In one of my first Bookshop Blog posts, I shared some of the most useful tips I’ve compiled over the last four years or so (yes, it has taken me that long to prepare to open a physical storefront; no, I wouldn’t trade that timeline, as I’ve learned so much). To summarize that post, the three indispensable tips for prospective booksellers are:
1) Join the American Booksellers Association (ABA)
2) Sign up for the Paz & Associates program “Owning a Bookstore Workshop Retreat”
3) Connect with your community.
I’m composing three follow-up posts to describe in more detail why each of these steps was so helpful to me. In the first, I demonstrated how ABA membership has helped me grow by leaps and bounds as a bookstore owner. In this the second post, I’ll talk a little bit about the company Paz & Associates (educational partner to the ABA) and how their workshop retreat should be an indispensable step for prospective booksellers or for those owners and managers who need to perk up their businesses.
In 2008, I looked into the Paz & Associates workshop and wondered if the cost was worth it. I remember talking to my dad about it—his take was that I was smart and good at using the internet to do research, so I should just do the legwork (for zero dollars) and skip the workshop. I spoke to my then-business-partner about it, and we decided to just buy the workbook that Paz & Associates created and call it a day—why register for a workshop that focused mainly on the manual we could get for a fraction of the cost?
Their book is indispensable, don’t get me wrong. I use it nearly every week (and there are periods where I look to it nearly every day). But nothing compares to the workshop.
And that’s what booksellers and book industry people kept telling me each time I chatted with them about my bookstore plans. At Book Expo America, at the SIBA trade show, at bookshops I visited around the country, I told people my bookstore dream and, invariably, I would hear, “Did you go to the Paz & Associates Booksellers School?” The endorsements were out-of-this-world good, and eventually I heard them so much that I decided to just sign up for the course.
And boy, am I glad I did.
I learned SO much in that workshop. I forced myself to look into the business and financial sides of running a bookstore, aspects of the business I’d not focused on much before because I preferred to spend my time on marketing and community and hanging out around books. I was forced to decide if I really could handle ALL aspects of owning my own bookstore business, the good (storytime!), the bad (the daunting tax forms), and the ugly (ahem…those scary spreadsheets and cost of goods sold worksheets!).
The workshop coordinators, Donna Paz Kaufman and Mark Kaufman, tell attendees that they sometimes have students not show up after the first day. This is not meant to scare people off; rather, these tales demonstrate that some people realize that they have fallen in love with the idea of a bookstore job. They may picture sitting behind the desk all day, feet propped up as they read books and smile quietly at customers. After day one of the booksellers school workshop, people realize that owning a bookstore is NOT a life of quiet, easygoing reading. That’s involved, sure, but it’s a heck of a lot of work. And it helps to know that going in rather than to plan and spend copious amounts of cash only to discover too late that this is not the job you thought it was.
The connections you make at the store may be one of the biggest perks of attending. I have established a network of fellow current (or prospective) booksellers and we have supported one another via email since meeting a couple of years ago. I have even gotten to visit a few classmates’ stores—seeing those stores in person, seeing that your classmates are pulling this off, is so incredibly inspiring.
And while I’m on that word—inspiring—let me just say that Donna and Mark LOVE bookselling. They love books, they love community, they love to connect with others.
Their passion is inspiring and affects each and every thing they do. My store is so much stronger and well-rooted in the community because of their encouragement and advice.
[Editor’s Note: Although Paz & Associates has been a sponsor here for a while they had nothing to do with this post. We just like and recommend them]