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    • CommentAuthorIndigo Rose
    • CommentTimeJul 16th 2011 edited
    Okay everyone, I'm looking for advice...

    When I first started chatting on Whitechapel, I mentioned in my introduction that I manage a bookstore. That bookstore happens to be a Borders (one of the Express versions, we're rather small). For those of you who have not been following recent events with Borders, things are looking pretty grim. There is a possibility that, if no other company steps in, our store could be closing.

    Now, personal opinions about Borders, as a corporation, aside. I'd like to type out the things that have been in my head lately and see if I'm really just crazy, a hopeless dreamer, or if people think my crazy scheming might amount to something of value.

    I love my bookstore. I love my team. We are the bookstore with the most Geek per square foot and we are passionate about what we do. Our store is small, and it's in a mall, but it has the biggest heart of any little Borders that ever was. I cannot stand by and watch what we've created there just lay down and die.

    My assistant manager and I have been talking about this a lot, and she's not the only one to tell me I need to take out a small business loan and buy our store. There has been much discussion about what it would take to run the store without the company, and I find myself forced to fight my own pessimistic nature to even contemplate it as a real possibility.

    Here's the hard part, I have no business education for something like this. I know books, I know sales, but mostly I know people and how to lead them. Every member of my team that has spoken to me about it has said they'd back me 100% and be right there to work their asses off. Their dedication and loyalty is humbling for me, so I do not want to lead them into something as big as that without knowing it might succeed. We are all fast learners, so I know we can figure it out with a little guidance, but it seems like a huge risk. I know I'm going to overlook things in the process, since I've never had the schooling for business ownership.

    I know Whitechapel is made up of people with a wide variety of skills and knowledge, folks with many different life experiences, so I am asking for your input. Do you think, with little but determination and the backing of some of the most awesome and capable people I know, we could make it work. Do you think we should try? Does anyone out there own a small business, or have experience that might help me along the way? Or am I crazy for even contemplating it in times like these?

    Thank you Whitechapel.
    • CommentTimeJul 16th 2011
    Wow... accidentally closed the window in the middle of my response... let me try this again *facedesk*

    I think it's more important to worry about supply and demand in a case like this than whether you're "capable" or running a business. Since you are already running the store, and not much would be changing (other than the name and probably your supplier) you're already in a much more solid position than most people trying to start their own small business. Take a look at your sales. Take a look at what it costs to run the store. Figure out if you'd need to change your pay scale for your employees. You don't want to screw them, especially if they are backing you in this. If the cost out weights the profit, you're looking at trouble. The demand just isn't there in your area. But considering it's a bookstore I doubt that will happen.

    I knew a gentleman that took a corporate owned store and bought it out and reopened it himself that ended up closing the store entirely rather than have to fire his six employees because he couldn't afford to pay them anymore. That's the biggest danger I can foresee for you. With the corporation, you're people are always guaranteed a paycheck, because on bad months the corporation covers it. When it's just you... it can be tricky, especially when you are first starting up.

    On that note though, I say do it. Since you already run the store you're in a great position here, capitalize on it. Some friends and I have been discussing opening a record (vinyl)/movie memorabilia store in this area, but our biggest problem is money, and we just don't know how well it would do.

    And if you're worried about not having a business education, most of the people I know in this area that run/own a business never even went to college, let alone have a business edu. So don't sweat it. You've probably learned more managing your store than you would have anyway.

    Good luck!

  1.  (10043.3)
    Thank you Ian,

    It's an interesting conundrum because we have another bookstore a couple shopping centers away from us. We've always done pretty well, but there is that competition. However, the area I live in is very "Local-centric" and has been opposed to Borders from the get-go. I guess we'd be one of the Local stores now, right? Heh. I hope that the freedom to really customize the store's stock to what the people in my area are looking for will help as far as that goes. The proximity of another bookstore is what worries me the most, I have to figure out what brings people to our store, rather than the equally lovely one across the way, and really make that our focus. I'm not interested in trying to put the other store out of business, we've coexisted well for years, so I'm hoping it won't be a big deal.

    My worst fear really is that we'll get into this and I won't be able to support my team. They are what makes me love my job the most, followed by my love of books. They've shown me time and again how loyal they are to me, and it works both ways, I refuse to screw them over.

