I Want to Own A Bookstore

I want to own a bookstore.  Put more accurately: I want to own a bookstore and so does my girlfriend.  She’s currently in grad school so I have two years to prepare before we begin.  Right now my preparation is mostly in reading about how to set up a small business and to read about the experiences of those who have gone before.  That’s how I found this site.

If there’s anything I’ve learned so far in my time that I’ve been reading The Bookshop Blog, it seems that I’m not the only one who wants to get into this industry.  Everyone has a different take on how they want to work in the book industry, though.  There are the people that sell the occasional book online to supplement their income, there is the professional online bookseller, there is the used bookstore owner, and there is the new bookstore owner.  Not everyone fits into just one of the categories.  Some, in fact, most, fit into two, three, or even all four of the categories.

I’ve never been a fan of jumping into something feet first.  I hate surprises (just ask my girlfriend.  Just about any time we watch a movie I always want to know the ending half an hour in.)  I need experience.  I can learn a lot from reading, but I can learn even more by doing.  To this end I have a few ideas for how to gain experience.  First, I’m going to get into online bookselling, but even that I’m going to start slowly.  Before I set up my own personal web presence on my own page I’m going to work through online marketplaces.  First, I’ll start easy in the Amazon marketplace.  Then, I’ll move onto Abebooks and other similar sites.  At the same time, if I’m going to operate a bookstore, I need to know how a bookstore operates.

I know that I’m going to make mistakes.  I’m going to have false starts and ideas that go nowhere.  I’ll hit dead ends and maybe even get hit.  (I’ve heard that things can sometimes get heated at flea markets…)  As I go, I’m going to write about what I’m doing, how it’s working out for me, and any tips that I come across that will help others to avoid the mistakes that I’ve been making.

To that end: here’s the first step.  It may not be the first step others take, but my girlfriend and I both thought that it was important: having a name.  A name is what you create your brand with.  The brand is who you are.  Naming something makes it real.  By putting a name to our proposed store it went from being “our proposed store” to “NAME OF STORE!”  The store’s name needs to embody the vision that you have for your store: what you want to do and what kind of image you project.  We went out to a bar one night and just sat there with a pen, paper, and my iphone.  We ordered our first pitcher and started throwing out ideas.  Each idea was examined based on criteria that we made up as we went along: it had to be unique, it had to be easy to remember, it had to be imaginative, it had to not be a pun (which was hard for me…I love puns at all times, but mostly make them after drinking.  I came up with some stinkers that night.  I’m really lucky I’m not single now, really).

Eventually we hit on one: a bookstore name that we couldn’t find any other store with an internet presence using, one that sounded good to us and gave the air of sophistication but friendliness that we wanted to give to our customers.  For now, we’re keeping the name close to our chests.  Someday, though, it’ll be a big name.  And you’ll all be able to say you heard about it first.

[editor’s note: aw….come on Matt, we won’t tell anybody…I hope our regular readers will tell us what one of their first orders of business was.]

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Discussion

  1. prying1

    I think it is great that you are doing your homework Matthew. That can be important but as you may have read on this site some booksellers started with a love for books and learned as they went along (I feel I must use present tense here: “& are still going along…”) I think that is what drives most of us.

    I got started on eBay back in the 90’s because my pastor encouraged me to. As far as my first order of business goes, it was to see what other eBay booksellers had done through their completed auctions of used books. What their ‘Terms of Service’ (ToS) said gave me an idea of what sort of problems they had encountered in their past and therefore addressed in their current auctions. – I decided early on that I’d try to keep my ToS short and sweet and not insult prospective customers with them. That is, make them ‘more informative’ as opposed to a list of ‘rules for buyers’.

    One thing I will suggest as you go on Amazon (and you might have seen me say it before on Bookshop Blog) is to make your listings stand out from the pack with a bit of synopsis and a list of keywords. I believe it does pay off.

    P.S. Trademark ‘THE NAME’ before Bruce figures it out.

