The transition from book-lover to book-seller seems a logical one. After all, who could be better at running a B & M or on-line book store than someone who’s devoted their life to reading?
All you need is some inventory, a computer, shelves, a sign, paint, a business license and you’re set, right? No, not quite, I’m afraid. The ins and outs of starting — and maintaining — a healthy business, are myriad. So are the talents required to ensure job and customer satisfaction.
The ideal entrepreneur naturally pays attention to their customers’ needs & wants, is able to adapt and change their business strategy as needed, and knows when to stand their ground. They also have a head for numbers, merchandising and inventory.
True, very few people have every talent listed above. I, myself, possess a knack for visual merchandising, knowing what my customers want and keeping an evolving business plan. But, when it comes to numbers (taxes, income, expenditures), I tend to struggle.
This is why it’s good to have a partner (in my case, my fiancé), whose talents balance your own. She knows very little about the retail world, but keeps track of numbers like nobody’s business. While I’ll be looking to expand our Fantasy section, she’ll be making sure we won’t go broke doing so.
For anyone aching to open their own book shop, your main motivation should be a love of business. You need to understand the basic mechanics of the retail world — supply/demand, branding, building customer relations — almost instinctively.
Okay, there are plenty of books for would-be retailers — and anyone can grab one, read it and apply what they’ve learned to their particular business. But, the ideas in these books are best used by those who already have a world view that’s conducive to being an outstanding entrepreneur. For those who don’t have this all-important talent (or group of talents), these books will help you to be mediocre, at best.
Also to be considered are the hours you’ll need to invest into making your shop financially sustainable. While you may dream of cozying up with a good book behind your desk or counter, the reality is that you’ll need to work your ass off. Every day will be spent doing whatever you can to draw people into your store and keep them coming. This involves actually talking to people — often people you don’t like all that much, not just bibliophiles like yourself.
If you love books and want to work around them, but don’t have a head for business, try volunteering at a local book store. You could even set up a consignment account at your favourite reading hole or sell on line.
Taking the helm of a Brick & Mortar isn’t for the faint-hearted, my friends. It demands tenacity, imagination, and a great deal of courage. You need to be willing to make short-term sacrifices for long-term gains. And, always, you must keep in mind that your shop isn’t your own personal library, but a means of income.
The point of this post isn’t to shatter anyone’s dreams, but to encourage them to think long and hard before pursuing them. For, in the world of Brick & Mortar, it’s business first and books second.