This is our monthly (hopefully) blog/newsletter
A lot of people have assumed that bookshops are a dying breed. "People just don't read anymore." That's the assumption. But, then, we think of Amazon: the largest retail exchange center in the world. that happened to have started as a bookstore, and, until two years ago, did the majority of its volume sales in books.
Small, independent bookshops (like ours) aren't dying off. They're actually growing, at a national rate of about 2% per year. That's a significant slowdown from the growth of 12% that we were seeing three to five years ago (when we bought the shop from Jan), but still within the statistical realm of "healthy."
But, like any other retail business, we have to be smart about how we do business, or we won't survive.
First, we can't become of the dead sea of what nobody wants to read. All books have value to somebody... well.., most books have value to somebody. But, we have to weigh the market value of each book we receive against how long we will need to house that book before the right person comes to buy it. In a sense, retail sales is really real estate sales: just really, really small blocks of real estate. Each book that we sell has to be able to pay us for the amount of time it sits on the shelf, not being sold, and the time it takes us to maintain it there. Klindt's Booksellers, in The Dalles, is the oldest bookshop in Oregon. When I asked him what is his secret, he pointed at each section in the store and said, "every one of those spaces has to pay me rent. If it doesn't pay, it goes."
Second, we have to anticipate, understand, and deliver on the expectations of our customers. This is really an exciting time for us because we're starting to work with a third-party online vendor who will take all of the books that we aren't selling and sell them online for us (or dispose of them responsibly). That means we can stop being "the dead sea of books that nobody wants" and invest in new items that the community is interested in. Today, we're paying $1500 every year to store books that people aren't buying. Not only is this financially ridiculous; it makes it impossible for us to buy new books, simply because we don't have any place to put them! Over the course of the next month or so, we'll be reducing our in-stock inventory by over 30,000 books so that we can actively be bringing in the titles that you're going to want to find.
Third, we need to be the space that meets your needs. You can buy books anywhere. And, sometimes even get them for a price that's lower than what you can get them from us. But, the same can be said about anything. You can get a steak from the grocery store. Or, if you want a soda, it's a lot cheaper to purchase it from a vending machine than to go out to a restaurant. In today's market, the retail space is not simply about the products. It's about the experience of spending time in the shop and the relationship we're able to build with you. While we've done a lot to make that a very comfortable and inviting experience, we've also learned a whole lot about who you are and what you want to see that's different. We're really excited about the direction these things will be going.
Ideally, we'd have all of this in place and ready to go by the second week in November (when holiday shopping really takes off). That's just not going to happen that way, this year. In fact, we'll need to delay a lot of the physical changes we'll be making until after the holiday shopping season for this year (so you don't find yourself shopping in a construction zone). But, I just want to encourage you. With all the stuff that people are saying, and many are assuming, about the demise of the local bookshop: what may seem, at times, like we're dying off is more like pruning for a stronger season next year.
If you ask most small businesses how they advertise, they'll tell you that everything is going into social media. Social media is the "free" or least expensive tool for generating buzz about what a business is doing. And, a lot of businesses are seeing a lot of success with it.
But, when I say "social media," a different audience will replace that with a different word. If you're my age, "social media" means "Facebook." If you're younger than me, it may mean Instagram or Twitter. If you're even younger, it means a whole variety of different apps on your phone that you use under different circumstances to reach different circles of your culture.
Our biggest liability, and our biggest asset, is our time. If we use our time efficiently, everything else will fall neatly into place. If we don't... well... we spend a great deal of that time wondering what happened. In regard to social media, we need to understand how to use it in a way that adds value to your experience: not just throwing a lot of energy in that direction because it's the new thing.
Sometimes, this means taking the long way around a thing instead of diving right into it. An example of this is our reasoning for removing Facebook Messaging from our Facebook page and replacing it with e-mail contact. For some people, this demonstrates that we are way behind the times. (And, hey, we're a bookshop. Whadaya want?) But, the reality is that we don't have the staffing to be able to respond to Facebook Messaging in the timely manner that you expect it. Whereas, e-mail, offers the expectation that we will respond within a day, Facebook Messaging assumes that we'll get back to you in seconds. With all the other stuff we're doing, we're not in front of the computer (or cell phone) that often. So, we've pulled back in that area, not offering the level of service that we're not able to deliver.
