Another nugget of insight from one of Canada’s premier used bookstores Fair’s Fair of Calgary, Thanks George . Please take a moment to visit Fair’s Fair.
Google and Microsoft started in times like these.
I remember hearing in the mid 1980’s that the best time to open a new business was during a recession and, being a mostly-unemployed electrician at the time I took the leap and opened the doors of the first Fair’s Fair October 13th, 1988 with 7300 books.
Knowing nothing about business … or books either for that matter – I spent many solitary hours in a 4300 square foot basement used book storage space (it was supposed to be a sales outlet) located on a main thoroughfare – only one block outside the local community’s shopping area. There was plenty of time to spend learning about business and books. And I bought books – as many and as often as possible.
Six months later a lady who was visiting from Thailand ventured into our shop and said “I have travelled all over the world and this is the best bookstore I have ever been in!” I was shocked because even then I had a vision for what a book business could be – and knew we were nowhere near it.
Now I realize what she was reacting to was how well organized our inventory was and how neat and clean and well lighted the store appeared compared to what most other used books stores were presenting to the world at the time.
After that people who visited the store would often say as they were leaving “I’ll be back.” When I told that to another used book store operator they told me that was not something they were hearing.
Now, in all humility, after 20 years in business we hear both phrases often – but we do not take anything for granted – and there are about twenty of us continuously working toward my vision of what a book business could be.
A book store should be developed primarily to serve its own community.
Local entrepreneurs who think selling books on the internet is somehow feasible seem locked in a fool’s game. On the surface it looks like Amazon, ABE and eBay may be providing a valuable service to readers but their success is a house of cards dependent upon local booksellers doing all the work for them while they take their ever increasing commissions off every sale. Now Google is getting into the act as well and some are predicting the demise of the retail book business as a result of their money making scheming.
I recall being at a book convention in Chicago about ten years ago listening to independent booksellers complaining about Barnes & Noble and Borders Books chain stores wiping out the small book stores. Within a week or so I saw statistics indicating book buying had increased dramatically with the advent of the superstores.
We are now seeing it with the auto industry – for years it was the Japanese auto industry that was eating into their markets and causing them pain but they were lockstepped in their old ways of doing business and complained rather than innovated.
The natural tendency of mankind seems to be to work toward a goal, reach it and then start to relax and take it easy. In the overall time period of evolution we are still at the amoeba stage but we should still be astute enough to have observed that nature abhors any state of equilibrium. As soon as it detects such a state decay sets in.
There will always be someone brighter than the rest of us coming along with a plan to scoop the cream off the top of any enterprise. But remember, there is a lot more milk in this world than cream. In this case the milk represents all the real work that still needs to be done to really serve customers.
I have learned it is best to get excited when problems crop up because a growing business is always changing and it will always be difficult – that takes out all the competition who are looking for the easy path and forces all the survivors to innovate and provide the better service customers deserve.
You might be surprised to hear that 2008 was a banner year for us – sales advanced by 17.24% and customers by 28.67% and the first quarter of this year sales improved by 10.7% over the first quarter last year. Next year we plan to open 4 more stores.
My computer programmer said he thought our business was recession proof but I told him that during previous downturns we had suffered life everyone else. I think the difference we are experiencing now is a result of two things – 20 years of working to improve our business model and having 4 high visibility stores keeping our name in front of the public.
Success in the book business requires more work than brains and for that I am truly thankful.
George H – Fair’s Fair, Calgary, AB.