/ Opening a bookshop - how to plan for success?
There's a lack of bookshops in the local area: absolutely nothing for five miles in any direction, and in the nearest major town all we've got is W.H. Smiths and The Works (plus charity shops). The village library is about to close down.
I know a bit about selling books, and I know a reasonable amount about the world of books in general.
I would love to have my own bookshop: small, comfortable, stocked with quirky and interesting titles rather than the same stuff you'll find in Smiths or Waterstones. There would also be an online side to the business, most likely dedicated to specialist antique climbing and mountaineering books (which will of course be of zero interest to the local public).
The problem, of course, is that the market is working against independent booksellers and they are closing down much faster than new ones are opening. Actually making a living in this business looks pretty difficult to me.
I guess my question is this: if you were going to establish a new independent bookshop today, how would you go about making it successful? What would your priorities be? How would you make the Web work for you instead of against you?
I'm interested in any and all input. As I said this is only the bud of an idea for now, but it's something I would love to do, given the chance.
Well, I love buying books and I buy a lot.
I don't buy hardbacks, not enough room.
On Amazon I can search for titles I want, and will usually buy from there.
I don't go to Waterstones or any shop for new books, but I visit every second-hand bookshop I see, it is sheer joy to browse through the shelves of these shops.
So if I were you, I'd open a second hand shop, with new titles if you can compete.
General bookshops will go the way of record shops & the dodo I fear.
The future is ebooks and specialist on-line booksellers for aficionados, maybe with a physical premises, maybe not.
Don't put too much at risk to follow this dream. A part time venture maybe, in rented premises with bonded stock?
I will admit to having no experience whatsoever but that won't stop me putting in my two pennies worth :)
I suspect a pure old style bookshop will have to face the harsh reality of any bookshop these days- an inability to compete on price and lack of choice compared to amazon. However a niche, or two, or three, might be worth exploiting (look at e.g. mountainbooks.co.uk) and you can reach a larger audience via Abebooks, ebay and similar.
Maybe combine it with something else like a gallery, coffee shop, artisan bakery- whatever you want. I guess it depends on how well heeled and cosmopolitan the folk of your particular town are.
How about an Ice factor type affair in the middle of the shop? (only half joking!)
Just to expand on this you can buy pretty much any book from any author you can think of for 1p + £2.50 shipping from the Amazon Marketplace (assuming it's not a month after the release date, naturally). Failing that ebay is pretty decent for 2nd hand books, especially sets/collections of specific authors.
So bearing the above in mind don't do an Oxfam and try selling 2nd hand paperbacks for 4quid a pop!
Well, you've already mentioned you will be dealing online which is essential.
As a customer who buys books and likes to go to Wigtown (Scotland's book town) and doesn't have a kindle or other e-book device, I'd suggest making your shop a welcome place to be.
Have tables / comfortable chairs for people to sit & look through books.
Don't solicit their intentions more than once unless they ask for help.
I'd suggest not being too precious about the premises: the book shops with the most customers in Wigtown allow dogs in, serve (good) coffee and are laid out to give browsers privacy rather than the feeling than the store owner is watching them. If you're going to be sitting there in the shop, look busy (but approachable) as again, I find the feeling that the shop owner is too aware of me and willing me to buy a book offputting.
Price everything (if I pick up a book and its not priced, I put it down).
Be innovative: one shop sold postcards which were the former covers of pulp novels / damaged books that were never going to sell. Likewise, they sold framed prints from such books.
Remember, for some of us, its not just about getting a book, but a mini-experience. I can use Amazon if its just about getting my hands on a particular book.
Anyway, good luck if you do go ahead with it.
Honestly, I think you would need another source of income or be content to just about tread water. I could see more potential if you were to actually drop the "no book shop for 5 miles" idea and head to where there are lots of book shops. I'm thinking Oxford or Cambridge for example. I suspect a quirky independent book shop would do quite well surrounded by a good university and lots of other book shops.
Not much of a book person but from what happens with book shops in Aberdeen you would have to mix it wit something else like a coffee shop. The one I am thinking of is called books and beans, it is always busy and they have lasted a lot longer than most of the bookshops which have opened.
You can have your own 'bookshop' on amazon or Abe books. That would get the books to a wider audience. Use social media such as Facebook and Twitter to promote new titles or books relevant to current events. So if a well known climber is doing a series of talks, promote their books, if you have them, on social media, along with a link to your 'shop' on amazon.