    Thanks again.
    • CommentTimeJul 16th 2011
    I hate to say it, but find a gimick the other store can't copy. I'm not saying drive them under, but simply find a way to make people want to visit both stores. Serve coffee, add a vinyl section (I'm pro-record stores... there should be more of them, everywhere...) specialize in used books as well as new if they don't. There a lot of different ways to make your store appeal just as much, if not more than the other one. Do they ever have any signings? Offer workshops on writing, or maybe offer incentives for local authors to sell at/come to your store. Things like that. Just running through some of the random ideas in my head.
  2.  (10043.5)
    Some things to consider: Running your own business costs a fair bit of money at the beginning. Will you be able to pay everyone the same rate that they're getting now? Are they expecting the same rate? How much will you have left over for yourself? Do you know what the current profit margin for your store is? If your current location isn't making any money after all of the overhead (rent, bills, paycheques, stock, etc.) then how would you change it so that you can start making a profit?

    The local comic shop that I go to has been open for 17 years or so. The guy that owns it bought it when he was 18, has no business schooling, I don't think he had any managerial experience, and mostly bought it because he didn't like the shop that he was buying his comics from. Is it the best run store around? No. Does he have a lot of competition? Oh hell yeah. (There's somewhere around 7 shops within a 15 minute drive, another 8 or so if you extend it to a half hour drive.) Does he have one of the longest standing stores around? Yep.

    It doesn't always come down to schooling, but it can help when it comes to taxes and what not. Experience and willingness to learn is usually what makes it work. You seem to have both so if you really want to do this I would suggest really looking into the books (financial, not literary), talk to the appropriate people in the company, and see what you think you can make of it.

    I wish you the best of luck.
  3.  (10043.6)
    A lot of my employees are making close to minimum wage as it is now, so I wouldn't be paying them less than that anyway. Obviously those of us making more might not be able to continue to do so, but my Assistant Manager was the first one to say she'd make it on less if that's what it took. Like I said, though, my team is the priority and if I can't find a way to pay them decently, this won't happen. I know I will spend at least the first year making crap myself, but that is what I'm told happens with most small business owners. From the last statement I was given, we made profit last year. So far this year, we've been beating the "plan" that was set by the company. I need to find a way to learn what we are currently paying in rent, which is a little trickier, because it's handled by corporate at the moment. I need to find good resources for the legal side of things, such as insurance and taxes, but I think they are available.

    • CommentTimeJul 16th 2011
    Just ask the mall. They'll more than likely tell you.
  4.  (10043.8)
    Learned that if you want to sell books- you must sell other things as well (have something for everyone to look at) A wonderful used book store (that you can easly get lost in and have someone search for you) Says that not everyone who comes in is looking for a book- Two lovers one likes books the other doesn't have something to keep them occupied.
    He does comics and antiques and military things. (and movies)
    Several comic stores are taking on video games to supplement.

    Depending on where you are renting- there are sometimes business agreements (here in York) you get a few months free of rent, since they are wanting to fill space.
    be VERY picky about your landlord - very picky. Do research and talk to the other business owners in the area.

    And for the love of the gods Talk to an accountant, and work out taxes for payroll ect.
    • CommentAuthorDarkest
    • CommentTimeJul 16th 2011
    The only advice I can give from opening my comic shop is keep everything that looks important and file it in an organized way and make sure you have money you can use in an emergency.
    • CommentTimeJul 16th 2011
    go for it, it is worth the risk.
    you are already leading a team of what sounds like a very passionate group of individuals, that is you're biggest capital.
    The rest is just technicalities, you already have a great story to generate some good PR (which will be a huge thing since you no longer will have the Borders name as marketing material) take that to your benefit as you will be creating your own brand now. from a business point of view, have you been covering you're expenses? if so then it is a sound investment and be prepared to show the numbers to the bank when you apply for a loan this will really help. Also you now have a chance to diversify your stock. its not only about the books, since you have the highest geek per square foot ask your staff what do they think will catch on.

    This will take a lot of your time and more effort that you can imagine but trust me it will all be worth it. I say this because i used to run a bookstore once and i understand the passion behind it. My biggest challenge was when Borders opened a store on the floor above us in the mall. we had to go through some great changes to catch on. Borders had a bigger selection of books but people came to us for the interaction and the advise. We prescribed books not only recommended them. Our selection of books was then specialized and we gave that selection the attention it deserved.
    there are many many points i can recommend on doing but the bottom line is listen. Listen to your staff. Listen to your customers. Do not be afraid of asking them what they think you should do to improve their experience.

    summary :
    1- take the jump
    2- start getting your numbers organized to get the loan
    3- ask and listen for feedback
    4- specialize and focus
    5 - add another product that will probably have a higher profit margin
    6 - rebrand yourself and the store, make a lot of noise and use it to your benefit (PR and marketing)
  5.  (10043.11)
    @Azabith - 6 - rebrand yourself and the store, make a lot of noise and use it to your benefit (PR and marketing)

    Hit it the fact that it's an employee buy out hard. Really HARD. Articles in the local papers, radio interviews, even TV if you can manage it. People love stories about plucky workers carrying on for the love of their store when the big corporations abandon them, and the media love those stories because they rate well as a consequence. If you back up that publicity with an excellent range and excellent service you'll be well on the way to building a loyal customer base from day one.
  6.  (10043.12)
    Move on with your life. A year ago I would have told you to try integrating used books or electronics or video games or coffee or something, but none of those really has much of a future as a business. No area of retail has much of a future unless you sell something that people can't find more conveniently and for less money online. That's not books, and it's not something you can sell along side books. Especially not now that Amazon is selling used books directly with free shipping.

