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    • CommentTimeJul 17th 2011
    Okay - I used to be a GM for a small bookstore in the UK that has outlasted Borders, and Inventory Team Leader at Borders here in San Francisco. So I kinda know books.

    1 - bookstores are constantly chasing their own tails. You buy books on credit from previous sales, which any good manager knows. Publishers/Distributers will extend credit but that will gradually diminish if sales are not keeping up. Find other areas to shore up book sales.
    2 - Borders pretty much sold books as loss-leaders. The biggest profit makers were 1: The Cafe, 2: The magazines (10-15% total store profit, so stock up on Cosmo & Us Weekly!), 3: Crap. Then books.

    The Borders in my region that have stayed open have increased their Crap sections - Lego, Calendars, sub-letting to vendors like Papyrus. Also consider Hallmark, unless there's a Hallmark Store in the Mall, or similar greetings cards suppliers. Maybe the more alternative ones.

    Consider a small area for Blu-Ray & DVD trades unless there's a FYE or similar in the Mall. Unless you can undercut GameStop, forget Computer games, too. If you go down that route, try and keep the markup on DVDs & CDs down. That killed the living fuck out of Tower Records.

    As others have said, play up the whole 'Management Buyout' aspect with the press, local town business committee (I assume there is one?), radio stations etc. It's a Local Bookstore run by Local People.

    Think of an amusing anagram of Borders Express so you don't have to pay for new signage. Bored Sex Books is not an option, however fun it may sound.

    Have a remaindered section to lure in people with $3 Dan Brown TPBs and keep them there with the full-priced books on Nazi Alien Redneck 9/11 UFO Conspiracy Theory stuff. Also, Bibles.

    Japanese crap. Cute Japanese toys and collectables. Kids love that stuff. Keep it where they can't get their greasy little mitts on it as they will fuck shit up, let the adults spend $20 on a die-cast metal beetle.

    Besides the tangible objects to sell, there's also a culture aspect you can develop. I know Borders Corporate did next to fucking nothing to promote any of that. My store's PR person had a monthly budget of $50.

    You want local comic creators to come in and do workshops? Writers doing readings? Local Drama Groups doing Play Readings? Kids Read Aloud on Saturday Mornings? Magic and RPG events? Local musicians performing? Scrabble Meet-Ups? Literary Lovers Speed-Dating events?

    And then there's events outside the store - tables at School Fetes etc. build up an educational aspect, perhaps.

    Just a few ideas.
    • CommentAuthorRenThing
    • CommentTimeJul 17th 2011
    @Indigo Rose

    Your Borders isn't the one I go to because the one in that mall is closed. Which one is your store?
  1.  (10043.23)
    The only mall in the Santa Cruz area (other than Pacific, since some people count that) is the Capitola one. If you are referring to that one, it is still open. That's my store.
    • CommentAuthorEmperor
    • CommentTimeJul 17th 2011
    One thing to keep in mind is that the store might be doing well as part of Borders but they benefit from economies of scale, in both in terms of the stock as well as all the aspects that add to overheads (like accounts, legal, etc.). So you'd need to have some idea of what these will cost if you are going solo before you can get an idea of what the finances will be like.

    Azabith is right, you can generate some good publicity with the worker buyout angle - the Woolworths that were bought by their staff got a lot of local coverage (and some national, if there was a good angle). The kind of thing that will make sure people here about you, while it ensures your regulars won't wonder off because they assume you've shut.
      CommentAuthorCorey Waits
    • CommentTimeJul 17th 2011 edited
    Alright. I run a little educational bookstore in Australia - I do everything that goes into the day to day running of the store except accounts.

    My first thought is DON'T DO IT. You know your store better than anyone, so maybe you can see it working, but it looks to me as though retail is dying. I think in 5 years the only retail left will be supermarkets, bottle shops and clothing stores (because you can't try clothes on online).

    We are a niche store - we are on a college campus and we cater specifically for the students here. It's good because we have a captive audience, but it's bad because we rely exclusively on this pool of customers. Now, that captive audience is slowly going online - about a 20% decline in sales each year for the past 3 years. If it happens one more year then the shop won't be here any more (we're owned by a larger educational supplier. If it was a completely independent entity I think it would have died about 2 years ago because of the nature of sales - huge rush at the start of semester, fucking ghost town for much of the rest of semester).
    The biggest killer for us is online shopping (obviously). People will come into my shop and talk loudly to each other about how it's cheaper online. Never mind the fact that they have a class that afternoon and I have the book right now - they will wait the 2-3 weeks it takes for the cheap book to arrive from the UK. There are parallel importation restrictions in place in Australia that keeps us from being able to compete price-wise with online stores, and sometimes our cost price can be higher than what you can buy the book for online.
    This shouldn't be as big an issue for you, but I'm sure it will still be an issue.