Try an indoor market for a small set up, but there will need to be popular books on the shelves. Don't limit yourself to a specific genre or type of book unless you are in a climbing area. It won't get enough foot traffic & browsers & therefore fewer buyers. Check out rents on indoor market stalls, (you can leave stock there usually so don't have to pack it up every night) it may be cheaper than the overheads of a rented shop.
Research the market for books in your area. Don't put a 2nd hand book for sale more expensive than you can find it brand new in the works or the supermarkets. Use the internet to find fair prices for rarer titles. You can either then sell it in the shop or online.
Get to book signings or talks by authors/writers to have them signed if you can. They can command a higher price sometimes. (I went to see James Herbert a couple of years ago for his last book and had mine signed. There were others there who had 5 of the book signed and were put on eBay the day after but they didn't sell at the asking price). Carry titles by local authors too or about your local area.
my local independent: http://preview.tinyurl.com/cjqjxe
They work pretty hard, will order in stuff (at no extra cost) have a cafe and do lots of stuff with local schools and stuff.
They are surviving because they have set out to attract footfall based on author visits and working with the local schools etc. which an online only shop can't do. It helps that they have some (limited) parking, and they are in a busy and affluent village/small town. What would put me off starting something like this is the huge overheads compared to Amazon, who are basically a warehouse. As an independent you will have to pay all your taxes too..
my local bookshop http://www.scarthinbooks.com since my wife is a school librarian she also uses them a great deal for supply and they have a large selection of children's teenage books instore too. good cafe, interesting selection of books, postcards, involved with community etc.
Making a living from a bookshop is very hard work. It always has been. The best bookshop I know, which I would use as a model, is the Watermill in Aberfeldy. It does loads of different things, to the extent that it's made itself a destination in its own right. It has a really good cafe - nothing fancy, but decent tea, coffee and cake a light lunches. It has a gallery showing interesting and good art - not aspiring local artists but genuine high quality international artists.
It has a good selection of books, and addresses its location - lots of local stuff, supported by author talks. Most of the titles are a mix of the higher-brow end of the bestseller lists and good quality non-fiction. They also have a good children's section which always seems to be busy. By and large, they don't appear to attempt to compete on price - they concentrate on getting people into the building and once you're in, you almost always buy something. It helps that's it's an interesting building.
They also do some of their own publishing, although they seem to struggle getting a decent printer - their first book was an artbook, and I would have cried if I'd been the artist, so poor was the printing.
What will almost certainly guarantee failure is the idea of modelling a bookshop in your image - what's quirky and interesting to you is an obscure waste of time to someone else. To some extent, you need to be a bit of a prostitute - you need to do what sells, and being precious about your stock won't get you very far.
I'd seriously question the idea of an online shop for specialist climbing/mountaineering books - what would you offer that Abebooks and Glacier Books don't offer?
The local bookshop here used to order from Amazon! It's closed.
Sounds a ghastly proposition from a business viewpoint.
The areas where you *might* compete are:
- rare books
- search/trace services
- rental of expensive-to-buy books (some scientific texts; guidebooks!)
- the over 70s who don't internet
One additional area to be cautious about - if you are tied to royal mail as a distribution option it will kill you cf. Amazon's delivery network costs.
Summary advice? Don't. Open a bike shop instead.
To see IMHO the defacto gold standard in bookshops and book retailing take a look at Daunts in London. If they can afford the rents in Marylebone, Holland Park and Hampstead they must be doing something that you need to know about!
Waterstones were in trouble (bloody Amazon).... they hired a new boss by the name of James Daunt. Yes THAT Daunt!
It'll be an uphill battle from the moment you open the door. The internet has removed any competition from independent book shops like dynamite in a fishing pond. It's not sustainable. Tragic, but true.
Is there a regular market where you live? There's a chap doing second-hand books on the market in the town my parents live in, and as he's been in business since I was a kid (at least) and is still there he must be making a living at it, despite it being a town where the charity shops and pound shops outnumber everything else.
Maybe a way of testing the water and keeping the overheads lowish while building a following of loyal customers?
Actually I was thinking about doing something like that - there isn't really a local market, but there are frequent craft fairs etc. Was going to have a book stall at the last one in the village but didn't get round to it.
I think starting small might be the best way to proceed ...
Thanks for all the other very informative replies so far. Lots to consider!
