Bookshop branding: Your store is not your own.

As an indie book store owner, it’s vitaly important that your shop tells a story that people want to hear –and tell — over and over again.  You need to create a legend that goes far beyond the stock & structure of your store — a myth that people will literally buy into.

old anchorNo, you’re not creating a total fabrication — a fantasy with little to no basis in reality.  What you are doing is taking the ideal — the thing you want your store to ultimately be — and imbuing it with a healthy measure of hyperbole.  You want to go from “That’s a nice little shop,” to “That’s the only place to buy books in town.”

So, can you keep control of your shop’s tale?  Can you ensure that no one changes the dialogue, re-writes your ending or adds glittery Emo vampires?  Simply put, no, you can’t.  And expending energy in an attempt to do so is counter-productive — not to mention emotionally draining and ultimately defeating.

The best thing you can do is set a few rules — things you will strive to do excellently and things you will avoid like a ghost-written Taylor Swift autobiography.  These rules will set the boundaries in which you and your customers tell the story.  If you show consistency and play by your own rules, then you’ll find most of your clientele will respect, and help build, the world you’ve so carefully created.

You should also jot down three to four plot points — anchors around which your story will be told.  Each anchor not only holds everything together, but serves as a destination point.  The first is your beginning, with the remaining ones being places or goals you want to reach.  Keep them simple, clear and attainable.  For example, “I want to be earning a hundred grand, net, in six months,” would make a very poor plot point.

After that, you need to ask yourself what kind of story your shop’s going to be.  Are you writing something for the masses, or is your’s going to be more of a cult classic — known & loved by a faithful few, slowly building up a devoted following over time.

Next comes the backdrop: your shelving, flooring, paint colours, merchandising, lighting and window displays.  These must mesh well with the vision you have for your shop’s story.  If you want people to see you as the typical used bookstore, with the musty smell and creaking floors, then everything in your shop must reflect that.  Should you want others to think of you as a smaller, more personal version of the big box boys, then it’s best to keep everything fresh and new.

Even with all these things solidly in place, though, the tale your shop tells is not your own.  Everyone who walks in or by will add a word here, a sentence there.   And for the most part, the story will be a cohesive one — for good or for ill.  Your job is to keep listening to what other’s think of your story, editing when need be and leaving in what works.

Don’t worry if the tale doesn’t go quite as you’d imagined it.  Trust your co-authors to help tell a worthwhile story.   Should the plot be lost, though,  take time to listen to what’s being said about your store and begin writing a new chapter.