    Anyway, I'm basically just telling you what's going wrong here and not really giving you any advice. So, advice: get your sales & cost figures for the past 3 years (at least). Analyse these numbers. Is there a consistent drop in sales? If yes, what makes you think you can stop this trend from continuing?
    That's the best piece of advice I can give. History will tell you what you need to know. If your store has actually been doing well despite the overall retail trend then I'd say go for it as long as you think you know why. If the store hasn't been doing well, or you simply can't get the figures, then don't take the risk.

    Another piece of advice - discount your books. Well, maybe. There are two sides to this coin - offering a discount means you're getting less money, but these days a lot of people won't buy something unless they think they're saving money. Do it if you can afford it I suppose. A little bit less money made on a sale is better than no sale, right? Anyway, something to think about.
    • CommentAuthorRenThing
    • CommentTimeJul 17th 2011
    @Indigo Rose

    Ah, I was using those two as an example of indie bookstores; I lived in Santa Cruz from 1999-2005. I'm over the hill in SJ now (although if I were in Capitola I would shop at your store).
    • CommentAuthorHenchbot
    • CommentTimeJul 18th 2011
    All this begs the question, perhaps thread: How many WC'ers own a business?

    My two cents is easy as pie, I too own a new business and it aint an easy one, there is no way to know if it will work yet but whats worse, opening a shop in an artisan industry that really doesn't exist here in Seattle yet (no benchmarks before to compare too), or(!) spending the rest of my life thinking I left a stone unturned, my god I wish I woulda done that.....
    If you want the shop but don't think you know fuck-all about really running as proprietor then more power to you: open the store and do your best. Make shit happen as best you can, buck the odds and see what shakes out.
    I hope you do it.
  2.  (10043.28)
    "Make shit happen as best you can, buck the odds and see what shakes out"

    If you guys are really determined to lose money on something thats relevence and usefulness are long gone, I'll happily send you the direct deposit info for my bank account.
      CommentAuthorAlan Tyson
    • CommentTimeJul 18th 2011
    @Indigo Rose: I work in a Borders, have for the last few months. One of the best jobs I've ever had.

    The recent news didn't hit me like a hammer - it more came on like a headache.

    Best of luck in your endeavors! We're all rooting for you!
    • CommentAuthorHenchbot
    • CommentTimeJul 18th 2011
    @william george: Did you write this, on your bloghead?
    unlike me, many of you have accepted the situation of your imprisonment, and will die here like rotten cabbages"

    I like it. Sounds like we better make MORE shit happen. Sound advice.
    • CommentAuthorIndigo Rose
    • CommentTimeJul 18th 2011 edited
    Thanks Alan, best of luck to you as well. Today was hard on all of us I'm sure.

    I went straight from calling all of my employees, to tell them the final word on the company, to a meeting with a friend of my family who has her own business and has helped many others start theirs. She didn't laugh at me or call me crazy, she started asking questions. Tomorrow I'm off to try to discover some numbers, while she starts looking into what kinds of loans are available for me. If anyone can help me, it's her.

    I know this industry is suffering, I know many think books will soon become extinct, but I just can't give up on it yet.

    spending the rest of my life thinking I left a stone unturned, my god I wish I woulda done that.....


    I'm still not sure what I will do, but I am not giving up without checking the possibilities and crunching the numbers.
      CommentAuthormister hex
    • CommentTimeJul 19th 2011
    @ indigo Rose - I fucking love you, you know that?

    Please try. I worked the best ten years of my life in a bookstore. You're a part of the community. It's worth it. There's no money in it, fer chrissakes, it better be for the love of it. Which the bankers GET, it makes them money. Sometimes.

    Good luck. God-speed.
  3.  (10043.33)
    If you really are set on doing this then investigate setting up the store as a corporation that exempts you from liability for debts incurred by the business. This would be far more practical than putting up, say, your home. Bankers might not like the idea of funding a bookstore as a corporation when the only assets are books, but they gave Borders money for years, so why not try?
  4.  (10043.34)
    @ Henchbot: Not me. Patrick McGoohan seems likely as the author of that quote.

    But if you're using hoping The Prisoner as an example of the importance of fighting impossible odds, let me remind you that in the end, he still failed.
  5.  (10043.35)
    Looking at the numbers gives me a little hope. Our store has been doing well. In our slowest month of the year, we tend to make more than twice the month's rent. I know that's likely to change a little one way or the other as the location, and it's selection changes, but maybe? I also realize there are more expenses than rent, but that's why I'm still collecting numbers and crunching them.

