare and be focussed in just a few subject areas. I'll wait until the lease is signed to say where and when, but we'll be paying about $19 /sq.ft. We've spent alot of time going over spread sheets with estimated expenses, and made alot of effort to understand how much we will need to sell in order to meet our needs.

I agree with the sentiments above about knowing your location very, very thoroughly. Although there are a dozen or more shops available to us at roughly the same price, we would not do this in any space but the one we've chosen. We might get the same numbers of people in those other shops, but we wouldn't get the same type of customer, and so it's less attractive to us (the others might be better for you).

Spend a good number of hours in cafe on the block of a storefront your thinking about, and count the number of people walking by the shop. How many are there? Do they fit your general view of the customers you hope to appeal to? What's the worst day on the block like? The best?

The modern new book business is much more competitive than it used to be, but there are many more tools available to make ordering/reordering/inventory evaluation simple and quick. Still you'll be spending an awful lot of time staring at publisher's catalogues.

There is an interesting article in the UK Guardian about independent booksellers. Although its the British market, the issues are similar, and the interviews with the many different booksellers are very helpful. Here's the link:

http://books.guardian.co.uk/shoptalk/story/0,,1780436,00.html

There is a link to a second page at the bottom, so do continue at the bottom.

I hope this is helpful. I'd be glad to answer whatever specific questions you come up with.

Good luck!

8midnight
Jan 4, 2007, 11:37pm

Thanks conceptbooks...that is indeed great feedback. I was just telling someone tonight that I needed to take a day off work and go sit at one of the locations we were considering and count people and guess if they are the right customer base. $19psf sounds high but I am guessing this is a high traffic area that you are looking at. If you don't mind sharing, how many people did you count at that location in what period of time?

9conceptbooks
Jan 5, 2007, 12:00am

It's not so much the number of people, as the (horrible generalization approaching) type of people. Do they look like people who will buy the type of book you are selling? What else in the neighborhood is supported by these people, and does it correlate to what you're hoping to sell? A few blocks from our space, we could pay $40psf, and in another direction, $12psf, and neither is desirable for us. , but it's not so much the number of customers a who they are. I don't want to sound like neighborhood walk-by is the only factor - there are so many.

The psf debate can be misleading in another way. Many booksellers assume that maximizing the number of items on a shelf, and the number of shelves in a store is the only way to "maximize" the rented space. A look at almost any successful boutique shoe or clothing store puts the lie to that. Some have only a few items in a large-ish space, and use the display to their advantage. I learned this the hard way doing book fairs. I used to lug ten or fifteen boxes fo books to every fair. Now I take maybe four or five, and display most of the books face out, with descriptive cards. Granted these are expensive books, but the same books used to come with me to the ten box shows, and not sell. My point is just that there are multiple ways of making the most of whatever space you rent, at whatever price you get.

Another thing I would highly recommend is spending some time imagining how your bookshop would be different from other shops you know. Not just in your area, but just shops you know. If it doesn't seem all that different in your mind; if the stock isn't somehow differentiated from the world of other books shops; it will be tough to compete. Your "vision" of a shop, bold or subtle, will translate into some loyal customers. It will be a necessary tool to go up against the chains and the internet who, in effect, can stock everything, and provide it at a lower price. So what are we providing that they aren't?

Looking forward to hearing how your ideas progress.

Best,
Don

10midnight
Jan 5, 2007, 9:57am

Don, I think you're reading my mind. I've had many a long hour thinking about my fav bookshops and what makes them work. Having the books face out, especially on the regular shelves, is key. Most stores will display new or best sellers face out but doing so with the regular stock enables me as a browser to notice a highlighted book I had not thought of before. Plus, like it or not, we do judges books by thier cover. I've been sucked into buying either lame books or hardcovers of good books just because of the cover art and binding eye candy.

11midnight
Jan 7, 2007, 7:55am

Well, it looks like I will be sitting on my hands for a while in regards to the bookstore. Barnes and Noble has announced that they will be opening a 28,000 sqft store a block away from the area we were looking at.

12bookishbunny
Jan 8, 2007, 9:05am

Dang it!!!

13varielle
Nov 11, 2007, 8:41pm

I once considered it myself. After some research I found that a 5% margin for an independent bookstore is considered a success. Unfortunately, you are lucky to break even and most generally lose money due to the killer chains mentioned above. I was too poor and risk adverse to take the plunge. Good luck if you decide to go for it.

14LeisaWatkins
Dez 20, 2007, 5:44pm

My parents owned an independent bookstore for many years. There biggest competitor wasn't the large chains. It was the internet. Naturally being a small independent bookstore there was a lot of books that they didn't carry. They always offered to special order the books but usually the response was, "No thanks, I'll just order it online."

If I were to open a store front I would consider some type of online order fulfillment as well as the physical store. Something that would allow the product to quickly be drop-shipped directly to their home. That way the book could be ordered "online" right there in the store but one that would still quickly get the product to them.