Agree with some of that but you need to be careful you don't turn the place into a library. How many times have I seen people sitting there for hours reading/using a book only to put it back having had no intention of buying. I've twice bought books with crumbs or other food debris/finger prints in them. Am not sure selling food/coffee etc sends out the right message
My view would be to a) build up an online business and use the shop as a front for that b) you don't say what your client base would be. Obviously if you were in a tourist area then that would be different to if you were in a rundown area of Bolton and would require a different approach. c) As others have said a cafe would be a good side business to draw them in. d) Specialise let's face it you will never compete with the likes of Waterstones or even Amazon on general stuff. But in order for specialised to work it has to be stuff that specialised people want
If you are serious, or get more serious, do your market research. That isn't just asking locals, it's also looking at successful bookshops and what they do. Speak to them. Seriously - my guess is that if you are looking at opening up a bookshop that's not in direct competition (eg >50 miles away), most sellers would be only to happy to have a chat. They co-operate anyway - my local bookshop, the very wonderful http://www.mainstreetbooks.co.uk/ was/is part of a trail of bookshops in the region, they put on talks by authors who are on a tour, usually of independent bookshops, and you would want in on that line of business. So my guess is that some owners wold be only too happy to give you 5 minutes of your time, and in the process you'd also get ideas.
Other thoughts - a bookshop now is more that a lot of shelves of books. Coffee, places to browse, gifts, light open premises are all essential. By all means have one or two specialities, (hills, and also definitely others). have tactile, 'nice' books for gifts. Make your shop better than waterstones, more personal. And above all, you have to want it.
How do you make a small fortune by opening a bookshop?
Start with a large one!
If you're looking for a business that provides even a modest income, you've got to start with a business model and work back from there.
You'd be happy on £2,000/month average, before tax
Your rent, business rates, utilities, etc is £1,500/month (pretty low for a shop)
Marketing, professional services, travel and other incidentals cost £500/month
You support your shop with sales through Amazon (.co.uk, .co, .de, .jp) and ebay
You achieve an average margin on sales of around 40%
You would therefore need to sell about £10,000/month - about £400/day, which I think is a huge ask. If you specialise in rare/collectibles and really know your market you might be able to make this work, but you're facing really stiff competition. I hate to discourage anyone from starting a business, but equally I'd hate to see them through good money at the wrong dream.
I think around 14k is the sum (on average) which has been arrived at that's ment to give people a quality of living which is more than just scraping along.
I think Only a hill will be living with another wage earner which helps.
I'll have a google...
It's £16.850 before tax for a single person.
It's been mentioned a couple of times but independent bookshops with a cafe area tend to do well, good food/ coffee and browsing with no pressure, needs to be inviting.
I never quite understood why the very nice V+A one at South Ken folded. (Or has it re-opened recently?)
The 2nd hand Sanctuary Bookshop in Lyme Regis has been going 16 years or so, ever since Bob and Mariko Speer moved there. Bob runs the bookshop while Mariko does the B&B upstairs, which is also book lined.
It is a lovely shop. Some of the things that keep it going, and make you want to go there, I should think, are:
1. Bob. He is a great raconteur, if you want him to be, with a story to tell about all the things he sells. He says that helps to sell them.
2. He sells lots of things besides books, you realise, when you look around. Lots of pictures up (UK's only stockist of Hundertwasser), cards, guitars, lamps and oddments all squished in between or perched upon the books, giving the place an Aladdin's Cave feel.
3. Despite that, it is not ramshackle. It is highly organised and Bob seems to know how to find anything. It is also full of alcoves and hidden areas. You definitely don't feel watched over.
4. He seems to know his market, which must be largely tourists, and has shelves of obvious good sellers prominently displayed near the front.
5. Mariko. The B&B income must help. We've been going for 10 years, attracted at least in part by the idea of spending a day or two surrounded by books, which line the rooms and the stairs. All are for sale.
6. The location, which is very nice with a lot of passing tourists. I don't know what he does on the internet.
I think your warning is still worth heeding but did you know that record shops are one of the fastest growing segments of the retail sector? Apparently vinyl is back!!
Er ... if there was one vinyl record shop in 2013 and now there are two, that's 200% growth.
To a journo, that's news.
I think the OP should have been better titled 'how to cope with catastrophe.' Retail in the internet era is a hard business. By way of comparison: there are still farriers out there, that doesn't mean that technology didn't see most of them off in a very short space of time.
Two words: chocolate cake.
Actually make that five words: nice plumpy sofas.
And jazz. OK, seven.
I would also look at book shops in the town that failed and try to find out why?
