Shane needs help with used bookstore book..

Shane Gottwals

Gottwals Books

Bookseller needs help with bookselling book!

I am in the process of writing a book all about the struggles of the independent used bookseller. I am a semi-accomplished writer but, more importantly, I AM a struggling independent used bookseller.

My goal is to garner an appreciation for our trade, but I want to really focus on the business side.Face it, 50% of America falls in love with the idea of having their own cutesy shop, but, in general, these people are not business-minded.

I want to give them the ins and the outs of starting a store, marketing, etc. This won’t be like every other startup guide, though, because my focus will be on all things specific to used books.Keeping up inventory, marketing on a very small budget, and not expecting to become a millionaire are all topics that I will address.

But… I need to hear from booksellers!

I’d like any suggestions for what you’d like to see in this sort of text. I’m sure we’ve all read articles and the like about the art of bookselling, but I am having trouble finding really comprehensive texts about owning and operating a brick-and-mortar used bookshop.

Honestly, I’m tired of seeing a new “Make your fortune selling books on Amazon and eBay” book every week. To me, that does not demonstrate a love for the volumes that I cherish and am honored to sell in my stores.

So, if you can make suggestions for the book or even tell me about some other books that I would be benefited to read, please do so. Thank you, and may God bless!

[editors note: please contact Shane via his website Gottwals Books or leave a comment below, thank you]

The Dusty Bookshelf


12 thoughts on “Shane needs help with used bookstore book..”

  1. My first thought is – how would anyone in the book business ever find the time to write a book … smile.

    Yes, a business degree would be helpful to anyone in any business but I think the biggest reason for failure in our business is a failure to become aware of all the actual WORK that needs to be done to generate enough sales and enough repeat customers.

    Because it is a cash business our is a relatively simple business. Pay the rent, utilities, and business license and then use all other monies to buy books. Don’t fritter away your money on food and clothing – because once people realize how much work there is to be done they won’t be in the book business long enough to starve to death.

    Ideas for a more useful book? Write a book about what is a good book and what is a bad book.
    Preach the importance of never passing up an opportunity to search through every box of books presented to you (dozens of reasons)… the importance of constantly culling your inventory (ask anyone in any type of retail business) … not letting your inventory grow stale … NEVER reading a book while in your shop (your customers will teach you anything you really need to know).
    Come up with a guideline for how the categories of your books should flow throughout the store so customers browsing don’t become lost or confused. Why every effort you make to improve your store has to be hinged on customer convenience and satisfaction.

    Why SPEED is an important consideration – if a customer can’t find their book quickly a sale might be lost. If your store is neat, clean and organized half the job is done – now keep every book in its proper place and have signs do the rest of the job. Books on the floor is ALWAYS UNACCEPTABLE and books topsy turvy on shelves is a no no.

    And on and on and on. WORK! WORK! WORK! If you are unwilling or unable to do it yourself you will be constantly replacing staff who feel the same way.

  2. I am a little confused by one part of your comment:
    “NEVER reading a book while in your shop (your customers will teach you anything you really need to know)”

    Can you clarify?
    Thanks for the input!

  3. By that I mean – the store is a place for WORK – ANY reading you or your staff do should be restricted to your leisure hours. Anyone reading while they are supposed to be working are derelict in their duty and it should be considered a serious affront to customers.

    What you consider your store(s) only exist(s) if your customers are satisfied with the efforts you make toward building the finest books store they could ever desire. Your continued success is determined by your customers – so you are working for them.

    They tell you everything you need to know – what to buy, how to organize the store in order to maximize your sales (if they are continually asking for a particular category – like sci-fi, travel, classics, etc – those subjects should be stored on shelves as far to the back of the store as possible – so they might see the rest of your inventory along the way).

    One of the most closely held secrets in the books business is – people are more important than books.

    It is so closely held almost no one has any inkling that concept exists – except when you, yourself, enter almost any other retail establishment and are met by a cacophony of discordant music or anything else which might infringe upon your peace of mind.

    How often would you revisit that store?

  4. “Never” is a strong word. My sister reminds me, when I steal time from “work” for reading, that reading books is part of my job as a bookseller. And more than once when I’ve been reading something amusing and burst into laughter, I’ve had a browser come up to the counter and demand to buy the book I’m reading. I’d say never (!) be too busy to greet and visit with people who come into the store, but you have to give them time alone with the books, too.

  5. Yes, “never” is a strong word and there are thousands of different ways to operate a book store – unfortunately,only a few of them successfully as evidenced by all our former compatriots now otherwise employed.

    If reading on the job produces positive results for you, or for anyone else, I am happy for them. In our stores, with all the work there is to be done, I would consider reading on the job more in the range of grand larceny than theft … smile.

    Here are a few ideas to test whether it is working for you.

    1. Are gross sales up over your previous year? These should be good times for used books sellers because reading is an addiction to many of our customers and they are looking to keep feeding their habit in spite of tough financial situations.
    2. Are you buying books everyday and and shelving enough upgraded stock to complement the 20% of your inventory that is paying all your bills (actually salable).
    3. Are you constantly culling the 80% of your inventory that is dead weight and sometimes serves only to confuse your customers.
    4. Are customers who enter your store generally complimentary about your store and your inventory? How often do they say, “I’ll be back.”