We'll be working on a bunch of really exciting changes that will broaden our digital reach in the future. But, right now, our focus is on developing the physical store in the direction of what is going to serve this community best.
So, today, the best way to get hold of us is still by telephone, or walking into the shop and saying, "howdy." Then, the next best way to contact us is via email. We don't yet have texting as a possibility, but we're researching what our options are and will be expanding to that, and Facebook Messaging in the future... but, it's still just us (Mark and Wendy, and mostly just Wendy). It takes time time to move forward, while still managing all that we currently have on our plate.
We starting to carry new books in the shop! Most of these are not actually new publications, but great books that people ask for regularly. These books are cheaper to get as reprinted new copies than it costs to purchased used copies.
Right now, the twenty or so brand new titles we have are mostly in the children's section. Our biggest obstacle is trying to create a space to appropriately display them.
Our goals is that 30% of our inventory will eventually be new books. Our biggest obstacle to this is how do we appropriately remove from our inventory of old books that we have difficulty passing along. We have a storage building with over 30,000 books in it than we'd like to not have to pay rent on very soon. But, the process of getting those out of our hands and into the hands of someone who wants them is a difficult task.
We expect that most of our new books will be children's books; but we've also got an eye on the most current biographies and non-fiction titles, as well as new copies of popular works that people expect to find.
Eventually, we may be able to include graphic novels selections; but, that's a whole different world (quite literally) of books that we have to learn a lot about before we can be any good at meeting this need.
"What's the difference between a romance and a love story?" Best selling author, Nicholas Sparks, was asked this question. Sparks explained that, while the two genres have very similar attributes, they are very different.
Probably the biggest difference is where and how of the setting. In a love story, the characters are bound to a normal reality: the characters are totally relate able in the circumstances that they are experiencing. While the experiences may be extreme in one way or another, they're not totally out of the question. In a romance, the characters are found in a setting that is out of the scope of reality: they're ridiculously wealthy, they're set in a different time period, they're situated on a different planet or in some kind of alternate reality.
The second difference between love stories and romances is that love story isn't guaranteed a happy ending. In fact, Sparks says, "The text-book definition of a love story requires a tragedy." This is why, in Sparks' novels, he artfully works to explore the full range of emotion. The reader is compelled to read on, not knowing exactly where this story is going to finally going to land.
Nicholas Sparks rose to fame with his 1996 best seller, "The Notebook." Of his 19 published novels, 10 have been adapted to film.
Nicholas Sparks lives in New Bern, North Carolina where he actively supports many local charities, and volunteers as head coach for the high school track team.
Some parents just seem to have this unnatural ability to read children's stories in a way that is engaging and fun. It doesn't matter what it is. They just have this voice that can magically translate a child from the lap to the pages, effortlessly and totally. It's just plain wrong.
The rest of us? Well, the rest of us struggle with battle fatigue, droning off into drooling slumber until that thirty-six inch task-master stiletto-elbows us in the gut to turn the page and keep reading.
How do they do it?
Here are the secrets:
1. Read about what YOU find interesting. Curiosity and passion are contagious. Kids will love hearing you read because they love the sound of your enthusiasm. Sure, you have to keep it age-appropriate; but that's why you have a bookshop with staff to help you discover the many options available to you. Talk to Wendy, or me, about the struggle you're having and we can help you find something great.
2. Imagine reading aloud before you do it. Make sure that you have the natural inflection that fits the author's style so you're not just reading words on a page.
3.Make sure the pictures are engaging. If you ho-hum about the images on the page, then you're not going to really engage with the child in a way that they really appreciate. You can pause the story to interact with the child about what they see.
