Bookstore Profiles

Want to Open a Bookshop That is Sure to Fail?

Zeeba Books
Comments (65)
  1. prying1 says:

    I work in a printing shop and we had a customer that would buy 1 or 2 thousand business cards at a time. The cheapest ones, black ink on white card stock, but tastefully done. The cards were designed so his type of business was obvious as you say your front sign should have been.

    He would go to shows and sporting events and indiscriminately hand out the cards. If there were no shows he would hand them out at supermarkets. Everywhere he went he would hand out cards and often get to talk with people. He would question and find out if they did not need his services perhaps they had a friend that did. A couple well asked questions would jog their memories of who they could give the card to.

    His business was an escrow service and he said he gained one or two customer with every thousand cards. One customer would pay for the box of cards.

    I wonder? If one in a thousand need an escrow service how many more would appreciate a book store.

    One last thing. If you decide to print your own cards on a computer printer make sure:
    a.) They don’t look hokey and look like they came from a computer printer.
    b.) The price of your printer ink (and perhaps pre-perfed paper stock) does not cost more than a printing job.

  2. Rahul Makhija says:

    **This comment was moved to it’s own post found here.

  3. Nora says:

    To avoid the look of hokey business cards AND find a great way to get your name out is to have an art contest to design a piece of art for your business.

    Specify black and white to keep costs down. Promote your contest to local schools and newspaper. Offer a gift certificate as prize. If artist submit hardcopy, display them and invite folks in to view them. Also give EVERY artist that follows the directions (no matter how inexpert) a shout out on your website, blog, or e-mail newsletter (or all 3).

    You’ll get good publicity, some great designs that look nothing like stock clipart, and you’ve tapped into the local artist network.

    You can also do this for other things you need art for. I have 2 beautiful painted windows that came from an art contest.

  4. Hi Nora and Paul,

    Great additions to the post. All those business cards is exactly what I was getting at. It’s a great suggestion, another thing that I should have done. Thanks for coming by.

  5. George says:

    *** This comment has been moved into the original post.

    Thanks so much George. I hope to visit Calgary myself soon. If you ever do visit Montreal please let me know, I’ll give you a quick tour all my favorite bookshops.


  6. Marvin Music says:

    Great tips. It’s amazing to me how often I see people opening up new businesses and they don’t seem to take into consideration a lot of basic things. When I lived in Brooklyn I would see this all the time.

  7. Robert Brown says:

    May I say how interesting I found your experience, and how sad that you were unable to continue in the business.

    I have now run a bookshop, together with two colleagues, here in England, for nearly twenty years now, and I would like to add a bit of our experience over this time.

    Firstly, bookselling, whether new or antiquarian, rare or secondhand, is essentially retail. If you don’t like being in a shop, sitting there for hours when it’s empty, listening to the same fatuous comments from “customers” who don’t buy, being bored rigid by regulars, while at the same time maintaining a cheerful and helpful face for everybody, then you are in the wrong business. Retail is about selling stuff to people face to face; books don’t always sell themselves.

    Secondly, it takes time to become established. Probably five years at a minimum for certain types of books, and depending on your location. (How many people visit the town once a week, once a month, three times a year, once a year? Will they always make that detour to visit your shop?)

    Third. Probably the most important. Decide what business you’re in. Fine and rare or newish and paperbacks? specialist or generalist? Who do you expect your customers to be? Do you want to sell fifty paperbacks at two dollars each or two scarce books at fifty dollars each? You can’t be all things to all people. The more expensive the books you sell the less space you will need, but you will need to be in an area that has a well heeled client base. The more specialist you are the less you will be able to offer the general public, but you might find that people are driving 50 miles to see you because you are the only place around where they can buy books on railroads or livestock or mediaeval history. If you have an enthusiasm or knowledge of a particular subject then capitalise on it.

    Fourth. Is size important: well, you have to answer number three before deciding that. You mention the ladies who can’t find a cookbook in the 250 you have on the shelves: offering them 2000 won’t make them buy, it will confuse them and spoil them for choice. And what are the overheads for stocking the 2000 in terms of rents, local taxes, heating, lighting, you name it. You can argue the opposite: if they want to buy they will buy even if the choice is small because they just want one book. Make sure you analyse your income by sales per shelf foot: it might make you think about what sells and what doesn’t.

