We have another new contributor here at The Bookshop blog. I’m pleased to welcome Shane Gottwalls to our group of writers. Here is his first introductory post.
Is it time to expand?
Gottwals Books has been open for nearly 2 years. My wife and I started this venture after realizing that a business degree and an English degree work well together for sorting and selling used books. The passion was there, my retail management background surely helped, and the finances were working at the time.
Our shop opened with what seemed like quite a load of books. We started off fairly successfully with an opening day that promised great things. As time passed and the initial shock of a nice-looking used bookstore (in an area in sore need) went away, the sales remained consistent, yet stagnant.
Since that era of low sales (we actually had one day where we sold $4… total!), our business has increased month by month. One way that the Lord has blessed us is in the fact that the store has always paid for itself… even in the slow days. We never went into the red, although our personal finances weren’t great for quite some time.
Recently, an opportunity opened up in an older, long-established shopping center about twenty minutes from our current location. There have been two or three successful stores in the center (they closed for personal and chain-wide reasons), and the people of Byron, GA are ready for another place to buy quality used books.
I should take a step back and explain our current store’s outlook… we expanded 8 months ago, acquiring a neighboring space. We went from roughly 15,000 books on the shelves to approximately 50,000. Last year’s sales chart looks like a mountainside, continually rising as the year past. The new center is much cheaper per square foot, but it is much bigger. We should be able to get 75,000 books onto the shelves while offering an area for coffee (which I don’t really recommend… but that’s an entirely different article).
We have weighed all the options, the expense, etc., but the decision to open another store has its own set of worries. Primarily, my full-time income goes away in order for me to run the new store while my wife manages the established location. Regardless, is now the time to open ANY new business?
My answer: In the used book business… yes! I can’t tell you how much ground we seem to be gaining on the local chain stores. People will always read… we in the book business understand the need for knowledge. Accordingly, people will always buy books… no matter how many Kindles (or their brothers) come out. We all know the difference between flipping pages and flipping screenshots. There is something precious about flying through a good book.
As it looks right now, we are going to take the leap. We have confidence in where the Lord is leading us, for we have prayed and considered all the options (just like we did with our first successful store).
Bookselling is a wonderful trade, but it is not without its tough times. Understand this if you are planning to open a new store or expand an existing one: location is absolutely everything. To get the location, you often have to pay out the back end for it (I know we have!). But, to have that standout store, you have to make concessions, understanding that paying more now will bring more customers each day, as long as you make it over the first few bumps in the road. It might be extra-tough at first, but things will pick up as long as your town is not already flooded with used bookstores.
I know that many would say, “Well, open a book store that is different from all the others… carry vintage books, etc… find your niche.” Honestly, with the number of books that you must sell just to keep the lights on, be careful with how specific your stock is. Uniqueness does not always equate with sales, especially if there are other stores in the area.
Make it work. If it does, keep it going by expanding. You can only milk one area (and get more and more milk out of it every time you try) for so long. To me, expansion is key.
I know this is tougher than talk, but keep in mind that my wife and I are in our twenties and have no children. Regardless of age, though, keep your business in mind. Greater growth is good when initial growth is evident. Don’t go bigger if it hasn’t worked so far. Also, don’t expand if you aren’t prepared to see your business do big things. Have optimism, but watch the numbers.