    Keep bringing the advice though, you guys help a lot, even the nay-sayers! :)
    • CommentAuthormanglr
    • CommentTimeJul 20th 2011
    I guess one question to what is the landlord planning with the space now that the liqudation has been announced? Is the mall doing well enough as a whole that there might be some demand for your location? And how quickly will you need to move to at least let them know that you might have some interest?

    Best of luck, BTW, with whatever you decide. The Borders flagship used to be my favorite bookstore back before they started the expansion drive.
  6.  (10043.37)
    Keep bringing the advice though, you guys help a lot, even the nay-sayers! :)

    Seriously, if you got a fucktonne of cash laying about and are optimistic that the global economy will get back to a place people want to keep rotting trees on a shelf for the charm of it, I say do it. But if you're going to have to put up your house, car, wife, kids, mom, and maybe even your naughty bits as collateral, you'd be insane. You'd be better off opening up a McDonalds on the interstate.
  7.  (10043.38)
    The leasing agent for the mall was super excited when we discussed the idea. The mall really needs something good in that location and they have always been happy having us there. She was even more excited about it being run by the current employees and said she really wants to help make it happen. She's already looked into how soon the space can be turned over once Borders has let the lease go and says she could get us in there within 90 days...
    • CommentAuthorjonah
    • CommentTimeJul 24th 2011
    I think book chains have done more to hurt book sales and turn off a generation of readers than anything else. Most chains stock books that appeal to the lowest common denominator market. A market which they invented, by only stocking these books! Further, chains have too many books without a trustworthy source to sort them for you.

    My father owns a used book store. Last I heard it was doing okay and he's in a beat down city with an economy worse than the rest of the US.

    When I helped him organize I did random google searches on books and ~60% did not exist on the net at all. Another 15% existed, but not in a form you could purchase(sometimes it was just mentioned in an interview or as a source). These are all out of print(but still under copyright) books and there is a fair chance they will never be in print again or legally readable online in our lifetimes. The online sales from book collectors (1st ed.,signed, etc) make it so he doesn't have to worry so much about the day to day. Sometimes 1 used book will cover his rent for the month or more!(this is the upshot to a bad economy) The books in store are cheap to reasonably priced.

    The importance of community and social interaction shouldn't be underplayed. My pops is extremely knowledgable of the fields he's interested in and can do a vastly superior and more engaging job compared to amazon's recommendation feature. He also has good taste and doesn't fuck with books that don't interest him i.e. customers can be sure he isn't pimping a book out to them by corporate mandate. He's able to spend as long as he wants interacting with a customer and will often have very in-depth discussions(hours) with them. In the evening he has community groups meet and sometimes bands play in the basement. There is a positive, energetic, free spirited atmosphere to the store that you can't replicate online or in a corporate environment.

    Would his store work without the book collector sales? I dunno.

    ps. For a shy person like me, I really appreciate that book (& comic) covers have let cool people come up and start talking to me. It's like a less self-conscious version of the band t-shirt. An e-reader is way too risky, what if I was reading Bill O'reilly?
  8.  (10043.40)
    Most chains stock books that appeal to the lowest common denominator market.

    That's rubbish. If the big chains only appeal to the lowest common denominator then why are the stores so big? Why did they open all those 40,000+ square-foot bookstores when they could have just kept going with the 5,000 square-foot stores of women's magazines, Christian books, and pulp horror/mystery novels that dominated American bookselling before big chains? Why did my local B&N need a four-story building for selling the same stuff that fits into a tiny store at an airport boarding gate? Because Borders and B&N have done more to expose people to books than independent booksellers ever did, that's why.

    I've been to hundreds of bookstores in Europe and North America and the chain bookstores have almost always had a better selection of new books than independent stores. Outside major cities the independent bookstores were never remotely comparable to the big chains. And carrying such variety is why the big chain stores tanked. The truth is that few people read most books and most books sell used cheap. Art, philosophy, political science, history, poetry, esoteric fantasy and sci-fi, science, linguistics; these are all subjects that were often better represented in chain stores than in independent specialty shops. But the only people who buy those books are nerds smart enough to know that all those books can be found used for a lot less money. I just dropped $25 on three used linguistics texts that would have been over $200 new. And that's why Borders and B&N tanked—it never occurred to them that the reason the old independent stores were tiny shops full of Stephen King, Tony Hillerman, and Billy Graham is that most people don't read anything else anyway. They spent billions of dollars trying to sell relatively obscure books to customers that never existed.