    Fifth. You’ve already said it: location, location, location. What is the footfall past the shop, and who does it consist of.

    Sixth and final! If you have any like minded friends, try running it together. You can spread the load, giving you time to do other things (like sell on the net), and spread the risk. Of course the returns will be less, but you’ll at least be involved in a business you love.

    Thanks for sharing your experiences: we never stop learning, no matter how long we spend in the trade!

    1. Thanks so much for sharing your insight Robert, hopefully those that are planning to open in the near future can gain from these tips. I hadn’t considered opening with a friend as I wanted to retain full control but in hindsight it may have been a better choice. The hours I put in were crazy and if it was shared we may well still be open.

  8. George says:

    Great comments Robert:

    Consider yourself truly blessed you have found compatible cohorts to share such a great lifestyle.

    Bruce – Thanks, I do expect to see you within the next couple of years then.

  9. Erynion says:

    While the fact remains that a big shop may do a lot of good (for the business), I have always restricted my visits to a few crammed ones where the seller is a voracious reader himself, so as to get the right recommendations. Of course, if the same people moved into a bigger space, I would probably be just as happy as they would be. So yes, size is almost everything.

    I am not sure how many people do this, but when I buy a book from one of the stores close to my place, they stamp their logo (a small one) on the blank page at the end. Now, when I lent the book to a few of my friends, they ended up going to the shop I bought the book from. While I have no idea as to the legality of this sort of marketing, I know for a fact that it worked on me…

    1. Dana in San Diego, CA says:

      Yes, we stamp every paperback book. Some end up at the library sales and we get new customers! And we want people to remember where they got that great book. 🙂

  10. Thanks for a great article with lots of useful tips. After 4.5 years in my bookshop I’ve learned a lot. To start, I have to say that I have diversified quite a bit and I also stock specialist CDs, mostly world music, and I also keep a range of Pagan and Wiccan related items that are partly responsible for keeping my shop open.

    One thing I learned pretty early on was the need to stock books that I wouldn’t normally want to keep. In fact, when I was just a market stall I could be more choosy. When I opened the shop I found that I needed to be more responsive to customers needs and wants. Previously I wouldn’t touch a romance with a barge pole. I didn’t have the John grisham/Wilbur Smith/Tom Clancy type books either. These days I find those books help keep the shop ticking over. I’ve also increased my range of cookery books, gardening, art and those other big heavy books that I hated when I had to unload and pack again three times week.

    I also learned to specialise in certain areas in order to keep customers coming back – and I now have a very loyal and wonderful collection of return customers for mind/body/spirit-new age, crime and Australian/Aboriginal studies books – often titles that other bookshops don’t have. Being in Australia means I can also keep sections for Australian classics, and promote Australian authors. I’m sure that people in other countries can do the same for their local industry.

    I do have a certain proportion of new and remaindered books as well as pre-loved. I spend a lot of time searching for the books and music that people want and offer a free searching service anc cheaper shipping for people outside of my city, sometimes below cost price. I make sure my prices are fair and reasonable and affordable but not give-away, and as a sole trader with a bit of family help, I make sure we offer the friendliest, most helpful service we can.

    While income could definitely be better, I think the combination of excellent products and service, and a responsiveness to the needs of our customers, has been the two things that have kept us open and increasing our sales this year, even while on the brink of recession.

  11. Kite says:

    I’m pretty much ecstatic about finding this blog. After agonizing over it, I finally decided to go into something because I love it, rather than choosing a profession that makes a lot of money. And I can’t say that I have any love greater than books. So now– my dream is to open a bookshop.

    I look forward to going through here. You have some wonderful advice and I’m sure I can learn alot. <3

  12. Wow – what a great post. Information like this is priceless and so many of the lessons outlined here are true for any “street-front” business. I’ve personally found the first point (Location) to be so so so important to my local business.