I went for an interview for a job last year for a toy shop that was opening in the town centre. The ELC shop had closed 3 months before but was in a slow decline for about 2 years before that, and the last 2 independant toy shops in the town had also closed. I asked the interviewer, "Three toy shops in the town have closed in the last 5 years, what makes you think that a new toy shop in this town would be viable and can you compete against online sales, supermarkets and catalogue shops where they have failed? I didnt get the job but the shop opened last August. It was closed and emptied in February.
What makes you think your bookshop would succeed, where others have failed? Is your idea of selling to a niche market (climbing books) viable as a shop in your town or would it be better as an online hobby job? Learn from their mistakes, if you can find out what they were.
Cake and coffee is always good. There is a large bookshop at Brierlow Bar that has ok-ish coffee and tea from a machine but no cakes. They also sell greetings cards, postcards, bookmarks etc from local artists and photographers (local landscapes), bird food and feeders (there are several bird feeders in the trees in the carpark), cd's, and their prices are cheaper than waterstones. They have a huge variety of books, from gardening, history, travel, natural history, climbing and adventure, childrens books, popular fiction, classics, crafts, local history, art, music, the list goes on but I cant remember them all.
That was my first thought too.
I've been there only twice, it felt a sad place, the books on sale had a "remaindered" vibe about them (but not a particularly "remaindered" price) and it seemed to be too big a space to be viable. They didn't appear to be doing much business. But hey they are still standing so what do I know. It just didn't feel enticing. Scarthins IS enticing somehow and I almost always find an interesting second hand book in there to buy alongside my coffee and cake.
A bargain bookshop opened near me three years ago (on the main Chester road). It appeared to attract a steady flow of customers as it was very well stocked, even with climbing books. A year ago it was sold, the stock reduced, went in once, now it always seems to be dark with no one there. There also used to be a very good bookshop, Borders, on the edge of the huge discount village north of Chester. That has closed down. I suspect a bookshop has to be either a tiny quirky affair that doesn't need to make a commercial profit, or something like Waterstones.
Opening any business is 100% all about business methods, and if this was me I would therefore put all my efforts into learning them properly first. It's a sad fact that many small businesses close because of a lack of it: and that seems to be even truer when the business was a labour of love.
I'm absolutely not implying you lack business sense, just giving my thoughts.
Wishing you LOTS of luck. I actually really admire people who follow their dreams.
Good grief, the charity shops here in Spain charge 50 cents for their second hand paper backs, I can get 10 for 5Ä and that lasts me a fortnight, I usually give them back to be sold again unless it's a classic.
This is a dream many of us have. You probably have to choose between:
a) do it the way you want to, but only as a moderately expensive hobby, having earned your money elsewhere (I expect many lovely surviving bookshops follow this model)
b) do it to try to earn a living, which will require a ruthless commercial instinct and probably be far from the bookshop of dreams.
As a booklover who rarely buys new books (what's the point?), I can tell immediately whether a secondhand bookshop has a well-organised and high quality collection or just boxes of remaindered crap. If the former, I'll spend at least 20 quid. But even for a superbly-run bookshop it is almost impossible to imagine getting the daily turnover needed to support a living.
Coffee, on the other hand, is a substance which commands an enormous mark-up for a retailer. As many have said, a cafe with a few bookcases is a slightly more viable proposition.
Have you ever seen blackbooks...?
Our local independent has also recently expanded to include a coffee shop, which certainly seems to make it busier. Don't know if they sell more books!
I imagine another thing that works in their favour is that we're on the edge of the Lakes, so there's a fair market in walking guides, coffee table books, maps, etc - both from locals and tourists. I'm sure it's easier to sell big books of photos in person than over the Internet, as you want to flick through and see if the photos are any good or not! Finding something that'll create a similar, steady turnover is no doubt useful.
I think there in lies the problem. There is no longer a viable market for small independent bookshops.
I would create another business which had a book shop on the side. The obvious one would be a cafe, but depending on the size you could also add in some form of event space for small theatre, comedy, book reading, poetry reading and other events or meetings. Most people love book shops, but they are not really a destination in their own right any more.
As others have said, you definitely need to approach this from a business perspective first, what are your costs, then think about how you generate the revenue to cover those costs. Premises are obviously an important consideration and the size of the premises will not only impact on costs, but also the sort of activity that you can do in them, might worth costing up a couple of different options if the property is available locally. You need to know rent, rates and utilities costs, smaller premises can currently benefit from small business rate relief, which can be a big saving on your monthly outgoings. What you pay yourself will have a big impact on your business model, it may be that you are able to just pay yourself a very small salary whilst you establish the business, but remember you are the last person to get paid, so however small the salary, it isnít guaranteed until you sell enough product. The cost of setting up a business can be considerable and the financing of this needs to be considered as part of the running cost of the business. Shop fit out, stock purchase etc, even with favourable deals with suppliers, you are looking at 5 figures, this needs to be repaid.