    I wish you well – everyone in the book business who serves their customers well is helping every other bookseller.

  6. I wonder if only booksellers are allowed to comment on this blog….infact i see a genuineness in the article as well behind the idea of opening a used bookstore..yes,the line “Make your fortune selling books on Amazon and eBay” equally irritates me wherever i open a book sounds harsh now cause while selling a book you rarely get the desired value for it….its all a business beyond the nobel thing called “BOOKS”… I myself have got minimal rupee or undergone much difficulty in finding a place for my used books…the process is tiring and frustrating..i would rather enjoy having them in my book shelf…the last time when i sold my 3 non-fiction novels was @ A1Books and would say that the site referred by one of my friend was indeed much helpful than others…

    my suggestion is please ask the people/customers who have ever sold their used books..may be that would be of greater help in writing you book.

    Best Wishes!!! 🙂

  7. We are thinking of opening a used store.Good mix of tourist and local street and driving traffic. Would use alot of remainder books, to start.

    • Use a good database system – get everything cataloged. Spend your money on the stock – and great shelves.

      Get a location that is visible, get great signage, malls are bad, strip malls are good, usually less expensive – one with a good anchor is so important.

      Listen to your customers — they will tell you what they want.

  8. Best practical advice I ever got about opening a used bookstore is from Dale Gilbert – Complete Guide to Starting a Used Bookstore (ISBN: 0914091891)

    I’ve been in the business 14 years now – and that book helped me tremendously – with the advent of the internet the info is a bit dated – but still a really great resource.

    What I’ve learned is that people love organization in a bookstore – categorize! alphabetize! organize! – keep it clean! have great lighting – display things attractively – and change those displays often. Database everything and know where everything is – if you can’t find it, you can’t sell it!

    Great luck to you!

  9. I’m still in the planning stage of my Used bookstore. I have spent hours and hours searching the internet for any advice i could find on the matter. Things I wish I could find more information on are:
    -how do I estimate potential bookstore finances, customers per hour etc.
    -is there any way to get ‘free’ information on small business grants. who qualifies for these?
    -Bookshelf design and layout. Are dark shelves with a ‘warm feeling’ better or white shelves for airy-ness, or does the white get scuffed to easily?
    -advice on inventory and POS software & hardware. I’ve found wonderful programs out there like Basil but they cost $200/mo, not something a new store is likely to be able to afford, what are the alternatives? Maybe you could include advice from people who have used different systems.
    -Store design (effect of color schemes etc.) & book section layout.
    -lists of things required other than the obvious to open a new stores doors. (How many will I need of: fire extinguishers? book ends? Step ladders? etc.)
    -what about store lighting?
    -examples of various trade-in policies?
    -how picky should I be with my inventory at first? Will a bent corner on a cover really keep a paperback from selling?
    -Do hard backs or paper backs sell better?
    -my town is only about 20k people, most articles I’ve read say you should have at least a town of 50k to support a used bookstore, is that really true, can’t a really well done store hold its own in a smaller community?

    As you can see I’m still searching for a lot of answers and a book that was able to answer these would be most appreciated.

    • Wow – you want to know a lot!
      Here’s a the little help I can be –
      Info on business financing can be had through your banker – they should be your best friend. I established a line of credit backed by the SBA – my banker set it up – simple and practical.

      Bookshelves – we build all our own. They are made from pine – I can bang out a 4’w x 7’h shelf by myself in about 40mins at a cost of about $35 – much cheaper then you can purchase –

      POS software – look at The Art of Books – better & cheaper then Basil or any of the others I’ve looked into.

      Paper sells better then hardcover in most categories – don’t get hung up buying a lot stuff you don’t need – get the shelves, get the books – get the best stock you can and be picky about what you take.

      Keep the trade\cash policy simple and straight forward. Give half or less what your going to price the book in trade and half that in cash. Book with a cover price of $7.99 in my store sells for $3.50 – trade is usually around $1.50 – $1.75 and cash price is .50 to .75 – Keep in mind that once you get your customers trained you will be able to sell the same book 3 or 4 times because they’ll keep bringing it back for credit!

      Front Royal, Va – where my bookstore is has a population of under 30,000 and there are 2 successful bookstores here! Mine, Page Master Used Books as been in business for 14 years –

      Don’t pick the details to pieces – jump! you’ll work it out!

  10. I agree with George, especially the clean and neat part with no books on the floor – ever! We have two floor to ceiling shelves that we keep empty for the books that come in. We use these for sorting by category, before putting away.
    Our policy maybe a little different from most. Basically, bring in a book we can use and get one of our books for half off. Most of our paperbacks are $3.00. Books under $5.99 are $2.00. All books over $7.99 are $4.00, including hardbacks, trade-sized and the larger $9.99 paperbacks. We always take our own books back. A nice thing about our computer program is that, if you want it to, will let a customer know, if they have bought that book before. That keeps them happy and keeps them coming back.
    Good Luck!

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