  13. Hank Sommers says:

    I’ve just read through the comments about business cards and I can’t believe that no one has mentioned bookmarks (with the store name, logo, address, phone and map). I thought this was an old standby. I opened in a flea market as a marketing exercise and started giving them away with every sale. Two years later we opened in dowtown London, Ontario, Canada. The best place to open is downtown where the people walk by. Besides that, I bought a stamp (just a smilie face – now replaced with our store logo) and stamped the back of the bookmark in front of each and every customer, and told them that they would get one stamp per visit, and ten stamps would get them a free paperback (or later, a discount on any other book in the store). When anyone redeemed a bookmark I gave them a $5.00 gift certificate. Costs, bookmarks $65.00 a year, stamp $12.00 seventeen years ago, ink $3.98 ten years ago, gift certicates $10.00 a year. Besides a $100.00 a month yellow pages (Bell, noth the others), this is extent of my advertising.

    Avid readers are my bread and butter, some read 5 books a week. I want them to come to my store first. To anyone who buys more than one book at a time, I tell them we buy books, and we take books on trade. I am sure there are lots of other things that book sellers do but every book deserves a bookmark.

    Hank Sommers
    H. Sommers Books
    436 Richmend St.
    London, On., Canada

    1. Dana in San Diego, CA says:

      We have two “bookmarks!” One is a nice and sturdy bookmark size one for using in books and the other one is business sized for keeping in your wallet. We stick two of them in a book and ask them to give one to another booklover. Works!

  14. nikki says:

    Wow, this site is so informative. I love to write and recently decided that my small town of about 12000 needs a book shop. We have the library, but honestly just realized there is no actual book shop…
    So I talked to my husband and he told me to find out a little about it, get a plan and then we shall see.
    Well this site is what I needed…now I know what to look for, how to advertise, and how to calculate certain costs of running the shop.
    I am also the local henna artist and will incorporate that and a small cafe into the shop as well, very simple, coffee, juice and bitings to start, then can expand on that later as my focus is on the books at the start. I want a nice cosy corner for the kids to enjoy with their parents, an adult area for them to relax.
    I want the relaxation of a library as people like to get out in this town and not sit around the house.
    And the idea of an internet type of cafe, yes that is so great, as we are the gateway to a tourist site and the flow of people through this area is tremendous during the warmer months.
    I can’t wait, hope my hubby likes the idea. Its not here, so cross your fingers, with all this information, I am going to approach him.

    I did have a couple more questions though?
    1. Where is the best place(s) to purchase the books at a good rate, where I can get a large variety?

    2. Where can I learn about proper layout, or get ideas?

    3. Where is a great cost efficient place to buy furniture for a book store?
    Tables , chairs, sofas, soft cushions perhaps for the kids?

    Thanks all of you for all of this, I love this site, and will be a regular to always learn new things.

    Amazing, hats off to you all for taking this time to give this advice, inturn to help others , I believe in Karma, and you will be rewarded in plentitude.

    1. cindy says:

      I just want to hear your opinion on how where to put the sticker for the price? Should it go on the front, the back or the inside front cover??????

      1. Hi Cindy – thanks for taking the time to comment – we always put on the inside of the cover.

      2. Paul says:

        I cringe at the word “sticker”. I hope you are referring to new books. Even so-called removable stickers dry into concrete over time. I am usually involved in removing stickers. (by the way an old cd is great for lifting stickers after application of solvent)

        1. Amber says:

          Hi All,

          I agree with Paul. Stickers are a nightmare and in the long run will nearly always damage the book. Not surprisingly, I refuse to use them. Instead I put the price on the inside front page of my books in light pencil. When the book is sold I use an artgum eraser to remove the mark completely. This way the condition of the book is never compromised.

          Ambire Second Hand Books

          1. Agreed!

            Stickers on books do nothing but devalue them. They are a pain to remove and can either leave a sticky residue on the book or worse, even damage a page.

            I am appalled that some booksellers to this day still continue with this abhorrent practice.

            So a tip for all budding booksellers – don’t do it!

            Regimental Books

      3. ed dugan says:

        After owning 5 very successful bookstores I can answer your question with one word – DON’T. Don’t stamp your name in the books, don’t put stickers on the books (lighter fluid will take them off) just set a price for your books and try hard to remember what it is. We charge half the cover price so our price is already “stamped” on the back and our customers know where to find it. Why in the world would you want to waste your time putting stickers on books?

        1. Lin Kraft says:

          Are you in the San Diego area?

        2. Neil says:

          In answer to your question,

          ‘Why in the world would you want to waste your time putting stickers on books?’

          Answer = Advertising! Use pre-printed labels with your shop name and possibly address and phone number included

          You will then have, eventually thousands of books around advertising your business.

