Established bookshop owners: Are You Getting Bored Yet?

by: Shane Gottwals
Gottwals Books
www.gottwalsbooks.com

Isn’t the life of a bookseller really really boring?
At times, I think it is. That’s, at least, the way I’m feeling at this moment now. I’ve even looked at a couple of job search website to see what other sorts of things I can do with my time. I’m not interested in selling any of my stores, but sitting in a used bookstore can often get tedious. Isn’t there something more exciting out there for me?
The book business involves two things for the store owner: books and business. Some people LOVE the book side of the business, and this is why they got involved in the first place. In my opinion, this is a terrible reason to go into business, but it’s nice to see book lovers able to surround themselves with books!
The second aspect is the pure business side of the endeavor. This is why I got involved in used books. I enjoy business. I like reading about business, hearing about business, and having my hands in business. After a while with one business model, though, you want more. At least, that’s how I work. “My thing” is not sitting in a bookshop all day, helping customers. I do enjoy helping people, and we are known for our fantastic service, but I like the other side of the business. I like building business and watching growth. I like managing… that’s “my thing.”
I guess my real question is, “Do any of you feel like exploding from your comfy leather chair when you’re at work?” Maybe some of you enjoy the experience so much that you never tire of it. I wouldn’t say that I’m “tired,” but I want to do more. Is this a claustrophobic chronic disease of the independent bookseller? Am I alone in this?
Now, as I am writing all of this, the store is filling with people. There are probably 7-8 in here now, opposed to 2-3 that were in here when I started my rant. Having a more full store definitely makes me feel better, but I know that someone else could be here instead of me. Too bad employees cost money… I could be out acquiring inventory, managing all three of our stores, etc. Since the independent bookshop does not bring millions of dollars in revenue, it’s tough to replace yourself with hired help. Sure, I could go get another job, but I’d need to deduct quite a bit from my salary just to pay for a replacement here.
Should boredom in the workplace always be expected, regardless of where you work? Can you really stay content as a bookseller?
Many of you have been doing this for a lot longer than I have… how have you kept your sanity? Maybe sanity isn’t a problem for the true book lover. I can’t say that I am a voracious reader. I enjoy reading, but my attention span gets diverted far too easily to sit all day and read. (I know this is how some of you pass your time. I just can’t seem to do it… I want to stay busy, and reading isn’t “being busy” to me.)

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  • What you are expressing – boredom – is incomprehensible to me. Even after 21 years in business each day presents new challenges, new customers, new experiences and greater opportunities.

    I have been stretching and going beyond my comfort zone for most of the last ten years – trying to improve as many steps as possible in every procedure and working to overcome all our misconceptions about the business.

    The real joy in the business has been lost to me forever – waiting on customers where most of what is really valuable to the day to day operations is being learned. I still hear “This is the best books store I have ever been in!” over and over again and that is still a pleasure but it is only while I am running around doing something else that is important. All that it means to me now is the staff is doing their jobs well – it is not so personal to me anymore. I know how far we still have to go to build the books stores network of my dreams.

    I remember reading while I was a teenager – “Never tell anyone you are bored, it is like saying you have a lazy mind!”

    I have never been bored since… smile.

    I hope you work it out – good luck.

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  • Your article made me so sad. I’ve been in the book business for 14 years. I have only one store, but it’s a fairly large place, 50,000 titles in 3000 sq ft. There are two full time people and a weekend staffer.

    Bored – not a word in my vocabulary. I find exactly the opposite – there are never enough hours in the day to get to everything I’d like to do!

    I’m on the road at least two, mostly three days a week purchasing stock. When I’m here, theres endless database work, the customers, displays, signs, cleaning, event planning, newsletters, it goes on and on! I never just sit and read here – I have to try to carve out time at home for my reading – or car time is good for reading too… thank heaven for audio books!

    I think I must be doing something wrong… send me some tips on how you end up with so much free time!!

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    • It’s not that I have so much free time… but, I don’t do many of the things you mention. We don’t have “events” or a computer inventory system to maintain. We’re very simplistic.

      I think you prompted a new article, though…

      Sorry to make you sad!

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  • Unlike the people above, I do hear you and agree with you. Yes I have endless data base work, planning etc and I do that but it does get repetitive. There is a limit to how many times I want to see the same local customers who spend ZERO dollars in the shop but want me to listen to them talk for an hour at a time, several times a week. Bookshops attract all sorts of people and while some people might find that charming I’m sure they don’t spend their work days indulging them. They wouldnt put up with it for long. If you go to a cafe you are expected to BUY a coffee at the very least. You don’t go into a bank to browse or talk to the staff! Bookshops are different. Booksellers have nothing to do but read right?
    I have been trying to look for new ways of attacking my business in order to make it more interesting for me and more lucrative. I also went into the shop with a business perspective. I love books but I started the shop as a means to make some money….ha ha how naive that sounds now. The one thing it affords me that I love is – lifestyle. I am the boss and if I want to take a day off, I don’t have to ask anyone-just have to pay staff or close the door!
    The never ending insecurity of turnover also keeps me alive!!

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  • Hi Shane
    I am new to this site and have just read a few of the great articles here: this one prompted me to stop lurking and put my two cents worth in!

    I had a look at your site and although you have a lot of beautiful vibrant bookshops it is obvious even from the content and awards that you get more excited about the business side of things:) than the books.

    This is not bad – I would suggest either an IT or Multimedia course (part time/external/short) so you can put some stock online etc (you won’t be bored then!) and / or lecture at local colleges about starting up / growing a business since that is your forte’.

    I am the opposite: I love books and have read voraciously since I was young. Over time I have learnt Business and Administrative skills I needed to make my (new) online business work. I am not a natural at Accounting! but you may be:) & I also know enough online ‘stuff’ to tide me over until I can afford a professional web designer.

    I have my fingers crossed for you to rediscover your enthusiasm.

    Kylie

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  • Yes, I’m sometimes bored, too. I get around that by writing my own books during down times. I wrote two of my books here—Descriptionary, and Roget’s Super Thesaurus. Now I’m working on a movie script.

    My finding, though, is that it’s hard to do two things well simultaneously, and as a result of some of my energies put into writing, my bookstore sales have suffered. On the other hand, Roget’s Super Thesaurus ended up as a main selection at the Book-of-the-Month Club, and I recouped some of my profits through the book’s success.

    Don’t get me started on my habit of having friends hang out at my desk to play Trivial Pursuit. Sometimes customers join in, and it’s a lot of fun. However, again, I’m not doing much to promote the store’s profits. And it probably doesn’t help that I walk around in bare feet in here in summer!

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  • Your not going crazy. my store is 3000sq ft and i have several part timers.I get bored too. the store does a great business but lets face it its a bookstore. Its not like being a point man on a search and destroy mission with adrenaline pumping through your blood and your living on the edge.If you can swing it find some cheap help and get out of there a few days and dont think about books.As far as help you can always find someone who would just love to work at a bookstore a few days a week. Save your mind and get out a few times a week.The world wont come to an end and the store will be just fine.

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  • You have a chair? We don’t; it would just be in the way. We’re always moving, putting books away, making shelves neat, figuring out the next opportunity we can make to get people in the store, moving or making displays, talking to customers, cleaning. It’s never-ending; the lists are crazy. While you’re sitting there, think up some ideas on how you can make your store more interesting, a little different or something to make the customers go Wow! Sometimes, change is a good thing.

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