Monday, February 18, 2008

After seeing Spiderwick, -- (fun movie: "I love that we go see so many kids movies." "Yeah, why should the kids have all the fun?") -- Linda and I went bookstore a-visting.

We checked out Between the Covers first. Great building. When I talk about the 'funk', that's what I'm talking about. The inventory nicely matches the building. A great concept. Clerk (young lady) was well aware of Pegasus and had shopped there. I hope the location isn't too far off the beaten track. Bought a Bend Business Review.

Then we drove the Redmond, hoping the two new bookstores there would be open. Paulina Springs was right in the heart of downtown Sixth. Couldn't get out of the car for five minutes because of all the traffic. Huge store, guessing about 3000 sq. ft. or more, very corporate looking and feeling. My inner cash register kept ca-chinging up the costs of the bookshelves; looked to be about 100 shelves in the 300.00 to 500.00 variety; so 30k to 50k in fixtures alone. Which blows my mind. Clerk (young lady) had never heard of Pegasus or the Bookmark, though a Redmond resident. We left without buying (it being so corporate feeling, Linda said she didn't feel the need to buy anything.)

We got directions to Shelf Life, but drove by it twice before finding it. Also on Sixth, a few blocks north on the west side of the road. Nice building. But we've driven down Sixth half a dozen times in the last weeks, and never seen the store.

The sign is a small one, a couple of feet in diameter, mixed in with about 5 other signs; and so understated and tasteful as to disappear. No signs in the windows. Nothing to indicate Bookstore(!) to the bibliophiles. Was closed. Looked in, and it appeared gorgeous. Big and tasteful and nicely designed. Again, a big, big store.

Both these stores are bigger than any of the Bend stores. I assume they came in without knowing about the other store. In any case, I think they made a big mistake going into Redmond instead of Bend. I say this as a owner who had a Redmond store and at the same time, two Bend (Pegasus) stores. The Bend stores always did much better, and I used to just see the Redmond people shopping in them. There is always a temptation to move to a smaller town and try to 'corner' the market; whereas,I believe you're much better off trying to get a portion of a much bigger market; especially if you do a good job and get more than your share

The bigger the population base the better, I always say. Imagine one of those really nice bookstores with nice signage in one of the strip malls on Hwy. 20, on your way to Barnes and Nobles. Suspect they would get lots of visits.

But what do I know?

Total overkill for Redmond, though. I firmly believe Redmond people bop onto Hwy. 97, drive the 15 minutes to Bend, to do most of their shopping. I'll admit, the town has doubled in size since we had a presence there, but I suspect the psychology hasn't changed much.

The other thing that strikes me is the sheer investment exhibited in those two stores. I think I can pretty safely say that they are both have more money invested than I do after 20 years of trying: certainly, in fixtures, they blow me away. Inventory, too, isn't cheap. My business is scaled to what I think --no, what I know -- I can do, within the 1000 sq. ft. of my space. I'm not certain that getting twice as big or three times as big would result in significantly higher sales. I suspect they would, but not enough to gamble and give it a try. Especially not in trying times.

So investing 75k to 100k in a new bookstore in Redmond is mind-boggling. Even if they succeed in getting into the black in the first few years, there is that initial investment to pay off, and I'd have to assume that money was borrowed. It's a tough hill to climb, especially when you have a glass ceiling -- 20k people, who have been trained to shop in Bend.

Whereas in Bend, you have 75k people,(160k in the metro area) and all the outlying areas who have been trained to shop in Bend, plus hordes of tourists, to draw upon. Hell, I complain about the glass ceiling of Bend. How would my store have done after 20 years in Portland? How many more people might have found us? I do know that similiarly stocked and experienced stores in bigger cities do up to 5 to 10 times the business I do, and it ain't because they are (just) 'better' stores.

Maybe it's just one of those counter-intuitive things you have to experience to understand. I remember thinking that having a second store in Bend was a strange choice, but from day one it did twice, thrice, quatro what the Redmond store did. It was far enough away that it didn't seem to impact on the downtown store. The only reason I gave the store up was because Linda wanted to move on, and because I could see the the Mountain View Mall was a Dead Mall.

So, if either of you two Redmond bookstore owners are listening. Get out of your lease, pack up and move to Bend! Not both of you, mind you. Just the smart one.


Duncan McGeary said...

Linda and I went back to the Book Shelf today, and talked to the owner. Big store, lots of gifty type things as well as books.

She said they found out 8 months before opening that the other bookstore was opening.

Sounds like they did their homework, and like I said I was impressed.

I presumed to joke that she should move to north, south, or east Bend. (Not west, or central).

I also presumed to tell her the signage needed something more.

Central Oregon suddenly has a plethora of nice bookstores.

Duncan McGeary said...

So what do I think of their chances? Not much. The stores are nice -- maybe too nice. I just think the trends nationally have been against independent bookstores against the Borders and Amazons of the world.

Besides: they are bookstore clones.

All them pretty much had very simliar inventory; and all of them told me their inventory was different.

They didn't carry much in any of the genres, romance, S.F. and mysteries. This seems really short-sighted to me.

All had dedicated kid sections.

All had empty space, which drives me green with envy.

All of them have some kind of coffee set-up, except Paulina Springs.

All of them appear to have spent more on fixtures than inventory.

All of them were in good taste, but some of them already were starting to show signs of neglect; books not put back, empty spots, etc.

Good Sense books may be a plague for indy bookstores; all the inventory seems have been chosen off of lists, and I wonder how much idiosyncratic choice was made.

And yet at the same time, the owners bias came through. One store didn't carry S.F. at all.
From Linda's store, I can say that kissing off genres like S.F. and Romance, and Mysteries, and Horror and Westerns, kisses off a not insignificant number of readers.

Not every one reads Oprah books, or Book Sense books, or whatever book is deemed literary by the local or national bookclubs.

In a way, it seems to me that they are making the opposite mistakes that the old book exchanges do; in fact, they're mirror reflections.

Old used exchanges stay away from hardcover or tradepaperback, they specialize in romance and westerns and science fiction and such, but give short shrift to literature and non-fiction.

There is no reason to ignore any of these categories. You don't have to carry a huge number of each genre, if you know what you're doing.

And forget the friggen knickknacks and the 500.00 bookshelves; buy inventory, lots of it, as much as you can afford. Buy them cheap, buy them new, carry new and used, look for bargains, look for the unusual -- not the same damn book sense books as everyone else.

Realize it is going to take a very long time of carrying the unusual to gain a clientele, but once you do they'll be back.

Why bother to come to your bookstore if all you have is the same damn Book Sense books as everyone else?

Bookstore clones.

Duncan McGeary said...

The thing I see is lost opportunity. They will have to learn the hard way what works and what doesn't.

Makes me just want to take them aside and say, "Here's what you do. Here's what you don't do."