    If you really want to keep living in the past find a way to run a bookstore as a not-for-profit entity. Maybe some old lady who loves books will keep you going for a while.
  7.  (10043.13)
    What James said.
    • CommentAuthorRenThing
    • CommentTimeJul 16th 2011
    Unfortunately, I must second what James said. Most of the shops I know around the area do multiple things. In Santa Cruz there are two major bookstores on the main strip downtown, Logos and Bookshop Santa Cruz. Both have a very large presence in different areas; Logos has been buying/selling books for forever and Bookshop Santa Cruz is the store for new books. However, both of them have had to expand into other things as well; Logos also buys/sells other media (vinyl, CDs, DVDs) and BSC has had to branch into buying/selling old books to keep things going. Their old competitor used to be the Borders down the street but that closed and now they're having to deal with Amazon. I don't see many stores winning that fight and unless you have a very dedicated group of customers you can count on to come to you, I think it's going to be more trouble than it's worth.
      CommentAuthorEd Jackson
    • CommentTimeJul 17th 2011
    I looked into starting a little bookshop a few years ago but didn't go through with it, as while doing my research it became painfully obvious that there was sod-all profit to be had there. I don't mean "Scrooge McDuck money-bin" profits either, I mean "just enough to keep me fed on supernoodles" profits.
  8.  (10043.16)

    Would you shop at my store? :)
  9.  (10043.17)
    I know the book industry as a whole is in trouble, but i don't think it's dead yet. We have many customers who flat out refuse to even consider eReaders. What gives me hope, in the face of the overall trends, is that our store has still been doing well. This area is certainly an interesting place, even those who have eReaders (including myself) value physical books as well. Furthermore, I believe brick and mortar stores serve a very important function. You may be able to discover some new authors by online reviews at a site like Amazon, but there are hundreds more you will never encounter like you would have by browsing the shelves in front of you. Maybe some would say it's better for the lesser known authors, but i believe it helps the customers as well.

    I'm not trying to get rich. All I want, as far as money is concerned, is to be able to pay my bills and live my life. The experiences I get to have, and the ones I can create for others, in that little store, are what make me rich. The simple joy of doing what I love, with others who love it, and introducing people to things they are going to love, that's the wealth I'm looking for. Maybe I'm being naive, but what is the value of life if you spend forty to seventy hours a week doing something you don't care about, or that you actively dislike?

    Woo... rant, sorry. I appreciate the feedback, even the negative, so please don't hesitate to speak your minds. Thanks again!
    • CommentAuthorRenThing
    • CommentTimeJul 17th 2011
    @Indigo Rose

    If your store was anywhere near where I live, and where I tend to go, yes. One of the things that my wife and I used to frequently do was go peruse the stacks at the Borders in the mall while waiting for our movie times and we love going to several used bookstores if we happen to be in those areas.
  10.  (10043.19)
    That's my Borders.
    • CommentTimeJul 17th 2011
    @Indigo Rose - it has been my experience with bookstores, especially small, mall based ones like the one you are describing, that they present less variety and less opportunity for finding new interesting things than online sources. Because they rely heavily on moving bestsellers to casual browsers in order to pay the bills, scarce shelf space is dominated by dull "summer reading" authors I have absolutely no interest in. The whole experience of entering mall based book chains became so unrewarding that I stopped doing it years ago, which is to say years before buying an eReader.

    Now, when I enter a bookstore, it's either a mega-Barnes and Noble, in which I browse book covers but then buy them on my nook, or a local privately owned store where I know the owner (but even that one, sorry to say, I only enter maybe once or twice a year, when I need something that there isn't an ebook version of, and I happen to be walking by the store before I've gone through the effort of ordering it from Amazon, and am feeling a little sociable. I've noticed when I order something from this store which they don't have in stock that they themselves order it from... wait for it... Amazon.)

    I read dozens of books a year, most of which I purchase new, all of which for the past year have been purchased for the nook.

    People who refuse to buy eReaders are actually a dwindling herd. I really wouldn't bet the future incomes of people I like on them. I just don't see how you sustain a business selling books from a small space in a mall under these circumstances.