Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Mo' Betta' Pt. 2

To continue yesterday's thoughts -- I have a vague general theory that lifestyle areas like Central Oregon tend to create a surplus of 'lifestyle' type retail. That is, the stores that are most likely to be created are the "sexy" businesses -- ones that have either higher prestige, or are potentially much more lucrative, or that tie in to spiritual, artistic, and personal 'growth.'

Businesses like art galleries, jewelry stores, high end clothing, chef resturants and martini bars, and....well...bookstores. I'll get back to my thoughts on bookstores later in this post, but I need to mention that while I have some knowledge of the bookstore business, I can't prove that we have more than the average per capita jewelry stores or art galleries, it's just a general feeling. I also have a feeling that Central Oregon sometimes lack the normal numbers of less sexy businesses, but I can't think of any examples off the top of my head.

Back to bookstores.

I want to make it clear that I'm delighted we have so many new bookstores. All of them seem to be doing well, all have carved their own niche, all of them have very nice presentations and inventory. More power to them. It might just prove what some of the commenters have said about the book world being big enough to encompass a number of different approaches.

The only quibble I might have is their locations; downtown Bend could really use a new bookstore. Dudleys and Pegasus Books fill some of that niche -- but I would never make the case that my store is a 'full-service' bookstore. I like the books I carry, but I don't carry new non-fiction, for instance. Nor do I pay much attention to best-seller lists.

I think what happened was, while most of these new stores were being planned, downtown had a new bookstore, The Book Barn. When they vacated, everyone was already established elsewhere. I'm not advocating that anyone open yet another bookstore, however. Read yesterday's blog!

Anyway, there was a moment a few years ago where Central Oregon actually had 7.5 independent bookstores! Pretty amazing. 4 of them opened in one year; 2 in Bend and 2 in Redmond. I read that only 100 new bookstores were created nationwide in that particular year -- which means that Central Oregon, with it's 200k people, opened 4% of the total stores created that year -- or representing 14 million people on a per capita basis.

Seems a little iffy.

There was an unfortunate circumstance in Redmond, where two very nice bookstores opened within months of each other. When I talked to one of the owners, she said that she had not been aware that the other store was in development.

But that's just it.

People following their dreams -- "I've always wanted a bookstore!" "I've got the best barbecue recipe ever!" "My jewelry is unique!" "I'm carrying the clothing styles and brands that no one else is!" and so on, aren't likely to put much effort into determining whether there is enouch actual need.

It's pretty simple, really, if you have experience. (If you don't have experience, get some!)

You can pretty much gauge what the overhead of a store is likely to be. You can pretty much figure out the profit margin. Figuring out sales, of course, is pretty iffy. But...well, you do best case and worst case scenarios in all three things -- and you'll come close.

In other words, do the math.

The "Follow Your Bliss" part of the equation goes without saying. This is a prerequisite, but only the beginning.

People opening lifestyle businesses encourages more people to open lifestyle businesses and Bend was very lucky to reach a combustion point with that. (Unlike most everyone else, I don't think this was foreordained by the beautiful scenery -- Baker City, Klamath Falls, and many other places all have their charms -- but dead downtowns. I was here while downtown revived, I watched it happen, and it could've tipped either direction for a good number of years.)

Now? Now we have creative destruction. Businesses coming and going.

At least they're still coming....

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