  2. Becky (Page Turners)

    How funny. I am in the same situation, starting with online book selling in the hopes of owning a store one day. I have my book shop name all ready to go!

  3. Caro Hedge

    In regards to a name, check with your secretary of state/state website and make sure no one else has your name legally in the state. Business names do not always show up with a regular Internet search if they aren’t active or are otherwise not online. To secure the name so that no one else can take it out from under you, may take registration/paying the fee/paperwork I don’t know about. Then, check to make sure that the name does not have unfortunate meanings if run together as part of a web name. The famous Pen Island joke/logo comes to mind.

    Isn’t this starting a bookstore activity educational?

    1. prying1

      I missed the Pen Island line. Heard it here first. Lord I love this website!!! – (LOL)

  4. jgodset

    lie down until the feeling goes away

    1. Matthew Singleton

      Feed a fever, starve a cold, drink away a bookshop craving?

  5. Rae | Cat Products

    I think to make things easier, the first thing to do is to identify your target market. This way you can have an immediate idea of what books to include in your store and what not to. You can start with a specialty bookstore catering to, for sample.. children only.. then as you go along and grow you can add more selections to your racks.

  6. Nora O'Neill

    If you’re jumping into online selling, I’d actually suggest your first venue be Biblio.com, even before Amazon. They don’t charge a monthly fee or a per item listing fee, just a commission when an item sells. Plus they’ll give you inventory software for free.

    You WILL make some mistakes early on with online selling and you’ll get a lot more help there than with any other site. They also have a very active forum and excellent tech support. If they can’t fix it immediately or tell you why X is happening, they’ll at least send you a message back by the end of the day telling you where they are in process. And it’ll come from a live person, not an automated system!

    I think the big difference between Biblio and many of the other sites is you get the impression Biblio considers YOU their customer, not just a means to sell books. Top notch support to dealers so just what you want when you’re starting out and could use a little hand holding.

    1. Matthew Singleton

      Thanks for the tips. As I said above, Amazon is the I was intending to start with, but now I think that I’ll take a look at Biblio.

  7. Ben

    I think one of the best things you could do is to get a part-time, full-time or casual job at a bookstore. If you’re planning on opening a shop in a year or two, then getting experience now is a good move. Of course, if you’ve already got a job it might be difficult, but I think experience in a real shop is invaluable.

    1. Matt Singleton

      I agree with you fully, Ben. That is actually one of the actions I am working on currently.

  8. Shane G.

    I definitely suggest talking to other bookstore owners, but make sure you talk with people who have the type of store that you want. Even in the used bookstore world, there are many types of stores.
    You are always welcomed to call me, too, at (478) 731-5451. I definitely don’t mind answering questions.
    I had a conversation just a couple of days ago with a fellow Bookshopblog-er.

    Good to see you’re planning early.

  9. Gary D

    I’m in a similar stage in my bookstore owning dreams, Matt. My wife and I started selling books on Amazon at the end of June. Business was has gradually picked up to where we’ve grossed about $800 so far this month (September). We subscribed to ScoutPal’s “Live” service, figuring that we’ll invest in the scanner option down the road.

    I’ve pondered the idea of owning a used bookstore for years. I’ve even worked for an independent bookseller and Barnes and Noble (although that was about 15 years ago). I’d love to open a bricks and morter store, but am somewhat hesitant due to the economy. There are no used bookstores in our metropolitan area of 140,000. There is a Barnes and Noble and an independent bookseller. It appears the only ones selling used books are the thrift stores and a few flea markets. The nearest used bookstores are 45, 85, and 90 miles away. I’m told there was a used bookstores here as late as 2000, but it closed due to its poor location.

    What we are considering next is renting space in one of the several flea markets in town. These are similar to an antique mall with several vendors renting booths, including those who sell books as a minor part of their merchandise mix. We’re not sure about the types of books to offer, but are leaning towards mostly non-fiction as it appears the existing booths specialize more in popular fiction. I’m wondering if you or anyone else has considered the flea market route as a stepping stone to a bricks and morter store.

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