A Unique, Interesting and Friendly Independent Bookshop Can Thrive

In Canada it’s extremely challenging to run a sustainable independent bookstore.
Now, this is, in part, due to the fact that a certain Canadian book conglomerate has devoured roughly 70% of the market share. Other players — Wal Mart, Loblaws (Canadian grocery store chain) — offer a standard 30% off new releases/best sellers, which also draws potential customers away.
What do Indy bookstore owners need to do to stay relevant? Well, like all good solutions, this one is fairly simple and straightforward: They need to come up with ideas that will captivate the hearts and imaginations of their customers.
OriginalitySo, where do we find these ideas? Once found, how do we implement them? What is the air-speed velocity of an unladen swallow? Oh, wait, scratch that last one.
Okay, the first thing to do is see what’s working for other stores and adapt their ideas to your own situation. Yes, this may mean actually talking to your competition and piquing their brain, but the payoff could very well be exponential. If you’re dead set against this idea, you can check out a site like this one and borrow ideas from one of our writers.
Barring that, you can examine any successes you’ve had at your own store and build on their foundation. Instead of the one annual sale that brings in the crowds, try having monthly/bi-monthly promotional events. Bring in a local author now and then? Again, expand it into a semi-regular thing.
By finding the one (or two) thing(s) that you do best — or better than most of your competition — and making it the heart of your bookshop, you stand to greatly increase the chance of you being around a year from now. It’s not about what you’re doing wrong: it’s about what you’ve done right, and doing lots more of it. It’s also about emphasizing the disparity between corporate literary establishments and you, the real bookstore.
Two sure ways of setting yourself apart from Big Box Bookstores are: 1) Having books they don’t/knowing your stuff, and 2) Actually listening to your customers; taking the time to talk with and not treating them as an inconvenience.
There is a third way, as well, which works perfectly with the first two: being yourself. While Fox Books, Music & Candles strive to enforce a homogenous, sterile corporate culture in each store, you are free to create your own environment. This environment, should, ideally, be one where people are open to explore new literature, and not blindly follow Oprah’s litter of lazy literati.
Be original, be distinct, and above all, be willing to adapt and change as often as necessary. Yes, that last one is a mountain-high order. And when I say change, I don’t mean change who you are or what your store represents — that would contradict almost everything I’ve said up to this point. What I mean is that you should be willing to experiment with how you advertise your store; rearrange the shelves, or the entire layout of the store, should it seem appropriate.
Don’t hide behind your desk/counter, waiting, hoping for people to come in of their own accord. Draw their attention — demand it — by standing out, by excelling at what you do best.
You’ve been (more than likely) doing the same thing year after year, staying just above the water — getting just enough air to survive. I don’t know about you, but that sounds like a pretty meagre existence.
Yes, you (I would hope) love what you do and wouldn’t want to do anything else. If you’re content with just getting by and comfortable with mediocrity, so be it. But, if you want to be excellent and make enough to grow your business — not to be rich, but financially comfortable — then you should consider what I’ve said, take a (calculated) risk or two and see where it takes you.

Brian Green