Slow Day at the Bookstore

Slow Day at the Bookstore
Shane Gottwals
Gottwals Books
Slow days stink.  There’s no two ways about it.  They stink.
Slow days put me down.  I can’t shake the feeling.  They just do.
The only remedy (besides prayer and reading my Bible) is to hear the register ring.
This is sort of what has happened today.  I spent the morning in our new store sort of moping about the fairly good traffic flow yet almost total lack of sales.  You sit, look out the window, get way too enthusiastic when someone comes in, think about how nice it must be to have a job that pays per hour, find tedious tasks that don’t need to be done, scour the internet for sundry items that you can’t afford, kill the random fly that’s not bothering anyone at the window, and long for better sales days.
The more I pondered oh-man-this-store-really-isn’t-going-to-make-it thoughts, the more I realized how unstable business can be.  We’ve been open at our new location ( for about two months now.  I was just recently interviewed (with a TV spot that aired a week ago on our big local news CBS affiliate-check it out on our website) about the business community here in Byron, GA, and I told them that I could not be more pleased with how sales are going.  But, this week has me a bit down.
Notice how I just said, “this week.”  It is completely absurd to base anything on 3-4 days of sales when your 8-10 week trend has been impressive.
us-dollarsHere’s the heart of the matter… business will often slump, and it will slump hard.  I remember managing a consumer electronics store that did two million dollars per year in business.  We had (very embarrassing) days when our sales would be a couple hundred dollars.  You don’t pay 30 employees with $200 per day in sales.  However, I also remember those $10K+ days that made up for all of the rest.
I would never suggest beating a dead horse (first off, it’s pointless; secondly, it’s awkward-looking), so this is why I will never say that a business should continue past what is feasible when they are in a constant slump.  If your store has spent the last 12 months averaging $40 per day in sales, those 10 random days with $200 worth of sales are NOT a positive sign of growth.  The sign of growth comes when you start the year with $10 in sales and end the year with $70 per day in sales.  That growth.  Hovering at $40 with an occasional $0 or $200 is barely proving that you have a pulse.
Yes, I am blessed to have a store that have started off strongly, but I know what it was like to have a fledgling business model.  Our first store took almost two years to really turn any sort of profit, but we were always encouraged by the slow yet steady increases in sales.
But, if you’re like me, and you’re having some slow days, consider a few things.  Has your business gone through a major change?  Have your surroundings changed drastically?  Has a conspiracy theory been leaked concerning your store?  Have any cases of a major disease been found within your walls?
If none of these things are true, and you’re wondering why your sales have slumped, just be encouraged.  Businesses do not gain strength within a day, and they do not lose all of their wind in a day.  Base your opinions on your month-by-month totals and not your day-by-day (or, as I sometimes do, hour-by-hour, nervously hoping for another sale).  Stop bookselling when your TREND stinks… not your day.

2 thoughts on “Slow Day at the Bookstore”

  1. Keeping your balance, psychologically and emotionally, is difficult during the slower periods every business experiences.

    Even when your gross sales reach numbers higher than you had ever really thought possible the downturns which happen some weeks can still be deflating.

    My answer to EVERYTHING I could possibly conceive as a negative thought or occurence (weather, slow sales, broken windows, vandalism, catching a book thief, etc.) has always been “I’m just going to have to work harder!” – and then I do it!!!

    The results of attacking problems have always been gratifying in any number of ways. The store becomes more functional, work wipes out the time wasted worrying, customers seem to flock to the sections reworked and problems soon disappear.

    Call it what you want, God’s will, the universal consciousness, fate, the human need to rationalize and justify anything and everything that goes on around us, whatever – there is something about REALLY WORKING in a bookstore that is truly uplifting.

    Anything less than a sustained, conscious effort to improve your store through the less busy times is self defeating and not fair to our customers.

    Again, this business is all about doing the work necessary to dazzle the next customer who comes through the door. The phrase “This is the best bookstore I have ever been in!” never gets old – I first heard it six months after I opened my first store and it stunned me because I knew then, as I do now, I had barely scratched the surface of what the book business is all about. But what the customer was really referring to was a clean, well lit premises with ALL the books WITH CLEAN SPINES organized neatly in their own well-defined sections ON the bookcases.

    Seems simple enough to me – all it takes is constant WORK – doing a lot of it before or after hours (especially during the first couple of years) – thinking about how to improve the business can be done while we are actually doing it.

    Good luck everyone – let’s build bookstores that dazzle people and serve our local communities well!

  2. Good advice, Shane. After 16+ years, I’ve learned not to be taking my business temperature every five minutes–or even every day. Slow days are great for housekeeping chores that we don’t have time for on busy days. They’re also, good for launching into changes, getting inspired by book catalogs, working on publicity, etc., etc. Long faces don’t sell books, and even when visitors don’t buy, they may come back and buy the next time if they get a friendly smile and pleasant “Have a good day, folks” as they leave.

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