Once you have worked all that out you can look at how you generate the income to support it, selling coffee and cakes is good, because it gets people through the door spending money also more profit in it, sounds like the sort of business where being part of the community is important, engaging with as many different parts of the community would be critical, book groups, mums (or dads) with pre-school children, local interest / history groups, writing groups. An online is something you can start now and test out and have that as part of your income stream if you decide a physical shop is possible
Having watched Black Books I believe you need to drink copious amounts of red wine, hire a bumbling eccentric assistant and attempt to shag the flower shop owner next door.
Come to think of it I'm not sure they ever made any money.
Lovely pipe dream and I wish you success but commercially the most astute thing you could do is start by building a time machine.
I believe he has already ticked the third of those.
Beat me to it!
So the rumors are true!
I also feel an Irish accent an a health contempt for your customers would assist.
Phrases such as "Coming in here wanting a specific book anyone would think we are running some kind of Book Shop"
"We are not a Library either buy it or get out"
have you suggested to a certain florist that she 'lends' you half her floorspace for your bookshelves. Would maybe give you a feel for whether or not the local populace are interested in reading (or even 'can' read).
I know someone who worked at Daunt books for quite a long time and has a reasonable insight into what made it work.
I think that the key factor was they had a very good sense of their market and how they could target that. They were specifically targetting the well-off, high-brow literary set in London. So, after the flagship store in Marylebone, they opened in Hampstead, Belsize Park and South Kensington. All places where well-healed, high-brow people hang out. They had a heavily curated inventory of travel / literary books - exactly the kind of thing which appeals to well-healed high-brow types. These are people whose idea of holiday reading is more V S Naipaul than Alex Garland. Then the other thing which I believe made a difference was they paid above-the-market to their staff and hired people with a passion for books, often, English Lit degrees, and - to be honest - often with the right appearance and accent to get on famously with well-healed, high-brow types.
Daunt's was actually quite late coming to the internet. They built their business and their name offline. And they have never, as far as I remember, added a cafe to one of their bookshops. Although they have held events - book launches, author readings, childrens stories etc.
Some friends wanted to meet us there on Sunday as it has a cafe.... it was very busy, and everyone in our group bought something. Go and look if you haven't as I'd say it's a very good example of what you are hoping to achieve.
Get lots of cats.
I hear it works for other businesses these days...
Rumours? Hannah and I are well established ... We started going out in 2010 :P
Black Books is actually one of my favourite comedy shows. I suspect if I did end up opening a shop that's exactly what it would be like (down to the preference of Beethoven records above all other kinds of music).
Many thanks to everyone who has replied so far - some really thoughtful and insightful replies. I will give everything that has been said a lot of thought. At the moment I'm leaning towards the idea of starting an online-only operation and tentatively seeing how it goes...
Well heeled => nice shoes, not scruffy, well off, genteel
Well healed => minimal scarring, no discharge, generally healthier than they were before the operation.
good point. Minimal scarring is also a feature of Daunt's target market but possibly not the defining feature.
Don't worry - you're not the only pedant on here!
I started to muse about how well healed (or not) the well heeled were.
A Tall Clare moment...
My appoligies I clearly don't read UKC enough. I am delighted that you are emulating a beloved comedy show.
I wrote earlier about why I thought the Sanctuary Bookshop in Lyme Regis, one of my favourite bookshops, has lasted so long. It, by the way, has neither cafe nor sofas, but it does have lots of music. This seems to be whatever Bob likes, so Jazz and Blues, mainly, but not necessarily the same at the back of the store as at the front.
In contrast, one second hand bookshop I really didn't like was one I went to once, and only once, in Wynchcombe. On every shelf there was a little notice telling you what not do. Don't bend the pages, don't do this, don't do that. One of them said, I forget what, exactly, except that it wouldn't have been necessary to say it if weren't for what SOME people did. And all the time the owner sat, in full view, in her seat, glowering at you. She wan't at all happy when I asked her why she was selling one of those £1 classics for £1.50, when you could get a £1 new copy at the other shop along the road.
Best not set up a shop like that, I think.
Maybe a bookshop ain't such a bad idea :)
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