Monday, March 16, 2015

Do you want to own a bookstore?

Being an avid reader, my dream job has long been to own an independent bookstore. That was until I met the real owner of a new indie bookstore. I decided it was not the life of sipping tea and reading all the New York Times best sellers that I envisioned. In May 2014, Melissa Demotte opened The Well~Read Moose, a delightful, well-stocked bookstore in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. Running a successful small bookstore has many more facets than appear on the surface and not all of them have readily available answers. The following questions and answers are paraphrased but the recall is true.
ROVA: What is your background?
            Melissa has a background in business administration and is a CPA. She earned her living as an accountant before taking on the exciting task of running her own bookstore. She has had a long passion for books, travel and the outdoors.
ROVA: How did you learn what to do?
            There is a company that runs weeklong seminars on how to own and operate a bookstore. She took this class and was able to brainstorm with the class teachers afterwards to discuss specific questions and answers. The name of the store, The Well~Read Moose, came about over a cup of coffee during this meeting. Ms Demotte has a love of anything to do with moose. Her store logo is a sophisticated, whimsical moose with Harry Potter glasses reading a book and sipping a hot beverage. The seminar teachers and Melissa worked on the size of a potential bookstore as well as how to find the right location, how to determine inventory levels and how to handle consignment programs.
ROVA: What is the hardest part of owning a bookstore?
            Inventory management. What to buy, why to buy it, what not to purchase, how long to keep a book on the shelf and anticipating consumers' needs. Her accounting background means that she is organized and likes things to be in logical order. This doesn’t stop her from moving around the books in her store especially during this time of a high learning curve. She wants the store to look curated and fresh. She and her employees are continually straightening, dusting and changing “face outs.” ( Face outs are books that are displayed with their front covers showing versus the books' spines.) Ms Demotte feels it would be much more difficult to manage a bookstore without a business-accounting background
ROVA: What is the best part of this venture?
            Talking to the customers. Learning what customers like, what they are looking for and having conversations about favorite books or the latest best sellers. Part of this philosophy is that the employees build a relationship with frequent customers so they are able to recommend books that the patrons will buy. The customers learn to trust what the employees are telling them.
ROVA: What tools are available for bookstore owners to select books?
             Memberships in The American Booksellers Association and its regional arm the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association are the biggest aids in determining what is happening in the industry, what are hit sellers, and trends and predictions. The PNBA covers the states of Washington, Alaska, Idaho, Oregon and Montana. She spends a lot of time reading these web sites gleaning trends, spying potential problems and sharing the foibles and pleasures of running an independent bookstore. She reads galleys and constantly does searches using, among other web sites, Edelweiss, an e-list she subscribes to managed by smaller publishers. Paper catalogs are also a part of her options. Ms Demotte says there is an overwhelming amount of data available and she is learning which sites help her the most. Her goal in her work has always been to be as efficient as possible.
ROVA: How do you target readers?
            The staff found that a book display of books made into movies was instantly popular. The Well~Read Moose is half a block from a large theater complex and people wander in before or after a movie or a restaurant meal. The genre of Young Adults is always changing and there is a need for good literature here. She feels a big challenge is to figure out what the next popular fad will be.
ROVA: Are there genres you do not stock?
            Mass romance, pornography, obscure subjects and used books.
ROVA: Can you send back books that do not sell?
            Yes. She buys eight per cent of the inventory through wholesalers. However, the return numbers and prices are not as good and she has to pay the freight and restocking charges. With bigger publishers, there is no restocking fee. She is finding about 18% of orders are returned which is average for the size of the inventory. The Well~Read Moose sells two to three hardcover books to every twenty paperbacks.           
ROVA: What strategies have worked so far and what surprises did you encounter?
            A billboard close to downtown drew a lot of tourists as well as advertising the new bookstore to locals. Displays of books that are specific to this area and activities available locally have sold well. Seasonal books displayed prominently are also on the learning curve. She said she missed the garden books season because she opened the store in May but when I was in the store in late February, I spotted a large cabinet holding regional books and general gardening books that were selling well. Children’s books are flying off the shelves. Parents will buy a hard cover book as a present and then buy some paperbacks for themselves as well.
ROVA: What drove the idea to serve coffees, teas, wines, muffins plus hand made candy?
           Melissa determined she wanted an atmosphere of comfort and the ability to linger if the shoppers chose. She overruled staff objections and allows people to walk around the store holding a cup of hot liquid or a glass of wine. There has been only one minor spill and it resulted in a purchase.
            There are several book clubs that meet at the store and she gives a 20% discount to members of those book clubs when they purchase any of the listed books. A frequent purchase discount is also available.A successful idea was to offer a children' story time where adults could enjoy a glass of wine and browse while their children were listening.

Melissa Demotte generously shared her insight during a long session of questions and conversation. She is a delight to talk to and willing to share her love and knowledge of books. Her deep understanding of the business world coupled with an enthusiastic, well-trained staff almost guarantees The Well~Read Moose will be operating in Coeur d’Alene for years to come.

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