          Obviously you would not attach to valuable dust-jackets but these could be covered with non-adhesive plastic wrap.

  15. Tina says:

    Hi Nora and Paul,

    After realizing I’ll never be able to work for anyone but me, I am exploring my passion for books and considering opening my own bookstore. Your article was a huge help! I’m scared and excited.I’m also thinking I’ll need to lean more toward technology and downloads… Thank you! Wish you were here to help me!

    Tina Wells

    1. prying1 says:

      Hi Tina and welcome to The Bookshop Blog. Bruce Hollingdrake is the one that runs this site and it is his experiences that the original article was based upon. Believe me when I say you don’t want my help with getting set up because I’m the king of procrastinators. My slogan is, “Why put of till tomorrow what you can put off till next week.”

      You can however draw on a lot of years of experience through this website and I’m sure the list of categories on the right side of this page will keep you busy learning. You might want to start a blog or journal to share your experiences with others. Bruce also invites people to share their experiences, teachings and hints, tips & tricks of the trade (original writings only please) so if you find you have input for us please write to him.

      I find this website to be a wonderful community and I hope you feel welcome. Keep commenting!

      1. Hey Paul – thanks a lot for the nice words (as usual). Between the experiences of all of our wonderful writers there certainly is a wealth of experience here.
        We are looking for one or two new writers, check out the link on the top about joining the team.

    2. ed dugan says:

      After opening five very successful stores we can tell you NOTHING can beat your personal knowledge of a wide range of authors. People will come in every day and ask you what you think of this book or that author. You had better know the answer. One of the downsides of the business is that you have to force yourself to at least skim books by authors that do not interest you in the least. Its part of the business. The more you know the more money you will make. We have a formula: make the store pretty, organize your inventory to make it easy for the customer to find what they want, avoid unattractive books and know your inventory. As for software,we have never used it and think its counter-productive. We also never accept credit cards. Our small store this year will gross around $80,000 and and it is still growing. We are retiring in 2011 and bet you we won’t have any trouble selling it.

  16. Signage is one thing I think I got right -my store used to be in a very high traffic location for all of 26 years but if you were driving past you would hardly have noticed it was a book shop and if you were walking past you might not have noticed it either. I am still amazed how many locals did not know it existed.
    The store name is there but discretely. The 8ft high 16 ft wide facade screams SECONDHAND BOOKS in simple black on white.
    I also have my little A frame out the front to catch people’s eye as they walk past but I still get locals saying they did not know they had a local book shop.
    Though in store layout and inventory I could have done a lot better

    1. ed dugan says:

      We have a very successful bookstore in a small town (25,000) No matter what you do there will always be people who have walked by your store for years and then come in and ask when you opened. You have the right idea, put the largest letters your window will hold and say BOOKS. You can never beat word of mouth advertising.

  17. Samantha says:

    Thanks for the great advice. For years I heard location location is important to any business. I am about to start a bookstore which has been my vision for over 10yrs, however, the discouraging thing is the square footage is less than 1000. After reading Zeeba’s story, I wondering if I should look into a larger space.

    1. Hi Samantha – Zeeba Books here…

      I would say that size depends on what you are selling. If you are selling very old books and collector’s items then 1000 feet would be fine but if it is a general store you should look at at least 1200 – 1500 as a starting point. Regardless of size though is the spot. Take it from me the best spot is what will enable you to thrive.

    2. ed says:

      We have a 1500 SF bookstore that we are just putting up for sale. Currently netting close to $30,000 and growing. We’re in Mountain Home, Arkansas. E-mail me at if you are interested.

  18. Dan says:

    any kind of swaping or trading is a recipe for failure. Ive seen it time and time again. Your landlord wont take his rent in trade.You run your business on cash. pay with cash. You can amass more books with trades but business’ need to run on cash. Too many bookstores run thier bookstores like bookstores not business’ A bookstore should be run like any other business. I dont care if your selling books or potatoes you still have to operate like a business. pay cash for books you buy and charge cash for books you sell . never trade and youll always have CASH in your till.

