I got a call from a landlord in Prineville, who was thinking of starting up a used bookstore/coffee shop.
Now, I can't tell you if combining coffee and books is a good idea or a bad idea. But I can tell you that doing it because everyone else is doing it, seems ....I don't know....doubtful.
I've noticed that Borders has decided to 'rededicate' themselves to being booksellers, instead of purveyors of multi-media. Novel idea, eh? A bookstore that sells books.
When Linda and I opened the Bookmark, we had almost everyone tell us that we should serve coffee, among other things. But by then, we had 25 years of experience under our belt. We kept to the mantra "Keep it Simple, Stupid" throughout the process.
I'm trying to imagine running our thriving store with the added burden of space, time, energy and money (not to mention infrastructure and labor) of doing a coffee shop on top of it.
But you're always saying, diversify! Duncan!
Yes....in product. Product that uses the same space, systems, cost-structure and labor requirements as other product lines.
It's a little like diversifying your transportation by buying a horse. Quaint, and cute, and a whole nother magnitude of complexity and trouble.
I know of at least one bookstore that stalled because of the bureaucratic requirements of servicing food and drink.
Two new bookstores opened in Redmond in the last couple of years -- one with a full service bar that served drinks and snacks, with comfy chairs, and so on. The other, last I looked, was all books.
The one that is all books is still there.
What I'm saying is question it when EVERYONE is doing it. You may be better off doing the opposite.
By the way, the customer will always, always, always says "DO IT!" Why wouldn't they?
Extra amenities, extra service? Why not? What's the problem?
But an owner really needs to add up the costs, and the continued costs, and be absolutely certain that's the direction they should go. For example, I've been watching the success of Keeneye's Paizano's Pizza place in Baker City on her blog, Untrained Professional with OCD (Link at Pegasus Books Blog). And kind of wincing when she keeps adding menu items and services.
But what if she decided -- on top of everything else she's doing -- to take a section of her restaurant and do an entirely different business? She needs that like she needs a hole in her head, I'm pretty sure.
I don't think people put this much thought into these choices: it 'sounds' good, everyone is doing it, and it's a nice amenity. What could go wrong?
But if you are very, very successful in your core business, then that 'other' business may actually detract from it. If you aren't successful, than the 'other' usually isn't enough to save you, at least from my observation.
For a few years there, I was under pressure from every one of my game suppliers to 'support' their product lines by having 'game' place space, and to 'host' tournaments. Feeling overwhelmed by product and everything else, I continually turned them down.
But I noticed that 'add value' space and energy hasn't saved a whole lot of independent card shops, games stores, toy stores, and bookstores from the CORE WEAKNESS of their main product.
Seems to me that if the core product is weak, it's dangerous to distract yourself from it by adding something completely different -- unless you intend to transition into that new thing. And then, the same logic holds. Go completely into the new thing if that's what you intend to do.
Whenever anyone asks "Why" I don't do something, the answer is always the same: Money, Time, Space, Energy, or Interest.
Like I said early on, I'm not saying it can't work.
I'm saying -- question the assumption.
P.S. I just realized that this might be construed as a slam at Dudley's down the street, but that isn't at all where I'm going. In fact, from the articles I've read about them, they have a whole thought-out coffee, books and public meeting place ethos worked out.
I'm saying that I don't know that coffee/books is a slamdunk idea that everyone automatically thinks it is....
12 hours ago