3 Years, 3 Stores


Well, Gottwals Books has been open almost 3 years.  We started with almost zero knowledge of opening a book store.  We had roughly 7500 titles in stock, and half of our shelving was bought at the department store.  We didn’t know how to accept trades, so we didn’t do it at all.  We had the walls covered with old framed images and our shelves had miniature gnomes, all hoping to be sold.
To anyone who has ever been inside a used bookstore, we must have looked a bit puny.  We had 1500 square feet of space, but our inventory only covered half of it.  A smaller space might have looked packed, but our space looked lean.
One year later, after the nail salon next door vacated (by God’s grace), we tore into the wall.  Our space became 2700 square feet and would eventually hold 50000 books.
One year after that, we got the keys to a brand new store.  Our Byron location is nearly 3600 square feet and has been successful since the beginning.  No room to expand anymore at the two locations, but I think we’re comfortable with our current sizes.

So, the only way to keep expanding is to open new stores.  Within six months of Byron’s grand opening, we signed the lease for our Macon store.  We’re filling the spot where a camera store used to be, and it gives us a little over 3200 square feet.  I drove out of state with a rental truck to get 30 of the 50 center aisle bookcases we needed, and the rest arrived last week.  We have our wall bookcases already, and the sales counters were already in the space.  The place is clean, has nice carpet, and is the anchor of the shopping center.
Our goal is to open by February 1, 2010.  It’s not far away.
All the expansion over the past few months has really gotten me thinking about how strange business can be.  In tough financial times, how can a start-up grow to three location within three years?  God has provided great customers, great sales, and an overall great experience for my family.  He has also given many lessons, and it’s our notice of these lessons that has formed the business model of Gottwals Books.
I’ve written many times about running your bookshop as a business instead of purely being a “passion.”  Even if you’re not opening new stores (this is not always an option), you should never deny the lessons that come with running your own store.  You can surely make your location incredible by simply letting it teach you.  That’s what we’ve done, and that’s given us opportunities we wouldn’t otherwise have had.
While aggressive expansion cannot work for every business model, we have tried to maximize every opportunity.  You might be very satisfied (and rightly so) to be that one place that your community comes to for their books.  You might love pouring everything you have into that one store.
Honestly, it becomes difficult to represent yourself in three different stores.  It’s difficult to feel total ownership of everything that takes place.  I decided long ago that I am far more interested in seeing more stores than seeing more of me in the stores.  I keep everything in line so that no store operates outside of my design, but I don’t get too attached.

3 thoughts on “3 Years, 3 Stores”

  1. Congrats Shane! Quite a distance you have traveled. Keep doing what you are doing but don’t forget to pay close attention to the “Still, Small Voice”.

    I don’t know how you do it. Perhaps that is why you have 3 stores and I don’t. But then, I don’t have the same headaches you do. Neither do I have the same joys.

    Keep serving the community at large and use the K.I.S.S. system as much as you can. – Best to you and yours.

    • I always appreciate your encouragement.
      Yes, I do add a few headaches with each new store, but the new locations are blessings. I try to always follow the “still, small voice” of God.
      Our aggressiveness adds work, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

      Thanks, again.

  2. So glad to read your blog and about your success. My wife opened her store in July, 2009 with about 7000 books in 1600 ft2. We are at about 17000 books now with what appears to be a steady customer base and I worry already that she didn’t go big enough but she only had so much money to work with to start. It has been a great learning experience and I love to read about other bookstores and how they progressed. I do hope she can expand but we’re taking it in babysteps. The store is paying for its existence now, not making a ton of money for us to spend but most tell me we’re doing fine especially in this economy. I know she has a lot of fun at the business and it’s OURS!
    One big problem I can’t seem to help her solve, she can’t get enough sci-fi/Fantasy paperbacks or paranormals at good prices or as tradeins – any suggestions.

    Thanks again for your story – very encouraging!

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