  19. ed says:

    You give good advice but miss some fundamentals. My wife has started 5 bookstores from scratch, sold all but her present one for a very nice profit and made a good living at the same time. The first thing she did was get rid of those formulas from the 60’s where you take in two for one, give one quarter of the cover price as credit and end up with a lot of books you don’t want. We pick and choose our books carefully (if they don’t look almost new they had better be hard to find books) and we pay CASH for those we do take. No records to keep,no roladex with people’s store credit,we pay cash and they pay cash. Another thing is our store is beautiful and extremely well organized. We NEVER pay more than $2 for any book and most of the time between $1.00 and $1.50 and sell for half the cover price. Anyone trying to sell books with only a 100% markup is either crazy or stupid.We just put four current store up for sale and are retiring. It’s a wonderful business and you get to thinking of fyour store as your child. As an example, we sold a store for $15,000 under our highest offer because my wife did not want her “baby” in the hands of a person she thought was not suitable.

    1. Ed, you’re sure right about the 60’s policy; it doesn’t work today. We changed our policy to “Bring in a book and get one of ours at half price.” We don’t get too many books that way. Since we only sell popular fiction paperbacks, we’ve also set our price under our competitor’s – $3.00 cash or $1.50 trade for books $7.99 and less. Works for us; we’re doing well, and no money out of our pocket.
      How do you determine the price, when you wish to sell a used bookstore?

  20. dmarks says:

    I knew a bookstore where the owner would snarl at customers who lingered too long “This is not a library!” and was seen to be chasing birds with a broom, seeking to smash them, if any got into the store.

    I think this place lasted from 30 to 40 years.

  21. Ginni says:

    This post has made some fascinating reading. I opened a Cafe in a medical centre 3 weeks ago and due to the Docs complaining about the smell of food, I decided to change my menu to a Coffee shop menu and instead of purchasing seating for the area, I am converting it into a book store. I am a book worm and I do some freelance writing, and thought this may be the best option. My location is fantastic for a Cafe, and has quite a bit of footfall on a daily basis, but I didn’t ever think a book store needed its own kind of footfall.

    I know there’s hardly any bookstores nearby, there’s only one chain book store about a couple of miles away.

    Any ideas on where to buy books from?!
    I am sorry you had to close your store and I am glad that you started this blog.

    1. Once people see that you are willing to buy old books they will appear. The goodwill or Salvation Army often have a decent pile of books. It becomes an easy part of your business (the buying of stock). Good luck.

    2. Judy says:

      Once you start selling books, the books will find you, Ginni. I don’t know what it is, but I’ve never met a bookseller yet who has trouble sourcing stock. Good luck with it!

  22. We just opened our second used paperback bookstore in techie San Diego, about 45 minutes from our other store. A lot of used bookstores have closed here. As a matter of fact, one, that is 3 miles from our new one and has been in business for 20 years, is closing this August. She is giving out our bookmarks to her customers. Why is she going under and we are starting to thrive, after only being open 3 months? Yes, Location. Also, we are a used bookstore that doesn’t look like a used bookstore; we are white, bright, light, clean and new looking. We’re very organized with no overflowing shelves, no books on the floor and an inviting seating area with plenty of natural light.
    Our problem is the e-books. Anyone out there noticing them affecting their sales?

  23. Rhonda Koti says:

    I am manager of a small locally owned bookstore and have enjoyed reading everyone’s comments and questions- I have got some good ideas.

    One thing that we have done with mixed results and I didn’t see it mentioned is donate gift certificates to charitable events in the promise that they also accept a bookmark to display that we donated.

    I have donated 6 times in the past year and have had 3 gift certificates cashed in. But I keep my eye on the big picture and that is the sheer amount of people who see our bookmark displayed.

    I like the bookmark in every book which would really help because we sell to a lot of tourists.

    Another thing I do, is take bookmarks and put on on various community bulletin boards.

    The owner has the store set up as cash only. We buy and sell but do not trade so about once a month I run a “sneaky santa” sale and offer up some off the wall sale. Sale usually runs for 4 days.

  24. Glenn says:

    A very interest thread – lots of great comments to read.

    I run Regimental Books which is a predominantly online book business that specialises in Australian military books (95% of sales are online) which we operate from my house.

    The thing for us is that we have a specialised niche (military history books and with a very large selection of Australian unit history books) which is catering to a specific interest group.

    To help our cash flow, we also do medal mounting and framing and also sell militaria (badges, patches, uniforms, helmets etc) which all ties in very nicely with out Australian military history niche.

