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Saturday, June 24, 2006

Chapter One Hundred Twenty Seven, in which the Bookshop turns One

On 10 June, our bookshop, Mad About Books, marked its first anniversary. In most ways it has not felt like a year, and it is amazing to note how fast twelve months can pass. This blog began mainly as a way to record our experiences as a bookshop owner. The forces of evolution have turned it into the musings of a book-fancier, with an occassional sandwich for Ella. The transformation feels natural, yet we wanted to take a few lines to revisit some of our earlier points, and bring us back to where we came from so we can see better where we are today.

Throughout the year we have improved our selection of books, and increased the categories, like history, that our customers have asked for. On our book hunts we have located many specific books people have asked for. When people have asked us to order a book for them, we have done that for them as a service, not for profit. The accounts for our first year have closed in the red. Expenses have been steady and what we expected, with the exception of a high electricity bill. We also had the unexpected expense of repairing a malfunctioning "S" in our neon "BOOKS" sign. We offer fresh coffee nearly every day, which most people pass on, as well as mints at the counter, and classical music in the air.

We have met some interesting, odd, irritating, and wonderful people. We have discovered that some (older) people do not want to pay any more than garage sale prices for a book. A few people have happily used us a convenient way to find books that they have wanted in places far away, and bring them to them. Many of our regulars come in regularly and purchase a couple books at a time. Tourists--we are located on the back road to a popular state park--who stop unexpectedly usually find something they want, or purchase something of mild interest simply to have a book at hand while they are traveling. Occassionally someone comes in and buys everything we have by one author, or about one subject. A few people have said they would come back, and asked us to hold books, and we have not seen them again.

We had one bad check from a woman who had come in a few times, brought others in with her, and made previous purchases. She asked us to order some books for her on the internet, and when the check bounced, she had left town and was no where to be found. Though the internet payment terminal we use has been easy and trouble-free, credit and debit cards are costly, and we lose a big chunk of those sales to fees and commissions. We had a liberal trade policy last year, which we refined and tightened at the start of this year, and trades are still a regular part of our business. We have acquired very good books in this way, some that sold the next day. We have also received donations, books left at the door when the store was closed, and books that people asked us to pass on to charitable organizations. When we first opened, we made a handful of outright purchases, and have since stopped that practise completely.

To celebrate our first year, we put on a week-long Anniversary Sale. We arranged to be open every day, for extended hours. Based upon the successes of other booksellers, we decided to take a percentage off our prices every day, beginning the first day at 10% and gradually increasing, ending the last day at 75%. Book-fanciers who had shopped our store in the past received in the mail an announcement with details of the sale. We also took out two newspaper advertisements, in each of the two largest publications in our area, which announced the event and hours, but did not specify the discounts. We constructed an A-frame sign announcing "Used Books" to display on the sidewalk to attract a bit of attention from the street. On the windows we used a washable paint stick to shout out "Storewide Sale" and the percentage off for the day.

The special announcements were prepared long in advance, using Constant Contact, and sent by email or snail mail. The Constant Contact service is free below a certain threshhold, was easy to use, and produced a nice result. We also created our newspaper ads using Adobe, and were able to email them to the newspapers and have them printed in two days, which was much more convenient than having to drive out to the presses and then approve copy. One newspaper billed us, which is nice, and the other required payment up front because we did not have a contract with them. Our choice was to run the ads on Friday, the day before the start of the sale, but due to a few last-minute changes we made, the earliest we could run was that Saturday, which may not have been as effective for us.

We are not normally open on Sunday. We have tried it several times, and except for the Grand Opening weekend, we have never had any business. This Sunday was different, and proved to be one of our best sales days that week. Pulling that day out of the sequence, we realized progressively larger sales every day despite taking a progressively larger markdown. The number of books we sold, however, fell far below our expectations. If the sale solely accounted for the business on Sunday, should we continue to open a few hours that day and offer special discounts?

There was also concern from advisers that advertising the increasing discount to the public would simply encourage everyone to wait to shop until the last day. Though our ads suggested the possibility that someone else might buy the book one wanted at a slightly smaller discount, we agreed to make the change. Though the number of sales we did on the last day exceeded the other days, we also saw regular customers come early in the week, and several of them come in two or three times during the week. Our number one interest was in generating sales, turning our books (which our landlord and creditors do not take as payment) into cash (which they do). If we had publicized the increasing markdowns, would we have had more receipts?

We wondered at the start of the week if we should pull off some of the higher-priced books as the days passed, so that a particularly valuable or rare book was not selling for a particularly meagre amount. Ultimately, we left the books on the shelf, and the scenario above did not occur. In the past we had someone comment that our books were priced high. Based on an informal survey of other book dealers, half the cover price is the norm for a used book, and we are typically priced at and below that. Do the results of our sale then mean that the books we offer are not priced too high, but are not of interest?

After expenses, the sale yielded a decent profit. We have also had several good days since then. Several people asked if we were closing. There is no feeling that the venture has been a failure, or that the shop cannot be a profitable business. As long as time and other commitments allow, we will continue to refine our model, serving the basic needs of our book-fanciers as well as exposing our community to better books, we will continue to get the word out through mailings, newspaper, billboards (one of which has been up for over six months now thanks to a special contact), and maybe trying radio as well. Most of all, we will continue to enjoy books.


  1. enjoy it while you can, i've seen it and it wont last another year.

  2. We've also met some naysayers, who clearly don't understand what it's all about.

  3. Congratulations! It's heartening to lovers of books and bookshops to know that booksellers like yourself are out there working to keep us in books and enjoying the endeavour.