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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?
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)?
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).
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.