    We are thinking about expanding into a physical shop front ourselves to grow the business so many of these comments are excellent.

    Regimental Books

  25. Missy says:

    Wow, thank-you so much for your insight. To have someone offer their knowledge and hard earned wisdom free is a rare thing indeed, especially in this day and age.

    I am in the beginning stages of thinking about opening a business (hoping a bookstore!). I loved reading all posts so far and will keep an eye out for more. I admire each and everyone of you for your confidence and perseverance in dealing with business. I can only imagine the hardwork and effort that I will need to put in to grow a business of my own.

    Thanks once again.


  26. Jack says:

    Why would anyone consider starting a bookstore (online or brick and mortar)when Barnes and Noble is struggling and Borders just closed?

    1. prying1 says:

      Call it passion or insanity Jack. Most booksellers have a love of books and that drives them. The Big Boys at Borders made errors and could see the end was inevitable yet it seems they continued on the same path. A big business like Barnes and Noble can become top heavy with people that don’t sell books. The Peter Principle applied.

      There are many booksellers that make a good living with their sales but those that really succeed are the ones that do as George says in the posting, “work your A** off” and be willing to learn more as he intimates in the line “In my twenty years in the business I have not met another dealer who didn’t have something to teach me…”

      Many small time sellers, like myself, are not business savvy and quickly learn, as Bruce did, that there is more to the business than sitting in a building filled with books, feet up on an ottoman, pipe in mouth and waiting for the flood of customers. It does take work.

      Don’ know if you read the comments to this posting but some reasons are given there. There might be many ‘reasons’ for starting a bookstore but most will have the same thread of ‘a love of books’.

      1. Jack says:

        Thanks Prying1!
        I’m in the process of establishing my own online bookstore but have heard these kinds of discouraging comments from others. Of course, AMAZON is the ultimate threat.

        1. prying1 says:

          Hi Jack! Uh oh! Now Homeland Security is going to monitor this website…

          I always find the ultimate threat is my getting lazy. You going through Chrislands? I’ve found them to be great and also AbeBooks gets the most sales for me.

          Occasionally I list a book on eBay but the prices there are most always lower.

  27. Leah says:

    I just wanted to say thank you for posting this. I’ve worked on and off as a bookseller for the past few years, and I can’t seem to get thoughts of opening a business out of my head. I’ll definitely keep your advice in mind as I attempt to make a niche for myself in this market. Naysayers tout the dominance of ebooks in coming years, but I have spoken with literally hundreds of individuals who’ve expressed that they don’t want to live in a world without actual, hold-in-your-hands books. Hopefully that bodes well for the both of us. Best of luck with your online selling! 

    1. Bruce K. Hollingdrake says:

      You are very welcome. I have (and enjoy) my Kindle but I also spent a good hour in a bookshop last night. I think it’s great that I can have the best of both worlds. PS I’ve moved from a seller to just a collector of books.

  28. Ahmed Khawaja says:

    Thank you, Bruce, for sharing your story.  What a nice name for a bookshop, ZEEBA, and I highly appreciate the advice about the BOOK in big letters.  I am in the first few days here of a newfound desire to open up a used bookstore.  I recently moved back to Abu Dhabi, where I was born and raised, and only because I can’t find a decent job in film here– that’s what I studied in Boston and worked for a year doing in New York– and now that I’m back home, I really miss all the used bookstores I’d weekly, even every other day, spend an hour, sometimes even two or three, browsing, making lists, and then settling down for a bit to continue reading a book I’d previously began and would continue my visits until I was done with the book and could move onto another.  The few bookshops I was a regular customer at had signs like yours did, no big BOOK sign, but many did have a table set outside right beside the store height-length window panes by which the store’s interior were clearly visible, and this table featured in various stacks an ample selection of books to show for what collection might be inside, e.g. some Hunter S. Thompson, some Bukowski, some Hemingway, some Nabakov, and a few other oddities, like Leonard Cohen’s novel, “Beautiful Losers,” or filmmaker Miranda July’s book of short stories.  I guess a selection like the books I just listed typify a display belonging to an “indie” bookshop, whatever that “indie” label means today; I suppose hip and cool and socially relevant with today’s young adult youth.  I only found such bookshops in the enjoyment I got from the habit I have of walking around in whatever city I live in.  Never saw any ads for a bookshop, unless it was an ad for Barnes & Nobles or Borders, but I can’t recall any ads for them either; just happened to walk by them and went in.  I’m no fan of big bookshops like them.  I’d rather have my indie book shop paired with a neat, trendy coffee shop next door, and next door to that would be an old-fashioned video rental store (of course, we’d have to have blu-rays & DVDS).  I plan on making something like this happen here in Abu Dhabi, a city where a bookshop is either a small stationary store offering a wide supply of children’s educational books, or primary school textbooks, or big book shops in this city’s big shopping malls.  You know the Strand bookstore in New York?  That’s huge and I would certainly go out of business and broke having something that size here in Abu Dhabi, or perhaps I underestimate the people here… no, I think there’s more to the location then the size of a bookstore.  I’ll keep looking for insights, though, before I buy a spot for the shop.  Fact remains there is no book shop like what I have in mind here in Abu Dhabi; I would be a first.   What I need to now is where would you acquire your books, as in did you contact publishers to sell you books from their surplus/overstocked inventory, as in for very low prices, in order to sell them as used, or was that not the case?  Also, once acquired, did you have to enlist a contractor and pay them to build the shop?  I guess that’s a foolish question.  Of course one must have to do that.  I’m sure it’s quite a hefty price, based on how elaborate a plan one has in making their shop look pretty and manageable.      

