Ask Felicia Joy: How You Can Become a Bookstore Owner
I am a firm believer in education and reading to keep your mind going. I truly want to open an African American bookstore. I am wondering if you can give me some suggestions on how to get started with this. I would like to have children’s books, fiction, and Christian books. If you can give me some type of insight on writing a business plan, I would greatly appreciate it.
We are kindred spirits. I love reading and I love books! For me, they never ever get old. But times are a-changing fast. Digital books are on the rise so please consider that as part of your business planning. Borders, a billion dollar bookstore chain, has not made a profit since 2006, [while] its competitor, Barnes & Noble, has remained profitable by embracing the digital book marketplace.
There’s good news in this for you: changes in the book market are creating niche opportunities for independent bookstore owners. For example, last month, Time.com1 reported that Greenlight Bookstore in the Fort Greene neighborhood of Brooklyn had $1 million in sales in 2010. This was due in part to understanding their local niche and stocking what neighborhood customers wanted. Plus, they focused on local authors and events.
The co-owner of Greenlight is listed in the article. E-mail her to see if she would talk to you for 10 minutes. Before doing this, write your business plan (use the templates on SCORE’s website if you need to). Going through that process will clarify some of your ideas, give you a better sense of your local market, give you a real idea of what your startup costs could be, and compel you to think about marketing strategies. The plan won’t guarantee your success, but it increases your chances by at least 30 percent. Also, you’ll have better questions to ask the entrepreneur who has created a success of her bookstore in New York.
Once you’ve done this, e-mail the Greenlight owner. Guarantee her in the e-mail that if she is willing to talk to you that you will stick to 10 minutes and not a minute more. Schedule the time to talk, have a list of your top 5 to 10 questions ready, call her on time and make sure you don’t ask any question that you could have figured out on your own with a little research. Keep your eye on the clock while you’re on the phone with her. Start wrapping up the conversation when you’re down to nine minutes. Send her a handwritten thank you note in the mail on the same day. If you can afford to do so, take a trip to New York and visit the bookstore. Spend a day there and see what it’s like.
Let’s talk about more things you can do to improve your chances of long term success with your bookstore. Go to an existing bookstore near where you plan to open yours, and ask 100 people why they go to that bookstore (it may not be to buy books; maybe free wi-fi and delicious coffee attracts them). You can also also ask them what the bookstore is missing. This may take you days or weeks, but the effort will be worth it. You will see patterns in the answers you get that will reveal valuable marketing insights before you even get started.
I also want you to list every conceivable cost for opening your bookstore and think of ways to eliminate or reduce that cost for your first 12 to 36 months of business. For example, start with a smaller space and negotiate a few months of free or significantly reduced rent. Buy your shelves and fixtures used from a Borders that is going out of business or on Craigslist. Go down your entire list with this approach.
One more thought I’d like to share with you, Osarka: create and execute an aggressive sales and marketing plan that is going to bring multiple streams of cash through your door every single month. Answers from those 100 people — and the conversation that you can hopefully have with the Greenlight owner — will tell you what books people want to buy and what they want besides books. Make sure you offer it. Something as simple as renting your store as an event space before and after your hours, or offering how-to workshops to aspiring authors could create more cash flow that will keep you afloat while you grow the business.
Grace & Peace,
Felicia Joy is a nationally recognized entrepreneur who created $50 million in value for the various organizations and companies she served in corporate America before launching her business enterprise. She is often called on to discuss the ins and outs of entrepreneurial success and has appeared on CNN, FOX and in other national press. Felicia operates Ms. CEO Inc., a company that helps women entrepreneurs achieve more success, faster — as well as Joy Group International, LLC, a business development and consulting firm. Send her your questions at firstname.lastname@example.org or www.twitter.com/feliciajoy.