4. Mix it up. If it's a story you have read over, and over, and over again (which means you're pretty good at it, by the way) get something wrong and see if the child corrects you. It's a pretty fun game.
5. Alternate picking the story. For every book the child asks you to read, you get to choose an alternate that you want to read to them. Again, keep it age appropriate; but sharing the experience is more powerful than just being available.
Lebanon Downtown Association is changing the annual downtown trick-or-treating event to Saturday, October 26th. No, they're not trying to change Halloween, they just want to offer an opportunity for kids to be involved without interrupting their school schedule but also without interfering with local business's peak afternoon sales, or forcing them to stay open late.
Saturday is also a good time because it's easier to muster important volunteers to help hand out candy (and books), or direct traffic.
Here's the thing. We're closed on Saturday. But, we still have about 1500 books that we'd like to hand out to kids (along with candy), We have one volunteer who would like to be available to give out the goodies; but we need at least one, hopefully two more. Would you like to help pass out candy and books at the Downtown Trick-or-treating event?
If so, call me on my cell phone (or text would be better) at 541-409-0265, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or stop into the shop and talk to Wendy about it.
People in the Lebanon community have made it pretty clear that you (we) want a bookshop. It's important to us. But, exactly what that looks like really varies from person to person. Most people are pretty excited about what we have to offer. Some people are really disappointed. A lot of people are comfortable with it; but when we make a tweak or a change, they say, "Yeah! That's something I'd have never thought of... but, I really like it!"
Lots is changing in the bookshop. Mind you, it changes slow. We don't have a whole lot of cash, nor a whole lot of time, just like everybody else. We have to dream, then scale down our dreams into practical steps, then act on them one by one.
Here's where we're headed:
We want the space to be more compartmentalized. When people come into a bookshop, their not looking for "books." They're looking for "that book." They don't want to get mentally attacked by all the ideas that they're not looking for. They want to camp out in the space that speaks to them. We've been working on creating a design that compartmentalizes the store in a way that still feels comfortable and roomy, but allows you to turn your back on the things that don't interest you. We think we've come up with a plan. I'm really excited about it. Wendy says, "you can start after Christmas."
We want the store to offer something fresh. The store that we bought was, essentially, a thrift store (a fixed garage sale) that specialized in books. That's good for some people. But, we understand that the community really wants something more. We've partnered with Ingram, a wholesaler with a distribution warehouse in Roseburg, to supply us with new books (not just used). Our goal is to maintain an inventory with 30% new and 70% used books. This isn't as easy as it may sound. First, it's a lot of money; but we'll also have to figure out how to manage our buy-back/in-store credit policy in a way that doesn't sink us financially. We've agreed to give credit, and honor the credit with the previous owner, for lots of books that we're pretty sure are never going to sell. So, we have to figure out a way to honor our commitment to those people without taking too much of a loss when we sell the new stock we have coming in.
I'm also in negotiations with a number of vendors to bring in unique, hand crafted locally made items to add to our shelves. 40% of sales in successful bookstores come from selling stuff other than books. That's disheartening to some hard-core readers; but, if you think about the fact that it usually takes most people a week or two to read a book, it's important for us to supplement our primary business with more items that will keep people coming in, even though their shelves are full.
This is Mark, the mark portion of Mark & Wendy, the owners of Think Brain Candy Books. Most people who know us have figured out that, between the two of us, Wendy's the brains and I'm the candy in the scenario. We make a good team, and have for thirty some years now.
If you're wondering what's going on with the shop, as things seem to constantly be changing, this is a good place to find out what we've been thinking.
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Sunday: 12:30 pm - 5:30 pm
678 S. Main St
We're located downtown in Lebanon, Oregon, just past the Kuhn Movie Cinema. If you're from the South part of town, that means going North on Park Street to Vine St (the big brick castle-looking church), turn left on Vine, then left on Main, and go back two blocks. Kuhn is in the middle of the block on the right, and we're right past them. Look for the sign in the store window "BOOKS" and the Think Brain Candy logo.