  29. Chinami says:

    I’m looking into owning a cafe bookstore and my dad keeps telling me how silly it is. He’s not saying it’ll be hard work or difficult, he’s outright saying it’ll fail. It’d be nice to have a few people believe in my business I want to start!

    1. VALINDA says:

      I hope you ignored your dad and did it. You will be great?

  30. Sharon says:

    Bruce, THANK YOU for this blog ~ I, too, am thinking of opening up a used bookstore but had no idea where to start ~ just wanted to say “thanks” to everyone who has contributed and been so forthcoming with information.

  31. Steve says:

    Thanks so much for a wonderful, insightful thread!. My wife and I have been looking for the right business opportunity and it never dawned on us to even consider opening up a used book store. Why, I’m not sure. Maybe it’s an old assumption that there was no money in it and that used book stores were quickly becoming a thing of the past. After exploring it’s potential (on a whim) We are now on “high alert”.

    This thread has been a godsend to us.

    Thank you everyone for contributing.

  32. Michael Engel says:

    I owned a modestly successful used bookstore in Easthampton, MA; I closed it two years ago. Five weeks ago, I opened a small children’s used bookstore in Ludlow, a nearby town with a population of 25,000. It’s very visible on a busy side street with easy parking, I share the storefront with my daughter’s seamstress business (which has had a lot of customers), I advertised in the local paper with a discount coupon, sent 40 flyers with discount coupons to children’s librarians, day care providers, and school reading teachers, posted a lively Facebook page that’s been getting a fair amount of hits, got a large feature article about the store published in the local paper–and I’ve had exactly four customers in the first four weeks, of which only one was not a neighbor or my daughter’s customer. I’m open four days a week, including Saturday, from 11-4. My daughter is open longer, but she reports no customers during those times. So—-what might be wrong?

    1. Dan says:

      What makes a book store a success – of course, it takes some time – can be a mystery, but the points in this Blog are the most relevant: Location, Signage (BOOKS!), and the atmosphere of the store once a customer enters, along with customer service. That will lead to word-of-mouth, which is almost always better than any paid advertising. One point: being co-located with a seamstress business might not necessarily project a definite image of a bookstore. Many bookstores, new and used, that I have seen close in the last few years had begun to diversify into other product lines so much that they were almost a “dollar store”. I believe that an easily identifiable store where a customers expectations are quickly met is vital: after all, it is retail, and that formula works for McDonald’s and Walmart. Back to location, you said you are on a side-street. We just moved our used bookstore from a central unit to the corner one WITHIN THE SAME BUILDING and saw our sales go up almost 100%. Visibility. And we have been in operation close to 20 years (and would get those that lived nearby wondering if we had just opened – but not any more!).

  33. Beth says:

    Thank you Mr. Bruce for this blog and thanks to all readers who left helpful comments! I love books and I am planning to venture a bookstore in the Philippines someday, maybe an “indie” bookstore like what Mr. Ahmed mentioned.

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